Boom Town

And I was having such a nice day.

The Ninth Doctor

Synopsis

The Ninth Doctor, Jack and Rose return to modern day Cardiff, where they are joined by Mickey. On their arrival, they find that Blon Fel-Fetch Passamer-Day Slitheen (better known as Margaret Blaine) has become Mayor of the city, with no obvious escape route off Earth and willing to tear apart the world to ensure her survival.

Review

The Slitheen are perhaps one of my least favourite creatures in the history of the show, so it is always a surprise to me that when I rewatch Boom Town that I enjoy it so much. I know that this one can be a bit of a marmite episode for a lot of people, but I feel that it does a good job of being a ‘calm before the storm’ of the finale and moves relationships between the Doctor, Jack, Rose and even Mickey to a different levels.

The story seeks to draw together the arc before sending us spinning into the chaos of the end of Eccleston’s only televised series. We get an acknowledgement – and equally quick dismissal – of the fact that the words ‘Bad Wolf’ have been following the Doctor and Rose through their travels in time and space, and the story’s resolution seems only to be there to set up future events in Parting of the Ways. The resolution does let this story down as the TARDIS becomes a deus ex machina, and it is a little frustrating after the focus on the Doctor, his conscience and ongoing theme of the consequences of his actions catching up with him is undermined somewhat by a lazy conclusion. As the Ninth Doctor has softened in his behaviour through the course of this series, it would be interesting to see if he could deal with dropping Blon back on Raxacoricofallapatorius to be killed by her race. As it is, the plot gives her a second chance, something which the Ninth Doctor has been unwilling to give some other characters, for instance Adam or Cassandra. The story is quite witty, and whilst Mickey is still the comic relief, Clarke’s performance seems to have matured since earlier in the series. I remember hearing an interview with Noel Clarke from a while ago in which he said that his attitude towards Doctor Who and acting in general changed after a car accident that occurred during production of the first series, and it is a noticeably better performance. I’ve found a link to it (below), which is worth a watch!

The story starts off really fast-paced from the arrival of Mickey in Cardiff, then slows down for introspection during the restaurant scene, but it is to director Joe Ahearne’s credit that the change in pace doesn’t affect the wider story. Scenes like the ones in the restaurant, or with Margaret in the TARDIS with the Doctor and Jack are really visually interesting. The latter uses some interesting areas of the TARDIS set which I don’t recall seeing before or after this, whilst the former could feel cartoony in the wrong hands, especially the bit with the dart. Ahearne keeps the camera tight on the Doctor and Margaret in these scenes, which makes the scenes feel quite claustrophobic. The scene in the TARDIS where Blon asks her captors whether they can look her in the eye knowing that they are taking her to her death is an interesting one, as I suspect that if the events of this story had happened earlier in the series, the Doctor might have held her gaze. Eccleston and Badland are fantastic in their scenes together, especially in that restaurant scene, where both of them are sizing each other up. The turn by Badland, when she realises that the Doctor isn’t going to let her go is also superb.

Who the hell are you?

What do you mean, “who the hell am I?” Who the hell are you?

Captain Jack Harkness. Whatever you’re selling, we’re not buying.

Get out of my way!

Captain Jack Harkness and Mickey Smith

This is quite an important episode for Rose and Mickey too. This story sees Rose realise that she has unconsciously been quite self-centred through her travels with the Doctor, to the expense of Mickey and Jackie, as we’ve seen earlier this series. The TARDIS team seem quite cliquey when Mickey arrives, and we see what the trio look like to outsiders – and it acts as a precursor to some of the smugness when the next Doctor comes along in a couple of episodes time. Rose doesn’t even realise what she sounds like when she’s talking to Mickey and all she’s talking about is the Doctor and their travels together, leading to him ultimately talking about going out with Trisha Delaney instead, despite his devotion to Rose, which has led him to coming down to Cardiff on the pretext of bringing her passport. By the end of the story, Rose seems to have realised how her behaviour has affected Mickey and is almost left wishing for a second chance, like Margaret. The performances from themselves and Barrowman are good, even if Jack takes a backseat for most of this story. I wish we had more of the Ninth Doctor, Rose, Jack and Mickey as a team as they have a really fun dynamic.

Verdict: Boom Town is a good episode to reflect on how far characters have come over the course of the first series. There are a lot of fun moments in here too, but it is let down by the conclusion, which feels a bit underwhelming. 8/10

Cast: Christopher Eccleston (The Doctor), Billie Piper (Rose Tyler), William Thomas (Mr Cleaver), Annette Badland (Margaret), John Barrowman (Captain Jack Harkness), Noel Clarke (Mickey Smith), Mali Harries (Cathy), Alan Pedrick (Idris Hopper) & Alan Ruscoe (Slitheen).

Writer: Russell T Davies

Director: Joe Ahearne

Behind the Scenes

  • The episode had a working title of Dining With Monsters.
  • The episode was originally offered to Paul Abbott and would have taken place in Pompeii, with Jack discovering that the Doctor has manipulated Rose’s life to make her into an experiment to create the perfect companion. Abbott had to pull out due to other commitments.
  • Russell T Davies wanted to bring back Annette Badland, as he found her performance in Aliens of London and World War Three to be brilliant, despite her not having many lines.
  • The first story to be set in modern-day Cardiff and establishes the Cardiff Space-Time Rift as still being active, thus laying the groundwork for the spin-off, Torchwood.

Cast Notes

  • William Thomas previously appeared in Remembrance of the Daleks, making him the first performer to appear in the original and revived runs of Doctor Who. He would go on to play Geraint Cooper, Gwen’s dad, in Torchwood.

Best Moment

I quite like the scenes of the Doctor, Rose, Jack and Mickey making their way through City Hall to confront Margaret.

Best Quote

I promise you I’ve changed since we last met, Doctor. There was this girl, just yesterday, young thing…And something of a danger. She was getting too close. I felt the bloodlust rising, just as the family taught me. I was going to kill her without a thought. And then…I stopped. She’s alive somewhere right now. She’s walking around this city because I change! I did change! I know I can’t prove it –

I believe you.

Then you know I’m capable of better.

It doesn’t mean anything.

I spared her life!

You let one go, but that’s nothing new. Every now and then, a little victim’s spared. Because she smiled, because he’s got freckles, because they begged. And that’s how you live with yourself. That’s how you slaughter millions. Because once in a while, on a whim, if the wind’s in the right direction, you happen to be kind.

Only a killer would know that. Is that right? From what I’ve seen, your funny little happy-go-lucky life leaves devastation in its wake. Always moving on, because you dare not go back. Playing with so many people’s lives – you might as well be a god. And you’re right, Doctor. You’re absolutely right. Sometimes you let one go.

Margaret Blaine and the Ninth Doctor

Previous Ninth Doctor Review: The Doctor Dances

Other stories mentioned:

The End of the World

Aliens of London

The Long Game

References

Noel Clarke interview with Simon Mayo and Mark Kermode

The Rescue

You destroyed a whole planet just to save your own skin. You’re insane!

The First Doctor

Synopsis

The Doctor, Ian and Barbara arrive on the planet Dido. They find a crashed spaceship, the only two survivors of which are terrorised by the monster Koquillion. But who is Koquillion?

Review

The Rescue gives us our the debut of the show’s first new companion in the shape of Vicki. Whilst the story doesn’t really have a plot, I was rather taken with the way that the story focused in on character and showing the audience just how far the trio of the Doctor, Ian and Barbara have come since An Unearthly Child and the impact of Susan’s departure on these characters.

Whilst I’m not denying that it is difficult to tell a good story in an hour, especially at this early stage of the show, The Rescue’s plot left me wanting a bit more. It is probably described at best as simplistic, at worst non-existent, with a pretty poor conclusion to the story. The whole plot solely comprises of Bennett trying to get away with murder and essentially imprisoning the only other survivor, Vicki, to ensure that she can testify as to his innocence when they return to Earth. In a story with such a small cast, the eventual reveal that Bennett and Koquillion are one and the same is somewhat underwhelming. The conclusion is particularly underwhelming, which is a shame as I think both Hartnell and Ray Barrett as Bennett put good performances in the final scene, but the sudden appearance of the two surviving inhabitants of Dido is not set up or explained in any way, and it is equally baffling when they destroy the radio equipment aboard the UK-201. It is a shame that Koquillion is beaten so easily, as he is a visually striking villain. There are some nice visual moments, such as the opening shot of the crashed ship shot by Christopher Barry which do help this story.

Where The Rescue‘s strength lies though is in showing how the development of the three leads has progressed in the season and a half we have had them on our screens. Ian and Barbara have gone from wanting the Doctor to be taken back to their own time to actively enjoying their time with the Doctor and appreciating how important they are as a support network to help the Doctor get through the departure of his granddaughter. The moment that Barbara asks the Doctor to show her how to do the landing checks is a really lovely moment. Equally, the loss of Susan has accelerated the progression that we’ve seen in the Doctor towards a softer and more kindly figure. Here, the departure has really affected him, as Ian and Barbara note that they have never known him to sleep through the TARDIS landing before. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Susan’s departure from the show had a longer lasting impact than the conclusion of The Dalek Invasion of Earth, as I was perhaps expecting the show to just move forwards straight away. This is probably thanks to departures of other companions, like Liz who doesn’t get her own exit story or Leela, whose departure seems abrupt and is not lingered on for long.

Vicki’s arrival in the show is the first recast in the show’s history, and although it’s in a truncated appearance, she does seem to be the typical early Who companion, complete with screaming. What is evident is that Maureen O’Brien is a better actress than Carol Ann Ford and her chemistry with Hartnell feels much more convincing than his with Susan. Despite her difficult start to her relationship with Barbara after the latter misreads the situation with the sandbeast, there are positive signs here for the future relationship between the two. The simplicity of the plot doesn’t do her any favours, however, as her inability to detect that Barrett is the murderer despite some pretty obvious clues that the Doctor is able to find pretty quickly on investigating his quarters makes her look pretty foolish. Having not seen much of Vicki previously, I’m looking forward to getting to know her character better over the next couple of First Doctor review – this is certainly a promising start for her. The moment where she tells Barbara about her father is really moving and whilst her reaction to the death of her pet might seem overblown, if this was the only thing that made her happy whilst waiting for the rescue ship, it does make more sense.

Verdict: The Rescue does a lot right with it’s characters, but suffers from a lack of plot. 6/10

Cast: William Hartnell (The Doctor), William Russell (Ian Chesterton), Jacqueline Hill (Barbara Wright), Maureen O’Brien (Vicki), Ray Barrett (Bennett/Koquillion) & Tom Sheridon (Voice of Space Captain).

Writer: David Whitaker

Director: Christopher Barry

Parts: 2 (The Powerful Enemy & Desperate Measures)

Behind the Scenes

  • This was the first story under the new script editor Dennis Spooner, although much of the job was done by his predecessor, David Whitaker.
  • This story marked the start of the second production block. The first production block lasted 52 weeks, with one episode filmed per week.
  • When Maureen O’Brien met with Sydney Newman, he wanted her to cut and dye her hair black to resemble Susan. O’Brien refused, asking “Why don’t you just get Carol Ann Ford back?”

Cast Notes

  • Tom Sheridan also played the Sand Beast, but was originally intended to play one of the robed figures as well.

Best Moment

My favourite moment from The Rescue comes quite early on, when Barbara sees that the Doctor is missing Susan and asks how to carry out the landing checks.

Best Quote

We can travel anywhere and everywhere in that old box as you call it. Regardless of space and time.

Then it is a time machine?

And if you like adventure, my dear, I can promise you an abundance of it.

The First Doctor and Vicki

Previous First Doctor Review: The Dalek Invasion of Earth

Neverland

Doctor, of all the countless billions of people in the whole of space and time; why did it have to be you?

Romana

Synopsis

The Web of Time is stretched to breaking. History is leaking like a sieve. In the Citadel of Gallifrey, the Time Lords fear the end of everything that is, everything that was…everything that will be.

The Doctor holds the Time Lords’ only hope – but exactly what lengths will the Celestial Intervention Agency go to in their efforts to retrieve something important from within his TARDIS? What has caused the Imperatrix Romanadvoratrelundar to declare war on all creation? And can an old nursery rhyme about a monster called Zagreus really be coming true?

The answers can only be found outside the bounds of the universe itself, in a place that history forgot. In the wastegrounds of eternity. In the Neverland.

Review

When I reviewed Ghost Light last week, I wrote about how that story had great ideas but felt as though it didn’t have enough time to realise them fully. Neverland is a story that has the best of both worlds – it has some fantastic ideas at its heart and has the running time to explore them to a satisfactory conclusion. This story brings to a head the issues that have been pursuing the Eighth Doctor and Charley in this series of Big Finish audio adventures following the Doctor changing history by saving her from the crash of the R-101 and its cliffhanger leads directly into Zagreus, the Big Finish audio play marking the show’s fortieth anniversary.

There are a lot of good story elements here – we have the threat of an Anti-Time universe taking over ‘our’ universe as Charley’s continued existence allows this universe to start bleeding through into the main universe. Obviously, this has alerted the Time Lords who are keen to rectify the damage to history, whilst also keen to eradicate the threat to their supremacy. Add to this central element the fact that the villains have been created by the Celestial Intervention Agency, the possible survival of Time Lord founder Rassilon and the culmination of the threat of Zagreus that has dogged the Eighth Doctor’s time on audio and it needs the extended run time. The writer Alan Barnes subsequently admitted that he thinks that this story is too long, but I struggle to see a scene that I would cut. There are some lovely and tragic ideas here, like the Neverpeople being those who have never had a chance of life, having been victims of the Oubliette of Eternity, erasing their timelines, and the fact that one of Vansell’s predecessors as head of the C.I.A., Sentris, sentenced himself to the same fate once he realised that it was still being used. This helps reinforce that things on Gallifrey aren’t always as rosy as the Doctor would like to portray, even before events such as the Time War that the revived series would bring into continuity at a later date. The Neverpeople’s plan to get their revenge on Gallifrey is quite good too. They spread rumours that Rassilon entered their universe to destroy the “Realm of Zagreus”, ensnaring Time Lords like Vansell, then trick them into taking a cabinet of Anti-Time back to Gallifrey in order to destroy history and create utter chaos. I also really liked the resolution of Charley’s paradox – because the Web of Time was saved by her existence, it cannot be imperiled by her survival – which is quite simple but really good.

The sound design in this story is fantastic throughout. The story begins with the Matrix reciting historical events, breaking down as a result of the paradox Charley surviving the crash of the R-101 set up the story really effectively. We also have some great distortion on the voices of the Neverpeople, especially on Sentris, distorting India Fisher’s voice to an eerie extent. This works well on Paul McGann and Anthony Keetch’s voices when they are infected with the Anti-Time during the course of the story, creating a great and creepy distinction between their usual and infected selves. There are some other more minor moments of great sound engineering, such as when Charley hits the fast return switch at the beginning of the story or when the Doctor, Romana and Vansell travel through to the Anti-Time reality.

I am not the Doctor! I have become he who sits inside your head, he who lives among the dead, he who sees you in your bed and eats you when you’re sleeping. I am…Zagreus!

The Eighth Doctor/Zagreus

Lalla Ward returns here as Romana and she has got great chemistry with Paul McGann, to the point where it is utterly believable that McGann and Tom Baker are the same person, just with a different face. It probably helps that the Eighth and Fourth Doctors are quite similar in many respects, but they are wonderful in the scenes that they share together. Ward also manages to sell the harsher Imperatrix Romana really well and it is believable when the Doctor sees her in the alternative time line as someone whose top priority is to ensure Time Lord superiority over all races. When we come back to the ‘main timeline’ version of Romana, the audience can appreciate why power hungry figures such as Vansell may be frustrated with her to the point of treachery. Vansell is also played well by Anthony Keetch, fulfilling the turncoat role here, and Don Warrington completes a strong guest cast as Rassilon, bringing gravitas to his brief scenes in the story. I wish we had more of Warrington, but I know he plays a big part in the next story so that’s something to look forward to.

This story is Charley-centric as it resolves the ongoing storyline about her survival of the crash of the R-101, and India Fisher is on top form here. Whether she is letting the Doctor know that she is okay with him killing her to prevent the Neverpeople achieving their plans, or berating the Doctor for not telling the truth about why the Time Lords are so interested in them. There is certainly a maturity about this relationship now and I really think the two have great chemistry together. There is something disarmingly charming and childlike about the Doctor wanting to drop Charley off at an eternal party whilst he goes and sorts everything out with the Time Lords, and McGann is good here too, with him flipping between this childlike innocence and paternal protective figure of Charley. The Doctor tells Charley he loves her, taking this romantic version of the character to new levels, a couple of years before the revived show would explore this on television. This is probably the strongest outing for this TARDIS pairing and a great end to their second season together.

It’s alright, Doctor, I’m not afraid. It’s like I said on the TARDIS, my time is up. There is no alternative. Oh Doctor, you rescued me from the R-101. You gave me these last few wonderful months. The things that I’ve seen, the places I’ve been. I’ve lived more than I could ever have dreamed of and all thanks to you. And you’re the sweetest, the kindest, most wonderful man I’ve ever met and I’m sorry it’s come to this and I’m sorry that it has to end like this but if the Web of Time is destroyed all the time I’ve had, everywhere I’ve been, all those fabulous, fantastic things we’ve done they won’t ever have happened at all. I know it’s an awful, terrible thing but I want you to do it.

Charley Pollard

Verdict: A really great story, Neverland does some wonderful things and interesting things, and has great performances from the main and guest cast. 10/10

Cast: Paul McGann (The Doctor), India Fisher (Charley Pollard), Lalla Ward (Romana), Don Warrington (Rassilon), Anthony Keetch (Coordinator Vansell), Peter Trapani (Kurst), Holly King (Levith), Lee Moone (Undercardinal), Mark McDonnell (Rorvan), Nicola Boyce (Taris), Jonathan Rigby, Dot Smith and Ian Hallard (Matrix Voices) and Alistair Lock (Dalek Emperor).

Writer: Alan Barnes

Director: Gary Russell

Parts: 2

Behind the Scenes

  • The conclusion of this story leads directly into Zagreus, however, there was a gap of 1 year and 5 months between the release of this story (July 2002) and Zagreus (November 2003).
  • Despite being billed as a traditional four part story, Neverland was released as two parts of 72 minutes each.

Cast Notes

  • Anthony Keetch reprises his role as Vansell from The Sirens of Time and The Apocalypse Element. He has appeared in different roles in various other stories, including The Fires of Vulcan and The Black Hole.
  • Peter Trapani also appears in The Shadow of the Scourge.
  • Holly King previously appeared in The Shadow of the Scourge, and would go on to appear in Kingdom of Silver and Last of the Titans.
  • Lee Moone, Mark McDonnell and Nicola Boyce had previously appeared in the two Eighth Doctor audio adventures directly preceding this one, Embrace the Darkness and The Time of the Daleks.
  • Jonathan Rigby previously appeared in Phantasmagoria and Invaders From Mars.
  • Dot Smith appeared in The Time of the Daleks and also Dalek Empire.
  • Ian Hallard went on to appear in Robot of Sherwood and An Adventure in Space and Time.
  • Alistair Lock provided music and sound design as well as appearing in numerous other Big Finish plays including Invaders from Mars, Minuet in Hell and Dust Breeding.

Best Quote

Happy Birthday Charley! Only it isn’t my birthday, is it? It isn’t my birthday because I’m not supposed to have any more birthdays. No more cake, no more candles, no more presents, not now, not ever, no more birthdays since I died! That’s right, isn’t it Doctor? No more birthdays because I’m supposed to be dead. Dead and burned in the wreck of an airship. Born on the day the Titanic sank, died in the R-101. Poor tragic little Charlotte Pollard, her life snuffed out before it had even begun.

Charley Pollard

Previous Eighth Doctor story: The Time of the Daleks

Neverland is able to stream on Spotify, or to purchase from the Big Finish website.

Other Stories Mentioned:

Ghost Light

Ghost Light

Is this an asylum with the patients in charge?

Ace

Synopsis

The Doctor brings Ace to Gabriel Chase, a house in her hometown of Perivale which Ace attempted to burn down in her past. This is not the reason why the Doctor has come here though: a mysterious and highly mentally unstable being lurks below the house.

Review

Ghost Light has a reputation for being quite hard to follow. It is probably some of the most mature and advanced science fiction Doctor Who has ever attempted. This was my first time watching it and I think I broadly understood it, although it is probably in a minority of stories that would really benefit from having a fourth part to the story, as there is not a scene or a line wasted, making it very difficult to make notes on! This is a story with Ace at its core and certainly paves the way for the companion development in the revived era.

It’s true, isn’t it? This is the house I told you about.

You were thirteen. You climbed over the wall for a dare.

That’s your surprise, isn’t it? Bringing me back here.

Remind me what it was that you sensed when you entered this deserted house? An aura of intense evil?

Don’t you have things you hate?

I can’t stand burnt toast. I loath bus stations. Terrible places. Full of lost luggage and lost souls.

I told you I never wanted to come here again.

And then there’s unrequited love. And tyranny. And cruelty.

Too right.

We all have a universe of our own terrors to face.

I face mine on my own terms.

Ace and the Seventh Doctor

This story depicts an interesting take on the Doctor and companion dynamic here, something which has only been seen fleetingly in the relationship between Tom Baker and Leela. The Doctor certainly has had an impact on his companions’ through the course of their travels across each and every incarnation, however, before this point there was very little manipulation of the companion to the extent we see here. As a result, the Doctor comes across as quite scheming, whilst he is trying to ensure that Ace develops to face the fear of her own past, something that would certainly become an element of the remaining two stories of the original show’s run. It certainly makes the Doctor unlikeable when Ace realises that not only has the Doctor brought her to a haunted house, but the very haunted house that clearly had a profound effect on the young Ace. Whilst the Doctor’s behaviour here is morally ambiguous in bringing his young companion face to face with her fears, it does allow both him and the audience to understand her a bit more. Ace clearly had a traumatic time when she visited the house in her original years, evidenced by her horror at being back there, the flashing blue lights and her referring to the Doctor at one point as being her ‘probation officer’.

Who was it who said Earthmen never invite their ancestors round to dinner?

The Seventh Doctor

The story has a central theme of evolution. Light, the controller of the alien spacecraft, decides to destroy the Earth after realising that life has progressed on the planet since he originally catalogued it previously, at which time he picked up Nimrod, a Neanderthal who acts as a butler to the mutinous Josiah Samuel Smith. Josiah eventually evolves to the superior living being at the time – Victorian Man – and his ultimate plan to assassinate Queen Victoria. The visiting Reverend Ernest Matthews is a fine example of the members of the Church who stood up against Darwin after the publication of On the Origin of Species and looks the part too, with his mutton-chops evoking the cartoons of the key players of this period of history. Control evolves through the story into a more sophisticated lady of society, which eventually leads to the downfall of Josiah’s plan to commit regicide. Ace ‘evolves’ through the story, as she is seen to elevate herself to make herself acceptable to Victorian norms and values but she also manages to learn from her fear and she is certainly a different character from the one we see at the beginning of this story. The idea of evolution being reversed is also played around with too, especially when it comes to the fates of Matthews, trapped forever in a state between ape and man, and the kindly but ineffectual Inspector Mackenzie, who is reverted to primordial soup. These are quite big ideas being played around with for a show that is so easily dismissed as being a kids’ show.

This story is really well written by Marc Platt and is tightly plotted, although it possibly is a little bit confusing and could benefit from having the additional time and space a fourth part would have afforded it. It is to Platt and script editor Andrew Cartmel’s immense credit that this story makes any sense at all in it’s reduced form and I look forward to potentially understanding it more on future rewatches. An additional 25 minutes would perhaps have allowed some of the subplots, like Control evolving, the story around Mrs Pritchard and Gwendoline , and Josiah’s plot to use Fenn-Cooper to assassinate Queen Victoria some more time to breathe. This is quite a mature story for Doctor Who to tackle with quite a high concept villain and the husks included to provide a more traditional foe, something that John Nathan-Turner insisted on. It’s not surprising that Platt has been asked back to work on the Virgin New Adventures and subsequently Big Finish given that he clearly understands how to write for the show. Here, he takes the haunted house concept and introduces an alien spaceship under the house, which has returned to catalogue all life on the Earth after an original expedition to do so some time previously. This is quite a bleak story with some inventive deaths for the characters, such as those mentioned above for the Inspector and the Reverend, as well as the fates of Gwendoline and Mrs Pritchard after they are finally reunited as mother and daughter and the maid who Light pulls apart to understand how humanity has evolved.

The guest cast here are really strong, and I feel that the regulars feel forced to join them. This is a strong and emotional episode for Aldred and she does a decent job – unlike in Battlefield, there were no moments where Ace acts out like a petulant child, which made a welcome change. John Nettleton is an actor for whom I have a tremendous fondness due to his recurring role in Yes, Minster and Yes, Prime Minister and I was overjoyed to see him here as the Reverend. John Hallam is great in his role as Light, seeming almost ethereal and dithering, but utterly ruthless, making the most of relatively little screen time. All the cast here are well served, despite a feeling that the story is bursting at the seams at times.

Verdict: I’m sure that my appreciation of Ghost Light will only increase with future visits, but I really enjoyed this story that doesn’t feed its audience all the answers. 10/10

Cast: Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor), Sophie Aldred (Ace), Ian Hogg (Josiah), Sylvia Syms (Mrs. Pritchard), Michael Cochrane (Redvers Fenn-Cooper), Sharon Duce (Control), Katharine Schlesinger (Gwendoline), John Nettleton (Reverend Ernest Matthews), Carl Forgione (Nimrod), Brenda Kempner (Mrs Grose), Frank Windsor (Inspector Mackenzie) & John Hallam (Light)

Writer: Marc Platt

Director: Alan Wareing

Parts: 3

Behind the Scenes

  • Working titles included The Bestiary and Life-Circle.
  • Ghost Light was the last serial of the original run to be produced, although The Curse of Fenric and Survival came after it in transmission order. It is therefore, the final story to include any significant footage filmed at BBC Television Centre.
  • Marc Platt is one of two writers in the show’s history to have a script accepted with no professional writing experience. The other is Andrew Smith, who wrote Full Circle.
  • Sylvester McCoy named this as his favourite serial and Andrew Cartmel refers to it as the “jewel in the crown”.
  • The story evolved out of a rejected script called Lungbarrow, which John Nathan-Turner rejected due to it revealing too much about the Doctor’s past. Marc Platt would go on to reuse the rejected ideas for the Virgin New Adventures novel of the same name.
  • John Nathan-Turner was concerned about the lack of a traditional monster, so Platt devised the husks, prior evolutionary forms of Josiah. THe initial idea was to have an army of these, which was cut down to firstly three, then ultimately two for budgetary reasons.

Cast Notes

  • Ian Hogg went on to appear in The Sandman and Protect and Survive.
  • Michael Cochrane had previously appeared in Black Orchid and would go on to appear in Big Finish productions, including No Man’s Land, Brotherhood of the Daleks, Trail of the White Worm/The Oseidon Adventure and The Fate of Krelos/Return to Telos.
  • Carl Forgione previously appeared in Planet of the Spiders.
  • Frank Windsor had previously appeared in The King’s Demons. He was cast in this story as he was well known TV Detective, having played John Watt on Z-Cars.

Best Moment

When Ace realises that the house is Gabriel Chase, the house that she burnt down as a child and that the Doctor has been lying to her.

Best Quote

Sir, I think Mr Matthews is confused.

Never mind. I’ll have him completely bewildered by the time I’m finished with him.

Gwendoline and the Seventh Doctor

Previous Seventh Doctor Story: Battlefield

Mission to Magnus

The despised creature who owns every last woolly jumper on the planet.

Sil

Synopsis

The Doctor and Peri face enemies at every turn on the planet Magnus. There’s the Time Lord bully Anzor, who made the Doctor’s life hell during his time at the Academy. There’s also Rana Zandusia, the matriarchal ruler of the planet, who seeks to prise the secret of time travel from these alien visitors. Also on Magnus is the slug-like Sil, still bitter from his defeat on Varos and seeking to make his fortune from the most potentially destructive ends. And deep within the planet, there is something else. Another old enemy of the Doctor’s. And the future is looking decidedly colder…

Preamble

It would be remiss of me, I feel, not to mention the fact that the writer of this story, Philip Martin, sadly passed away on 13 December 2020. Martin wrote two televised stories for Doctor Who, Vengeance on Varos and Parts 5 – 8 of Trial of a Time Lord, also known as Mindwarp. He also wrote The Creed of the Kromon and Antidote to Oblivion for Big Finish Productions and created the character Sil, who also had a spin-off in the Reeltime Film Sil and the Devil Seeds of Arodor, released in 2019. Vengeance on Varos is a high point of Colin Baker’s time as the Doctor during his television run, and whilst I haven’t seen Mindwarp, I know that some hold it in high regard.

Outside of Doctor Who, Martin created the tv series Gangsters, as well as writing for Z-Cars, Tandoori Nights and Star Cops.

He sadly lost his battle with leukemia and will be much missed.

Review

Mission to Magnus is a story that has a pretty poor reputation amongst fans, which is a massive shame considering this writer’s other work, largely due to the misogyny and general sexism in this story. There are some interesting ideas at play here, but unfortunately it feels as though everything but the kitchen sink is thrown at this story which allows none of these ideas to really develop. The sound design and music feel authentically as though they could have from the 1980s, though, and there are some good performances.

There are so many ideas at play here: we have two rival planets, Magnus and Salvak, each ruled by women and men respectively, climate change, two faces from the Doctor’s past and the Ice Warriors. I feel like I say this a lot with Doctor Who, especially in the original run and I suppose it applies to these Lost Stories too, but whilst some of the central ideas are sound, it falls down when it comes to execution. The central idea of the two warring planets inhabited only by one gender is not bad, but it is characterised so poorly and generally paper thin – men are presented as war-like, whilst women are presented as rather gentler. It feels as though this is a bit of an afterthought, and ultimately the plot of this story sees one planet wanting to obtain time travel technology to prevent a rival planet penetrating their defences is a good enough driving force for a story without the added battle of the sexes element we have here. The ending also feels really awkward, with men from the planet of Salvak deciding that they will unite with the women, who have no concept of marriage.

We then have the character of Anzor, a fellow Time Lord and classmate of the Doctor’s from his days at the Prydonian Academy. Unlike some notable contemporaries of the Doctor, Anzor seems to be completely incompetent and a bit of a borish oaf, who obviously made the Doctor’s school days hell. I feel that Malcolm Rennie does a decent enough job here, and the idea of the Doctor facing off with a bully from his past feels as though it is ultimately abandoned towards the end of the first part, with a coda at the end of the story seeing him off. It is interesting to see a Time Lord like this, as whilst we have seen various different Time Lords, they tend to be knowledgeable and the Doctor’s equal, whilst Anzor is, at his heart a coward.

Then when we get to the Ice Warriors, who ultimately flip the axis of the planet to change the climate of the warm Magnus. In association with Sil, who is looking to make a killing selling warm clothing and equipment, they are looking to make it a more hospitable environment for themselves. Again, this is an interesting idea that could have profited from more time, especially as we don’t have very many stories with the Ice Warriors, and even fewer with them acting as the primary antagonist. The whole climate change subplot seems to fall by the side through the first part, so when they come back to revisit it in Part 2 and it becoming a central plot element means that it doesn’t really work as well as the story seems to think it does.

There are some good performances here, though. Nabil Shaban is superb as Sil and he feels just as slimy and unpleasant as he was in the show, thanks to some great vocal ticks and production. Sil flips between the Magnusians and the Ice Warriors with ease and has some great lines, especially when he is concerned about his survival once the Ice Warriors reveal themselves. Sil’s laugh is just as creepy on audio as it is in Vengeance on Varos. Colin Baker is good as the Sixth Doctor and it is great to see him encounter a figure from his past that brings up such feelings of fear that he has to hide behind the console and in turn, stand up to his school bully at the end of the story. Nicola Bryant doesn’t have a lot to do here as Peri, and probably suffers from being partnered with the child Vion, whose actor William Anderson gives a very one dimensional performance. His performance does not vary, which is really frustrating when he is in peril, such as when Vion and the Doctor are being chased by the Ice Warriors or Peri is being carried off – which feels all the more glaring when he’s acting opposite Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant.

Verdict: Some interesting ideas are let down by some sexist characterisation, poor acting by some actors and too many ideas. I have high hopes for the next Lost Story! 2/10

Cast: Colin Baker (The Doctor), Nicola Bryant (Peri Brown), Nabil Shaban (Sil), Malcolm Rennie (Anzor), Maggie Steed (Madame Rana Zandusia), Susan Franklyn (Jarmaya/Tace), Tina Jones (Ulema/Soma), William Townsend (Vion), Callum Witney Mills (Asam), Nicholas Briggs (Brorg/Vedikael/Grand Marshall/Ishka) & James George (Skaarg/Jarga/Hussa).

Writer: Philip Martin

Director: Lisa Bowerman

Parts: 2

Behind the Scenes

  • This story was adapted from a Target novelisation of a story intended for the original Season 23. If it had been produced, it would have been the first appearance of the Ice Warriors since The Monster of Peladon in 1974.

Cast Notes

  • Susan Franklyn also appeared in the Companion Chronicle The Library of Alexandria.
  • James George has appeared in a number of Big Finish plays, including The Condemned and The Guardians of Prophecy with Colin Baker.

Best Quote

Doctor? You have thwarted our plans before, have you not?

Once or twice. I’d rather like to do it again!

Grand Marshall and the Sixth Doctor

Previous Sixth Doctor Story: The Ultimate Evil