Battlefield

My blood and thunder days are long past.

Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart

Synopsis

The Doctor and Ace arrive near Carbury, where the Doctor re-encounters UNIT, headed by Brigadier Winifred Bambera, who has a nuclear convoy nearby Lake Vortigern. At the bottom of that lake is a spaceship from another dimension, containing King Arthur held in suspended animation and his sword, Excalibur.

A knight, Ancelyn, arrives on Earth to help his King, but is followed by the villainous Morgaine and Mordred, all of whom recognise the Doctor as Merlin. The involvement of the Doctor ultimately brings Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart out of his cosy retirement to join the inevitable fight.

Mini Review

The Brigadier is in this. So clearly this is a 10/10.

What? You want a full review? Oh, go on then.

Review

Battlefield is probably the weakest story in the final season, but it is not as bad as that would suggest. The final season of the original show’s run is known for perhaps being one of the strongest in its history and Battlefield kicks things off with a nod to the show’s past in the shape of the Brigadier and a romp of a story concerning Arthurian mythology with knights from other dimensions. It’s reputation is probably not helped by the fact that it came from the pen of Ben Aaronovitch, who wrote the superb season opener for the previous season, Remembrance of the Daleks, which I think we’d all prefer to remember as the real 25th Anniversary story than Silver Nemesis. There are flaws, as with a lot of Doctor Who, but to me, Battlefield feels like a comfort blanket.

The problems with this story really circulate around the writing, direction and music. Keff McCulloch’s score feels really overblown and intrusive. Those who find Murray Gold’s early scores to be too over the top should watch this story and see how understated Gold’s music is in comparison. When it comes to the direction, it is interesting to compare this story to the early Jon Pertwee era where the HAVOC team performed a lot of the stunts. Meanwhile here, the action scenes feel rather flat and lifeless, in particular the battle between Mordred’s forces and UNIT, which does make it difficult to take them seriously. When it comes to the writing of the story, there are some really poorly written aspects, such as Ace and Ling Tai’s dialogue, which makes it feel like nobody on the production team had ever spoken to another teenager, and, like in previous review of The Ultimate Evil, Mordred has moments where all he seems to do is manically laugh for what feels like five minutes at a time. It does feel as though there are too many characters here, and perhaps this was realised by the production team as they remove characters like Warmsly and the owners of the hotel later on in the narrative. Additionally, there are some logical leaps, like why Morgaine’s army fight with a combination of laser guns and grenades, but on the other hand, just normal medieval swords. For all the writing problems, there are moments like where the Doctor explains to Ace that the reverse of Clarke’s Law is also true, which reminds me of when Thor explains how Asgard works to Jane Foster in his first movie.

Can someone tell me what on earth is going on?

Well if my hunch is right, the Earth could be at the centre of a war that doesn’t even belong to this dimension!

Shou Yuing and the Seventh Doctor

I’ll move on to something that I think is more positive: the return of the Brigadier. This is a different Lethbridge-Stewart to the one that was last seen in The Five Doctors and Mawdryn Undead, as he is domesticated, only interested in getting involved when he knows that the Doctor is there. It’s a lovely moment between Sylvester McCoy and Nicholas Courtney when the Brigadier immediately recognises him as The Doctor. He is a bit more uncomfortable when it comes to dealing with Ace, addressing her as the latest one, but it is perhaps a poor bit of writing for her reaction. Ace came in immediately as her predecessor, Mel, left, so she doesn’t have the excuse of not knowing that the Doctor has travelled with others before her. Perhaps it is supposed to denote that Ace isn’t like the previous companions, but it is poorly written and makes Ace seem rude to someone she has just met. Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart acts as a comparison to Brigadier Bambera, played by Angela Bruce. Bambera comes across as much more cold and clinical, perhaps understandably as she doesn’t have the same back catalogue of appearances as Lethbridge-Stewart. Her appointment is just one of the sweeping changes that seem to have occurred since we’ve last seen UNIT, which seems to have come on leaps and bounds as a military organisation since we last saw them briefly in The Five Doctors. They seem a lot more capable than they were in the Pertwee era and have made developments It is perhaps surprising, however, that Bambera has not been briefed as to the possibility of encountering the Doctor.

The villains of the piece are a bit of a mixed bag: on the positive side, there are Morgaine and the Destroyer, on the negative is Mordred. Jean Marsh does really well with Morgaine, who could become overblown in different hands, but she takes this part and makes it really good. Her scene with Courtney after his helicopter is blown up is great and she does certainly carry off her performance with a sense of majesty. The Destroyer is, from a technical point of view, spectacular especially in a story where the lack of budget is painfully obvious. Unfortunately, as mentioned above, Mordred is rather poor. It’s rare that I find a character so annoying that I was glad when Morgaine was willing to let him die at the hands of the Brigadier, then frustrated when he cropped back up. Having been slightly obsessed with Arthurian legend in my childhood, I liked the idea that they were from an alternate dimension where Arthurian legend was closer to reality.

The Seventh Doctor is central to this story, trapped in a situation orchestrated by his future self, known as Merlin and this is a good performance from McCoy. At times he is utterly bluffing his position but at others, he is utterly in control. He is in his element when he is dealing with the Brigadier and it is utterly believable that he is a future incarnation of Pertwee’s Doctor. Sophie Aldred doesn’t have a lot to do here, and isn’t terribly well written. This story does include her throwing a racial slur at Shou when Morgaine is trying to manipulate them to get her own hands on Excalibur, which is troubling. It also does go some way to explain that Ace is a bit of an outcast and doesn’t really have friends outside of her travels in the TARDIS, something which would be explored more in the season to come.

Verdict: This is no Remembrance of the Daleks, but frankly, few things are. Aaronovitch’s difficult second episode is good fun, if littered with issues around writing, direction and music, but ultimately is quite easy watching. 7/10

Cast: Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor), Sophie Aldred (Ace), Jean Marsh (Morgaine), Nicholas Courtney (Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart), James Ellis (Peter Warmsly), Angela Bruce (Brigadier Winifred Bambera), Christopher Bowen (Mordred), Marcus Gilbert (Ancelyn), Angela Douglas (Doris Lethbridge-Stewart), Noel Collins (Pat Rowlinson), June Bland (Elizabeth Rowlinson), Ling Tai (Shou Yuing), Robert Jezek (Sergeant Zbrigniev), Dorota Rae (Flight Lieutenant Lavel), Stefan Schwartz (Knight Commander), Paul Tomany (Major Husak) & Marek Anton (The Destroyer).

Writer: Ben Aaronovitch

Director: Michael Kerrigan

Parts: 4

Behind the Scenes

  • This story marks Nicholas Courtney’s final appearance in televised Doctor Who ahead of his passing in 2011, and the Brigadier was written out in The Wedding of River Song. Courtney did reprise the role in The Sarah Jane Adventures and in the independent production Downtime, as well as for Big Finish.
  • In the original outline for this story, the Brigadier was going to die, however, when the production team realised that this was going to be largely overshadowed by explosions, they reconsidered.
  • Graeme Harper was approached to direct, however, he was busy working on Boon.
  • The water tank sequence at the end of Part 2 almost caused catastrophy when the glass began to crack, sending water over the studio floor towards live wires. Sylvester McCoy alerted the crew by breaking character and swearing to get Sophie Aldred out of the tank. The majority of the cast and crew, including Aldred, believe that she would have died without McCoy’s intervention, however, Gary Downie disputed that Aldred was at any risk, but the floor crew were.
  • The last story to feature Bessie, the Third Doctor’s vintage car, in original footage. Bessie would appear in The Name of the Doctor, but only in archive footage.
  • The last serial of the original run to feature the TARDIS interior. The scene in Part One was shot on a hastily constructed set, covered up by shooting in semi-darkness. The regular scenery had been accidently disposed of after recording The Greatest Show in the Galaxy.
  • Working titles for this story included Knightfall, Storm over Avallion, Lakes Over Avallion, Pool of Avallion, Song of Avallion, Stormtroopers of Avallion and The Battlefield.
  • Part One had the lowest rating of an episode of Doctor Who at 3.1 million viewers.

Cast Notes

  • Jean Marsh had previously appeared in The Crusade and The Dalek’s Master Plan. Coincidentally, Nicholas Courtney was also in The Dalek’s Master Plan.
  • June Bland had previously appeared in Earthshock.
  • Angela Bruce would reprise her role as Brigadier Bambera in the Big Finish audio story, Animal.

Best Moment

As someone who is fond of the Brigadier, I do quite like his face-off with the Destroyer, followed by the revelation that he is not dead, but prepared to hand his responsibilities over to Ace.

Best Quote

Ahh…little man. What do you want of me?

Get off my world!

Pitiful. Can this world do no better than you as their champion?

Probably. I just do the best I can.

The Destroyer and Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart

Previous Seventh Doctor Review: The Greatest Show in the Galaxy

Further Reading

Remembrance of the Daleks

The Dæmons

Chap with the wings there. Five rounds rapid.

Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart

Synopsis

In the village of Devil’s End, the Master is at working summoning cloven-hoofed demons to bow the residents to his will. With the village sealed off to the outside world, the Doctor and Jo have to race against time to stop the Master destroying the whole world.

Review

The Dæmons is possibly the most quintessential Third Doctor stories, and your individual reaction to this story will largely depend on your opinion of his era. It will come as no surprise to people who have read my other blogs on this era that this is one of my favourites, and I particularly love the UNIT family, so it’s safe to say that I really enjoyed this one. That’s not to say that this story is without flaws, however, and it’s certainly a divisive story in certain sectors of the fan community.

My main issue with this story is that it feels a bit too long, even though it is only five parts and I feel that it may have been a push if it had been six parts as originally intended. Whilst I like the delay in UNIT getting involved in the story, it does feel as though these scenes, as well as those with the Brigadier and Sergeant Osgood being held outside of Devil’s End by the heat barrier are just padding. In my opinion, The Dæmons would work better as a tight four-part story with fewer of these scenes. The Brigadier also gets some suspect dialogue, and it is a testament to Nicholas Courtney’s acting ability that he makes these feel real.

Despite this, the story in general is strong and feels as though the writers had done their research, or were at least aided by Damaris Hayman, playing Miss Hawthorne. The story deals with her character surprisingly sympathetically, as Miss Hawthorne is a white witch and it would be all too easy to characterise her as a bit crazy. Instead, she is shown as resourceful and a great help to the Doctor and his allies, especially Benton. The story also gives what seems like a perfectly feasible endgame for the Master after his repeated appearances in Pertwee’s second season, with his aim being world domination, if not, global destruction. The presence of a BBC News crew (from BBC 3, no less) gives this story a feeling of urgency and some degree of scale, which is needed before the Doctor turns up. With producer Barry Letts writing the backbone of this story, it is unsurprising that the regulars all get their moments to shine, even if the Brigadier has to wait a bit longer for his. The story benefits from the direction of Christopher Barry, who uses simple and effective tools to cover up the perennial problem of not having the budget to effectively tell the whole story, along with some strong demonic imagery which make this effective. Of all the effects, the one of Bok reforming after enduring heavy fire from the UNIT troops is fantastic. Barry also makes the action sequences synonymous with the Pertwee era look great, especially the sequence with Girton in the helicopter attempting to get the Doctor to drive into the heat barrier around Devil’s End. Barry also deserves a lot of credit for not making the sequence with the Morris Dancers surrounding the Doctor look laughable, which it so easily could have done in other hands. It would be remiss of me to not mention the location filming in Aldbourne, which is another of the stars and was a great choice for the sleepy village.

The regulars here are all on fine form. Jon Pertwee and Katy Manning are fantastic as the Doctor and Jo, and for moments where the Doctor is condescending to her, we get scenes like the one before they go into the Barrow where he shows real concern for her well-being by giving her the option to stay outside, which of course, she refuses! Jo is of course responsible for the ultimate defeat of Azal by putting her life on the line for the Doctor, a move that he cannot comprehend. It is lovely to see Benton and Yates in their civvies, and the Brigadier all dressed up. All three actors put in great performances, but Courtney is the real stand out, especially in the scene where he learns that Benton and Yates have gone to Devil’s End. I haven’t really suffered with ‘Master fatigue’ due to the way that I’m watching stories in order to post these reviews, and Delgado is good here again.

The Dæmons are used quite effectively here. As mentioned above, Barry only shows us Azal sparingly so that we can avoid the use of too much Colour Separation Overlay (CSO), and although Bok is clearly a man in a costume, he is quite effectively creepy and I didn’t have any trouble buying him as a gargoyle who had started moving about. Stephen Thorne is great as Azal, and it is easy to see why the production team would call him back to play similarly intimidating characters later on in the future.

Verdict: A good fun episode, which could only potentially be improved by reducing the run time, The Dæmons is deserves its place in the best stories of Jon Pertwee’s era. 8/10

Cast: Jon Pertwee (The Doctor), Katy Manning (Jo Grant), Nicholas Courtney (Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart), Roger Delgado (The Master), Richard Franklin (Captain Mike Yates), John Levene (Sergeant Benton), Damaris Hayman (Miss Hawthorne), Don McKillop (Bert the Landlord), Rollo Gamble (Winstanley), Robin Wentworth (Prof. Horner), David Simeon (Alastair Fergus), James Snell (Harry), John Joyce (Garvin), Eric Hillyard (Dr. Reeves), Jon Croft (Tom Girton), Christopher Wray (PC Groom), Gerald Taylor (Baker’s Man), Stanley Mason (Bok), Alec Linstead (Sergeant Osgood), John Owens (Thorpe), Stephen Thorne (Azal), The Headington Quarry Men (Morris Dancers) & Matthew Corbett (Jones).

Writer: Guy Leopold (Robert Sloman & Barry Letts)

Director: Christopher Barry

Parts: 5

Behind the Scenes

  • One of the eleven televised stories not to feature the Doctor’s TARDIS.
  • The story was filmed in Aldbourne in Wiltshire.
  • The shot of the exploded helicopter was an used shot from the James Bond film From Russia With Love. The shot was so convincing that some members of the audience were convinced that a real helicopter had been destroyed.
  • This story concludes a season-long run of stories featuring the Master. Roger Delgado would appear in the following two seasons, appearing in two stories in Season 9 and one in Season 10.
  • The last five part Doctor Who story.
  • The incantation used by the Master is ‘Mary had a Little Lamb’ backwards. It was originally The Lord’s Prayer spoken backwards but BBC bosses objected.
  • Many viewers believed that the model of the church destroyed in the final episode was the actual church and the BBC received complaints.
  • It was originally intended to be a six-part story but was cut down due to production difficulties.

Cast Notes

  • David Simeon had previously appeared in Inferno.
  • Damaris Hayman acted as an unofficial adviser whilst on the show as she had an interest in the supernatural.
  • Stephen Thorne would go on to appear as further costumed villains in The Three Doctors, Frontier in Space and The Hand of Fear.

Best Moment

Best Quote

I see. So all we’ve got to deal with is something which is either too small to see or thirty feet tall, can incinerate you or freeze you to death, turn stone images into homicidal monsters and looks like the devil.

Exactly.

Mike Yates and the Third Doctor

Previous Third Doctor Review: Colony in Space

The Claws of Axos

Claws of Axos - Axons

Obviously the Time Lords have programmed the TARDIS always to return to Earth.  It seems that I am some sort of intergalactic yo-yo!

The Third Doctor

Synopsis

A group of gold-skinned aliens arrive on Earth offering a seemingly magical element in return for fuel.  The Doctor sees through their seeming benevolence and uncovers their true nature, ultimately teaming up with his adversary the Master in efforts to take them down.

Review

It’ll be no secret to anybody who has read my other blogs about the Jon Pertwee era that it is one that I am immensely fond of.  I really enjoy the Third Doctor’s man of action, the UNIT Family (especially the Brigadier!) and Roger Delgado, however, that doesn’t stop me from seeing how formulaic things get.  The Claws of Axos is a solid, if unremarkable, story with a lot of familiar elements and I acknowledge that it is unfair to lay all the faults of Season 8 squarely at the door of this serial.

As mentioned above, all of the hallmarks of the Third Doctor’s era are here.  We have an interfering civil servant in the shape of Mr Chinn, played by Peter Bathurst, who gives a good performance as an utter jobsworth who seems to be equally despised by the Doctor, UNIT and the Ministry that he serves.  Chinn is shown to be the worst of humanity when he is presented with the Axonite, only wanting it to benefit Britain and being extremely reluctant even when instructed by the Minister to share it with the rest of the World.  There is somewhat of a see-saw of control in this story, as the Brigadier and Chinn are constantly vying to stay in control of the situation surrounding the seemingly distressed Axon craft, with the Brigadier, Benton and Yates arrested by the military at one point.  Whilst other civil servants have acted foolishly (see Geoffrey Palmer’s infected Masters in The Silurians) or acted antagonistically towards the Doctor and the Brigadier, Chinn seems completely callous.  When he wanders into the reactor room towards the serial’s conclusion, he is more concerned about the potential impact on his career than the fate of the Earth.

Ah, Mister Chinn.  Where have you been hiding yourself?  Canteen?

As it so happens, I’ve been doing your job!

Oh yes?

Trying to do something about the situation.

Which particular situation?

Axonite, Brigadier, Axonite.  Do you realise that Britain’s going to get the blame for all this? 

Britain or you, Mister Chinn?

Well, if you won’t get me the Ministry…where’s Hardiman?

Dead.

Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart and Chinn

Despite the story being quite formulaic, I do quite like the Axons.  There is certainly something about their gold faces and bug-like eyes which is rather unsettling and they are rather unique in the grand scheme of Doctor Who foes, seemingly being a benevolent force.  The costumes in both their humanoid and “raw” forms are quite effectively creepy and I like the idea of them being an embodiment of their ship.  Their plan is an allusion to the fuel crisis in the 1970s, with Axonite being gifted to the humans as a substitute fuel and a “chameleon element”.  When it is sold to humanity like that, it is perhaps not surprising that Chinn would take this attitude to hoard the supplies for Britain, and it is only with the intervention of the Master that Axos’s plan gets back on track.

Claws of Axos - Master

Speaking of the Master, Roger Delgado is great as usual.  He is able to easily manage scenes like hypnotising the UNIT truck driver and using a frankly ludicrous disguise to get past Benton with his usual charming and suave demeanour, and it is perhaps difficult to see any of his successors in the role managing to pull this off in the same way.  The one element that doesn’t really work is the presence of Bill Filer, an American agent sent to arrest the Master, not helped by an accent that could be described as shaky at best.  Despite this, I’m still not bored of the Master turning up every episode, and it is nice to see the Doctor and the Master finally working together to defeat Axos.  Considering how spiky the Third Doctor has been in his tenure to date, it is not surprising to see his abandonment of humanity once he has an inkling of a way off the planet and the scenes with the Master and the Doctor in the TARDIS are a joy.  It’s equally nice to see the Master almost acting as the scientific advisor to UNIT and the Master’s frustration that the Brigadier won’t simply let him leave his fantastic.

Claws of Axos - Brigadier, Master, Filer

If I had one major criticism, it would be that Katy Manning doesn’t really have very much to do here.  This might be in part why I am not keen on the character of Bill Filer, as his role could have been much better filled by Jo, especially the initial discovery of the Master.  I do like Jo as a companion, so it is a shame to see her reduced to a bit part here, especially as she is one of two women who appear in this story.

Verdict: Whilst the story is almost a paint by numbers Earth invasion story, there are moments that redeem it from becoming completely formulaic.  This is probably helped by decent performances from the regulars, especially Delgado. 6/10

Cast: Jon Pertwee (The Doctor), Katy Manning (Jo Grant), Nicholas Courtney (Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart), John Levene (Sergeant Benton), Richard Franklin (Captain Mike Yates), Roger Delgado (The Master), Paul Grist (Filer), Peter Bathurst (Chinn), Fernanda Marlowe (Corporal Bell), Donald Hewlett (Hardiman), David Savile (Winser), Derek Ware (Pigbin Josh), Bernard Holley (Axon Man), Michael Walker (1st Radar Operator), David G Marsh (2nd Radar Operator), Patricia Gordino (Axon Woman), John Hicks (Axon Boy), Debbie Lee London (Axon Girl), Tim Piggott-Smith (Captain Harker), Kenneth Benda (Defence Minister) & Royston Farrell (Technician).

Writer: Bob Baker & Dave Martin

Director: Michael Ferguson

Parts: 4

Behind the Scenes

  • The first contribution to the show by Bob Baker and Dave Martin.  Originally envisaged as a six or seven-part story, it was scaled back due to issues relating to the budget.
  • The first appearance of the TARDIS interior in Pertwee’s era, and the differences seen here – the corridor between the main doors and the console room and the monitor screen being contained in a roundel.  When the TARDIS interior reappeared later, both features were gone.
  • An overnight snowstorm during location filming necessitated the line regarding the ‘freak weather conditions’ caused by the arrival of Axos.
  • The third and final serial of the Pertwee era to use the Patrick Troughton variation of the theme.
  • Bernard Holley previously appeared in The Tomb of the Cybermen and would reprise his role in The Feast of Axos.  Peter Bathurst had previously appeared in The Power of the Daleks, John Hicks had previously appeared in The Dominators, and Tim Piggott-Smith would go on to appear in The Masque of Mandragora.

Best Moment

Seeing the Master and the Brigadier working together is quite enjoyable.

Best Quote

What else can we do?

Oh, nothing very much.  Oh, I suppose you can take the usual precautions against nuclear blast, like, er, sticky tape on the windows and that sort of thing.

Hardiman and the Master

Claws of Axos - Jo, Doctor, Filer

The Mind of Evil

The Mind of Evil Master Jo Doctor.jpg

We believe what our minds tell us to, Jo.

The Third Doctor

Synopsis

The Doctor and Jo Grant investigate the Keller Machine at Stangmoor Prison, which is being used to remove any malicious elements of prisoners’ personalities. 

Meanwhile, the Brigadier and UNIT are being stretched as they are responsible for security for the World Peace Conference, as well as having to deal with the decommissioning of a Thunderbolt Missile.  Things only get more complicated for the Doctor and the Brigadier when they discover that the Master is behind the Keller Machine.

Review

The Mind of Evil could be seen as a quintessential story of the Third Doctor’s era.  All of the elements are present; Jo and the UNIT family, Roger Delgado’s Master and the Earth-bound nature of the story, however, this has a truly international flavour and feels as though it could be a Bond movie in places.  Some time has passed since the events of Terror of the Autons, clear by the fact that there has been some improvement in the relationship between the Third Doctor and Jo, and the Master developing the Keller Machine, and unlike other six part stories, it feels as though there is enough going on to warrant the story’s length and the direction works well to ensure that the viewer remains engaged. That is not to say that the story is perfect, however, as the story does fall down if you think about the Master’s plan too much and I feel that there is not enough done with the creature inside the Machine.  However, by and large, thanks to the direction, this feels like a fun romp through a story with a truly international feel.  I feel compelled to complement the work done by Stuart Humphyres to bring the first part back to life in colour – I’m sure that it was painstaking work and it really looks fantastic.

One of the strongest elements of this story is that there is enough plot to go around.  In the beginning, the three different plot strands appear to be relatively separate, with the Doctor and Jo off investigating and UNIT in a bit of a panic about the Peace Conference and the destruction of the missile, however, Houghton ties the story together nicely in the end by introducing the Master, and the plot feels quite grand and Bond-like in scope.  Delgado’s Master is suave and menacing in equal measure and adds a great deal of glee to proceedings and a gentlemanly charm to boot.  The scene with him and the Doctor meeting in the Governor’s office in Part 3 feels very much like a confrontation between Holmes and Moriarty, complete with a Bond villain style chair swivel.   There is certainly a sense of swagger and confidence in the production, which certainly helps the story along in its more shaky elements and this is probably due to Combe going over budget.  It certainly feels as though there are loads of extras, especially in the prison break scenes, which is rare for Doctor Who.

The Mind of Evil Prison.jpg

Something else I really liked about this story is that the core cast of the Doctor, Jo, the Brigadier, Benton and Yates get quite a lot to do and there are some lovely moments between some of the characters.  When the Brigadier shows up just in the nick of time to save the Doctor and Jo from Mailer and the Doctor berates him, Courtney has a little smile on his face which makes the viewer think that he knows that the Doctor appreciates it really.  Equally, there’s a really nice moment between the Brig and Benton after the former tells the latter that he is now acting governor of Stangmoor Prison and almost immediately, the Brigadier warns him about getting delusions of grandeur which is quite an amusing moment.  Having spent some considerable time in their company, the writers now feel as though they can flesh out these kinds of interactions here.  The Doctor seems to have become much more favourably disposed towards Jo too, perhaps thanks to continued offscreen adventures in the six months that have elapsed between Terror of the Autons and this story.  The Doctor and the Brigadier seem to have developed a rapport, demonstrated by Courtney’s smirk when the Doctor delivers the following line:

Do you think for once in your life you could arrive just before the nick of time?

The Third Doctor

This isn’t to say that this story is without flaws.  The Master’s plan, for one, feels very generically villainous and not really in keeping with the Master’s modus operandi.  The Master wants to use the missile to destroy the Earth and rule over any survivors, which does feel a bit like it’s been lifted from a Bond movie.  Equally, I would have liked to have seen more development of the creature contained within the Keller Machine.  Some of the best moments are when the Doctor and the Master are subject to it’s psychic impact so it would have been interesting to know where the Master had found it and captured it for this story.  These elements do bother me slightly, but thanks to Coombe’s direction, my mind perhaps didn’t linger on these issues for longer.

The Mind of Evil Jo and the Doctor


Verdict: A really ambitious story with some lovely direction and character moments, which is let down by a few small niggles.  I really like this story, maybe because it reminds of Bond films of this era.  8/10

Cast: Jon Pertwee (The Doctor), Katy Manning (Jo Grant), Nicholas Courtney (Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart), Richard Franklin (Mike Yates), Pik-Sen Lim (Captain Chin Lee), Raymond Westwell (Prison Governor), Michael Sheard (Dr. Summmers), Simon Lack (Professor Kettering), Neil McCarthy (Barnham), Fernanda Marlowe (Corporal Bell), Clive Scott (Linwood), Roy Purcell (Chief Prison Officer Powers), Eric Mason (Senior Prison Officer Green), Bill Matthews, Barry Wade, Dave Carter & Martin Gordon (Prison Officers), Roger Delgado (The Master), John Levene (Sergeant Benton), William Marlowe (Mailer), Hayden Jones (Vosper), Kristopher Kum (Fu Peng), Tommy Duggan (Senator Alcott), David Calderisi (Charlie), Patrick Godfrey (Major Cosworth), Johnny Barrs (Fuller) & Matthew Walters (Main Gate Prisoner).

Writer: Don Houghton

Director: Timothy Combe

Parts: 6

Behind the Scenes

  • Timothy Combe went so over budget that Barry Letts banned him from working on the programme in the future.  Exceeding of the budget was largely down to the use of a helicopter in the final part.
  • The third story not to feature the Doctor’s TARDIS, although the Master’s TARDIS appears briefly at the end of the story.
  • There is no surviving colour print of The Mind of Evil.  Part One was recolourised by Stuart Humphryes (better known as Babel Colour), whilst the remaining parts were recoloured using chroma-dot restoration.
  • The only story to date to see the Doctor’s dialogue subtitled whilst he is speaking Hokkien.
  • Pik-Sen Lim, who played Captain Chin Lee, was married to Don Houghton.
  • Haven’t I seen you somewhere before?: Michael Sheard (The Ark, Pyramids of Mars, The Invisible Enemy, Castrovalva and Remembrance of the Daleks.


Best Moment

I really like the reveal of the Master in the tent outside UNIT’s headquarters.  I think it is really nicely directed by Combe.

Best Quote

Science has abolished the hangman’s noose, and substituted this infallible method.

People who talk about infallibility are usually on very shaky ground.

Professor Kettering and the Third Doctor

 

Minuet in Hell

minuet in hell

Leave me be! Don’t carry me off to Hell…I’m awfully trepidatious about Hell, you know.

Eighth Doctor

Synopsis

It is early in the 21st Century, and Malebolgia is enjoying its status as the 51st state of the United States.  The Brigadier has been invited over to provide advice after his role in securing the devolution of powers to Scotland.  There’s definitely more going on here than meets the eye, with a man in the mental institution talking about a TARDIS.

Review

Anyone who has read this blog, specifically my reviews of Jon Pertwee’s era, will know how much I love the Brigadier, and I desperately wanted this story to be good.  Therefore it really pains me to say that the only meeting of the Brigadier and the Eighth Doctor is a substandard entry.  None of the plot elements really grab me, and the story feels as though it does go on for so long and the American accents really don’t help either.  There are lots of elements that seem to be thrown at the listener, but hardly any of them really stick and it really does feel like a slog to get to the finish line.

The best part of this story are the performances of Nicholas Briggs, Paul McGann and Nicholas Courtney, who at least keep you vaguely engaged with the story.  Briggs brings a degree of sinisterness to Gideon Crane, a man who has got the memories of the Doctor in his head, a reference to the fact that Nick Briggs played the Doctor in the Audio Visuals.  Nicholas Courtney superbly brings his Brigadier back to life, and the scenes with him expressing his exasperation with his superiors back in Britain.  I particularly enjoy him wishing that the Secretary of State would find a demon in his jacuzzi! The Doctor being incapacitated for most of the story means that the Brigadier is essentially the male lead and Courtney is able to pull this off as well as you would expect.  McGann is also great, dealing with the confusion of the amnesiac Doctor perfectly and his recovery of his memories is nicely played as a gradual transition and not everything falling into place at once.  His interactions with Gideon Crane greatly help this.

The writing really lets this story down.  Minuet in Hell had a very troubled production, with Alan Lear suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome whilst writing this story and Gary Russell rewriting the second half of the story.  However, it is more symptomatic of problems with the early Eighth Doctor audios.  It feels as though Big Finish are uncertain about the direction they want to take this series in, and this story seems to be veering more towards making the story darker and more adult.  This is a story in which Charley essentially gets forced into being a prostitute and very briefly attends an orgy, combined with a Satanist cult.  Maybe it’s my Christian background but the Satanism aspect of this story certainly makes really and deeply uncomfortable.  There are also so many different plot strands here as well, like the PSI-859 and the Doctor’s amnesia, but none really grabbed me as wanting to know how the story will end.  Honestly, I just wanted to get through it relatively unscathed.  Additionally, and I’m aware that this may just be me being a massive Brigadier fan, but I hate the fact that the Doctor and the Brigadier spend so little time together with the Doctor’s memories restored.  It is a bold move in the Eighth Doctor’s fifth story in total and fourth since McGann came back to Big Finish for the Doctor to lose his memory.  Sadly, I think it is too early in his run for a story where the Doctor takes a complete backseat until the final part.

Sadly the majority of the other performances are largely poor, let down by poor accents.  I feel that I do need to let India Fisher off the hook though, as she does the best she can with some incredibly stilted dialogue.  The performances are chewing the scenery, to put it mildly and the stereotypical American accents are really painful to listen to, especially Waldo Pickering and Becky Lee.  Becky Lee, a member of the Order of St Matthew, who is essentially Buffy the Vampire Slayer, is so irritating that I think I might have to re-evaluate listening to nails being scraped down a blackboard, meanwhile Waldo Pickering sounds as though he might be trying to sell me southern fried chicken at any moment.  Marchiosias is also not at all intimidating, partially due to being given really sarcastic dialogue constantly, really undermining the sense of menace I suspect he was supposed to generate.

Verdict: Really, Minuet in Hell is a story that I would recommend skipping unless you’re a completist or love the Brigadier (like me).  Good performances from McGann, Courtney and Briggs can’t save this incredibly poor conclusion to the Eighth Doctor’s first series at Big Finish. 2/10

Cast: Paul McGann (The Doctor), India Fisher (Charley Pollard), Nicholas Courtney (Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart), Robert Jezek (Brigham Elisha Dashwood III), Morgan Deare (Senator Waldo Pickering), Helen Goldwyn (Becky Lee Kowalczyck/Catatonic Woman), Maureen Oakeley (Dr. Dale Pargeter), Nicholas Briggs (Gideon Crane), Hylton Collins (Orderly), Barnaby Edwards (Scott/Catatonic Man), Alistair Lock (Guard), Jacqueline Rayner (Catatonic Woman) & Nicholas Pegg (Catatonic Man)

Writer: Alan W. Lear & Gary Russell

Director: Nicholas Briggs

Parts: 4

Behind the Scenes

  • The story marks the first meeting of the Brigadier and the Eighth Doctor.
  • It is a remake of an Audio Visuals story of the same name.
  • The last story to use David Arnold’s original arrangement in Storm Warning.

Best Quote

Quite a man your friend, the Brigadier.  One of the best you said?

No, Charley.  THE best.

Charley Pollard and the Eighth Doctor