The Android Invasion

Is that finger loaded?

The Fourth Doctor

Synopsis

The Doctor and Sarah arrive at Devesham on Earth, near the Space Defence Station. However, as they investigate the village, they discover that all is not as it seems: the village is deserted, the telephones don’t work, calendars are stuck on the same date and

Review

I’d love to be able to say that The Android Invasion is a lot of fun and feels in keeping with an otherwise superb run of episodes in Season 13. Instead, Terry Nation’s tenth Doctor Who story struggles with inconsistencies, pointless nods to continuity and poor plotting. It is not entirely terrible, however, and does probably suffer from being similar in certain ways to Terror of the Zygons, the season opener and perhaps the blame has to be split between Nation and the script editor, Robert Holmes, for not making these two stories feel more distinct. It isn’t all bad either; the first two parts of the story are genuinely unnerving and there is some solid direction from the ever-reliable Barry Letts.

Ultimately, the main problem with this is the plot, and it is rather frustrating but not surprising that this comes from the pen of Terry Nation who has been capable of great stories, but equally some pretty drab ones. This story features elements such as meteorites, duplicates and viruses which feels as though Nation is throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks. When the Devesham that the Doctor and Sarah arrive in at the start of the story is revealed to be a highly detailed duplicate to prepare for a Kraal invasion, it begs the question why they were making such a detailed duplicate only to destroy it. Then there comes the eye patch reveal for Crayford which is just plain stupid. I know that the Kraals have obviously manipulated the astronaut to believe that humanity has abandoned him, but it is never explained why he has never felt inclined to check under the patch before. Further issues include why Sarah’s duplicate’s face falls off when the android duplicates are supposed to be indestructible and why the threat of invasion disappears as soon as Styggron is killed. The most glaring involves the TARDIS pause control, which means that the TARDIS travels from the duplicate woods to the real ones when Sarah puts her key in the lock, which smacks of laziness. Whilst Nation’s basic concept is sound, it feels as though as soon as he put flesh onto the bones, it falls apart.

We then come to the use of UNIT in this story. I’m not sure why the tease of the Brigadier is included after it became clear that Nicholas Courtney was unavailable as it almost heightens the expectation that he will come in at some point to come to the rescue or get in the Doctor’s way. Colonel Faraday is also such a disappointment in comparison and ultimately isn’t good enough to lace the Brigadier’s bootlaces. Anyone who has read my reviews of the Third Doctor’s stories with UNIT knows that they are part of one of my favourite eras of the show, and knows that one of my biggest gripes with Chris Chibnall has been the scrapping of UNIT. Therefore, it is a bit of a disappointment to see Benton and Harry dealt with so shabbily, especially considering that Harry was a duplicate in his final outing with the Doctor, Terror of the Zygons. In Sladen’s autobiography she states that at the time it didn’t feel as though this would be the final appearance for Marter, but with hindsight, it feels like he never really got a proper goodbye. The character is being revised by Big Finish, played by Christopher Naylor and will return to travelling with the Fourth Doctor, so maybe the character will finally get a farewell.

Let’s try the pub!

The Fourth Doctor

Barry Letts does his best with the story and manages to create some striking visuals out of this story, starting from the opening moments when the UNIT soldier staggers through the forest. Other highlights include the Doctor and Sarah walking through the deserted Devesham and the sequence in the pub where the android doubles enter and start acting normally when the clock chimes, which are really eerie. The advantage of bringing Letts back to direct becomes clear in the final part in the Doctor vs. Android Doctor fight, which looks really convincing and an action-based finale reminiscent of the Pertwee era.

The relationship between the Doctor and Sarah is cemented here, and there are some nice moments between them in the first part, like the bit with the bramble, which makes their relationship seem believable. Despite my criticisms of Nation’s story, one part that works really well is the build-up to the cliff-hanger at the end of Episode 2 where it is revealed that Sarah is an android duplicate. It is a clever reveal, with a seemingly throwaway line of Sarah not liking ginger pop, and the fact that the real Sarah wasn’t wearing her scarf when he left her. Combined with the way that the Doctor disarms the android, it builds to one of the better cliff-hangers in Doctor Who history. Among the guest cast, Milton Johns does a decent job with Crayford, the missing British astronaut who is manipulated by the Kraals, but ultimately, better actors would struggle with the eye patch reveal. Martin Friend as Styggron stands out too, even though the Kraals and their plot doesn’t really make sense.

Verdict: Ultimately, The Android Invasion feels as though it has an interesting basic concept but falls apart under scrutiny. Sadly, ultimately it left me feeling cold. 4/10

Cast: Tom Baker (The Doctor), Elisabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane Smith), Ian Marter (Harry Sullivan), Patrick Newell (Colonel Faraday), John Levene (RSM Benton), Milton Johns (Guy Crayford), Max Faulkner (Corporal Adams), Peter Welch (Morgan), Martin Friend (Styggron), Dave Carter (Grierson), Roy Skelton (Chedaki), Stuart Fell (Kraal), Hugh Lund (Matthews) & Heather Emmanuel (Tessa).

Writer: Terry Nation

Director: Barry Letts

Parts: 4

Behind the Scenes

  • Terry Nation was inspired by the film Invasion of the Body Snatchers. This would be Nation’s penultimate script for the show, returning for the last time for Destiny of the Daleks. This was his first story not to feature the Daleks since The Keys of Marinus.
  • The first UNIT story not to feature the Brigadier, although it was originally intended to. Nicholas Courtney had committed to a theatre tour believing that he would not be returning to the show. He also stated later to Doctor Who Magazine that he was “very annoyed” after being asked back for a previous story and had his part cancelled at the last moment, after he had already turned down other work.
  • Neither Ian Marter nor John Levene enjoyed returning for this story; Levene as none of the other UNIT regulars were present and Marter because he didn’t see any reason for Harry to be there. Sadly, this would be Marter’s final appearance on the show, as he passed away on 28 October 1986. Levene would reprise the role for Big Finish Productions.
  • Working titles for this story included The Kraals, The Kraal Invasion and The Enemy Within.
  • The comedian Kenneth Williams noted in his diary after watching Episode 2 that “Doctor Who gets more and more silly.”

Cast Notes

  • Milton Johns appeared in The Enemy of the World and would appear in the later Fourth Doctor serial, The Invasion of Time.

Best Moment

The cliffhanger at the end of Part 2, where the Sarah that the Doctor is revealed to be talking to is an android double, culminating in the famous shot where “her” face falls off. It is by far the best part of this story.

Best Quote

Once upon a time there were three sisters, and they lived in the bottom of a treacle well. Their names were Olga, Marsha and Irena…Are you listening, Tillie? I feel disorientated.

This is the disorientation centre!

That makes sense.

The Fourth Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith

Previous Fourth Doctor story: Pyramids of Mars

Reviews Mentioned:

Terror of the Zygons

Pyramids of Mars

Your evil is my good. I am Sutekh the Destroyer. Where I tread, I leave nothing but dust and darkness. I find that good.

Sutekh

Synopsis

Continuing his attempts to return Sarah back to UNIT Headquarters, the Doctor and his companion find themselves in a Gothic mansion where mummies are killing people. Underneath a Pyramid, the last of the Osirians is imprisoned and plotting his escape to destroy all other life in the universe.

Review

Pyramids of Mars is an undisputed classic story, worthy of mention in the same breath as other great stories from Tom Baker’s seven year run as the Doctor and the show’s entire history. Similarly to another great story, Ark in Space, this was a page one rewrite by script editor Robert Holmes after the initial script by Lewis Greifer was deemed to be unworkable and almost rewrites the Doctor into being a guardian of time, unconsciously sowing the seeds of what the character would certainly become after the 2005 revival. It also features one of the great one-off villains in the form of Sutekh, voiced by Gabriel Woolf – who has reprised the role for audio but the character has never returned in a televised episode.

Deactivating a generator loop without without the correct key is like repairing a watch with a hammer and chisel. One false move and you’ll never know the time again.

The Fourth Doctor

Something that is really striking here is the fact that the Fourth Doctor seems remarkably grumpy in this story. I am not sure whether was due to Holmes’ writing or Paddy Russell’s direction and also ties into the Doctor’s reluctance to take on this role of protecting the established time line. From the behind the scenes documentary and Elisabeth Sladen’s autobiography, I know that both Tom Baker and Sladen found Russell difficult to work with, especially due to her insistence on exploring every possible variation on a scene despite the actors’ feeling that they had got the required material to the point that they . In her autobiography, Sladen recalls Bernard Archard comparing the experience to being kept behind after school. In Russell’s defence, the direction in no small part contributes to this story being so memorable and it is probably hard to imagine how difficult it was to be a female director in a male-dominated BBC at the time, possibly why she was so insistent on Elisabeth Sladen firing the gun, not stuntman Terry Walsh later on in the story, especially when you factor in the fact that Sladen is the only female performer in the production. Despite the actors’ finding the experience draining, the results can’t be argued with and the mummies and Sutekh look particularly terrifying, but it is one possible explanation as to why the Doctor might be in such a bad mood even in his few moments of levity. I found the mummies particularly effective and unnerving in the early scenes when they are released from the sarcophagus.

Baker’s portrayal of the Doctor might be down to the script, which is a really strong one but one that sees the Doctor having what might be best described as a Time Lord mid-life crisis – not wanting to carry on his affiliation with the Brig and UNIT, but reluctant to turn back toward the traditional Time Lord policy of non-interference. A scene that really struck me was when Sarah suggests leaving 1911 England as they all know that the World didn’t end then. The Doctor then takes her and Lawrence Scarman to the year that Sarah comes from (1980) to show them the future should they not interfere, a blasted wilderness of thunder, rain and lightning besieging a destroyed Earth. The reason that this scene had such an impact on me was probably because I watched this shortly before watching The Shakespeare Code, where Martha states a similar thing, but the Tenth Doctor simply tells us that the world could end now as time is in flux. I feel that this scene is much more effective way of communicating this to the audience – in the school of ‘show don’t tell’ – but equally, as the modern show is trying to tell a story in less time, I can see how it’s better to be explained in a sentence. The story does fall off slightly in Part 4, as I didn’t really find the puzzles within the pyramid containing the Eye of Horus particularly compelling, but the story does hang together really well as a whole. The Gothic feel and Hammer Horror influences are obvious here, stalwarts of the Hinchcliffe/Holmes era with the plot circulating around Egyptian history and mummies.

It’s difficult to find a weak link in the guest cast in what is a remarkably solid production. Gabriel Woolf is superb as Sutekh, which is a part that in other hands could feel really rather overblown, but Woolf underplays the majority of his dialogue at almost a whisper which makes him all the more menacing. Bernard Archard is particularly good, looking like a cross between Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing in a Hammer Horror film as the possessed Marcus Scarman and Michael Sheard is great in the role of the slightly meeker Lawrence. Archard’s performance in the scene where he gets shot by the poacher, Ernie Clements, and the direction there is really rather wonderful. It is simple effect, shot backwards but the execution is really good.

Verdict: An extremely strong episode, deserving of the label of Classic, Pyramids of Mars is only slightly let down by the concluding part. 9/10

Cast: Tom Baker (The Doctor), Elisabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane Smith), Bernard Archard (Marcus Scarman), Michael Sheard (Lawrence Scarman), Peter Copley (Dr. Warlock), Peter Maycock (Namin), Michael Bilton (Collins), Vik Tablian (Ahmed), Nick Burnell, Melvyn Bedford and Kevin Selway (Mummies), George Tovey (Ernie Clements) & Gabriel Woolf (Sutekh).

Writer: “Stephen Harris” (Louis Greifer and Robert Holmes)

Director: Paddy Russell

Parts: 4

Behind the Scenes

  • The story was originally written by Lewis Greifer but it was considered unworkable. Robert Holmes completely rewrote the story, which was credited under the pseudonym of Stephen Harris.
  • Pyramids of Mars contributes to one of the biggest controversies in Doctor Who: the UNIT dating controversy. Sarah consistently states that she is from 1980, which contradicts earlier adventures featuring UNIT and the Brigadier.
  • The new TARDIS console introduced in Planet of Evil does not appear again until The Invisible Enemy. Due to the cost of setting up the console for a handful of scenes, a cheaper new console and set were designed.
  • The first of two stories in the original run in which the only survivors are the Doctor and his companion, the other being The Horror of Fang Rock. The only character who does not die on screen is Ahmed who was killed off in the novelisation written by Terrance Dicks, despite their being no evidence of him being killed off in the televised story.
  • Sarah is the only female character in this story, the first time that this has been the case since The Smugglers and this would next occur in The Ribos Operation.

Cast Notes

  • Michael Sheard previously appeared in The Ark and The Mind of Evil and would go on to appear in The Invisible Enemy, Castrovalva and Remembrance of the Daleks.
  • Bernard Archard had previously appeared in The Power of the Daleks.
  • Michael Bilton appeared opposite William Hartnell in The Massacre of Saint Bartholomew’s Eve.
  • George Tovey was the father of Roberta Tovey who played Susan in the Peter Cushing Dalek movies.
  • Gabriel Woolf would return to voice the Beast in The Impossible Planet and The Satan Pit.

Best Moment

This one is difficult one this week. I’m going to go for two, both of which have been mentioned in my review above:

  1. The scene where the Doctor takes Sarah and Lawrence to the new 1980; and
  2. The scene where Ernie shoots Marcus Scarman, only to see the shot disappear in a puff of smoke.

Best Quote

What’s the matter? You should be glad to be going home.

The Earth isn’t my home, Sarah. I’m a Time Lord.

I know you’re a Time Lord.

You don’t understand the implications. I’m not a human being. I walk in eternity.

What’s that supposed to mean?

It means I’ve lived for something like seven hundred and fifty years.

Oh, you’ll soon be middle aged.

Yes! About time I found something better to do than run around after the Brigadier.

Sarah Jane Smith and the Fourth Doctor

Previous Fourth Doctor Review: Planet of Evil

Reviews mentioned:

The Ark in Space

Books referenced:

Elisabeth Sladen: The Autobiography, published 2011

Planet of Evil

Planet of Evil - Forest

You and I are scientists, Professor.  We buy our privilege to experiment at the cost of total responsibility.

The Doctor

Synopsis

Picking up a distress call from the edge of the known universe, the Doctor and Sarah Jane find themselves on Zeta Minor, where a geological team have been nearly wiped out.

Review

Planet of Evil is a story that arguably suffers from being flanked by better known and iconic serials in Series 13 and I was certainly pleasantly surprised on watching it.  Whilst it certainly wears its influences on its sleeves, it benefits from some amazing set design by Roger Murray-Leach and direction by David Maloney, along with strong performances from Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen and most of the guest cast.

Planet of Evil - Doctor and Sarah, TARDIS

The story is perhaps most clearly influenced by The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson, with both the titular planet and Sorenson from the third part onwards having multiple personalities.  It also takes ideas from Forbidden Planet, the team from Monestra coming to investigate a missing team and the design of the id creature.  The story itself is relatively simple but it is quite compelling and certainly kept me gripped for its run time, and even has a decent cliffhanger at the end of Part 3 (albeit with a naff resolution) that sees the Doctor and Sarah seemingly being ejected out into space.  Writer Louis Marks brought the anti-matter element into the story and it is interesting to note how different this use of it is to The Three Doctors and Arc of Infinity.  It is also enormously to the story’s benefit that it doesn’t feel tedious when the ship is unable to leave Zeta Minor and the crew are refusing to listen to the Doctor and Sarah.  Something that did really stand out to me is that the story goes to the effort to show that the Monestrans have funeral traditions in a brief scene in Part 3, which really makes them feel more fleshed out than a simple humanoid race.   The conclusion is underwhelming, however, and I understand that it was a late change to have Sorenson survive the story at the request of Philip Hinchcliffe.  Regardless of whether the character survived the events of the story or not, it doesn’t change the fact that he was ultimately a tragic character.

We’re stationary.  Suspended in space.

It’s crazy.  The thrusters are at full power.

The answer’s really very simple.  You’ve come to the end of your piece of elastic.

Vishinsky, Salamar and The Doctor

The story benefits from high production values, especially with the design of the forest of Zeta Minor designed by Roger Murray-Leach.  The sinister and foreboding design makes the planet feel like a character in itself and the extensive work that doubtlessly went into the planning and making of the forest cannot be understated.  It certainly looks as real a world now as it would have done at the time of broadcast and made me for one feel as though it went on beyond the limits of the set.  The direction certainly helps the eerieness of the forest – there is so little distinction between day and night on this planet that means that there is almost a constant sense of uneasiness whenever the characters are on the planet.  Additionally, the spacecraft sets are quite effectively used and the effects used to make Sorenson’s eyes glow and the id creature are really rather effective.

Planet of Evil - Sorensen

The performances of Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen are exemplary here, and it is easy to see why they are regarded by many as the quintessential Doctor and companion pairing.  There is no Harry Sullivan shaped hole in this story which is to the story’s credit – as much as I like Harry, there would not have been enough for him to do here.  The Doctor is suitably incredulous and full of wide-eyed wonder throughout and he feels completely comfortable in this role.  Sladen, on the other hand, is sold rather short by the story, reduced a simple role as a messenger for the Doctor for large parts of the story, but equally, she has come to grips with Sarah.  Sladen’s reduced role is potentially worse because she is also the only female character in the production.  Amongst the guest cast, Sorenson and Vishinsky stand out as positives, with Frederick Jaeger convincingly capturing the emotional trauma of the experiences his character has been through on Zeta Minor.  Ewen Solon is likable as Vishinsky and performs admirably against a variable Prentis Hancock who seems to be largely wooden for most of the story and potentially a better performance would have increased my interest in their power struggle.

Verdict:  A solid if unspectacular story, Planet of Evil benefits from some amazing production design and solid performances.  7/10

Cast: Tom Baker (The Doctor), Elisabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane Smith), Ewen Solon (Vishinsky), Frederick Jaeger (Sorenson), Prentis Hancock (Salamar), Michael Wisher (Morelli), Graham Weston (De Haan), Louis Mahoney (Ponti), Terence Brook (Braun), Tony McEwan (Baldwin), Haydn Wood (O’Hara) & Melvyn Bedford (Reig).

Writer: Louis Marks

Director: David Maloney

Parts: 4

Behind the Scenes

  • The jungle was a set designed by Roger Murray-Leach.  It was so impressive that the BBC used it as an example of fine set design for a long time after production concluded.
  • The first appearance of a new TARDIS console, and additionally, the first appearance of the TARDIS interior since Death to the Daleks.
  • This is the first story commissioned by Phillip Hinchcliffe – every previous story had been commissioned by his predecessors, Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks.  The story was conceived as a mash-up between Forbidden Planet and The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde.
  • The ship’s main cabin set would be reused in Robots of Death.

Cast Notes

  • The final appearance of Michael Wisher in Doctor Who.  Despite being the original actor to portray Davros, regular theatre commitments would mean that he would be unable to reprise the role.
  • Prentis Hancock previously appeared in Spearhead from Space and Planet of the Daleks and would go on to reappear in The Ribos Operation.
  • Frederick Jaeger and Ewen Solon were in The Savages.
  • Louis Mahoney was in Frontier in Space and would go on to be in Blink.
  • Graham Western previously appeared in The War Games.

Best Moment

Sarah’s walk through the forest is very atmospheric and creepy as she goes to look for the Doctor in Part Two.

Honourable Mentions

The closing shot of the TARDIS spinning away into space at the end of Part 4 is beautiful.

Best Quote

Here on Zeta Minor is the boundary between existence as you know it and the other universe which you just don’t understand.  From the beginning of time it has existed side by side with the known universe.  Each is the antithesis of the other.  You call it “nothing”, a word to cover ignorance.  And centuries ago scientists invented another word for it.  “Antimatter”, they called it.  And you, by coming here, have crossed the boundary into that other universe to plunder it.  Dangerous…

The Doctor

Planet of Evil - ID creature

Terror of the Zygons

TotZ Doctor and Brigadier.jpg

When I left you with that psionic beam, Brigadier, I said that it was only to be used in an emergency!

This is an emergency!

Oil? An emergency? Ha! It’s about time the people who ran this planet of yours realised that to be dependent on a mineral slime just doesn’t make sense.

The Fourth Doctor and Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart

Synopsis

The Doctor, Sarah Jane and Harry answer the Brigadier’s summons to Scotland, where something has destroyed three oil rigs.  When pieces of the wreckage are found to have teeth marks, the investigation inevitably leads to Loch Ness…

Review

With this kicking off the first series that producer Philip Hinchcliffe and script editor Robert Holmes had full control over, Terror of the Zygons seems to have much more of a gothic angle which becomes synonymous with the Hinchcliffe era.  Like Robot before it, there is the potential to say that this is a Third Doctor story that just happens to feature the Fourth Doctor instead, however, this serves as a much better departure from Baker’s predecessor’s era, with the story feeling all the more different for the slightly more ambivalent and alien Fourth Doctor.

TotZ Doctor and Broton

I really enjoy this story.  Robert Banks Stewart’s debut story is really strong, full of great lines and memorable moments, which is all the more surprising when you take into account the fact that he had never seen Doctor Who before.  His script balances humour and science fiction concepts balance nicely into the script, even despite some Scottish stereotyping – the story is top and tailed by characters talking about haggis, bagpipes and a joke about the frugal nature of the jokes.  This feels slightly less malicious than other nation’s stereotyping in Doctor Who, possibly because Banks Stewart was Scottish.  The story feels like a spy thriller in places, with the audience not being certain who they can trust at times.  The scene in the barn between Sarah Jane and the Zygon duplicate of Harry is superb and it really feels like a much better send-off for UNIT than Robot, even if Harry’s departure from the TARDIS team seems very poorly handled.  However, the Brigadier gets a good part to play in the story and it is fitting that the antagonist in his final appearance is susceptible to bullets.

The titular enemy are hardly original, however, owe a lot to production design and direction, which make them a truly memorable villain.  The reveal of the Zygon during the first part is superbly executed by Camfield, with the appearance of the Zygon’s arm, then the briefest glimpse of the eyes.  This builds up anticipation for their eventual reveal at the end of the first part of the story, which is superbly executed.  The impact of the Zygons owes a lot to some superb production design of both their costumes and their spaceship, which feels a lot more organic than spaceships of this era and certainly makes them look striking.  Sadly, some of their threat is undermined by the Skarasen, with the practical effect look really poorly executed, especially in the climactic scenes of the final part, which ultimately lets the episode down.   It is to the story’s credit that it doesn’t completely derail it.  The story also struggles to regain the pace after Broton tells Harry everything about the Zygons, including their ultimate plan to conquer the World using the Skarasen.  This exposition dump does make the closing part feel particularly anti-climatic.

TotZ Brigadier, Sarah and Harry.jpg

The TARDIS team are all on top form here, even if Harry’s departure feels very sudden.  For production reasons, I can see why he may seem redundant, however, I really like the character despite his old fashioned nature, and I really like having two companions as it enables the team to go off and investigate separate elements of the plot more effectively.  For instance, the Doctor is able to go off with the Brigadier, Sarah can investigate the pub and Harry is able to investigate the shoreline where wreckage of the oil rig has washed ashore.  Tom Baker gives a great performance as the Doctor and his performance here really emphasises the difference between himself and the previous actors to play the Doctor.  Whilst Pertwee may have flown off the handle at authority figures to do with the oil rig, this incarnation of the Doctor doesn’t seem quite so fiery or so concerned with human matters and really comes across as an alien.  It sounds obvious, but Elisabeth Sladen is as brilliant as ever, and this is a bright start to a new tone of Doctor Who stories.

Verdict: A slick, well directed story which is let down by a lack of tension towards the conclusion and poor practical effects for the Skarasen.  8/10

Cast: Tom Baker (The Doctor), Elisabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane Smith), Ian Marter (Harry Sullivan), Nicholas Courtney (Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart), John Levene (RSM Benton), John Woodnutt (Broton/Duke of Forgill), Lilias Walker (Sister Lamont), Robert Russell (The Caber), Angus Lennie (Angus), Tony Sibbald (Huckle), Hugh Martin (Munro), Bruce Wightman (Radio Operator), Bernard G. High (Corporal), Peter Symonds (Soldier), Keith Ashley and Ronald Gough (Zygons).

Writer: Robert Banks Stewart

Director: Douglas Camfield

Parts: 4

Behind the Scenes

  • The last appearance of John Levene and Ian Marter until The Android Invasion and the last appearance of Nicholas Courtney until Mawdryn Undead.
  • Terror of the Zygons was originally intended to close Season 12.
  • The only appearance of the Zygons in the original series, although a sole Zygon would have appeared in Shada.  They certainly made an impression though, especially on a young David McDonald (better known as David Tennant) and they would reappear in The Day of the Doctor.
  • In a weird bit of coincidence, the Brigadier is seen talking to a female Prime Minister – Margaret Thatcher had become Leader of the Conservative Party seven months before broadcast.
  • The first complete story directed by Douglas Camfield – if you discount Inferno, as during the production, Camfield fell ill.
  • Haven’t I seen you somewhere before?: John Woodnutt (Spearhead from SpaceFrontier in Space and Keeper of Traaken) and Angus Lennie (The Ice Warriors)

Best Moment

The scene with the Zygon-Harry and Sarah Jane in the barn is a highlight – it is beautifully directed by Douglas Camfield.

Best Quote

You can’t rule the world in hiding.  You’ve got to come out on the balcony sometimes and wave a tentacle.

Fourth Doctor

TotZ Harry and the Zygons.jpg

Revenge of the Cybermen

Revenge of the Cybermen Cybermen

Harry Sullivan is an imbecile!

Fourth Doctor

Synopsis

Arriving on Space Station Nerva in its distant past, the Doctor, Sarah and Harry find its crew threatened by a mysterious plague. Discovering that things are not what they seem, they stumble upon a plan to commit genocide devised by the Doctor’s old enemies, the Cybermen.

Review

Revenge of the Cybermen is a bit of a bizarre story really and a lacklustre end to Tom Baker’s largely strong first season. Having held a cult statement due to being the first story to be released on VHS, it demonstrates some poor writing and feels like a 60s era story. The direction is largely strong from Michael Briant and generally, the story feels as though it has quite high production values. I really struggle with this story, especially the Vogan Civil War element, which really failed to grab my interest.

Revenge of the Cybermen Doctor

I will start by talking about the positives of the story. I feel like the direction, is for the most part, quite good and Briant is very competent in his shots. I particularly like the contrasting uses of light on Nerva Beacon and on Voga, as it makes the scenes on the planet feel significantly different to those on the space station. This is not to say that everything works well, although the blame cannot solely be laid at Michael Briant’s door. The writing and some of the performances do him no favours and small things like the Cyber Leader having his hands on his hips when interrogating Sarah seem like contributing factors as to why the story doesn’t really work for me – the Cybermen seem to have too much emotion. Additionally, scenes like the fight between the Cybermen and the Vogans lack any kind of visual flair to keep them interesting, which feel especially necessary when they drag like they do here. Like I say, it would be unfair to blame the director solely for this, and he does do the best he can with an admittedly poor script. Briant does a good job considering the fact that he is working with a limited budget and it is fair to say that I think that Spielberg, or, to use a more achievable director for the modern series, Rachel Talalay, would struggle to make scenes involving that Cybermat look good.

As this story featured the return of the Cybermen after a seven-year absence, it does seem as though both Gerry Davis, one of the creators of the Cybermen, and Robert Holmes seem not to understand how they work. I think that Holmes, like his predecessor as script editor Terrance Dicks, did not like the Cybermen and so his interest was probably not too high when he came to do his extensive rewrites on this story, but there are some really ridiculous moments that smack of laziness on both men’s behalf. The Vogan Civil War is really uninteresting, rather extraordinary when you consider the calibre of actors under the prosthetics, and just feels like padding to get the story up to the required length. Each part feels as though it has a massive amount of exposition in There are also massive plot holes in this story, the most irritating of which being that the Vogans at no point consider using the gold as a weapon against the Cybermen, despite it being one of their weaknesses and Voga is the planet of gold. I really dislike the idea of gold being a weakness for the Cybermen anyway as it adds to a list of weaknesses for this supposedly continually upgrading race established over the course of 1960s Doctor Who, but this plot hole bugged me, especially as two Cybermen slaughter a load of Vogans in the overlong battle scene.

Sadly, unlike other stories of this era where the elements feel a bit lacking, this story suffers from coming early in Tom Baker’s era, and it is clear that he has not got to grips with the part during the production of this story. There are hints of the direction that Baker would take his incarnation and he isn’t helped by the fact that this story feels as though it was written for any of his three predecessors. It’s hard to say for certain, but the moments that feel most in character for this incarnation of the Doctor are likely ad-libbed moments and reactions. Equally, Sarah Jane feels very poorly written and lacking any agency. The scene where she is interrogated by the Cybermen in the concluding part really shows how disinterested Holmes was in this story, and it is a shame Sladen doesn’t have more to sink her teeth into. I do feel that both Sladen and Baker deserve a huge amount of credit for getting through the scene talking about heading towards the “biggest bang in the universe” without absolutely corpsing though. The only one of the TARDIS team who feels well written in this story is Harry, continuing to show his usefulness to the Doctor, combined with his occasional bumbling.

Verdict: The return of the Cybermen is really rather underwhelming, with a poorly written story which doesn’t stand up to much scrutiny. It does contain some lovely direction and the use of Wookey Hole Caves does raise it slightly. 3/10

Cast: Tom Baker (The Doctor), Elisabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane Smith), Ian Marter (Harry Sullivan), Ronald Leigh-Hunt (Commander Stevenson), William Marlowe (Lester), Jeremy Wilkin (Kellman), Kevin Stoney (Tyrum), David Collings (Vorus), Alec Wallis (Warner), Michael Wisher (Magrik), Brian Grellis (Sheprah), Christopher Robbie (Cyber-Leader) & Melville Jones (First Cybermen)

Writer: Gerry Davis

Director: Michael Briant

Parts: 4

Behind the Scenes

  • The symbol hanging in the Vogan audience chamber would be re-used in The Deadly Assassin and would be retrospectively named as the Seal of Rassilon.
  • The story was largely rewritten by Robert Holmes. The original story was set on a deserted space casino and Davis rewrote it to be set on the Nerva Beacon. This story carries Gerry Davis’ only writing credit on his own.
  • Terror of the Zygons was originally shot as the season finale for Tom Baker’s debut season, but was held over to start the following season.
  • The first Doctor Who story released on VHS.
  • The location filming took place at Wookey Hole Caves, where production was beset by bad luck. An electrician broke his leg and Elisabeth Sladen’s motorboat went out of control. Terry Walsh rescued Sladen, but was taken ill shortly afterwards.
  • First major appearance of the Cybermen since The Invasion. They had previously made a cameo appearance in Carnival of Monsters, their only appearance in the Pertwee era.
  • During the transmission of the story, William Hartnell passed away.
  • This story marks the reappearance of the TARDIS, which was last seen on screen in The Ark in Space.
  • The first occasion where the Cybermen’s voices are provided by the actor inside the suit.

Best Moment

The entrance of the Cybermen at the end of the second part is one of my favourite parts of this story.

Best Quote

Then what is it? You’ve no home planet, no influence, nothing. You’re just a pathetic bunch of tin soldiers skulking about the galaxy in an ancient spaceship.

Fourth Doctor

Revenge of the Cybermen TARDIS