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

Vengeance on Varos

doctor vengeance

And cut it — now!

Governor

Synopsis

Looking for a rare mineral to repair the TARDIS, the Doctor arrives on Varos, where political prisoners and their guards are all subjected to sadistic tortures and executions which the colony’s inhabitants view and vote on through interactive television. Accused of being alien infiltrators helping the colony’s rebel factions, the Doctor and Peri find themselves the latest unwilling subjects in this most extreme form of reality TV.

Review

Vengeance on Varos can be considered as one of the stories that best demonstrates the violent and dark places the show was heading under the guidance of Eric Saward during Colin Baker’s era.  It is undeniably a great story, focusing on reality television and showing how dictatorships cling to power, however, demonstrates sadistic violence towards individuals, as well as horrible punishments.  The Doctor is not immune to this violent streak, which is the biggest problem in my opinion with this story.

The explicit violence in this story is definitely the most troubling thing, and especially worrying considering that the Doctor seems to be complicit in this.  When rescuing Jondar from his punishment, the Doctor turns the laser gun on the guards, which I wasn’t particularly happy with.  In some ways, the grimmer tone here is really the point, as the whole idea of the society on Varos broadcasting this footage is to keep the population in line.  One of the more troubling aspects displayed here is how blasé the Greek chorus of Arak and Etta are in the opening moments of the story, with Arak even talking off-handedly about repeats.  Additionally, the torture of Areta and Peri, transforming them into creatures is truly horrific, as well as featuring some of the best effects of the series.  The more violent nature of this episode certainly makes the episode more memorable, especially the infamous acid bath.  The Doctor may not kill the two guards tasked with destroying his body, but it is a scene that has attracted much comment.  Personally, I have no problem with his offhand remark on their demise, which is a Bond-esque quip, but I can see why people aren’t keen on this aspect.  A scene I find more troubling is the one towards the story’s climax, where the Doctor tempts the cannibals in the punishment zone to touch the tendrils and setting up the ambush for the Chief Officer and Quillam, a scenario where he undoubtedly knows the outcome of his actions.

You’ll forgive me if I don’t join you.

Sixth Doctor

sil vengeance

Philip Martin’s script takes a hard look at the video nasties that were prevalent in the 1980s, as well as looking at the potential future use of reality television.  On occasion, this can be seen to be slightly too on the nose, especially when the Chief Officer talks about viewing figures, but by and large, this element works really well. I particularly enjoy the reaction of Arak and Etta when the Governor announces that he is shutting down the television networks.  My only issue with the script is that the resolution seems to come far too quickly, and the elements seem tied up too neatly.  However, the story benefits from a great central villain in the shape of Sil, played here by Nabil Shaban.  Sil is a representative of the Galactic Mining Company, sent to Varos to negotiate with the Governor a price for his Zeiton-7, a valuable element also required by the Doctor to repair the TARDIS.  Sil manipulates the instability caused by successive Governors being murdered to negotiate a beneficial price for his benefit, attempting to get this valuable resource at as low a price as possible.  Sil must be amongst the most disgusting and sinister monsters the Doctor has ever faced, with his reptile-like behaviour and that horrendous laugh.  It is a really memorable performance from Nabil Shaban which lifts the rest of the episode.

I have to say that Colin Baker is particularly good here, especially when he is so confident that he will have the opportunity to query after his execution, but I also enjoy his outrage when he sees Quillam’s experiments on Peri and Areta.  I feel it is far too easy to dismiss Baker’s incarnation of the Doctor as the one in the frankly garish costume with some questionable stories under his belt.  However, his attitude towards the role sees him attack even the shakiest story with enormous gusto and you can’t question his commitment to the show.  With how the BBC treated him, with the initial hiatus and the frankly shocking handling of his sacking, the fact that Colin Baker remains a fantastic ambassador for the show is to his enormous credit.  Anyway, back to Vengeance.  I really like the performance of Martin Jarvis as the Governor, as I feel that he brings a quiet resignation to this character, who in other hands could potentially come across as a one dimensional character.  The scene where he attempts to persuade Maldak into letting Peri go while being completely resigned to his own fate is another personal highlight in a strong story.

Verdict: A really strong entry for the Sixth Doctor, with my only real problem being that the Doctor indulges in violence perhaps a bit too much. 9/10

Cast: Colin Baker (The Doctor), Nicola Bryant (Peri Brown), Martin Jarvis (Governor), Nabil Shaban (Sil), Nicolas Chagrin (Quillam), Jason Connery (Jondar), Forbes Collins (Chief Officer), Stephen Yardley (Arak), Sheila Reid (Etta), Geraldine Alexander (Areta), Graham Cull (Bax), Owen Teale (Maldak), Keith Skinner (Rondel), Hugh Martin (Priest)

Writer: Philip Martin

Director: Ron Jones

Parts: 2

Behind the Scenes

  • Martin Jarvis had previously appeared in The Web Planet and Invasion of the Dinosaurs, and went on to appear opposite Colin Baker in Jubilee for Big Finish, which would be adapted into the Ninth Doctor story, Dalek.  Sheila Reid went onto play Clara’s gran in The Time of the Doctor and Dark Water.  Stephen Yardley had previously appeared in Genesis of the Daleks as Sevrin.
  • This story attracted further criticism for being too violent from members of the public, as well as fans and long-term critic, Mary Whitehouse.

Best Moment

The cliffhanger at the end of Part One is perhaps one of my favourites.  With the cameras in the Punishment Zone broadcasting the Doctor’s demise, the Governor calls to cut the footage at the point of his apparent death, as Sil begins to laugh his horrific laugh.

Best Quote

Is he sane, this Doctor?

Sometimes.

Peri, this is no time for casual conversation!

Jondar, Peri and Sixth Doctor

peri bird vengeance