Season 22 (Nov 15 - Nov 27)

November 15: Attack of the Cybermen Part One
November 16: Attack of the Cybermen Part Two
November 17: Vengeance on Varos Part One
November 18: Vengeance on Varos Part Two
November 19: The Mark of the Rani Part One
November 20: The Mark of the Rani Part Two
November 21: The Two Doctors Part One
November 22: The Two Doctors Part Two
November 23: The Two Doctors Part Three
November 24: Timelash Part One
November 25: Timelash Part Two
November 26: Revelation of the Daleks Part One
November 27: Revelation of the Daleks Part Two

November 15: Attack of the Cybermen Part One

A new season, with a new Doctor (basically), new length (all the episodes this season are going to be 45 minutes long -- partly because the BBC doesn't really make 30 minute dramas anymore), and the name of the story in all capital letters (for, as it turns out, the only story from 1980-1986 (aka the Sid Sutton "star field" titles)).  Such thrills!

Attack of the Cybermen takes a lot of flak from fandom, but from this episode it's honestly hard to see why, as there are a lot of good moments throughout this first episode.  Although Colin Baker still seems much more brusque than Peter Davison was, his portrayal has been moderated with more subtle moments and a more even temperament.  Or maybe it's just that there's less squabbling between him and Peri.  Either way, it's a positive change, and watching him try to repair the TARDIS is also rather fun.  This also leads to a running gag regarding the TARDIS's appearance, as it first changes into an ornamental cabinet of some sort and then a pipe organ.  It's a fun little bit, particularly as the Doctor is increasingly exasperated at these failed attempts to blend into the surroundings.  There's also a little in-joke as the TARDIS materializes in 76 Totter's Lane -- the location of the very first episode of Doctor Who -- and since this isn't dwelt on in any manner it's considerably more effective than some of the other, more labored continuity references we've gotten recently.  I also rather like the (unseen) fight between the Doctor and the fake policeman, which suggests that this Doctor is willing to get his hands dirty but isn't too overtly violent.  It's another nice way of distancing Colin Baker's Doctor from Peter Davison's without taking things too far.

And while the Doctor and Peri are investigating a distress signal somewhere on 1985 Earth, we get another returning character in the form of Lytton, the Dalek Task Force commander who survived Resurrection of the Daleks.  It seems he's turned to robbing banks and has put together a gang to help him with the next heist -- a gang that includes Brian Glover and Terry Molloy (the former a well-known actor -- you may have seen him in Alien³ -- and the latter the man who played Davros in Resurrection of the Daleks).  Except what Lytton's actually doing is meeting up with the Cybermen, who have a secret base in the sewers of London.  And (chinplates painted silver instead of being clear aside), this might be the first time the Cybermen have remained the same between stories.136  Well, except for the "stealth" Cybermen who are painted matte black, roaming the sewers and killing off trespassers.  Interestingly, though, we get some nice shots of people being converted into Cybermen (as well as a few on Telos (which is officially the whole planet now) who appear to be half-converted -- Bates and Stratton look like they have Cyber-arms) -- an idea that hasn't really been explored since The Tomb of the Cybermen.  Rather less successful, though, is the appearance of the Cyber Controller on Telos (also last seen in The Tomb of the Cybermen), the helmet of which looks frankly stupid (yes, I know they were trying to imitate the Tomb design, but with the addition of the Cyber-earmuffs the end result is terrible) and (sorry to get personal here, but) the body of whom is noticeably, ah, larger than last time.  And if we're discussing outfits, why on Earth, as About Time points out, has Peri decided to wear a tight pink Lycra (spandex) top?

Really, this episode has been quite entertaining the whole way through, with some really nice moments (including our first occurrence of Nicola Bryant's running joke, "These _____ all look the same to me" ("tunnels" in this case)) and a decent storyline (what we know of it).  It's got some solid acting and some fine direction.  So why is everyone so down on this story?  Part two can't be that bad, can it?

November 16: Attack of the Cybermen Part Two

Ah.  I guess it can be.

Well, no, that's not fair.  Part two isn't particularly good, and the problems start early, but it's not a train wreck -- certainly nowhere near how The Twin Dilemma turned out.  The main concern with Attack of the Cybermen essentially boils down to two points: 1) is this a story that requires people to know about twenty-year-old Cyberman stories that no one's seen since their initial broadcast, or are those just added details? and 2) does it matter that nothing we see physically resembles those early stories?  (There's also the related point of, "Should we care that part one appears to have had little bearing on anything we see in part two beyond moving characters into the right places?", but this ultimately has less of a bearing on the story's success than you might think.)

That first point is probably the main sticking one.  Attack of the Cybermen is explicitly a sequel to both The Tomb of the Cybermen and The Tenth Planet, but the more you think about it the less important it is that you have a detailed knowledge of those stories -- all the important points are covered in the (admittedly excruciating) info-dump speech in the TARDIS, as Lytton watches the Doctor explain those stories to Peri and Griffiths (the Brian Glover henchman) -- Russell (the Terry Molloy one) having apparently actually been killed by a Cyber-blow to the shoulder at the end of part one (um...), and thus not around to be explained at.  And really, other than establishing that Telos has tombs left over from The Tomb of the Cybermen, all you really need to know is that Mondas swanned in to Earth's neighborhood and got itself destroyed for its troubles in 1986 (so next year, since this is 1985), and that the Cybermen want their newly-acquired time ship to change history by sending Halley's Comet into Earth before Mondas gets there.  (Er, which denies Mondas a place to get the energy it desperately needs in the first place... if you do remember The Tenth Planet, you'll note that Mondas blew up because it really needed energy but ended up absorbing too much from Earth, not because of anything Earth did.)  So even if you do recall those stories (either because you saw them the first time around or maybe you read the Target novelizations), that doesn't give you an advantage over anyone else.

The Doctor and Flast are locked in a storeroom. (Attack of
the Cybermen
Part Two) ©BBC
In fact, because of the second point, it might even make things worse.  No effort is made to make the tombs look remotely like they did in the last appearance (not even a token effort like putting that distinctive Cyberman stencil up anywhere) and all the Cybermen we see are obviously Earthshock-style ones rather than Tomb-style -- even those explicitly emerging from the tombs for the first time in forever.  Not only that, but Attack of the Cybermen retcons the origin of the tombs themselves, turning them into a refrigerated city (by a race called the Cryons) that the Cybermen subsequently co-opted.  Anyone watching because of their love of the earlier stories might therefore be understandably underwhelmed by this.

But this is all essentially fan complaining, rather than addressing the central point: is the story itself any good?  The answer is somewhat mixed.  The worst problem with this story is that it seems very generic; there's no real reason for this to have been set up as a sequel in the first place, and the potentially interesting plotline of diverting Halley's Comet into Earth is brought up briefly and then discarded in favor of watching Cybermen and Cryons run around the tombs -- we certainly don't see any evidence of the Cybermen putting this plan into motion.  There's also the wasted inclusion of Bates and Stratton, a storyline which looks like it might be going somewhere (for most of this tale, in fact) but then patently doesn't, leaving the audience wondering what the point was.  The Cryons are probably the best part, and while it was a good move to cast women in all the roles, they don't end up being the most dynamic of characters.  The Lytton subplot about how he was really working for them also feels tacked on, and while seeing Lytton half-cybernized is a very good move, ultimately little is done with this, other than to make the Doctor feel bad about things.  ("Didn't go very well, did it?" he notes at the end).

Let's be fair; trying to make a sequel to an old story isn't the worst of sins, and you can see, sort of, why the author(s?)137 thought it was worth doing.  However, they've tried to also come up with a more general action story that more casual viewers can enjoy, and the result falls between two stools; too many things changed to please the old-school fans, too generic to interest the new ones.  It doesn't help that Attack of the Cybermen too often feels like it's just spinning its wheels.  If they'd maintained the atmosphere of part one they might have gotten away with it, but while it's not the disaster you may have heard, there's not ultimately any real reason to care about anything that happens here.

November 17: Vengeance on Varos Part One

Standard and special edition DVDs
Hey, it's Sean Connery's son Jason, shirtless and being tortured, apparently for the pleasure of a captive audience.  No, not us at home (although that too), but instead for the inhabitants of Varos.  We get a look at one viewing couple as they calmly watch this while commenting on the quality of the food and their patriotic duties.  Interestingly, some fifteen years before the genre really took off, Doctor Who is tackling reality television.  Well, it's actually tackling the idea of a population increasingly inured to violence, but even if no one was consciously thinking about it at the time, the reality TV parallels are hard to avoid.

It's also interesting how long it takes the Doctor and Peri to get involved in the action -- it's halfway through part one before they arrive on Varos.  Before that they're stuck in the TARDIS (with Peri in a blue version of her Attack of the Cybermen outfit), right as the power fails -- the TARDIS is out of zeiton-7, a very rare element that the TARDIS needs to work properly.  Interestingly, though, the Doctor chooses to deal with this problem by giving in to it, rather than trying to come up with a solution -- he seems resigned to spending the rest of his life adrift in the TARDIS.  "It's all right for you," he tells Peri.  "You've only got one life.  You'll age here in the TARDIS and then die.  Me, I shall go on regenerating until all my lives are spent."  It's an attitude that you can't imagine any other Doctor adopting, but it doesn't seem out of character for the sixth Doctor.

Peri and the Doctor arrive on Varos. (Vengeance on Varos
Part One) ©BBC
But yes, it takes half the episode for the Doctor and Peri to arrive, and while they're floating around in the TARDIS we're learning about conditions on Varos.  It's not a pleasant planet, to put it mildly, and the populace is ruled with an iron fist.  But the bright spot (for the viewers, if not for the Varosians) is the character of Sil -- easily one of the standout characters of the Colin Baker era.  The idea of a profit-obsessed character hasn't really shown up on the show yet, but the fact that it does in the form of a green reptilian slug is rather wonderful -- and Nabil Shaban does a knock-out job of playing this character to the hilt.  (And I really like Sil's laugh.)  Even though Sil is the villain of the piece (well, the most obvious villain in a story that seems to be filled with them), his presence really does light up the screen.  And they've got Martin Jarvis in as the Governor, to act as Sil's foil while submitting himself to repeated referendums regarding his decisions (with deadly rays if the "No"s have it), which leads to a dignified actor constantly on the verge of death thanks to the people, but still able to try and negotiate with Sil over the price of zeiton-7.

The second half is less interesting, just because there's a lot of running around the Punishment Dome corridors (to the tune of higher audience appreciation figures, though -- a somewhat pointed joke), but the cliffhanger is excellent, as the Doctor appears to die from imagined dehydration.  But that's not the actual cliffhanger: instead, we cut to the gallery, directing the Doctor's death.  "Close-up on death throes, please. ... And cut it... now."  It's a really nice twist on the cliffhanger, showing how these things are cynically provided for entertainment.

November 18: Vengeance on Varos Part Two

So this is another fairly brutal story, but unlike, say, Resurrection of the Daleks, there's a point to the brutality, as it's illustrating writer Philip Martin's two ideas -- the more generic SF idea of "what would happen if a prison planet developed along prison lines" and the more pointed "what if we extrapolated from Western culture's increasing desire for violent entertainment to its natural conclusion".  Obviously the nature of this story means that it's not going to appeal to everyone, but at least you can see what Martin is getting at.

Of course, one of the problems that arises is that this is a story with the sixth Doctor, who the production team has decided needs to be obviously Not Like Us.  And so scenes like the infamous "acid bath" one, near the beginning of part two, end up coming across as harsher than they otherwise would have done.  What we actually get is the Doctor struggling with a guard to not fall into the acid bath as his fellow guard (who fell in earlier) pulls his compatriot in.  What people remember is the callous, James Bond-like quip after ("You'll forgive me if I don't join you"), and that ends up coloring their memories of the scene.  (And curiously, no one seems to comment on the later scene with the deadly tentacles, which the Doctor rigs to kill Quillam and the Chief Officer -- a life-or-death situation, certainly, but the Doctor is more overtly violent there than in the acid bath scene.)

The other problem is that, since Eric Saward took over the script editing post, the stories have become increasingly more vicious -- partly because Saward is interested in telling war stories, but also because he seems to be interested in exploring the idea of a moral Doctor in an amoral universe.  Saward's conclusions tend to be somewhat cynical (see things like Warriors of the Deep, where the moral Doctor is ultimately unable to prevent any of the bloodshed), but at least with the fifth Doctor there was a moral figure people could latch on to.  But now we have the sixth Doctor, who's less traditionally moral (I wouldn't go so far as to call him amoral, but it is the case that some of the fifth Doctor's niceties have gone -- the core is the same, but the veneer is different), and who is therefore going to react somewhat differently from before.  What this means is that we're going to get a string of mercenary stories full of amoral characters, and so Vengeance on Varos is going to end up looking a lot like the surrounding tales, which means that in the audience's eyes it's all of the same cloth.138

The Governor negotiates new mining terms with Sil.
(Vengeance on Varos Part Two) ©BBC
This is a shame, because Vengeance on Varos really does have a point.  The exploration of the idea of violence-as-entertainment, while not always totally successful, still makes enough of an impact to consider what's going on.  After all, that's the entire point of having Arak and Etta, the viewing couple who don't interact with anyone else, in this story.  This is the couple who seem inured to the violence, treating it purely as entertainment rather than considering that these are real people.  ("Maybe he isn't fully dead," Etta states while watching the Doctor on their screen.  "Then he soon will be," Arak replies with obvious relish.  "Here comes the acid bath.")  They explore this idea as fully as they can (this is Doctor Who, after all, not The Etta and Arak Show, which means they still have to follow the Doctor around), but it's still not quite as satisfying as you'd want.

The actual meat of the episode is more of the same: running around corridors (incidentally, Nicola Bryant's in-joke was in part one: "All these corridors look the same to me"), avoiding capture and nasty deaths, combined with some facial scarring from Quillam (less successful in all regards, it must be said, than Sharaz Jek was) and an odd subplot about turning Peri and Areta, Jondar's wife, into half-human, half-animal creatures.  There's also a revolution by the end, with the ruling guard elite having been essentially deposed, with a new democracy in its place -- and fair prices for its zeiton-7 ore, much to Sil's displeasure.  (And a nice ending scene too: "We're free," Etta says wondrously.  "...What shall we do?" Arak asks.  "Dunno," Etta replies.)

But it's the exploration of violent media that's ultimately the main point of Vengeance on Varos.  It doesn't really have a solution for any of the issues it brings up, but it is at least thinking about them.  Of course, it has to do this by showing violent content, which means this is an easier story to admire than to actually enjoy.  But it works more than it doesn't, and it gives us an environment for the sixth Doctor to really rail against.  It's certainly a better showing for this Doctor than Attack of the Cybermen was.  It's not for everyone, but it's not meant to be.  And at least it's trying to say something new and different, even if it's not packaged in a nice palatable way -- but this ultimately means that, as these concerns continue to be relevant today, Vengeance on Varos is the sixth Doctor story that's probably improved the most with age.

November 19: The Mark of the Rani Part One

It's a very picturesque opening -- lots of long lingering shots of an early-19th century coal-mining village, underscored by pastoral music as filtered through an '80s synthesizer.  But soon we see some of the miners acting like jerks: the result of some sort of sinister process that's left a red mark on the miners' necks.  It seems we're going to get Doctor Who's take on the Luddite riots.

Except not really, because it turns out that the Master is back.  No explanation is given as to how he survived the events on Sarn -- allegedly writers Pip and Jane Baker included one, but Eric Saward cut it, in a fit of pique over the return of the Master yet again (can you tell he's starting to get frustrated with this job?).  There's also no explanation as to why he's pretending to be a scarecrow out in the middle of nowhere...

Of course, the presence of the Master ends up distorting the entire story around him.  We're no longer interested in what's going on in Killingworth; we want to know what the Master's up to.  But this time, it seems he's not the only Time Lord around.  We're also introduced to a renegade Time Lord called the Rani, who appears to be an amoral scientist, extracting a chemical from humanity for her own purposes -- the violent behavior is an "unfortunate side effect".  The Rani, played with great superiority by Kate O'Mara, is clearly meant to be neither explicitly "good" nor "evil", but rather a scientist with no compassion or morality.  It's a nice little twist on the sort of characters we normally get on the show.

However, if the Master was distorting things before, now that we've got the Rani involved, events truly get bent out of shape.  The entire episode becomes little more than a backdrop to their arguments, and while the squabbling is certainly entertaining (particularly the Rani's comments on the Master: "You're unbalanced; no wonder the Doctor always outwits you", and "What's he up to now?  It'll be something devious and overcomplicated.  He'd get dizzy if he tried to walk in a straight line" being two highlights), it does unbalance things.  And so it really doesn't help when the Doctor is also introduced and all three start sniping at each other.

And of course, this is our first Pip and Jane Baker script, which means there are lots of examples of florid dialogue to join in with at home (the favorite probably being "Fortuitous would be a more apposite epithet!").  Pip and Jane clearly love language, but it does make a lot of the dialogue very unnatural-sounding (and that's before it gets put through a broad Geordie accent for all the locals).  But, contrasting this, their characterization is very good, and the Doctor is probably the most like the traditional Doctor -- which is to say, not deliberately alien -- he's been this incarnation (although the joke about a "hyperactive Peri" does seem a particularly sixth Doctorish thing to say).  This does make this story a lot more fun to watch, and it helps set him apart from the Rani and the Master.  (That said -- and it's not definitely not Pip & Jane's fault -- who thought it would be a good idea to make the sixth Doctor's signature verbal trait to repeat a word three times at increasing volumes?)

There are some good moments here and there (the stuff with Lord Ravensworth is quite nice -- and you can see, as the Doctor takes off his coat and puts on a dirty one (around the 30 minute mark), the cats that have been added to the coat's lining for each completed sixth Doctor story), and the arguing is rather entertaining, but so far, the interaction of the three Time Lords swamps everything else in this story.

November 20: The Mark of the Rani Part Two

Oh look, it's one of those cliffhanger resolutions where they insert scenes, so that the last-minute rescue of the Doctor doesn't look completely implausible...

The first half of part two is a bit more interesting because it's less about the Master and the Rani (though they do show up from time to time to cause havoc) and more about the Doctor's interactions with George Stephenson (who, in case you didn't know, was a pioneer of locomotive design and thus can be considered one of the architects of the Industrial Revolution).  These are on the whole quite entertaining, lending a charm to the story and also making it seem less Time Lord-centric.  (Although George's son Robert is nowhere in sight.)

The Rani and the Master in the Rani's TARDIS. (The Mark of the
Part Two) ©BBC
But, somewhat inevitably, we return to the machinations of the Master and the Rani (who's now fully on board with the Master's plan of taking over all the Industrial Revolution geniuses (all conveniently coming to a meeting in Killingworth) and thus ruling the world, somehow), which means it's time to talk about That Tree, the one that used to be Stephenson's assistant Luke Ward until he stepped on one of the Rani's landmines.

To be completely honest, I don't mind the design of it that much.  When it's just standing there being a tree, it actually looks reasonably convincing.  No, the problem is when it tries to protect Peri by bending a huge branch down in a weird hug, at which point it becomes very clear that it's just a guy in a weird suit -- no effort is made to think about how a tree might plausibly react (look, just go with this for a minute) if it were trying to save someone from danger.  It doesn't fall over or shed any branches or quickly grow some branches to enclose Peri (it's an alien tree, it could maybe happen); no, it just bends a rubber arm down to awkwardly embrace Nicola Bryant.  Still, that's probably the most objectionable moment on display here (well, that and the awful baby T. rex in the Rani's TARDIS at the end), so I guess that's something -- certainly the two villagers-turned-into-trees holding up Colin Baker look decent enough.

But the tree minefield section takes up a decent chunk of the running time for part two, and it's endemic of the larger problem with The Mark of the Rani -- they're using history as a backdrop for Time Lord shenanigans, rather than as an interesting place in its own right (so, rather like The King's Demons then).  It's fortunate that those shenanigans are reasonably entertaining -- the Rani in particular shines as someone who only barely tolerates the feud between the Master and the Doctor, and only then because the Master has the neurochemical she's been harvesting.  And, pleasingly, the Doctor snaps into focus in the presence of these other two Time Lords, becoming the moral center of the show in a way that hasn't really happened for the sixth Doctor yet.  There's little beyond this, which does make The Mark of the Rani a bit unsatisfying, but at least it's fun enough while it lasts.

(This story's Nicola Bryant in-joke: "All these mines look the same to me."  Not bad for only spending something like two minutes in those mines.)

November 21: The Two Doctors Part One

Putting the opening moments in black and white is a nice touch, as we see not the sixth Doctor and Peri but rather the second Doctor and Jamie.  They both appear to have aged since the last time we saw them, though -- Troughton's hair in particular appears to have gone silver since 1983.  There's also something deeply weird about listening to Troughton casually talk about the Time Lords to Jamie (and the suggestion that this is during season 5, as the Doctor's dropped off Victoria somewhere, makes it doubly strange -- note how Jamie has no idea who the Time Lords are in The War Games139).  The second Doctor's conversations with Dastari don't really help with this feeling of strangeness either.  There's also the rather unpleasant speech from the Doctor after he learns about Dastari's augmentation experiments with Chessene, where he outright states that it's wrong for people to go beyond where they're "supposed" to be: "She's still an Androgum.  You can't change nature. ... You give a monkey control of its environment, it'll fill the world with bananas," the Doctor insists with a close-minded attitude, bordering on racist ("Oh really, Doctor.  I expected something more progressive from you," Dastari replies).  There's also some stuff between Chessene and Shockeye along the same lines, but as neither is supposed to be a terribly sympathetic character, it doesn't have the same distasteful feel as when the Doctor spouts such things.

There also seems to be some commentary from writer Robert Holmes about how we treat meat animals, with Shockeye treating the humans (well, Tellurians -- this is a Robert Holmes script) in much the same way -- interested more in how they taste than in what their feelings might be about it.

But after a certain point this episode feels like it's just spinning its wheels.  The sixth Doctor and Peri investigate Space Station Camera after it's been attacked by Sontarans and spend their time outwitting the computer, which wants them dead as part of a defense mechanism, while Chessene, Shockeye, and the Sontarans set up camp near Seville -- yes, the show's filming abroad again (for what would be the last time in 23 years -- there are no more major overseas film shoots until 2008140).  The long shot reveal of the Sontarans in Spain is a bit undramatic (particularly as all we saw was a hand when they captured the second Doctor), but to be fair, we did know it was Sontarans when that station technician saw their ships coming in.  The Spanish bits look nice, but they also feel rather undramatic at this point -- after the assault on the station, everything is setup, with little payoff.  But as this is a three-part story, I suppose they can afford to take their time.  And it is a decent cliffhanger -- the Doctor gassed by the station while Peri is attacked by some beast lurking in the station's infrastructure...

November 22: The Two Doctors Part Two

There continues to be a sense throughout this episode that nothing's really happening, and I'm not quite sure why.  Certainly things are actually happening, as the sixth Doctor and Peri pick up Jamie and head to Seville, while the second Doctor is strapped down to a makeshift operating table so that the villains can extract a special genetic component from him to let them time travel, but there never really feels like there's a serious or genuine threat at work here.

It's possible that this is because of the direction; there's definitely an unhurried sense to what we're shown, with lots of people pontificating in largely unchanging shots, rather than a number of quick cuts to provide energy or a sense of movement.  Some of the speeches are quite nice (Colin Baker's little soliloquy on the impending death of the universe being a nice highlight), while some are purely there for exposition (such as almost anything Dastari is involved with).  But this isn't really an action story, so that's not a criticism; no, the issue is that the two main opposing parties don't encounter each other until the cliffhanger, so there aren't any points-of-view being exchanged.  (Well, except for a handful of moments with the second Doctor, where he continues to be unpleasant toward the Androgums; the sixth Doctor also agrees, later in the episode, although he provides the fig leaf that the problem is that they have no emotional capacity.  If we assume that he's speaking scientifically, this miiiight get us away from the distastefully racist undertone running through this conversation, although even then it feels like a gross generalization.)

The sixth Doctor and Jamie discuss Kartz and Reimer's prototype
time machine behind them. (The Two Doctors Part Two) ©BBC
That in turn points at Robert Holmes's script -- Peter Moffat can't film scenes that aren't there, after all.  And while some of the interactions we get are entertaining -- particularly Jamie's relationship with both this new Doctor and with Peri -- there is a sense that we're missing the important ones.  We still haven't had any real discussion about what's going on, and the rationale behind the villains' plot seems a bit thin on the ground -- Dastari telling the second Doctor how they're going to slice him up to find the biological aspect of time travel doesn't really cut it.  Shockeye gets some on-the-nose scripting about how people treat animals bred for consumption that's not bad, but it's not really related to the main plot.  The Sontarans just stand out demanding things and being generally ignored by everyone around them, which does make them look rather impotent.  (And as long as we're talking about the Sontarans...Stike sure seems tall for a Sontaran, doesn't he?  He's even towering over Colin Baker (who's not exactly short at 6 feet).  There's also the problem that the masks don't look as mobile as they did in the past (particularly around the eyes and mouth), which means that they're less convincing.)  There's really no sense of urgency at all from anyone on screen.

But that I think gets at the larger problem this story has so far.  It's been an hour and a half, and while we're slowly learning about what's actually at stake here, all we're really getting is setup -- there haven't really been any complications thus far, beyond the little puzzles here and there (like defeating the homicidal computer).  The villains haven't suffered any sort of problems at all up to this point or are even aware that the sixth Doctor and his compatriots are out there.  It's almost like Holmes took one of this season's two-part stories and made the first part twice as long -- a move which doesn't do this story any favors.  Let's hope the last part is up to snuff -- particularly as real-life events are about to overtake the show in a dramatic way...

(And a side-note to say that (out of some misguided sense of completism) I did subsequently watch A Fix with Sontarans, which was broadcast later the same night as The Two Doctors Part Two.  It's rather meh though, as it's more a quick little sketch than anything else (and what's up with Janet Fielding's hair?), so don't bother -- although it's really creepy watching Jimmy Savile interact with Fielding, especially given what we now know.  (Fortunately, Gareth Jenkins has subsequently said that Jimmy Savile had no interest in him and thus he wasn't one of Savile's victims.))

November 23: The Two Doctors Part Three

51 years ago today An Unearthly Child premiered.  Happy birthday, Doctor Who!  And at least the way I'm watching things, The Two Doctors gets to be part of an anniversary, even if it wasn't anything special at the time.

But in contemporary terms, a lot has happened between parts two and three of this story.  The Tuesday following the broadcast of part two (so 26 February 1985), it was announced that the BBC was temporarily suspending production of Doctor Who for monetary reasons -- they had a lot of expensive shows in the pipeline, and they needed to make up the money somewhere (About Time submits that Dennis Potter's The Singing Detective was the primary destination for the BBC's money, while The Handbook: The Sixth Doctor speculates that needing to produce 104 episodes (aka two episodes a week) of the BBC's new soap opera EastEnders was the culprit).  However, this was portrayed in the papers as the first step toward dropping Doctor Who completely, a situation which the BBC (initially) denied, citing the monetary reasons -- Doctor Who had essentially been delayed from a spring 1986 premiere to an autumn '86 one.

As time went on, though, there began to be rumblings that this wasn't a purely financial decision -- by 6 March, the first hint that this was also a creative decision on the part of the BBC's upper management surfaced (and as an aside, anyone interested in this period of the show's history would do well to check out Chapter 7 -- "Cancellation Crisis" -- of The Handbook: The Sixth Doctor by Howe-Stammers-Walker).  Certainly by the end of March BBC1 Controller Michael Grade started making noises that the decision was more about the content of the show than because of money.  (About Time suggests that this may have in part been an act of revenge by Grade, whose reputation as TV's miracle worker was allegedly tarnished when his revamping of ITV's Saturday night schedule almost completely failed to make a dent in Doctor Who's ratings in 1978 -- there's no real evidence for this, but it might help explain why Grade was so antagonistic toward the show.)  This also led to discussion about how Doctor Who was becoming too violent -- a discussion almost certainly informed by Mary Whitehouse's attacks on what were termed "video nasties" (excessively violent footage being sold on this newfangled video tape format) that were roughly concurrent with season 22.

But the content-based reasons for the 18-Month Suspension are still in the future (which really began shortly after transmission of season 22 concluded); at this point in time, all the British public know is that the show is taking a longer-than-usual break, and many (almost a million, in fact, if the ratings jump between parts two and three can be contributed to this) are curious as to what they've missed in the interim.  And so Part Three of The Two Doctors is what they saw.

The second and sixth Doctors look as Dastari taunts them with
the keys to their manacles. (The Two Doctors Part Three) ©BBC
It's certainly the most incident-packed episode of the three.  Now that the villains know about another Time Lord's presence that could potentially mess up their plans, they start making their own plans to counter this.  Plus there are a number of double-crosses between Chessene/Dastari and the Sontarans that add to the entertainment value. But there are a couple oddities as well; it's not really clear why Chessene wants to turn the second Doctor into an Androgum -- will that mean he'll be willing to just give the biological secret of time travel to Chessene?  Or it will make it easier to isolate the symbiotic nuclei?  Because as is, it just looks like an excuse for the second Doctor and Shockeye to play hookey and have fun in Seville rather than for any real reason.

This story is occasionally referred to as a black comedy, and it's probably the second Doctor/Shockeye scenes that are the most obviously intended to be comedic.  It's certainly a bleak form of humor though -- the scenes where the Androgumized Doctor is explaining human customs and cuisine are probably the most successful, but Oscar's death, which seems to also be played for laughs, is wide of the mark.  This is partly because James Saxon does such a good job that Oscar is probably the most likeable character in the entire production, but also because the actual murder of Oscar is quite shocking, particularly as it comes right after a moment of comedy regarding the bill -- and then they immediately try to follow it up with a laugh (to put it generously -- it could also just be a poorly acted and directed moment).  The whole sequence is misjudged as a result.

And, because this is a script edited by Eric Saward, basically everyone ends up dead by the end.  The Sontarans are betrayed by Chessene -- which leads to a lot of green gunge as some sort of acid kills them.  (The severed Sontaran leg that Shockeye finds is probably the most successful blackly comic moment in the whole piece.)  Dastari is killed by Chessene, who dies when their time travel capsule fails.  The most controversial moment is probably Shockeye's death at the hands of the sixth Doctor; the Doctor is admittedly in a fight for his life, basically, as Shockeye intends to butcher him with a knife, but it does look a tad planned.  But like Vengeance on Varos, the real issue is the Doctor's subsequent "bad taste" remarks: "Your just desserts" is awkward enough, but the later remark of how Shockeye has been "mothballed" is in particularly poor taste, and it does leave a bad taste in the mouth.

But the problems with The Two Doctors began long before Shockeye was killed.  The underlying central concern with the story is how intolerant it is -- the problems start because Chessene has been elevated above her station, and this is a bad thing because it's just in the nature of Androgums, as a species, to be savage and cruel.  There's never a suggestion that not all Androgums are like that, and in fact the script goes out of its way, near the end of part three, to show that even though Chessene has been augmented, she'll still revert to those base instincts that Dastari attempted to suppress/overwhelm.  The takeaway message is, "you just can't change those people", which is just about the worst message the show has ever produced.

Now combine that with an overlong story that's been stretched to almost breaking, rather than padded with extra incidents, and one that's squandered its actors.  It's admittedly fun to see Frazer Hines effortlessly slip back into the role of Jamie and interact with Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant, but what's the point of putting Patrick Troughton in a story where he's unconscious or restrained for two-thirds of it?  And Nicola Bryant doesn't even get to include her usual joke.  The most successful part might be the vegetarian message, and even that feels squandered in a rather distasteful way.  The Two Doctors somehow manages to be both unpleasant and rather dull -- no mean feat.

November 24: Timelash Part One

"Most people depart with a scream," Maylin Tekker tells the Doctor at the end of part one, as the Doctor is faced with being thrown into the Timelash -- a special kind of time corridor.  It's just a line I can't get out of my head for some reason; I'm not sure why.

The introductory scene in the TARDIS starts well -- there is a sense of bantering going on between Peri and the Doctor.  Unfortunately, it goes on too long, and the bantering starts to look more like a genuine argument -- at least until the action gets going.  And the action on Karfel isn't too bad -- some nice setup, and the stuff with the Borad leaves us intrigued by what's going on.

The problems set in, though, when we get to the main Karfelon council, and Karfel becomes a place where a handful of actors awkwardly insert exposition into all their conversations.  "We are under imminent threat of invasion from our former allies, the Bandrils"; "I hope you're taking great care of my only daughter."  "Of course.  As my future wife, I could hardly do anything else"; "If we don't get the amulet back, he will destroy every Karfelon in the Citadel."  "All five hundred of us?"; and many more examples like this.  It's not the most graceful writing, and for the most part the actors involved don't do much to convince us that this is how they might normally talk to each other -- they're just words on a page to get through.  And it's also early on in one of these scenes that we get the moment where Maylin Renis pulls a control off the board he's playing with and has to gracelessly put it back -- a feat he manages just subtly enough to not have Pennant Roberts call for a retake.

Things get marginally better when the Doctor and Peri arrive (and while the idea of control console harnesses to stop them flying around the console room when the TARDIS experiences turbulence is a rather nice idea, the actual straps look long enough that there's still a good deal of potential for injury as they're buffeted about), having traveled up the Kontron corridor (aka the time corridor).  Somewhat unexpectedly, the Karfelons treat the Doctor as something of an old friend, since the third Doctor visited Karfel before and helped them out with some things.  (But don't bother looking back at your Pertwee DVDs to work out when this was -- Timelash is a sequel to an unseen adventure.  An admittedly interesting idea, although it does mean that the audience spends a lot of time wondering what happened the first time around.)  "Only the two of you?" the new Maylin, Tekker, asks the Doctor as he arrives, which makes you wonder who exactly was traveling with the third Doctor during his last visit.  (The Virgin Missing Adventure Speed of Flight suggests it was Jo and Mike Yates -- although no one seems to want to actually chronicle the third Doctor's visit to Karfel...)  And thank goodness for Paul Darrow as Tekker (who not long ago in contemporary terms completed his time as Avon on Blake's 7) -- he may be acting somewhat over the top, but he's a hell of a lot more watchable than anyone else inhabiting this planet.  Everyone else is just delivering unnatural dialogue in the most unexciting way imaginable, which does make watching this episode a bit of a chore at times.

It's not all bad, though; I actually rather like the androids (well, android, as they're all played by Dean Hollingsworth).  It's a striking design and while the singsong voice is a bit irritating, it shows that at least someone is trying with this story.  The android suddenly on fire in the caves is also a good moment, even if it's not explained.  And there are some moments on 1885 Earth that are rather charming: Herbert may be somewhat unenlightened but he is rather likeable, even if he's intended to be comic relief.  Plus Nicola Bryant gets to remark that "all these corridors look the same to me" on her guided tour of Karfel.

But despite nice moments here and there, Timelash has so far been a rather unengaging story, filled with unrealistic characters and dialogue.  Maybe things will pick up in part two.

November 25: Timelash Part Two

Let's start with what works in this episode.  The explanation of the burning android that we saw in part one is rather nifty, even if that explanation is a bit labored in its efforts to ensure the audience understands what's happening.  The interior of the Timelash, with the crystals jutting out, is nicely done (tinsel notwithstanding).  The actual Borad, once he's fully revealed, is an impressive make-up job, and Robert Ashby does an excellent job with his performance -- no mean feat when the majority of his face is covered by a latex mask.  Herbert in general continues to charm, and while he may become irritating from time to time, he almost always recovers to be generally worth watching.  Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant are both up to their usual standards in this -- even if Timelash calls for a very generic Doctor, rather than something tailored to the sixth -- and Paul Darrow continues to be just about the best thing on screen, even if he's dead before the halfway point.

So those are the good bits; what about the rest?

The Doctor confronts Tekker and the Borad. (Timelash Part
Two) ©BBC
Far and away the biggest problem with Timelash Part Two (well, with all of Timelash, but it's even more of a problem here) is that it's really quite tediously dull.  There's hardly any action in it, and any momentum that the action scenes do happen to have is squandered by long drawn-out talking scenes.  Most of those involved in these talking scenes aren't worth watching, either -- most of the cast seems to be at a loss as to what they're really meant to be doing there.  And so there's lots of unnatural dialogue delivered unnaturally, punctuated with scenes that are supposed to look clever (the Doctor's fooling around with the Kontrol crystal device) but are immensely tedious instead.  And it doesn't help that the sets are boring too (by design, as it's a plot point, but it still doesn't help).

Then, to make matters worse, the natural climax of the episode (the death of the Borad) comes slightly past the halfway point, but as that still leaves almost twenty minutes to fill there's a lot of rushing around dealing with other problems that don't seem as consequential as the Borad was -- the Bandrils (Karfel's neighbors) are determined to attack the planet that they need to get their food from (um...) and are completely unwilling to call off the attack unless someone drags the body of the Borad in front of a camera to show them (um...), which leads to the Doctor doing some last-minute preparations in the TARDIS -- although this includes a scene of pure padding lasting over five minutes, mainly between the Doctor and Herbert, that somehow manages to be just about the most entertaining thing in the whole episode.  Then the Borad shows up again, somehow, because there's still time to kill.  Or maybe they just really wanted an excuse to smash that Pertwee painting, but then he's knocked into the Timelash to become the Loch Ness Monster.  Hilarious.  (And how did continuity adviser Ian Levine let this one through?)

There are moments where you can almost see how Timelash could have been worth doing, but more often than not those moments are overtaken by tedium and artificiality.  There seems to be a sense that no one here is sure what sort of show Timelash is supposed to be -- not Pennant Roberts, who appears to have decided to just shoot the thing and not worry about the result; not the majority of the cast, who frequently look like they're attending a camera rehearsal rather than the actual recording; and certainly not author Glen McCoy, who appears to be under the impression that a generic story with a few allusions here and there will work just fine.  The tag at the end, where we learn that Herbert is in fact H.G. Wells, is supposed to make us think this is all clever.  If they'd actually run with this idea and made things more overtly like Wells's stories, or if anyone had bothered to do some research into Wells himself, it might have actually been clever.  But they didn't, and so Timelash isn't.

November 26: Revelation of the Daleks Part One

As season 22 began with a typographical anomaly, so it ends with one as well: the name of the story isn't in all caps, the way Attack of the Cybermen was, but ERIC SAWARD and PART ONE are.

In some ways this is a curious episode; while the Doctor and Peri are introduced immediately, having arrived on the planet Necros to pay their respects to one of the Doctor's now-deceased friends, they spend the entirety of the episode wandering around the complex that the Doctor's friend Arthur Stengos has been lain to rest in, unable to find a way to get in -- and other than an encounter with a mutant that's been hiding in a nearby lake141, they're completely dissociated from the action going on inside Tranquil Repose.  Still, it's a nice blue cloak that the Doctor wears for most of this, at least, and Peri gets to spot a Dalek, even if she doesn't know what it is.  But that's about it for them until the cliffhanger (which we'll get to).

Fortunately those interior sequences are interesting.  Eric Saward's flexing his writing muscles a bit here, choosing to write a story that, while still steeped in death, isn't one of his standard war/mercenary stories (fans of those styles needn't panic, though, as this episode still features a mercenary and his squire -- although Orcini seems so far to be far more noble and moral than Saward's usual mercenaries).  Instead (with an acknowledged debt to Evelyn Waugh's book The Loved One), Saward is interested in exploring a mortuary, with the sorts of characters who would be involved in such a job.

But this is still Doctor Who, so obviously this isn't going to be a straightforward retelling of that book.  Instead we're treated to the sight of Davros, in some sort of special tank and apparently in charge of everything that goes on at Tranquil Repose.  Pleasingly, we also get a shot of a white Dalek at the same time -- no waiting till the cliffhangers for the Daleks' appearance in this story.  No explanation yet as to how Davros survived the Movellan virus at the end of Resurrection of the Daleks though.  But this place is filled with people who are working for the "Great Healer", and they all seem more preoccupied with their jobs than with anything else going on around them (note how Takis and Lilt are slightly concerned, rather than terrified, by the presence of a Dalek).  Jobel and Tasambeker are great examples of this -- Jobel's entire job is about appearances, and that's all he cares about.  Tasambeker is obsessed with Jobel, who's completely uninterested in her ("This one thinks with her knuckles," Jobel says to Takis about her, early in the episode).

There are also some nice directorial choices from Graeme Harper, with lots of use of crane shots and close-ups (although the shot where he attempts to show the camera descending through the levels of Tranquil Repose looks more like the vertical hold has gone out of sync -- the main issue being that people's feet are cut off, which therefore doesn't make it look like a floor).  The whole thing looks great, and the different styles of design from place to place do give the sense that this is a planet that's been lived on.  The only thing that seems truly jarring is the presence of the DJ -- this isn't a slight against Alexei Sayle, who does a great job with it (the aside about Beck's Syndrome being a particular highlight), but his presence in the story is currently at odds with everything else tonally.  But maybe that's the point.  It's a strange idea in the first place, having a DJ for people in suspended animation, so Harper may be exploiting this in his direction, where Sayle delivers almost all of his lines to camera.  And a special mention to the glass Dalek, which is both fascinating to look at and grotesque; they've done an excellent job with Alec Linstead inside as the half-Dalek Stengos -- I'm still not sure how they got his teeth to look like that.  The scene where he begs his daughter to kill him is very effective.

The cliffhanger is also effective, as the Doctor discovers a monument to himself, in his sixth incarnation, and worries that he's meant to die in this body -- a thought which seems to really unnerve him ("I never thought precognisance of my own death would be so disturbing," he remarks).  Although what he makes of the monument suddenly falling over on him, we'll have to wait till next time to learn.

November 27: Revelation of the Daleks Part Two

Jobel with Peri and the Doctor. (Revelation of the Daleks Part Two)
So the point of the fake statue (complete with fake blood inside) was apparently entirely for the entertainment of Davros -- note the way he was laughing hysterically in part one as the Doctor was about to discover the statue.  Oh sure, there's some guff about using it as a lure, but given that Stengos's interment at Tranquil Repose was enough of a lure, it's hard to see why Davros bothered.  And why did he want the Doctor, the person who keeps ruining his plans, to come to Necros in the first place?

Of course, even though the Doctor and Peri are now involved in the events going on at Tranquil Repose, they still have little influence over them.  Orcini is already making his way through the complex at the behest of Eleanor Bron's character, while Takis and Lilt have already called for the other Daleks (the grey ones) to come get Davros, who has already manipulated Tasambeker into killing Jobel.  About the only thing that the Doctor and Peri do is get the DJ involved (and incidentally, here's another clear instance of Nicola Bryant getting the American accent slightly wrong -- Americans stress the "D", not the "J") -- although it looks like Davros was going to kill him anyway, so at least the DJ got to take out a couple Daleks before he went.

Now, it is a Saward script, so a lot of people do ultimately die on-screen, but at least this time most of them feel like they die for decent reasons rather than just because of cannon fodder.  Kara (Eleanor Bron's character) is killed by Orcini for betraying him, while Jobel is murdered by Tasambeker partly because Davros has been goading her on and partly because Jobel so thoroughly rejects her.  "Do you honestly think I could possibly be interested in you?" he tells her.  "I have the pick of the women!  I would rather run away with my mother than own a fawning little creep like you."  It's one of the most dramatic scenes in the piece, entirely there to give a sense of how Davros has been ruining lives while installed as the Great Healer.  (And I love the way Jobel's toupee falls off as he dies.)  Really, the only person whose death feels somewhat gratuitous is the DJ's, and that's only because of the way he steps out from behind his rock and roll gun to check his handiwork, even though there's a Dalek pushing its way in.

The Daleks arrive to take Davros back to Skaro for trial.
(Revelation of the Daleks Part Two) ©BBC
It's definitely a better script that Saward's last couple, and it's amply aided by Graeme Harper's direction -- which isn't quite as strikingly wonderful as The Caves of Androzani, but is nevertheless quite good.  Not everyone dies at the end (notably, Takis and Lilt survive, along with a number of extras), and there are a number of black comedic moments (the toupee falling off, the Doctor offering a handshake to Davros's shot-off hand) that work rather better than anything in The Two Doctors.  Not only that, but satisfyingly, Orcini gets to die a noble death -- something that's been denied most of the characters in Saward's scripts.  In many ways Revelation of the Daleks looks like Saward aping Robert Holmes, but if this is the result then that's not a bad thing.

And so that's the end of season 22.  It's been a bit of a rough ride this time around -- the accusations of increasing violence certainly didn't help (although I do think they're somewhat exaggerated -- again, this is likely a reaction to increased concern over "video nasties"), and those tuning in to The Two Doctors Part Three (easily one of the most casually violent episodes this season) probably went away with the wrong impression.142  Making the sixth Doctor a deliberately unlikeable person was a risky move, and I'm not convinced it paid off -- the most successful stories in terms of the Doctor have been the ones that have shown his moral, more compassionate side, with bits of alienness thrown in.  The bright spot in this is that the production team seems to have realized this, and they've settled down on that alien nature while still maintaining the core of the character.  They haven't been the best set of stories (and the hit-to-miss ratio is worryingly lower than it's been in a very long time), but you do get the sense by the end of season 22 that the people making Doctor Who have worked out what they're going for, and if the ratings and appreciation figures are any indication, the audience is willing to go along for the ride.

Of course, Revelation of the Daleks ends on a freeze-frame ("All right, I'll take you to—") -- the original ending word "Blackpool", which was meant to be a lead-in for season 23's opener The Nightmare Fair by former Who producer Graham Williams, has been excised, as it's become clear that whatever plans John Nathan-Turner and Eric Saward had for season 23, they'll have to be scuppered in response to a series of new directives from above.  The knock-on effects of this will be felt all through next season...


136 Earthshock and Five Doctors Cybermen differ in the boots they're wearing, so if you want to count that as being the same (or the painted chinplates here as being different), then fair enough.
137 The authorship of Attack of the Cybermen is the most contested credit of any Doctor Who story -- to the point where I'm not sure anyone genuinely knows for sure who did what.  What seems to be clear is that while Eric Saward was originally going to write this story, John Nathan-Turner told him he couldn't write this as well as Revelation of the Daleks (as that would be a third of the entire season -- something the BBC frowned upon script editors doing at that time), so Saward got an old former girlfriend, Paula Woolsey, to do it up for him (under the pen name Paula Moore).  This is where things get confused, however; Saward suggests that Woolsey did a decent amount, rewritten by him as script editor, while then-continuity advisor Ian Levine says that he and Saward wrote it up and that Woolsey didn't contribute anything more than her name.  (What is known is that Woolsey subsequently submitted two more story lines to the production office, so it seems unlikely that her name was her only contribution.)  The truth is likely somewhere in between, but it seems we'll never know for certain.
138 There's actually another reason for the public perception of season 22 as being excessively violent, but we'll discuss the 18-Month Suspension and the unfortunate timing of its announcement, matched with the comments of then-BBC1 Controller Michael Grade, under The Two Doctors.
139 You might be able to get around some of these problems if you assume that it's actually the Time Lords from Colin Baker's era who've fished back through his timeline and pulled the second Doctor out of his timestream, using him as a representative (they can't really use the current incarnation, as he's sort of the President of the High Council at the moment); this would explain why it's the sixth Doctor (rather than any of the intervening incarnations) who feels the second Doctor being attacked (in what appears to be a new event, rather than as part of his personal history).  This might also explain why the second Doctor isn't immediately alarmed when he sees that there's been Time Lord interference with his TARDIS, and why the Time Lords don't just bring him back to Gallifrey.  Then you just have to postulate some sort of mindwipe afterwards as to why Jamie subsequently doesn't know anything about the Time Lords.
     Alternatively, you can postulate that Troughton had adventures after The War Games, where he went on a number of secret missions for the Time Lords before his exile actually began -- this is the so-called "Season 6B theory".  That does lead to wondering why Colin Baker is affected though (does he feel bad every time a previous incarnation gets knocked out or is made to suffer?), if it's Troughton's Time Lords that are getting him involved with Space Station Camera.  (And it should be noted that, other than the general problem of trying to find spots during Troughton's run to put these adventures and why he occasionally looks older, there's not really any on-screen evidence to support the season 6B theory.)
140 Well, except for the TV Movie, which was shot in Vancouver -- but that wasn't really abroad for them, was it?
141 A part originally offered to Lord Laurence Olivier, if you can believe such a thing -- Olivier was apparently amenable, but the scheduling didn't work out.
142 If they did go away, that is -- the ratings have been steadily improving from their low point of 6.0 million for The Two Doctors Part Two back up to a very respectable 7.7 million for Revelation of the Daleks Part Two.