Season 12 (July 11 - July 20)

July 11: Robot Parts One & Two
July 12: Robot Parts Three & Four
July 13: The Ark in Space Parts One & Two
July 14: The Ark in Space Parts Three & Four
July 15: The Sontaran Experiment Parts One & Two
July 16: Genesis of the Daleks Parts One & Two
July 17: Genesis of the Daleks Parts Three & Four
July 18: Genesis of the Daleks Parts Five & Six
July 19: Revenge of the Cybermen Parts One & Two
July 20: Revenge of the Cybermen Parts Three & Four



July 11: Robot Parts One & Two

Robot, the opening story of season 12 (but filmed at the end of season 11's production block), picks up more or less right where Planet of the Spiders left off, as we recap the regeneration from Jon Pertwee into Tom Baker.  And there's clearly an effort to establish Tom Baker as being very different from Jon Pertwee, with Baker acting very eccentrically, with bursts of manic energy followed by moments of quiet introspection -- in contrast to Pertwee's typical even-handed, heroic approach.

It doesn't always work; the part with the Doctor trying to prove to the UNIT medical officer, Harry Sullivan (as played by Ian Marter), that he's in perfect health is pretty good, but the scene where he keeps reemerging in different costumes is perilously close to being too cute for its own good -- and Dudley Simpson's "funny" score doesn't help things any.  The other issue with this scene is that, while all the other costumes look like unified ensembles, the fourth Doctor's final look doesn't, and so there's a lack of continuity in the thought process here.

But while they're trying to make Tom Baker stand out as a new and different Doctor, the story they've chosen to give him feels like a fairly typical UNIT adventure: something immensely strong and powerful has been stealing various top secret plans and sophisticated scientific equipment, and it's up to UNIT to figure out what's going on.  In what's likely a direct contrast to Spearhead from Space, after the initial bits of scatterbrained behavior from the Doctor, he settles down quite quickly into his new persona -- it doesn't take him two episodes to become involved in the main plotline.  It's just a pity it's such a standard tale.

I'm probably making things sound worse than they are.  Make no mistake; these two episodes are  entertaining, and there are some good directorial choices from Christopher Barry.  The decision to film everything on video, even the exterior scenes (the first time this has happened on Doctor Who), gives the production a nice consistent look (although the technical reason for this decision will become apparent in episodes three and four).  The "robot's-eye" view early in episode one is also a nice touch, while the scene of Jellicoe working on the robot in part two has the (presumably intentional) flavor of Frankenstein working on his creation.  And it's always good to see Sarah working as an investigative journalist -- both in her exploration of Think Tank and her brief encounter with the (oddly combative) representative from the Scientific Reform Society, a sort of fascist/technocratic organization.  There's a conversation between her and Think Tank director Hilda Winters about her feeling that the robot is alive in some sense -- "I think you must be the sort of girl that gives motor cars pet names" -- that subtly but effectively puts us on Sarah's side and not on Miss Winters, given that the show's main character drives around in a car named Bessie.  And finally, the design of the K1 robot is very good indeed, as it towers over everyone around it.  Really, it's hard to point at anything that's not at least competently done.  An encouraging sign for the two remaining episodes.

But it has to be said: the sight of Tom Baker driving around in Bessie is deeply weird.



July 12: Robot Parts Three & Four

By these two episodes the Doctor seems to have settled down, the script focusing more on the threat of the robot than on this new Doctor's behavior.  Of course what this means is that now we've really turned this story into a typical UNIT runaround.

The K1 robot prepares to strike the Doctor. (Robot Part Three)
©BBC
Part three has some fun messing around with the Scientific Reform Society -- it seems Professor Kettlewell is a member, and he decides to help Sarah infiltrate the place to learn more about their plans.  The Doctor's already worked that out though; recently the US, Russia, and China entrusted their nuclear launch codes to a neutral country as a way to ensure peace.  "Well, naturally enough, the only country that could be trusted with such a role was Great Britain," the Brigadier states.  "Well, naturally.  I mean, the rest were all foreigners," the Doctor responds drily.  But now Think Tank/the SRS (apparently it's basically the same organization) have the nuclear launch codes, and thus they intend to blackmail the world into, um, letting Think Tank rule things?  Their demands are a bit vague.  There's also something about not polluting the planet, à la Invasion of the Dinosaurs, but that's pretty far down in the mix.

And it turns out Kettlewell's been in on the plan for the whole time (which doesn't quite match up with what we saw in part two, but never mind), which means Sarah is captured and taken away to a bunker (despite the Doctor's efforts to save her), and when UNIT arrive, the K1 robot is sent out to stop them -- and not even the world's least convincing tank (an attempt at forced perspective with a toy/model tank that's considerably underwhelming, to put it charitably) can stop it...

There's some guff with a countdown to nuclear doomsday (which has to be stopped three times), but the main spectacle in part four is the huge size increase of the K1 robot, as the Brigadier turns the disintegrator gun on it and causes it to balloon in size -- presumably because of the "living metal" the K1 is made of.  And since Sarah's been showing it kindness, it's time for Doctor Who to do King Kong, as the K1 carries Sarah off in his claw.  This, by the way, is why all the exterior scenes are shot on video: to make the CSOed-in robot look more convincing.  It doesn't quite work, what with the shiny robot reflecting part of the background and thus causing parts of it to disappear (though it should be noted that the DVD goes a long way in fixing this problem), but the intent is definitely there.  But it doesn't last long -- just long enough, really, for the Doctor to drive up with a foaming bucket of Kettlewell's living-metal-eating virus and chuck it on the giant robot.  Crisis averted.  Thus, with no more reason to stay, the Doctor offers to take Sarah somewhere in the TARDIS -- and he cons Harry into coming along with them...

It's an entertaining story, and it's competently made for the most part, but in many ways Robot feels like an exercise in marking time.  This is Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks' final story, and so other than ensuring that the new boy gets a chance to show his stuff there's little for them to do; they can't plant a flag and say, "this is who the fourth Doctor will be", because that'll be up to their successors.  So all they can do is make sure that Tom Baker's debut keeps the audience entertained without indicating a new direction for the show.  It's a fun tale made in safe hands, but a bold new beginning for the fourth Doctor it isn't.  But it's not supposed to be.  Robot deftly delivers on what it sets out to do, and it's content with that.



July 13: The Ark in Space Parts One & Two

Standard and special edition DVDs
Five episodes into the revised title sequence (oh, right, forgot to mention that for Robot -- and hooray!  It no longer looks off-center!) and they decide to give everything a salmon tint; guess they were trying something different.  It only lasts for this episode, though.

So, confession time: I've never really cared much for The Ark in Space.  I always found it rather slow.  But that was in an isolated context.  Viewing it in place, its virtues become much more apparent.

It starts unlike any Doctor Who story of the 70s -- other than a brief alien viewpoint at the beginning, the whole first episode consists of the Doctor and Harry slowly exploring the environment they find themselves in, learning about things at the same time as the audience.  It's a style that evokes the feel of a Hartnell at times, and it's a welcome change from the standard set-up of the Pertwee years.  It's also nice how they choose to make the relationship between the Doctor and Harry rather spiky, yet with a sense of affection deep underneath.  The Doctor is annoyed with Harry, but he's not sending him off to sulk in a corner and he seems to enjoy exploring the space station with him.  There are also some nice set pieces (such as the bit with the auto-guard), and, coming after the (occasionally stuttering) freneticness of the previous stories, this feels less slow and more like we're being given a chance to breathe.

And where's Sarah during all this?  She's been accidentally pulled into the machinery, as it were, and is cryogenically frozen along with the people on board the station, essentially writing her out of the rest of the episode.  So this is like a Hartnell in more ways than one.

Oh, plus we get a great cliffhanger, with Harry opening cupboards to look for a resuscitation unit and finding a giant dead insect instead...

Noah is horrified by his transformation. (The Ark in Space
Part Two) ©BBC
Part two is a little less wonderful, simply because they've decided to introduce new characters into the mix.  There's an effort to make the revived members of the station crew seem as alien as any random race by making them unfamiliar with Harry's colloquialisms and such.  It's partially successful, but it breaks down a bit with Noah, who's required to be unreasoningly hostile towards the Doctor and his friends.  You'd think a people as compartmentalized and as coldly logical as Vira and Noah seem to be would be willing to at least hear the Doctor out, but Noah assumes the Doctor is there to cause trouble and won't even listen to his warnings about something in the solar stacks -- presumably brought out of hibernation when the Doctor restored the power in part one.

In terms of plot though, the primary things happening in part two concern Sarah's resuscitation and Noah's infection by something in the solar stacks, as a green pseudopod slimes his hand.  It starts to make Noah's behavior more erratic, ultimately resulting in this episode with him killing Libri before, in what's another excellent cliffhanger, he pulls out his left hand and looks on in horror at what he's becoming.  Yes, it's clearly painted bubble wrap, but Kenton Moore's performance is so good that you don't mind one bit.



July 14: The Ark in Space Parts Three & Four

To be honest, not much happens story-wise in part three.  The primary set-piece concerns the Doctor trying to learn what happened to the Wirrn queen (as we discover that that's the name of the insect species) during its final moments on the Ark.  He achieves this by linking up the dead queen's eye to a computer screen via his cerebral context.  Intriguingly, Tom Baker chooses to play this as great fun even though the script indicates that this is supposed to be a dangerous procedure -- another sign of how different Baker is playing the character from how Pertwee played it.  This manner of smiling inappropriately is present throughout the whole story.  "Vira, if you fail," the Doctor says, "your people will die in pain and fear.  If I fail," he adds with a grin, "they'll die anyway, but at least only the six of us will know anything about it."  Add into the mix the way the Doctor behaves right after the link with the Wirrn is severed, as he almost seems ready to join the Wirrn, and it makes this new Doctor feel wonderfully off; you get the sense that almost anything could happen.

There are also two more characters revived from the Ark.  Lycett ends up dying pretty quickly, but Rogan makes it quite far.  Of course, his manner of speaking is so different from that of Vira's and Noah's that it ruins the "future humans are different" effect that was established in the first two parts -- but at least he's entertaining to watch.

But while the Doctor and company are learning that electricity is what killed the Wirrn queen, and Rogan and Harry are finding weapons, the Wirrn themselves are shutting down the power on the Ark, while Noah is undergoing his final transformation into the Wirrn swarm leader...

A Wirrn makes its way through the Ark. (The Ark in Space
Part Four) ©BBC
Part four actually has quite a bit of plot to get through; we learn some backstory about the Wirrn, and the whole sequence with electrifying parts of the Ark is entirely within this episode -- complete with the sequence of Sarah crawling through the ventilation ducts, with the Doctor egging her on by insulting her until she gets mad enough to get through the ducts so she can hit him.  Of course, this does mean that the resolution of things happens pretty quickly -- the Wirrn (led by the transformed Noah) are led onto the transport shuttle on the Ark as the Doctor and Rogan release the synestic locks holding the shuttle down.  Rogan sacrifices himself to save the Doctor's life (who seems quite ready to sacrifice himself for the sake of humanity) and sends the shuttle into space, where Noah deliberately allows the rocket to explode.  The Wirrn are no longer a threat, and so the Doctor volunteers to transmat down to Earth to fix the matter transmitter so that the rest of humanity can safely transmat down (eh? if the transmitter's not working, how can the three regulars transmat down?), leading into the next story.

The most striking thing about The Ark in Space is how deadly serious everything is played.  There's a clear intent to make this as scary as they can get away with, and it pays off for them.  It's hard to imagine a story like this being made during Barry Letts's time, but new producer Philip Hinchcliffe hits the ground running.  It's still a little too slow at points for my personal taste, but it definitely works much better in the context of the larger progression of the show, and it's easy to see why people like it.  If only the rest of Doctor Who had as much confidence and conviction as this story has.



July 15: The Sontaran Experiment Parts One & Two

The Sontaran Experiment picks up right where The Ark in Space left off, with the Doctor, Sarah, and Harry transmatting down to Earth.  This story is entirely on location and once again is shot on video -- although this time there's no obvious reason why.  But even though the Earth is supposedly deserted, there is in fact a small group of space-travelling humans from Galsec, investigating a distress signal.  And somewhere is an alien who's been torturing people -- not that anyone knows who this alien is, and we only get brief glimpses of a hand until the cliffhanger.  Except this story is called The Sontaran Experiment, so it's not exactly a big mystery who the alien is.  But no, the big reveal is left until the end, like this is a Dalek story or something.

But we can while away the time until said cliffhanger by looking at the pretty location footage of a desolate and uninhabited Earth, with scared humans wandering around (and look, one of them (Krans) is played by Glyn Jones, author of The Space Museum) and a rather nifty-looking robot roaming the countryside, capturing those hapless enough to get in its way.  And the Doctor continues his verbal abuse of Harry, as he looks down a hole that Harry has fallen into and subsequently disappeared from: "You know, it's absolutely typical of Harry!  How anyone in his proper mind could fall down a whacking great subsidence like–" before realizing that, as it's a subsidence, Harry must have found an exit. 

But all too soon it's time for the cliffhanger and its reveal of a somewhat redesigned Sontaran head, which Sarah nevertheless identifies as Linx, the Sontaran from The Time Warrior.  Part two then crams in all the Sontaran action, as this new Sontaran, Styre, goes around running sadistic experiments on people, including Sarah.  Styre is evaluating humanity on behalf of the Sontarans, who are contemplating an invasion.  So while the Wirrn were trying to turn the Nerva humans into a food source for their larvae, Styre was down on Earth torturing Galsec humans.  Busy day for a supposedly uninhabited sector of space.

Harry hides from Styre. (The Sontaran Experiment Part Two) ©BBC
But all too soon it's time for a climactic fight between the Doctor and Styre, which means that we get a couple decent looks of Terry Walsh doubling for Tom Baker (Baker having broken his collarbone earlier) as he wrestles with Stuart Fell doubling in the Sontaran costume for Kevin Lindsay.  And while the Doctor is distracting Styre, Harry is performing some sabotage on Styre's ship, so that when Styre goes to recharge after the fight, he ends up being killed (with a nice little deflating effect) and his ship explodes.  Earth is safe for humanity to return to, and the Doctor and company transmat back up to Nerva.

It's surprising at this point in time to get such a short Doctor Who story (the last two-part story was 1965's The Rescue), but it's nicely economical with its storytelling.  Still, the whole thing primarily consists of people scrambling around on various rocks avoiding/chasing each other, and thus it's a bit uninvolving.  But there's nothing that it does wrong, and it doesn't overstay its welcome.  The Sontaran Experiment is thus one of those pleasantly average stories that Doctor Who turns out from time to time.  It won't really stick in the mind, but it's entertaining while it's on.



July 16: Genesis of the Daleks Parts One & Two

Picking up where The Sontaran Experiment left off (so no gaps in these stories), Genesis of the Daleks starts with a Time Lord informing the Doctor that they've plucked him and his companions out of the transmat beam85 and brought them to Skaro at the dawn of the Daleks' creation.  The Doctor isn't thrilled by this ("Look, whatever I've done for you in the past... I've more than made up for," the Doctor tells the Seventh Seal Time Lord86), but he agrees to help when he learns the Daleks are involved.  The Doctor receives a mission right away: prevent the Daleks' creation, alter it to make them less evil, or discover some inherent weakness.  Everything else in this story is designed with that goal in mind.  Oh, and he gets a Time Ring to take him back to the TARDIS when he's finished.

In keeping with the new style that producer Philip Hinchcliffe seems to be adopting, this is a brutal story.  It looks dirty and dangerous, and there's not a friendly face to be found in the entire first episode (Time Lord messenger excepted).  The decision to primarily use realistic projectile guns and recognizable weapons (such as landmines) also adds to this bleak atmosphere.  (Although you do get the chance to finally see the Drahvins' guns in color, a mere ten years after Galaxy 4.)  And the landmine sequence may be pure padding, but at least it's well-played, tense padding.  The rest of the episode serves as a series of captures, escapes, and recaptures, but it's done well enough that you don't really mind.

But what's really happening here is that Terry Nation has decided to go back to the beginning and tell the story of how the Daleks came to be.  What's perhaps most surprising is how closely this sticks to the history described in The Daleks -- the biggest change is that the name of the Dalek progenitors is now Kaled instead of Dal.  Everything else serves as expanding that story.  But the biggest introduction is the crippled scientist Davros, creator of the Daleks (sorry, Yarvelling).  Time has robbed us a bit of the impact of seeing him for the first time, his lower half encased in a Dalek-looking base.  And the cliffhanger gives us our first look at a Dalek -- a time-honored tradition on Doctor Who, but one that actually makes sense in this context.

There is no recap of any kind in part two (which you could tell if you were watching the omnibus edition, as I first did, because the end of the title music suddenly intruded) because they've got to get right to it.  While there's some more stuff with the Dalek and introducing it to the Kaled scientists (which leads to some of them becoming concerned with the direction of the Dalek project and thus deciding to help the Doctor and Harry), the primary point of part two is to show the Thal side of things.  What's most striking here is that we see the Thals are just as brutal and amoral as the Kaleds, taking prisoners and forcing them to do dangerous work at gunpoint.  So Sarah and her fellow prisoners are forced to load toxic distronic explosives (which the story treats as a form of radiation) into a rocket designed to completely wipe out the Kaleds.  Both sides are apparently willing to do whatever it takes to end this thousand-year war.  As Sarah doesn't want to die from distronic toxaemia, however, she leads an escape attempt to climb the scaffolding next to the rocket and climb out the top of the dome.  Things don't go well, though, and the cliffhanger to part two shows Sarah losing her grip and falling from the scaffolding, ending with a freeze-frame.  How is she going to get out of this one?



July 17: Genesis of the Daleks Parts Three & Four

Funny how Sarah gets out of her life-imperiling situation by landing on a platform that doesn't appear to have been anywhere near her...

The other striking thing about Sarah's failed escape attempt is how brutal and sadistic the Thals are; it's hard to imagine anything this cruel during the Pertwee era.  And while the Thals are dealing harshly with their almost-escaped prisoners, Davros is demonstrating the latest developments in his Dalek project.  But that project might be ending soon; the Doctor and Harry have made their way through a cave system (which involves Harry literally putting his foot inside a giant, largely motionless clam in order to provide some action to this sequence -- still, at least Ian Marter does an excellent job of conveying Harry's sheer panic and distress) in order to reach the Kaled leaders, who decide to investigate Davros's experiment and bring it to a halt if necessary.  This may have sealed the Kaleds' fate, however; although on the surface Davros appears willing to go along with the Kaled leaders' request, in reality he's willing to sacrifice everything, including his own race, in order to see the completion of his Dalek project.  And so Davros arranges a secret meeting with the Thals, to give them a formula to help them utterly destroy the Kaleds.  The Doctor overhears this, thanks to a secret tunnel which leads directly into the Thal base that one of the Kaleds shows him.

Hold on a minute.  Not only can Davros (who's essentially wheelchair-bound) make his way to the Thal base without problems, but there's an unguarded tunnel that leads into the middle of the place that the Kaleds know about?  And the Kaleds have never taken advantage of this?  No wonder this war has lasted ten centuries.

The Doctor is interrogated by Davros. (Genesis of the Daleks
Part Four) ©BBC
So the Doctor tries to stop the Thals' rocket from launching, but he fails, causing the Kaled dome to go up in flames at the start of part four.  The Kaleds are basically wiped out, and Davros uses this as an excuse to unleash the Daleks on the Thals.  This can probably be regarded as the turning point in the story.  The Daleks have lurking in the background prior to this, but this is the point at which they become a formidable threat, as they sweep through the Thal city exterminating people.

And yet, despite this, it's Davros that remains the focus of the story.  We've seen him be both suavely manipulative and insanely ranting, and Michael Wisher's performance (through a fairly immobile mask, even) is excellent.  One can't help but be drawn into the drama as he occupies the screen, turning the Daleks into amoral killers and plotting with Nyder to retain power and crush any opposition.  It's also quite chilling how he matter-of-factly decides to give Gharman a lobotomy so that Davros can continue to use him for his "inventive skills."  And the cliffhanger to part four is also a good one, with the Doctor strapped down and Davros threatening to torture Harry and Sarah unless the Doctor tells Davros about every future Dalek defeat, so that the Daleks can be warned.  Davros remains the focal point as he rants at the Doctor in clipped, Dalek-like tones: "You will tell me!  You! Will! Tell! Me!"



July 18: Genesis of the Daleks Parts Five & Six

These episodes are probably the best of the story -- certainly they're full of memorable moments.  Part five gives us the Doctor's discussion with Davros about the deadliness of the Daleks in the future, with the Doctor likening them to a virus: "Davros, if you had created a virus in your laboratory, something contagious and infectious that killed on contact, a virus that would destroy all other forms of life, would you allow its use?"  Davros, however, is taken by the idea: "Yes.  Yes.  To hold in my hand a capsule that contains such power, to know that life and death on such a scale was my choice.  To know that the tiny pressure on my thumb, enough to break the glass, would end everything.  Yes, I would do it!  That power would set me up above the gods!  And through the Daleks, I shall have that power!"

Events appear to be moving against Davros, however, with those opposed to him staging a sort of revolution -- a revolution which Davros appears to submit to.  He seems to bow to Gharman and the others' demands (hey, he wasn't lobotomized after all!), asking only that he be allowed to address everyone.  Yet after Gharman agrees to this, Davros begins to crow triumphantly.  "Ours is the victory, Nyder.  We have won!  They talk of democracy, freedom, fairness.  Those are the creeds of cowards.  The ones who will listen to a thousand viewpoints and try to satisfy them all.  Achievement comes through absolute power, and power through strength.  They have lost!" Davros cries.

But while Davros remains fascinatingly watchable, the Doctor is making his own plans to wipe out the Daleks, by setting explosive charges inside their nursery.  But as he comes out, a Dalek mutant is attempting to strangle him...

"Do I have the right?" The Doctor contemplates genocide while
Sarah and Harry look on. (Genesis of the Daleks Part Six) ©BBC
Part six has probably (and understandably) the most well-known scene of this entire story, as the Doctor contemplates going through with his plan and blowing up the nursery:
DOCTOR: Just touch these two strands together and the Daleks are finished.  Have I that right?
SARAH: To destroy the Daleks?  You can't doubt it.
DOCTOR: But I do.  You see, some things could be better with the Daleks.  Many future worlds will become allies just because of their fear of the Daleks.
SARAH: But it isn't like that.
DOCTOR: But the final responsibility is mine, and mine alone.  Listen, if someone who knew the future pointed out a child to you and told you that that child would grow up totally evil, to be a ruthless dictator who would destroy millions of lives, could you then kill that child?
SARAH: We're talking about the Daleks, the most evil creatures ever invented.  You must destroy them.  You must complete your mission for the Time Lords.
DOCTOR: Do I have the right?  Simply touch one wire against the other and that's it.  The Daleks cease to exist.  Hundreds of millions of people, thousands of generations can live without fear, in peace, and never even know the word "Dalek".
SARAH: Then why wait?  If it was a disease or some sort of bacteria you were destroying, you wouldn't hesitate.
DOCTOR: But if I kill, wipe out a whole intelligent lifeform, then I become like them.  I'd be no better than the Daleks.
Fortunately for the Doctor, he doesn't have to make the choice, as Gharman comes and tells him that Davros has lost.  The future has been changed.  Well, except it turns out Davros has been stalling for time, waiting for the Daleks to arrive and exterminate all the rebels.  So while the Thals are outside the Kaled bunker, preparing to destroy the entrance and entomb those inside, the Doctor decides to go back and finish the job he started.  That's less well-remembered -- probably because there aren't any interesting speeches the second time around.  But even though he's successful, he's not completely satisfied: "I'm afraid I've only delayed them for a short time.  Perhaps a thousand years."

But the best thing about this episode is watching Davros outmaneuver his opponents, being cool and collected with them, trying to persuade them to join his side before seeing them all cut down by Dalek fire -- only to then have them turn on him as well, as they decide they don't need him.  "We obey no one.  We are the superior beings," a Dalek declares before it exterminates Davros.  And meanwhile, the Thals set off the explosives, trapping the Daleks inside the bunker -- at least for a little while.

And the story ends well too, as the Time Ring send the Doctor, Sarah, and Harry away from Skaro.  "We failed, haven't we?" Sarah asks.  "Failed?" the Doctor replies.  "No, not really.  You see, I know that although the Daleks will create havoc and destruction for millions of years, I know also that out of their evil must come something good."

Genesis of the Daleks is considered one of Doctor Who's finest stories, and it's not hard to see why.  There's a confidence on display here that carries the whole production, and David Maloney's direction is chock full of good scenes that are stark in their brutality, making the whole thing feel desperate.  And it seems that someone has inspired Terry Nation to rise to the occasion, as he delivers his best script for the show since The Daleks.  There's also something exciting about seeing the origins of the Daleks that shines through, even now.  But even though this is called Genesis of the Daleks, the Daleks themselves are kept largely in the background, only to be unleashed at key moments in parts four and six.  No, this story is primarily about Davros, one of Doctor Who's best villains ever, and Michael Wisher is more than up to the task of carrying the tale.  It's a tour de force performance, delivered inside a wheelchair and behind a (very well done) latex mask.  The success of Genesis lies as much in his lap as in anyone else's.  You wouldn't want them all to be like this, but Genesis of the Daleks carries out its mission in considerable style.



July 19: Revenge of the Cybermen Parts One & Two

After their adventure on Skaro (thus continuing the interconnectedness of these stories87) , the Doctor and his companions arrive via Time Ring on Nerva -- only it's a lot earlier than when they left.  The Nerva of this time period ("thousands of years before" the solar flares, the Doctor tells Harry -- but maybe he actually means thousands of years before the events of The Ark in Space) has been severely afflicted by a plague which has killed virtually everyone on board -- there are only four people left alive.  Everyone else has been struck down by this strangely familiar-looking disease (although, to be fair, it has been nine years since The Moonbase, so maybe it wasn't that familiar to the audience), while large silver snake bugs slither around.  Oh, and there's clearly a slimy traitor on board who's contacting the Cybermen.  It's a reasonable set-up, but the problem is that Kellman is such an obvious traitor that the question is about how he'll be stopped, rather than who the traitor is.  The new redesigned Cybermats also seem awkward and ungainly -- no one has seen these huge things moving around on Nerva?  But no, they're leaping on people and biting them in the neck, and Sarah is attacked in part one's cliffhanger.88

Nerva is where it is, by the way, because fifty years earlier a large asteroid showed up near Jupiter ("So you mean there are now thirteen [satellites of Jupiter]?" the Doctor infamously asks89), so Nerva is there to warn passing ships of the new astronavigational hazard.  The asteroid is all that's left of Voga, the planet of gold that was instrumental in defeating the Cybermen "centuries ago" at the end of the Cyber War.  The Vogans have managed to survive in the interim, though.  The problem with the Vogans is that the audience isn't given much background or reason to care about them before they start engaging in a sort of civil war, and so it just looks more like a bit of incident along the way for Harry and Sarah to get out of than anything else.  (Sarah, by the way, has been cured of the Cyber-infection by passing through a transmat -- pity no one else thought of that.)  And while the Vogan sets and location footage work well together to create the world of Voga (and remember that fancy figure-eight symbol -- it'll come up again in season 14), the Vogans themselves leave something to be desired.  The hero masks are reasonably good, but all the extras/stuntmen are wearing less-developed masks with visible gaps between the mask and the actors' own eyes that significantly ruin the effect.

But the main concern with these first two episodes of Revenge of the Cybermen is that it doesn't feel like anything really happens.  There's some Vogan politics and such to try and keep things moving, but any real drama feels like it's being delayed with the appearance of the Cybermen (the Cybermen!  We haven't seen them for seven years!), who don't really show up (other than a brief scene here and there) until the end of part two, when they shoot down the two remaining crewmen -- and the Doctor!  Everything prior feels like it's building to this point.  Let's hope the pay-off is worth it.



July 20: Revenge of the Cybermen Parts Three & Four

400!  Revenge of the Cybermen Part Three is Doctor Who's 400th episode -- quite a milestone (and the halfway point for the entire series, as of time of writing).  And it helps that this is probably the most interesting episode of the story, as we see Tom Baker being dangerously flippant with the Cyberleader and forced to travel to the center of Voga with a Cyberbomb strapped to his back, in order to blow the place up.  (Voga, remember, is the source of all the gold that was so deadly to the Cybermen in the last Cyber-war -- and yes, this is the story that introduces the gold weakness.)  Tom Baker is very entertaining in this scene -- it looks like the Doctor is playing with fire and knows it, trying to get a rise out of the Cybermen: "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...."  The Cyberleader tries to defend his race by blaming their defeat on Voga, but the Doctor will have none of it.  "It was a glorious triumph, for human ingenuity," he says.  "They discovered your weakness and invented the glitter gun, and that was the end of Cybermen except as gold-plated souvenirs that people use as hat stands."

Two Cybermen on Voga. (Revenge of the Cybermen Part Three)
©BBC
But in any event, bombs strapped to the back and sent to blow the planet up.  We also learn that Kellman has actually been working for the Vogans, trying to lure them to Voga so that Vorus can blow them up.  For some reason he hasn't discussed this at all with their leader, Tyrum (as played by Kevin Stoney, who was last seen as Tobias Vaughn in the last Cyberman story), and so this is what the civil war is about?  Or something?  It looks like Gerry Davis hasn't bothered to really give much motivation to this, and the cause has to be largely inferred.  Either way, Kellman's actually working for the Vogans, and all he had to do was kill an entire station of people to enact Vorus's plan -- so it's still hard to be on his side.

Doesn't matter, though -- he's killed in a rockfall at the cliffhanger that also knocks the Doctor out.  This means that we get a somewhat unusual cliffhanger, as Harry finds him and tries to remove the bomb, not knowing (like the audience does) that the release mechanism is bobby-trapped...

Fortunately he's warned off by Lester, one of the Doctor's fellow bomb carriers from Nerva, so tragedy doesn't strike.  And when the Doctor learns that Harry caused the rockfall and tried to remove the bomb, he bellows "Harry Sullivan is an imbecile!" and passes out again.  The camera cuts away, but not before we get a marvelous look of "gee, thanks" from Ian Marter.

The rest of the episode isn't that exciting, unfortunately.  There's some farting around with the Vogans' rocket, while the Cybermen decide to load Nerva Beacon full of outlawed bombs and send it toward Voga (though not before the Cyberleader attempts to kill the Doctor with a violent shoulder rub).  The Doctor is able to just barely prevent Nerva from crashing into the planet -- a sequence which gives us the silliest "hurtling towards the ground" effect ever: first they show Nerva crashing toward Voga by just zooming the camera in (which doesn't work since the stars therefore appear to be closing in as well), and then someone's gotten the idea to take a tube, decorate it with a rocky landscape, and then spin it really fast -- as if the Beacon is going to crash into a giant spinning chocolate log.

But the Beacon is saved and the Cybermen are destroyed and everything is fine again.  Unusually for a season-ender, Revenge of the Cybermen ends with a cliffhanger, as it seems the Brigadier has an emergency and needs the Doctor's help (which will tie in with Terror of the Zygons, the first story of season 13 but made at the end of this season).

On the surface there's not really anything wrong with Revenge of the Cybermen -- it's competently made, and there are some nice moments here and there.  Even the music isn't as inappropriate as it was in Carey Blyton's last score, for Death to the Daleks (although there are still moments where the music insists on going "plod...(plod)...plod...(plod)").  No, the main problem with this story is that you never get a sense that anyone's really invested in this.  It feels less like an effort to work out some personal demons on the writer's behalf or to make something strikingly visual or memorable (as About Time notes, they missed the chance to do a definitive "body horror" story here by focusing on the Cybermen converting people) and more like someone's realized they haven't done a Cyberman story since 1968 and so maybe they should.  It's not the mess you may have heard -- which may be because it was the first Doctor Who story ever released on home video (in an edited form, no less)90, and so people had a greater opportunity to be disappointed by it -- but it's by no means a classic.  It feels more like a leftover from season 11 -- which should say it all, really.

This is the exception rather than the rule for season 12, however.  Tom Baker's (and Philip Hinchcliffe's) first season has been a smash hit, giving the show a new sense of energy and vitality that was lacking last season.  The decision to also go in a more "serious" direction has paid off marvelously -- the way in which these stories treat their themes has been incredibly successful.  It's also paid off for the audience -- the ratings have been extremely healthy for this season.  It's a shame the season is so short, but what we get is largely high-caliber, and a definite triumph for everyone involved.









Footnotes

85 As we'll see next story, the Doctor never does return to Nerva to tell them that the transmat is working again.  So what does Vira think when neither he nor his friends ever return?  Do the surviving Galsec people transmat up at some point?
86 There aren't a lot of fluffs from Tom Baker (there are some bad ad libs, but that's not the same thing), so this line is probably the closest we get, and even then it takes a minute for the problem to sink in.
87 Even if, oddly, Sarah makes reference to "these past few weeks", which suggests that either they were on Skaro for a hell of a lot longer than we thought, or there are indeed somehow unseen adventures in this arc of stories.
88 Not exactly relevant to this story, but it's worth noting that William Hartnell died between parts one and two, on 23 April 1975.
89 Stephen Cole tries to explain away this line by basing the penultimate Eighth Doctor Adventure To the Slaughter on it, if you feel so inclined (in which a bunch of Jovian moons are destroyed in the name of cosmic feng shui), but it's worth noting that this number was accurate when Revenge of the Cybermen was written -- though not by the time of filming and subsequent broadcast, as a thirteenth moon, Leda, was discovered in September 1974.
90 Allegedly they took a poll at the 20th Anniversary celebration at Longleat for which story fans wanted released on video first ("allegedly" because this story gets mentioned a lot, but never with a source attached), and the winner was The Tomb of the Cybermen -- which didn't exist at the time.  So the powers-that-be figured any Cyberman story would do (not that they had many options at that point, the state of the archive being what it was) and put out this one instead.