Season 15 (Aug 16 - Aug 28)

August 16: Horror of Fang Rock Parts One & Two
August 17: Horror of Fang Rock Parts Three & Four
August 18: The Invisible Enemy Parts One & Two
August 19: The Invisible Enemy Parts Three & Four
August 20: Image of the Fendahl Parts One & Two
August 21: Image of the Fendahl Parts Three & Four
August 22: The Sun Makers Parts One & Two
August 23: The Sun Makers Parts Three & Four
August 24: Underworld Parts One & Two
August 25: Underworld Parts Three & Four
August 26: The Invasion of Time Parts One & Two
August 27: The Invasion of Time Parts Three & Four
August 28: The Invasion of Time Parts Five & Six



August 16: Horror of Fang Rock Parts One & Two

It's a new season and a new producer, but it doesn't really feel that different from season 14.  Horror of Fang Rock feels like a holdover from the previous season, which makes its late replacement status for another Terrance Dicks story (The Witch Lords/The Vampire Mutation100) all the more surprising -- particularly if you know the direction the show is heading in.  But, as these two episodes make clear, the pressures of the script (combined with the unfamiliarity of working in the different location of Pebble Mill Studios in Birmingham -- Horror of Fang Rock is the only 20th century story not to be made in London) have led to an intense, effective tale.

The first part consists almost entirely of building up the atmosphere of fear that pervades the story.  After a brief glimpse of a "fireball" in the sky, everything else consists of a heavy fog rolling in out of nowhere and an effort to work out what actually killed Ben, one of the three lighthouse keepers stationed on Fang Rock in the early 20th century (judging from the newfangled electricity and comments in part two about when the Beast of Fang Rock appeared previously).  There's a feeling of dread that always present, as the Doctor tries to figure out what's happening, while the audience knows (thanks to some first-person shots) that some sort of alien is also on Fang Rock.

Interestingly, the first cliffhanger involves a ship breaking up on the rocks, which means that part two introduces four more characters into the mix: two politicians, a secretary, and a crewman from the doomed ship.  The younger politician, Lord Palmerdale, is desperate to get to London before daybreak for financial reasons, which means he couldn't care less about the problems of anyone else -- all he wants is money and (it seems) the chance to ruin the older politician, Skinsale.

Of course, while these new arrivals are bickering, the alien is still roaming the island.  The Doctor and Leela (dressed in a Barbara Wright-esque outfit this time around) are trying to track the thing down, while Reuben (the elder keeper) tells them about the Beast of Fang Rock.  The Doctor knows that, while there's no such thing as the Beast of Fang Rock, nevertheless something is out there that wants in -- it's already killed Ben and performed a post mortem on him, and the Doctor believes the people in the lighthouse are next.  "Gentlemen, I've got news for you," the Doctor tells the shipwreck survivors happily.  "This lighthouse is under attack, and by morning we might all be dead.  Anyone interested?" he adds with a grin.  It's a decidedly odd choice, but that's what makes it so brilliant, as it establishes the Doctor as being just as alien as the thing outside.

And then, in another interesting cliffhanger, Reuben goes down to stoke the boilers, and then we cut to Skinsale and Palmerdale's secretary, Adelaide, as they hear a blood-curdling scream from below...



August 17: Horror of Fang Rock Parts Three & Four

Well, they all heard a scream from Reuben, but nevertheless he seems to be alive (albeit not very talkative) as he heads straight for his room and locks himself in -- where it becomes clear that all is not right with him.

This episode is primarily meant to increase the feeling of claustrophobia and dread, as Terrance Dicks delivers an old-fashioned base-under-siege story designed to scare the audience -- and so Palmerdale is killed outside after trying to bribe Vince, the young lighthouse keeper, to send a telegram for him.  Palmerdale is still obsessed with gaining money and ruining Skinsale, and will do anything to make that money.  But of course it doesn't matter, as the alien kills him -- Adelaide thinks Skinsale did it to protect his reputation, but we know better.  Then after that, Reuben starts gleefully killing people off, starting with Harker at the end of part three.  "Oh no!" Adelaide screams upon seeing the body.  "Get her out of here!" the Doctor growls, as he and Leela make a dreadful discovery: Reuben's body in the coal bunker, dead for several hours.  The Doctor realizes they're dealing with a shapeshifter, as part three comes to an end. "Leela, I've made a terrible mistake.  I thought I'd locked the enemy out.  Instead, I've locked it in, with us," he says grimly.

The Rutan Scout in the lighthouse stairwell. (Horror of Fang
Rock
Part Four) ©BBC
Part four shows the alien in Reuben's form killing off the rest of the survivors: first Vince, then Adelaide.  The Doctor comes up with a desperate plan which requires him to delay the alien while Skinsale and Leela do what they need to do.  This is the point where we learn that the alien is in fact a Rutan, the enemy of the Sontarans and a rare case (at this point in the show's life, at least) of taking a throwaway detail from a previous story and incorporating it into the current storyline.  This Rutan is a scout, "specially trained in the new metamorphosis techniques", and it's going to use Earth as a launching point in their assault against the Sontarans.  Leela manages to kill it (though not before it kills Skinsale, who's stopped to pick up some diamonds that the Doctor has tossed aside -- killed by his own greed, in a way) and then, in what's an impressive but slightly uncomfortable scene to watch, she heads down to gloat over the death of her enemy.  But the Doctor manages to destroy, thanks to the main lighthouse lamp and a diamond, the main Rutan ship that's preparing to land -- although the flash turns Leela's eyes from brown to blue (so that Louise Jameson doesn't have to keep wearing contact lenses to change her eye color).  With everyone in the lighthouse dead, the Doctor and Leela depart, the Doctor quoting one of the sources of the story: "The Ballad of Flanagan Isle".

There's no larger purpose behind Horror of Fang Rock: it's simply there to provide effective moments of terror and fear, and as such is one of the closest times Doctor Who has come to making an old-style suspenseful horror movie (as opposed to the more modern gorefests we now associate the term "horror movie" with).  It's not ambitious, but it is well-scripted, well-directed and acted (there are some fabulous moments from the cast), and very well-designed as well (right down to the filthy handprints on the well-used curved door to the crew room).  It's suspenseful, it's scary, and it never lets the side down: Horror of Fang Rock doesn't have the scope of other stories, but it's extremely successful in what it set out to do.



August 18: The Invisible Enemy Parts One & Two

So the first effects shot (the one of the shuttle weaving up and down through the asteroids) is rather dodgy, but after that they get much better -- the shots of the shuttle landing on Titan and being taken underground are particularly good.  And while the space shuttle interior isn't terribly exciting (though it's certainly not bad), the interiors of the base on Titan are quite lovely -- the bits that look like they've been hewn from the rock being especially nice.  Oh, and look, we've back to the old-style white console room -- no more wooden paneling (for practical reasons, it turns out -- the panels had warped while in storage and thus were no longer usable).

The plot isn't too shabby here, either -- that shuttle flies through an organism that sort of looks like a thundercloud in space, complete with lightning, which ends up infecting the shuttle crew.  We can tell because they've got some interesting-looking white scales/fungus on their faces, and they all utter another Bob Baker/Dave Martin catchphrase: "Contact has been made."  But what's more exciting than that is that the TARDIS also passes through the organism, and the Doctor is also infected.  So not only do we get a possession story, but we get one in which the Doctor himself has been compromised.  Of course, it being the Doctor, he's able to resist it somewhat, but even he's not totally immune.  Thus as we see the Doctor and Leela exploring the Titan base in response to a mayday signal, we see him losing the struggle against the Nucleus of that space organism as he prepares to shoot down Leela...

Leela, for some reason, is completely unaffected by this creature, and so she's able to help the Doctor, even as he continues to struggle against the Nucleus (he's able to stop himself from shooting down Leela, for instance).  His only help lies at the Bi-Al Foundation, on an asteroid in the main asteroid belt.  It's not as nice a set (being another one of those white "space" sets we tend to get in future stories), but it's still all right.  That said, the "reformed" English spelling on everything -- so, for example, the word 'exit' is realized as 'egsit' -- is not only rather poorly thought-out (such as with the letter 'i' representing two or three different sounds) but it's not even consistent -- Titan has an 'airloc', while Bi-Al has an 'airlok'.  So it's a nice idea but it hasn't been properly worked out, and thus the result is either just strange or simply awful (depending on your point of view).  Oh, and all the dialogue refers to things like "level X4", while the signs say '4X'.

Leela is told about K-9 by his owner, Professor Marius. (The
Invisible Enemy
Part Two) ©BBC
However, Bi-Al is where we meet Professor Marius, Bi-Al's "specialist in extraterrestrial pathological endomorphisms", and his robot dog, K-9.  There's something slightly off about K-9's introduction, to be honest -- he's sort of presented as a fait accompli, a way for the effects people to say, "Look what we can do," and thus is a bit hard to take seriously.  It also doesn't help that this is Doctor Who's first "cute" robot since the Chumblies in 1965, and that at this point in the story K-9 doesn't have anything worthwhile to do.  There's a bit of action toward the end, as Marius sends him out to protect the lab with the Doctor in it from the attacking possessed humans (who are trying to save the Nucleus from being destroyed by Marius and his people), but in general K-9 just sits there being vaguely smug and irritating -- declaring he's smarter than Marius and yelling repeatedly at Leela (but not doing anything else) until Marius tells him to stop.

There's also some stuff about "circus" cloning tricks ("circus" because the clones don't last very long) and using this to make duplicates of the Doctor and Leela that can be shrunk down and injected into the Doctor to take the fight to the Nucleus; a bit of confusion about why Leela is immune (the Doctor thinks it's because Leela is all instinct, and the organism needs intellect to thrive, while Marius seems to believe it might be a simple antibody); and the possessed humans smashing a shuttle into the Bi-Al Foundation (yeah, that will keep the Nucleus safe).  It's decently exciting, even if not particularly inspired -- we'll have to see what happens in the last two episodes, to learn if they achieve or squander the potential that this set-up has.  That said, injecting the Doctor and Leela clones into the infected Doctor isn't the most encouraging sign...



August 19: The Invisible Enemy Parts Three & Four

Erm.

It's not that these two episodes are bad, it's just that they're not particularly interested in telling the story that the first two seemed intent on telling.  The majority of part three is focused on the miniaturized Doctor and Leela clones wandering around the Doctor's brain, looking for the Nucleus of the Swarm that's taken up residence inside.  It's not an terrible idea, and the sets are suitably imaginative, but the endeavour is somewhat thwarted by all the jokey bits inside.  It doesn't feel tense; it feels like a casual stroll through the Doctor's brain, as he makes facetious comments and shows off to Leela -- and the fact that no effort is made to make the countdown even close to being in real time doesn't help this sedate feeling any.

It also feels rather padded; Marius is infected by the virus and clones and miniaturizes Lowe so that he can also be injected in the Doctor and stop our heroes' clones, but this ultimately feels like an excuse to use up the episode's allotted time, rather than any sort of serious threat.  Then the whole episode ends ludicrously; after the Doctor and Leela confront the Nucleus of the Swarm, the infected Professor Marius takes whatever escaped from the Doctor's tear duct and brings it to full size.  Only it's not the Doctor and Leela -- it's the Nucleus, which looks like a giant mutated shrimp.  And it's not a very terrifying shrimp either.

The Doctor chats with the Nucleus of the Swarm and its minions.
(The Invisible Enemy Part Four) ©BBC
Part four has some running around as the Nucleus heads back to Titan to spawn, while the Doctor works out how to stop it.  It turns out that, no, it actually was an antibody in Leela's blood that made her immune, and they're able to successfully cure Marius with it.  Then it's off to Titan to stop the Swarm from spreading.  The Doctor is going to use the antibodies, but when those are destroyed, he just blows the whole place up instead.  So, that was easy, I guess -- it certainly didn't look like a life-or-death struggle.

Then it's back to the Bi-Al Foundation to return K-9 to Professor Marius -- only Marius can't take K-9 back to Earth with him, so he offers the metal dog to the Doctor.  The Doctor doesn't seem terribly thrilled (and it's worth nothing that Tom Baker seems to have no idea how to talk to this prop -- he's significantly less certain when addressing K-9 than any of the actual actors), but Leela is very pleased, and the TARDIS departs while Marius makes an excruciating "joke" about K-9 being "TARDIS-trained".

There's some good potential in this story, and the first couple episodes are quite good, but once we enter the Doctor's brain things go downhill.  The brain sets are imaginative, yes, but they really need to be spectacular to pull this off, and they're just not up to the task -- and the lack of suspense in these scenes doesn't help any, as the show starts to stop taking itself seriously.  There's a sense of Bob Baker and Dave Martin throwing in scenes because they think they'd be cool, rather than for any logical reason (which includes basically all of part three).  And, perhaps more egregiously, the ultimate solution to the problem is just to blow it up, rather than to do anything clever or memorable.  The Invisible Enemy certainly tries, and there are some good moments, but it can't quite achieve what it wants to do.  "Ambitious" is a suitable word to describe this story; so is "silly".



August 20: Image of the Fendahl Parts One & Two

This first episode feels very unusual for Doctor Who.  The Doctor and Leela are barely in it, and the times when they are present, they're essentially divorced from the main plotline.  That plotline feels more like a Nigel Kneale piece (and the ancient, impossible skull has obvious parallels with Quatermass and the Pit), and all the characters involved feel fully formed, as opposed to foils for the Doctor to react against.  They're scientists who've discovered a homo sapiens skull buried in 12-million-year-old volcanic ash, and they're trying to work out why it was there.  Meanwhile, the body of a dead hiker has been found in the grounds nearby ("What sort of corpse?" asks the group's leader, Dr. Fendelman.  "A dead one.  What other sort is there?" replies Adam Colby101, the one who found the hiker), which Dr. Fendelman wants to keep hushed up for some reason -- as if they're doing something so terrible at the Priory that they don't want anyone to associate the death of a hiker with archaeology.  It's an odd position to take, is what I'm getting at.

This first episode is really all about establishing the mood.  We know there's a seemingly impossible skull, we know that Fendelman is working on a device that will let him see images of the past (due to a "sonic shadow"), and it seems that when the device is operating, the ancient skull reacts -- and seems to affect fellow researcher Thea Ransome (Wanda Ventham's second role on the show, and apparently her first since the birth of her son Benedict Cumberbatch) in strange ways.  There's an uneasy feeling about all this, and the lack of music actually heightens this feeling -- other than the titles, there's no incidental music at all in the first episode, and only a small amount in the second part.  But where that's been a hindrance in other stories (The Web Planet springs to mind), here it adds a feeling of verisimilitude that leads to that aforementioned sense of unease -- it's ever so slightly harder, given what we see, to dismiss this as simple fiction.

Weird cliffhanger, though: the skull is superimposed over Thea's face while she turns on Dr. Fendelman's machine, Leela is shot at with a shotgun, and the Doctor stands motionless in a field.  And the resolution is even stranger: the Doctor talks his legs into moving and he's able to run off.  Oh, and Leela dodges the shotgun blast.

The Doctor is forced to grip the glowing ancient skull.
(Image of the Fendahl Part Two) ©BBC
The second part sees the Doctor and Leela more integrated into the action (and, as a random aside, Leela's hairstyle in this isn't very flattering -- allegedly the stylist took too much off and they had to put Louise Jameson's hair up to cover this), although it's Leela who seems to be doing better, as she's got a whole subplot with some locals and something about a coven or some such to deal with.  The Doctor seems to know a lot more about what's going on (note the way he instantly knows not to touch Thea, that Mitchell died the same way as someone else, and that the weird slug-like creatures that appear on Thea's fallen body look like embryo Fendahleen, "a creature from my own mythology"), but it doesn't really help, as he's quickly locked up in a storeroom and isolated from the rest of the house, with no way of getting out.  Well... except, in one of the great mysteries of Doctor Who, the door is unlocked and opened, without any indication whatsoever as to who did it.  (Although now we know it must have been Clara, as she traveled through the Doctor's timeline.)

Things aren't exactly going well in the meantime: Thea seems drawn to both the skull and Fendelman's machine, and Max Stael (the final researcher in the group) appears to be a member of that coven whose members were giving Leela trouble in the episode.  Interesting cliffhanger, though: after Thea switches the machine on, Thea is knocked out by Max and the machine is left on -- which means that the Doctor, who's been examining the skull102, suddenly feels compelled to grip it: an action which causes him some pain...



August 21: Image of the Fendahl Parts Three & Four

The Doctor is saved by Leela, and off they go to regroup at Ma Tyler's cottage.  After establishing both that Ma Tyler is all right and that she has precognition (which the Doctor puts down to living near a time fissure -- "it's a weakness in the fabric of space and time.  Every haunted place has one, doesn't it?  That's why they're haunted.  It's a time distortion" -- and thus gives the viewers an offhand, pseudo-scientific explanation for ghosts), it's off to the fifth planet for some reason (padding, most likely -- we learn almost nothing from this side trip).  The bit in the cottage is still nice though.  "How do 'ee know so much?" Ma Tyler asks him.  "I read a lot," the Doctor replies.

The bits back at the Priory are much more interesting.  Max Stael seems to think that, by using Thea as a medium and bringing along some of the locals to help him, he'll be able to "conjure and control the supreme power of the ancients."  He noticed that the sonic time scanner woke up the power and Thea seems drawn to it, so he's all set.  And obviously he's not going to let anyone get in his way, so Adam Colby and Dr. Fendelman are taken down to the cellar at gunpoint and tied up to some columns.  Colby responds, rather wonderfully, by being more sarcastic than usual, while Fendelman seems more despondent -- possibly because he realizes what's going to happen -- particularly when he sees that Stael is using the ancient skull (with a pentagram in the crown -- another offhand explanation for something) as a power source. "You don't understand," he tells Stael urgently.  "I see now what will happen. ... The Doctor asked if my name was real.  Fendelman.  Man of the Fendahl.  Don't you see?  Only for this have the generations of my fathers lived.  I have been used!  You are being used!  Mankind has been used!"  (And never mind that Fendelman doesn't seem to have been around for any of the explanations about what the Fendahl is, it's still a good, well-delivered speech.)  This is where the story really starts to get into Quatermass and the Pit territory, with the implication that mankind's development has been influenced by this ancient skull in order to turn us into something for its own purpose.  Stael won't listen, though -- he shoots Fendelman in the head (off-screen, but there's a trickle of blood on Fendelman's temple when we cut back) and gets ready to claim the ancient power.

The Fendahl core and a Fendahleen. (Image of the Fendahl
Part Four) ©BBC
It all goes horribly wrong, though; Thea turns into a glowing golden figure, and a number of slug-like creatures called Fendahleen appear.  The Doctor and Leela are able to rescue Colby, but when it comes to Stael, it's too late -- he can't move, and he begs for a gun so he can end his life.  It should be a horrific moment, but it's played in such a way as to lessen the impact of what's happening: Tom Baker in particular seems incredibly unaffected by the gravity of the situation as he gives the gun to Scott Fredericks, but one wonders if that was to downplay this element for the audience (after all, The Deadly Assassin incident was only last year and new producer Graham Williams has been specifically told from above to tone things down).  Still, you can definitely see what Chris Boucher was getting at when he wrote it.

We finally get some answers from the Doctor as to what's happening in his conversation with Colby, as he rewires the time scanner to cause an implosion.  We learn that twelve million years ago, the Fendahl evolved on the fifth planet as a creature that fed on all forms of life, and the Time Lords tried to stop it by destroying and/or time-looping the fifth planet (it's not exactly clear which) -- only one of them escaped and made its way to Earth:
COLBY: Then it got itself buried, but not killed.
DOCTOR: The Fendahl is death.  How do you kill death?  No, what happened was this.  The energy amassed by the Fendahl was stored in the skull and dissipated slowly as a biological transmutation field.  Now, any appropriate lifeform that came within the field was altered so that it ultimately evolved into something suitable for the Fendahl to use.
COLBY: Are you saying that skull created man?
DOCTOR: No, I'm saying it may have affected his evolution. ... That would explain the dark side of man's nature.  But it's just a theory. ... Oh, if you want an alternative explanation, the Fendahl fed into the RNA of certain individuals the instincts and compulsions necessary to recreate.  These were fed through the generations till they reached Fendelman and people like him.
COLBY: Well, that's possibly more plausible.
DOCTOR: Or on the other hand, it could all be just a coincidence.
Thea's transformation into the Fendahl core (the Fendahl being a gestalt entity composed of a core and twelve Fendahleen) is pretty impressive; the large eyes painted on her eyelids works surprisingly well, particularly at a distance -- it's only in close-up shots that the effect is spoiled somewhat.  It's also an interesting choice to make something that's pure death look so beautiful and almost god-like, and it's one of the decisions that makes this story so compelling.

Fortunately, the Doctor is on hand to save the day, by taking the Fendahl skull and putting in it a lead-lined case and then rigging a gigantic implosion in the Priory to take care of the Fendahleen that exist -- the Fendahl being unable to gain full strength since two of the people needed to turn into Fendahleen were killed.  The universe is safe.

Image of the Fendahl is just about the last stab at Gothic horror in this era of the show, but it's a very effective piece of television.  The decision to make so much of this look like a high-quality science-fiction teleplay (as opposed to a typical episode of Doctor Who) elevates this, and the comparisons with Nigel Kneale's works are intended as a compliment.  It's so good, in fact, that you could take the Doctor out of things completely and still have a good story that would be almost unchanged until the final episode.  It's an intelligent script and a good production; it's not as wonderful as The Face of Evil, but this is another unfairly neglected story that's well worth your time.



August 22: The Sun Makers Parts One & Two

There's a school of thought that says that The Sun Makers is a political satire about taxation.  There are some jokes and references on the surface, sure, but at its heart (at least based on these first two episodes) it's about an oppressed society, like a number of other stories: the only difference here is that the main tool of oppression appears to be heavy taxation, rather than just troops with big guns stationed everywhere.

This is in many ways a bleak couple of episodes.  Citizen Cordo would rather commit suicide than be in debt to the Company, and there's some indication of how much disparity exists: Cordo is completely unable to come up with the outstanding balance of 31 talmars to pay for his father's death, while Gatherer Hade is willing to give the Doctor 1000 talmars in order to sustain an illusion of mistaken identity long enough for the Doctor to reveal the location of the other rebel leaders (Hade believes).  Meanwhile, the rebels living in the Undercity are just as despicable (if not more so), with the leaders more interested in self-preservation at any cost than in any more noble acts against the Company.  Only Goudry (as played by Michael Keating, soon to become rather more well-known as Vila in Blake's 7) has any sort of redeeming qualities, and he's just as concerned about not drawing attention to himself as anyone else.  The only honorable people we meet are Cordo and Bisham, the man being held in the Correction Centre with the Doctor.

The problem, however, is that that surface layer of jokes has led to a much lighter feel for this story than might have been intended.  Now obviously some scenes (including basically anything with Gatherer Hade) are meant to be lighter.  But one never really gets the sense that the people living underground are in any danger, and the Doctor and Leela never really feel like they're in danger either (not even in either cliffhanger).  And so we get a sense of a society that we're told is bleak and being controlled by drugs in the air, but we never really get to see any of the effects.

The other odd thing about this story is how we're on Pluto in the far future, surrounded by six artificial suns, and yet this becomes a background element almost immediately.  It obviously didn't help that it was miserably overcast on the days they shot outside, but there's a story in the mix about how even the light is something the citizens have to pay for, but it's never brought up.  All this and the haphazard set design (though, to be fair to designer Tony Snoaden, the design thought processes seem to have been changed halfway through the design stage, which leads to some odd juxtaposition of elements -- Aztec faces, giant fake-looking animal rib cages, and blown up circuitry (from AMD, you may have noticed) all fight for screen prominence, with little rhyme or reason) make this a story that seems like it's been put together in a rush.  Hopefully things improve in the last two episodes, but right now this feels like a story that's hoping that the tax jokes will distract people from the fact that this is a roughly-sketched-out oppressed society with no real threat or danger behind it.



August 23: The Sun Makers Parts Three & Four

Today's Saturday, and while Peter Capaldi is making his debut tonight as the twelfth Doctor, I'm finishing up The Sun Makers.

Having established this society and its woes in the first two episodes, Robert Holmes sets about engineering a revolution via the Doctor and his new friends.  Of course, it's not just for altruistic, "humanity should be free" reasons: the Company has captured Leela (in a sequence that highlights the problems with shooting interiors on location on film, as it makes them obviously locations and thus there's less of a sense of being inside a building, at least according to the visual grammar of the show in this era) and prepared to execute her publicly via steaming, a particularly gruesome, non-fantastical-sounding death.  And that's largely it for this episode.  Part three also gives us some nice moments with the Doctor and his friends taking over Main Control (where the anxiety-inducing drug PCM is pumped through to all the work areas) and quickly convincing the two technicians working there to join the revolution, and there's also a subtle effort to make the people living in the Undercity more sympathetic and less nasty, so that we'll be more inclined to be on their side by the end.  Plus, this episode gives us a lot more of the Collector, as he gleefully looks forward to Leela's death ("This is the moment I get a real feeling of job satisfaction.  Are the microphones wired in?" the Collector asks.  "All round the condenser, most Merciful. We're looking forward to excellent duodecaphonic sound," Gatherer Hade replies, making, it seems an oblique reference to then-popular Quadraphonic sound (an early form of surround sound).  "Then we shall hear within a few seconds," the Collector responds happily) and slyly arranges for the Doctor's capture via an incentive of 5000 talmars paid to anyone who has information about him -- 5000 talmars out of Hade's account, which Hade seems none too pleased about.  Nasty cliffhanger, though, as Leela looks about to be killed by the steaming.

The Doctor confronts the Collector. (The Sun Makers Part
Four) ©BBC
Fortunately, she survives and heads back to Main Control with the Doctor (which includes, near the end of the sequence, an utterly bizarre moment where everyone calls out for K-9 for roughly thirty seconds before he reappears), and the revolution begins in earnest, as the PCM wears off and the workers start to go on strike.  This does lead to a genuinely unpleasant moment, though, as the workers grab Gatherer Hade and throw him off the roof to his death.  This might have worked better if Hade had been genuinely unpleasant, but we just seem him act a bit like a buffoon and not really doing anything evil (beyond the excessive taxation).  It's thus a shock to see him killed so unpleasantly.

Meanwhile, the Doctor heads off to the Collector's palace and sabotages things before having a nice long chat with the Collector about things, and so we get a nice info-dump as a result: "Tell me, how did you get control of humanity?" the Doctor asks.  "A normal business operation," the Collector replies.  "The Company was looking for property in this sector, Earth was running down, its people dying.  We made a deal. ... We moved them all to Mars, after our engineers had made that planet habitable for their species."  "And then taxed the life out of them," the Doctor says reasonably.  "I mean, to recover your capital costs."  "Quite so, quite so.  Then, when the resources of Mars were exhausted in their turn, we created a new environment for them here on Pluto," the Collector says.  It's too late for the Collector, though; the Doctor had already fed into the system a "two percent growth tax into the computers; index linked," which ruins the economy and sends the Collector into such a shock that he dissolves in his chair and down into the workings inside; as a Usurian, see, the Collector is a type of poisonous fungi that looks "sea kale with eyes", and his human form was an affectation.  Still, humanity is no longer under the Company's thumb, and they can get on with resettling the Earth.  A petty moment in the TARDIS later (where the Doctor causes a tremendous lurch inside, causing the chess game he was losing against K-9 to topple over) and it's off to the next adventure.

It's not a terrible story by any means, but the tone of The Sun Makers is definitely uncertain.  The cast is starting to latch on to the jokes (and this is by no means the witty tax satire you've been led to believe -- other than a few moments in part one and the occasional reference here or there, the whole thing unfolds more or less the way one would expect a typical Who story to), and while it's not quite at the expense of everything else yet, it does lead to some odd and wholly unnecessary moments (such as the aforementioned K-9 "joke").  The problem is that, under that humorous surface material, there's a much darker story lurking.  The idea of being taxed to death (and beyond) is a new one for Doctor Who, and a lot of mileage could have been derived from exploring this further.  But because there's been an edict from above to make the show less scary, and because the design looks frankly rather cheap, the impact of this has been minimized, and what we're left with is a fairly well-written but ultimately generic story.



August 24: Underworld Parts One & Two

Boy, Underworld sure takes a beating from fans, doesn't it?  It's one of those stories that seems to be almost universally reviled for some reason.  But, at least on the basis of these two episodes, it's a bit hard to see why.  Surely everyone can't be offended by the bad science?

Of course, the science is definitely...odd, to put it mildly.  You can just about swallow the idea of planets forming by all the rocky bits being attracted to pieces with more mass, thus causing more gravitational pull.  Almost.  A bit.  However, the fact that planets form on the edge of the cosmos when matter spews out of the nothing beyond the edge is rather harder to swallow.  The whole thing's like this too, but you quickly reach a point where you just have to suspend all disbelief and let it wash past you, so it seems unlikely that that's the reason so many people are cool toward this story.

It could be all the CSO that starts in episode two, but honestly, it's not really that bad (even allowing for the fact that the DVD has been cleaned up by the Restoration Team to lessen the fringing).  The main problems with it are that it's rather apparent that they're not really in cave sets, as the lighting's not quite right between the actors and the CSO backgrounds (although, to be fair, this is a problem that still crops up from time to time even today -- yesterday's episode "Deep Breath" having a couple examples of this), and that they only seem to have a handful of backgrounds to drop in, which occasionally makes it difficult to work out the geography of the place.  But that's about it, and if you can accept the other occasional questionable effects on Doctor Who then surely you can accept that?

Of course, none of this is to say that the episode is perfect.  There's a brilliant idea at the beginning of part one, where the Doctor reveals that the Minyans (the people crewing the ship the TARDIS has landed in) were affected by the arrival of the Time Lords.  "Well, the Minyans thought of [the Time Lords] as gods, you see, which was all very flattering and we were new at space-time explorations, so we thought we could help.  We gave them medical and scientific aid, better communications, better weapons," the Doctor says.  "What happened?" Leela asks.  "Kicked us out at gunpoint," the Doctor replies.  "Then they went to war with each other, learnt how to split the atom, discovered the toothbrush and finally split the planet."  That's such a good idea that they should have made the whole story about that, but instead it's used to give the Minyans some regeneration technology so that they can have plausibly lived for a hundred thousand years.  And this might be fine, except James Maxwell, as the ship's captain Jackson, has to tell the Doctor about how long they've been searching, and while it's intended to sound rather futile, Jackson sounds so intensely bored that it's hard to be interested in his story.  And, sadly, this seems to be the speed that all the guest characters are operating at -- with the exception of Alan Lake as Herrick, who's just about the best thing on display in Underworld thus far.  Well, that and the Doctor telling K-9 to shut up.  Not that I mind K-9 that much (despite his initial introduction in The Invisible Enemy), but it's an entertaining moment.

But come on, being a bit dull and squandering some potential aren't the worst of sins.  I suppose Underworld could take a hard turn for the worse in parts three and four, but as of right now its greatest problem is it's not as exciting as it needs to be.  And if that's the biggest problem you've got (and we're still leagues ahead of The Web Planet here), seems to me you're doing okay.



August 25: Underworld Parts Three & Four

The Doctor and Leela listen to Idas's plight. (Underworld
Part Three) ©BBC
Part three might be the best episode of the bunch -- it certainly seems to have the most going on, with the Doctor, Leela, and a local Trog called Idas breaking into the Tree at the End of the World at the center of the planet (which has a convenient shaft that they're able to gently float down (due to the low gravity), complete with incredibly inappropriate elevator-style incidental music) while the Minyans try to make their way to the race banks in the P7E.  This means there are some acceptable battles, such as Herrick's defense of the retreating Minyans, and the scene where the Doctor gets everyone out of the control room of the P7E and then rallies them together to figure out how to get back inside the P7E to the race banks gives one a glimpse of how epic this story wants to be (despite being on another CSO backdrop -- but again, none of them are that bad here, and in fact the "can't tell which tunnel is which" problem has gone away).  The interrogation of Herrick is also a nice touch, and the revelation that the servants of the Oracle are robots is a good one.

Unfortunately, part four spoils it rather by solving things too early, giving Herrick the race banks without a fight.  Of course, this turns out to be a ruse, but it means that there's a lot of doubling back with the real race banks and the false race banks (actually fission grenades) that feel more like padding than genuine incident or peril.  This does mean that this last episode therefore drags a bit, even if it does mean that the Doctor is able to rescue all the Trogs before the P7E is destroyed.  Nice planet explosion though.  But yes, everyone is saved, and in case not everyone's worked out what's going on, the Doctor points out the similarities between this story and that of Jason and the Argonauts.

And maybe that's the main problem with this story.  The Hinchcliffe years took older Gothic horror tales (Frankenstein, mummies, those sorts of things) and similar stories and used them as jumping-off points to tell their own stuff.  Underworld wants to do the same type of thing with an older, more epic story, but unfortunately it doesn't really have anything to add to the original.  If this is indeed supposed to be the Argonautica or a related story, it has an odd way of going about it -- we see almost nothing of the problems encountered by the Argonauts on the journey to and from Colchis, and the Golden Fleece has been reduced to a couple small cylinders.  It's also a rather jumbled version -- it's not clear what Persephone and the underworld have to do with Jason's quest, and a lot of it just feels like a hodgepodge of Greek myths just for the hell of it.  There's no sense of import to events here; it's as if they've decided that taking an ancient Greek story and chucking SF elements in it is good enough.  It isn't.

And, perhaps most frustratingly, Bob Baker & Dave Martin miss a huge trick in the relation between the Doctor and the Minyans.  The Time Lords are the Minyans' gods!  That means that one of their gods is walking among them, assisting them and chatting with them, and yet none of them react as if this is in any way unusual or awe-inspiring.  No, instead it's just business as normal as the Doctor wanders around some tunnels and eventually saves the Minyans and their future.  Not once does anyone bow down in worship, or treat the Doctor as special in any way.  If they'd gone this path, even a little, it might have lent the story the epic quality it's lacking.

But look, there's not really anything wrong with Underworld.  There are some dodgy effects shots, and it's occasionally clear that most people are uncomfortable acting against plain blue backcloths.  Plus the script is often frustratingly unambitious at times.  But it's not the worst thing ever, and there are some nice moments scattered throughout to keep you interested.  Part three is actually pretty good, and Baker & Martin's knack for catchphrases appears here as well ("the quest is the quest").  And Alan Lake is clearly having a good time.  Yes, it's a bit silly and a bit dull at times, but what's perhaps more surprising is how well it works in places (the sacrifice scene in the P7E is nicely atmospheric, and the Doctor and Leela's cliffhanger at the start of part four is far better than it has any right to be).  It'll never top any polls, but Underworld is better than its reputation would have you believe.



August 26: The Invasion of Time Parts One & Two

The first thing that strikes you about The Invasion of Time is how fast it moves.  (Well, all right, maybe not the first thing, but close.)  This story flies in comparison to Underworld: we move from the Doctor forming an unholy alliance of some sort to being inaugurated as President in the space of 24 minutes.

That alliance is also particularly intriguing, as it seems to set up the Doctor as the villain of the piece.  "You promised complete control over the Time Lords," he says to the mysterious party he's meeting with.  "... I'm honoured to be allowed to serve your glorious cause."  And from this moment on, the Doctor is behaving distinctly erratically, with sudden mood swings from friendly to near-apoplectic to deadly calm.  He refuses to let anyone know what's going on, preferring instead to boss everyone around as he demands to be installed as the President of the Supreme Council of the Time Lords (being, at the end of The Deadly Assassin, the only viable candidate remaining).  It's a fascinating approach -- we know the Doctor must be up to something (right?), we just don't have any idea what.  It certainly looks like he's planning to betray the Time Lords...

The Invasion of Time is one of those rare things in early Doctor Who: a loose sequel to an earlier story (The Deadly Assassin -- but you already knew that).  Of course, other than using events from The Deadly Assassin as a jumping-off point, there's not too much overt sequelness on display: some of the sets look similar (even if they're lit significantly differently), and Borusa is back (albeit as a different actor), and there's some reference to the Matrix.  And that's about it.  It's slightly surprising that they didn't try to get any of the actors from the earlier story back (well, they apparently did try to get Angus Mackay back as Borusa, but he was busy), as it might have made the connections stronger.

But that's okay.  These first two episodes are ultimately Tom Baker's, and while there is the occasional misstep (such as the infamous "even the sonic screwdriver won't get me out of this one" line, which Baker delivers to the audience), for the most part he excels, continually wrongfooting the audience as to his motives and holding us entranced with his performance.  That uncertainty as to his motives also keeps things moving, and moments such as the one where he discusses with K-9 the probability of his plan succeeding, which almost look like it could go either way as to his loyalties, go a long way in maintaining interest.

Plus, episode two features one of the all-time best cliffhangers (and my personal favorite) in the entire series: after K-9 destroys the barriers that keep Gallifrey isolated from the universe, the Doctor calls a meeting of the High Council.  "Gentlemen, this is no ordinary meeting," he declares.  "I'm privileged to introduce to you your new masters."  And as odd-looking shimmering shapes appear, we see the Doctor laughing evilly, and we really start to wonder just what is going on.  Has the Doctor really become a villain?  You really want to tune in next time to find out.



August 27: The Invasion of Time Parts Three & Four

So right after that great cliffhanger we finally get some clue as to what's actually going on, as the Doctor orders Borusa into the newly-redecorated Presidential office: redecorated with lots of gears everywhere -- and everything cast in lead.  The Doctor is finally isolated from the Vardans (the shimmering invaders), and thus can reveal his plan to Borusa.

So if the first two episodes spent all their time making us question the Doctor's motives, these two see him squarely back as the hero of the piece, as he plots against the Vardans, who he sees as a tremendous threat to Gallifrey (it seems to be the case that they've invaded the Matrix before all this "taking over Gallifrey" stuff, but this isn't as clear as it probably should be).  The only downside to this is that once we know the Doctor is indeed still a hero, Tom Baker never quite gives the same caliber of performance as he did in the first two episodes.  Which isn't to say he's bad; just that he's not as fascinating to watch here, once he's being conventionally "good".  Of course, a lot of the other characters don't know that, so Andred's trying to organize a revolution, while Castellan Kelner is being obsequious to his new masters.

I have to say, in their semi-materialized form, I don't really mind the Vardans.  They may be sheets of aluminum foil, but I still find them quite effective, and the idea that they travel along any wavelength is a neat one.  It's only when they're fully materialized that they become a disappointment.  And what a disappointment; is there a greater letdown in the whole show than the ultimate reveal of the Vardans?  Even the Doctor comments on it: "Disappointing, aren't they?"

The Doctor hushes everyone as K-9 tracks down the Vardan
homeworld. (The Invasion of Time Part Four) ©BBC
And yes, there's some stuff with Leela and her new friend Rodan out in the wilderness of Gallifrey, where they meet up with some drop-out Time Lords already living out there.  But other than to show that Rodan is spectacularly unsuited to roughing it, this feels more like simply getting Leela out of the way while the main plot happens elsewhere; she certainly doesn't seem to contribute much to the direct resolution of events.  No, our attention is on the Doctor, as he works out how to lull the Vardans into a false enough sense of security to be able to locate their homeworld.  He finally manages it by part four, even if he has to make a giant hole in the quantum forcefield that protects Gallifrey.  And then he wins; the Vardans are defeated and it seems like everything is wrapping up -- which leads to another great cliffhanger: as the Doctor gives a congratulatory speech, he realizes no one is listening, and turns around to see a squad of Sontarans behind him.  It seems the invasion isn't over yet...

Oh, and, happily, we get to hear the middle eight section of the theme tune in the end credits of both of these episodes; it's been a while.



August 28: The Invasion of Time Parts Five & Six

The Sontarans have invaded Gallifrey!  Only a small force, but still!  It's an interesting twist to this tale, turning the Vardans into just an opening salvo for the real threat.  And what is going on with Castellan Kelner?  He seems perfectly content to sell his people down the river to whatever force is willing to exert their dominance.  Either he's unbelievably spineless, or he has it out for the Time Lords for some reason.  Or he's that desperate to gain power.

It must be said that these two episodes, despite the presence of the Sontarans, don't have quite the same impact as the first four.  There are some interesting plot elements moving along in part five (such as the Doctor's plan to patch the hole in Gallifrey's forcefield using his TARDIS), but because the Doctor is now the hero completely -- even more so than in parts three and four, where he still had to occasionally pretend to be evil -- Tom Baker slips back into his comfort zone, which just isn't quite as compelling.  Of course, there are still some nice moments -- the confrontation between Borusa and the Doctor about the Great Key is very well done (although there seems to be an implication that, as no President knows where the Great Key is and the Chancellor does, no Chancellor can become President (unless they get a mindwipe or something)) -- but it's not as mesmerizing as those first two episodes were.  Another good cliffhanger, though -- Tom Baker sounds pretty desperate as he yells, "We're being thrown into a black star!"

Leela convinces Castellan Kelner to tell the Doctor where Stor
is. (The Invasion of Time Part Six) ©BBC
Part six is the weakest of the bunch; there's an awful lot of padding with wanderings inside the Doctor's TARDIS, and the whole thing ends when the Doctor shoots a big powerful gun at the lead Sontaran, Stor.  All this and Leela's afterthought leaving scene.  It feels a little bit like a cheat, and the fact that they've shot portions of the interiors on film leads to a visual discontinuity -- particularly as this is all supposed to be in the same place.103  Still, the omnipresent TARDIS hum does help with this a bit, but it could have been much better.  And Stor's mask does look a lot better on film than on video.

Of course, given that the whole production was under a lot of pressure (between a strike and the initial script set to end the season (Killers of the Dark by David Weir) being far too expensive to film), it's somewhat impressive that The Invasion of Time works as well as it does. Sustaining a story over six weeks is no easy task in the best of circumstances, and the fact that things don't start to fall apart until the end is a testament to everyone involved.  The only major complaints are the severe underuse of the Sontarans (they show up and then basically stand around until they'll dispatched) and the disappointing farewell that Leela gets.  Apparently she loves Andred?  Well then.  It's not quite on the level of Dodo's goodbye, but it still feels like a textbook example of how not to write a main character out of a show.  But everything else is quite well done -- though one wonders how things would have gone without Tom Baker in the central role.  He's the glue that holds The Invasion of Time together, and this is really the shift where he begins to completely dominate the show.

It hasn't always been the most successful of seasons, but season 15 manages to provide some good stories and point out a new direction for Doctor Who.  There's a definite shift by the end of the season to go in a more "big concept" SF direction, and while it doesn't always work, there's still enough that does to keep things worth watching.  In some ways it's a welcome return to the philosophy that governed the show during season 3, rather than the more visceral threats of monsters and retold horror stories -- only this time, they have the dominant personality of Tom Baker as the main actor.  How these two things interact will determine the outcome of the next two seasons.









Footnotes

100 This was a take on vampire stories, but the BBC had a high-profile adaptation of Dracula coming out around the same time and didn't want Doctor Who to upstage/satirize that, so The Witch Lords was scrapped -- at least until 1980, when they made it as State of Decay.
101 The second character on the show to bear the name Adam.  Well, I care.
102 As far as I can tell, this marks the first instance of the Doctor asking, "Would you like a jelly baby?" (in this case, facetiously to the skull) while actually offering a liquorice allsort.
103 It's even odder when you consider that some of this stuff was in fact shot on location on video -- all of the stuff in the President's office, for instance, is shot on Outside Broadcast video (they ended up building sets on location, due to a strike), and the scenes in the TARDIS workshop are clearly on OB video.  So why didn't they do the whole thing this way -- was it that much cheaper to shoot material on film?  Or did the idea simply never occur to director Gerald Blake?