Season 19 (Oct 8 - Oct 20)

October 8: Castrovalva Parts One & Two
October 9: Castrovalva Parts Three & Four
October 10: Four to Doomsday Parts One & Two
October 11: Four to Doomsday Parts Three & Four
October 12: Kinda Parts One & Two
October 13: Kinda Parts Three & Four
October 14: The Visitation Parts One & Two
October 15: The Visitation Parts Three & Four
October 16: Black Orchid Parts One & Two
October 17: Earthshock Parts One & Two
October 18: Earthshock Parts Three & Four
October 19: Time-Flight Parts One & Two
October 20: Time-Flight Parts Three & Four



October 8: Castrovalva Parts One & Two

Hey, it's Doctor Who's first-ever pre-titles sequence, as we get a replay of the regeneration of Tom Baker into Peter Davison (well, it has been nine months between seasons), and then BAM! Right into the modified opening titles -- modified in that it's Peter Davison's face there now, not Tom's.  And they've added a sort of ripple effect.

There were a handful of loose ends at the end of Logopolis (such as, what happened to the Master?), and Castrovalva endeavours to address these points by picking up where Logopolis left off.  And so we see the Master escape while the Doctor's companions help the newly-regenerated Doctor inside the TARDIS.  Only it seems there's something wrong with Adric...

Hang on a moment though; why is Tegan going with them?  Look at it from her point-of-view: she's been kidnapped (accidentally, but still) and forced to wander a white corridor labyrinth (that still upsets her, judging from her reaction in this story), then taken to an alien planet, where she demands to be returned to Earth, and then she sees the universe almost destroyed by some evil madman who ends up killing the only person she feels she can trust ("I'm staying with you," she tells the Doctor in Logopolis.  "You're the only insurance policy I've got") -- except then she watches as some weird-looking plaster-of-Paris-esque dude merges with the Doctor and creates a brand new person.  She's on Earth, in what appears to be her own time period; what possible reason does she have for getting back inside the TARDIS?  She must have incredibly strong feelings of loyalty to someone who doesn't actually look like the Doctor.  Or maybe no one's actually thought about this.

But anyway, into the TARDIS, where we start117 to see Peter Davison stretch his muscles as the Doctor -- which he does by impersonating the first three.  He does a good job (although his Hartnell is the best), and it's a nice sequence that seems designed to remind the audience that there were in fact Doctors before Tom Baker.  I also like the self-deprecating humor, as he first realizes in dismay that his hair isn't curly anymore, and then when he finally sees himself in a mirror.  "That's the trouble with regeneration," he says despondently.  "You never quite know what you're going to get."  But he soon seems happy enough, as he picks up a cricket bat, and soon we see that he's going to be wearing a sort of Edwardian cricketing outfit.

The interesting thing about this story's approach to the regeneration of the Doctor is how drawn out it is.  It's most like Jon Pertwee's debut, where he spent the first couple episodes of Spearhead from Space bed-ridden, but Castrovalva goes even further than that -- this is the weakest we've ever seen the Doctor, and it's explicitly because of post-regeneration trauma.  This means he's not much help when the Master (via Adric, who's actually a block transfer computation projection -- just go with it) programs the TARDIS to head back to the hydrogen inrush that led to the formation of the galaxy (huh?  Do they mean the universe?) -- an event that the TARDIS can't withstand.  (Cue part one's cliffhanger.)  This means that the Doctor is fighting not only his own healing synapses but also the Master's efforts to kill them all.  They manage to escape, but the Doctor is still unwell -- and the Zero Room that he was recuperating in was jettisoned in order to escape the Master's trap.

The second half of part two involves Tegan maybe piloting the TARDIS (her abilities are deliberately questioned) to a place called Castrovalva, where the Doctor can relax.  They build him a small Zero Cabinet and wheel him around the planet on a motorized wheelchair, but when the wheelchair falls in the water the motor shorts out, which apparently means the wheels don't work anymore either?  So Tegan and Nyssa have to lug this cabinet around.  And then the episode ends when they put the cabinet down, wander off, and then come back to find that he's not in the cabinet anymore.  The fact that this cliffhanger works at all is a testament to how much effort Janet Fielding and Sarah Sutton have been putting into this thing, that this is something of a distressing moment and not just a case "oh, well OK then".

But then, these first two episodes have been surprisingly compelling.  The cast is quite limited (consisting of the four regulars and the Master, with an occasional line from one other guest actor), and the focus is thus on the Doctor's regeneration, to an extent that we haven't seen before, and it's this that makes Castrovalva work so far; the series is interested in exploring its own mythology a bit, and we're willing to go along for now, to see what they come up with.



October 9: Castrovalva Parts Three & Four

So, starting with season 19, Doctor Who moved from its traditional Saturday time slot to a twice-weekly affair, on Mondays and Tuesdays.  What this means is that (although I admit I might be imagining things) there's a tendency for stories of this period to feel like a game of two-part halves, and Castrovalva is no different.  The first two episodes were almost chamber pieces in a way -- you essentially had a cast of the Doctor, Nyssa, and Tegan, with occasional appearances from Adric and the Master, and after part one's exploration of the TARDIS we got part two's exploration of the forest around Castrovalva.  But parts three and four are about Castrovalva itself, and the supporting cast increases appropriately.

Full marks to new Doctor Who director Fiona Cumming, by the way, for that marvelous tease of a wounded Doctor early in part three.  To recap: Tegan and Nyssa have discovered that the Doctor is missing, and that there's a trail of blood leading away from his last location.  Then Cumming gives us a shot of a long trail of blood which leads to a prostrate Doctor -- except it turns out that the Doctor is just listening to the ground to determine how many people there are ahead, and the blood is in fact irrelevant to his current condition.  It's a really nice touch in a story full of imaginative moments.

The new Doctor is surrounded by natives. (Castrovalva Part
Three) ©BBC
Part three has those moments, for instance, as it continually thwarts our expectations about what's going on; the Doctor is seemingly captured by unfriendly natives, but they're actually very civilized and have just gone hunting for the purpose of exercise.  The town's physician, Mergrave, offers the Doctor a suspicious-looking drink, but it seems to help exactly as it's said to do. There's the charming scene where a little girl teaches the Doctor that three comes after two (a result of him being unable to remember about Adric).  Castrovalva itself seems to be an idyllic, peaceful place, but the cliffhanger reveals that space itself appears to be folding in on itself, and there doesn't seem to be any way out.

Part four has some fine moments as well; the scene where the Castrovalvans try to draw a map for the Doctor is wonderful, and the effect of space-time collapsing is well realized.  Castrovalva, in case you don't know, is the name of an M.C. Escher print of a castle on a hill -- it's not one of his optical illusion prints, but that's clearly the inspiration for a lot of what we get here, with our heroes continually heading down and yet always ending up back at the square.  It turns out that's for a reason: Castrovalva is a trap deliberately constructed by the Master to trap the Doctor (with some help from Adric), with a fake village and fake inhabitants all designed to defeat the Doctor once and for all.  Boy, the Master plans ahead, doesn't he?

Davison does an outstanding job, playing the Doctor like someone waking up in a brand new body and taking nothing for granted.  There's a subtle nuance to how he behaves that really sells it, but there's also a brand new energy at play here -- witness how he bursts into his quarters to confront Tegan and Nyssa about Adric.  Janet Fielding and Sarah Sutton, as Tegan and Nyssa respectively, have a much more thankless task of trying to remain rocks in a sea of chaos, and while occasionally you get the impression that they're not quite sure how to play things (Fielding, for instance, often seems to default to outrage), in general they do a decent job with what they're given.  And Anthony Ainley's portrayal of the Portreeve gives lie to the complaint (from later in the series) that he all too frequently plays the Master as a two-dimensional cackling villain -- his Portreeve is wonderful and suggests that the problem with the Master lies in the scripting, not in the acting.  It is a bit of a shame when he reveals himself to be the Master, though, as he's just not as interesting -- particularly as it's the end of the episode, which means that after Shardovan, one of the Castrovalvans, sacrifices himself to end everything (with a great line: "You made us, man of evil, but we are free"), everyone hurries to escape the collapsing Castrovalva -- with the Master dragged back inside by his angry creations.

Castrovalva, in general, has a more relaxed feel than many of its predecessors -- even when people are frantically running around, there's still a sense of peace lurking just beyond the edges.  In large part this is because of Peter Davison's performance; he seems to be making an effort not just to explore what it means to be in a new body, but also to be as distinct from Tom Baker as possible.  So to that end he's considerably more accessible and less in control, and in this case it works.  And he's bolstered by a story which is provides a puzzle for the Doctor to work through, rather than for a concrete threat to fight against.  In this respect, it's different from any regeneration story we've had yet -- the stakes are much lower and the story is focused firmly on the Doctor.  It's this approach, matched with the sheer charm of the piece and the talent in front of and behind the camera, that makes Castrovalva a success.



October 10: Four to Doomsday Parts One & Two

It's often been pointed out, but Four to Doomsday doesn't quite seem like the Doctor Who we're used to; instead it's structured much more like a Hartnell story, with the TARDIS arriving in an unfamiliar environment and slowly working things out about it as they explore -- there's little in the way of establishing scenes for anyone outside the TARDIS, and the audience learns about things at the same time as the main characters do.  It's a refreshingly more sedate change of pace.  And in keeping with the Hartnell theme, there are also moments that seem designed to be educational in nature ("Pass the sodium chloride", the nature of the recreationals) -- it really does feel like a 60s story.  There are even four people in the TARDIS again.

Except that's where the parallel falls through.  The Hartnell crew had an old man, a young girl, and two middle-aged adults.  Here we have three youngsters and someone who's old but seems almost as young.  This actually wouldn't be a problem if it weren't for the fact that writer Terence Dudley seems to have given the three companions the most broad of characterizations.  He's read that Tegan is bossy, Nyssa is smart, and Adric is chauvinistic (for some reason -- he never seemed to feel that way before), and so that's what the actors get to work with.  Sarah Sutton comes off the best because she's sussed that if she plays the lines with a hint of detached amusement then it'll work out.  Janet Fielding has to spend all her time complaining (mainly about how the Doctor didn't take her back to Heathrow and that she doesn't like Monarch's spaceship), and Matthew Waterhouse comes off the worst because his lines are all designed to make him sound like a stuck-up, awful brat, and he's not experienced enough of an actor (to put it kindly) to play against them.  This is therefore really where the rot starts to set in for Adric -- when it was just him and Tom Baker he could play the bright-eyed inquisitive, but now he has to fight for attention between two other companions, one of whom has been written in much the same way as Adric had been.  Adding two other TARDIS crewmembers was probably the worst thing to happen to Adric's character, and it's sadly not going to get much better.  It doesn't help that Tegan and Adric don't seem to like each other very much.

Four to Doomsday is actually the first story filmed for the new TARDIS team, and you can sort of see it in Davison's performance.  He's energetically enthusiastic about everything, particularly in the first episode, and even his voice is at a higher pitch than it generally is.  But it's nice to see such ebullience -- makes everything seem more exciting, somehow.

The actual story in these first two episodes is rather slight -- we're as much in the dark as to Monarch's intentions as the Doctor is.  But the exploration of the ship is quite nice, and the slow revelation as to the nature of the humans inhabiting it is built up well.  Oh, and apparently Tegan is an accomplished draftswoman, with some really well done sketches as to what the well-dressed early 80s couple is wearing.  Less plausible is her ability to speak the dialect that the aborigine Kurkutji is speaking118.  However, as the rest of the story so far has been quite charming, we can forgive this.  And it's a great cliffhanger for part two, as Bigon the Athenian lifts up his face to reveal that he's a robot, and then pulls out a small circuit board from his chest.  "This is me," he says solemnly.  Of course, we're not really any nearer to understanding what's going on on this ship (beyond the idea that Monarch wants to take 3 billion of his fellow Urbankans to make a home on Earth); maybe we'll get some answers next time.



October 11: Four to Doomsday Parts Three & Four

It doesn't take long for us to learn what Monarch's really planning: according to Bigon, he wants to get rid of everyone on Earth, take all its silicon, and make more electronics in his quest to travel faster than light -- that way, he'll be able to travel back in time to meet the creator of the universe, who he believes to be himself.  Obviously the Doctor can't let this happen, so the rest of the last two episodes are about how he's going to stop Monarch from putting his plan into motion.

Of course, you need complications when something like this happens, and unfortunately much of these complications involve Adric and Tegan.  Adric continues his downward slide, being totally captivated by Monarch's "give everyone immortality by turning them into robots" plan for some inexplicable reason.  It feels an awful lot like the betrayal subplot in State of Decay, except here it's played for real.  The upshot is that you really want to smack Adric upside the head -- although his dressing down by the Doctor in part four (the conversation which begins with "Now listen to me, you young idiot.  You're not so much gullible as idealistic.  I suppose it comes from your deprived delinquent background") is made particularly entertaining because of Adric's prior behavior.  And Tegan is continually in hysterics, yelling at the Doctor and then running off and (somehow) causing the TARDIS to dematerialize and rematerialize out in space next to Monarch's spaceship.  It's not very pleasant or entertaining to watch her either.

The Doctor tries to spacewalk to the TARDIS. (Four to
Doomsday
Part Four) ©BBC
But at least Peter Davison can be relied upon to entertain as the Doctor, working his way through the situation without tipping Monarch off too much as to his intentions.  It's fun to watch him and Bigon disable monopticons and try to devise a way to stop Monarch, and even when they're found out (in a dramatic cliffhanger to part three that ends with the Doctor about to be beheaded) the Doctor still manages to turn the tables.  A good chunk of part four involves him trying to reach the TARDIS out in space, and even this is entertaining, even though it just involves several attempts to try and float to the TARDIS.  (I'll not comment on the feasibility of the cricket ball stuff, as plenty of people have discussed that elsewhere, but I will say that the effects are really nicely done.)

This attitude sums up Four to Doomsday -- it's entertaining even when it's not doing much at all.  Even the resolution of the story, while being rather abrupt (Monarch confronts the Doctor, who throws the shrinking poison at him and ends his threat), still feels much in keeping.  It's clearly not a story for everyone's tastes, but if you're willing to accept it on its own terms then there's a decent amount of enjoyment to be had here.  Davison impresses in his first serial in the role, even if he's not quite settled yet, and the guest cast do a great job of propelling the story along -- Monarch is a despot who acts kindly toward his antagonists because he knows they can't threaten him, and it's a nice change of pace (even when this changes as Monarch begins to take the Doctor seriously).  It's not an important or epic tale, but that's okay: Four to Doomsday may be a slight story, but it's certainly not without its charms.



October 12: Kinda Parts One & Two

You may recall that Nyssa collapsed at the end of the last episode, and here we see the Doctor constructing a "delta wave augmenter" so that she can get 48 hours of uninterrupted deep sleep -- in other words, Nyssa's not going to be in this story (just like they used to do in the '60s, although this time it's not because Sarah Sutton needed a vacation but because Nyssa was retained as a character late enough in the game that writer Christopher Bailey simply couldn't figure out a way to include her in the scripts he'd been working on).  And Nyssa's not the only one sleeping: Tegan also falls asleep beneath some chimes erected on the paradise planet of Deva Loka that the TARDIS has landed on, but unlike Nyssa, we're going to be privy to Tegan's dreams.  And they're quite stark-looking dreams, full of black spaces and high-contrast lighting, as someone who the credits call Dukkha (as in the Buddhist word for "suffering", but which also sounds a bit like "Doctor" -- although the fact that he resembles Christopher Eccleston is pure coincidence) tries to convince Tegan to let him take over her body and engages in all sorts of psychological trickery (such as having two Tegans trying to work out which is the real Tegan and which is the copy) in order to achieve his goals.  It's interestingly directed, and the moving snake motif is neat; moreover, it's clear when she wakes up, towards the middle of part two, that this is not the Tegan we know -- and Janet Fielding takes full advantage of the opportunity to play something more malicious and sexually charged than what she's been asked to play so far on the show.  The only real issue is that it seems disconnected so far from everything else going on.

So that means that the main focus of Kinda's storyline is on the Doctor and Adric's explorations through the forest, but fortunately for the audience it's quite a compelling plot thread.  The extraterrestrial explorers on Deva Loka (clearly based on the British Empire, with pith helmets and such on display) have been slowly losing team members, despite the natives, the Kinda, not being hostile.  The Kinda themselves are interestingly realized -- it seems only the women can speak, not the men (because for the Kinda, "voice is ... a mark of wisdom"), but they're all telepathic.  There are some intriguing hints about the Kinda, but for these two episodes we're confined mainly to the survey team's dome, where Security Officer Hindle looks increasingly likely to crack under the strain of things -- so it probably wasn't a good idea for the commander, Sanders, to put him in charge while he's out.  (The fact that when Sanders comes back he's changed from the gruff military man we saw to someone far more benign and passive is also bad news for our heroes, even if right before that we get a great display of Hindle's madness, as the world he's constructed in his head threatens to crash down around him: "Somebody make him go away!  Mummy!  Mummy, make him go away!")

It's a fascinating madness that Hindle displays; not the usual power-hungry madness that we see so often on Doctor Who, but instead something far more prosaic.  He's quite simply desperate to maintain control of things as they spiral away from him (something, it must be said, that Sanders' repeated needling of the man doesn't do much to help), and he's convinced that he's the only sane one around.  He provides an interesting contrast to their scientist Todd, who seems much more level-headed.  And in the midst of this is the Doctor, who seems to be hiding a probing curiosity behind the feckless charm he's exuding.  This makes the Doctor seem very much in control of the situation, even when he's locked up -- one gets the impression that he's simply waiting for the right opportunity to come along, while trying not to upset Hindle unduly.  Of course, by the end of part two that hasn't happened yet, and Hindle forces them to open the box that seems to have altered Sanders so dramatically and which he brought back for Hindle to open -- something that the Doctor seems very wary to do...



October 13: Kinda Parts Three & Four

I really like the cliffhanger resolution at the start of part three, where they open the box, only for a harmless little doll to jump out.  It's a nice way of defusing the situation, and it's therefore more awesome how it turns out that there's something else inside the box -- the same thing that turned Sanders into a harmless, ineffectual person.  However, the Doctor and Todd aren't driven mad, but instead are shown a vision that they decide to follow up on.

As I said before, Doctor Who is being shown twice a week in this period, and thus there's a sense in which the action is in episode pairs.  Thus, while the first two parts of Kinda took place inside the dome, the last two are concentrated in the forest outside.  It's a really nice set, by the way; lots of levels and good ground cover in the studio -- most of the time it's not obviously a studio floor.  Plus the cave set is well realized, and there's fun dialogue to go along with it (after learning that the Doctor was present at the opening of the box but wasn't driven mad, the old woman, Panna, is confused: "No male can open the Box of Jhana without being driven out of his mind.  It is well known.  Unless...  Is he an idiot?"  "Well, I suppose I must be," the Doctor replies reasonably).  And not just that; we also learn that Aris has been taken over by the Mara (thanks to Tegan's unsupervised dreaming), and that he now can speak, which causes all the other Kinda to obey him.  But the most striking thing about part three is the allegorical apocalyptic vision at the end, with lots of different types of clocks on columns all ticking toward 12:00, while the Kinda trickster trips and falls, where he's set upon by his fellow Kinda as time runs out: this, it seems, is the destruction that the Mara will once again bring to the Kinda ("Was what we just saw the future or the past?" Todd asks.  "Both," the Doctor replies) unless it can be stopped.

Todd, the Doctor, and Karuna find Tegan at the Place of Great
Dreamings. (Kinda Part Four) ©BBC
Part four is also full of engaging moments, such as the city that Hindle and Sanders have been making out of cardboard and other things lying around the base, complete with crude cardboard people to populate it (something Christopher Bailey disliked, as he had envisioned something far more intricate and lifelike -- but let's face it, it wouldn't be as interesting a scene if they actually looked like people).  "You can't mend people!" Hindle cries, after one of the cardboard people's heads is torn off.  And there's the way the Kinda have made their own Total Survival Suit, just like the dome has, except theirs is made out of wood and vines.  It's a really nice touch, showing how the Mara has taken over Aris for evil purposes but still must rely on the Kinda's know-how to actually do things -- and while they can mimic the form they can't mimic all the technology.

Really, the only things that are unsatisfying about part four are the clear padding scenes between Adric and Tegan (which don't provide new information and are full of the two of them sniping at each other -- so not only is it clear padding but it's not even entertaining padding) and the realization of the Mara in its true form.  Yes, Doctor Who often comes under fire for poor effects, usually unjustly, but the snake deserves everything it gets.  It's so fake-looking that you can't help but cringe, even if you choose to treat it in a more allegorical sense.  It probably wouldn't be as big a problem if the climax on the story wasn't hinging on it, but it is, and so the problem remains.  (There's a CGI option on the DVD that's rather more convincing.)  But the Mara is defeated (lyrically, because it's trapped in a circle of mirrors and evil can't bear to look at itself) and the Kinda's cycle has been broken -- Deva Loka will now be a paradise free from the Mara.

The impressive thing about Kinda is how well it's scripted -- other than the aforementioned padding, everything in this story is designed to lead into something else, even if it's not immediately obvious what that something else will be.  There's also a sense of wonder involved that gives the story an almost fairytale quality, and the direction plays this up, as with the clocks scene, the way the Mara moves from person to person, and the zoom all the way into Tegan's pupil to represent entering her mind.  It's not quite as perfect as is sometimes claimed, and it's not really the Buddhist allegory that is also often claimed (writer Christopher Bailey admitted he was mainly using the Buddhist names as a veneer on his own story, rather than intending to write a treatise on the topic through Doctor Who), but there's still quite a bit to like about Kinda; it's doing clever things in an era which is starting to become more straightforward in its storytelling -- something that the next serial will make quite clear.



October 14: The Visitation Parts One & Two

So, for the first time since 1977's Horror of Fang Rock (a quick trip to 1505 Florence in City of Death and Event One shenanigans in Castrovalva excepted), the TARDIS travels back into Earth's past, to 17th-century England and the future location of Heathrow Airport.  Well, the Doctor almost got Tegan back, even if she doesn't see it that way: "A broken clock keeps better time than you do!"

But before we quite get to the soap opera-esque TARDIS scenes (where the characters spend their time rehashing the events of Kinda in a decidedly less charitable light than when we last saw them), there are some establishing shots in a manor house, as a spaceship crashes down nearby.  This leads to a sequence where the residents of the house try to defend themselves against the alien interlopers but are presumably unsuccessful, as the next thing we see is the house abandoned weeks later.  It's a quite beautiful-looking android, though, with lots of glittering jewels and sharp elegant lines.  But this scene sets up the aliens as potentially dangerous, and this is what our heroes wander into, after avoiding plague-fearing peasants (complete with Adric spraining his ankle for no reason whatsoever) and meeting up with a highwayman/out-of-work actor named Richard Mace.119  The rest of the first episode is an exploration of the abandoned house, looking for the alien survivors that have left bits of their technology scattered about.  The first cliffhanger is completely unmemorable, though: the Doctor has disappeared.  Which might be all right if I didn't know what the resolution was (he reappears, having learned that a brick wall was in fact a fake wall), but I do, so it remains a very uninteresting cliffhanger.

Part two is a bit more interesting, because we finally get to see one of the alien creatures, and it's actually a pretty good design.  There's some nice detailing and some animatronics even, which give these lizard/fish creatures some extra realism.  The actual plot is still pretty straightforward, though; Adric and Tegan are captured, while the Doctor, Mace, and Nyssa escape, stopping to investigate the crashed escape pod that the Terileptils arrived in (and the Doctor must recognize the design, because he identifies the missing occupants as Terileptils with ease).  And while there's some fun interplay between the Doctor and Mace, as his entire worldview is repeatedly challenged (though, to his credit, he never completely cracks under the pressure), the plot is still remarkably linear; the Doctor and Mace head to the village, to work out how the miller can access the manor house (so that they can go the same way and rescue Adric and Tegan), but they're captured by the peasants, who decide to behead them.  "Not again," the Doctor moans, as for the second time this season an episode ends with a blade raised above his head...



October 15: The Visitation Parts Three & Four

The sonic screwdriver is destroyed. (The Visitation Part
Three) ©BBC
Ah, a cliffhanger solved by someone shouting, "Wait!" and deciding to spare their lives for now.  Of course, this just means that the Doctor and Mace have another chance to escape -- although it doesn't actually happen until the Terileptils' android smashes through the wall where they're being held, and then it just takes them back to the manor house.

There's honestly not much that happens in this episode: Nyssa works on building that sonic booster with which to shake the android apart, and Tegan is placed under the Terileptils' control and made to move dangerous vials into portable containers.  The most interesting thing that happens is when the Doctor tries to unlock his handcuffs; he doesn't get very far at all, but nevertheless the lead Terileptil orders him to drop his sonic screwdriver, whereupon the leader destroys it.  "I feel as though you've just killed an old friend," the Doctor says sadly, and for a while he was right -- this was to be the end of the sonic screwdriver, as John Nathan-Turner thought it made things too easy for the Doctor, and it didn't make another appearance for the rest of the '80s.  But other than that, and the fact that we learn the Terileptils plan on wiping out mankind with a virulent plague carried by rats so that they can take over, little of note occurs in part three.

Part four is more engaging: we get to see Nyssa destroy the Terileptil android (with a quite impressive explosion), while the Doctor works on figuring out where the main Terileptil base is, so that he can stop their plan.  The best part of the episode, though, may be the Doctor's increasingly frustrated reactions to Tegan (and occasionally Adric), as she talks back and is generally unhelpful.  He's by turns exasperated ("Will you--?!" begins one irritated retort before he stops himself) and sarcastic ("Yes, that's why I'm searching," in response to a question wondering if he knows where the Terileptil base is), and it's a fascinating side to this Doctor's character that you really want them to explore more.  All that said, a close second for best moment is Adric's attempts to land the TARDIS, and when they don't work, Nyssa suggests he try to think what the Doctor would do -- after which Adric thumps the console, which causes it to work.

The Terileptils, gathered around their soliton gas emitter.
(The Visitation Part Four) ©BBC
But still, this episode is quite linear, and once the Doctor finds the Terileptil base it doesn't take long to take it out of action, thanks to a struggle with the Terileptils that knocks the torch out of his hand and causes the bakery they're in to go up in flames -- taking the Terileptils and their plague with them.  It's still entertaining, but there aren't any twists in the story to keep you guessing, and there's something of a sense of inevitability when, as the TARDIS departs, we see the sign for Pudding Lane: it seems the Doctor started the Great Fire of London.

The Visitation is a very straightforward serial, to be sure; there aren't any new revelations or plot twists that challenge our previous understanding of what we thought we knew; here the aliens have a plan, they work on carrying it out, and then the Doctor stops them.  That's it.  But Peter Moffatt makes it work by keeping things interesting enough that the simplistic plot doesn't really bother you.  Plus it's fun to finally be back in Earth's past after five years, and the design work is really nice.  Ultimately, The Visitation isn't an ambitious story, but it is a competent one, and it's entertaining enough while it lasts.  That counts for something, surely?



October 16: Black Orchid Parts One & Two

Two stories in a row featuring trips to Earth's past!  That's almost unique in the show's history: the only comparable occasion is The Talons of Weng-Chiang followed by Horror of Fang Rock, and that involved multiple seasons.

But Black Orchid is a decidedly different beast; it's a shorter story (our first two-parter since The Sontaran Experiment), it's an historical story with no SF elements beyond the TARDIS (our first since The Highlanders), and the theme of the TARDIS's trip to the 1920s is decidedly whimsical.  We see the Doctor playing cricket, Tegan dancing the Charleston, Nyssa involved in some "you look just like me!" antics, and Adric stuffing his face (well, he is Alzarian, with super-fast healing properties; presumably he has a high metabolism).  There's a definite sense, particularly in the first episode, of the TARDIS team relaxing -- they're noticeably happier around each other, and even Tegan and Nyssa's ribbing of Adric about his food comes off as more good-natured than you might expect.

Of course, this is Doctor Who, so it can't all be a lark, and the trouble this time around comes in the form of a disfigured man who's roaming the halls of Cranleigh Hall and breaking people's necks (although he does appear to be tied up much of the time, so it's hard to tell if he's killing people as a result of being tied up, or if he's tied up to stop him killing).  This actually leads to another case of mistaken identity; not only does Nyssa look like Charles Cranleigh's fianceĆ© Ann Talbot, but the disfigured man (or "The Unknown", as the credits style him) dresses up in the Doctor's fancy dress costume and kills someone else in front of Ann.  But, as he was wearing the Doctor's costume, Ann thinks the Doctor was responsible, and thus most of part two consists of the Doctor trying to prove he didn't do it.

The Doctor tries to reach George Cranleigh, who's holding Nyssa
hostage. (Black Orchid Part Two) ©BBC
It's a bit of a grim turn in such a lightweight story, but it turns out that this is a secret being kept in the family: the Unknown is in fact Charles's brother George, who went up the Orinoco River to find the black orchid and was mutilated by the local tribe as a result, as they considered the flower sacred.  This does lead to some awkward questions, though; why are Lady and Charles Cranleigh keeping George locked and tied up in a wing of the hall and essentially treating him like a leper, rather than trying to help him in some way?  And how did George finish the book he wrote about finding the flower if he was disfigured, and in a way that no one knew his final fate?  And how were the Cranleighs explaining the presence of the actual black orchid in their sitting room, and not how they got it?  (A possibility: they were claiming that George had returned and then died in England, rather than that he was lost in the rainforest -- well, except Lady Cranleigh explicitly says that he never returned from his last expedition.  Hmm.)

This family tragedy does feel slightly at odds with everything else, because Black Orchid ultimately wants to be a fun and charming story and they don't quite get the balance right.  There's also the issue that the TARDIS crew's involvement is rather slight; the Doctor provides George with the opportunity to roam the house, and Nyssa is mistaken for Ann at the end, in the events that lead to George's death, and that's really about it.  There's no impassioned plea from the Doctor to reveal George's presence (in the event, it's Charles's unwillingness to see the Doctor take the fall for George's action that leads to the Cranleighs revealing their secret) or anything like that; this is a story in which the Doctor and his friends are very much observers.  But the story is done well, and it's nice to see them have a bit of fun between more weighty events -- and at only two episodes, this is a story that doesn't outstay its welcome.  It's exactly the sort of tale that would fit into modern Who very well.



October 17: Earthshock Parts One & Two

There's a sense of tension and suspense that's immediately noticeable as Earthshock begins, with futuristic troops concerned about the deaths of archaeologists and geologists in a recently discovered cave system.  Scanners indicate nothing down there, but something must have been responsible for those seven deaths...

The use of caves also gives a claustrophobic feel that serves Earthshock well -- we get narrow passages and effective lighting, with lots of shadowy figures and such.  It's so good, in fact, that it's a bit of a letdown to shift to the by-now-standard TARDIS interior establishing scenes.  Adric, it seems, feels unappreciated, so he and the Doctor have a fight about it, one which leads the Doctor to storm off into the cave system that the TARDIS has just materialized in.  I understand why the production team wants to add these more "soap opera" elements, and while I like the idea of having a sense of continuity, to show the interpersonal relationships between the main characters, I feel like squabbling isn't the way to go about it.  I want to like the main characters, I really do, but things like Tegan's constant sniping and Adric's repeated petulance make it really hard to.

Still, it does settle down after a bit, and the business with the troopers in the caves is more than enough to paper over any problems with the other scenes.  This is also a fairly gruesome episode; while we don't actually see troopers being killed by the mysterious androids wandering the caves, we do see the aftermath of steaming goo and ruined uniforms -- it doesn't look like it was a pleasant death.  And once the Doctor, Nyssa, and Tegan are introduced to the main action (complete with the usual suspicion regarding their presence in places where people keep disappearing), things really start moving.  And then that cliffhanger, where we see that those strange androids are being controlled by... Cybermen!  What a surprise that must have been to the initial viewing audience, to see the return of the Cybermen not just after seven years, but also without any sort of advance publicity whatsoever (Nathan-Turner in fact turned down the chance at a Radio Times cover -- which the show hadn't had since 1973 -- to preserve the surprise).120  All these factors combined mean that Earthshock Part One is one of the best episodes the show has ever produced.

The high standards continue in part two, with some frantic scenes of the troopers fighting off the androids as well as the Doctor trying desperately to defuse a bomb before it's exploded by some unseen force (aka the Cybermen, but the Doctor doesn't know that yet).  Oh, and we get our first use of the phrase, "Brave heart, Tegan," by the Doctor.  There's also the nice use of old clips to remind viewers of previous Cybermen stories (even if it also serves as an indication of the state of the archives by this point, as the Cyberleader describes the events of The Tomb of the Cybermen (then missing) but uses a clip from The Wheel in Space to illustrate the second Doctor).  And the redesigned Cybermen are fantastic-looking (and in fact are my favorite Cyberman design), a sleek mix of parts to suggest a powerful cybernetic organism -- and I love the transparent jaw, with the silver chin that can be glimpsed moving inside.

Soon the action moves from caves to a freighter heading toward Earth, and things do start to get a little silly.  No, I'm not talking about Beryl Reid as the freighter captain (at this point in the story she seems in control of events and totally competent), but rather about the fact that three crewmembers have vanished without trace and yet only one crewmember, Ringway, seems remotely concerned about this.  Let's be clear: three crewmembers have disappeared, and almost no one cares.  What's wrong with these people?

And, of course, two more crewmembers are offed while the Doctor and Adric are exploring the cargo hold, and their timing is unfortunate enough to be discovered by Ringway as they're examining the bodies.  "On this ship we execute murderers," he declares, pointing a gun at them...



October 18: Earthshock Parts Three & Four

Today one of my best friends is getting married.  Congratulations Jason and Elizabeth!  I got you guys a dead companion!

Hold on, let's back up.

A Cyberman is frozen inside a door. (Earthshock Part Three) ©BBC
It turns out that most of the problems I have with Earthshock have to do with part four.  Part three continues to excite and interest, as we see the Cybermen on the move onboard the freighter, while the Doctor and Adric try to convince Captain Briggs that they're not responsible for the deaths of the crewmembers.  And there's also a subplot involving Lieutenant Scott and his troopers, accompanied by Tegan, working their way through the ship, trying to find the bridge while dodging Cybermen.  It coheres rather well -- although you can see why Beryl Reid takes flak for her performance; there are definitely times when she seems unsure of the dialogue she's being asked to deliver.  But I still think she does a nice job.

The Doctor's confrontation with the Cyberleader is also interesting; there's this curious moment where the Cyberleader says, "So, we meet again, Doctor," despite the fact that, as far as we've seen, no Cyberman has survived an encounter with the Doctor.  And we get that great cliffhanger, as a huge number of Cybermen begin marching through the freighter, all in sync.

"Now I'll never know if I was right." (Earthshock Part Four) ©BBC
Part four, as I mentioned, is where the problems really set in.  Things start happening for no obvious reason, and it's rather frustrating.  Why, for instance, is the second wave of Cybermen activated?  It looks like it's a fault, but there's also the question of why they weren't activated at the same time as the first wave; is the Cyberleader really okay with letting a large number of his troops be killed unnecessarily?  And how exactly does hooking an alien computer up to the freighter cause it to travel back in time?  If time had been spent coming up with some sort of explanation for these events, this could have been something special, but as it is it's just aggravating instead.

One thing that works better than it should is Adric's death.  Adric has, unfortunately, become superfluous to the needs of the TARDIS crew, and so his time had come to leave the show.  But what a way to leave!  Obviously one of the companions had to die, to show that traveling with the Doctor doesn't necessarily mean you're safe.  Matthew Waterhouse reportedly wasn't very happy with his character's fate.  But it's certainly a memorable way to leave, and the ending is quite affecting.

There are a lot of things to like about Earthshock.  The first three episodes are quite good, with good acting and some really great direction from Peter Grimwade, and some outstanding design work in both sets and costumes.  If the entire script was of the same caliber it would be great, but the plot holes make this an ultimately frustrating experience.  I really want to love it, but I just can't quite do it.



October 19: Time-Flight Parts One & Two

I think it was Jonathan Blum who pointed out that it was in the previous episode that Adric died in a freighter crash in the late Cretaceous period, and although this story takes place in the late Jurassic (quite a time span away, but still), no one even mentions Adric's death after the opening TARDIS scene.  Even though there's a crashed spaceship nearby.

I bring this up because it illustrates one of the inherent problems with the show at this point in time: it wants to have more interconnectedness between stories, to have a longer-running story than just the four episode serials, but it does it in a shallow way.  There's a scene of grieving at the beginning, with the Doctor declaring that he can't go back and save Adric, and then it's on to business as usual; Adric might as well have been dead for months, for all Tegan and Nyssa seem to be subsequently broken up about it.

There are some nice ideas at work in Time-Flight proper; the thought of Concorde disappearing back in time is rather interesting, and there's some nice back-referencing to UNIT in part one, of the sort that's pleasing for long-term fans but not required for more casual fans to understand.  But the issue is that because this is the last story of the season, there's not much money left to spend on sets, and because this is such an ambitious script, the results look particularly cheap.  Air traffic control is one guy in a small windowless room, for instance, and while the Plasmatons aren't the worst creations ever, their appearance effect is an overlayed smoke funnel, and the effect of holding people prisoner consists of soap suds.  And you can hear everyone walking around the wooden rostrums "outside" in the Jurassic wilderness.

One thing that's pleasingly odd is the Arabic magician who brought them all back in time, Kalid.  There's something wonderfully bizarre about his performance, with his incantations and his threats toward the Doctor, and I find him terribly watchable.  And his death in part two is particular gruesome, with all the green slime bubbling out as Kalid dies.  It's actually a bit disappointing, since no one else in this production is really worth watching.  And then, in the part two cliffhanger, it's revealed that Kalid is in fact the Master!  Oh.  Well, ok then.  Now I don't understand where this story is going.



October 20: Time-Flight Parts Three & Four

Part three is something of a halfway house between the first two parts and part four; there's some maneuvering with the Master, as he takes the Doctor's TARDIS -- his own not working properly after he apparently barely escaped Castrovalva -- but there are also some efforts by the script to explain what's going on with the Xeraphin, the alien intelligence that the Master is attempting to control to use in his TARDIS.  It does feel a bit mystical at times, with telepathic gestalt entities that are having an internal conflict between their good and evil sides and yet are still able to remove walls and create psychic projections, but as the first two episodes also had that mysterious quality, this isn't too bad.

The problem with this episode, then, is that Peter Grimwade (who actually began work on this story before his Who directorial debut in Full Circle) has had to write a number of scenes with the Master in the Doctor's TARDIS while Captain Stapley and First Officer Bilton spy on him, leading to some sabotage and then later an attempt to work out how to fly the TARDIS.  (It may not surprise you to learn that a good deal of this material was padding to fill out an under-running script.)  It's rather at odds with the surrounding material involving the Doctor and the Xeraphin tonally, and so it ends up feeling like something of a letdown.

The Doctor and the Master exchange TARDIS components outside
the Master's TARDIS while Concorde passengers look on.
(Time-Flight Part Four) ©BBC
Part four almost completely abandons the more mystical qualities the script has had in favor of a dull runaround, with the Master and the Doctor sparring with each other over TARDIS pieces while the Concorde crew readies their plane for takeoff back through the time contour that brought them there.  The sets aren't very convincing and neither are the airplane parts (the wheels, for instance, aren't even the size of a standard car's), and you do sort of wish they would get on with it.  This makes the very end of the episode, back in Heathrow, a refreshing breath of air -- there suddenly seems to be an energy present that was missing the previous twenty minutes.  And it is a nice surprise ending: four episodes after the death of Adric, Tegan is suddenly and unceremoniously left behind (admittedly at the airport she'd been spending most of the season trying to get back to), without even a farewell.

There are two problems with Time-Flight.  The first problem is that there's no money to make a story as ambitious as this one, and so a story that wants to be sweeping and epic is reduced to some tiny, cheap-looking studio sets representing Jurassic Earth.  It's unlikely that there would have ever been enough money to do this story justice, but making it as the end-of-season runt just dooms it.  The second problem is that, although the production team has spent this time bringing the Master back to the show, now that they've got him they don't seem to know what to do with him.  This means he spends two episodes in disguise and then two episodes running around being generically villainous, rather than having a plan with some flair or drama.  This isn't really Anthony Ainley's fault, as he's just playing the role they're giving him, but they really need to give him something better than this to make him rise to the occasion.

It's a weird story.  It probably never would have worked (although it's fun to imagine how a million pound version of this would have looked), but there are some interesting ideas at play in various parts.  Filming at Heathrow and being able to use Concorde is something of a coup, but unfortunately Time-Flight reaches a point where it's no longer sure what to do with the ideas it has and settles for something rather simple and dull, and so you can occasionally get the feeling that it's squandered its resources.  It's not offensively bad, but it is worryingly aimless at times.

Time-Flight is, of course, the last story of season 19, and it's been an interesting season.  There have certainly been some uneven moments, and this last story doesn't help matters any, but it's fascinating to watch Peter Davison's debut season as the Doctor -- you can visibly see him growing more confident with how he wants to play the part, such that he seems much more self-assured and consistent in his performance in Time-Flight than he did in Four to Doomsday.  The large number of companions aboard the TARDIS is a bit of a problem (albeit one that the production team seems to have recognized, as they've been slowly culling the crew), and the varying quality of the stories has led to a less consistent run than season 18 was, but this appears to be a show comfortable with its identity again -- and the audience seems happy as well, with ratings consistently around the 9 million viewers mark, give or take a million.  If there's a cause for concern, it's that the later scripts seem a bit less tightly plotted than the earlier scripts did -- but as incoming script editor Eric Saward is finding his feet as a brand-new editor, these could easily be teething troubles.  It hasn't been an outstanding run, but it's rarely been less than entertaining, and the diversity of the scripts has been a definite positive.  If they stay on this path, they'll be fine.  Whether they do is a subject for next season...









Footnotes

117 Well, he starts from our point of view, but Castrovalva is actually the fourth story Davison filmed (the result of several different debut story scripts falling through), which means he's had time to figure out how to play the character and thus can work backwards from that to give us what's probably a more coherent, thought-out performance than what we otherwise would have gotten.
118 In the 1980s there were around 200 different Aboriginal dialects still in existence (according to Ethnologue), most of which only had a relative handful of speakers.  Even if we assume that she got lucky and Kurkutji spoke one of the more widespread dialects, like Warlpiri, there's still the matter of how Kurkutji (we later learn) is from roughly 33000 BC, so he should be unintelligible anyway (by way of comparison, only about 1000 years separates Modern English from Old English, and that's still largely unintelligible to current English speakers).
     But then, even from an internal logic point-of-view, this gets weirder when you think about it; on a ship full of Greeks, Mayans, Aborigines, Chinese, and Urbankans, only Kurkutji is singled out as requiring a translator.  So either the TARDIS translator is able to translate all the other languages on board except this particular one, or everyone else is speaking English and Kurkutji just refuses to conform.  Except that everyone presumably understood everyone else before the TARDIS arrived, so they must be speaking some sort of common tongue that the TARDIS is translating anyway.  Unless Urbankan is remarkably similar to English.
119 Richard Mace was a character created by Eric Saward for a series of radio plays in the 1970s, where Mace was an actor/detective in the late 18th century.  Saward adapted the character for this story, despite Nathan-Turner's misgivings.
120 Although there's no ratings surge to suggest that people were interested -- the next episode, shown the following day, had lower ratings than part one.  Parts three & four were up a bit though, so maybe it just took some time for the news of the Cybermen's return to circulate.