Season 21 (Nov 2 - Nov 14)

November 2: Warriors of the Deep Parts One & Two
November 3: Warriors of the Deep Parts Three & Four
November 4: The Awakening Parts One & Two
November 5: Frontios Parts One & Two
November 6: Frontios Parts Three & Four
November 7: Resurrection of the Daleks Part One
November 8: Resurrection of the Daleks Part Two
November 9: Planet of Fire Parts One & Two
November 10: Planet of Fire Parts Three & Four
November 11: The Caves of Androzani Parts One & Two
November 12: The Caves of Androzani Parts Three & Four
November 13: The Twin Dilemma Parts One & Two
November 14: The Twin Dilemma Parts Three & Four

November 2: Warriors of the Deep Parts One & Two

It's really hard to shake the feeling, watching this opening story for season 21, that as an audience member I'm just supposed to know who the Silurians and Sea Devils (this story's returning creatures) are.  Which obviously I do, but Warriors of the Deep seems to assume that the general public will also remember the two races -- which seems like a bit of a stretch for creatures not seen since 1970 and 1972, respectively.  Certainly virtually no concessions are made for anyone who doesn't remember.  I've been trying hard to see if it matters though, and it's difficult to tell.

But even if you did remember the Silurians from their eponymous 1970 story, you might wonder what's happened to them since then -- their third eye now flashes whenever they speak (just like a Dalek), and their voices sound almost identical to the current Cyberman voices.  And their behavior doesn't really distinguish them from the Cybermen either -- at least not at this point in the story.  They're there instead to provide some excess paranoia for the already paranoid crew aboard Sea Base 4, and to unleash their troops upon the base -- but that won't happen until the end of part two.  The Sea Devils look and sound rather better, even if they're wearing some sort of armor instead of blue string vests and their necks seem to be really fat (because that's where the performer's head is).

In the meantime we've got that incredibly paranoid crew to deal with -- writer Johnny Byrne is clearly intending for this story to be an allegory for then-current events (note his choice to set the story exactly 100 years in the future, in 2084), although wisely he doesn't identify the two opposing sides, other than that they're set against each other and that tensions are high.  Still, it's clear we're meant to draw parallels between the United States and the Soviet Union.  But that said, there are some typical melodramatic elements: Doctor Solow and Nilson, for example, are enemy agents aboard the Sea Base, but for all the subtlety they exhibit they might as well be wearing signs indicating their status -- yet no one seems to notice.  Of course, the base's crew is also relying on an untrained student to man their missiles, and no one seems terribly concerned when he exhibits clear signs of a mental breakdown.  (And incidentally, the graphics used to indicate the missile run are terrible -- they're barely even up to Missile Command's standards.)

And into this environment the Doctor, Tegan, and Turlough are inserted, where they get to also behave oddly (the Doctor, for instance, decides to create a diversion by overloading the base's nuclear reactor -- this is after he wanted to announce his presence to the base and then changed his mind).  There is a great moment where he gets the base's crew to begin to trust him by handing over the weapon he's pointing at them -- but these moments are rather thin on the ground.  There's also the part where the Doctor recognizes the Silurian ship (the underwater model sequences, at least, are very well done), and we get an incredibly quick summation of who they are -- "The race that ruled this planet long before your species evolved", and then later, "They're honourable.  All they ever wanted to do was live in peace", which doesn't exactly match what we saw in the '70s -- before their assault begins.

While that Silurian assault begins by the end of part two, there's not really much to mention here, other than we get our first look at the giant monster the Silurians send in: the Myrka.  It's not too bad when it just has to stand there and look menacing -- it's certainly a hell of a lot better than the incredibly stupid-looking foam rubber bulkhead door that falls on Tegan -- and the "electrical death via touch" is handled decently too.  The cliffhanger's a bit generic though; the Doctor and Tegan are trapped on the same side of the bulkhead as the Myrka, with Turlough on the other side.  Wonder how they'll get out of this one...

November 3: Warriors of the Deep Parts Three & Four

Commander Vorshak on his bridge with two Silurians and a Sea
Devil. (Warriors of the Deep Part Four) ©BBC
These episodes are a bit better, just because there's more action going on, but they're still not much fun to look at.  Let's be perfectly honest, though; the Myrka really isn't that bad.  It's not great, and it generally moves with great silliness (and giving it arms was a bad move), but it doesn't look that bad, and it's at least a huge imposing presence in a story that needs a huge imposing presence.  It's just that, taken as a whole with all the other misfires in this serial, the Myrka does nothing to counteract criticisms (and Ingrid Pitt's ludicrous-looking death, where she tries to karate-chop the Myrka into submission, doesn't help at all).

But perhaps the most frustrating thing about Warriors of the Deep is that the basic script is actually rather good.  It's a proper base-under-siege tale, of the sort we haven't really had since Horror of Fang Rock, and while the reasoning behind the Silurians' actions is a bit woolly (they can't kill off humanity but they can make it so humanity kills off itself, which is somehow more noble), it still makes a sort of sense.  Other than the fact that it's an incredibly bloodthirsty script -- at least with script editor Eric Saward's rewrites -- and that it has the occasional lapses in consistency I mentioned last time, this is actually a reasonable action story.  But the whole thing is sabotaged by all sorts of production problems.

The Target novelization (from On
Target - Warriors of the Deep
Some of this can be blamed on Margaret Thatcher (she called a surprise election in the wake of the Falklands which threw the production for this story into chaos, as studios had to be reallocated to cover that instead), but some of it looks like it was going to be a problem no matter what.  The red flashing eyes are incredibly stupid-looking, but that's because no one's thought to include moving mouths for the Silurians (or the Sea Devils for that matter, but as there's really one talking Sea Devil at any one time it's less of a problem for them) and so it's the only way to tell which one is talking.  The Sea Devil heads appear to be top-heavy, and so they wander through the corridors of Sea Base 4, cocking their heads quizzically at everything they see.  Sea Base 4 is all gleaming white walls (not the rusting, forgotten place writer Johnny Byrne originally scripted) and thus is rather boring to look at, and the whole thing is generally very brightly illuminated, which leads to a lack of shadows for characters to hide and lurk in -- allegedly there was going to be a power cut when the Sea Devils began their assault, but there's no evidence of this on screen.  (One version of the story claims that the lighting director simply refused to lower the lighting for the action moments.)  And it's probably churlish to criticize the computer graphics again, but even at the time they weren't very impressive.  At least the model work is really nice.

So it's too brightly lit, it's often excessively macho ("You'll get no help from me, Silurian"), and it's incredibly bloodthirsty -- the only survivors at the end appear to be the TARDIS crew and Bulic (and the cynical side of me assumes that's because Eric Saward, who added the extra deaths to Byrne's script, forgot to kill him off at the end).  While the final line ("There should have been another way") is powerfully delivered by Davison, it's also a bit hypocritical, because nothing about this feels inevitable.  There's no sense of tragedy behind the characters but every sense of being cannon fodder.  If they'd managed to get the look of Warriors of the Deep right, they could have pulled this off -- as I said before, despite the occasional problem the basic script is quite good, and there's enough going on that we haven't seen for a while/at all to give the story a sense of potential.  But they didn't; that potential is squandered, and the final result is sadly a mess.  You're better off reading the Terrance Dicks novelization instead.

November 4: The Awakening Parts One & Two

There's been a tendency over the last couple of seasons for stories to feel somewhat relaxed at times, interested in exploring their environments rather than being on the move.  And while there's certainly nothing wrong with that, it does mean that stories feel a bit slow from time to time.  However, The Awakening is the opposite of this -- it's packed full of incident and energy as it moves from scene to scene.  That's partially because this is only a two-parter, but while other two-parters have simply had smaller, less urgent plots to deal with, The Awakening attempts to squeeze all the incident of a four-part story into half the time.  In this respect it's much closer in feel to the 21st-century version of Doctor Who than anything surrounding it.

To this end it moves with tons of energy, opening with a contemporary woman being chased by Cavaliers on horseback in a way that suggests that perhaps time is mixing -- but no, it turns out the Cavaliers are also contemporary men reenacting the English Civil War.  But then later, in a double bluff, we learn that, no, there is some mixing of time periods -- that early fake-out was preparing us for the real thing later on.  And the war games that are being put on by Sir George Hutchinson and the rest of the village are becoming more and more serious, much to the alarm of schoolteacher Jane Hampden, who seems to be the only person not participating.  This is the environment that the TARDIS materializes in, and the three travellers are quickly caught up in the reenacted events.  And since this story is packed with incident, we quickly move from being captured to being free, leaving the Doctor to investigate the nearby church and discover a local boy named Will Chandler, from 1643.  Will was there for the real Civil War battle, and he doesn't seem keen to live through it again.  And the Doctor learns that there's an alien presence in the church called the Malus, which made the local events of 1643 particularly bloodthirsty and is preparing to make the 1984 reenactment just as violent.

This is a story filled with an outstanding guest cast -- Denis Lill is perfect as the charming yet deranged Sir George, with Glyn Houston as his much more skeptical friend Ben Wolsey, while Polly James provides the voice of reason as Jane and Keith Jayne gives a very likable performance as Will Chandler.  It's therefore impressive how much Peter Davison stands out from this crowd, giving a very strong turn as the Doctor, full of energy but with a biting edge at times -- his delivery of the line "Yes, I know", in response to Jane's statement that Sir George must be stopped, is filled with exasperated sarcasm and makes this Doctor far more interesting as a result.  I also like the way the Doctor tells everyone in the TARDIS to "remain perfectly calm and still", and then leaps into motion like a hyperkinetic jackrabbit.  And there's the tasteless pun about the burned alive Queen of the May being "the toast of Little Hodcombe", which leads to a sharp rebuke from Will: "'Tain't funny.  She were screaming."  These elements all combine to give us a much more interesting Doctor than we've had in a while -- it's as if someone's finally letting Peter Davison push the boundaries of the role.  It's therefore somewhat sad that it was during the production of this story (28 July 1983, to be exact) that it was announced that Peter Davison would be leaving -- he'd had to make a decision to stay or leave the show after season 21 at the end of season 20, and thus decided to leave -- partly because he hadn't thought the scripts for season 20 were particularly good, and partly because Patrick Troughton told him not to stay longer than three years.

Sir George tries to fight the psychic influence of the Malus.
(The Awakening Part Two) ©BBC
Now, while there are moments of brutality in The Awakening (the attempted burning of Tegan as the Queen of the May, the death of the hapless trooper by psychically-projected Roundheads), it never feels gratuitous, the way it did in Warriors of the Deep.  This makes a big difference, and while Sir George is killed by the Malus (which then self-destructs, in a sequence somewhat reminiscent of the conclusion of The Dæmons), his sadistic right-hand man Willow is forgiven by Wolsey and Jane (we're probably meant to think that he was under the evil influence of the Malus and is now free, although this isn't remotely conveyed on screen), rather than being condemned to die by writer Eric Pringle/script editor Eric Saward.  And, charmingly, the whole story has just enough time to end with a lovely little discussion in the TARDIS about staying behind a bit in Little Hodcombe and having tea.  It's the perfect end to a neat little story.

The Awakening is an engaging tale, told very well by first-time Who writer Eric Pringle (odd that he never came back -- he doesn't appear to have even submitted another story idea) and well-directed by first (and also only)-time director Michael Owen Morris.  It's got a great villain and a nice hook (the English Civil War period hadn't really been explored on the show in any form before), and the whole thing moves along with a sense of speed and fun.  It's not "big" enough to stand up among the classics of Doctor Who, but The Awakening does so much right with such economy that it's really hard not to adore it.  So why fight it?

November 5: Frontios Parts One & Two

It's the really far future -- so far, in fact, that the TARDIS states that it's exceeding its time parameters.  And while the Doctor doesn't want to interfere in the fragile future of a handful of Earth refugees ("Fleeing from the imminence of a catastrophic collision with the sun, a group of refugees from the doomed planet Earth--" Turlough reads gleefully from the TARDIS databanks), it seems he has no choice when the TARDIS is pulled down to the surface of Frontios.  There's a mood of quiet desperation among the colonists on Frontios -- it seems they've been eking out a living while being bombarded by meteor strikes for the last thirty years.  And while there's some semblance of order, the general impression is of a society on the verge of tearing itself apart, trying desperately to hold everything together.

But it's not just that -- there's an energy present in these episodes that derives from this near-extinct colony, but also from the characters that inhabit it.  Science Officer Range is played with a bit of wry humor by William Lucas -- he's very much aware of how tenuous their situation is, but he still has a streak of dark humor running through him ("It failed," he tells the Doctor, after the Doctor asks what happened to all the "failure-proof" technology aboard their colony ship).  Meanwhile Chief Orderly Bragen is a narrow-minded man who's trying to keep it all going in the wake of the death of their leader, Captain Revere, and Captain's Revere's son Plantagenet is doing his best to lead in the wake of his father's death.  It's a really nice set-up, aided by some striking set design (which manages to look both futuristic and primitive, as well as run-down, with dirt everywhere), and Peter Davison is once again given the opportunity to flex his muscles as the Doctor:
DOCTOR: At first we thought it was some sort of meteorite storm.
PLANTAGENET: And what do you think now?
DOCTOR: I think your shelters are totally inadequate and your warning system does nothing but create panic.
PLANTAGENET: I did not ask--
DOCTOR: Your population has already fallen below critical value required for guaranteed growth and you're regularly losing new lives.  I think, and you did ask what I think, I think your colony of Earth people is in grave danger of extinction.
Peter Davison also decides to play things with a bit more age behind them -- he treats everything with grave intent (albeit still with the same sense of breathless energy that has characterized his Doctor), and his habit of looking at things through half-moon glasses, as if to suggest that he is in fact older than he looks, is really lovely.

But as good as Davison is, he's eclipsed by Mark Strickson, who finally gets a chance to shine again (after being locked in a dungeon in The King's Demons, stuck in the TARDIS in The Five Doctors, made to act really cowardly in Warriors of the Deep, and locked in a barn in The Awakening).  This is a Turlough who has been around the universe -- he knows about phosphor lamps and something called the Twenty Aeon War128, and he finds the tunnels underneath the colony vaguely familiar -- the word "Tractator" coming to mind for some reason.  And then his pure abject terror at the end of part two, all wide-eyed and staring, is really compelling.

But then the entirety of these first two episodes is compelling.  They've somehow managed to create a near-perfect synthesis of story and scripting, direction, and design.  They've even brought the lighting down to create lots of eerie shadows and dark spaces.  All that and two excellent cliffhangers to boot (the TARDIS has been destroyed!  Destroyed!; and, the Doctor is helpless against the power of the Tractators, those strange insect/slug-like creatures, deep beneath the surface of Frontios -- the danger, it seems, was from below, not above).  It's like this is the anti-Warriors of the Deep.  If the rest of the story is this good, Frontios will be one of the bona fide classics of the series.

November 6: Frontios Parts Three & Four

Part three isn't quite as wonderful as parts one and two, sadly.  Though to be honest, there's not really anything wrong with this; it's just that there's a sense of marking time, particularly down in the tunnels.  Tegan and the Doctor spend most of the time wandering around, narrowing avoiding/escaping Tractators, and they don't really learn much new until the cliffhanger.

But above ground it's a bit different.  Brazen is holding Mr. Range accountable for concealing information about "deaths unaccountable", and between Mr. Range and Turlough's ramblings (which seem to come from some sort of race memory -- not entirely unlike the reaction of people after seeing Silurians in Doctor Who and the Silurians) we start to piece together what's going on.  It seems that these Tractators have operated on other planets (including Turlough's home planet, it seems), where they live below ground and pull people down underground with them -- and then use those people for their own devices.  And as we see in the cliffhanger, the Doctor and Tegan discover the same thing, as they find an excavation machine being run by the corpse of Captain Revere...

Part four gets us back on track, with some lovely interactions between the Doctor and the Tractators' leader, the Gravis -- once the Doctor appears to sympathize with the Tractators' side of things, the Gravis seems perfectly happy to show him around.  Tegan has to stay behind, though, but the Doctor avoids her being used in one of the Tractators' machines by pretending she's a robot.  "It is certainly a very convincing replica of the humanoid life form," the Gravis says.  "Oh, you think so?" the Doctor replies.  "I got it cheap because the walk's not quite right.  And then there's the accent, of course."  This scene is wonderful just to watch Tegan fume helplessly at these insults, knowing that she can't respond to them for fear of giving the game away.  And meanwhile, after Turlough tells them that the Tractators need people alive, a search party goes into the tunnels looking for Plantagenet, who was sucked underground in part two.  This is notable because it's what leads Turlough to overcome both his base fears and his natural cowardice to head down into the tunnels to help -- it really is a moment to cheer, as the show finally decides to make him better than he was; it's been a long time coming.

Two Tractators and the Gravis near parts of the broken-up
TARDIS. (Frontios Part Four) ©BBC
The ultimate revelation of the Tractators' intentions (they've been using their gravity beam powers to pull asteroids down at the colonists -- as well as causing their ship to crash in the first place -- so they'd have a ready supply of parts for their machines, which are carving out tunnels in such a way that they can then use those gravity powers to pilot Frontios around the galaxy -- which sounds rather silly, but as they're working with gravity maybe they have the ability to warp space and move a lot faster than it otherwise sounds) answers a number of plot points, as well as making clear the extent of the gravity beam powers the Tractators have.  This will become useful for the climax, as the Doctor goads the Gravis into pulling the TARDIS back together -- and as Turlough has pointed out, when the Gravis is cut off from the Tractators both become harmless.  Thus the Doctor is able to take the Gravis to the uninhabited planet of Kolkokron, leaving the remaining Tractators harmlessly burrowing on Frontios.  The colony is saved -- just don't mention it to the Time Lords...  And then, in classic Hartnell style, we get a cliffhanger into the next story, as something incredibly powerful is pulling the TARDIS off-course...

It's something of a rarity in this era to have a story where everything comes together, but that's what we get with Frontios.  The strong direction, the intelligent scripting, the appropriate casting, the excellent acting, the smart design, the suitable lighting... it all works really well.  It's not perfect (as I said, part three does sag a bit), but in terms of production unity it's the best we've seen in a very long time.  And yet for some reason this is a story that tends to fade into the background, not given the credit it deserves (it was down at 147 out of 241 in the most recent DWM poll for some unfathomable reason), when it's easily one of the best stories of Peter Davison's run.  A great injustice for a jewel of a story.

November 7: Resurrection of the Daleks Part One

Standard and special edition DVDs
So remember how season 20 was going to conclude with a Dalek story called The Return, only for that story to be killed by industrial action?  Well here's that story, now retitled Resurrection of the Daleks and reedited into two 45-minute episodes (in order to work around the BBC's coverage of the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo).  Was it worth the wait?  Well...

The first thing you notice about this episode is how brutal it is.  Fleeing people are shot down in London streets with machine guns, station personnel in the future are gassed with some sort of horrific deformity-causing agent while others are shot down by Daleks, Dalek mutants are attacking British soldiers by biting them in the neck... even the Doctor gets in on the action, pointing a pistol around a warehouse and (apparently) unloading several rounds into said Dalek mutant.  ("Apparently" because after this he immediately hands the pistol to Professor Laird, who takes it by the barrel without any problems -- suggesting that it wasn't actually fired.  Or that the actors didn't think about this when they worked it out.)  And while watching the Doctor and company shove a Dalek out of an upper-story window to the street below, where it explodes spectacularly, is a satisfying viewing experience, it doesn't help with the feeling of brutality prevalent in this episode.

It's also worth noting how quickly writer Eric Saward sidelines the two companions.  Tegan suffers a head wound after the Dalek appears (in what would have been -- and was for overseas viewers, who got the four-part version -- the cliffhanger to part one) and is confined to a sleeping bag in the bomb disposal unit's temporary headquarters, while Turlough disappears not long after the TARDIS arrives in 1984 London -- it transpires that he's entered the time corridor that brought the TARDIS to this location in the first place, but he spends the rest of his time this episode wandering first the Dalek ship, and then the space station that the ship is docked with, and not much of anything else.

Davros prepares to take control of engineer Kiston.
(Resurrection of the Daleks Part One) ©BBC
No, here the action is focused squarely on two figures: the Doctor, and Davros, who's been locked up for ninety years after the events of Destiny of the Daleks and is the reason the Daleks have attacked the space station.  In a somewhat rare nod to previous events (albeit very much in keeping with this phase of the show's (often slavish) adherence to continuity), this story is pitched as a direct sequel to Destiny of the Daleks, with the Daleks unable to find a cure to the Movellan virus that was introduced in between these two stories -- thus, they're hoping that Davros will be able to help them find that cure.  Davros has been recast again -- this time as Terry Molloy, who is significantly better than David Gooderson was in Destiny of the Daleks but isn't quite as controlled as Michael Wisher was in Genesis of the Daleks -- Terry Molloy's version seems to be more inclined to rant.  It's not just ranting, though, and Molloy excels in the quiet moments as well -- they made a good choice this time around. 

And while Davros remains cunning as ever, the Doctor seems still in the dark -- he knows that the Daleks are involved, and that they've established a time corridor between Davros's time and 1984 London for no obvious reason whatsoever (maybe they'll explain in part two), but that's about it.  And so he leaves Tegan in the hands of the army while he goes to the TARDIS with escaped Dalek prisoner Stien to trace the time corridor back to its source.  He doesn't know that the leader of the bomb disposal squad (there because some Dalek tech was mistakenly thought to be a UXB (UneXploded Bomb -- typically left over from World War II, though it doesn't have to be)), Colonel Archer, has been taken over/replaced with a Dalek agent (thanks to some sinister fake policemen wandering around) and now has Tegan and Professor Laird under his control.  No, the Doctor is too busy arriving on the Dalek ship and being betrayed by Stien, who, it turns out, has also been a Dalek agent all along...

November 8: Resurrection of the Daleks Part Two

The Doctor prepares to execute Davros. (Resurrection of the
Part Two) ©BBC
So the Daleks have a couple plans running at the same time -- one offensive, one defensive -- and I think they generally make sense.  I'm just not sure why they're both happening in the same place at the same time.

The offensive plan seems to involve making Dalek duplicates of key individuals so that the Daleks can bring various places down from the inside.  This is what takes up the majority of the first half of part two, as they hook the Doctor up to their duplicate-making machine and record the contents of his mind -- which seems to mainly consist of companions (and far be it from me to buck the trend and not point out that they've forgotten Leela -- although apparently that's a genuine mistake, as a clip was prepared).  The Daleks want to use the Doctor to infiltrate the High Council and kill them all -- although one wonders how much damage that would cause, given that The Five Doctors wiped most of them out.  Maybe the Time Lords would just shrug and say, "Well, here we go again."  There's also some stuff at the end of the episode about how the Daleks have replaced key people around the Earth with Dalek duplicates -- but as Stien illustrated and the Doctor hopes, the duplicates are unstable and will presumably break their conditioning.  (This is a plot element that's never followed up on or even mentioned again.  About Time speculates that it might be intended to be a joke at the expense of 1984's world leaders.)  The plan makes some sense and is nicely devious for the Daleks, but the conditioning problem is always lurking in the background, even though they don't actually get to make their Dalek duplicate of the Doctor.

The defensive plan involves trying to cure this Movellan virus -- that seems to have backfired on the Daleks, though, since Davros is more interested in reestablishing a power base than in helping the Daleks.  Still, it makes sense -- it's just not clear why this is happening in the exact same location as the duplication plan.  And there's still no clear reason to involve Earth in this (beyond some hand-wavy "it's a secure location" guff).  You'd think having both of these things happening in the same place would cause problems.  Except it doesn't end up mattering anyway; other than placing the Doctor and Davros in the same place, these plots have little interaction with each other.

The Doctor and Turlough say goodbye to Tegan. (Resurrection
of the Daleks
Part Two) ©BBC
But the real thing to notice is how brutal this continues to be, particularly in the second half of the episode, as all sorts of people are killed once they've outlived their usefulness to the plot.  We even get the Doctor in on the action, prepared to cold-bloodedly kill Davros at point-blank range (he only fails because he walks through a door which locks behind him), and then killing a bunch of Daleks with the Movellan virus.  Huge numbers of people are dead by the end of this (Resurrection of the Daleks notoriously has more on-screen deaths than any other Doctor Who story), and in fact the only people to emerge from this unscathed are the Doctor, Tegan, Turlough, Lytton and his two policemen, and (as we find out next season) Davros.  It's been pointed out that this is essentially a war story, so of course people will die, but there's still a sense in which people are being killed off just so Eric Saward doesn't have to deal with them anymore (notice the way in particular Lytton kills off the guard with him just before the end of the story).  All the deaths even get to Tegan, who decides to leave the TARDIS for good this time.  "It's stopped being fun, Doctor," she tells him emotionally.  "No, no, don't leave, not like this," the Doctor protests, but it's too late; she's gone.  "It's strange," the Doctor says bleakly.  "I left Gallifrey for similar reasons.  I'd grown tired of their lifestyle.  It seems I must mend my ways."

Being an action-packed war story isn't the worst of sins, but the problem with Resurrection of the Daleks is that there's nothing redemptive about any of it.  It's an incredibly bleak story that no one comes out of well (with the possible exception of Turlough, who's managed to spend most of it uninvolved with the main plots) -- not even the Doctor, who should normally be relied on to be our moral compass for things like this.  (Although I'll be floating the argument that this does help make his regeneration in two stories' time more meaningful -- but we'll get there when we get there.)  There's nothing particularly wrong with the plotting, but Resurrection of the Daleks is told in such an unpleasantly dark fashion that one simply feels exhausted and numb at the end, and this makes it a very difficult tale to derive any real enjoyment from.

November 9: Planet of Fire Parts One & Two

I can understand the appeal of wanting to get as much use out of their exotic location filming (the island of Lanzarote, one of the Canary Islands) as possible, but it does mean that what we get is occasionally confusing as we switch between an alien planet and Earth, both of which more or less look the same (volcanic rock and blue oceans in the distance).  It's only really a problem on the first viewing, but it's still there.

To be honest, the Earth scenes are more compelling in the first episode than the Sarn ones -- it's not really clear what's going on on Sarn, other than some form of heresy, but the Earth scenes have the Doctor and Turlough wandering around Lanzarote looking at ancient artifacts, using alien currency to pay for things, and rescuing drowning girls.  This last action is performed by Turlough, who then brings the drowning girl -- Perpugilliam "Peri" Brown -- into the TARDIS to recover.  And yes, that bikini she's wearing is quite racy for Doctor Who, but we also get Peri's father Howard shirtless and Turlough in a shirt and short swimming trunks, so at this point you can't complain too much.

But perhaps the most surprising thing about these two episodes is the return of Kamelion -- remember him?  Not seen since The King's Demons129, here he's causing problems with some sort of alien signal, trying to get to some sort of "point of contact".  The net effect of this is that we get to see Turlough be devious again, as he seems to recognize the distress signal being broadcast and clearly wants nothing to do with it.  He's not terribly successful at stopping the signal though, as Kamelion takes them first to Earth, where there's an alien beacon, and then to Sarn, which bears the same mark on a column as on the beacon.  "The Misos Triangle," Turlough says.  "...It means there are people from Trion here.  My home planet.  This must be an old Trion colony."  But while the Doctor and Turlough are out exploring, Kamelion turns first into Peri's stepfather and then into the Master.  (Cliffhanger!)  Yes, it seems the Master has managed to regain some control over Kamelion.

Part two, sad to say, isn't very interesting (which isn't to say it's bad -- it's just not terribly engaging).  The best bits involve revelations about Turlough's background (the fact that he has a Misos Triangle on his arm like Malkon does is good, but the best bit comes near the end: "Doctor, you don't understand.  I think this equipment [lying around the Hall of Fire on Sarn] came from my father's ship"), but these are few and far between.  Instead we get extended sequences of Kamelion-as-the-Master chasing Peri across Sarn's surface while the Doctor and Turlough get involved (peripherally) in the holy war (well, argument, then) between believers and disbelievers of Logar, the Sarn Lord of Fire, but the disagreement isn't presented in a particularly interesting way -- it's instead supposed to be obvious that Timanov and the other believers are wrong.  Still, at least the end of part two involves the Doctor finally encountering the Master (well, Kamelion, but he doesn't know that), which means that something more interesting may happen -- particularly since the Master has convinced Timanov that he is the Outsider that was prophesied to appear as the messenger of Logar, and that all the disbelievers should be burned...

November 10: Planet of Fire Parts Three & Four

Although the majority of this story takes place on Sarn, the plight of its people takes a backseat to learning more about Turlough and his history -- this is the plotline that takes up most of the audience's interest.  Even the Master's storyline can't compete, and it's his last story ever!  Allegedly.  (And not actually, as it turned out -- but Anthony Ainley's contract was up at the time, so that's why the Master's fate seems more definite than usual.  But don't worry, he'll be back next season.)  But maybe that's because he spends most of his time cut off from the rest of the story, using Kamelion as a surrogate instead.

No, the interesting bits are about Turlough -- not only did he find the wreck of his father's ship, but he has reason to believe that Malkon is his brother.  Turlough is rather reluctant to reveal more details, which starts to frustrate the Doctor.  "If you're holding back anything that will aid the Master, our friendship is at an end," the Doctor tells him.  But in part four we learn the reasons behind Turlough's reluctance: "The Misos Triangle is the mark of a prisoner, and Sarn is a prison planet for very special people.  That's why my father was sent here," Turlough tells the Doctor.  " ... There was civil war on my planet.  My mother was killed.  My father was on the wrong side and was exiled here with my younger brother.  I, for my sins, was sent by the regime to Earth."  The Trions have agents on "every civilised planet" and thus will know that Turlough has left Earth.  And even despite this, Turlough decides to call on the Trions for help with the remaining inhabitants of Sarn -- he's finally left his cowardice behind, and this is the most important moment of Planet of Fire, second to none.

Oh yes, the Master is still around, in a miniaturized size, we learn in the part three cliffhanger -- apparently he had an accident while experimenting on his Tissue Compression Eliminator and needs the healing powers of the main volcano on Sarn (which can tap a rich source of numismaton gas, a healing substance -- fannishly, one wonders if it's related to the Elixir of Life) in order to regain his full size.  And there's some stuff with Kamelion begging for death -- which the Doctor doesn't really hesitate to provide -- and then the Master standing in the flames, being healed but then burning as the flame changes to a regular flame.  "Won't you show mercy to your own--" he starts130, before disappearing into the flames while the Doctor just watches in vague horror.

Peri watches as the Doctor and Turlough say goodbye. (Planet
of Fire
Part Four) ©BBC
And that's about it, except for one last thing.  Turlough has learned from the Trion rescue ship that he can now go home.  "I don't want to go, Doctor," he says.  "I've learnt a lot from you.  But I have to go back to Trion.  It's my home."  It's the completion of Turlough's story, from sniveling coward to upright citizen, and this farewell feels correct: a reasoned, steady goodbye as Turlough resolves to shoulder his responsibilities.  It's understated, but a lovely scene nevertheless, as we say goodbye to one of the more interesting (and easily one of the best acted) companions of recent years.  But the Doctor won't be lonely -- he'll be taking Peri on as his new traveling companion.

It's not a terribly big or important story, and the main plot about the people on Sarn is almost an afterthought (and the anti-religion stance Planet of Fire takes is almost an afterthought as well, it seems).  What makes this worthwhile are the revelations we get about Turlough, which are genuinely interesting.  Even though this sees the (sort of) death of the Master, there's a feeling that this isn't the main thrust of the story -- writer Peter Grimwade is more interested in closing a chapter he started: that of Turlough.  But there's nothing about the rest of it that's particularly dull or uninteresting; no, this is another one of those pleasantly average stories Doctor Who occasionally turns out -- fun while it lasts, even if it's not likely to linger in the memory for long.

November 11: The Caves of Androzani Parts One & Two

Standard and special edition DVDs
So here we are: Peter Davison's final story as the Doctor.  And after a six-year absence, Robert Holmes has returned to the Doctor Who world to give the fifth Doctor his sendoff.

But while Holmes's script is well-written and tightly plotted, the star of this production is Graeme Harper for his directorial debut on Doctor Who.131  His direction gives a real sense of energy to everything -- there are handheld shots, lots of camera movement, tight closeups, slow fades between scenes (rather than the usual cuts)... even direct addresses to camera, as Morgus delivers his asides directly to the audience (this was a misunderstanding by John Normington of what Harper was asking for, apparently, but Harper loved the effect so much he kept it).  This isn't to say that the other directors working on Who have been bad, but Harper is a revelation -- this is his triumph more than anyone else's.

However, where these two episodes excel is that they've been given a script that almost matches the work Harper is putting into things, and everyone involved seems to be rising to the occasion.  We get more flashes of the sarcastic, facetious Doctor that's been cropping up periodically throughout season 21, but here he's repeatedly put in completely powerless situations, which makes these verbal jabs feel much more dangerous.  Both General Chellak and Sharaz Jek warn the Doctor about his comments, but they're really the only weapons the Doctor has.  Nevertheless, you get a distinct feeling that the Doctor could get himself killed this way.  It doesn't help that everyone in this story is rather ruthless and amoral -- even General Chellak, who's the closest this story comes to a moral person, is willing to have the Doctor executed on orders and to sacrifice troopers just to maintain his reputation.  It gets to the point where Sharaz Jek is just about the most reasonable person here, and he's clearly mad.

Sharaz Jek with the Doctor and Peri. (The Caves of Androzani
Part Two) ©BBC
But what works for these two episodes, what sets them apart from stories like Warriors of the Deep or Resurrection of the Daleks, is that the Doctor and Peri aren't drawn into the violence and brutality that surrounds them.  Those earlier stories had the Doctor getting his hands dirty, but here all he wants to do is get Peri out of there -- and then later to cure her of the spectrox toxaemia she's contracted.  He has no interest in the power struggles going on over the spectrox (other than a mild curiosity as to what spectrox is, such that it's causing these problems -- it's a drug that extends the lifespan, apparently) and would much rather be somewhere else.  "I'm sorry I got you into this, Peri," the Doctor says.  "...I should have never followed those tracks.  Curiosity's always been my downfall."  Keeping the Doctor and Peri out of the violence but nevertheless still a catalyst for the events that are occurring is a good move on Robert Holmes's part: it essentially lets them have their war movie cake and eat it too.

So we get some fabulous direction (another gem: watch the way Morgus walks around the video projection of Chellak, and the way Chellak watches him move around the room), a cracking script, and a cast who are more than willing to rise to the occasion -- Peter Davison feels like he's playing with fire, Nicola Bryant acts genuinely terrified around Sharaz Jek, John Normington underplays the ruthless Morgus with a cold detachment while Christopher Gable gives a performance of barely controlled rage, ready to go off at the slightest provocation...  The only real complaints are that Nicola Bryant outs herself as not American in the first episode (no American would pronounce "glass" the way she does, with an ah ([a]) sound), and the Magma Beast, with its too-big head and always open mouth, isn't the most convincing monster ever -- although it's still leaps and bounds ahead of almost any other monster the Davison era has given us.  The final story of the fifth Doctor is off to an excellent start.

November 12: The Caves of Androzani Parts Three & Four

The Doctor is determined to save Peri. (The Caves of
Part Three) ©BBC
These final two episodes deliver just as much as the first two did, but this time you start to really see the wheels turning: Morgus spots the Doctor in Stotz's ship via video screen and makes a series of wrong assumptions that help lead to everyone's downfall.  The Doctor is the catalyst, even though he's barely done anything.  All he wants to do is save Peri.  And to do so he goes to great lengths -- even, as we see, the cost of his own life.

Yet because of the Doctor's presence, the entire balance of power on Androzani Minor is upset.  He helps rescue Salateen, which leads to him returning to Chellak with information about Jek's base.  He ends up captured by Stotz, which leads to Morgus's precipitous actions (murdering the President and heading to Androzani Minor), which themselves lead to both his death and the death of Sharaz Jek, as Jek wants nothing more than to take his revenge on Morgus.  "Do you think bullets could stop me now?" Jek cries, tearing off his mask.  "You stinking offal, Morgus, look at me!"  And it's the Doctor and Peri's presence that leads to Jek capturing them in the first place, as he wants someone of great beauty and someone intelligent to talk to.  Just by being there, the Doctor changes everything.

These last two episodes also continue the brutality on display; these are not nice people, but they almost all are dead by the end (as has been noted elsewhere, Krau Timmin and Peri (and possibly that guy in episode one who's taking care of the copper mine) are the only ones to escape the bloodbath).  But here it never feels like Robert Holmes is just getting rid of characters (the way Resurrection of the Daleks felt at times) because they've outlived their usefulness; Holmes is instead deft at maneuvering them into positions that not only lead to their deaths but feel proper and fitting -- Salateen is killed by hubris (assuming the robot beltplate "passes" still work), Krelper and the other mercenary are killed to reinforce a character point about Stotz (that he's completely ruthless), and Chellak dies in a mudburst because he couldn't handle Jek's true appearance.  It's violent, but there's a purpose behind it.

Peter Davison regenerates into Colin Baker. (The Caves of
Part Four) ©BBC
However, while this story is really well-plotted and gorgeously directed (and I forgot to mention the lighting last time, with lots of dark shadows and unusual colored lights for the characters to move around in), it's ultimately building to the final moment of the Doctor's death.  Holmes's script (the only regeneration story he ever wrote, curiously enough) is also structured so things feel more and more desperate, with increasing tension and pressure as events continue.  Things are building to a fever pitch -- even the music gets in on the action.  The desperation and determination that the Doctor displays (starting with his capture of Stotz's ship), even as his body is increasingly wracked by spectrox toxaemia, also contribute to this build-up -- and I like the way the Doctor starts to see the regeneration effect near the end of part three before shaking it off.  But he's able to beat almost impossible odds to save Peri -- though he dies in the process.132  The regeneration itself continues to build, with a strange light effect as the Doctor sees his old companions -- even Kamelion -- as he dies (and, touchingly, his final word is "Adric?" as he sees the companion he couldn't save).  It all builds to a crescendo (Graeme Harper likened it to the end of the Beatles' "A Day in the Life", which is an apt comparison) of noise and light, and then with a climactic boom (the same sound that ends the credits), the newly-regenerated sixth Doctor snaps to a sitting position -- and he even gets a couple lines (unusual at the time, although now it's standard practice).  "Doctor?" Peri asks tentatively.  "You were expecting someone else?" the new Doctor responds, somewhat imperiously.  "I- I- I-" Peri stutters.  "That's three I's in one breath," the Doctor interrupts.  "Makes you sound a rather egotistical young lady."  "What's happened?" Peri wonders.  "Change, my dear," the Doctor says, now looking into the camera.  "And it seems not a moment too soon."  The fifth Doctor has regenerated into the sixth.

It's a violent story -- an old-fashioned revenge drama in many ways -- though there's a narrative purpose to the violence, and everyone willing to use violence ends up paying the price by the end.  But at its heart, The Caves of Androzani is about the Doctor trying to save the life of a girl he barely knows, and he's willing to move heaven and earth to do so.  Season 21 has shown us a Doctor increasingly steeped in violence (the events of Warriors of the Deep and Resurrection of the Daleks, the willingness to personally kill Kamelion (even if it is a mercy killing), and the inaction while the Master burned to death), but saving Peri redeems him.  The Doctor sacrifices himself for the life of one person, and that is what this story is all about.  The fact that everything around this helps create one of the finest stories in the entire history of the series is a bonus.

So farewell to Peter Davison, who had some incredibly large shoes to fill, following after Tom Baker.  But Peter Davison didn't make the role his own, the way Baker did, so much as he inhabited the character of the Doctor.  We were treated to a Doctor full of energy and charm who, while occasionally looking like he was out of depth and not in control, nevertheless was able to navigate the situations he was presented with intelligence and a sense of delight.  But it felt like these were the fifth Doctor's traits, rather than Peter Davison's, so well did Davison inhabit the character -- a lot like Patrick Troughton in this respect.  It's debatable whether Davison succeeded in completely escaping Tom Baker's long shadow in the public's eyes (but then, it's also not a feat that any subsequent actor would manage until David Tennant -- and arguably not even then), but the fact that he succeeded as well as he did is a tribute to him.

However, we're not quite done yet -- in a very unusual move, John Nathan-Turner has elected to use the last story of season 21 as Colin Baker's debut (a decision that to date has never been replicated).  The Twin Dilemma awaits...

November 13: The Twin Dilemma Parts One & Two

So, new Doctor, new look title sequence.  It's still a lot like the old one (same logo and general starfield), but they've put it through a sort of prism filter to create a riot of colors, while the sixth Doctor grins inanely at the camera (thank heavens they didn't follow through with the "winking" idea).  The effect is like the 70s tunnel sequence.  A bit.

And then the thing actually starts...

It's really, really hard to believe that this is the story that follows The Caves of Androzani.  It barely looks like the same series, let alone the following week.  It's astonishingly lurid, and the introduction of twin geniuses Womulus and Wemus (well, that's how they pronounce it) makes the heart sink.  Every moment not in the TARDIS in part one manages the dual feat of being both uninvolving and hideous to look at.  Almost none of the guest cast come out unscathed -- Maurice Denham, as Professor Edgeworth/Azmael, almost manages it, but he has to deliver great swathes of plot and have mental conversations with the giant slug Mestor.  Oh, and, surprisingly, Oliver Smith as Noma, the main Jacondan, feels very naturalistic despite looking like a bird/man hybrid.  Everyone else wavers from barely acceptable (Kevin McNally, who gets better once he's away from the space police office set -- what is up with that set, by the way?  It's a really awkward mishmash of props --- everyone seems to be doing their work on late '70s desk calculators, for instance -- that looks like a rush job more than anything else133) to almost unwatchable (Helen Blatch as Fabian, sad to say), and the fact that the plot is revolving around the twins does this story no favors whatsoever.

The only redeeming qualities of part one are the TARDIS scenes.  Colin Baker doesn't give us a particularly likeable performance as the sixth Doctor, but then he's not supposed to, and you can tell he's not taking anything for granted.  The moment in the wardrobe room where he hides in the clothing racks and laughs in an unhinged fashion is strikingly good.  In general, though, Baker chooses to play the part with a more artificial, theatrical bent, and he spends lots of time declaiming and standing proudly.  You can tell this is deliberate though (as Peri comments on it), and besides, it's about the only way an actor can survive inside that coat.  Now, truth be told (and it's possibly because 30 years' worth of familiarity has lessened its effect), I actually kind of like the colorful patchwork quilt coat, but it's not an outfit for small performances.  Fortunately Baker delivers.  Where things get less successful are the mood swings -- not so much that they're there at all (you can tell what they're going for), but that some of them are genuinely frightening (the attack on Peri) and others seem designed just so that Peri and the Doctor can bicker, which isn't very entertaining to watch.  Still, at least they're keeping things unsettled and therefore not safe.

I wish I could say it gets better in part two, but it doesn't.  The main plot might be quite good, but it's frankly hard to tell under such an awful veneer.  And while there are some more interesting Doctor moments (such as cowering in fear behind Peri), the moment he's introduced to that main storyline the fun gets sucked out of his performance too.  Now that he has to pretend to know people and actually act generically heroic, it's just less interesting to watch.  Baker still does his best (and the rubbing of the cat badge for (presumably) luck is a nice touch), but it's frankly hard to care by this point, so much has the rest of the proceedings drained the audience's good will.

It can only get better from here, right?  Right?

November 14: The Twin Dilemma Parts Three & Four

I really, really don't understand the thought processes behind this story.  There are so many things going wrong, both in conception and in execution, that it's tough to believe that anyone thought this would come off without a hitch.  (Actually, it seems that many of the production team (including director Peter Moffatt and script editor Eric Saward) had misgivings about this serial, but they had to go along with it anyway.)

These two episodes are terribly uninvolving, and Azmael's lab set is competent enough to not even be a disaster worth looking at.  There are some decent moments from Colin Baker (the part where he proclaims Jaconda134 to be a paradise without actually looking around him is rather nice, and Azmael's death scene is played with a deft touch and a quietly understated delivery -- an encouraging sign if you were worried that Baker could only play the character large), and Kevin McNally is a lot better in these two episodes than he was in part one.  But the twins aren't any better, Maurice Denham seems to be sliding into a sort of confused matter-of-fact-ness (as if he's hoping that if he just delivers the lines as written, that will be sufficient), and Mestor...  Edwin Richfield (who, you may be surprised to learn/remember, was Captain Hart in The Sea Devils) is really trying, but he's been saddled under a rather immobile costume (although they've done a good job of making the Gastropods look repulsive) and has to rely almost entirely on his voice.

Azmael, Peri, and the Doctor in Azmael's lab. (The Twin
Part Four) ©BBC
But more problematically, the story stalls out in part three and only gets going again in part four.  We don't learn about Mestor's intentions until the Doctor examines the eggs in the incubator in part four, and even then the basic idea is strange.  (There also appear to be some weird ideas about time -- both in Mestor's official plan of moving planets into the same place as Jaconda but a day apart, and in the Doctor's appearance in the TARDIS ten seconds in the future at the start of part three only to find no one else there for some reason.)  So, just enough time to learn about the plan and then stop it with some handy slug-killing liquid.  (That said, Mestor's death is suitably impressive in its execution -- very grotesque.)  And, perhaps even more inexcusably, no chance for this new unpleasant Doctor to do something unusual, to prove that he really is different.  Attempting to kill Peri aside, it's all "sound and fury,/Signifying nothing."135  It might be designed to reassure the viewing audience that this is still the same Doctor underneath, but it just means we're going to get a disagreeable main character, with no real reason to think that his unpredictability might lead him to make different decisions.  Defiantly though, the programme is at least aware of this: "I am the Doctor, whether you like it or not," the last line of this story, looks almost like a dare to the audience.

But more to the point, if you're going to spend all this time introducing an unlikable and unstable Doctor (and if you want him to be unlikable, why make him grin like an idiot in the title sequence?), why bother putting him in the most straightforward adventure possible, where all he can do is generic Doctor-ish things?  Why make his debut the last story of a season, when all the money's run out?  (See, among others, Time-Flight and The Armageddon Factor.)  Why make his debut the last story of the season at all, if you're going to make him unpleasant?  I understand you want to make a contrast from Peter Davison's portrayal, but is this really the impression you want to leave viewers with for nine months?

Rather infamously, The Twin Dilemma is generally regarded as the worst Doctor Who story ever televised, and it's not too hard to see why.  It's a poor script (by veteran writer Anthony Steven -- who had no other SF credits to his name -- with a lot of work from Eric Saward), with some awful moments and hideous design elements, as if everyone had chosen that moment to go blind.  It's not completely without merit -- there are a handful of decent performances and a few well-executed moments, like Mestor's death -- but in general it's misjudged on almost every level and a lot further off the mark than any other story we've seen yet.

It's somewhat unfortunate, then, that this is the story that ends season 21.  This has been an uneven season with its ups and downs, with some missteps next to some real triumphs.  The worrying trend (not just this season, but for the last couple) has been an increased reliance on the show's past to base stories on, with increasingly limited success.  When they want to make original stories they can do so with impressive results -- Frontios and The Caves of Androzani are proof of that -- but when they want to draw on the past they're getting fewer and fewer returns.  Fortunately, the regular cast of Peter Davison, Janet Fielding, and Mark Strickson were able to make a lot of this work (or at least be watchable), and so even some of the least interesting stories were elevated by their presence.  But now they're gone, and we don't know enough about their replacements to be comfortable with the show's future.

In 2009 Doctor Who Magazine held a poll ("The Mighty 200") which ranked every Doctor Who TV story up to that point.  The Caves of Androzani was voted the best story ever.  The Twin Dilemma, the very next story broadcast, was voted the worst.  Somehow, that sums up season 21 better than anything else.


128 Yes, yes, I know the universe is currently only 13.5 aeons old -- but it still sounds cool.  And besides, maybe the Arar Jecks of Heiradi didn't use the term literally (i.e., where 1 aeon = 1 billion years).
129 One of the more entertaining things about the Wikipedia articles for the stories between Kamelion's two appearances is that every entry except The Five Doctors feels compelled to note that "[n]o explanation is given for companion Kamelion's absence from this story", as if this was of great concern or something.  But does he count as a companion?  He didn't show up in the companion roll call last story -- but, of course, neither did Leela...
130 Obviously (and deliberately), this line has led to all sorts of speculation as to its intended completion, with "brother" being the most generally accepted candidate (although the recent "Death in Heaven" suggests a slightly different childhood relationship between the Doctor and the Master).
131 Officially, at least; apparently Harper directed a chunk of Warriors' Gate when the production took its toll on Paul Joyce.
132 Although this is the one real flaw in the entire story -- why doesn't the Doctor take some of the queen bat's milk (aka the antidote) right away while he's still there and able to get more if needed?  If nothing else it would make rescuing Peri a hell of a lot easier if he wasn't having to fight off increasing paralysis and "thermal death point" at the same time.   Maybe he was just under so much stress that he didn't think about it that way.
133 And special mention for how the BASIC program that makes the screen display X.V.773 LAST LOCATION etc., complete with the word RUN ready for the actor to hit RETURN and execute the code, is clearly visible for a second or two before the program actually runs.
134 Incidentally, there's confusion in the script as to whether it's Jaconda or Joconda, as both spellings appear.
135 Macbeth, Act V, Scene V.