Season 7 (May 8 - May 20)

May 8: Spearhead from Space Episodes 1 & 2
May 9: Spearhead from Space Episodes 3 & 4
May 10: Doctor Who and the Silurians Episodes 1 & 2
May 11: Doctor Who and the Silurians Episodes 3 & 4
May 12: Doctor Who and the Silurians Episodes 5 & 6
May 13: Doctor Who and the Silurians Episode 7 / The Ambassadors of Death Episode 1
May 14: The Ambassadors of Death Episodes 2 & 3
May 15: The Ambassadors of Death Episodes 4 & 5
May 16: The Ambassadors of Death Episodes 6 & 7
May 17: Inferno Episodes 1 & 2
May 18: Inferno Episodes 3 & 4
May 19: Inferno Episodes 5 & 6
May 20: Inferno Episode 7



May 8: Spearhead from Space Episodes 1 & 2

A new title sequence!  In color!  With a new Doctor!  And with the name of the story zooming right toward you!

Standard and special edition DVDs
It's not just the beginning that seems different.  It's partly because the whole thing has been shot on 16mm film, rather than the mix of film and video that's been standard for the last few years, but Spearhead from Space feels like a fresh start and a new way of doing things.  The all-film look gives it an advantage of coherency, and it's definitely helped along by Derek Martinus's excellent direction (in what would prove to be his final directorial role on Doctor Who), but there's also the matter of the script.  Episode 1 opens with a strange swarm of meteors landing in the countryside (and which, we learn in episode 2, are hollow and appear to contain an alien lifeform, while people who seem human-but-not-quite are dedicated to finding the meteors -- so, not at all like Quatermass II then) and the efforts of UNIT (as seen in The Invasion) to find them and work out what's going on.

But the main point of this first episode is really the newly-changed Doctor (now played by comedy actor Jon Pertwee), even though he spends most of the episode unconscious.  Yet by sidelining him, the episode snaps into focus around him, as the people of Ashbridge Cottage Hospital try to work out what's wrong with their new patient: he seems to have two hearts, his blood isn't human, and his pulse rate is 10 a minute -- in other words, he appears to be completely alien (even though Dr. Gemma Corwyn made no comment on any of this after her thorough examination of the Doctor in The Wheel in Space).  Remarkably, Dr. Henderson, the attending physician, starts to take all of this in his stride rather than refusing to believe the mounting evidence, and just tries to do the best he can for the Doctor.  There's also some stuff with the Brigadier and his new scientific adviser Dr. Elizabeth Shaw (in an astonishing jacket -- brown with white vinyl panels on the front that appear to represent plastic fur) visiting the Doctor and failing to recognize him for obvious reasons.  Though he recognizes the Brigadier, in a short scene which it's honestly all too easy to imagine Patrick Troughton playing.  Whether this is a deliberate attempt to introduce a bit of continuity between the two actors or just a coincidence, either way it's there.

But what's particularly clever about Spearhead from Space is how it deals with the question of "is this really still the Doctor?"  Unlike The Power of the Daleks, which goes out of its way to have the audience question whether that strange little man is still the Doctor, here Robert Holmes gets the audience firmly on the side of the Doctor from the outset, as we see this new man in the Doctor's old baggy clothes fall out of the TARDIS in such a way as to suggest that this definitely is the same person (even though it looks like Derek Martinus is trying to avoid showing the new Doctor's face for as long as possible -- this effect is, however, slightly spoiled by the fact that Pertwee's face is in the new title sequence).  And then he recognizes the Brigadier and greets him like an old friend, followed up by a discussion of his new looks.  Here the question isn't "is he the Doctor?" but instead "how long will it take the Brigadier to decide this man is the Doctor, which he clearly is?"  It's a nice touch that also allows us to get to the main storyline with a minimum of fuss, without having the Doctor's friends constantly mistrusting him.

And then for some completely inexplicable reason the sinister-looking Channing, who's been lurking in the background of the hospital scenes, decides to kidnap the Doctor with the help of some oddly plastic-looking henchmen...52

Liz Shaw, the Doctor, and the Brigadier discuss the recent
meteor showers. (Spearhead from Space Episode 2) ©BBC
If episode 1 was about the Doctor, episode 2 shifts the focus to this apparently alien menace that Channing is a part of.  We see him at work in a plastics factory that has apparently fired a whole bunch of employees and is now working on a completely new and secretive operation.  Clearly something sinister is going on, and those special meteors are needed.  UNIT's found one, and a poacher named Sam Seeley has another.  And so there's a mannequin wandering the woods, homing in on the signals these flashing spheres are emitting so that it can collect them.

Meanwhile, the Doctor has recovered enough to escape from the hospital, enjoying a nice shower (Pertwee's nude scene!), stealing some clothes hanging about the place, and driving away in a vintage car to UNIT's HQ, where the TARDIS has been moved to.  He seems to be recovering nicely, although, as he tells the Brigadier, "It's no earthly good asking me a lot of questions.  I've lost my memory, you see."  This scene marks the point where the lines seem more designed for the new Doctor than the previous one -- it's hard to imagine Patrick Troughton doing the Delphon bit, but Pertwee makes it seem like a natural part of his personality.  He also has a charming bit with Liz Shaw ("Look, do I really have to call you Miss Shaw?") that he plays with a happy laugh in a manner that neither Troughton nor Hartnell would have done, and this also helps him distinguish himself from his predecessors.

So it looks fabulous, it has an exciting script from Robert Holmes, and the actors are giving it their all.  The color era of Doctor Who has begun with considerable style.



May 9: Spearhead from Space Episodes 3 & 4

Episode 3 is largely a delaying action, as apparently the meteor that Sam Seeley has is the swarm leader for the alien Autons, and is thus vital to their plans of conquest and without it their plans can't advance.  Nevertheless it's still entertaining.  Plus this allows us to see our first real look at an Auton in action, as one shoots at Ransome, the fired plastics factory employee, as he flees said factory, while another one ransacks the Seeleys' cottage looking for that swarm leader, taking a shotgun blast to the chest with no ill effect.

And then we also have Ransome's still-panicked discussion with UNIT about what's going on at his old workplace, and some guff about the Doctor trying to leave in the middle of the crisis53, just to prove that the TARDIS isn't going anywhere for some time.  So all in all, not a lot of actual story advancement here: UNIT learns about the factory, sees an Auton in action, and finds the swarm leader and that's about it.  But it's all so well written, directed, and acted that the time never drags.

Episode 4 gives us the recovery of the swarm leader by the Autons, which means their plan can now proceed and they can unleash the Autons on the public.  The scenes of the mannequins in the storefront windows coming to life and smashing through the glass to kill the populace at large are justly famous (even if we never see any glass actually break), endowing a familiar object with deadly menace.  There's something chilling about those blank plastic faces walking toward you, with their fingers hinging down to produce a strange gun.  It's eerie in concept and, brought to life in such a memorable way by the production team, highly effective.

The Autons begin their attack. (Spearhead from Space
Episode 4) ©BBC
This is the high point of the episode, coming roughly at the midpoint; before that we get the Doctor and Liz investigating Madame Tussauds for strange goings-on and Ransome being obliterated by an Auton.  Afterwards it's a race against time to stop the Autons and their controllers, the Nestenes, from taking over the planet.  This does mean we get a rather nifty battle between UNIT forces and the Autons (at the same location as the battle between UNIT forces and the Cybermen in The Invasion, I notice), but it also means that, as the Doctor and Liz sneak off to fight the problem at its source, we get an awfully long stretch of the Doctor struggling with the Nestene manifestation (which is some sort of squid) while Liz struggles to work out what's wrong with the Doctor's Nestene-killing device.  And maybe it's because I've seen it before, but it takes an awfully long time for Liz to figure out that the reason the device isn't working is that the magic wand attachment isn't plugged into it.  All while Pertwee pulls faces and struggles with tentacles wrapped around his neck and slapping him in the face.  (And consider that this version was actually a remount for a take from an earlier day that was deemed even worse, and ponder what that must have looked like...)  But in the end Liz plugs the cable in and the Doctor saves the day, causing the Nestene to explode in the process.

Spearhead from Space is, it must be said, a triumph from start to finish.  The decision to go to an all-film production (thanks to a scene-shifters strike at the BBC) is a real benefit, as it allows Derek Martinus to be much more mobile with his cameras than he would have been if he'd had to do studio work.  This gives everything a much more dynamic feeling, and the sense of coherency by having everything look the same visually with no switching between film (25 frames per second) and video (50 half-frames (aka fields) per second, which are interlaced to provide a "smoother" motion -- this is putting it very crudely, mind) also adds to the effectiveness of the finished product.  To be honest, this isn't a story about the Doctor, and by the end we still don't have a firm grasp on who this new Doctor is, other than that he's definitely the Doctor -- but in terms of setting up the show's new Earthbound format, Spearhead from Space works marvelously well.  Robert Holmes's script knows exactly what it wants to do, and it has no problems doing it.

And as this is the last story to be produced by Derrick Sherwin (who only really became the producer for the last couple stories, but who's really just carrying on the style that Peter Bryant had, since Sherwin was Bryant's script editor), we can take a moment to evaluate his and Bryant's impact on the show.  A lot of their shows were made in moments of crisis, but there's definitely an effort to move away from simple monster stories and back to moments of human drama, of personalities reacting to one another rather than a generic alien race trying to take over everything (which isn't to say that those stories go away, but there's still noticeably less of them than during Innes Lloyd's tenure).  But their ultimate impact was probably in setting the stage for the next couple years of stories, limiting the Doctor to one time and place in an effort to create a more familiar setting for viewers (even if, as Malcolm Hulke famously complained, this meant that the only stories now available were mad scientists and alien invasions -- fortunately this turned out to be a somewhat cynical viewpoint).  But whatever their overall merits, you can't deny that they go out on a high note.



May 10: Doctor Who and the Silurians Episodes 1 & 2

This is Barry Letts's first story as the producer of Doctor Who.  It's also the first (and only) story to have the words "Doctor Who and" in the episode title -- is this because he didn't realize the stories weren't normally called that?  (Some stories would have that prefix during the scripting stage, but it would be dropped by the time production happened, so you can see why Letts might not have realized it wasn't typical.)

The other thing to note is that, although all of Pertwee exists on video, it's not all in the original format -- those tapes having been wiped and reused just like the black-and-white ones.  So we get a hodgepodge of quality during the Pertwee years -- this particular story being a mix of a low-quality NTSC copy and a high-quality black-and-white film copy.  It's a very good restoration, but you can still tell sometimes.

We're also introduced to that staple of the next few years: the isolated scientific research establishment.  UNIT has been called in to investigate inexplicable power losses at Wenley Moor, which is running experiments on the nature of the atom.  We're introduced to the head of the project, Dr. Lawrence, who seems pretty stressed out about the situation.  We also meet the second-in-command, Dr. Quinn, who seems much happier -- but then it's soon clear, from his conversations with the perpetually unhappy-looking Miss Dawson, that he knows something about what's been happening at Wenley Moor.  Major Baker, the chief of security, thinks it's internal sabotage, but UNIT doesn't seem so sure.  The Doctor and Liz find enough to be concerned about things, but not enough to know what the nature of the problem is.  But when they learn about a potholer named Spencer (who was attacked by a dinosaur in the opening shots of the episode), the Doctor decides to investigate the caves for himself, and is also attacked by a dinosaur for his pains.

Of course, as we see in episode 2, the dinosaur is called off before it can do any serious damage, and the Doctor returns to Wenley Moor to inform the Brigadier, who decides to take a party into the caves to investigate.  Major Baker fires at a shadowy figure before being attacked by the dinosaur.  Whatever Baker shot at, it's wounded.  We get some nice first-person shots, with a reptilian claw visible and, intriguingly, a red filter over the top center third -- one can only guess at what the people with black-and-white televisions thought of that.

And we learn that Dr. Quinn is in fact working with these strange figures, who have a base in the caves and instruct Quinn to recover their wounded comrade.  That comrade has, meanwhile, taken refuge in a barn, only to be discovered by the farmer.  It kills the farmer and terrifies the wife, who eventually manages to tell the Doctor and the Brigadier that it's still in the barn -- the barn which Liz Shaw is currently investigating on her own...

So far it's been a slow burn, but these two episodes are paced very well, meaning that they remain highly watchable.  There are quite a few questions being raised (What's causing the power losses?  Who are the people in the caves?  Why do they have a dinosaur?  Why do they strike terror into humans?  What's Quinn's relationship with them?), which are compelling enough to maintain interest for the next episodes.  So far so good then.



May 11: Doctor Who and the Silurians Episodes 3 & 4

We continue on with episodes 3 and 4 of Doctor Who and the Silurians, and episode 3 gives us a really lovely comprehensive search across the moorland for the creature who found Liz in the barn before escaping.  It's very well done, with helicopters sweeping across the countryside as a number of troops search on foot.  This also gives us our best look yet at Captain Hawkins, being played by future Blake's 7 star Paul Darrow.

The other purpose this episode serves is to show us just how lousy Dr. Quinn is at keeping secrets.  He does manage to rescue the wounded creature, but then he keeps it locked up in his cottage in order to use as a bargaining chip.  And he's hardly subtle in his efforts, with the end result being that he throws a huge amount of suspicion on himself and ends up being killed by a Silurian.  Still, as a side effect we get a lovely scene between the Doctor and Miss Dawson, as she catches the Doctor searching Quinn's office for evidence of his actions and he tries to convince her that he only wants to help Quinn.  The way she seems about to tell the Doctor what she knows until the Brigadier enters the room is really quite nice.

But still, Quinn is killed and the Doctor finds the body when he goes to the cottage to check up on the man -- and then he finds himself face to face with a Silurian.

The Doctor encounters a Silurian. (Doctor Who and the
Silurians
Episode 4) ©BBC
It's really a quite lovely cliffhanger, even if the effect is spoiled at the beginning of episode 4, as the Doctor pertly asks, "Hello, are you a Silurian?"  But we should take a moment to appreciate the design of the Silurians, which are pleasingly reptilian yet not too much like humans (beyond the limitations of having to put a man in a suit).  The face in particular is quite wonderful, with the strange eyes (the top third one in particular) and the recessed beak-like mouth giving it a nice unusual look.

And now that we've actually seen a Silurian, we can move on to seeing them in their base, rather than just having them hiding in the shadows.  Thanks to Dr. Quinn's map, the Doctor and Liz get a chance to explore the caves -- though not before Major Baker wanders down there, looking for his saboteurs (and finding them, albeit by being captured by them).  The Silurians' base looks a bit odd, with a lot of textured surfaces, but it also looks very spartan.  But hey, we get our first use of colour-separation overlay (CSO)54 in Doctor Who, as the Doctor and Liz see the dinosaur that was in earlier episodes.

And so the Doctor returns to Wenley Moor, where he finds the permanent undersecretary Masters (as played by British national treasure Geoffrey Palmer, in one of his earlier roles) waiting.  It seems everyone but the Doctor wants to send troops into the caves to flush out the saboteurs/monsters (delete according to who's talking), and they refuse to listen to the Doctor's belief that these are sentient creatures that can be reasoned with.  But when they won't listen, the Doctor decides to try and reason with the Silurians (which leads to the rather wonderful moment where the Doctor is standing in their control room while the Silurians all have their backs to him; "Ahem," the Doctor says, startling the lot of them).  Except they seem just as unwilling to listen, and one of them decides to kill the Doctor with its third eye...



May 12: Doctor Who and the Silurians Episodes 5 & 6

So here we start to learn more about the Silurians, and how they were in fact the previous inhabitants of Earth.55  It seems they all went into hibernation when the Moon came along and they feared it was going to smash into the planet; they weren't ready for the possibility that the Moon would stick around.  So they believe they have a rightful claim to Earth and regard humanity as pests that have moved in while the real owners were away.  And interestingly, the Doctor doesn't dispute this claim but instead tries to argue for peaceful coexistence -- a plan which the Silurian leader seems willing to at least consider, over the objections of the young Silurian (well, that's what they call him in the credits).  And so we get a power struggle between the two Silurians, which makes for a much more interesting story than a unified block of creatures, and which also mirrors the struggle among the humans, with Liz Shaw arguing on behalf of the Doctor for a chance at peace, while Miss Dawson (presumably because of Dr. Quinn's death) is the strongest advocate for wiping them all out.

This debate is sidetracked a bit when the young Silurian decides to wipe out humanity by infecting Major Baker with a very virulent disease and releasing him back into the caves.  The Silurian leader learns of this and gives the Doctor a sample of the disease to try and find a cure (an event which leads to the young Silurian taking over by killing the old Silurian leader with his third eye) -- at which point the drama shifts to a race against time to both find a cure for this disease and to stop it from spreading.  Of course, that's a problem when infected people keep leaving the research facility.

The Doctor and the Brigadier find the body of Major Baker.
(Doctor Who and the Silurians Episode 6) ©BBC
Episode 6 is all about the disease, both finding a cure and watching as the disease spreads -- thanks primarily to Masters, who heads back to London and wanders around, infecting tons of people along the way.  We even get some montages, both of the Doctor analyzing blood samples and drugs while the Brigadier monitors the situation, and of people succumbing to the disease all around London.  This is the drama that drives this episode to the exclusion of anything else -- even Dr. Lawrence's death scene; as he finally snaps from the pressure of having his world collapse around him (the research facility's projects having ground to a halt) and attempts to throttle the Brigadier, he suddenly convulses and dies: another victim of the disease.  Although, given that Dr. Lawrence hardly starts out as any sort of sympathetic character, it's a bit difficult to muster up any sympathy for him as he dies.  Still, by the end the Doctor has found the cure -- only the Silurians break into the base and start to kill him before he can finish writing out the formula for that antidote...

(And I've gotten this far without mentioning the score by Carey Blyton, the most distinctive part of which is the crumhorn (the buzzing instrument) that signifies the Silurians.  There are also a number of other older instruments, such as an ophicleide and a serpent (both similar to a tuba), which are designed to evoke an "older" sound in keeping with the story's themes.  The score is quite distinctive and generally works quite well (although similar-sounding scores will be less successful when applied to Daleks and Cybermen).)



May 13: Doctor Who and the Silurians Episode 7 / The Ambassadors of Death Episode 1

Episode 7 is a bit less morally complex than the other episodes.  The cure has been found, the Doctor has been taken into the Silurians' base (merely incapacitated, not killed by the Silurians), and a scheme is hatched by the Silurians to destroy the part of the atmosphere that keeps things cool (Liz Shaw says they want to destroy the Van Allen belt, but we'll assume she misspoke and meant the ozone layer).  The Silurians hope to kill off humanity and make the planet more habitable for them at the same time.  This also leads to the wonderful juxtaposition of seeing the Silurians inside the Wenley Moor research facility, menacing the scientists and setting up their molecular disperser.  But thanks to some quick thinking from the Doctor, the reactor goes into overload (fun fact: dropping all the fuel rods into the reactor at once will only lead to a slow-building overload rather than an instant catastrophic explosion -- well, maybe things are designed differently in the Doctor Who universe) and the Silurians decide to go back into hibernation before the whole place becomes radioactive.  Fortunately, you can rewire a console to prevent a nuclear meltdown (fun fact #2), so the place is saved.

The Doctor watches as the Brigadier blows up the Silurians' base.
(Doctor Who and the Silurians Episode 7) ©BBC
But then the Doctor wants to go back and talk to the Silurians again: "One at a time, so that we can reason with them.  There's a wealth of scientific knowledge down here, Brigadier, and I can't wait to get started on it."  This alarms the Brigadier (and, presumably, the government as well), so as the Doctor leaves to gather equipment and scientists, the Brigadier wires the place with explosives and blows it up -- much to the appallment of the Doctor.  "But that's murder.  They were intelligent alien beings.  A whole race of them.  And he's just wiped them out."

Doctor Who and the Silurians is a pleasingly nuanced and complex story.  Malcolm Hulke's aforementioned complaint about only having mad scientists and alien invasion stories available to the series has been sidestepped by Hulke himself with a lovely "what if?" serial about prior inhabitants of the planet.  There are also some nice morally ambiguous puzzles: do the Silurians have any right to the planet still?  Is there a way to coexist peacefully?  Could humanity -- who aren't averse to killing each other over squabbles, never mind a completely different intelligent species -- actually accept the presence of Silurians?  And then laid over this is an engaging story about reptile men and their effect on people; in other words, something for everyone to enjoy, not just those willing to engage with the philosophical questions.  In this regard, Doctor Who and the Silurians is one of the most adult (in the positive sense of the word, as opposed to the Torchwood meaning) stories the series has yet produced.  More like this, please.

But now we move on to another seven-part story with The Ambassadors of Death.  This is the earliest episode of Doctor Who to exist on its original 2" Quad tape, rather than on a 16mm film telerecording -- so you can get some idea of what the picture quality of these episodes originally was.

This one opens a bit differently: we get the Doctor Who title sequence and then we start the episode, as the basic set-up is laid out (spaceship Recovery 7 is trying to link up with Mars Probe 7, because "something took off from Mars"), and, with the first use of the "sting", normally associated with the end credits, we get the title: "The Ambassadors", followed a beat later by "OF DEATH", appearing with a sproing.

Other than that what we have is the makings of a good thriller.  There's trouble afoot with the two spacecrafts' link-up, and a strange message is transmitted to Earth -- only to have a reply sent back from somewhere in London.  As the team at Space Control try to regain contact with Recovery 7, UNIT heads to an abandoned warehouse to find out who sent that signal.  We get a really exciting fight scene as UNIT has a pitched gun battle with whoever is sending that reply.  And great fun can be had spotting all the doubling-up of stuntmen: Derek Ware in particular shows up repeatedly on both sides, killed multiple times.

While that's going on, the Doctor is trying to translate the alien message.  When he goes to use the computers, Space Control's computer expert Dr. Bruno Taltalian pulls a gun on the Doctor and Liz.  And then finally, in its proper place, we get that glissando-like "sting" that will signify the start of the end credits for the rest of the show's run.  Hard to believe we got through six seasons without that.



May 14: The Ambassadors of Death Episodes 2 & 3

To digress for a minute: while The Ambassadors of Death Episode 1 is the earliest episode of Doctor Who to still survive on the original tape, we don't have another episode still on videotape until episode 1 of The Claws of Axos.  So that means that the remainder of this story is, like Doctor Who and the Silurians, recolorized.  Now, there is, like The Silurians, an off-air NTSC color copy of this serial -- unfortunately it suffers from a rainbow patterning fault through large portions of the broadcast (you can see an example of this from episode 4 here), rendering the color useless.  But it turns out that the color signal is still present on the 16mm black & white film telerecordings in the form of a chroma dot pattern, and, in what is seriously one of the coolest things ever, people have worked out how to recover the color based on those chroma dot patterns.  It's a little rough at times, but given that this color comes from a b&w film print, it's still very impressive.  The remainder of The Ambassadors of Death is therefore a mixture between color restoration (as on The Silurians) and color recovery.

Recovery 7 is loaded onto a trailer to take back to Space
Control. (The Ambassadors of Death Episode 2) ©BBC
But back to the actual story.  We continue the thriller feel established in episode 1, with Recovery 7 unexpectedly returning back to Earth, despite the loss of radio communications.  Although the spacecraft returns successfully, its transportation back to Space Control is interrupted by a successful attempt to hijack the trailer containing Recovery 7.  This is quite the battle scene, with lots of guns, explosions, trucks, motorcycles -- even a helicopter!  Oh, and note the blue background in some of the shots inside the trailer cab: this will become relevant when we get to The Claws of Axos.

But the thieves are successful in capturing the spacecraft, only for the Doctor to recapture it using his wits and a bit of technical wizardry (aka a plot convenience), and return it to Space Control.  Only problem is, the astronauts refuse to come out, instead repeating the same sentences over and over again, so Space Control is forced to cut the capsule open.

Episode 3 reveals that the capsule is empty; apparently a bogus security check allowed the thieves from earlier to take the astronauts away.  The atmosphere that this serial is generating means that this is moving into conspiracy thriller territory.  And there's another problem: the inside of the capsule is highly radioactive, so how can the astronauts still be alive?  But then, in a twist, we learn that the man who's been orchestrating the kidnapping is in fact a general and former astronaut named Carrington, who's been operating with the approval of the British government.  Allegedly.  The Doctor doesn't seem entirely convinced, and when it turns out that the astronauts have been kidnapped by a third party, we see Carrington and Sir James Quinlan (representing the government) still involved in some sort of cover-up which is obstructing the actions of Space Control, who intend to send another spacecraft up to Mars Probe 7 based on the Doctor's belief that the astronauts are still up there, and that "I don't know what came down in Recovery 7, but it certainly wasn't human."

And it seems that the Doctor and Liz are getting in the way, and so that third party is instructed to take them out of the picture, which leads to sending Liz off on a wild goose chase that results in her being chased by some goons out onto a slippery weir...



May 15: The Ambassadors of Death Episodes 4 & 5

The conspiracy thriller vibe continues with these two episodes.  Episode 4 has Liz Shaw helping the people who kidnapped the astronauts, but under duress.  She also gets a subplot of pure padding, as she escapes for five minutes only to be brought right back, with virtually no consequences or changes to the status quo.  Actually, that sort of describes this episode -- there's a lot of treading water and little plot advancement.  But it's to its credit that you don't really notice this while you're watching, since the wheel-spinning is reasonably exciting.  Really, the main things that happen are that Liz starts working for the enemy and Taltalian blows himself up while trying to kill the Doctor.  (Though, to be fair, that's because Reegan, the astronauts' kidnapper, changed the timer on the bomb to zero; it's not because Taltalian is clumsy or inept.)  All right, there's also some stuff with General Carrington trying to convince the Doctor and the Brigadier that the bodies found in the quarry (you know, Reegan's henchmen) were foreign agents kidnapping the astronauts, but the Doctor doesn't appear to believe a word of it and so therefore neither do we.

An astronaut advances on the Doctor as he checks Quinlan for
signs of life. (The Ambassadors of Death Episode 4) ©BBC
At the end of the episode, though, there's a great action sequence as one of the astronauts rampages through the Space Centre, killing both soldiers and Sir James Quinlan with a touch56 and destroying presumably important documents inside Quinlan's safe.  There's some great direction here too, with the astronaut framed against the sun as it stalks toward the gate.  (And side note to retract a comment last time about color recovery being a bit rough; episode 4 is entirely color recovered and it looks very impressive -- probably more so than episode 5, which is entirely color restored with an off-air copy.  Seriously, look at that picture there.  That color was pulled off a black-and-white film print.  Tell me that isn't incredibly cool.)

Episode 4 ended with the Doctor discovering Quinlan's body, unaware of the astronaut behind him, and he's only saved at the last moment by the Brigadier entering the room.  But there's nothing anyone can do about the astronaut, so the Doctor continues to help prepare Recovery 7 for another launch to check on the missing people still believed to be in orbit.  Carrington continues to be obstructive but offers no real reasons for doing so -- we know he has some ulterior motive, we just don't know what it is.  But Liz manages to convince Dr. Lennox to leave and tell UNIT about the astronauts -- and we also see the return of Benton (last seen in The Invasion), now a sergeant.  Unfortunately, Reegan's boss has men everywhere, so Dr. Lennox is served a fatal meal of an unshielded radioactive isotope.

But the real drama is the sabotage of the launch by Reegan, who pumps too much of the unstable fuel into the rocket (the M-3 varient [sic]), thus sending the Doctor into space far too quickly.  This was the episode transmitted immediately after the Apollo 13 disaster (the splashdown happened the day before), which apparently lent this moment an extra frisson of danger for the viewing audience -- and as it's reasonably tense even without real world events, this must have been quite a thrill.  But fortunately the Doctor makes it into orbit safely and links up with Mars Probe 7 -- only to see a large UFO out the window...



May 16: The Ambassadors of Death Episodes 6 & 7

The Doctor enters the alien spaceship. (The Ambassadors of
Death
Episode 6) ©BBC
After spending so much of this story as a conspiracy thriller, with agents moving against our heroes for unknown reasons, episode 6 finally supplies some answers.  The Doctor is taken aboard a trippy alien spaceship, where the three human astronauts are waiting around, apparently under the belief they're watching a football match.  Soon the Doctor is confronted by an alien dressed like a mummy: "Why have you not returned our ambassadors?" the alien demands, finally explaining the title of the serial in the process.  "An agreement was made.  You have betrayed us.  Unless our ambassadors are returned, we shall destroy your world."

And down on planet Earth, tensions at Space HQ remain high.  "The American space agency are now preparing to launch an unmanned capsule to observe the unidentified object," says one of the technicians, glancing repeatedly at the camera every time she has a close-up.  When the Doctor finally returns, he refuses to tell anyone about what happened while in orbit until he's face-to-face with them -- which ends up being a problem when he's gassed by Reegan and taken back to where the ambassadors are being held.  General Carrington then insists, bizarrely, that the Doctor might have staged his kidnapping: "[The gas] could be a blind to make us think he'd been kidnapped."  He also states that they should blow the alien spaceship out of the skies, insisting it's their "moral duty".  "I think the General's a bit overwrought," the Brigadier comments.  "I think he's insane," Cornish replies, and it's growing increasingly harder to disagree with him.

And then no sooner is the Doctor brought back to consciousness in Reegan's bunker when General Carrington appears; it turns out he's Reegan's boss.  "You're not surprised to see me?" Carrington asks the Doctor.  "Not particularly, no," the Doctor replies.  Carrington then pulls a gun on the Doctor, ready to kill him and once again claiming it to be his "moral duty".

It's only Reegan's insistence that the Doctor could still be useful, combined with the Doctor's sweet-talking of Carrington, that saves the Doctor's life.  Carrington's rabidly xenophobic plan, and his reasoning behind it, are finally revealed: when Carrington was on Mars Probe 6, they made contact with the aliens, and one of the aliens accidentally killed his fellow astronaut Jim Daniels (an incident which apparently escaped the attention of anyone in the British space programme).  Now Carrington intends to unmask one of the ambassadors on live television as a pretext for declaring war on the aliens, to prevent, in his eyes, an alien invasion of Earth.

General Carrington places the Brigadier under arrest. (The
Ambassadors of Death
Episode 7) ©BBC
Carrington's plan gets pretty far too; he arrests all of the UNIT troops, including the Brigadier himself, and brings one of the ambassadors to the Space Centre, ready to unmask him and cause a world panic.  Fortunately the Brigadier escapes, rounds up his few remaining troops, and heads off to rescue the Doctor (thanks to an SOS signal the Doctor's been transmitting).  There's a rather limp battle (certainly not up to the standards of the fights in episodes 1 and 2), and then the Brigadier bursts into the bunker to rescue the Doctor.  "What kept you?" the Doctor asks ungratefully.  Fortunately Reegan isn't killed in the battle; he's become so charmingly slimy that you do root for him a little, and so it's good to see him survive.  He's also the one to suggest taking the two remaining ambassadors to Space HQ to stop Carrington's broadcast.  And that's in fact what UNIT does, thus stopping Carrington and therefore saving the Earth by freeing the ambassadors.  Touchingly, the Doctor allows Carrington to keep his dignity as he's led away.  "I had to do what I did.  It was my moral duty.  You do understand, don't you?" Carrington asks the Doctor.  "Yes, General.  I understand," the Doctor replies, and it sounds like he really does.

So that's two Earthbound stories in a row that aren't about mad scientists or alien invasions -- in fact, this is a story about a friendly alien encounter gone wrong because of narrow-minded humans, rather than about alien monsters come to enslave us all.  In that sense it turns the idea of an alien invasion on its head, with the aliens among us explicitly identified as ambassadors, with all the connotations of the word, and it's only the actions of one xenophobic man that lead to the derailment of an official first contact between these aliens and humanity (even if, admittedly, this element is pretty far down in the mix, with lots of action sequences and standard thriller moments given more prominence).  The Ambassadors of Death is another success: an exciting, well-paced thriller with space travel, action-packed battles, and lots of memorable images.

So that's two seven-part stories in a row that have more than justified their length.  Can the production team keep it up?



May 17: Inferno Episodes 1 & 2

Standard and special edition DVDs
So we've arrived at another scientific research base out in the middle of nowhere.  The Doctor and UNIT are already settled in at this project; this time it's about drilling deep into the Earth and penetrating the crust, thereby hoping to tap the vast pockets of Stahlman's gas down there.  How anyone knows this gas exists in the first place isn't brought up.  The man the gas is named after, Professor Eric Stahlman, is unashamedly the first mad scientist introduced in the Pertwee era.  Yes, we might cite Dr. Lawrence from Doctor Who and the Silurians as a mad scientist, but he's not remotely in the same league as Professor Stahlman.  Irritable from the get-go ("Our liver playing us up again this morning, is it, Professor?" the Doctor asks pointedly) and completely unwilling to consider the safety of anyone if it risks slowing down the rate of drilling, Stahlman comes across as pig-headed and dangerous at best.  There are no subtleties in Olaf Pooley's performance here: Stahlman is single-minded in his goal to penetrate the Earth's crust, no matter what the cost.

Of course, this causes a problem in that these first two episodes consist largely of various emergencies that Stahlman refuses to take seriously, and so several people argue unsuccessfully with him about slowing down or stopping the drilling, or at least taking some of the warnings seriously.  It works reasonably well in the first episode; after the second it starts to get a little tedious, as the Doctor, Sir Keith Gold (Christopher Benjamin, who'll return in The Talons of Weng-Chiang), and Greg Sutton (who played the caveman Za in An Unearthly Child) all try to get Stahlman to see reason -- or at least not endanger lives unnecessarily.

Still, it's not the only thing going on; there's also a subplot about a strange green goo57 that turns anyone who touches it into a regressed ape-like creature (the credits call them "Primords") that emits intense heat and burns anyone and anything it touches.  This leads to some fairly brutal moments, as the first person to be infected, Harry Slocum, starts brutally murdering people (and note the blood spatter on his coveralls when he's inside the nuclear reactor control room).  Then two more people are infected (by Slocum, it seems, so either he smeared some of the green goo on himself or he can turn people into Primords à la werewolves), including a private who falls to his death (in what was at the time the highest fall ever performed by a British stuntman -- nice work, Roy Scammell).  And Professor Stahlman also ends up touching the goo -- not that you'd notice from his behavior, since he's already acting extremely irrational and territorial.  He even tries to sabotage the main computer when it starts warning that the whole place is in danger -- a scene which leads to Jon Pertwee's first use of what he calls here "Venusian karate"58, in which a certain pressure point has the ability to paralyze a person (even if the actual effect is Pertwee grabbing someone in a non-dangerous (read: unable to be copied by children) hold).  Here it's used on Stahlman himself, although it doesn't stop him from ultimately destroying the microcircuit he removed from the computer.

The other subplot running through these first couple episodes consists of the Doctor trying to get the TARDIS console (still outside the TARDIS itself, as seen in the opening moments of The Ambassadors of Death) working again.  In episode 1 a power surge sends it and him through an interestingly directed but painful-looking realm that the Doctor later describes as "some sort of limbo", with a "barrier I couldn't break through."  Episode 2 sees him try again, but the power is cut off at a crucial moment and so the cliffhanger has the Doctor, the TARDIS console, and Bessie all dematerialize in front of Liz Shaw and the Brigadier...



May 18: Inferno Episodes 3 & 4

The Doctor has disappeared into a strange dimension -- "sideways in time", he says -- which is close to but not quite the same as the world he's just left.  All the characters seem to still be present, but they're all slightly different.  Yes, it's time for the "evil parallel universe" story.

To be fair, it's not like it's an unreasonable idea for a serial, and as it's the first time Doctor Who has done this type of story we can forgive them a bit of indulgence.  And unlike, say, every episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine involving Trek's "Mirror Universe", this isn't simply a chance for the regulars to indulge themselves by playing "bad" versions of themselves.  The parallel universe part of Inferno feels much more dangerous, because everyone's playing it so straight.

Starting by having an extended chase sequence where troops are all shooting at the Doctor as he zooms around the complex on Bessie is a good move; it immediately brings home the danger of this place.  There are lots of troops (well, it seems like there are, at least) and some great location shots of the Doctor high up on the gasometers.  (Oh, and incidentally, I was wrong last time; the world record fall happens in episode 3, not episode 1.  It's still Roy Scammell, though -- twice, in fact, as both the private who falls and the one who shoots him down.)  And then we get to see the people in this world: the Brigadier is now Brigade Leader Lethbridge-Stewart, with an eyepatch and no moustache; Liz is now Section Leader Elizabeth Shaw, with black hair; and Sergeant Benton is Platoon Under-Leader Benton -- he still looks the same but is decidedly nastier as a person ("Are you coming with me quietly, or do I shoot you here and now?" Benton asks the Doctor at the end of episode 3, and it's quite clear which outcome Benton is hoping for).  Meanwhile, Professor Stahlman has become Director Stahlmann -- he's lost the facial hair but is still the same basic person.  The other main difference is that in this parallel world the drilling has proceeding a bit quicker, so instead of being something like 40 hours away from penetrating the Earth's crust, this world is only a little over 3 hours away.

The Doctor is interrogated by the Republican Security Forces.
(Inferno Episode 4) ©BBC
It's got to be said, though, that these two episodes, much like the first two, consist largely of people rehashing the same points over and over again.  In episodes 1 and 2 it was everyone versus Stahlman; here it's everyone versus the Doctor, as the Brigade Leader tries over and over again to find out which foreign power the Doctor is working for and how he got onto the base in the first place.  They try demanding answers, then they try interrogation, then trying to be nice in an effort to get the truth out of the Doctor.  All the while, the Doctor is trying to convince the people at the base of the danger their project is causing; he repairs the computer so that it can warn them, as well as reasoning with everyone there repeatedly about the dangers (something, it must be said, he didn't seem as willing to do back in his own universe).  Needless to say, no one believes him, and episode 4 ends with Penetration Zero being reached as the drillhead starts making a really nasty noise, while the Doctor yells out, "That's the sound of this planet screaming out its rage!"  It's such a good cliffhanger that it's slightly surprising that the episode carries on a little bit longer, with Stahlmann holding a gun on the Doctor as the actual cliffhanger.



May 19: Inferno Episodes 5 & 6

I'm willing to bet that the high reputation Inferno enjoys rests squarely on the shoulders of these two episodes, because these are the two that see the parallel world destroyed.  This is taut, gripping television.  It's interesting to see how relatively defeatist the Doctor is in these episodes: there's no last minute plan to save the world, because it's already too late.  "The heat and the pressures'll continue to build up until the Earth dissolves in a fury of expanding gases, just as it was billions of years ago," he says.  When asked how long they've got, he replies, "Maybe a few weeks, maybe only a few days."  Which admittedly seems slightly odd (how is the bore hole much different from a volcano?), but in terms of the drama it's very effective.

These two episodes therefore see an increasing sense of tension and desperation as a plan is made not to save this Earth but the one the Doctor is from.  Remember, they're not as advanced with the drilling there, so the Doctor might be able to stop them from penetrating the Earth's crust.  But in order to do so they have to rewire the nuclear reactor and dodge the Primords that are roaming the complex.  And while these two episodes also have quite a few scenes of people arguing with each other, this time it feels like there's a point behind it, and even when the point isn't obvious it still drives home the futility of it all.  Or as Greg Sutton puts it: "It's marvellous, isn't it?  The world's going up in flame and they're still playing at toy soldiers!"

So the world's being destroyed (illustrated by lots of tremors and a pleasing red haze for the scenes outside) and the Primords are closing in -- so the main characters can't even stop to catch their breath without the threat of being rubbed in mutagenic slime and regressing into a savage ape-like creature (as we see happen to Benton at the end of episode 5).  But the most interesting thing is to watch how each character deals with the impending doomsday.  Sutton becomes a lot more dominant, probably because he knows he's got nothing to lose and therefore no reason to toe the party line.  Section Leader Shaw is practical yet increasingly insubordinate -- she's willing to help the Doctor but she has little patience remaining for her superior, the Brigade Leader.  Nicholas Courtney, however, is the standout performer of the group, as his Brigade Leader becomes increasingly cowardly and scared and therefore belligerent and bullying as a result, as if desperate to hold on to some shred of power, even if it's ultimately meaningless.

Elizabeth Shaw, Petra Williams, and Greg Sutton watch the world
end. (Inferno Episode 6) ©BBC
But it's the final moments that demonstrate clearly why this story was worth doing: power has finally been channeled to the TARDIS console, and after a brief confrontation the Doctor is free to escape if he can while the world (or at least this section of it) definitively ends, as a huge flow of lava heads towards the hut that they're all trapped in.  Here we have a world that clearly does end -- all the fascist stuff is there to add to the drama, but the real point of Inferno is to actually show what would happen if the world was going to end.  And by making it a parallel universe they can have their cake and eat it too -- they can be bleak and absolute with their ending (no last-minute saves here) and still have the show continue on next week.  It's the ultimate cliffhanger ending and, because of its finality, it's deeply satisfying as a result.

So there's still one more episode of Inferno to go.  How are they going to top these two?



May 20: Inferno Episode 7

Sutton and the Doctor take down the Primordized Professor
Stahlman. (Inferno Episode 7) ©BBC
So.  You've just seen a world destroyed by fire, lava, and earthquakes.  You find yourself back in your own dimension, to find that the drilling that caused the disaster in the other world could still be halted here before it's too late.  Would you stop the drilling not by calmly yet urgently explaining the danger but by raving like a lunatic and smashing random consoles with a wrench?

Still, there's enough going on that the Doctor's odd behavior (even if he has been under a lot of stress) ultimately doesn't matter.  People seem inclined to listen to the Doctor, even if only Professor Stahlman can apparently give the order to actually halt the project.  Fortunately for the planet, he comes out of the drilling room as a Primord, so his opinion doesn't carry much weight anymore.  The Earth is saved (once some last-minute rewiring by the Doctor happens).

But really, this episode succeeds because of the little moments.  Everyone justifiably mentions the "free will" scene ("So not everything runs parallel...  Yes, of course, of course.  An infinity of universes, ergo an infinite number of choices.  So free will is not an illusion after all. The pattern can be changed."), which really is a nice moment (and, fannishly, one might suggest that this is the moment where he really realizes that maybe you can change history, even one line -- compare with his position in The Aztecs back in the first season).  But there are smaller moments that are just as nice: Petra's growing affection for Greg; Sir Keith's reaction upon being told it's "excellent" that he's still alive ("Well, yes, yes, I think so too"); the Brigadier's response to the Doctor's claims of being of sound mind and body ("I'm not sick, I'm not in need of a doctor, and I'm not a raving idiot!") being exactly that of someone humoring a person who is in fact a raving idiot; and the lovely little hug that Liz and the Doctor share after the drilling has been stopped.  Add to that the tension of the clock running in the background before the drilling stops, where we know what will happen if penetration zero is reached, and this is quite a good episode -- not quite the equal of the "disaster movie" of episodes 5 and 6, but still very good.

Inferno is really a game of two halves: the first four episodes are primarily arguments in various forms and in two separate places, which allows some of the arguments to be repeated across episodes.  They're not the most exciting thing ever, and frankly this story is lucky to have Douglas Camfield and Barry Letts directing things, as in lesser hands these episodes would probably fall very flat; as it is, they manage to stay entertaining even if a bit repetitive.  But the second half of Inferno is where things really shine.  The end of the world sequences are very well done, and the tension is ratcheted up to a high level and maintained throughout, to the point that there's a bleed-over of this into episode 7 that also benefits that part, even though there the world is simply in danger of being destroyed rather than past the point.  It's because of these last three episodes, combined with the aforementioned excellent direction, that Inferno ultimately succeeds.  Everything before is simply building up to the moment of penetration zero and the end of the world.

It's also a moment of transition; Inferno is the last story of season 7, which means it's our last look not only at Arabic numerals for episode numbers (they're all spelled out from here on out) but also, more importantly, our final look at Liz Shaw (which may not be apparent, as she doesn't get a leaving scene).  She'll be gone next season, partly because she's pregnant here and so wouldn't have been able to return anyway, but mainly because producer Barry Letts and script editor Terrance Dicks have decided that they need an assistant for the Doctor who's, to be frank, not very bright -- someone who the Doctor can therefore explain the plot to.  To be honest, they didn't seem to be having any problems doing that during this season, but nevertheless, it's the end of Liz Shaw, one of the smartest companions the Doctor ever had.  She really will be missed.

And so we say goodbye to season 7.  The shiny new color, new Doctor, and new format seems to have largely worked -- certainly they've largely halted the slow ratings slide the series had been experiencing prior to season 7, even if they haven't yet gained ground in this regard.  But more importantly, season 7 has shown that a new direction, with a different focus than before, can still be made to not only work but still be called Doctor Who.  It's not quite the same as it was, obviously, and it won't really be like '60s Who ever again, but that's one of the benefits of Doctor Who's format; even when they're essentially making a series of action-adventure serials in the same time and place instead of adventures throughout space and time, there's still enough there to maintain good faith with the show as it had been, while pointing the way forward for the future.  Season 7 had four strong stories (even if some people might complain that three of them are too long -- those people are wrong, by the way) to successfully relaunch Doctor Who in the 1970s.










Footnotes

52 Actually, why does Channing try to kidnap the Doctor?  Even if we assume that Channing's worked out from all the reporters and (possibly, though we don't see it) by listening to the hospital staff that the Doctor isn't human, that doesn't alone seem to be a very good reason to kidnap him.  It's not like he's hiding one of the special meteors or anything, and there doesn't seem to be an inherent need for them to have an alien for themselves.  It looks more like they needed a cliffhanger and forgot to give a reason why it happened.
53 Well, we call it a crisis, but to be fair all he's really got to go on at the moment he decides to try and take off is a piece of plastic that defies analysis.  He doesn't even know about the plastic factory shenanigans yet.  So from his point of view it's hardly the abandonment of his friends in a time of need that it's sometimes made out to be.
54 Better known as chroma key or blue-/green-screen.  CSO was the BBC term for this technique.
55 Though not, it should be pointed out, during the Silurian era, which is far too early for complex forms of life like the Silurians to be around.  To his credit, writer Malcolm Hulke figured this out and attempted to rectify the error in this story's sequel, The Sea Devils, which has the Doctor saying the Silurians should really be known as the Eocenes.   Of course, that doesn't really work either, as that seems to be rather too late for large reptile people to be walking the planet.  The books sidestepped the issue and settled for Earth Reptiles, while the BBC Wales series eventually went with Homo reptilia, when it can be bothered to remember.
56 Well, except that the thing everyone notices is that the guard who's "killed" at the gate in episode 4 appears to be alive and back at his post in episode 6, so the astronauts' touch might not always be fatal.  Of course, this is the same story that keeps killing Derek Ware, so maybe we shouldn't read too much into it.
57 In reality a heavy duty hand cleaner known as Swarfega.
58 Fandom tends to refer to it as "Venusian aikido", but this term isn't actually employed until The Green Death.