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Worst to Best

Doctor Who
Season 10 – Worst to Best


Season 10 has the cachet of an anniversary year, one in which two of its stories actively trade on the past and another utilises significant elements. As such, it’s the first indication of the series’ capacity for slavishly indulging the two-edged sword that is nostalgia, rather than simply bringing back ratings winners (the Daleks). It also finds the show at its cosiest, a vibe that had set in during the previous season, which often seemed to be taking things a little too comfortably. Season 10 is rather more cohesive, even as it signals the end of an era (with Jo’s departure). As a collection of stories, you perhaps wouldn’t call it a classic year, but as a whole, an example of the Pertwee UNIT era operating at its most confident, it more than qualifies.

Planet of the Daleks

A story you could (un)happily trot out as exhibit A under the most archetypal Doctor Who story. Or perhaps most rote would be fairer. Planet of the Daleks is exactly as uninspired and lifeless as its title makes it sound. That said, it probably is a great story for a six-year-old – invisible aliens, jungles, deadly plants, an army of Daleks frozen in ice – and it does function reasonably successfully as a novel (and it has a great Chris Achilleos cover – naturally, it must have been that exciting on telly!). There, Terrance Dicks could work his understated magic, lending derivative Terry Nation stodge a more epic, urgent and page-turning form.

Planet of the Daleks isn’t a story to actively dislike, however; it’s too turgid and inane to merit much reaction at all. I’ve usually given up the ghost by the end of the first episode, and there are still five to go in an autopilot Nation run around, one replete with cardboard characters and lifeless dramatics. Director David Maloney comes a rare cropper here, entirely unable to inject any oomph into the material. You can’t blame him for failing to make a silk purse out of the script, but it’s curious just how subpar the entire affair is. The jungle is about as convincing as the later one in Meglos, the Thal ship looks like it would fall apart if you lent on it, the deadly plants sound like The Young Ones’ Neil when he has a cold; about the only impressive design feature is the entrance to the city, offering a surprisingly effective sense of scale.

The Nation approach in the early Dalek stories may not be significantly more inspired, but there’s no sense that he’s simply going through the motions. Plus, there’s a solid TARDIS crew to see you through; the supporting Thals in The Daleks are no better drawn than here, and one might argue that in this case there are at least the memorable likes of Bernard Horsfall and Prentis Hancock. The TARDIS crew here is struggling. Pertwee’s at his most annoyingly moralistic, paternal and tutorial, offering instructions on the meaning of bravery and the need to avoid glorifying war one moment and announcing how he rather enjoyed killing a Dalek the next. Jo’s given a test-drive love interest of sorts, she showcases her most giddy excited voice (early in Episode Four) and during the first couple of episodes drops a tedious log. Neither are at their best.

Nation’s writing of the Thals looks creaky even by Who standards of the time, with Taron delivering a tirade to partner Rebec (Jane How) about how, if the Daleks win, it will be her fault for turning up on Spiridon and distracting him – in response to which, she dutifully admits she hadn’t looked at it that way! There’s lots of tiresome squabbling with Hancock’s Vaber; to be fair to him, while he may not be the most versatile of thesps, Hancock does deliver obnoxious with aplomb. Spiridon Wester is amiable enough, but really, he’s a test run for the following season’s Exxilon Bellal, who actually has a personality.

It’s difficult to come up with many outright positives for Planet of the Daleks. There are curiosities, like the handy console room bed that pulls out for Pertwee to collapse into. And there’s Terry’s all gold dialogue – “I am qualified in space medicine”, “… one of the nastiest pieces of space garbage in the ninth system”. But there’s very little I could actually label good. I suppose I quite like, in concept, the call-back to The Daleks, and the Doctor being a legendary figure (albeit, as soon as you broach that idea, your faced with Cartmel and nu-Who evidencing why it isn’t a good idea).

Still, while the Daleks are mostly as dull as they’ve ever been here, the best moments feature them. A Daleks is blown up by his boss (“The Supreme Council does not accept failure”) and earlier, when Wester suicides himself in order to release the deadly bacteria, the response of the Daleks in the vicinity is almost tragic in its heroic acceptance (“We cannot leave here. No one can enter. We cannot leave here. Never, never, never!”) Perhaps the Daleks should be on call for all plandemics. Perhaps they are.

Ironically, given the colourisation of Episode Three, Planet of the Daleks might have been better off as a 405-line black and white story, lending it antique allure more forgiving of the throwback script and production shortcomings. Which include one of the most jarring “matches” between studio and location work the series has seen (the Plain of Stones and ice pool in Episode Five). The realisation was brought to me on this viewing why Mark Gatiss likes the story so much (“For all its flaws, it’s kind of perfect”) – it’s about on a par with one of his own.

The Three Doctors

None of the celebratory (or even non-celebratory, in The Two Doctors‘ case) multi-Doctor stories fulfil their potential, but in the light of the shamelessly opportunistic JN-T era, there was a sense that this, the original you might say, was a respectable, worthy way of doing it. And in 1981, the first time I saw The Three Doctors, I was fully on board, particularly as I was treated to a second helping (after The Krotons) of the very funny, kid-friendly second Doctor.

The harsh light of VHS, DVD, and now Blu-ray, has subsequently revealed something entirely less precious. Serviceable at best, The Three Doctors mostly gets by on the (now not so) novelty of Troughton and Pertwee’s interplay, but the rest of it, from the Bristol Boys’ script – generally I’m positive about Bob Baker and Dave Martin, less so on this occasion – to the slipshod direction, is a bargain-basement anniversary present.

The essential design of Omega and even the Gell Guards is solid (well, I like them, and their burbling is quite delightful), and the effect of the black hole, though fairly rudimentary, is effective. But this is a case where an antimatter universe, depicted via the most unforgiving of BBC quarries – even more so than Colony in Space, which was at least all about mining – really rubs your nose in the standard charges against the series of being cheap tack. When we’re granted access to Omega’s palatial abode, which Mayne conceives as a bog-standard studio set with some accompanying ’70s glitter, the sense of the underwhelming is only compounded by the Doctor remarking how impressive it is.

Still, you can forgive a thousand cheap sets if the story’s good and the characters are engaging. Unfortunately, while Omega has an iconic visual underpinned by suitably mythical status, everything else about his realisation is underwhelming, from Stephen Thorne’s typically one-note delivery, to his unimpressively colloquial turn of phrase (“It is, as you might say, mind over antimatter”), to his rather unfortunate lack of self-awareness concerning his material status, thus preceding Terry Nation’s eyepatch gaffe by several years (he’s never taken his mask off before?)

Omega doesn’t even work as a demiurgic force, a fallen angel deriving his own stagnant creation, since he functions as a great nothing, populating his realm with nothing. Even more than that, the reveal that the secrets of time travel required conquering is a bit of a disillusion, more than Omega being a damp squib: the idea that Time Lords were just average joes rather than being born into a particular affinity or aptitude. If nothing else, though, Omega’s repeated references to “brother Time Lord” did at least give me cause to wonder what this would have been like, had Mac Hulke penned it.

The Time Lords here are really very dull, so when Johnny Byrne was ripping off The Deadly Assassin for Arc of Infinity, he was evidently also looking this way for their characterisation. As for the rest of the cast, it’s glaringly obvious, when you know it, that Sergeant Benton’s filling in for Frazer Hines not being able to get time off Emmerdale Farm; John Levene notably seems much more at ease with Troughton than his regular lead.

The Brigadier is being especially blithering even by his standards, unable to fathom a reality stretch too far (“I’m fairly sure that’s Cromer”). The two guest parts of Dr Tyler and Mr Ollis are as basic and inessential as they come. Jo is there to rally the Doctors when needed, and while you can count her fortunate that randy Jamie didn’t meet her, it’s a shame she didn’t get more time to spend with Trout (“He’s so sweet”). And Billy, well. I guess Mayne ensures Hartnell’s pre-recorded inserts are reasonably well timed, so it doesn’t all look too forlorn and bereft.

There’s definitely a show-don’t-tell element to Time Lord myth, as evidenced by Rassilon being far more impressive before we got to see him in The Five Doctors (a bit like showing the old guy under Darth Vader’s helmet, or as a child and petulant teenager, come to that). All Omega really has going for him, on both his appearances, are cool costumes. Ironically, his best showing comes via the slow-motion demonic encounter the Third Doctor has on whatever plane it is of the solar engineer’s choosing (until Tat Wood mentioned it, I wasn’t even aware of a controversy about the personification of the dark side of his mind, that it was “the sequence most often criticised in this story” for the idea that “the equal-and-opposite force has within himself equal-and-opposite forces”). It’s the one moment where Mayne, aside from a spurious Dutch angle in the quarry, seems to be putting thought into the presentation. As for Dudley Simpson, he’s in electronic dirge mode, with variably insufferable results.

I do quite like The Three Doctors, though, as slipshod and testing of patience as it is at times (what a surprise Troughton’s recorder is important; he only keeps wittering on about it every episode). Mayne manages to divest the proceedings of dramatic tension and visual flair – the by-this-time departed Michael Ferguson might have been a better bet, or perhaps swapping stories with David Maloney would have helped – such that the first episode, which ought to be leaking Deadly Assassin or Logopolitan foreboding, is utterly without atmosphere. Still, Pat and Pert just about keep The Three Doctors afloat.

Carnival of Monsters

Carnival of Monsters has one of the best premises of any Doctor Who story. It’s also, as has been pointed out by many a reviewer, the point where self-awareness becomes a thing for the show. But as replete with inventiveness and trademark Bob Holmes characters as it is, it never quite sustains itself for me; it’s a classic of the mind rather than in actuality, a classic of a Target cover or its Five Faces of Doctor Who self.

I tend to put that partly down to the drab Inter Minorians and their afterthought overthrow-the-president plot; the actors are very good, Peter Halliday in particular, but in contrast to the Miniscope scenes, Barry Letts seems to have few ideas to enliven their static conversations and limited set. They don’t grind the story to a halt like the Vogans a few years later – the drollery of the writing prevents that – but they emphasise that Carnival of Monsters can’t quite sustain its peaks.

OrumOne has no wish to be devoured by alien monstrosities, even in the case of political progress.

It was certainly the Five Faces of Doctor Who story that most grabbed me; anything trading on the idea of “real” mysteries and the unexplained, as in the puzzler of the SS Bernice, was an instant winner (as much as The Legend of Boggy Creek, shown on BBC2 a month later). And that was before the Drashigs showed up. Indeed, the first two episodes are near perfect, establishing the world of the scope – the loop on the SS Bernice frustrating the Doctor and Jo’s efforts to work out what is going on – and the Inter Minorians’ frosty reception of travelling entertainers Vorg and Shirna.

VorgWe’re just simple strolling players.

But however commendable the cited parallels between imperialist and racist attitudes on Inter Minor and those on the Bernice are, and the cleverness of the zoo exhibits conceit, Holmes can’t quite thread it to an outcome that matters and has stakes. At least, not in terms of foiling a coup (the Bernice transported home is a different matter). The Drashig on the loose should be a showstopper but is instead somewhat perfunctory (the Doctor and the TARDIS growing to normal size are more memorable).

There seems to be an attitude among some of those critiquing the story (Elizabeth Sandifer, Tat Wood) that you’d be mad or lacking in taste/ faculties not to see this as one of the very best stories, and certainly the best Pertwee, on the basis of its sheer cleverness in its “witty and knowing wink” at its audience (The Discontinuity Guide). Perhaps because it’s so evidently tailored to those who might exult in “getting” something others don’t, because they too are as clever as it is, it’s seen as the perfect marriage; Sandifer’s review even spends disproportionate time moaning about why the story hasn’t been rated higher in polls.

JoJust like goldfish in a bowl, aren’t they? Round and round forever.

It falls a little short of such claimed heights and the issue of its relative popularity is, I suspect, as much down to Letts’ make-do direction as its failure to build to a satisfying climax. There are some spangly bad-taste costumes, and the Drashig world has a sweltering ’70s summer glow to draw the eye, but the praise of Letts’ work is the dependable stuff of a Functionary meeting technical challenges, rather than truly noteworthy. And he may have fretted about bald wigs, but the Functionaries never once look like anything but extras in terrible masks, and he didn’t ask for them to be edited out.

VorgOur purpose is to amuse, simply to amuse. Nothing serious, nothing political.

It’s to Holmes’ credit that Carnival of Monsters’ commentary isn’t straining for importance the way Vengeance on Varos later does, or over-announcing itself as per Holmes’ own The Two Doctors. The Miniscope is television as the modern Roman Arena goes the analogy (and the Doctor was instrumental in getting them banned). Vorg and Shirna are effectively the Doctor and Jo. Vorg, like the Doctor and the TARDIS, came into possession of the scope and doesn’t really know how it works. Vorg is also the one who “saves the day” in the traditional sense, blasting the Drashig, even if he’s also the one that brought it there. And Chery Hall was considered as companion before Manning was cast? I could see that.

The DoctorThese creatures may look like chickens, but for all we know, they’re the intelligent lifeforms on this planet.

Other things I took away from this viewing: I rather like that the logistics (of the scope) don’t make much sense, in a manner whereby, if you stop and think about it, it’s all a bit batty. In the same ballpark as The Invisible Enemy, even. The overview of the little people in the scope is very much The Perishers’ “Eyeballs in the sky”. Shirna’s space costume removal has a whiff of the Barbarella striptease, but for U certificate viewing. “My uncle hasn’t been very well” is a very Lolita-syndrome explanation for Jo wandering around with an old guy. “… the scope’s, er, omega circuit is broken” would surely never have happened, had this been filmed after The Three Doctors. The Dudley Simpson electroplonk on Inter Minor is as grim as his Three Doctors work. “Some race called, um, Daleks I think” isn’t exactly the universally-notorious threat Terry Nation would have sanctioned. The chickens chat is very similar to the Holmes-edited cow talk in Image of the FendahlCarnival of Monsters’ purpose is simply to amuse, ultimately; let’s not overstate it. It does that admirably.

The Green Death

You could always rely on Barry Letts (in tandem with Robert Sloman) to wear his heart on his sleeve, which means there isn’t much subtlety to The Green Death, be that the all-out assault on environment-guzzling big business or the portrayal of the Welsh (still, the latter may be stereotypical and patronising – and a sure way to suggest thick yokels is have them instinctively touch a surely-hazardous glowing green substance – but there’s nothing quite as acute as “Can you no send over a few haggis?”) You might argue there’s no need, or call, for that when it comes to the planet-imperilling activities of Global Chemicals, but it might have made for a more satisfying – certainly more grounded – story if BOSS and Stevens had any plan besides hoping the by-products of their waste disposal didn’t catch the public eye.

Cliff JonesMore muck! More devastation! More death!

Arguably, aided by a wonderfully haughty vocal performance from John Dearth, BOSS is veering increasingly off his trolley, due to Stevens’ “human factor” and a resultant yen for inefficiency. But you still might expect him to think a bit more about long-term containment if he wants to sustain his business empire (if the disposal measures were going to take another ten years to come out, rather than ten minutes, that might have been more convincing). But then, he doesn’t seem to be much of a computer at all, if the Doctor is able to confuse him with an old standard of a riddle. But then (again), this is a script that opts for the aforementioned glowing, luminous green toxic waste, rather than, you know, some corrosive black gunk.

As an early AI bent on dominion – or “efficiency, productivity and profit for Global Chemicals” – BOSS is nevertheless one of the most memorable of mad computers, certainly the more so for being lent a sense of humour. And perhaps he simply believes, not without some reason, he can’t lose. In Letts and Sloman’s scheme of hierarchies, UNIT is very rudely trailing the political and corporate, so occupying a much less ambivalent space to Season Seven. As such, they are put very firmly in their place when it comes to the prioritisation of big business, the PM telling the Brigadier where to put his suggestion for an international investigation of Global Chemicals.

StevensYou have convinced me that you are an arrant sensation monger, a political hothead, and a scientific charlatan. Giant maggots indeed!

In The Green Death’s considerable favour, and as per the best of an era that frequently suffered from protracted plots, we’re furnished with well-sketched-out supporting characters. And for about the first half of the story, at least, a plot that unfolds at a measured and intriguing pace. Like his superior, Jerome Willis’ Stevens makes for easily one of the period’s best villains, regularly having his brainwash topped up by BOSS – the general set up has a touch of Invasion about it, just without, you know, an invasion – and even allowed a moment of redemption at the end. That said, BOSS’ taunting characterisation of Stevens as “a good little Nietzschean” is a bit on the nose, if entirely in keeping with the general tenor.

Ben Hinks is a suitably brutal heavy as Hinks, doubtless in need of no treatment as an impetus to dirty work, and Tony Adams registers as sympathetic Global Chemicals staffer Elgin, at least until he gets written out. Sufficient care is taken to ensure the staff are memorable, Roy Skelton excepted, so the contrast with the previous story’s stock types couldn’t be starker. Ray Handy makes an impression too, as a lippy milkman.

Cliff: Your Bert, he was unique. In the whole history of the world, there’s never been anybody just like Bert. And there’ll never be another, even if the world lasts for a hundred million centuries.

And then there’s Stewart Bevan, Katy Manning’s then beau, as Professor Clifford Jones, Jo Grant’s future beau. It’s a testament to Bevan’s likeability that he struggles valiantly through reams of standard-issue idealism, and an obsession with fungus/ spores/ shrooms that could inspire a drinking game. And appropriately, given the overt comparisons made, his eulogy to Bert is almost Doctorish.

I’m unsure that Jo’s clumsiness saving the day is really a companion characteristic to relish (at least Victoria screaming, as an accidental means of defeating the enemy, was proactive in Fury from the Deep). Added to which, she nearly gets her husband-to-be killed (meaning he becomes the damsel in distress). But generally, as these things go, hers is a much better wrought exit for a companion than the series’ tendency.

Indeed, you’d be forgiven for assigning exactly the kind of insufferable romantic noodlings of nu-Who’s Doctor-companion relationships to this – and some have, as not-without-precedent justification – so obsessive is the Doctor over the loss of someone he holds dear. Initially, he seems sanguine (“So, the fledgling has flown the nest”), but when confronted by the competition for her affections, he goes full-on obstructive, strong arming Cliff to talk science so he and Jo can’t get cosy (which in turn directly imperils Jo, there being a malignant maggot on the premises). This is mostly a pretty good story for Pertwee, despite the focus on Manning’s exit, what with the classic slipping into the night and opportunities for donning disguises, Carry On… style (“A big, fine strapping girl, she is” he testifies of “Rosie”).

The DoctorThe best? I think you’ll find, Mr Yates, that this is the worst day’s work the world has seen for many, many years.

It’s a good one for the Brigadier too (I love his thick as they come “Cheap petrol and lots of it. Exactly what the world needs!”) Less so Mike Yates, as he may be given a more significant role than usual, but it only exposes that Richard Franklin’s playing is no one’s idea of an effective, discplined operative (then there’s that bizarre bit where the Doctor attacks him and then berates him – “There’s no time for horseplay” – suggesting Yates did a purposeful comedy collapse).

Michael E Briant does good work on The Green Death for the most part, given the effects limitations a writer-producer should surely have realised were not likely to be convincingly overcome. So yeah, rowing through a river of slime is a disaster, and the giant fly is a joke.

On the other hand, the Metebelis 3 jaunt is outstanding – it looks fantastic, filmed at night with a blue filter lending a suitably weird atmosphere that’s entirely absent when four-square Barry revisits the planet in a studio the following season. It’s also a very funny sequence (the massive bird claw descending towards the camera). The mine shaft sets are decently lit, the maggots are effectively realised, for the most part, with the one that attacks Hinks even announcing that they’re not as immobile as one might assume (Briant would revisit that for Revenge of the Cybermen). And the blue crystal deconditioning effects are great too, just the kind of thing you want from early-70s Who.

Sandifer would have it that the Sloman scripts are all dreadful, but their patchwork quilt of contemporaneity is their whole appeal, even if they are clumsy in places. I’m also entirely unpersuaded by her complaints regarding the blue crystal ex machina to decondition Mike (“psychedelia is shoehorned in with the sort of subtlety usually reserved for sending in idiotic bureaucrats in episode three or four to help stretch out a six parter”). If there hadn’t been a blue crystal, a more straightforward method of de/hypnosis would have been called upon; it isn’t nearly as significant as she thinks it is. The “under alien control” trope is so oft used, and recovery from it so frequent, that it neither needs nor deserves great labouring to justify it.

The DoctorYou’ve seen where this efficiency leads. Wholesale pollution of the countryside. Devilish creatures spawned by the filthy by-products of your technology. Men walking around like brainless vegetables. Death. Disease. Destruction. 

Mostly, The Green Death is able to cover for the fact that it doesn’t have a great deal of new ground to break after the fourth episode and has become rather circular (the entertainment value of BOSS helps a lot). And if it doesn’t say much for the Doctor’s nous that he resorts once again (see The Silurians) to broad-spectrum antibiotics in the face of insoluble problems, it’s good to know we leave Cliff on the verge of not only providing work for the valley but also food for all the world! (With regard to Sandifer’s take on Cliff and his dictatorial persuasions being not so different than BOSS… well, I think Cliff’s actually just young and enthusiastic. Rather than, you know, bent on enforcing his ideals through world domination. In a decade’s time he’ll have gone all The Big Chill, possibly event to the extent of “growing up” and getting a job with a conglomerate to support his and Jo’s sixteen kids.) Barry Letts may have despaired of where we were going, but he wasn’t going to leave young viewers doing likewise… until they were all grown up, anyway.

Frontier in Space

I’ve seen Frontier in Space few enough times that I tend to get caught in the trap of assuming I must have been wrong when others remark how boring it is; there are enough Pertwee stories that really do drag that I’m quite probably mistaken. But then I watch it again and I realise that no, I was correct in the first place; it really does move along compellingly and with a keen sense of pace. And if the other criticism, that it’s six episodes of the Doctor and Jo being locked up by various parties, is, if you want to be merciless, a fair one, it’s also unfair in distracting from everything else going on above and beyond that.

Indeed, my criticisms of the story are really two-fold (I won’t go on about the confused last few minutes and the plastic bag Ogron monster, as I doubt anyone disagrees that neither is particularly successful). Firstly, there’s the Master’s fear machine. The final episode actually illustrates the conceptual issue here, when Jo sees a succession of monsters that comprise those that scare her the most. So if it works that way for her, it’s highly unlikely that both humans and Draconians would uniformly respond with the other race as the party they’re most unnerved by. There’d surely be a giant spider or two, or a tax inspector. There might have been a way to tidy this up with technobabble, but as it stands, it’s a bit beneath the more mature themes Hulke is attempting to tackle.

Which is also why the background to the Earth-Draconia war doesn’t bear much scrutiny. Sure, one might buy that General Williams was entirely ignorant of Draconian customs, and that ships didn’t have sensors to detect when missile bays were full, but that aside, the notion that – despite mutually friendly contact for years – there has been no communication in the two decades since regarding the mistaken conclusions that sparked it is absurd (as much so as the Draconian prince having to look the case up, rather than it being taught in every school; the way it is presented is, after all a perpetuated misunderstanding, rather than express propaganda).

But pretty much everything else here works like gangbusters. I’ve found Paul Bernard’s previous work on the show patchy to say the least (there’s some great stuff in Day of the Daleks, and also areas where he really drops the ball), but he keeps Frontier in Space zipping along, handles the effects work well (including weightless scenes that succeed much better than they probably should) and manages to avoid making us feel we’re simply moving from one “prison” set to the next (well, except for those of who feel exactly that).

He does, however, seem to have had an almost Paul Joyce-ian propensity to take all the credit. It seems that not only did he design the Ogrons (they were dog-like in the script), but he came up with the look of the Draconians too, and John Friedlander was just some incidental guy who did the easy hack job of making the masks. Pertwee’s oft noted for hating the Daleks and rating the Draconians as the best of his monsters/aliens, and it’s very easy to see why, since they exude class: not only a memorable and coherent design (and costuming), but also masks that facilitate a proper performance (notably from John Woodnutt as the Emperor and Peter Birrell as his son). We should be grateful nu-Who hasn’t got hold of them and stunningly “improved” them, the way they have the Silurians and Zygons.

As for the Ogrons – who are racist creations, apparently, which is a… curious take – they remain an inspired piece of alien muscle, making up for a lack of Dalek props, while offering a simultaneously impressively hulking and amusingly dense presence (it’s interesting to note Stephen Thorne reduced to an extra presence here, having played lead villains in two earlier stories).

Much of their effectiveness – or ineffectiveness, depending on how you look at it – derives from Roger Delgado, in his last but possibly most entertaining performance as the Master (obviously, his rather sudden exit from the story is less than satisfying). He continually mocks their stupidity (“Great bumbling idiots!”) but reserves similarly dismissive opinions on their masters (“Stupid tin boxes”). In fairness, his appraisal of the latter is entirely deserved, since they agree to allow the Master to keep the Doctor alive through the slimmest of reasoning – “to see the galaxy in ruins” – and then have him returned to them for execution. Dizzy Daleks.

The MasterPoor Doctor. Enmeshed in the throes of bureaucracy.

To be honest, watching Delgado in this has entirely the opposite effect to the intended one; I’m rooting for him to win through, running rings round all parties and seeming entirely at home throwing his weight around in the 26th century (and pointing out the Doctor’s “usual sickening lovability”). He doesn’t appear until Episode Three, and it’s a testament to Hulke that you aren’t missing him until he arrives, but once he does, you can’t see the story surviving without him.

He comes fully armed with a series of Earth colloquialisms (“To coin a phrase, I’ve come to take you away from all this”; “Thank you miss Grant, we’ll let you know”; “… as the old song says, ‘Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home'”), and is particularly appealing for not trying to kill the Doctor and Jo (and even saving them; on which note, this is a better Jo story than it is a Doctor one). Added to which, his list of made-up crimes perpetrated by the Doctor is most amusing (they include stealing a spaceship and piloting it without tax and insurance!)

Michael Hawkins and Vera Fusek as the at-odds General Williams and the Earth President respectively are reliable presences, if perhaps a little stiff at times. Draconia similarly posits an Emperor (John Woodnutt) who doesn’t go unchallenged. The depiction of the Lunar Penal Colony is one of almost casual corruption. And, as intimated, the Master seems to fit right at home in this cosmic milieu. Thus, the real achievement with the planet hopping of Frontier in Space is the sense of a functioning galaxy.

The Pertwee era is dotted with different future time zones, most revolving around an Earth empire (Colony in SpaceThe Curse of PeladonThe Mutants), and while it isn’t stressed, there’s a feeling that there’s a loose continuity between them. The only other time you vaguely get a sense of such connective tissue is in the Saward Cybermen and Dalek stories. Here, we have a more astutely sketched version of the Federation vs Klingons impasse of Star Trek, but these six episodes also offer a chance to see a future of nuance, where the enemy maybe martial, but they are not unreasoning, while Earth has totalitarian trappings (banishing political prisoners to the Moon, a subplot that, as Paul Cornell noted in DWM’s The Complete Third Doctor, is singular for the Doctor not saving the day and releasing anyone; he simply lets it be).

PatelYou are a political, aren’t you?

Hulke had in mind the idea of a third-party capitalising on tensions between the USA and USSR with false-flag events; while personifying that third party as the Master makes the idea rather less ornate, the concept itself, of profit of whatever sort from engineering war, is one that’s ever relevant, and you don’t need to be actively conspiratorial to see how it works. True, Frontier in Space can’t really extend itself to making its galaxy stop-offs look more than they are – the National Theatre, a sandpit, some basic studio sets – but that matters very little, thanks to the effort in establishing character and motivation. One of the most underrated stories of its era.

Blu-ray Extras


The Three Doctors

The extras on this set are, shall we say, variable. The making of docs tend to the functional rather than especially memorable, and The Three Doctors is no exception. Looking for Lennie, an attempt by Toby Hadoke to personably reach an insight into the man by interviewing those who knew him (including Bernard Cribbins and later series director Andrew Morgan) is a nice idea, but ends up rather flat and over extended. I couldn’t make it through a single of this set of Behind the Sofas, a combination of banal wittering from nu-Who personnel and an allergic response to the excruciating presence that is John Levene, complete with highly-alarming, high-visibility socks.

Carnival of Monsters

The documentary for Carnival is reasonable, despite the “bit of fun” presentation style. Dicks is good value on its origins and how he didn’t think the structure worked as Holmes originally devised it (the first episode was all set on the ship).

Frontier in Space

The documentary is a bit scrappy and doesn’t really do the story credit (it’s under twenty minutes). I wasn’t going to put myself through that future-history gubbins again, particularly not an extended version. The Roger Delgado tribute is rather splendid, though, and blessed with lots of clips of the man in action.

Planet of the Daleks

Unless another Perfect Scenario is your cup of tea, fairly light again. The Rumble in the Jungle is only fifteen minutes and barely justifies that. The highlight by far is Stripped for Action on the Century 21 Daleks stories, possibly the best of these variable features on the comic strips; often, there’s a feeling that more depth could be applied, but this one seems about right, and the enthusiasm of those discussing them is infectious.

The CGI effects for Planet… Well, I guess the ice cave long shot of the army of Daleks is a decent enough improvement, but frankly, the Thal ship taking off is terrible, and the original is vastly superior.

The Green Death

The One With the Maggots doc is quite watchable, with Dicks telling how Barry announced “We’re doomed, Terrance” and Briant’s account of the departure of Manning suggesting that maybe Dicks did get teary eyed like Bidders says he did (“I heard Terrance Dicks sniffle and it wasn’t because he had a cold like normal”).

Katy and Stewart started off a bit too excruciatingly upbeat for me, but it includes some decent interviews with locals reminiscing over their day in the sun with the production team.

The big VAM entry is Ed Stradling’s Doctor Who and the Third Man, an overview of the era presented by Matthew Sweet, utilising mostly archive interview material but allowing for Moffat and Gatiss to pop up at intervals and offer their two penn’orth. They’re quite engaging, particularly the latter’s genuine love of an oft-criticised era (I’m sure the Moff would really have preferred to massacre it), and certainly much more valued here as harmless contributors, than stuffing up the actual show. That said, no amount of testimony as to its originality and inspiration can actually make The Three Doctors a gem.

The Consensus


A few notable poll placings over the years

DWM 1998/09/14

1. The Green Death (36, 39, 30)
2. The Three Doctors (33, 58, 51)
3. Carnival of Monsters (60, 62, 64)
4. Frontier in Space (63, 113, 127)
5. Planet of the Daleks (100, 118, 123)

Outpost Gallifrey 2003

1. The Green Death (31)
2. Carnival of Monsters (57)
3. The Three Doctors (62)
4. Frontier in Space (88)
5. Planet of the Daleks (111)

DWB 1985/87/89

1. The Green Death (25, 30, 35)
2. The Three Doctors (38, 33, 34)
3. Frontier in Space (34, 43, 44)
4. Carnival of Monsters (70, 63, 81)
5. Planet of the Daleks (77, 96, 84)

Addendum 29/04/23:

DWM 1998/09/14/23

1. The Green Death (36, 39, 30, 2/24)
2. The Three Doctors (33, 58, 51, 5/24)
3. Carnival of Monsters (60, 62, 64, 7/24)
4. Frontier in Space (63, 113, 127, 17/24)
5. Planet of the Daleks (100, 118, 123, 18/24)

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