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Worst to Best

Doctor Who
Season 8 – Worst to Best


I’m not sure I’d watched Season 8 chronologically before. While I have no hesitation in placing it as the second-best Pertwee season, based on its stories, I’m not sure it pays the same dividends watched as a unit. Simply, there’s too much Master, even as Roger Delgado never gets boring to watch and the stories themselves offer sufficient variety. His presence, turning up like clockwork, is inevitably repetitive. There were no particular revelatory reassessments resulting from this visit, then, except that, taken together – and as The Directing Route extra on the Blu-ray set highlights – it’s often much more visually inventive than what would follow. And that Michael Ferguson should probably have been on permanent attachment throughout this era.

 Colony in Space

Very few of the complaints about this Mac Hulke effort are unearned, particularly the charge that the Doctor finally escapes the confines of Earth, setting foot on an alien world again, only to land in your archetypal BBC quarry (albeit, it may have inspired Sir Ridders with the Alien prequels). In the middle of a particularly grey, drab winter. And the story, a miners versus colonists tale – the miners aren’t the good guys, but don’t worry, give it a couple of seasons – is about turgid as it gets, despite the Hulke twiddles of theme and content. Even Michael E Briant, one of the ’70s more formidable directors, seems rather at a loss on how to up the excitement ante. You’d have thought the Master’s arrival in Episode Four could only enliven proceedings. But not really, no.

MartinI suppose you’re an expert in agriculture? 
The DoctorYes. Yes, as a matter of fact, I am. 

Perhaps, if it had concentrated on ripping off the previous year’s Beneath the Planet of the Apes wholesale, rather than scrabbling about in the dirt of land rights and John Ford, Colony in Space would have been rather different. As it is, there are only so many riffs on good guys forcing the bad guys to surrender and bad guys forcing the good guys to surrender over the course of six episodes one can take, along with the same episode ending repeated ad nauseum, and Jo proving possibly the biggest idiot of any companion ever.

MorganLook, Caldwell’s found us a colonist. I wonder why he’s wearing fancy dress? 
Dent:  All colonists are eccentric, Morgan, otherwise they wouldn’t be colonists. 

Positives include the ever-reliable Bernard Kay as sympathetic miner Caldwell and Morris Perry as unsympathetic boss Dent (he looks like he’s auditioning for UFO); his response to Caldwell’s concern over the settlers’ craft potentially blowing up on the ground is the amusingly dispassionate “Make sure all IMC personnel are clear of the area before take-off, will you?” Roy Skelton is memorably horrid as miner spy Norton, added to which, he bears a strong resemblance to John Peel. Tony Caunter is complete tosser Morgan (in the role earmarked for kinky Susan Jameson).

The MasterYou know the Crab Nebula? 
The DoctorThe cloud of cosmic matter that was once a sun? Of course. 
The MasterThat was the result of the super race testing this weapon.

There’s a notable mud fight in Episode Six (Briant’s bright idea), and any drama ebbs away with the consuming thought of how grim and cold and wet it must have been filming it. The alien designs are pretty good, in their way. The primitives, I mean. Mr Walnut Head priest is less compelling, and Mini-Walnut Head less so still (and worse, may well have been an inspiration for shrivelled cousin Moloch in Blake’s 7). As alien species go, though, Hulke clearly didn’t care much for making them interesting or coherent.

GuardianThere is a self-destructor mechanism. You will please operate it. 
The DoctorNot only does justice prevail on your planet, sir, but also infinite compassion. 

Their conception, however, of degeneration whereby a “super race became priests of a lunatic religion worshipping machines instead of gods” is remarkably similar to the mutated cult of nuke worshippers in Beneath the Planet of the Apes. No one comes across well during these alien interactions, with the Doctor offering sycophantic praise of Mini-Walnut Head, who blows his people up on a whim, while the debate/test involving the Doctor and the Master makes The Daemons look philosophically wrought. The superweapon business is all very Starkiller Base too, but really, the Master’s universal ransom scheme in Logopolis carries more oomph. Which is saying something.

Mrs MartinAt least it’s better than being back on Earth. 
MartinOh, I don’t know. Things weren’t so bad there. 
Mrs MartinWeren’t they? No room to move, polluted air, not a blade of grass left on the planet and a government that locks you up if you think for yourself. 

Hulke clearly feels the description of an overcrowded, polluted, choked Earth, though, along with everything he was encouraged to speak out against as a vigilant Marxist. Which may be why he creates his own Hegelian dialectic, one to be resolved by the state (the Adjudicator) or one representing a higher state (the Doctor, on behalf of the Time Lords). Of whom, they’re already showing up with Moffat levels of indiscipline as cheap gimmicks. It’s funny that this is the second appearance of “Gallifrey”, and it’s utterly forgettable.

The DoctorNo, I will not join you in your absurd dreams of a galactic conquest. 

Elsewhere, we glimpse an early (or late-period) example of Project Bluebeam, only an alien iguana rather than an invading fleet. “Don’t worry, Jim’ll fix it” ought to be an example of the Mandela Effect, since it seems for all the world like a joke in respect of one of Prince Charles and Maggie’s bestest chums evah. The chance to show the inside of the Master’s TARDIS is very disappointing (filing cabinets?) But then, this is a pretty barrel-scraping appearance on his part. The idea of mistaking the Spanish ambassador for him is amusing, though. And the two distinct bookend scenes of the Brigadier, rather than being filmed at the same time, are curious but gratifying; when it’s done in a very obvious way (Underworld), it’s rather irritating.

CaldwellAre you some kind of scientist? 
The DoctorI’m every kind of scientist. Now, if you’ll excuse me. 

I watched Colony in Space again in three chunks, which seemed the only fair way to give it a chance. It isn’t an awful story, but it’s determinedly beige. Or grey. The first couple of episodes are consequently the best, but by the fifth, the repetitions have taken over and there’s a sense of Hulke tearing at his hair in an attempt to fill the remaining length. Even as a title, Colony in Space is less than scintillating. The story isn’t, however, inept (like, say, The Monster of Peladon). It’s just colourless and drab.

The Mind of Evil

The Master is first introduced as the kind of guy the CIA would put on the payroll in a moment, so it makes sense that, in The Mind of Evil, he’s operating as a one-man (okay, several man, if you include the soon-to-expire Kettering) MkUltra. Elizabeth Sandifer (naturellement) would have you believe The Mind of Evil is not only racist – all Doctor Who is racist, inherently so, particularly the Chibnall era – but also “this script is firmly in favour of the Keller Machine”. Yes, of course it is.

The DoctorHe’s the last man to undergo the Keller process and you can see what it’s done to him. He’s got the mind of a child. 

Obviously, the Doctor is entirely pro the process (above) and there’s no implicit criticism at all in Kettering’s “He will take his place as a useful, if lowly, member of society”. So yes, Sandifer is being ever nonsensical – the Doctor is clearly unimpressed by what it does to Barnham, reducing him as it does to an infantile state, but Sandifer needs an axe to grind to reinforce the racism charge. Of which… well, I’d like to think the Mao comment was the same obvious wind up as Tubby Rowlands in Terror of the Autons, but this isthe era of Marxist Mac – you know, a commie who could actually write, unlike the later Cartmel – and Buddhist Bazza, so I wouldn’t put it past them giving a nod and a wink to the Cultural Revolution.

The DoctorWhen Emil Keller installed his machine at Stangmoor prison, he had a Chinese girl with him as an assistant. 
The BrigadierIt could be coincidence. 
The DoctorCoincidence, my foot. You’d better put out a general alert for that Chinese girl, Brigadier. She’s got to be found and quick!

But yes, the story generally goes out of its way to be respectful to the Chinese, give or take the occasional blunder (above) There’s even a surprisingly sophisticated crap “Chinese” joke (below). If there’s something to be made out of the general themes of the story and the Chinese connection – beyond Houghton angling for wifey to be cast – it’s The Manchurian Candidate. Only, rather than Chinese culprits, or “imperialist Americans”, the brainwashing is down to Gallifreyans. That’s amid the Clockwork Orange-esque “rehabilitation” of criminals (the movie came out at the opposite end of the year) and the spectre of transhumanism that would blossom, so to speak, in Michael Crichton’s The Terminal Man and its inhibitor (later to be modelled by sex-pest Gan in Blake’s 7).

Here, the intervention of the machine either kills or renders its victims bereft of “evil” – so like Tommy in Planet of the Spiders, or Condo in The Brain of Morbius (“Barnham like Jo. Jo pretty”). Or Bernard Bresslaw. Which is all a way of saying science is bad for you. The Doctor may have been pumping peasants full of antibiotics last season, but the stuff of Rockefeller science (“That’s wrong, wrong metabolism. It’d probably kill me”) and that of “psychology” is inherently bad news. Making it all too easy for a complete villain to pose as a benefactor and dupe another into such experimentation, even more so to inflict it upon the prison system.

The DoctorFu Peng? He must be Hokien.
The BrigadierNo, no, no, Doctor. He’s Chinese. Now, come along.

Another element Sandifer gets hung up on is the story’s conception of evil. Yeah, it’s overcooked, as the word’s use always is in the show. Ironically – since he’s a scientist – Summers puts it better when he says of Barnham, “It’s extracted all the negative impulses from his brain”. About Time identifies that there isn’t much rhyme or reason to the machine’s actions, sucking and inflicting in equal measure, but the use of “evil’ is more about lazy shorthand than a misplaced term per se (except those who, “scientifically”, deny such a gauge on the spectrum, or even a spectrum). Of course, another interpretation is that this mind parasite is an archon, feeding off the negatives and horrors of man (it even has an all-seeing and defining eye), one repelled by the very idea of someone (Tommy-Barnham) who offers nothing to sup upon.

It’s certainly interesting how both the Brigadier and Mailer are unnerved by Barnham, suggesting that any who don’t fit in with the archonic system are inherently destined to be rebuked by those most immersed in it (always providing they don’t bring out their mothering instinct). I can’t help think Eric Saward would have loved this, with its Sweeney-esque hard nut Mailer (William Marlowe is outstanding, throwing “hell” bombs left, right and centre, a counterbalance to the Doctor’s odd seeming – for Maoist atheism – “May God go with you”, and making an excellent Master accomplice). He’d particularly have plumbed for killing poor Barnham so unnecessarily, which I can only ascribe to TV morality decreeing lack of forgiveness for the reformed villain.

Other assorted notes. About Time’s observation about Dudley electronica posing as actual instruments come acutely into play here. There’s a sense of Letts doing charity work casting someone hopeless (John Levene) and someone completely inappropriate (Richard Franklin) in key roles. Camp Captain Yates goes from self-conscious height (“She’s quite a dolly”) to height (“action” Yates). At one point, he even sounds like he’s going gearing up to give Benton a ruddy good spanking. The sinister materialising machine has a certain Trek-esque quality, but ultimately suggests more fear potential than is delivered.

The MasterRight, pay attention. I’ll show you how to get it. Now, that is Thunderbolt. It’s a gas missile, nuclear powered and British, of course. 
MailerOf course. 

Generally, Combe does a solid work. I particularly like the dissolve from the sweatily unconscious Doctor to the Master in Episode Four. And the hyper-frenetic machine in Six. Episode Five delivers a really good cliffhanger – one used later (The Mysterious Planet Episode Three) but much better shot (ahem) and edited here. Which makes for the rest being much of a muchness (and as everyone has said, the Doctor’s scared of frickin’ Koquillion?) And why is he less fearful of flames later on? Is it now out of his system? Does he have an inexhaustible supply of fears? He should be a gibbering wreck. The Doctor is a particular arse to the Brigadier in this one (who nevertheless seems highly amused by such contempt throughout, to his credit). Nukes. If in doubt, go to nukes as a plot device. No wonder the army provided support; it promotes the conviction that this is stuff to be really terrified of, and British too*. The Master is great here, be it smoking cigars, changing his attire in a workman’s hut, or discussing the majesty of British rocketry.

The DoctorWe believe what our minds tell us to, Jo. 

Generally, though, The Mind of Evil doesn’t quite hit its target. Doubling down on action – however well staged – isn’t much when it’s simply a means to an end. Switching focus to the missile plot is a bit vanilla Bond circa Thunderball, and drags down to Earth something that had more cerebral possibilities. For all that I’m a fan of Terror of the AutonsThe Mind of Evil is at is best when its going for the Season 7 grit. The flipside of that, though, is that its less consistent qualities are more unflatteringly spotlighted.

The Claws of Axos

Watching The Claws of Axos is, in some key respects, not dissimilar to viewing The Caves of Androzani; you come away wishing all productions of its era boasted as much flair and invention. Okay, maybe not on the music front, but Michael Ferguson delivers a psychedelic funfair filled with such unbridled flair, it more than forgives the occasional sleeping-bag monster and leaves you wondering why Barry Letts didn’t make it a priority to engage him every season.

The MasterEither we destroy Axos, or Axos destroys the world. 

Of course, many have been less charitable. And there was a point where I simply couldn’t get past the deadly Dudley dirge – it doesn’t bother me now at all, so I guess I have become inured to it – so I fully appreciate that one may find oneself backing away, ears shredded. Others still object to what they see as Ferguson’s overkill, not least About Time, coming up with the confusing verdict that its “hard to like, but easy to love” while droning on about prog or glam rock – really, it’s much more about psychedelia – and how “enough goes right to make the wrongness all the more painful”. Examples appear to be Chinn (Peter Bathurst is perfect as a pompous prick, however), Bill “just an embarrassment” Filer (I can’t say I analysed his presence to much beyond his amazing hair, but he’s certainly no worse than the series’ average attempt to depict an American) and, er… some issues with the music and visuals such that “this is a remarkably inept piece of television drama”. Yeah, okay.

Many such criticisms simply come back round to having knives out for the Bristol Boys. I like Bob Baker and Dave Martin’s work, even if their indulgence of the nuke-terror plot device – here, and The Hand of Fear and The Armageddon Factor – always seems an especially lazy crutch, given how strikingly inventive and full of ideas they otherwise are. Tat Wood and Sandifer are united in their dislike of their contributions to the show, partly, I suspect, because they don’t really deliver pay offs when it comes to interrogating thematic content. They just want to tell rollicking good stories, ones that invariably prove favourites with youngsters abut are reviled by mature types. Neither Wood nor Sandifer can deny the fantastica imagery in Claws, but they undeniably begrudge its success in that department (Sandifer then walks into an ant’s nest by claiming The Claws of Axos is The Web Planet of the ’70s. No, it isn’t. Because, thankfully, Ferguson is no Richard Martin). They also hate Pertwee, as many fans do, so any given story in his era is automatically an uphill struggle. That the Third Doctor’s a bit of a dick is part of his appeal. I believe it’s fair to suggest no one else could deliver the “galactic yo-yo” line quite like Pertwee. And I mean that as a compliment, not in an “Unlimited rice pudding!” kind of way.

There is an argument that imagery on its own isn’t enough with Who, and that the real key is someone able to support all areas (technically, performance, plot). Which is fair, absolutely. But stooping to the charge of a superficial, image-based approach because the images stand out is low. Ferguson is accentuating the Bristol Boys, for better or worse. Indeed, I’d suggest Ferguson is the perfect director for their fare (The Three Doctors and The Invisible Enemy would have been immeasurably improved by his visuals). Sandifer takes issue with the story’s logic, but it’s coherent enough for me. Admittedly, getting side tracked into taking control of time at the expense of the main Axonite thrust is something that would have been more expected during Saward’s tenure, but the basics of the story are solid.

While much – most – of what is written on The Claws of Axos comments on the visual impact (and then, to a lesser extent, on Bob and Dave’s dense script), it’s notable that this is a precursor in some respects. The family of Axons precedes Bowie and co’s humanoid aliens in The Man Who Fell to Earth, in which Newton brings gifts (scientific marvels) to humanity while he aims to get back home. The breakdown of forms also points to Ken Russell’s Altered States. And the predatory, energy-draining aspect of Axos finds it linked to its predecessor story’s mind parasite. Here, the comparison is to “cosmic bacteria”, once again suggestive of archonic implications: “All things must die, Doctor… Axos merely hastens the process” (in the demiurgic system, monsters and angels may be construed as part of the same universal order).

WinserOh, you stupid quack!

Amid the critique of parochialism (“duty to my country, not the world”) is an implicit endorsement of the UN and thus Hegelianism, the true threat of the UNIT era. But there’s no Illuminati in the Doctor’s dojo, unless we’re talking about on a universal scale, in which Gallifrey might fit the bill. Consequently, it falls to the Master to become a good guy (okay, again, kind of). Meanwhile, the Doctor is actually responsible for triggering the carnage – or at least, setting it off early – even if it’s a means to exposing the Axons’ lie (which he fixes on from the first: “And yet, you still ran out of fuel”).

AxosAnalysis pattern reveals locomotor facility normal, sensory receptors acute, intelligence atypical.

The Master is magnificent here, placed on the back foot due to being detained by Axos and proceeding to jump off bridges and make deals with the Doctor. His take on the TARDIS (“What a botch up!”; “You may as well try to fly a second-hand gas stove”) is a delight, as is his belittling of the nuclear threat (“Oh, I suppose you can take the normal precautions against a nuclear blast, like, er sticky tape on the windows and that sort of thing”). Which suggests the Bristol Boys at least knew the absurdity of what they were dealing with (albeit, it’s probably a Terrance line)*. Pigbin Josh is, of course, a miracle. Bill Leiter being after the Master is interesting; perhaps he’s been muscling in on their territory. The Doctor’s breaking free from the time loop lacks finesse, but then, this just isn’t that kind of story; it’s one that makes the elementary mistake of showing the true face of Axos in the opening montage, letting the cat out of the bag.

The DoctorIt seems that I’m some kind of a galactic yo-yo!

The Claws of Axos is no masterpiece, but its unwieldy excesses deserve to be celebrated, rather than reviled or reprimanded. This is psychotropica at its finest. So sink into an Axonite armchair, sit back and enjoy.

*Addendum 24/06/23: I was chasing the wrong conspiracy with that one, it seems. It’s almost inevitable that, when you think you’ve grasped the nettle of some subjects, you instead get stung to blue blazes. There’s long-standing theorising concerning the legitimacy of the nuke threat, and of nuclear technology generally, it took me a while to warm to it (probably in the last three or four years). Warm to it I did, though, and it seemed Q & A answers were confirming the counterfeit nature of the subject (this, however, as tends to be the case, was based on misconception of the parameters of the response). The concomitant threat of mutually assured destruction is another matter, however, since one does not necessarily follow on from the other.

Terror of the Autons

Everything they say about Terror of the Autons is true. It’s chock full of nightmarish design work and even more nightmarish CSO. It’s directed by Barry Letts with all the élan of Tobe Hooper, meaning the garish, grotesque aesthetic is even more in your face. It moves at such a breakneck speed, you’re sure you’re missing vital details and probably are. And it culminates in the Doctor’s newly established, most formidable adversary showing himself to be a bit of near-sighted imbecile when it comes down to brass tacks. So starting as he means to go on. It’s also sort-of giddily glorious.

The MasterWhy, you insolent primitive.

Terror of the Autons is a story that truly brings the freak. The shop window dummies of Spearhead from Space are positively cuddly in comparison to the Autons here: ghastly eyeless facades that appear semi-formed when they aren’t disguised by badly-fitting human masks or rictus-grinned, over-sized flower sellers’ heads. The prior Autons were designed; these seem thrown together simply to be as unpleasant as possible. The aberrant alien angle continues with the devil doll, and like a number of decisions here, Letts approach of “If in doubt, CSO it; if in no doubt, CSO it”, results in it pootling about on the back seat of a car, surely all the uncannier through being a man in a suit (the Blu-ray CGI attempts an imitation, but the key is that the original it’s tangibly repellent). One might laugh at Goodge CSO’d inside his lunch box, but would you really prefer the action men of The Deadly Assassin and Logopolis? Sure, Mrs Farrel’s CSO kitchen is a step beyond the pale, but it did inspire the title of a fanzine, so there’s that.

The MasterI’m simply trying out a new product.

Then there’s the Nightmare on Elm Street/slasher approach to the creative kills/attempted kills. Episode Two finds Holmes particularly enjoying himself, by armchair (“Sure, it looks like a black pudding”) and devil doll, with later near misses by asphyxiation (Jo) and strangulation (Pert getting to gurn for all he’s worth as a telephone flex attacks). All of this is accompanied by some rumbly unsettling Dudley electronica, the sort of thing that could become discordant aural assault (The Claws of Axos) but here seems of a piece with the overall “style”.

Into this melange, we have new companion Jo and UNIT’s campest recruit, Mike Yates. So, as the UNIT family takes shape, it’s contrasted with some curiously unrepresentative content. Season 8 can be like that. Jo may be the ultimate companion stereotype – see Sandifer dissecting Uncle Terrance for crimes against progressivism – but Manning overcomes that simply by being so likeable. She also manages to get around the place like a blue-arsed fly, adding to the feeling that something was lost in the edit.

RossiniCome, come, Doctor. Gentlemen don’t discuss money. 
The DoctorNonsense, gentlemen never talk about anything else.

Yates, meanwhile, convinces no one at any point that he’s capable of anything. The Brigadier’s part of the furniture now, of course, and the Doctor’s rudeness towards him may grate with some, but it’s part and parcel of his “charm” (“I’ll apologise. If I have the time”). He enjoys being a stroppy kid (“What’s wrong with being childish? I like being childish”, hence looking forward to a rematch with the Master, despite it guaranteeing more death and destruction). He’s also modest (“qualified to deal with practically everything…”). And he does NOT know Tubby Rowlands (he’s clearly winding the guy up, unless you’re Paul Cornell, wringing your hands at that time of his critique over anything suggesting the Doctor was other than a fully paid up, life member of the SWP).

Delgado’s great fun, but Holmes and Dicks should really have seen to it that he had a decent scheme hatched for his introduction. Perhaps the “unimaginative plodder” accolade was a consequence of realising it wasn’t up to much and backtracking. He finds the show as it’s making Gallifreyans the norm, and indeed, the popping-up Time Lord paints them as surrealistic – Magritte, yes, but more especially adopting the mantel of the establishment – but also disappointingly ineffectual (see also Colony in SpaceGenesis of the DaleksThe Three Doctors). At least Holmes writes this example with some attitude, which won’t always be the case.

RossiniHis name’s none of your business.
The DoctorA strange name.

The most fun here is seeing the Master traverse industrial relations as he takes over the plastics factory. Indeed, everything about this subplot is marvellously sketched in brief strokes: the disagreement between Rex (Michael Wisher, superb, easily the performance of the story) and McDermott (Harry Towb), and the spectre of his father (Stephen Jack) making him drift to Colonel Masters, even beyond the use of hypnosis.

The DoctorYou’re an insulting ruffian, aren’t you?

Indeed, Holmes’ humour and conflicts are deliciously brewed, even if the plot is half baked. He’s bringing the twistedness from the first, as Goodge dies eating a hard-boiled egg, having just moaned about how awful they are. Then there’s Rex’s breezy “Seems very effective to me” after the Master rates the armchair critically (it has just swallowed McDermott). “You ham-fisted bun vendor!”; “Yes, he sat down in this chair here, and just slipped away”. Yates using a Bunsen burner to brew cocoa. And some amusing circus incidentals; in a six-parter, you can bet there’d be much more of fake Italian Rossini (John Baskcomb). The Doctor’s interrogation by a silent muscle man is another highlight.

FarrelThey’re the finest plastic flowers I’ve ever seen.

Terror of the Autons has been noted for its Letts-esque topicality, with the “can never have too much plastic” suggestion encapsulating the curse of the modern age and the deadly side offering a twist on Doomwatch; in every respect, it’s depicted as a deplorable, unpleasant innovation and a highly destructive, inimical one. Technology is not our friend. Notably, this murderous advance is to blame for a wave of sudden deaths across the county, not “some kind of virus”. And notably, it’s triggered by a radio signal (hmmm). The Master meanwhile, is a master hypnotist, only failing when confronted by those who are extra-fixated (Dad Farrel on his company’s future). Jargon is used, in inverted commas (“schizoid disassociation”), but what we have here is the “colonel” MKUltra-ing his victims, such that they embark on suicide bombings and uncharacteristically open fire on the military. The Master may not be up to much as a strategist, but he’d be quids-in if he ever wanted to work for the CIA…

The Daemons

All the things – well, almost – The Daemons gets crucified for in revisionist fan hot-coal haulings are things for which it should be celebrated. Tat Wood, in About Time, fond of having-at the Pertwee era, argues that, to like it, you have to be “indulging” it. But isn’t that true of any Classic Who (to like nu-Who, in contrast, you have to be barking)? It’s offensive to yokels. It’s badly directed. It doesn’t make sense (especially the ending, always with the ending). It’s closer to kids’ TV than ever before (okay…) It mocks UNIT.

Miss HawthorneA rationalist, existentialist priest, indeed.

I’m not going to rebuff all those criticisms (but it isn’t badly directed, and Wood seems partial to creating arguments to suit his general mood. Such as his citation needed that, for the first few episodes, viewers were stunned to see the Doctor going against everything he had hitherto stood for in accepting the threat of magic. He also has a UNIT dating one in an essay on accompanying the story, where he suggests placing decimalisation as other than 1971 would be tantamount to shifting the timeframe of WWII for anyone who lived through it. Yeah, sure it would).

JoNo thanks, I’ve had enough of your knavish tricks.

On the other hand, it is very obvious that the Doctor’s on losing ground in the face of Miss Hawthorne’s insistent “But that’s what magic is”. Buddhist Bazza clearly loves all that New Age bit, which is why three of his four co-penned stories explicitly explore related themes (so explicitly, this one has a rather clumsy establishing conversation between the Doctor and Jo to telegraph the plot). And the other has him going ultra-Greta on us. Miss Hawthorne is shown to be in the right throughout, particularly so in her demolition of the clergy and their weak-spined lack of conviction. Indeed, the story is probably the least prudent of any Who prior to the advent of Commie Cartmel in respect of religious matters. The Doctor may be making amusement, but his “… there is magic in the world after all” is an admission along the lines of “So free will is not an illusion…” at the end of the previous season. Otherwise, he is being deliberately obtuse. Psionic forces, indeed.

FergusDevil’s End. The very name sends a shiver up the spine. The witches of Devil’s End, the famous curse, the notorious cavern underneath the church where the third Lord of Aldbourne played at his eighteen-century parody of black magic.

Obviously, Bazza is picking up on Nigel Kneale and running with it, and von Daniken too, but he’s also more broadly testing the waters for the series’ increasing forays into the newly nurtured folk horror. It’s a fairly loose sub-genre, encompassing a variety of suspects, not least Kneale himself, but you can see it most evidently in the same year’s Blood on Satan’s Claw and later The Wicker Man; all three deliver dangerous, isolated communities besieged by paranoia and pagan superstitions. Devil’s End is very much in the lineage of Hobbs Lane (Satanhall indeed! What next, Beelzeburbiton?) Miss Hawthorne is quite right to reference Azazel “the fallen angel” as teacher of forbidden knowledge to man; thus, Bazza is embracing the tradition (rather like Reverend Magister) of finding ambiguity rather than lines of good and evil. Even the Doctor calls the Daemons amoral. Far from raising man up, “to him ascribe all sin” (more specifically weapons and cosmetics). He’s been compared to Prometheus, who of course, parallels our first encounter with the Doctor (giving man the gift of fire).

FergusProfessor Horner and his team have cut their way into the Devil’s Hump, as this barrow is called by the locals, as if it were a giant pie. But now the question is can Professor Horner pull out his plum.

The Daemons works so well, at least in part, because it’s a story presenting a vivid world, be it the yokel locals (“You said it yourself it would be suicide!” exclaims yokel-extraordinaire Thorpe to the Doctor), the May Day rites, the gun-wielding Morris Dancers or the cosiness of the heat barrier. Probably the very “indulgence” others find infuriating makes it so rewarding; I don’t even mind the “…does not relate” ending. I can’t offer a strong reason, admittedly; perhaps the objections just don’t relate. Frontier in Space aside, the Master is at his best here, Chris Barry clearly loving Delgado’s face (the man did have the best beard ever). Professor Horner is hilarious and completely steals the first episode (everything about the opener’s reportage and its chinless presenters is absolutely super).

The MasterThe soul as such is a very outdated concept. Viewing the matter existentially, ­I–
Miss HawthorneExistentially? Oh, you’re a blockhead!

The design work for both Bok and Azal is effective, even if Stephen Thorne is unfortunately one-note as Azal (Barry made a mistake opting for an all-in-one performance, but no more than those who subsequently cast him; ironic, since his reading of The Myth Makers makes one of the best audiobook narrations). While the Daemons never returned, possibly for similar good reasons to later one-hit wonders like Scaroth and the Fendahl, there’s a decent existential comic strip featuring them in DWM49 (Voyage to the End of the Universe). Although, that doesn’t make it blockheaded…

The DoctorJo, did you fail Latin as well as science?

PC Groom is a policeman straight out of Jeeves and Wooster (the scene where he’s about to stove Miss Hawthorne’s head in with a rock, and their subsequent conversation, with him still holding it, is great). Yates is in full Uncle Creepy mode, wearing a stylish red leather jacket and overcompensating by watching the rugger; he looks like he keeps a tatty copy of Razzle up his sleeve as a lure. The Doctor is unconscionably rude, of course, to all and sundry; possibly the costume and wig line put his nose out of joint. More likely, it’s just business as usual. Benton and Hawthorne make a persuasive but incredibly unlikely odd couple; the sheer inconceivability rather ensures this is the sergeant’s best showing in the show, Levene’s curious performance style somehow moderated by Hayman’s natural eccentricity.

The DoctorElemental, my dear Benton.

There’s no case to be made that The Daemons is more dramatically – or even as – effective than its occult excursions that followed, your Pyramids of Mars for example, or its antecedents (The Abominable Snowmen). But there’s good reason it was, at one time, held aloft so proudly. It’s a whole world of a story. Maybe you do have to indulge it, but I’m more than willing to.

Blu-ray Extras


Terror of the Autons

The Making Of… this one is faintly rubbish, riddled as it is with rotten nu-Who comparisons and talking heads. Naturally, there’s comment on the politically-incorrect content, so thank goodness there are no #MeToo issues pervading this Classic Who season to sink it even further.

Behind the Sofa – They like the Master, as you would. Sacha Dhawan and Anjli Mohindra are genuinely, infectiously enthused by the show, even if they’re prone to quoting chapter and verse from the progressive bible (obviously, one of its flagship adherents was Janet Fielding, so it’s appropriate she’s also on hand, with Sarah Sutton, to give her two penn’orth’s worth). “He’s so still” gasps Dhawan, understandably nursing the illusion that the only acceptable way to perform Doctor Who is in a hyperactive frenzy. He also seems to think it’s acceptable to say “Mass-ter” and that everyone should say this. He’s wrong.

You have to laugh at the attempts to big up Jo (“a strong female character”); bigging up dappy Jo is tantamount to suggesting Goodnight was the most feminist Bond girl. Then there’s Sutton suggesting “They wouldn’t have though to cast a woman as a scientist in 1971”. That’s true. They thought to cast one in 1970 (well, 1969, to be precise). They all seem to like it, which is gratifying, and Fielding, who made Time-flight, suggests “I thought the special effects were really good, actually”.

The Mind of Evil

Not a whole lot to say about the Making Of… but Combe still feels hard done by for not getting asked back by Bazza to do more episodes.

Behind the Sofa offers more woke-think with the “only female character” identified, leading to all-round shock when several more show up. Katy mentions that Delgado had a little toupee, which I didn’t know, or if I did, I’d forgotten. The Master has “some nice clobber” and always a “really nice suit under there”. Everyone is very impressed by the bona-fide missile and the extravagant action.

The Claws of Axos

Axon Stations! rehearses all the familiar tales of terrible weather and the Bristol Boys’ first contact (a script about the early days of Keith Floyd, in officer training). Ferguson thinks the story stands up for its energy and “sensible silliness”.

Behind the Sofa finds everyone agreeing how good the titles are. And that the eyestalk is rude (“That eye is something else”). Also that the old TARDIS is more iconic. Sacha and Anjli have taken over from Janet and Sarah as the most engaging duo for this feature, even if they’re a little bit too wholesomely sympatico. “Tim Piggot Smith!” exclaims everyone. Everything with Katy and Stewart Bevan could easily be excised.

Colony in Space

The most alarming thing about the Making Of… is learning that Briant cried over Hello, Dolly! Graeme Harper shows up to offer moral support to an old drama school mucker, although both trying to make out the story is anything special just isn’t going to wash (next Briant will be saying nice things about Journey’s End).

Proud of their lack of facility with the language, Sacha and Anjli take the piss out of RP. Anyone would think they were auditioning for Droogs. Fielding applies some fearsome logic regarding the miners and colonists (“a planet big enough for both of them”) that would make Tat Wood proud. Anjli cites “really ballsy, kick ass women” for the time. Uh-huh.

The Daemons

The Devils Rides Out is nice enough, running through familiar points (Barry suggested the title’s “a”, Harris had to fight to play the character heroically). Harris critiques “So mote it be” (“evokes the masons”), but really, it’s more Crowley-esque, isn’t it? Generally, you rather wish the definitive all-star Return to Devil’s End had somehow wangled its way onto this definitive Season edition, but Reeltime still seems to be making a nice little earner with reissues.

Behind the Sofa – “I love this script” says Sutton, while Fielding notes “There’s lots of weather”, “black mass territory” and that the Master’s “another self-help guru”. Anjli observes “telly on the telly” while Sacha is enjoying referencing Herbie Goes Bananas (the Herbie movie you absolutely don’t want to reference). Anjli, inevitably, sums the season/old show as “it’s not going to live up to what it is now” (thank Xoanon for that).

I’m afraid I can’t watch anything with John Levene; he’s so excruciating, it’s in the same territory as one of Sacha Baron Cohen’s cruelty fests. So I didn’t repeat view Weekend at Devil’s End.

The Barry Letts retrospective is solid, though. With all these Who retrospectives, I tend to wish they’d focus at very least on every aspect of the career equally, though, given we all know (or should) the Who bit by heart. I’d have loved more on the Sunday Classics (in the Terrance tribute too). But there’s lots of goodness here, from his acting prospects, to his reluctance to move from directing to producing, to Ronnie Marsh telling how he dangled the carrot of Moonbase 3 – the Star Cops of its decade – to keep them on Who.

There are two definite highlights to the added extras on this season release. One is The Directing Route, in which Graybags Harper and Michael Briant are great value – one senses their camaraderie might have been, as much as anything, the reason Timothy Combe opts out after the first day – and I hope they’re used again. They’d be as good as anyone on Behind the Sofa. Particularly as, while they’re effusive with praise, they’re also willing to be critical (it’s clear Harper would have run a mile from the amount of CSO Letts was using). They’re all hugely impressed by Ferguson’s work, rightly knocked out by the spaceship (“Why were we always shooting Doctor Who in winter?” wonders Briant). “It’s like the Krynoid” observes Harper, presumably failing to realise quite how much. Briant suggests Ferguson was “just about the best technical Doctor Who director there was”.

I’m less convinced by his hyperbole that the Colony in Space quarry was “the best Doctor Who location in the whole of Britain”, although it’s fascinating to see its submerged state now and have guys from the time show up to show them round. It’s nice to have locals coming by at Dunstable too, armed with snaps. They’re both very impressed by Barry’s work too, with its “movie quality”. Briant doesn’t “see a jobbing director” there. They’re not as blown away by the gargoyle, and there’s an inevitable clip from Utopia, but generally, this is the kind of extra that works splendidly, with a good basic idea and a “cast” with bags of enthusiasm and interesting things to say.

Bonus Disc

As with Levene, though, I couldn’t endure Katy interviewed by Matthew Sweet. I tried. Stuck with it for five minutes. But I’ve heard it all before and I wasn’t overly interested the first time.

Terrance and Me – Frank Skinner is exactly the right kind of person to be doing a Terrance Dicks retrospective (or any feature, really): a fan but not too much of a fan, putting people at ease and eliciting genuineness from them without seeming to pry (the way Sweet is prone to do). The only problem with this feature is the same one in all these Moon Balloon extras. The godawful, sentiment-milking music telling us how touching the whole thing is because we’re unable to reach that conclusion ourselves. That aside, this is easily one of the Blu-ray range’s best new extras. As I said, I’d have been happy with a bit more on his other work, but the selection of faces, and Skinner’s “in” (living on the same street as Dicks), makes the hour fly by.

Cornell, who once famously slaughtered the Pertwee era (and then recanted), tells how he met Terrance by asking to buy him a pint (but didn’t spill his change all over the floor). He, Shearman (now looking increasingly like Kris Kringle) and Jenny Colgan offer their choice prose passages (The Sun Makers, or SunmakersThe Deadly AssassinThe Android Invasion and Image of the Fendahl). The omnipresent Katy Manning appears mercifully briefly. There’s talk of how Terrance “developed a conscience” that put him off advertising, his writing for Crossroads, and Mac Hulke being his landlord, hence collaborating on The Avengers. “He was such a great luncher” recalls Brenda Gardner, his old editor. And loved his red wine. Her favourite of his books is TR Bear (Teddy Roosevelt). It’s interesting to hear all this waxing lyrical about his Targets, as they’re generally the ones that left the least impression on me. Aside, obviously, from the profusion of titles bearing his name.

It’s nice to see Skinner talking with Terrance’s widow and sons too, getting to see his book-stacked office (which was always under lock and key due to his not wishing to be disturbed, an interesting contrast to Barry Letts’ writing endeavours as reported by his son). Also, credit is due for Frank’s near-sneer when mentioning “nu-Who”.

The Consensus


A few notable poll placings over the years:

DWM 1998/09/14

1. The Daemons (27, 24, 38)
2. Terror of the Autons (35, 51, 59)
3. The Mind of Evil (65, 92, 76)
4. The Claws of Axos (113, 129, 139)
5. Colony in Space (128, 171, 199)

Outpost Gallifrey 2003

1. The Daemons (29)
2. Terror of the Autons (45)
3. The Mind of Evil (58)
4. The Claws of Axos (121)
5. Colony in Space (139)

DWB 1985/87/89

1. The Daemons (4, 8, 6)
2. Terror of the Autons (17, 29, 26)
3. The Mind of Evil (62, 67, 57)
4. The Claws of Axos (97, 86, 83)
5. Colony in Space (102, 109, 116)

Addendum 29/04/23:

DWM 1998/09/14/23

1. The Daemons (27, 24, 38, 4/24)
2. Terror of the Autons (35, 51, 59, 9/24)
3. The Mind of Evil (65, 92, 76, 14/24)
4. The Claws of Axos (113, 129, 139, 19/24)
5. Colony in Space (128, 171, 199, 21/24)


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