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He’s dangling on the edge of oblivion.

Worst to Best

Doctor Who
Season 22 – Worst to Best


A season that tends to be thrown on the pyre as over-violent and over-continuity-driven, with an over-acted (and/or miscast, and/or unlikeable) Doctor. Which leaves it as one of the least-loved ’80s seasons, in a decade already least-loved among classic Who. Parts of this are fair. The violence is, at times, gratuitous, but this is as frequently down to the directors attached having no understanding of how to moderate tone as it is the content itself (I’d suggest the greater issue is the script-editor’s brand of ardent nihilism, which lends itself to the supporting elements becoming simply unpleasant. And I say that as someone who generally thinks Eric Saward gets a bad rap).

Season 22 is extremely patchy, then. Its attempts to adjust to a new format are only partially successful, while its ideas are often decent (even Attack of the Cybermen has some good ones) but either underdeveloped or inconsistently expressed. While it can’t match at least two of the seasons that decade (18 and 20), there’s thematic consistency here; this means it often hangs together better as a whole than it does in its constituent parts (the Doctor and companion pairing elicits its own dedicated response, in terms of the season in general, although I much prefer the “bickering” here, the odd Timelash scene aside, to Season 23’s “softening”). 

Much of the material retains a certain resonance, or even yields greater impact; transhumanist themes of physical transformation are present throughout, but most notably in the first, fourth and last stories (elsewhere, augmentation via technology may be more in the tradition of “science gone mad” experiments going awry or being directed or undirected – the Borad’s unfortunate accident, Luke branching out, and Peri and Areta’s transformations – or controlling the subject through “impregnated” parasites (The Mark of the Rani). 

Surveillance is ever present: the Doctor can’t escape it, especially from his peer group, and someone is watching someone everywhere, even when it isn’t overtly presented as commentary (Vengance on Varos). And then there’s time, in an existential sense, with the Doctor’s cosmic angst punctuated by ruminations on its interconnected, web-like status and the causal paradoxes that come with it. 

Sure, there are Cryons and Morlox and sentient trees, but the black mark that was cancellation/hiatus has tarred the season with a brush it doesn’t entirely deserve. Certainly, no more so than the previous year’s batch of episodes.


The Mark of the Rani

I’m unsure which is the least fun with Pip and Jane: their penchant for over-verbose, torturously wordy dialogue – I’m a fan of Doctor Who when it isn’t written “as people normally speak”, but with the caveat that there needs to be attention to rhythm, flair, cadence and wit. Here, tone-deaf would be a more apposite epithet – or their inability to construct a tale with basic internal integrity and dramatic tension. Actually, that isn’t entirely fair; their Vervoid story had a fairly robust framework, despite their attempts to incapacitate it through nonsensical plotting and motivation, because they borrowed it from an Agatha Christie. These Rani outings, though. Where’s the threat? The escalation? Some violent Northerners running about pit causin’ affray rather than going down pub t’ lift a toby doesn’t cut it. And the Master and the Rani squabbling for ninety minutes doesn’t either.

Some of their basic instincts here are pretty good; tasked with creating a new renegade Time Lord, the Bakers decide on a woman, come up with the name the Rani (it may be nonsense, per Lisbeth Sandifer, but it has a ring to it, which is the main thing), suggest Kate O’Mara and give her the motivation of a scruples-free, atheistic scientist, rather than a simple power-mad nutter. She’s the sort who wouldn’t be choosy about sources of funding, or their priorities. She’s also supremely disdainful of the Master.

There’s quality on screen too, with director Sarah Hellings intent on overlaying maximum production value through her choices of location, staging and composition. Jonathan Gibbs provides a moody, complementary score (back-to-back wins from him there, so a shame he wasn’t used again). Some commendable design work too (the Rani’s TARDIS is way more distinctive and memorable than anything comparable the new series has come up with).

The problem is… just try caring about anything that happens here. This is the worst sin of a Doctor Who. Worse than being plain bad (although, the combination of the two is devastating): it’s boring. Desperately so. And you notice the sluggishness even more in two 45-minute chunks. Nothing of consequence is happening, and if it does, a stultifying piece of pontification or moralising, written and delivered in deplorably indigestible tones, is bound to follow on swiftly. It’s unfortunate we have to lay their employment at Graham Williams door (the same with Pennant Roberts); had he never left that script lying around in the production office, JN-T would never have contacted them. If only he’d burnt it (and had never recommended Nathan-Turner for producer, for that matter).

What plot there actually is fairly unconvincing as well. Geordie coal miners were presumably considered weak-minded and highly malleable, thus the Rani’s grounds for choosing this spot, but the Master’s desire to harness an “inspiration of geniuses” of the Industrial Revolution – even if you buy into this official version of history, along with its stamped-and-approved T-Rexs in jars – seems desperately feeble. 

To be fair, it’s merely a side dish to the main course of killing the Doctor, but even on this score, he’s doing pretty atrociously. More threats come the Doctor’s way from the Rani’s actions. And if the Doctor and Peri are getting on better here, it’s to the detriment of viewer engagement with either. Having to listen to Peri wittering on about botany – a calamitous attempt to underline one of her forgotten resumé points – or the Doctor pompously paraphrasing Shakespeare is enough to put your hands up and say, “Okay Michael, you were right” (albeit, Grade was objecting to the violence etc, not that it was boring!) Perhaps they should have given Hellings The Two Doctors and Peter Moffat this, as it comes in about as vibrantly as his earlier period-foray The Visitation. As it is, this might be the least engaging Colin performance, while Peri gets a minus score for one of the most pathetic companion moments ever (throwing coal ineffectually at the Rani-mark mob). 

Oh, and the whole Statenheim Remote Control business suffers from the story-order shuffle. The Mark of the Rani tends to find favour with those taking shelter from the tornado of violence elsewhere this season, but an absence of a negative is in no way an overall positive. It looks very polished, sentient tree aside – so naturally, JN-T, as a bean-counter first, switched to video in subsequent seasons – but that’s far from enough. Lance Parkin tries to suggest (in DWM’s The Complete Sixth Doctor) that P&J, by giving the Time Lord trio all that shite dialogue, are “suggesting the immortal academics would speak in big words”. Which is, obviously, bollocks (another more apposite epithet). Or not a sentiment I’d reciprocate. If enough people are complaining about the way something sounds, chances are there’s something suss on the writing side. 

This isn’t Ainley’s finest hour either, getting kneed in the Gallifreyan nuts and coming across like a rampant fiddler when wooing Luke (with his very special sweetmeat).  He does get the standout “I’m indestructible, everybody knows that”, however. Plus, my favourite moment here was something of an ad-lib – it wasn’t in the script – and I like it mainly because it’s so patently stupid and absurd, a borderline inspiration of geniuses: the Master dressed as a scarecrow. How was he able to predict the exact TARDIS landing spot? Just how long was he there? Did he camp out? Or was the scarecrow his TARDIS?


The season’s instant all-time clanger, per polls etc, although – as About Time points out, while attempting to argue some abstruse great-unwashed appeal from the figures – it saw audiences on the climb, along with decent appreciation figures. Timelash isn’t very good, and it manages to be quite dull at times, in the way Pennant Roberts at his paint-drying lack of discernible effort best could be relied on to deliver (I know, I know, everyone who worked with him loved him). But it’s also more engaging and just plain interesting than The Mark of the Rani (as noted, a frequent pick of the season for those who don’t like grizzle).

The things that work here: Herbert (David Chandler) is irrepressibly engaged, upbeat and inquiring, an ideal foil to bring out the worst in ol’ Sixie (bloik at the term, almost as bloik-at is Colin’s evident equal pride in the Pip-and-Jane worthy – not in a good way – “microcephalic apostate”). Sure, HG Wells is venerated here, as opposed to being presented as a malign establishment eugenicist engaging in a highly successful predictive-programming venture, but then, About Time (in one of its most yawnfully extraneous detours) would have you believe Herbert can’t be HG at all, if we’re to pay even scant attention to the actual figure. Naturally, Sandifer follows suit. I tend to think Doctor Who should get more credit for avoiding fidelity to the official record (even if, in some cases, it’s accurate). Although, it’s better to acknowledge that record and then pooh-pooh it. Otherwise, you’re liable to dive headlong into nu-Who’s smug, cringe-inducing contemporaneity. Wells’ influence, though, may well have been as Tavistock engineered (in relative terms) as the Fab Four. 

The blue android (Dean Hollingsworth), with his sing-song voice and apparent hots for Peri, is also memorable; it’s a shame, if Eric really had to write filler, he couldn’t have included it for a Doctor-Herbert riffing trio. Paul Darrow is, obviously, the consummate ham, and proceeds to Richard III his way through the story to entirely beneficial effect (that Colin still has the temerity to call him out, in this, This, THIS story, of all stories, is, well… microcephalic). 

The Timelash itself is… curious. That the Borad seems to have been more interested in messing with Morloxes than pursuing the possibilities of time travel – which, after all, seem to extend only to dumping undesirables in Loch Ness – is both curious for its short-sightedness and simultaneously, like much else here, raises more questions than it answers. Particularly the case, since the lashed flambé android, seen in Part One but explained in Two, is a glimpse into the potential this might have had, had it not been side-tracked by body horror. Combine that with the strange business of HG doing Ouija and getting confused between science and the supernatural, and you could go full The Evil of the Daleks with this concept.

Perhaps it was on the Borad’s to-do list, since he seems most preoccupied with genetic experimentation, cloning etc. Unlike most of the material here, the Borad is a triumph of design – as is Robert Ashby’s performance – over content. The Borad just isn’t very interesting, and even his hackneyed villain poise – Gaston Leroux rather than Wells, and the mirrors bit is especially crummy – would be banal, were it not so absurd (if it’s that easy to mash someone together… Oh, I don’t know. I won’t even go there). McCoy’s script has an interesting structure to start out with, regardless of the frankly risible TARDIS scenes, and the idea of the Doctor arriving somewhere then being immediately blackmailed to go on a rescue mission gives the first episode some momentum that rather dissipates during the second (as Darrow notes on the Making of – “Switch off when I’m dead. It’s boring”).

I don’t particularly have a problem with the Bandrils; they’re naff, but no naffer than a “Bendalypse Warhead” (as a name. Was McCoy riffing on Wells’ proto-nuke here, something Who fan Stephen Baxter incorporated into The Time Ships?) The design work is generally barely there, but the shapeless costumes actually get on my tits much more than the sets or the inside of the Lash etc. About Time (I know, again) mentions Elizabeth Parker’s score as the best thing about the story, but it’s really not that interesting, and certainly every other score of the season ranks easily above it. This is also another surveillance state (Vengeance on Varos), coming after other access-all-areas (The Mark of the Rani) and media manipulations and listening-in (The Two Doctors); there’d be more of that in the next story. 

The part of the story that’s flat-out awful – because mostly, Timelash is just underwhelming, something different entirely – is the regulars. I’ll be lenient on Bryant, as she fesses up to it as “definitely my most disappointing acting of my career”, and she’s been put-upon through the demands of panto and cons infringing on rehearsal time; she’s given some frighteningly atrocious companion material that even the series at its most regressive would blanche at, and she’s required to act in some lousy filler scenes (Eric says he doesn’t know if he or McCoy wrote them, but I think he’s conveniently taking the fifth there). She stinks here much worse than in the Vengeance on Varos deleted TARDIS scenes, and you appreciate what she’s able to do with the part normally, despite its limitations, all the more as a result.

Colin’s plain obnoxious (the worst thing is, he’s still possessed with such overpowering lack of distance that he attempts to defend his worst stories). Shouting aggressively at Peri, mocking the Borad (“Nobody cares!”) He’s a prick to Herbert too, but that kind-of works as it’s water off the latter’s back. There are, of course, a fair share of so-bad-they’re-great lines – “Most people depart with a scream!”; “Avaunt thee, foul fanged fiend!”; “He’s dangling on the edge of oblivion” – and baffling continuity issues. Why did the Doctor give someone’s grandfather a locket of him and Jo Grant, but not the other fella? Did they have a threesome with the old giffer? It’s a bit bizarre. As much as Herbet’s unembellished infodump business card. I’m not going to damn the Timelash with faint praise, then, but I will contest it has its saving graces (or, as you will, disgraces).

Vengeance on Varos

Torture? Blindness? Executions? It seems a little odd to single out blindness. At first, anyway. You’d have thought it would be way down the list. Perhaps an idiosyncrasy of Sil’s faulty translation circuit. There are voices who will champion Vengeance on Varos as a rare bright jewel of quality in a largely derided Colin Baker era. If we were talking basic concept, I would heartily agree with them, but I’ve always found it profoundly lacking in delivery, in terms of both plotting and executions, blindness, torture!

The live lethal game show premise, prescribed by a totalitarian regime to general audience delight/apathy is more than potent and would find later wider approval in the likes of The Running Man and The Hunger Games; it’s an Orwellian 1985, a commentary on desensitised attitudes to violence (while being hyper violent) and the manipulative grip on our attitudes and ideals the media has. Throw in a jaundiced attitude to politics (puppet leaders, rigged votes), corporate blackmail and domestic strife (telling the Stasi on your husband), and you have more than enough for the classic some proclaim this to be.

There are further positives in terms of design (grim) and music. The lighting is pretty good for this period. There’s frequently witty dialogue. But Vengeance on Varos has been handed to Ron Jones, who is more responsive here than we’ve seen previously, but he’s still incapable of mustering anything approaching drive or propulsive energy. Structurally too, it’s a mess. The various Punishment Dome challenges are half-baked and unpersuasive – mundane even – and are largely dispensed with during the second episode. Cannibals in nappies? A giant fly? Glowing “eyes”? It’s threadbare stuff, both on the page and in the depiction. 

And while it’s commendable to have a story where the higher-level conflict is essentially political/ transactional in nature, this too is so ho-hum, you almost wonder if Philip Martin and Saward are taking the piss. A fair price for Zeiton-7 sorts everything out thanks to the deus ex machina of sudden demand (and who requires it urgently? Besides Time Lords: They might have something to say about “the engineers of every known solar system” crying out for it “to drive their space-time craft”. See Attack of the Cybermen and The Two Doctors, for examples. You’d have thought someone, somewhere on Varos might have asked at some point what exactly the stuff is used for).

Etta and Arak are, of course, a sublime addition, and do much of the heavy lifting. They conspicuously elevate Vengeance on Varos with the kind of meta quality that would be crayoned across The Trial of a Time Lord the following season. There are similarly strong performances from Martin Jarvis as the Governor, Forbes Collin (the Chief), Nabil Shaban (la-la-la) and Nicolas Chagrin (Quillam). Colin’s having fun (priest parts); indeed, you’re very glad of his ability to fill the space when there’s a plank vacuum like Jason Connery there (and Geraldine Alexander). Sean’s son’s performance has to rank as one of the most wooden in the show’s history, completely unable to carry off Martin’s somewhat ornate dialogue and inducing sensitive audience members to give up the will every time he opens his mouth. 

The Blu-ray includes an extended edition with mostly redundant low-res inserts. These include more of Connery making an absolute hash of things. Very nearly as torturous are the additional TARDIS moments. I’m probably in the rank minority who quite enjoys the Doctor-Peri back and forth, but Peri’s absolutely awful here, a right hectoring cow who seems simply mean-minded and determined to kick the Doctor in the (Gallifreyan) nuts. Besides which, this edition ends in the TARDIS, rather than with one of the best final scenes in the show’s history (“What are we going to do now?”: static). The only worthwhile additions are Etta and Arak ones, the latter reacting understandably to the cannibals (“Do we have to watch this?”) and disbelief at the MSM selling fakery (“Boo. Fix. Rubbish. Don’t believe it”). 

A story with pockets of inspiration, then – Etta and Arak, Sil, the fake execution – but one that is unable to fashion them into a whole that overcomes its essential staple of the rise-against-the-fascists-leaders trope.

Attack of the Cybermen

I’m already overfamiliar with Season 22, and I’ve revisited two-thirds of it in the past eighteen months for the umpteenth time, so by this point, the effect is one where the positives and negatives are simply reinforced. One thing is abundantly clear from the season: it’s a transhumanist nightmare. A melange of horror and transgression of technological and genetic transformation runs throughout its six stories, to great or lesser extent. That starts at the start, with the Cybermen at their most unappetisingly visceral. 

Becoming a Cybermen isn’t a nice, clean process. It’s extremely painful (you need rejection drugs, just like transplant ops). You need conditioning, and it often doesn’t work (Stratton and Bates and what the Cybermen do to you). And it doesn’t even prevent weight gain, surely the Number One point in its favour on paper (the Fat Controller). Worse still, the other foremost bonus of becoming a Cybermen is surely invincibility, and that’s now right out; chop off their heads, their hands, stab them and shoot them in the head. They’re a bit of Cyber shambles. A lot of fun to see them going down, though.

All Saward and director Matthew Robinson can really do is pile on the viscera, as the story is so top-heavy with continuity and subplots, there’s precious little time to reflect. When there is – Eric locks Colin up, as is his custom – it’s with June Brown the Cyberlady (to use Sylv’s term), and it’s pretty much all exposition and a rant at the Time Lords. Speaking of Eric, his making-of-doc protest that the story is okay, actually, is punctured somewhat by his acknowledgement that Part Two is lacking (and then backtracking by suggesting he really doesn’t see what’s wrong with it). 

Because Part One is one of the strongest in the 45-minute format. It’s well paced, builds the intrigue effectively, keeps moving – despite the TARDIS scenes – and is populated by interesting characters up to interesting things. It’s only with the second part that things fall apart, as Eric hasn’t a clue where to take this other than blow things up and get all his characters killed. The Cryons – regardless of whether they were conceived as mini-Ice Warriors – are pointless filler and an unnecessary retcon, not to mention looking appallingly cheap. Eric fesses to making Lytton “a good guy here”, but you’d have to be as self-regarding as the Doctor to swallow that (he has no qualms about getting his gang killed). The quest for time travel might have been interesting – albeit, see below – but it’s largely a MacGuffin (Holmes actually tries to think out the subject in The Two Doctors, so whatever the story’s faults, it gets credit on that score). 

By far the worst behaviour is killing off Brian Glover – who didn’t star in The Empire Strikes Back as his first name isn’t Julian, for whoever wrote, and whoever didn’t check, the Blu-ray set notes – something inevitable with Saward but really very dumb, Today, the show wouldn’t miss a trick, and he’d be off on travels as a new companion. As it is, he’s treated like D84 only even less charitably (at least the latter gets a commendable sacrifice, Griffiths is simply mown down). It might have mattered less had Donald Pleasance (!) been cast, and would surely not have mattered at all had Pennant Roberts got the directing gig (that this was on the cards is hilarious to contemplate; we’d have a spiritual sequel to Warriors of the Deep rather than Resurrection of the Daleks). 

There are lots of things here that are very good. The music is great. The direction stands up for the most part; the location work is straight-up terrific. The action occasionally needed an extra take, but you appreciate it’s doing it mostly right, and Robinson only really messes up with Cyber Control, failing to stage the Cyber Disco Inferno in Part Two very well at all and not even trying to make the best of Michael Kilgariff (surely he’d seen Apocalypse Now, and would have been aware that you film a fat man, even a fat man dressed as a robot, judiciously if you want to achieve dramatic effect). All that said, I kind of like the very dumb one thinking someone’s obligingly left him out a tray of Cyber coke to sniff.

Cyberman: There is a rogue cybermen on Level Four, leader.

Random observations. G-force in the TARDIS? “He’s allergic to nylon.” The camp sewer inspector/stand-up routine (and his bulges). Colin on great comedy form (playing Phantom of the Opera; donning a policeman’s helmet; beating people up left, right and centre). “Inform Moonbase…” What year is this Moonbase? Pre-2070? Do they abandon the Moon in the next century so need to invade (it could be the ship in the dark side IS the Moonbase, but it doesn’t track that way)? “You said you came from Fulham.” The Web of Time business is curious in its inviolability, and I’m wondering if this is where it first gained cachet (according to TARDIS wiki, yes)? That being the case, it’s one where you have to credit Eric for attempting to impose some kind of working logic on time travel and lines. The rogue Cybermen are toxic cybermisogynists, really, aren’t they, out to get the ladies and Cyberladies? The “sour, rank odour of death” permeates the season, as Colin’s saying something very similar in The Two Doctors, and there’s more to come in Revelation of the Daleks. 

The Two Doctors

Eric Saward had it right that Robert Holmes seemed to run out of steam with The Two Doctors halfway through the third episode, but elsewhere (historically), he had many positives to say about it, less so the knock-on of JN-T’s changing demands (location etc). The miracle is that, having encumbered Bob with a shopping list (Doctors, monsters, New Orleans then Spain), the story is as good as it is. And it’s an added miracle it’s as good as it is, given Peter Moffat is directing. 

Yes, I know he did the unforgiveable and revealed Varl in long shot (although, we already knew there were Sontarans in it, right?) but his work on the story is head-and-shoulders above anything else with his name attached. Maybe that’s partly down to Peter Howell’s score, something of a masterpiece – the most remarkable thing about this season is that all the scores, with the possible exception of Parker’s, are really good – layering on the space station’s atmosphere, or the Sontarans’ militarism, or the sultry Spain locale. But no, there’s also effective lighting throughout, the action is well-edited (meaning it works as action, be it stabbing Stike or the Shockeye-Doctor chase). Don’t get me wrong, I’m not making out this is Graeme Harper or even Matthew Robinson level, but neither does it crawl along like The Visitation. 

One might argue Moffat’s real failing is with the tone, ironic since he was concerned about the content and told JN-T as much. What he isn’t is artful or sensitive, so the violence, brutality and invective are pretty much in your face, be it killing Donna Arana, Shockeye eating a rat (“Shockeye eats a rat” was a headline on the cover of an ’80s fanzine; I wish I could remember which), Jamie protecting his nest (which looks very like an attempt to rape Peri, and as a cliffhanger too), Shockeye bludgeoning a lorry driver as Doctorgum looks on, slashing Colin, getting suffocated (“Your just desserts”), and of course poor Oscar’s demise. 

It’s the latter that’s particularly unnecessary and mean spirited, but par for course in a season that already got rid of Brian Glover and would follow suit with Alexi Sayle. At the same time, this Tobe Hooper-esque under-direction (or lack of style), compounds the messaging to undeniably transgressive effect. John Stratton’s Shockeye is a ghastly grotesque bon viveur, and arguably, his ogling fleshy beasts (or breasts) has the very impact it should, aesthetically repellent on every level (Saward said something to the effect that Stratton was well cast but the execution suffered, but there’s an argument to be made that he ought to be this stark). Jaqueline Pearce’s regression, licking up the Doctors’ blood, is powerfully unsettling (and again, profoundly helped by the Howell score).

I won’t spend much time on the “The Two Doctors is racist” charge that many have levelled. It’s been defended appropriately by Rob Shearman, and I think he’s correct. You can find my full unexpurgated thoughts on it here. The story has a whole lot going on with regard to the sins and assumptions of modification (okay for Time Lords and their symbiotic nuclei, not okay for Androgums), which is the season all over, as alluded in the introduction. There’re plentiful other interesting ideas in here too; this is a story where the Doctor and Dastari can argue ethics for five minutes, while another Doctor can ascend to the astral plane to locate his other self or deliver an extremely well-written piece of existential angst concerning the collapse of the Universe (over a very few centuries). On the food subject, it’s notable that Shockeye, as part of a clearly space-age constitution (he’s getting no nasties off the rat) has no aversion to GM (since he’s all for cooking up that Sontaran leg later). He’s much more outspoken when it’s applied to his own species, of course.

Talking of the Sontarans, one has to respect Stike’s resilience. He’s stabbed, then poisoned, and then has his DNA broken down, and only then does he, in his rather confused state, make the fatal error of returning to his ship set on self-destruct (Stike benefits from a fine Clinton Greyn performance). It’s with the monsters, and their rather dismissive dispatch, that I think The Two Doctors comes a cropper in the final episode. Holmes has a good enough gag with the primed (for one journey) module, but he lets the proceedings decelerate into a simplistic chase (well, two chases), when there was room, and the need, for something else going on. 

Talking of Rapey Jamie, when he wasn’t doing Norman Wisdom in The Early Bird, I was given pause to consider his strange and drastic mental breakdown – happening while there are still-smoking blaster bolts on the station? – must have been because Sontarans and Shockeye are so different to those nice, clean, manageable ’60s enemies. Trout’s great, of course, but you don’t bring an actor back to an iconic role and then have him play someone you didn’t especially want to see for half his screen time. 

I watched the extended Part One for this, and there’s nothing there that was needed. Indeed, the added bit with the sleepy sentry actively diminishes the sequence, while the walk back to the TARDIS post-fishing gives us the old double location problem (see also Wales as Eye of Orion and the Death Zone, and Lanzarote as Lanzarote and Sarn) where an alien planet that looks like Spain isn’t cutting it. It just about gets away with the fishing scene as it’s overcast and a distinct location, but the return is sunny and in the countryside… just like later.

Revelation of the Daleks

You watch Revelation of the Daleks and see (or rather hear) Saward’s new-found confidence with his Holmes-inspired voice, and you’re left wishing he’d got to make Season 23 as envisaged. True, it would have been replete with Mission to Magnuses and Ultimate Evils, and doubtless egregious pairings of director and material – I recall Eric suggesting JN-T got quite jealous if anyone was getting the limelight in that regard, à la Grimwade and Harper, little realising, due to unquenchable hubris, that he’d only have benefited from such choices – but this is on a level that’s one in the eye for anyone suggesting Grade was right, and the show did deserve to be cancelled.

It’s always seemed strange to me that Revelation of the Daleks isn’t held in that high regard. Perhaps the common complaint of a side-lined Doctor is part of it (more important is that you feel his presence, more than can be said for The Mark of the Rani, face full of dog shit aside). Or some of the elements jar, be it the DJ or Tasambeker (I can see that she might not match with Eric’s vision, but I absolutely believe Jenny Tomasin’s wretched portrayal). Perhaps it’s the sheer visceral twistedness of it all, its ghoulish mash-up of Evelyn Waugh, pop art, Skaro’s finest and mercs. 

The only area I’m willing to give ground to the unimpressed is the now wearisome Saward schtick of offing all and sundry as if everything is the final end. I’ll give you snuffing out the foolishly noble knight (character arc), Kara (simply a more aesthetically pleasing face of the Great Healer and equally ruthless). But Natasha and Grigory is the worst kind of lazy tying off of knots; nothing’s achieved by killing them. No point is made (other than the despairing, enduring hopelessness of it all, right Eric?) And the DJ’s death is not only mean-minded (see previously Griffiths and Oscar), but walking into the line of fire makes him look a complete pranny. On top of it all, Eric rewards a couple of avowed torturers (Takis and Lilt) with the keys to Necros.

But this is giddy, superlative stuff. Fresh and as vibrant as it was in 1985. It’s a sad thing to recognise – and I’ll readily admit I haven’t followed his every move – that Harper never equalled his early Whos for creative flourish and dexterity. Certainly, his return for nu-Who, be it down to the edicts of house style or simply being twenty years older, isn’t a patch on this. Even Star Cops, only a couple of years later, conspicuously fails to make you sit up and take notice in the way this does. 

It definitely helps that Saward has written a script where no scene is extraneous (the pleasure of a great script, be it movie or TV, is that on revisiting it, you look forward to every scene as a memorable one, as you do here). But Harper also pulls it off with nothing less than formidable chops in every department, from the snowy wastes of Necros (that hand grabbing lunch!), to the DJ’s inspired scene/ costume/ mood shifts, each one offering a variation on intensity, to Davros as Big Brother commentator whispering poisons. And the visualisation of Davros – and Terry Molloy’s performance, topping even Michael Wisher – has never been better, despite being largely confined to a tube. The digital colour lines, the sound effects of his whirring survival chamber. 

This might be the most atmospheric story ever. The scene with Stengos remains a masterpiece in miniature. I’m rather glad scheduling prevented Harper from directing Battlefield (if memory serves), because there’s only so much anyone can do to make a silk purse out of any old tat, but I could imagine him secured for the entirety of The Trial of a Time Lord, akin to Douglas Camfield and The Daleks’ Master Plan, and improving it radically. Oh, and the Jobel toupee is Harper’s Hitchcock Topaz dress moment (except that Topaz is otherwise lousy).

Obviously, William Gaunt, Eleanor Bron, Clive Swift – particularly Swift – Sayle, Molloy – particularly Molloy – Hugh Walters, Trevor Cooper, John Ogwen, Colin Spaull and Alec Linstead are all top flight. Even Stephen Flynn and Bridget Lynch-Bosse deserve credit for the variety of young stripling roles that incapacitated Vengeance on Varos’ equivalents (“At least you won’t die in ignorance”: another great line). Colin and Nicola – “Get away from me, you creep”; “O-ho, but not by you” – are on fine form, and Roger Limb delivers a score of a piece with Caves of Androzani, one that’s as much – tremendous – sound effects as doomy atmospherics. Given how superb his work is here, and in The Box of Delights, it’s the greater shame how lethargic most of his contributions to the Davison era are (to be fair, they generally had dodgy directors).

Revelation of the Daleks is also the natural end point of the season, taking in all the body horror, possession, mind control and general transhumanism – “I have offered you immortality…” – the series has to offer, with some cannibalism (I mean, consumer resistance), pervasive mass surveillance and the right kind of continuity on top. With regard to the latter, I mean that this story encourages the sense of a broader universe, something Saward was inviting in his better stories, not in a slavish way, but one that identifies key galactic players and sticking points (everyone wants time travel, which of course the Daleks have, but evidently without sufficient perspicacity to use it to ultimate advantage). Oh, and the Doctor taking out the Dalek eyepiece must be his best bit of marksmanship since, oh… The Face of Evil?

Blu-ray Extras


Attack of the Cybermen

Making Of – It’s a decently put together one, this, with Robinson uber-confident (funny he should have pretty much stopped directing after switching to producer, since no one’s going to ask him about his work on The Bench or Servants). There’s an amusing clash of perspectives too, Sir Ian attempting to hog a story credit while Eric offers a casual bitch slap (in both respects, though, you’d have assumed the parties wanted to claim as little responsibility as possible). Molloy also endearingly admits he didn’t have the physical presence for a tough cop (that does sort-of work in the character’s favour, though – we believe he’s in over his head).

Behind the Sofa – A good line up here. I groaned at seeing Wendy and Sylv together, but while she’s a bit “What?” to him (that’s a guttural Caledonian dialect for you), they’re quite agreeable. It probably helps that there’s much less of them than Peter/Janet/Sarah and Colin/Nicola/Terry. The latter seems to be going through a later-life crisis, having grown his hair out and dressed as a hipster in a porkpie hat and paisley trousers. Janet: “When I see him, I’m going to tell him he looks better in the Davros makeup”. Also Janet, poleaxed by feminist hubris: “This was written by a woman”. I mean sure, Eric does look a little like an old lady these days, but even Wendy got the actual author right. “There’s some great one-liners in this.” Davo: “Once you break a rule inside the TARDIS, you can break it whenever you want” (firing weapons). Jaunty walk Cyberman in Cyber Control gets a call out. Davo’s laughter at the very, very dumb Cyberman whose arm catches alight: “Sometimes it seems terribly easy to get rid of Cybermen, doesn’t it?” Colin protesting about being pilloried for his character’s violence: “As if it’s my fault”. Calm down, dear. Davo suggesting he needs an extra shield of protection against Colin’s overacting for the rest of the season. Very funny. Very dry. It’s just as shame HIS Doctor had none of that.

Colin Baker in Conversation – Sweet’s a good interviewer, even if his cod-psychologising invariably gets dismissed out of turn. There’s a lot on Colin’s childhood here, perhaps too much (I’m only so interested, I’ll admit), which means it’s a good thing this is a long interview. Baker’s always eager and forthcoming, and there’s some good low-key stuff on Catholicism (rather than a monk, he thought he’d be a priest), working in the solicitor’s office, Gilbert and Sullivan, his Paul Scofield impression, mentioning David Suchet was in his class (and notably, he was at drama school a good three- or four-years senior to his classmates) and Helen Mirren completely naked. But… nothing on Anthony Hopkins (naked or otherwise). Nothing on Bayban the Butcher. 

He’s also fairly sanguine and upbeat overall, considering his TV career nosedived after he was axed from the show (he still says he’d like to do more TV work…). He notes the loss of son Jack gave him perspective on his sacking, while acknowledging too that he has done quite well out of the insecure actor’s life. JN-T asked him on Arc of Infinity… could you leave a little room for other people” in his performance. Maybe it was that that got Grade and Powell’s goat. Or maybe Liza Goddard. Or maybe it was Davo’s story about ousting JN-T. Even if Powell had agreed to Colin’s terms – a third season, leaving gracefully – he’d have been saddled with Cartmel dreck, so it was probably for the best. 

Vengeance on Varos

Behind the Sofa – Janet had seen this one before (Davison: “That’s why you watched him. Because he tried to kill me”). Janet’s response on Davo’s outrage that Colin has two facial gestures on the opening titles (“Maybe he’s a more versatile actor”). Wendy Padbury is NOT keen on the violence, so it’s a shame she and Colin weren’t in a coof-screened room together having it out (Sylvester suggests it commits the sin of showing what it’s protesting; Colin’s response to critics is “Duh!”) Wendy: “I’m quite shocked by all this. It’s just terrible”, and it’s unwatchable for kids – “Bring back the Quarks, I say”. “Don’t mind if I don’t join you” was Colin’s suggestion. “Peri, eh?” – “That was JN-T’s, not mine” (and much discussion of product placement). Davo’s not keen on the meta of “Do you get all the priest parts?”; “I never like that”. Which might explain why his Doctor’s so BOR-ING.

Michael Grade in Conversation – He’s a bit of a tit, to be honest, and there’s no way this justifies fifty minutes going round in circles. Sweet’s too damn nice to get anything interesting out of him, but I doubt anyone would have, since he’s inherently Machiavellian while flashing the genial and honest. The cancellation was definitely his decision, yet he claims no knowledge of the McCoy era. He mutters nonsense about commitments etc (yet he canned The Tripods), so he’s BS-ing even here. Or just making shit up. Same thing. He thinks Blake’s 7 was shit. I don’t think he watched it, though. He equates quality with SFX budget. 

He says he didn’t sack Colin (“I would never insist”). Which sounds like ordering but not ordering a Mafia hit. Sweet notes he said how wonderful Season 23 was pre-launch: “You have to be loyal to your programmes in public”. You mean, like when you slated Season 22 in public? You really can’t believe a word he says. He admits to the free trip to America with BBC Enterprises promoting the show (it’s JN-T all over, but less flamboyant). Roland Rat is mentioned. Liza Goddard too. Corrie scheduling (“You wouldn’t put a successful show opposite Corrie”). RTD Who was “not my cup of tea”, but he breathed life into it. I’ll agree with him on that one. C4. There’s always a Doctor Who. Takes credit for Black Adder 2 and Allo Allo (both these have been debunked as spin).  Band Aid. The Singing Detective. 

The Mark of the Rani

The Making Of is almost as dull as the story itself (and goes on and on and on). There are some nice recollections from Colin and Kate of their earlier collaborations, but that’s about it.

Behind the Sofa – Sutton and Padbury (“My favourite so far”) come out in approval of this one, basically because it isn’t nearly as nasty as the other two. Davo says it wasn’t (his favourite) “but I can’t think of what was”. Colin is lodged in his “defend my era” mode, which means extolling the praises of P&J (you can’t win this one, Colin). Nicola notes, of Peri’s enviro-messaging “doing my Greta Thunberg”. Peter objects to Janet going on about the woman director and writer (“Am I allowed to say man director?”); he’s lucky the screen prevented him from receiving a Gallifreyan nuts-knee interface. 

The Two Doctors

The Making Of is quite good (it’s new), leading with how JN-T liked a jolly. Carmen Gómez (Anita) is now Deputy-Mayor of Gibraltar. Tim Raynham (Varl) seems like a nice guy. Colin says how very, very funny Jaqueline Pearce was. It was HOT (Sontarans). Frazer was a bad boy who had a fling with the script girl. As they (Nicola especially) note, the hacienda set interiors are first class. Some good Peter Howell contributions, who admits to the spaghetti-western influence on the score. He was able to get in a classical guitarist, despite JN-T’s reluctance. 

Behind the Sofa – Davo observes the instant innuendo. Colin – who should know better – cites cannibalism. Much Davo and crew response to Nicola’s attire or lack thereof (but… Planet of Fire, Peter?) Dastari looks like “a really bad West End agent”. Davo’s response to the rat is priceless. Janet observes Stratton’s “understated performance”. “That’s a bit much” (Davo on Oscar’s demise). 


Making Of – The cast praise Roberts (all casts do praise him). Darrow says Colin was “very good” (he wasn’t smirking when he said it, but perhaps I didn’t catch the deadpan). We’re repeatedly told how JN-T got quite cross with Darrow (what did he expect from him?) Eric quite likes his performance, attesting to its entertainment value, but it would have been “better in another programme” (one might say that about every aspect of the story, though, including the script editing). 

Behind the Sofa – Fielding’s on witty form. “It’s a dance, isn’t it?”; “And he hasn’t been using hand cream” (the Borad). PD on PD: “It’s going to be a feast of subtlety here”. Much laughter at the skeleton plopping to the floor – Davo’s reactions throughout are very funny. Colin thinks Darrow was “just slightly misguided on this occasion”. Fielding: “Be careful, Colin. You’re acting with Paul Darrow”; “These two need to get their teeth out of the scenery”. Sarah on Tekker stealing a scene by doing nothing while Colin bursts every blood vessel overacting: “Oh, look at Paul’s face”. Of his demise (Fielding): “That’s taken the gilt of the gingerbread, hasn’t it?” “That’s not very nice of Dr Bully” (Colin agrees). Overall, Davo thinks it was fun, while Janet and Sarah agree they enjoyed it most so far. So perhaps there’s something to be said for the general public response. 

In Conversation with Nicola Bryant is surely the highlight of the new materials on the set. Okay, there isn’t much probing of a her post-Who career (because there isn’t much, dramatically; Matthew could focus on her numerous ads stints that doubtless have seen her through tidily – not least “numerous medical and pharmaceutical companies”, because she continues to have scruples about being deceitful at others’ behests). And Matthew rather flounders when it comes to alluding that Colin was the highlight of her Who relationship (because, much as she adores him, no Who and no Nev Fountain, who goes conspicuously unmentioned too. She does mention her charity work, which is a quite appalling crutch for the otherwise unfulfilled, those who have to rely on the ever-giving Big Finish and cons for a crust).

I know, I’m being a bitch. But mostly, this is really interesting and forthcoming. A whole chunk of the proceedings revolves around Nicola faking being an American and how she was rather dropped in it by Terry Carney, straight out of drama school, persuaded continually not to tell JN-T and thus maintaining the illusion to all but Colin (and even then, a year after they’d started working together) for the duration of Who. One might have little sympathy, and suggest it would have been better to fess up, come hell or highwater. Particularly as it compounds her drama teacher at Webster Douglas’ reaction, who “practically cried” on hearing she’d got Peri: “You’ve killed your career, darling”. All that classy theatre work might have materialised. On the other hand, it is, as Sweet suggests, your classic “Can you ride a horse?” fudge actors always engage in; that’s the profession. Only this time it was “don’t swim, I’m married and I’m British, but…” to be concealed (“Drowning’s my specialty…”) “I felt I did more acting off screen than on” of her maintained charades.

Sweet also elicits some genuinely interesting discussion of her deaf mother (who was rendered blind and deaf from measles, recovered her sight and underwent a successful, and then much less so, op to restore her hearing). JN-T sounds like he fancied himself a Svengali to her career (Sweet draws a Hitch/ Tippi Hedren allusion, but gay). How she had to wear a headband for a year or so and the whole costume thing (of ’80s photoshoots, Sweet expresses surprise at who did say yes to them, doubtless alluding to forthright Fielding). How he was kind, “Generally… if I did as I was told”. BBC culture (“One in three would put a hand on my behind”). The Colin bum bite is NOT mentioned specifically (only that he comes off very badly), perhaps because she didn’t want it seized on for a Twitter storm. Nor is JN-T spitting in her face years later at a convention (I’ve read this was the last time she encountered him). 

There are anecdotes I’d heard before (“How do you feel about the death of Doctor Who?”) and ones that are obvious (“Who told you to make that record?”), but the forthcoming nature of the chat makes it compulsive viewing. The panto anecdote, where she initially demurred at doing it on top of eighteen-hour days in the studio, saw her nixed to appear in A Fix with the Sontarans as punishment (in retrospect, of course, she was much blessed). She relented and did the panto, naturally. Sweet wonders if JN-T’s activities (calling a panto photoshoot in the studio) may have affected Top Floor. He never asked Grade this, though (perhaps he should ask Jonathan Powell. He just wants to keep everyone sweet, though, doesn’t he?)

Nicola tells how she was Mike Smith (Dursley McLinden) of Remembrance of the Daleks’ beard, and despite everything, 99 percent of the time, “I was just so happy” (which seems bizarre if you have all this troubling your conscience constantly, but still). And Dominic West (I had to look it up Rock’n’Roll, 2006) told her she should have won an Oscar for her performance as an American. JN-T essentially got rid of her (she was happy to go, but he clearly didn’t want to give her a new contract, doubtless thinking of all the publicity a new companion would get, even more so an all singing, all dancing one).  Oh, and no mention of her acting tips to (Sarah Berger)? Kid gloves, Matthew.

Revelation of the Daleks

Revelation Exhumed – A great doc, this. The statue was JN-T’s idea. Harper (in 2005) admits “It really has a tremendously modern feel”.

Behind the Sofa – One that rather exposes the limits of Davo’s contributions. Either he’s just not into it being good, or he begrudges it (he does admit it’s well directed, but he doesn’t seem inquisitive about it; doesn’t he know it was Harper?) He has less to say, but when he does, it’s stuff he’s said before about crap deaths or people rendered unconscious easily. Perhaps he was wondering if he should have stayed for a fourth…

Colin’s right about Davros (“I still look at the eyes”), something Eric probably did too, what with the lightning coming from the third one. Linstead dribbled on Colin. Molloy asks for his finger back.

Generally, everyone is visibly impressed by the production values, repulsed by Jobel’s “mother” line, the killing (Wendy) and not jealous of Nicola’s costumes (Janet and Sarah; “I look at Jo Grant’s costumes and think, you lucky cow!”). Janet was going to give Timelash as her favourite but admits its Revelation of the Daleks. Sylv is very complimentary about Colin’s perf, which is nice of him. Doesn’t mean he (Sylvester) was any good, though.

The Consensus


A few notable poll placings over the years:

DWM 1985/1998/09/14

1. Revelation of the Daleks (1, 34, 46, 70)
2. The Two Doctors (2, 50, 125, 138)
3. Vengeance on Varos (5, 72, 124, 135)
4. The Mark of the Rani (4, 107, 148, 182)
5. Attack of the Cybermen (3, 92, 161, 187)
6. Timelash (6, 157, 199, 238)

Outpost Gallifrey 2003

1. Revelation of the Daleks (24)
2. The Two Doctors (74)
3. Vengeance on Varos (75)
4. Attack of the Cybermen (100)
5. The Mark of the Rani (103)
6. Timelash (160)

DWB 1985/87/89

1. Revelation of the Daleks (7, 14, 20)
2. Vengeance on Varos (21, 38, 50)
3. The Two Doctors (20, 59, 58)
4. Attack of the Cybermen (35, 80, 69)
5. The Mark of the Rani (51, 75, 95)
6. Timelash (76, – , –)

Addendum 27/05/23:

DWM 1985/1998/09/14

1. Revelation of the Daleks (1, 34, 46, 70, 1/8)
2. The Two Doctors (2, 50, 125, 138, 2/8)
3. Vengeance on Varos (5, 72, 124, 135, 3/8)
4. The Mark of the Rani (4, 107, 148, 182, 5/8)
5. Attack of the Cybermen (3, 92, 161, 187, 6/8)
6. Timelash (6, 157, 199, 238, 8/8)


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