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I’ve never heard such a farrago of unscientific rubbish in all my life.

Worst to Best

Doctor Who
Season 9 – Worst to Best


Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks were well into their stride as Doctor Who’s producer and script editor by Season 9, and some would suggest this confidence rather shows itself detrimentally, that a hint of resting on one’s laurels has crept in. Season 8 may have suffered a surfeit of the Master, but it was as much its own thing as Season 7 had been (if arguably less aesthetically and tonally at odds with the show’s prior template). With Season 9, though, we find the series’ first wholesale embrace of fandom’s eternal delight (and bane): continuity.

Sure, there’d been Daleks and Cybermen reappearing regularly, and the odd additional returning monster besides, and the advent of (named) Time Lords had informed the previous season’s content and occasional explicit missions. But Season 9’s selection of treats were awash with lore. Even the least-in-thrall story – The Mutants – was about the Doctor running a Time Lord errand. Elsewhere, the Master returned (twice, one outing having him performing the same duties as The Daemons, but swapping the dog collar for a lab coat), the Daleks returned, the Ice Warriors returned, there was another Time Lords’ mission and the Silurians’ cousins broke surface. The following (anniversary) year was actually the less chocker of the two. 

For the most part, though, there was nevertheless some effort to do something different. The Daleks story had a more than serviceable and considered plot. The Ice Warriors were repurposed, no longer villains. The Time Lord missions never seem intrusively more than what they are: a means to get the Doctor off Earth. UNIT’s oversight has also been truncated, bookending the season. It’s only with the era-grown adversaries that a certain fatigue is evident. The Sea Devils represent an improved design on their land-locked cousins, but they’re otherwise entirely regressive, mob monsters, with autopilot motivation and rote characterisation (that is, the single one of their number who just-about constitutes a character). The Master is fun – Delgado is a blast – but he’s more cartoonish than ever.

If anything, the overriding sense of familiarity serves to undersell the innovation. Paradox-reliant as it is, Day of the Daleks’ time-travel territory is more sophisticated than the show tends to allow (until Moffat came along anyway, and he’d quickly decide taking the piss was preferable to being genuinely clever with it). The Mutants is rather more satisfying conceptually than its nearest relative, Full Circle from the “most cerebral” season of the show. Bidders would also seem to be lifting The Time Monster’s more outré ideas but gaining applause, rather than derision, in the process (admittedly, most will allow that the TARDIS-within-a-TARDIS is a great idea, even if otherwise lambasting the story).

And then there’s the whole predictive-programming angle. And how much is predictive programming, and how much soft disclosure, whether “read-in” or synchronistic fortuity? I recall bookshop browsing a title that escapes me a couple of decades back that appeared to be suggesting the classic series was ripe fodder for soft disclosure and scoffing inwardly that anyone would think a product so makeshift could be subject to any overt design or edicts in that regard. But when you take in the Pertwee era and consider how it regularly checks boxes that show up in conspiracy culture, you could almost be forgiven for performing a double take.

ETs using time travel in an attempt to ensure their continuing stranglehold on the Earth (Day of the Daleks: Episode 4, at any rate). A backward, superstitious planet (for Peladon read Earth) being considered for entry into the wider universe. Alternatively, the same as a shameless plug for globalism (or alternatively again: suggesting such systems are inherently corrupt). Humans as the inheritors of the planet who owe their status to abdicating reptiles (the Silurians and Seas Devils sell the sham idea of a dino-centric history). Luciferian becoming, the apotheosis of humanity as the ultimate goal (Ky becomes superman; one might see this as a shift in dimensional awareness, but the first thing he does is kill someone). The deadbeat take on Atlantis, that, if it existed, it was basically a stand-in for Crete, and  this was around 3,500 years ago rather than 10,000+ (on the other hand, it does feature time-travelling Atlanteans fetching up in the Earth’s present).

If Season 9 isn’t the most lustrously composed, poised or elegant of Doctor Who offerings, then, it still has plenty going on beneath the hood.


The Time Monster

Memorably savaged by, among others, The Discontinuity Guide – “Like watching paint dry while being whipped with barbed wire” – too much of The Time Monster is laudably daft and far too wildly imaginative to dismiss out of hand. It might have been a minor classic – or even a major one – despite or because of its absurdity, but for the contributions of its director, who “would never listen”.

Perhaps Chris Bidmead would (to Barry, as then exec Producer), since Season 18 is indebted to both The Mutants (Full Circle) and The Time Monster (Logopolis). Great chunks of Robert Sloman’s (and Letts) story take place aboard the Doctor’s and Master’s TARDISes, providing a marvellous opportunity for some truly whacked-out conceptual atmospherics, but Paul Bernard renders these developments almost perfunctory. 

When we reach Atlantis – which, in fairness derives from the least-evocative Minoan leanings of the script, of Thera Island/Santorini and “one of the largest volcanic events on Earth in human history” and all – we’re delivered a deadly four-square studio slump of columns and borderline amdram. You can pull off this kind of cod-Shakespearian shakedown enjoyably, if there’s a bit of humour to the dialogue, and if the performers have a degree of enthusiasm for the task at hand (the only scenes where any is conjured involve Delgado interacting with the Atlanteans). The veterans aren’t much cop, but Aidan Murphy is a straight-up disaster as Hippias. The only triumphant performance comes from Ingrid Pitt’s dirty pillows.

I find it hard to dislike The Time Monster – I suspect, with my go-to choice for encapsulating the era’s appetite for psychedelia, Michael Ferguson, it might have exceeded expectations – but Bernard does almost everything in his power to drag it back down to Earth at every opportunity. Kronos invites derision for good reason (I’ll give him the flapping image increasing in size from the crystal, but that’s about all). Anything involving messing with time – the Roundheads, the knight, the doodlebug – may have been Sloman’s initial inspiration, but its lacklustre in both drama and visualisation. I can pick out the occasional well-conceived moment – the opening dream, the Doctor slo-mo running from Bessie – but they’re few and far between. There’s more than enough material here – it’s effectively structured as 4-2 – but it’s ironic that the frequently lab-bound first four episodes are markedly more engaging than the nominally more exotic and apocalyptic final two (the destruction of Atlantis is risible).

Letts wanted to tap that The Daemons sweet spot, so he and Sloman rustled up another blend of magic, myth and science. You can even see this template at key plot points (the Doctor and Jo spending Episode 1 getting there, to where it’s all about to kick off, and attempting to stop the god being summoned; Jo attempts self-sacrifice; a god-like entity is pled with by the Doctor). 

So they apply the Daemons’ psionic science to time. Some of the results are silly – TOMTIT – some alarming – A TARDIS sniffer outer (cock and balls) – and some glorious in their absurd effrontery: the time-flow analogue is as batshit nuts as anything the show has ever asked us to swallow, tea leaves and all. But the idea of “drawing power from the other side of time itself”, and the Doctor conjuring visions of unholy realms, suggests both The Mutants and its “unthings” and the antimatter that will be the go-to touchstone for other such uncanny environs (starting with the next story). There’s a Lovecraftian quality here that would have a lot more bite, were it not for Bernard’s pedestrian reading of the material. 

There are other points where Letts’ fancies shine through, though, such as the famed “daisiest daisy” scene. Kronos reconfigured as a large face is a better move than Mr Flappy, and what we’re given conceptually is no less concerning for its ostensibly moderate tone. She tells Jo “I can be all things. A destroyer, a healer a creator. I’m beyond good and evil as you know it”. Excepting that she clearly is not; it’s a self-justifying sop, because she deals in punishment – “Torment, of course” is the Master’s designated fate – and petulance (“…Kronos in his blind sport gave him his desire”, of the Minotaur). If we’re to believe Kronos’ assertion, we need to believe he/she has ascended to a level of existence where such polarities no longer apply, but his behaviour – giving people bull’s heads and threatening eternal punishment – illustrates that he is beyond nothing of the sort. In that sense, Kronos simply makes for a more erudite – when it suits him – incarnation of the Old Ones.

The other point to note in defence of The Time Monster is that it’s often very funny. Dicks’ writing – it’s surely him – of Ruth and Stu finds him gleefully swatting at all the women’s-lib nonsense buzzing around his BBC office like flies. Ruth is even given to impute her sex (“old women”) while attacking the opposite one, before going off and making them food (marmalade sandwiches). Delgado is revelling in his role throughout, with a dodgy Greek accent, pronouncements of pacifism, digs at crusty academia (“You know, it’s a long time since I had a hypnotic subject who turned out to be as good as you are. It’s just like old times”), referring to roundheads as “seventeenth-century poltroons!” and prematurely gloating (“You know, I thoroughly enjoyed that”). The Master’s also himself occasionally undercut. One of Dalios’ few good moments sees the Master’s skills rebuked – “A very elementary technique of fascination” – before he mocks the “emissary of the gods” assumption of his superstitious ignorance: “What of great Poseidon? What did he have for breakfast? Fish, I suppose?” The final snub of “You have said nothing to me yet” is also a keeper.

The Brigadier: A dream. Really, Doctor, you’ll be consulting the entrails of a sheep next 

There’s also possibly the era’s best moment (above), as much down to Manning’s genuine laughter as the line itself. The Brigadier’s casual “Shove a couple of anti-tank guns in the boot, will you?” is magnificent too. Less so his insistence Yates has been drinking (but that yields Yates resigned report of “Another hallucination, sir”). Benton is given too large a role for Levene’s particular talents, so that’s rather on the debit side. And then there’s Bessie’s superdrive; if you really must throw that in, this is definitely the logic-to-the-wind story to do it. 

A story that, due to control of the telepathic circuits, sees the Doctor speaking backwards. And also renders audible the voices of his subconscious, concerning some of which he is not all that proud (the ones about time ramming Jo, perhaps). Pertwee drinks a very quick cuppa at the start. Plinge is discussed, as it most certainly should be. There’s an over-reliance on in-vogue phraseology (“Oh, you know, the Minotaur and all that Cretan jazz”; “Kronos and all that bit?”; “You know sir, the King Arthur bit”). And the cliffhangers are possibly the most consistently lousy in the series’ history. If they aren’t Kronos being summoned for the umpteenth time, Mike Yates may or may not have been blown up, and Jo sees something… we don’t. 

Letts might have been wiser to request a second script of the season from Brian Hayles, since he’d come up with a more inventively barmy take on the lost continent at the other end of the decade with Warlords of Atlantis (where they’re psychically endowed Martians, and rather like Professor Zaroff, enjoy turning humans into fish people). The Time Monster is less than a real pippin of a story, then, but far from one to extract a “Suffering catfish!

The Sea Devils

Possibly the most impressively mounted story of its era, and certainly the most consistently acclaimed of the season, yet The Sea Devils really isn’t all that. It’s a six-parter that barely has sufficient plot for four, and it’s a sequel to The Silurians that repeats the original’s major plot points and motivations in the least imaginative fashion. So while legitimate praise is due director Michael E Briant and actors Clive Morton, Edwin Richfield and Martin Boddey – and musician Malcolm Clarke, yes really – this is a rare case of writer Malcolm Hulke coming unstuck.

Perhaps it was the retinue of demands, of almost Saward-esque levels – feature the Master, the Navy, the Silurians’ aquatic cousins – that undid him. But there seems to be a more pervasive resignation to charting an unfiltered course here. There’s no “third-act” twist such as The Silurians’ plague. All The Sea Devils – bland, identikit title monsters beneath the string-vest aesthetics – can boast is replacing Morton’s Trenchard with another blinkered buffoon (Boddey’s Walker). 

Kidnapping a nuclear submarine is a Bond villain plot, and there’s a similar rudimentary quality to the structure and dramatics. We even have the Doctor repeating his request for peace in the face of both his previous failure and the overt aggressiveness of the gun-waving Sea Devils; it miraculously seems to have some effect until depth charging mercifully puts an end to any laborious been-there arbitration (in the space of about five minutes). He’s actually been highly deceptive anyway, as he knows full well the humans will have none of it – unless he’s simply delusionary on this point, refusing to be told better – so he would effectively be leading them into a trap, were they amenable to a peaceable solution.

The positives of a Hulke script are still here, namely strong characterisation (although Briant’s casting also helps). Morton plays Trenchard’s blindness to the truth perfectly, while Walker is the encapsulation of a soulless bureaucrat, fixated on his stomach and entirely detached from the horrors of war. Of course, being a commie, Hulke is prone to going a wee bit overboard underlining his foibles. Trenchard’s easily manipulated through patriotism, while Walker turns into a mewling coward at the first sign of actual danger to his person. Still, the scenes of him stuffing his face while talking up nuke strikes are as close to Leone – A Fistful of Dynamite, released the same year – as the show gets. Richfield is a perfectly long-suffering foil for the Doctor throughout, and every bit as frustrated by those in his way (one thing about Walker is that he’s the bigger tosser who actually merits the Doctor being a tosser to him). Jo has nothing to do for the last three episodes, while Blythe (June Murphy) is self-consciously reduced to making tea and sandwiches. 

Of which, Pertwee enjoys some good material, bribing boatmen, prideful of his workmanship which promptly blows up, playing golf blindfold, munching a sandwich mid-Master swordfight (a sequence where, admittedly, the Clarke score is highly inappropriate) and greedily scoffing a plateful after denying them to Jo (is his food affectation a compare-and-contrast with Walker?) Also: “Akira!”; “I’ve reversed the polarity of the neutron flow”. Delgado’s fun, of course, watching The Clangers, but much more effective in the opening episodes than hissably egging the Sea Devils on later. He obviously keeps Master masks handily upon his person at all times too.

None of that good work can distract from the manner in which the last two episodes devolve into hardware-heavy, formulaic action. Briant handles such business with aplomb, undaunted by the scale, even if his stuntmen make better stuntmen than they do Sea Devils (you can almost see them trying to keep their heads on). The Dutch-angle stricken studio sea fort interior is an outstanding piece of work (why can’t they all be that good?) What Briant can’t do is fix the script. Thus, About Time is really stretching it to suggest the story is “set in a world where the Sea Devils are ‘normality’ and everything the humans do is alien” (this based on the two examples I’ve cited, the fort and eating. I want some of what Wood’s been smoking). 

As for navy, this is Doctor Who as a Jerry Bruckheimer production, required to be nice about the military for gratis use of resources (obviously, Hulke wasn’t going to critique THEM). One might suggest that’s simply the next step on from UNIT trappings, but there’s a certain irony with Buddhist Barry (ex-Navy, along with Pertwee and Hulke and Delgado) keen to spotlight and advocate their juggernaut (as the Doctor says, violence doesn’t get you anywhere… except when you’re blasting at Ogrons). I guess it’s no more ironic than working for paradigm-enforcing propaganda machine the BBC itself (About Time suggests the Navy doesn’t come out of the story too well, but that’s a fairly tepid argument, unless you have Top Gun in mind as the low bar for poster campaigns). If you wanted to present a case for the show being a fully compromised, slavishly Hegelian work occasionally utilised to drop in soft disclosure/disinformation, The Sea Devils will happily thrive on such a charge, long before nu-Who began working overtime.

On that front, the story is keen to impress man as an ape-evolved destructive force (one that doubtless needs Marxist principles to keep it from acting like beasts). And of course, the reptiles have prior claim and first dibs on the place. This idea smacks a little of Donald Marshall being told the Vril were prehistoric reptiles, and Corey Goode that the Raptors were indigenous too. When Walker professes “We’re not going to hand the world over to a lot of lizards, you know”, the joke is that we already did.

The disappointment of The Sea Devils is mainly that it isn’t a patch on The Silurians, then. There’s polished work from all concerned, performance and production-wise, iconic monsters that still look pretty cool and a score that has gone from earsore to innovative classic. But honestly, I prefer…

The Mutants

Die, Overlord! Die!” Frequently consigned to the dog-end, lower depths of Doctor Who appreciation, The Mutants gets accused of being cheap, tatty, badly directed, boring and populated by terrible performances. There’s certainly at least one of the latter present, but while all charges are, at points, worthy of some consideration, the story’s also imaginative, (mostly) well-designed, stylishly shot and just plain weird.

The much-vaunted political allegory aspect tends to receive all the attention in any Cliff’s Notes summary of the story, but it’s easily the least interesting – mostly because it’s as subtle as a Cartmel in its massaging into the narrative – thematic element. What you need to know is British withdrawal from India in 1947 blah-blah-blah and Apartheid blah-blah-blah. The presentation of the Earth Empire is consequently emphasised to the max as echoing the same. With some added Germans and genocide. 

But the native Solonians – the Mutts – and their evolutionary cycle is much more engaging, more because of its presentation than any “scientific” rigour. You’ve got James Acheson’s proficient and sympathetic costumes to sell the creatures. The concept would be riffed on by fan Andrew Smith in the later Full Circle, and in more gruey and decidedly less natural fashion by The Fly remake (and in District 9); The Mutants shares with Cronenberg, albeit in disparate fashion philosophically, the idea that bodily transformation – and disease – isn’t necessarily an adversary. 

On that most basic level, you have the idea of illness as a means for the body to resolve issues. In The Mutants, the Bristol Boys have taken Letts’ mutant-species suggestion at its most elementary – a caterpillar becomes a butterfly – and lent it some mystery and (via Chris Barry) glam psychedelia. The transformation through seasonal change would be revisited in The Planet that Slept, obviously, but here it carries with it a metaphysical charge. 

Varl is told telepathically to go to the place of sleeping. The two-thousand years Solos takes to go round its sun – so a 500-year Solonian summer – might be compared to the concept of Earth’s 25,000-year cycles, and Ky’s change into Super Ky, presented as a light being capable of “so much more” than you could imagine could be linked to higher-density “ascension” from 3D to 4D to 5D and beyond (for which 1987’s Harmonic Convergence and 2012’s alignment represent key shift dates). One might even consider how history on Solos has been rewritten and forgotten, its culture destroyed by the Overlords, as a reflection of how our own awareness of who we are has been obscured, post-the 1700 Event. Then there’s the way “population control can be affected by atmospheric means”. Chemtrails, anyone? It’s also notable how all the scientists misread the situation – the mutation is actually transformation – something they’re never ever wont to do (jumping aboard the climate change bandwagon for fear of reprisal).

Perhaps suitably, the prescribed treatment for the Solonians’ excessively pronounced condition is itself excessively pronounced. A rather tribal, warfaring lot by most indications, they are hardly striving for spiritual development, such that Ky – the sensitive one as these things go – is suddenly overwhelmed by an enlightened state (and then promptly kills the Marshal…) But The Mutants benefits from the flavour that this is all ancient in stature and pre-ordained, underwriting a sense of authenticity as a balance against its more egregious aspects. There are Time Lord missions, ancient inscriptions (The Time Lords as Yahweh send down some tablets), strange supernatural chambers, a gone-native Earth scientist. 

Baker and Martin rather try to shoot themselves in the foot with other elements, such as why Jaeger is convinced particle inversion is the key to transforming the Solos atmosphere (as a plot device, it isn’t entirely unlike the Marshall’s defence shield in their later The Armageddon Factor, expected to be conjured from thin air). It is, then, gratifying that Jaeger, who has continually warned the Marshal his plans are untenable, then reports that all the rockets have been a bust. That the Doctor is then, tout-suite, able to repair the damage done, is right back to magic-wand territory.

This is another over-extended Pertwee story. It starts out well, but Episode 3 is a bit of a stinker, bogged down with tedious chasing around caves and through chalk pits to little avail. It gradually claws its way back with the introduction of John Hollis (Sondergaard ROCKS!); final episode musters an agreeable sense of stakes rising, even if it’s all a little frenetic, and Peter Howell’s Investigator needs to be struck off for uselessness at doing what it says in his title. 

Paul Whitsun-Jones simultaneously manages to be an odious despot and a rather ridiculous waddling fat man, such that The Mutants can never quite resolve this conflict. George Pravda (Jaeger) is typically Pravda. Garrick Hagon (Ky) doesn’t need to act since he’s bringing the matinee-idol vibe (which he does much more proficiently than, say, plank Jason Connery would in Vengeance on Varos). As is usually observed, it’s criminal to cast Geoffrey Palmer for one episode only, Psycho style. James Mellor brings his best OTT Matt Berry as Varan (he should wrestle Yrcanos naked in front of a roaring fire). Hollis, as noted, ROCKS (his rapport with the Mutts is worthy of its own spinoff miniseries) and Christopher Coll is winningly naturalistic as Stubbs. Which is the opposite of the famed Rick James as Cotton (“We’ll all be done for!”) It’s a crap Jo story; when she does get some proactive dialogue, Katy looks like she’s been taking notes from James on delivery. The perky Skybase computer surely inspired Hitch-Hiker’s Eddie.

There’s lots to love in Barry’s realisation of the material, even if it often treads a thin line between slipshod and genius. The location work in the caves – all coloured lights and dry ice – is wonderful; generally, anything outside comes up trumps. The Skybase design is okay, if on the cramped side, but it doesn’t feel remotely sturdy or real. There’s copious effects work, including a CSO cave, Super Ky floating through the base’s corridors and Varan being sucked into space; the latter doesn’t really land, so to speak, but it carries with it a certain surreal élan for all that.

A paradise being ruined by Earth colonists, unable to breathe the air, ignorant of the natives’ spiritual worth – they’re “evil and diseased” – and intent on sucking the planet dry for its minerals and terraforming it. James Cameron must have been taking notes for the Avatars. Slag, ash, clinker indeed. Pertwee, whose Doctor is super-Gallifreyan next to mere mortals, also enjoys a magnificently oddball un-things speech.

 Day of the Daleks

To the extent that Day of the Daleks is undone, Paul Bernard’s woeful martialling of the troops for the full-pitched climax is probably the least of its concerns. That sequence doesn’t help matters, of course, and its emblematic of a tendency to err on the pedestrian side even when he has the elements in his favour (even the crappiest Who directors don’t tend to go terribly wrong on location). In terms of premise, Louis Marks’ story is one of the series most distinctive, by virtue of using the old temporal paradox – and so, inevitably, failing to make any causal sense – that is largely ignored by the show as fuel for inspiration. Cue: did Jim Cameron see the story (although, in some respects, this is closer to T2, the original’s paradox aside). Somehow, though, it ends up a little less than it looks on paper. 

In part this is, as alluded, down to Bernard. There are plenty of elements he handles reasonably well – I’m a fan of his later Frontier in Space – and he deserves credit for coming up with the Ogron look (although, apparently, they’re racist, which says more about the thinking of those laying the charge than the design itself). There’s still reference to their original conception (“guard dogs”), but they’re imposing, brutish and very occasionally – “No Complications” – hilarious. Much better not to have had the Daleks show up at the house for the climax and leave it to an Ogron Laser Blaster Massacre. But then, you’re still reliant on staging. Albeit, as we saw with the trike chase, you can jolly along a series of nicely composed shots, but if there’s no sense of putting them together with dramatic tension, you’re toast.

Episodes 1 and 4 are pretty good. The set-up, of ghosts in Auderly House who are actually Mossad freedom fighters from the future fighting the evil Palestinians Daleks, but mistaken for Palestinians terrorists out to kill diplomat Sir Reginald Styles, who is recorded as blowing up a peace conference and so pitching the world into WWIII, is a strong one (the China-Soviet unrest depicted here would, in actuality, be as smoke-and-mirrors as the Cold War at the highest level: see the 1975 Apollo Soyuz handshake for the icing on that cake) The terrorism allusions are, as Terrance intimated, on the exploitatively meaningless side. 

The first episode is full of top-drawer Pertwee business as he eats cheese and drinks wine, namedrops Napoleon and casually disarms (Boaz) mid-imbibification. Crazy cool as this is, in contrast to the collective memory, the Doctor is no longer drinking vino at this point. It’s the next morning and he’s evidently moved on to something a little more appropriate to seeing in the day. It looks like a liquor, maybe the brandy-and-soda Dicks mentions, and it’s in a rocks glass. There are good UNIT bits (“RHIP, Jo”), and the location footage is often evocative, particularly with those menacing Ogrons popping up. 

Episode 4 is also good, despite the climax. It’s been called out for depositing the exposition dump in the final episode, but I rather like that about it. If there’s a problem with this sequence, it’s that it’s inelegantly written, but you can’t shunt it forward or you spoil the reveal (and if you offer too many clues, the viewer’s realisation will precede the Doctor’s). But there’s strong material for Aubrey Woods’ Controller. Letts calls Woods out for theatricality, but the bigger offender is Small Faces’ Jimmy Winston making a meal of his performance (I’ll be charitable regarding Shura’s inability to see he’s about to blow up the very house he’s trying to stop being blown up by suggesting he’s suffering from PTSD). Indeed, Woods saves his scenes from being much blander than they otherwise would be. 

Courtney gets a fantastic rebuke of Styles (Wilfred Carter) – “Now be quiet, sir!” – and everyone hopes no one will recall that the opening double Doctor needed paying off (cut because of the flamin’ director). It’s very much in the tradition of announcing the theme of the story in advance, like Barry and Terrance think we’re all kids, ahem (just like the Age of Aquarius and all the new age bit).

In between, though. This should play fine. The Doctor doesn’t meet the Daleks until the end of Episode 2, so Day of the Daleks has enough plot to play with structurally. But the future is nothing (perhaps the lesson here is: see also Terminator Salvation). We get there, and we don’t get to see it, and what we do see isn’t interesting. Woods goes to the same makeup artist as Chief Mover Poul, and he’s the only one with any personality (on the terrorist side, Anna Barry is formidable as Anat, but none else has much of a part). This is a grim, Orwellian 22nd century, but it has nothing to show for it. Would six parts have helped? Only if you have a hook for this Earth (Inferno did). Instead, we have Jo being an utterly gullible idiot and the Doctor indulging more wine before accusing Aubrey of being a quisling, from a long line of quislings (but again, that’s Episode 4). The Doctor’s hooked up to an interrogation device, but Bernard makes the flashbacks as uninspired as possible. 

But take away the surface references to contemporaneity, of terrorists with an actual cause (and Israeli names), of ever-precarious (on the face of it) international relationships and the threat of Armageddon – the Controller tells of “Those terrible years”, a series of wars lasting 100 years 7/8ths of population wiped out and the rest living in holes in ground – and you have the Letts era offering some interesting SF/conspirasphere nuggets. 

Sure, the paradox idea is a well-rehearsed one against the legitimacy of the time travel, but the idea of ETs going back to alter events is… well, it has merit (even if they don’t succeed here). As does an advanced intelligence perceiving the problem and pointing the way to the optimum timeline (the Dalek-ruled future is averted; notably, these Daleks proudly announce they have “discovered the secret of time travel”, suggesting this occurs “before” The Chase in their history). The Daleks, very directly as a result of their addition to Marks’ existing storyline, are the ET puppet masters behind the throne, so see also The Curse of Peladon in that regard (The Discontinuity Guide calls their inclusion “pointless”, and “some of the international politics… moronic”, but Paul Cornell was shepherding generally loathing of the Pertwee era at the time. My feeling is that less Daleks in a Dalek story tend to be more). Plus, the Controller represents a “bloodline”, in as much as he proudly admits he is third-generation elite. And the 1/8th of the world’s population, per 1972 numbers of 3.85m, is remarkably close to the Georgia Guidestones’ prescribed 500,000 (0.48m).

Lisbeth Sandifer, recently seen as Doom in an example of how the BBC is pulling out all the stops for the 60th, on unprecedented, Chibnell-esque levels, seems to think the Daleks appearing halfway through the first episode, rather than at the cliffhanger, is a mistake. But then, she’s prone to such brain farts and seems to have cribbed this notion off About Time (she has a thing about wasted first parts of stories with Daleks in the title, then complains even more when that isn’t the case). She’s more obsessed, like a good little Hegelian, with noting how the Doctor objects to the Controller “in an almost overtly Marxist way” – if he does, it’s only because he doesn’t have any gorgonzola cheese as a distraction – and bafflingly seems to think Jo has “a script that finally treats her with some respect”..

The story is thinking on its feet in places – the Blitchinov Limitation Effect – and incurring lapses in others – the doctor gunning down that Ogron. One does wonder why Letts asked Bernard back – twice – given how critical he is of elements of the story’s realisation (as for Bernard, it seems refusing to film the payoff coda: what a dick. And then he messed up the ending of Frontier in Space too). Still, though, this represents a continuation of the line that any Dalek stories not scripted by Terry Nation will actually have a brain in their heads. It couldn’t last…

The Curse of Peladon

The series’ first stab at an Agatha Christie (or Conan Doyle)-style whodunit, The Curse of Peladon is commonly cited as being all about Britain joining the Common Market. Unless you’re Terrance. Or Barry. Brian Hayles’ thoughts are unclear (About Time has it that he claimed to have written a “current events” story). Certainly, if you want to analogise on that level, then the EU is comprised of duplicitous, back-stabbing participant members who hate each other, prone to dirty tricks undermining prospective joiners or pressurising the same to sign up when they might be perfectly fine without such benevolent protection. 

So yes, I can buy that the general theme was percolating about the place when Hayles wrote about Peladon’s entry into the Galactic Federation, but directly analogous commentary seems slightly less plausible. However, on the subject of percolation, on a more galactic level, this is another story where the era seems to reflect the conspirasphere. Channelled and contact material offers various takes on united galactic bodies, both beneficial (the Confederation of Planets in the Service of the Infinite Creator) and less so (the Orion Group). We’ve had a Federation on TV of course, Star Trek leading the trail to seeking out less advanced – or more – civilisations and spreading the gospel of superior moral and ethical compasses while coming armed and ready to kill. Blake’s 7 would later present an extremely jaundiced flip side. 

Corey Goode’s take is a common one, that the Earth represents a newbie (via its Secret Space Programme). He also mentions the Draco Federation Alliance (bad, and part of the Orion Group/Syndicate), a Super Federation of 60-plus ET races (UN-ish, in dubious practice as well as concept, it seems, having been “tinkering with our genetics on Earth for thousands of years” and to be disbanded in favour of a new Super Federation Council), and his favourite, the Sphere Being Alliance (higher-dimensional to an entity – so perhaps closer to the Time Lords but, you know, not corrupt) which is part of the… Galactic Federation (how this relates to the Super Federation Council, you’ll have to ask Corey). The Andromeda Council is unrelated, it seems. In such scenarios, Earth – at least, Earth that doesn’t include breakaway civilisations and/or Atlanteans and Lemurians – is pretty much a Peladon. Not so much in terms of living in medieval squalor – although relatively speaking, that’s valid – but in terms of lack of awareness and proneness to manipulation. 

And on Peladon, the struggling incumbent king is something of an indecisive, wet-lettuce figurehead, cajoled into decisions by the true power, the priesthood elite (Hepesh), who in turn takes cues from an ET whispering poison in his ear (Arcturus, which may very well be a slur on Arcturans everywhere. The Delegate’s no oil painting either). So Peladon’s political set up does offer some resonance beyond the most referenced. If you’re willing to entertain the possibility of alleged alternate paradigms. 

While director Lennie Mayne isn’t exactly concerned with lending the proceedings zip – something that will become painfully apparent in the sequel – he does make them atmospheric, all burning torches and howling winds (the opening cliff-face climb is expertly achieved; Mayne may be meat-and-potatoes, give or take an affinity for overhead shots, but he achieves a certain verisimilitude). 

Jo: Or is he a she?
The Doctor: Neither. He’s an it. A hermaphrodite hexapod.

The monster menagerie aspect is something of a trump card too. Obviously, Alpha Centauri’s “prissy, homosexual civil servant” is somewhat Marmite in aspect (ie the best thing(y) ever or the worst), she/he/they – doubtless getting his/her/their very own dedicated special in 2024, quite possibly sharing the screen with a “popular’ drag artist – getting a seven-year jump start on Erato for green phallic ETs; the payoff is the increasing exasperation of all concerned with her high-pitched agitation, especially Izlyr (Alan Bennion) and Jo (“Centauri, stop it!”) Reconceiving the Ice Warriors is a smart move, a decade-and-a-half before Star Trek did the same thing with the Klingons – complete with mistrustful main protagonist – and Izlyr as an all-round-reasonable Ice Lord (cutting a bit of a dash in that cape too) is one of the story’s highlights. 

Hepesh: I would rather be a cave dweller and free.

Troughton’s very good playing very wet (he could at least have asked to see these passages the Doctor keeps traipsing around). Geoffrey Toone’s a bit on the ceremonial side, but that’s what it says on the page; Hepesh has a solid point, so giving him a little more nuance wouldn’t have been such a tall order (he suggests the Federation wishes to “exploit us for our minerals, enslave us with their machines, corrupt us with their technology”, all entirely valid fears). 

Jo: So Arcturus was behind everything.

Gordon St Clair gets to grunt a lot as Grun(t) (one shot early in Episode 3, a low angle of Grun, features a curious Vic & Bob-style fart noise). It’s a great Jo story, even if she has an obligatory idiot moment (saving the doctor from Aggedor). And it would have been more convincing, had she’d maintained her early assessment that the king was “acting like a wet fish”, rather than being seemingly tempted by his offer of getting his leg over at the end. Still, if it’s a choice between Peladon and A Night Out on the Town with Gay Mike… At times, the back and forth of suspicions, and particularly the insistence of Hepesh that the Doctor face summary justice for sacrilege, wears a little thin, but there’s always hypnotising Aggedor to a kickin’ tune to make up for it. 

Jo: Oh, come on. you love all that “Chairman Delegate” stuff.

The Curse of Peladon should, by rights, splutter out of energy and direction in the final episode, what with the “revelation” of Arcturus’ culpability and his summary dispatch forming the cliffhanger resolution. But he wasn’t much of a character anyway.  Dull but worthy” slagged The Discontinuity Guide. And “at its core, this is a rather dull and obvious tale of an old man clinging to the old ways…” but it’s “redeeming grace… is that some thought has gone into the design” per Tar Wood. Sandifer, naturally, insists its “specifically talking about the EEC”, realises even she can’t make that fit straight and so has to sell it as a take on the inevitability of history. It’s a story that actually think improves as it goes along; I’ll readily admit there are revisits where I’ve found The Curse of Peladon rather tries the patience, but I was thoroughly on side this time out. Although, maybe not so much with joining the Galactic Federation.

Blu-ray Extras


Day of the Daleks

Blast from the Past – this 2011 Making Of came with the “prestigious” special edition (you know, the one that unforgivably excised “No complications”). There are some solid pro-fan contributions, from the likes of Ben Aaronovitch, Paul Cornell (yes, really), Nicholas Pegg (not so much) and Dave Owen. So The Terminator and the Harlan Ellison controversy gets an airing – I know Harlan namedrops Terrance in conversation – and Aaronovitch, reasonably I think, suggests it’s quite a common time-travel story premise, so accusing Cameron of plagiarism for swiping from Soldier specifically is a bit unfair (he considers plundering books “perfectly valid”). Aaronovitch may have written two stinkers for the show, but he’s an entertaining interviewee. 

Bernard was, per Terrance, “very opinionated”. Barry opined that, while the director was very practical, he wasn’t so hot with the cast: “He let the actors be far too theatrical” (singling out Woods – who’s great – but praising Barry, who is good too). Terrance, ever amusing, suggests “directors are all tricky and awkward characters, in my experience”, including Letts in that assessment. Aaronovitch has at the “absurd meta-continuity” of making the Doctor abstinent: “Of course Pertwee drank alcohol”. The un-Doctorish Ogron shooting is noted by both producer and script editor (with the intimation Bernard was to blame), and the Episode 4 exposition is discussed; Aaronovitch thinks it should have been in Episode 2 but doesn’t know how it would work there, while Bazza says “you shouldn’t have it in the last episode”. Best comment goes to the Dalek operator guy about the explosions (“It put the wind up me a bit, actually”).

Behind the Sofa – Padders and Aldred are a much better pairing than I expected, but they can’t match Wendy/Janet or Sophie/Bonnie. Everyone notes “lovely Nick”, and there’s tiresome repetition from Janet (and Peter) regarding “very posh performances” (you must not be seen to approve of RP anymore). Briant (with Manning) says the Ogrons are “very good costumes” and considers the first episode well shot but is “not sure about the unmotivated zooms”. Jo’s outfits are “super groovy” (Janet).

Davo – he’s a fine one – critiques Jon’s Doctor, that he “removed any trace of lightness” from the part (“interesting that he doesn’t bring any lightness or charm to it”). I mean, yeah Pertwee could be a snappy bitch, but all that cheese-and-wine business is immensely charming (when was Five ever charming?) “There’s a lot of mean, moody and magnificent going on” and there also comments about the cape on. “I’m sorry. I just saw Katy Manning’s pants. I don’t think I can go on” (Davo getting excited). Of Shura and his package: “What’s he got there?” (Fielding): “A ferret” (Sutton). Davo has a good laugh at the grand climax and is aghast at blowing up Averley (“I know, but it’s a nice house”).

The Cheating Memory – Nah. 

The UNIT Dating Conundrum – a brief one that could have delved more heavily into lashings of continuity, but is done with a dependably Hadoke-lite touch. It hits the main points, though (Web of Fear 75, Invasion 79, Pyramids of Mars 80, Mawdryn Undead 77/83, BBC3, Mars missions, bore holes) and with the Dave Owen, Ben Aaronovitch and Terrance musings is quite engaging. Clearly, Web of Fear was 30 years ago, not 40, Sarah Jane was rounding up, and the Doctor’s alt-world has a legit globe and space.

The Curse of the Peladon

The Making of covers both Peladon stories – well, the first part does, anyway, the second doubtless to be included with Season 11 – and takes in the political compass of each, Common Market and miners’ strike respectively. Of the former, Terrance attests it “certainly wasn’t in mine” mind, but it “may have been in Brian’s”. As Dicks puts it, nobody trusts each other, not exactly the best way to sell it as stealth propaganda. Barry the director as a director credits Mayne with a “really solid job”, which is fair, but he doesn’t like “fuzzy” 16mm (what Letts really likes are gratuitous and fuzzy CSO lines everywhere). He comments generally on the mood and aspirations of the era and how, sadly, the world didn’t change (he was drinking that doctored Kool-Aid). So he recognises the perils of globalisation, but he doesn’t appear to twig the EU as a step in that direction. Holy flaming cow. 

Behind the Sofa – while Davo can be very funny on these, there’s also an overt tendency not to credit ANYTHING positively. So his derisive laughter can be well placed or not so much. Season 9 isn’t exactly a zenith of the series, so only finding negatives in the opening (better) stories doesn’t bode well for later verdicts. Alpha Centauri elicits expected mirth. Sophie loves she/him/they (“so cute”) and describes the hermaphrodite as anything but an “enormous green penis” (or Mayne’s “prick in a cape”) – Padders: “I wasn’t thinking so much vegetable” (she also does impressions, should Churchman peg it before their next appearance). Davison emerges with a so-so that he enjoyed it, but one takes away “I mean, everything about that is wrong” as a primary verdict. Peladon’s shorts-less outfit gets a few gasps and Davo notes of A Very Peculiar Practice co-star Troughton, “He didn’t really like television, though” (finding it too nerve-wracking). “I didn’t know Jon sang” says Sophie. “I don’t think he does” says Padders. Generally, no one is very persuaded (although Briant and Katy seem to have a good time).

The Sea Devils

Hello Sailor! The making of, in which Briant expresses his upset that the Navy wouldn’t let him have an actual nuclear submarine to use. There’s also his much-rehearsed anecdote about being asked by MI5 how he got hold of sub plans, owing to the accuracy of the propeller attached to an Airfix kit sub. This seems to happen an awful lot, since there’s a very similar story concerning The Hunt for Red October. One must assume nuclear submarines simply aren’t all that much cop if just about anyone can imitate them. Terrance enjoys saying “Chief SOD”, who was very nice and plied him and Barry with pink gin. Derek Ware felt Stuart Fell’s flips were a bit OTT for a Sea Devil; he was right. A day of filming was lost due to fog. Jon was keen on the cookbooks at Norris Castle. 

Behind the Sofa – Davo continues with his predominant attitude of “This is all SHIT” (but he likes Delgado – “He was a great Master” – and the sword fight. He also admits to “a touch of humour” in Pertwee’s performance. The reaction to Jane’s “I’ll get you some more sandwiches” suggests they weren’t privy to the extended gag that set this up. Janet: “They’ve all got the same moustache. The only surprise is that the Sea Devils haven’t got moustaches” (sounds like an Inferno anecdote). Sophie: “This is almost like an advert for the Navy”. Sarah on the Master: “He’s got his Singer’s sewing machine and he’s off”. Padders: “It’s all a bit Boy’s Own for me”. Davo doesn’t think the costumes worked (of course he doesn’t). Janet: “I think it moved on a lot… between the ’70s and ’80s”. What, are you suggesting ’80s productions were superior?! Davo says he enjoyed it, it was “a bit silly”. 

Michael E Briant – At the Helm. Briant seems like a terribly nice chap, and it would have been quite easy to spend twice the amount of time in his company. He was in Billy Bunter as an actor (when he was Michael Tennant), Z-Cars as an AFM (and The Space Museum). Doctor Who was “where I learnt my trade”. How scared he was on Colony in Spaceof not doing it well”. He left the BBC because he didn’t want to go back to alternating as AFM, and Barry gave him The Sea Devils gig. He notes Letts, who employed him a lot of over the years, including Sunday Classics A Tale of Two Cities – “a joyous production” – and Treasure Island – “enormous fun” – was a great advocate of CSO and “forced me into quite a lot of it”. 

He initially found it difficult to get into Tom’s head. How Hinchcliffe wasn’t sure about him casting Russell Hunter. He didn’t want to do Blake’s 7 at first, but David Maloney assured him “It is nothing like Doctor Who at all”. Now he’s really glad he did. How the first episode was “not representative” of the show as a whole. He believes it later lost its edginess. He suggests truly very good producers, “almost always had been directors as well”. He adored doing Secret Army. Of Howard’s Way, it was his idea (The Boatyard) that Gerard Glaister ran with unbeknownst to him. He seems sanguine about this: “I would probably have made it much more real boating and probably much less successful”.

The Mutants

Mutt Mad – Leaves out Terrance explaining Munts, because even Classic Who Blu-rays have turned super-woke in the space of a decade (hence the femi-Doctor logo). Terrance pays the underrated Bristol Boys due homage as “the bane of my life” and “hell’s delight to work with”, “full of ideas… and completely undisciplined”. Chris Barry was unimpressed by the political overtones (he “thought it was rather muddled”) and didn’t realise Cotton was supposed to be a cockney (the makers of the doc amusingly provide the evidence he clearly was). He acknowledges the Python-esque opening (and says Letts mentioned it at the time). The use of the hexagonal wall design is shown to have been influential (further examples just in the show itself: The Horns of Nimon, Meglos, Terminus). Bob thinks it’s the best thing they did. That would be The Armageddon Factor, Bob.

Behind the Sofa – Briant is under the illusion this is one of the most famous of all stories of the era (Katy’s “Eh?”) “It’s Catweazle” is the response to the Python opening. Padders wants cake and Davo a cup of tea. The latter is all tediously petty sniping and pedantry throughout. He has nothing interesting to say and can’t disguise his disdain for what he’s watching. Fielding: “It’s Prince Valiant” (Ky). Sutton: “He played my dad” (Palmer – on stage, presumably). Fielding agrees Earth is finished, but reached that point much sooner than the 30th century. On Pertwee: “He’s a big one for biffing”. Sophie: “Little did they know, in 1972, that we’d have one of these, orbiting the planet in the not so distant future”. Yeah, right. Fielding: “Nobody is follically challenged in the future” (she changes her tune when Hollis shows up). Wokie Aldred: “Nice to see they’ve actually cast a person of colour too”. Of course, being super-nice Aldred, she omitted to say “But it would have been even nicer if they could act for toffee”. 

Okay, Davo does have one good comment “Why didn’t I say that?”, in response to Pertwee telling Jo “Just don’t argue with me”. Katy thinks Super Ky looks like Ru Paul’s Drag Show. No Katy, that’s upcoming with Russell’s Nu-Trans-Who. Briant is generally complimentary of Barry’s work – it’s nice to have someone talking about the technical side who isn’t Matt Irvine – especially the floating Ky effects. He says he was a “really talented director”. Obviously, he never saw the Action Man tank. 

Race Against Time – a Diversity Documentary, “Filmed in 2010”. The caveat is presumably an attempt to distance itself from “look, we’ve got a real, honest-to-goodness person-of-colour companion narrating!” Since he’s Noel Clarke. He isn’t much cop in that capacity, frankly. Bidisha offers both critiques of race representation and apologias you wouldn’t find from Sandifer or Cornell (“He may be an Oxford don, but Pertwee is not a cultural imperialist”). Fraser James is good value from an anecdotal perspective, although the whole doc is gauged towards a “Didn’t they do well?” progressivism that culminates in such woke-first considerations as Ncuti (and before him, Jodie).The programme becomes about its representation, and we should all flaunt our rainbow regalia in proud recognition. 

Stephen Bourne rebuffs the argument there weren’t enough experienced minority actors about when stories were blacking up performers. We get Cy Grant, Marco Polo, Mavic Chen, the proposed Trout performance, a suggestion that the ’70s saw a regress from the ’60s in representation due to Enoch Powell, a defence of The Talons of Weng-Chiang (Lisbeth would have her upturned crucifix out) and a rightful rebuke of Remembrance of the Daleks for its clumsiness (the one black character is only there to discuss his race). As for “forthright, aspirational characters” in Season 26…. Shame! The influence vs reflection aspect is referenced, but in the harsh light of wokeness unbound, what we should really be discussing is programming. 

The Time Monster

Time and Atlantis – the new doc, and yes, it’s another of these overlong, slightly maudlin and wistful (per the soundtrack) but likeably informal in presentation (by Hadoke) efforts. Much of it is taken up with one of the show’s most excruciating interview subjects (Levene), so I was trying to avoid giving it my full attention for a portion of the 50-minute run time (there are even some ’orrible outtakes at the end with Levene in cabaret-moustache mode). Still they’ve rounded up many of those involved still standing, besides the obvious Katy and Franklin. Wanda Moore (Ruth), Aidan Murphy (Hippias), Greg Powell (the knight, for a number of decades the stunt co-ordinator on big Hollywood movies), Martin Day (editor).

However, aside from Katy offering “He wasn’t really an actor’s director” the only part to really dig in incisively is archive Barry Letts from 2008, observing how Bernard wouldn’t listen, scoffed at his producer’s objection “the creature looks silly” and how he was a nice person but “He just irritated me, because he would never listen”. They had lunch on EastEnders when both were directing it years later, and Bernard was unrepentant. Talking of regrets, Hadoke should never have mentioned Jodie’s swansong in reference to “daisiest daisy”. How dare The Time Monster be so sullied by association.

Behind the Sofa – Just don’t get Davo back again unless it’s for his own era. His attitude stinks, amusing as he occasionally is (sample responses: “Oh, get out of here!”; “Oh, that’s ridiculous!”) Briant seems to be worn down, as his critical eye is off. He’s far too forgiving ( “a brilliant piece of television” in verdict). The most critical we get is “Hmmm. Hmmm. Hmmm” in response to flappy Kronos. They should put him on a sofa with Harper, and they could discuss things, not in a dismissive Davo way but an engaged technical/creative sense. 

Padders on the Jo/Mike Yates flirtation: “I think she’s wasting her time, but…” (Sophie: “Yes”). Comparison of TARDISes ensues from this washing-up-bowl-rondels edition. Sophie on Ingrid: “They’ve given her rather fine cleav-arge, haven’t they?” Janet in response to the matador scene: “I can’t believe I’m seeing that” (probably because your era was no fun, love). There was perhaps some discussion on quality between Katy and Michael offscreen, because during the Atlantis scenes she offers that, the moment Delgado stands up, “Everything’s alright again, isn’t it?” The verdict on this lot of sofa occupants is that Sophie and Padders prove a surprisingly good pairing. Davo sucks (and he also comes across as rather rude to Sarah, always angling himself away from her when Janet is talking, so blocking her out of the conversation). Katy and Briant are fine.


The Consensus


A few notable poll placings over the years:

DWM 1998/09/14/23

1. The Sea Devils 40, 50, 60, (8/24)
2. Day of the Daleks 81, 65, 71, (11/24)
3. The Curse of Peladon 66, 82, 93, (12/24)
4. The Mutants 142, 182, 213, (22/24)
5. The Time Monster 144, 187, 222, (24/24)

Outpost Gallifrey 2003

1. The Sea Devils 46
2. The Curse of Peladon 67
3. Day of the Daleks 80
4. The Mutants 136
5. The Time Monster 150

DWB 1985/87/89

1. The Sea Devils 14, 20, 14
2. Day of the Daleks 74, 51, 51
3. The Curse of Peladon 90, 75, 73
4. The Time Monster 107, 83, 117
5. The Mutants 118, 101, 97


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