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I’m sure the man has no academic standing whatsoever.

Worst to Best

Doctor Who
Season 20 – Worst to Best

 

I rather like Season 20. Its prone to getting lightly beaten with a stick – in comparison to some ’80s seasons – not least by some of the participants (Peter Davison, Eric Saward) but it’s the last time the show can be seen trying the conceptual SF approach, a hangover from Christopher H Bidmead’s brief tenure. Erjnic favoured something closer to Blake’s 7 and suited to big-screen dynamics, so generally antithetical both to budgets and JN-T’s complete disinterest in ensuring those involved had any skill in approximating such visions (Saward: “the effort that went into [pantos] was far greater than went into the show”). Andrew Cartmel arrived during the series’ death throes, of course, and his stint was generally more skewed towards Marxist comic-book endeavour, or dog’s dinner, like Rik from The Young Ones but less charming. 

Davo complained about dull and “over-complex” stories, but only two (Arc of Infinity and Terminus) really succumb to the former, so an improvement on his debut year. And probably the most complex, Mawdryn Undead, actually juggles those elements quite deftly. I appreciate too that, for an anniversary year, the approach to actual story content is remarkably free from clogging with continuity and stale ideas; you can certainly point the finger at Arc of Infinity, and the profound lack of effort going into The King’s Demons (as a premise), but the familiar elements in other stories do not, by and large, extend to their conception; you don’t get the sense of slavishly raking over glories of eras past for inspiration. I’d read conflicting versions of this anyway, that the returning element in each story was only pointed out post-fact – which one could quite easily assume, since Terminus barely features the Black Guardian, and a Kinda sequel, that is to the story that came bottom of the previous year’s DWM season poll, was hardly something likely to win publicity or applause – although Saward seems to confirm it as intentional in his DWB 57 interview from August 1988).

This is also the last of three seasons where effort is made to show the TARDIS as a “lived-in” place. It’s worth mentioning with regard to that now-prevailing emphasis on continuity and also because it really stood out in revisiting these stories in succession. The highlighting of internal architecture, even if just corridors and bedrooms – Turlough turfing out Adric’s old tat; there was, of course, no need for him to get that room, so one might infer he was intentionally being given the lot of “cleaning house”; then there’s Tegan and Nyssa sharing a room, which in the 21st century of RTD’s professionally produced slash-fiction means they were Sapphic sisters all along – and on the integrity or lack thereof of the Doctor’s sanctuary is one of the more curious elements of this era, even as it’s often correspondingly weighed down by poorly written/performed companions and/or filler material. For all that the imaginative visualisation of the TARDIS’ greater expanse is somewhat spartan, it’s still leaps and bounds more intriguing than the budget-busting-but-banal designs of nu-Who.

Would the season be better regarded, had Warhead/Resurrection of the Daleks been made to cap it off? Well, that depends whether you think Peter Grimwade would have done a better job than Matthew Robinson, since the script would still have been a complete mess (Earthshock’s greatest strength is its relative economy in the telling; Resurrection of the Daleks is guilty of the reverse). Saward suggested of the loss, “John, I think, was actually not displeased because it allowed him to get on with his pantomime”, which is perhaps a little much, since he’d surely have reaped the publicity whirlwind a shock Dalek return would have generated (had the lid been kept on that aspect). It would undoubtedly have meant the season had “that kind of story”: an event (Arc of Infinity had at-best a vague claim to the same, even if someone other than Ron Jones had helmed it). Certainly, the subsequent two seasons fit the celebratory nostalgia mould much better than this one, on the basis of such fan-pleasing choices.

 


The King’s Demons

Well… the song’s catchy? You have to wonder how Terence Dudley kept getting commissioned (five stories, including the one he directed), but I guess his secret was that he was dependably pedestrian. None of his scripted effortss are desperately awful, just featurelessly nondescript. And the two-parter, a format ’80s Who returned to enough that it ought to have been mastered, is never as successfully used as it was during the show’s early days.

King John: We sing in praise of total war, against the Saracen we abhor. To free the tomb of Christ our lord, we’ll put the known world to the sword. There is no glory greater than to serve with gold the Son of Man. No riches here on Earth shall see, no scutage in eternity. 

I could see this working, however. Over the years, various commenters have suggested the Master’s “small-time villainy by his standards” in scotching plans for Magna Carta would have better suited the Meddling Monk (or Mortimus, if you prefer), stranded in Britain for the previous 150 years. Certainly, redressing The King’s Demons to emphasise its humorous potential might have been a godsend; the only response to a character as absurdly, one-note livid as Hugh (Christopher Villiers) is to laugh derisively at him. A story that pales into its own muddy background due to the rigid cod-medievalism on display might have sparked into life, or at least sustained a sniff of The Time Warrior’s self-awareness. As it is, we only really have Gerald Flood, enjoying himself immensely as King John (“Welcome, my demons”) and Anthony Ainley, offering up British media’s most convincing Frenchman since Monty Python and the Holy Grail, to make this tolerable.

Oh, and Kamelion: DWM’s comic strip would posit a consistently much more imaginative take on the possibilities of this era of Doctor Who, encapsulated the following year by a masterstroke of a shapeshifting companion, but Eric, askance at a rubbish “actual” robot and unaccountably unenthused over the kernel of the concept, elected to discard him for another year – deleted scene aside – until he could outright destroy him. Sheer meanness. 

In fairness, Tony Virgo – subsequently producer on the likes of EastEnders, The Bill and Peak Practice – does very little wrong as director, the sets are decent (costume drama being the BBC’s cup of tea etc) and Jonathan Gibbs score is fine when it’s by Peter Howell (he wrote the song), but this is a puff of nothingness, charging about the place with typically wearying Fifth Doctor exhaustiveness and leaving one sorely unmoved. Eric locks up Turlough, as usual (almost farcically, he’s dragged to the dungeon by Hugh and then chained up with him when the Master reveals himself). 

Obviously, with the Master being the Master, he “reveals” he’s the anagrammatic Sir Giles purely because we’ve reached a cliffhanger (it might have been more impressive, had the Doctor surmised his presence from the anachronistic – and possibly entirely made-up anyway – presence of an iron maiden(s) in the 13th century, particularly since he’s all about revisionist takes here, giving King John the credit of being a misjudged monarch. I suspect this perspective was Dudley’s “in” for the material, the robot prop notwithstanding (the latter was resounding labelled a “disaster”). Naturally, we can’t trust any of the “actual” history to be accurate, what with mudflood et al; it seems all copies of Magna Carta date, at the earliest, to 400 years later, in terms of locating it or its (re)discovery).

The Master: Mediaeval misfits! Don’t think you’ve won yet, Doctor.

We’re treated to the second fake Doctor of the season, via a mind battle that’s utterly passable, and the Master talking unmitigated guff, even by his hyperbolic standards (“With Kamelion’s unique ability at my command, it’s only a matter of time before I undermine the key civilisations of the Universe. Chaos will reign, and I shall be its emperor”). Albeit, interesting to have chaos invoked again, after the previous story; were this under the aegis of Bidmead, it would be leading to something. 

Meanwhile, the final scene just serves to underline how unpleasant this line up is, Tegan moving on from bitching about Turlough being aboard to bitching about Kamelion (“He’s a machine, Doctor, just a machine”). When the Doctor rightly has enough and decides to take her home, she changes her tune, the surly cow. However, I like Turlough’s somewhat affected “Tis very beautiful” when describing the Eye of Orion. Inevitably, it looks as damp and soggy as Sir Ranulf’s castle when we reach it. The King’s Demons is too insubstantial to evoke strong feels, disdainful or otherwise, but one rather wishes JN-T had found a way to salvage Warhead for the slot and ditch this.


Arc of Infinity

One thing about bland stories featuring a bland Doctor made during a frequently bland era is that the degree to which they range from acceptably, unremarkably average to downright irksome, irritating and patience-testing can depend on the degree to which any given factor on any given re-viewing rises above essential mediocrity to become all-intrusive. That can be a companion(s), character, the stupidity of a script or the general incompetency of the direction/production. With Arc of Infinity, I’ve often found the aurally-toxic, all-pervadingly atonal Roger Limb score accentuates everything that’s functional, lifeless and disengaged about Ron Jones’ direction. On this occasion, that only began to creep up as a dissuasive factor after the halfway mark, in a story that didn’t seem all that likely until they managed it: a nondescript Gallifrey yarn.

It’s been remarked before how writer Johnny Byrne essentially replicates keynotes of The Deadly Assassin and The Three Doctors yet with none of their respective ingenuity or gaudy charm. His criticism of the previous Omega as a “ranting, one-dimensional character” is fair comment, and on that level – a degree of moderation – Ian Collier has the edge on his predecessor. But most of what we get here is so vanilla as to make the entire idea of bringing him back a lemon; where you can at least see, during the JN-T era, regardless of the results, that something slightly different was being attempted with one of the de rigueur returns, it’s at least a vague sop – even Warriors of the Deep, with its future tense, had a germ of doing something vaguely distinct from its Pertwee predecessors – but Arc of Infinity, intriguingly nebulous title aside, offers nothing. And with Jones at the helm, even the elements that would have been serviceable – as a bare-bones plot, Arc of Infinity is at least that, and in terms of structure, it’s fine – become pedestrian and bereft of the atmosphere, energy and urgency it was intended to elicit (the same is true of the execution of the next Byrne script).

Which isn’t to let Johnny off the hook. Or Eric, on point when objecting to the arbitrary inclusion of Amsterdam as “18 minutes of running around the streets” – Bidders would obviously have seen that as a challenge, and boasted about how he loved them – but much less so when calling out the Ergon with “we never described the monster in the script”. Well, maybe you should at least have given a few pointers? Such as “Not to look like a giant chicken”.

The Gallifrey of Arc of Infinity has been compared to an airport lounge, and is certainly littered with sofas. If the story doesn’t look that cheap, as these things go, it’s a largely sterile affair; while the Williams era was often reliably tatty, JN-T’s was correspondingly glossier yet less forgivably at the mercy of studio floodlighting. The starchiness of the presentation makes this world closer to the Pertwee era Gallifrey, if there’s any yardstick, but we only had cutaways rather than the majority of the plot based there. 

Here, we get to meet five High Council members, yet only Paul Jerricho’s reliably wrong Castellan and Michael Gough’s amiable Councillor Hedin have any impact (and Gough can do nothing to ameliorate the script all-but putting a sign round his neck saying “He’s the traitor”). Leonard Sachs’ Borusa is an outright disaster, utterly impersonal until he unaccountably starts laughing and smiling in Episode Four. One might overlay a developing motivation to the failures of characterisation/performance: that this incarnation of Borusa would approve the execution of the Doctor without so much as an apology suggests he already had immortality in mind. Generally, there’s no thinking ahead in choosing to kill the Doctor – the initial conversation regarding the selection suggests Omega could just pick someone else. 

Colin shows up as the particular ruthless Commander Maxil and his bastard hat (Baker had it that Maxil was an efficient jobsworth rather than a villain). Neil Daglish is this story’s Rodan, Damon (the helper Time Lord character). While it may be determinedly vanilla, the more Gallifrey-based first couple of episodes tend to play better than the subsequent two. There’s at least a sense of escalation (in plot, if not visible dramatics) and the Episode Two cliffhanger is reasonably effective (the Doctor willingly goes to his death knowing it will be unsuccessful; less explicable is his saying telling Nyssa he won’t have blood spilled, since she has only been stunning people). Byrne’s use, and Jones depiction, of the Matrix is abysmal, however, with a “floaty” Doctor CSO’d onto some cross hatching. I’d suggest something more imaginative could have been conceived, but then you recall the games in Vengeance on Varos or everything about Time-flight and conclude, no, not by Ron it couldn’t.

The essential approach to the redesigned Omega – Gigeresque, which goes for the Ergon too – is absolutely fine, but Jones shooting him in an armchair, as if he’s just taking a load off after a heavy lunch, is about the level of attention afforded everything here. We’re shown the renegade immediately, which is odd, to say the least, and it quickly becomes annoying that he keeps calling his mysterious ally “Time Lord”. The Doctor knows the source of the threat is antimatter halfway through the first episode and is then dragged to Gallifrey, and yet it takes him until Episode Three to twig it’s Omega (and then, in Four, he tells Omega “We know who you are” – well yes, cos he told you last week/yesterday). 

Still, it’s nice to get about five minutes of Omega going “Ooo, me sinsuses” as his head is assailed by green goo in the final part. That aside, Eric’s right about the run-around, complete with slightly creepy Frankenstein homage by way of Michael Myers overalls and Ian Collier, for some reason, taking over from Davo halfway through the bid for freedom (Collier’s Omega would probably have been more successful played in the style of Stuart Hyde).

Nyssa has more to do, and while I generally – I know, it’s unusual – find the character agreeably inoffensive, her flying solo with the Doctor does rather evidence that the only way the Saward era knew how to use a companion was to place them at loggerheads with the Doctor (ie, she makes little impression here when she isn’t gun toting or reprimanding the Doctor). Janet and her boob tube attempt to take the emphasis off Robin (Andrew Boxer) and her cousin Colin (Alastair Cumming). The former, exuding self-conscious crazy eyes even before anything peculiar happens, leads his best friend into a crypt and tries to get him undressed; Colin was probably concerned he’d wake up to find Robin spooning him, or wearing his intestines, so being petrified by a giant chicken might be considered getting off lightly. 

Davo is… his usual gaspy self, except when he’s gaspy, slo-mo Davo. He’s also in kill-happy Saward mode (when he isn’t reprimanding Nyssa for the same), showing us he’s no wimp, actually, when he guns down Omega to save the Universe. His inability to hide his dismay when Tegan re-joins the crew is amusing – her involvement in the plot is evidence of synchronicity as occasionally vital to the workings of the cosmos. That or dreadful decision making on the producer and script editor’s parts – but indicative of what a wet blanket he is (talking of which, Max Harvey’s Cardinal Zorac). Leela gets a mention, as does Romana, and there’s an intimation of Morbius, so Sir Ian’s voice is clearly being felt. I’d suggest the Time Lords and students don’t really juxtapose effectively during the first episode, but that kind of issue could also be found in The Three Doctors. 

The antagonist’s motivational position is more interesting than many, yet has all the weight of a faxed Xerox of his earlier situation (Byrne later subsequently do the same with Warriors of the Deep). He just wants to come home, but since Byrne fleshes no one out, Omega still somehow manages to be more rounded in his previous, Blessed-up-to-11 showing. 

We’re told the Arc of Infinity is the gateway to the dimensions, which suggests an Omega return based around Zeta Minor might have been a prospect (someone will tell me Big Finish has done this already). We’re still essentially faced with an antimatter=evil premise, for all that Omega’s a little diluted, so reflective of actual antimatter and the influence of its negative AIs. While the “can’t co-exist in the matter universe” element of (common) fictional antimatter depictions is accurate enough, it’s ironically the largely duff Star Trek episode The Alternative Factor that gets the principle of a mirror self existing there right; one might argue there’s a hint of this, in imagery terms, when the Doctor encounters “himself” following Omega’s bonding. The last thing Byrne was going to do was break any conceptual ground, though. And the last thing Jones was going to do was lend his writing any lustre.

As I noted in the introduction, Season 20 often gets the “each story has a returning villain/element” used against it, but it’s one of the decade’s more minor offenders in that regard (as long as one ignores the anniversary special). Only the first and last stories aren’t attempting to tell a distinctive story in their own right, and the last gets a sort-of pass because it’s the now-compulsory Master appearance and, at two episodes, a fairly innocuous one. Which leaves Omega a much-vaunted returnee who ought to have been left presumed dead. On this visit, Arc of Infinity wasn’t quite the disaster I’ve sometimes found it, but there’s always next time.


Terminus

It’s studio sound guy Scott Talbot (in the making-of) who hits on Terminus’ major failing. Yes, it has numerous problems, but the biggest of these is pacing. Talbot worked on more than a dozen ’80s Doctor Whos, including most of the McCoy stories, so he was doubtless well-versed with such concerns. In that era, the issue tended to be on the opposite end of the spectrum to “Now we need to cut”, however. You can make a slow-moving story effectively, if the contributing elements enhance mood, atmosphere and plot, but Davison suggests director Mary Ridge “didn’t really have the interest in it”. Science-fiction, that is.

This is by way of pointing out that, in contrast to many Davo-era directors who delivered sluggish or poorly paced stories (Peter Moffat, Ron Jones), Ridge was evidently a thoughtful, considered director who took care with her shots, where she placed the camera and details that escape others (like lighting). It’s doubtful that, had the problems that beset the production not occurred, we’d have a classic on our hands, but the potential for something altogether superior are nevertheless evident. Particularly given Episode One, where Roger Limb’s carpeted dirge of incidental music (see also Arc of Infinity) is frequently kicked to the kerb in favour of eerie ambient sound. 

Indeed, the first episode is one of those openers that, taken in isolation, promises much (see also The Space Museum, Underworld). It’s 10 minutes before we leave the TARDIS, but – in contrast to your typical TARDIS scene during this period – they’re full of incident and character development (as opposed to serving a holding pattern). Turlough’s fraught relationship with the Black Guardian, and with Tegan, don’t work so well for the rest of the story – they’re infamously stuck crawling around ducts for much of the duration – but pay dividends as she expresses her distrust of him while he, earning such acrimony, sabotages the time machine.

It creates the kind of unsettling atmosphere aboard the TARDIS that only really this juncture of the show (doubtless an after-effect of the Bidmead ethos) really embraces. Here, it also culminates in an extraordinarily proficient chair throw that Harry Hill would much later celebrate (with Peter Davison re-enacting it for Chair Jam). (Regarding the Black Guardian, Turlough for all his smarts seems remarkably willing to initiate schemes clearly designed to kill him too, first with the TARDIS instability and then worsening Terminus’ plight: he really ought to have called foul as soon as he was subjected to the “I am ready to lift you away” promise. And with regard to his ending the Universe, potentially, the Black Guardian blanched at two Brigs meeting but is happy to instigate this?)

Aside from the rather unfortunate stylings of raiders Kari (Liza Goddard) and Olvir (Dominic Guard) – their performances aren’t so promising either, but next to Inga (Rachel Weaver), an exposition machine who’d make Areta (Vengeance on Varos) proud, they’re Sir Larrys – the rest of the episode continues in this vein, with grabbling hands and the cliffhanger cry of “We’re on a leper ship!” So you’d be forgiven for thinking things boded well.

It soon becomes evident, however, that Stephen Gallagher has come up with a shameful absence of anything for Tegan and Turlough to do, and his solution is almost absurdly unapologetic. About the best you can say for the service ducts is that they’re well shot (on film). This is ostensibly Nyssa’s showcase, but she’s locked up, whimpers and falls foul of a nasty disease, in keeping with the show’s quaintly Pasteurian attitudes, along with a dedication to Rockefeller medicine (battering the afflicted with curative radiation; one might see the variable success of the treatment as a commentary on the allopathic approach to cancer, except that Nyssa insists the method is a success that simply needs honing).

Did the Doctor need to be paired with Kari, functioning as the companion for the story (see Kinda for a case that works)? In a similar manner to the way Olvir attaches himself (when he can find her) to Nyssa? Introductions aside, probably not, but in a story with less than a trio of companions, it would probably be less conspicuous.  

The raiders thread is a bit of a dud, all told; the Vanir one is much better, with several decent characters, performances and conflicts. Peter Benson’s Bor is a particular winner, what with memory always being the first thing to go, and it’s rather nice that they didn’t kill him off. Andre Burt’s Valgard is also strong – Burt was sublime as an archetype of the masculine in Blake’s 7’s The Harvest of Kairos – although Martin Potter, coming on like he’s auditioning for The Damned, is less impressive. Company drudgery, drug addiction and discontent/power grabs. Then there’s the Garm, who despite being lumped in with many of the era’s singular monster failures – the Ergon, the Myrka, the Magma Monster – is a rather agreeable shaggy dog, in a Hagrid/Robbie Coltrane fashion. 

When it comes down to the storytelling, obliqueness is fine – it was a positive boon to Warriors Gate – but there needs to be a sense of unity of vision to ensure the themes and subtext carry. Allusions to Hades and Norse mythology aren’t intrusive, which is good, but contrastingly, this means the inclusion of the Garm is rather lacking in point/resonance (the nature of his imprisonment, what indeed he’s there for and when from). 

There’s an intriguing kernel, that of the space station being responsible for the start of the Universe, but as it plays, it’s rather like that cuckoo script in Adaptation where everyone – the serial killer, the cop and the hostage – are the same person (soon followed by Identity, which actually did that). So is the Doctor, in his gabble of exposition, describing a paradox? Or is Terminus from another universe, creating this one (per About Time, Gallagher’s original storyline implied this, which is significantly less messy. Perhaps another time-jumping ship started that universe, as a form of infinite regression)? The Doctor says it seems to be at the centre of the Universe, the result of his ejecting “his fuel into a void” (so where was the void, and where was Terminus at that juncture?) The idea that the ship “was once capable of time travel” seems as half measures as the freighter in Earthshock time travelling when an alien computer is controlling it (so the pilot time jumped the ship AND the shockwave boosted it billions of years in the future?) 

It’s curious juxtaposition too, of Gallagher flourishing a very literal, material-universe explanation for creation (or this part of it), one that occurs through a “chance factor” (ie, there’s no intelligent design operating) and is subsequently characterised by very materialist obsessions, of disease, drug addiction, corporate oversight, slavery, theft and a general air of third-world deprivation, against the canvas of Norse mythology, a dog guarding the gates of Valhalla and apocalyptic despair/angst. It’s no wonder the latter impulse rather gets swallowed up.  It’s evident this would have been much better translated by someone more sympathetic to its nuances than meat-and-potatoes Mary. The whole business with the engines seems perfunctory and slightly pathetic when we get to see the visual rendition thereof (in contrast, the “cockpit” with the dead pilot has always seemed quite evocative).

Indeed, it’s easy, during the middle episodes, to become distracted during the longueurs of delivery and soundtrack. Most palpably by Nyssa’s nipples and the extraordinary scene in which she sheds her skirt. One thing to note about Terminus is that, for all its drab, grey look and dour tone, it’s a surpisingly positive story, in contrast to much of the era. Nyssa rallies the guards, makes friends with the Garm, opens a drug dispensary and cures a lot of Lazars. Hers is more impressive than Romana’s mission in the previous Gallagher story (she also had a pet dog for company). And her goodbye is quite touching, which Romana’s certainly was not. When I return to Terminus, I don’t tend to experience the outright dud many do, but rather one of the tail-end vestiges of early-80s attempts to break conceptual ground. And, if nothing else, it highlights that Season 20 was far from in thrall to nostalgia. Hence the conspicuously absent Ice Warriors.


The Five Doctors

Do you like The Five Doctors? Be sure. Be very sure. I like moments. Smatterings of moments. A great deal else about it, I’m ambivalent. And a fair bit more besides, I regard as borderline risible. My recollection is that the story was generally taken as a vague disappointment at the time, for all sorts of reasons – no Tom, Peter Moffat’s slumming-it direction, evil nu-Borusa, crap Rassilon etc – with even the highlights paid only grudging respect (the Cyber-massacre). These days, nostalgia seems to have won out, and it habitually nestles near the summit of the decade’s stories in polls, its minus points regarding as endearing rather than execrable. 

The positives. Terrance Dicks, given an impossible remit – one that defeated Bob Holmes – fashions a simple, effective and elastic plot, one that is both routine (contestants in a game) and advancing of series mythology (throwing shade on Rassilon). While there’s the occasionally incredibly clunky moment – Sarah takes a perilous tumble down a shallow incline; Susan and the Doctor evidently can’t see a TARDIS smack bang in their eyelines – the location filming generally offers sufficient mood and atmosphere, with some decent mattes, enveloping fog, and a couple of rousing set pieces (that Cyber-massacre, the Fifth Doctor meeting the Master and the former’s subsequent escape). It’s true that it suffers from doubled-up alien-locations syndrome (see also Planet of Fire and The Two Doctors), but the Eye of Orion opening is that rare and cherishable moment of tranquillity in the era, one where the TARDIS crew are being agreeable with each other.

Peter Howell’s incidental music is superb, some of the series’ very best, and does a lot of heavy lifting in terms of establishing an “epic” feel. Pat Troughton steals every scene he’s in (he was by far the MVP of my initial viewing, his prize moment being pushing his other selves aside to get a look at the inscription in the tomb), and there’s fun back and forth, with Nick Courtney in particular. But the unsung hero is frequently derided villain – as played by Anthony Ainley – the Master. Perhaps it’s Terrance writing him, perhaps it’s having something to do that doesn’t involve taking over the Universe, but his interactions are a delight, from his High Council impertinence – “I may be seated?” – to growing frustration at the Doctors’ refusal to listen. 

The Cybermen make for a bountiful monster presence (it’s been noted that they were a Saward favourite, and very much not a Dicks one), useful for upping the ante. The Raston Warrior Robot is a memorably devastating one-off. The Dalek’s innards are highly expressive. Davison’s Doctor is better characterised than in the majority of his stories, allowed wit and insight in place of the habitual back foot he’s thrown on (he probably has more classically quotable dialogue as his other selves are being taken from time than in the rest of his era put together). The conclusion (“Immortality is a curse, not a blessing”) is obvious and pat, and it’s been said several times in the preceding season, if not in so many words, but it’s also satisfyingly realised (eternal damnation on the side of a tomb). Nu-Who would do well to take note, where no one dies, even when they do, and the Doctor’s immortality has become farcical.

Then there are the parts that are fine. Jon Pertwee’s fine. It’s fun to (kind of) see a Yeti. Philip Latham is a disappointing Borusa, as a contrast to the likeable chap of his first couple of appearances, but if you’re going the route gone with him here – and it’s a debatable choice – the casting makes the complete sense. Beyond which, he holds his own against any other cast member. Nice to have the Castellan back; Jerricho makes the most of it. 

And the bits that simply provoke amusement: “Big, isn’t it?”; “No, not the mind probe!”; “A power-boosted, open-ended transmat beam”; “Zapped”. Also, to be clear, I watched the original version. So the Cyber “Ahhh” is still there (About Time, wittering on about the remix edition, cites its omission as causing “less controversy” than adding audio effects to Rassilon’s voice. Not in these quarters, it didn’t; it’s up there with axing “No complications” from the Day of the Daleks edit as an example of things some fans inexplicably consider embarrassments but which are, in fact, among the show’s most precious objects. “Ahhh” seems to make much more sense than the Cyberleader puking up. I mean, what was he eating before encountering the Raston Robot? Of which, I note the Leader’s in one of the first shots coming up to the rise, before wisely hanging back for much of the massacre. Possibly he had a delicate tummy. Mind you, About Time, reliably variable in its hot takes, also calls out the “I may be seated line?” as risibly delivered. Some people just have no taste; it’s perfectly delivered).

But there’s also… Well, Richard Hurndall is okay, I guess. I know he has his fans, but there’s never a moment where you could mistake his for the First Doctor. He’s just too acidic, lacking the warmth that contrasted with William Hartnell’s crotchetiness (on the other hand, he makes it abundantly clear there are no United Colours of Benetton Doctors in his dojo, so for that we can be grateful and label Chibbers and his wonder wig rank impostors). Bayldon might have nailed it. He’d certainly have brought some quirk. 

Bringing back Carole Anne Ford and not pairing her with her Doctor is just bizarre (I can see why it’s done – Tegan will spark off him and call him “Doc”, purely to piss him off – but it’s a snub to Ford, however you wash it. Almost as insulting as making her twist her ankle). Lis Sladen seems to have decided to play Sarah Janes as a Blue Peter presenter. Rassilon’s about as formidable as the same year’s reveal of the face of Annakin Skywalker. And the lack of Tom combined with a fake First Doctor (still a preferable take on the character to Moffat’s racist, homophobic version – oh, how we laughed at the mechanical digger’s brass!) rather underlines the make-do approach. 

You could argue The Three Doctors was similarly unremarkable, but it wasn’t setting out to be stacked to the gills with treats. Of which, Lisbeth Sandifer passes judgement on “the strange breed of thought that thinks the monsters are the most important part of Doctor Who”, before suggesting the only positive corollary is Paul Cornell’s “the Doctor being what monsters have nightmares about”. Actually, it’s a deeply stupid idea of Paul’s, symptomatic of fans taking over the asylum and tantamount to that other stupid one of turning him into a minor deity.

Almost anyone – well, barring Ron Jones, or Pennant Roberts – would have been preferable to Moffat when it comes to overseeing an “event” story, so it’s near-enough a compliment – or damning with faint praise, take your pick – to conclude he achieves passable results.


Mawdryn Undead

Quite similar to Castrovalva, in that, conceptually, it’s first rate, yet the execution lets it down somewhat. Not to the extent of a devised action extravaganza becoming frequently laughable – such as Warriors of the Deep – as both are decidedly sedate, contemplative affairs, but the sense that a little more acumen and inventiveness on the part of the director could have elevated it to the status of the quite special (that, and a little more restraint on Paddy Kingsland’s part; rather than responding to the mood of the piece, he gets out the electric guitar and attempts to amp up – ahem – material that simply cannot respond).

The twin pegs of appropriating The Flying Dutchman (in space) and utilising two different time zones are quite enough to be getting on with as hooks, along with the novel notion of an antagonist(s) who simply wants to die. So adding the Black Guardian to the mix, now with a reluctant minion doing his bidding/making nice with the Doctor while plotting to kill him, is all gravy, as is the nostalgia bait of the returning Brigadier, somewhat rudely ported from the military into a (brief?) tenure as a public-school maths teacher. Ian Chesterton would have been more contextual and Harry Sullivan probably more fun, but neither boast the all-important JN-T press-call event the way the former head of UNIT does. Besides, there was recent precedent verifying those in the forces/services switching to a less “active” life (Ian Bannen’s Jim Prideaux in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, complete with an Ibbotson in Hippo. Albeit, again, that template was probably a better fit for a Marter type, particularly the one from Harry Sullivan’s War).

And the delineation of the two Brigs (tache and no tache) is effective economical shorthand (perhaps Marter or Russell would have sported a big bushy beard). Moffat has been allotted a story that doesn’t require great technical virtuosity (he doesn’t even try two Courtneys in shot for the fateful meeting, opting for the tried-and-tested over the shoulder for the younger model), meaning he can do little overt damage through his pedestrian approach; the story manages to move at a clip despite himself, as there’s a lot going on and to account for. Where he most appreciably fails is masking the script’s less-glowing elements. However you dice it, Mawdryn being mistaken for the Doctor is a bit lame, and some other means of eliciting Nyssa and Tegan’s cooperation would surely have been preferable. You’ve also got Valentine Dyall turned up to 111 every time he appears; his dialogue pretty much dictates that – the dead bird likewise – but pitching his tone a little less bombastically wouldn’t have been amiss.

Then there’s the Doctor’s dilemma, of sacrificing his Time Lord-ness (or his remaining lives, which seems to be perceived as amounting to one and the same). Obviously, the two Brigs Blinovitch-ly shorting themselves out provides a remarkably convenient – but not wholly dissatisfying, as it at least appears congruent – solution, but the infected Tegan and Nyssa (yet not the Brigadier and the Doctor) is weak filler. It’s both a fudge to prevent him upping and leaving and a fudge to force his hand into sacrificing his remaining lives (and a bit silly that the available lives tot up exactly – “Eight of them, eight of me” – except when his companions are added to the mix and it seems not to matter). 

Rather than emphasising how stricken he is with the thought “I will no longer be a Time Lord”, an artificially engineered state anyway, it would seem, it would have been much more interesting to explore the moral implications of his situation (so does his symbiotic nuclei become void too?) What does he think he’d be losing by sacrificing his lives (but not his life)? Apart from no longer being a “superhero” a la Superman II? Which isn’t to suggest his attitude is selfish, per se, but you could at least try and account for where he’s coming from. Or have him take an ethical stance, that he cannot condone euthanasia in such a manner (obviously, there are situations where he has enabled others to end their existences, so it would be partial/inconsistent, but still more substantial than what we get).

Those are gripes, but there are many positives in Mawdryn Undead, from the title on down. The whole entry-point situation with Turlough, an alien at public school, is agreeably odd (the more so for the Doctor’s complete lack of inquisitiveness over his status). Strickson’s performance, by turns haughty & superior and fearful & desperate, is commendable. He asserts a presence and attitude on the screen his regular male co-star lacks (even given his subsequently being rarely well used). 

In contrast, Tegan and – especially, which I hadn’t recalled or expected – Nyssa are stroppy, suspicious contrary so-and-sos, rather confirming everything you already knew about ’80s companions (Nyssa at least has something fetching to wear for a change, but it’s Tegan who gets the wolf whistle, in 1977. It’s also Tegan who, entirely uncharacteristically, thanks the Doctor sincerely for his willingness – well, kind of – to sacrifice himself for them at the end What came over her?) 

The Brigadier’s characterisation and Courtney’s playing are agreeable; amiable and blinkered, baffled but determined. The design of the ship is suitably ornate, and the pulsating, coleslaw-esque, exposed “Kastron” brains a sign of grue to come; the costumes are much less impressive David Collings struggles to eke a rounded character from Mawdryn, but the very nature of their immortal anguish does much of the heavy lifting. 

There are interesting touches too, such as both Mawdryn and the Black Guardian falling in line and put their agendas to one side when it comes to the more immediate threat that is two Brigadiers – “He’s a deviant” – in the same time and place (there are also, per About Time, paradoxically two TARDIS homing devices in the Brigadier’s possession come the end of the story). 

Obviously, there’s stacks of continuity here, such as the Blinovitch Limitation Effect and reversing the polarity, Gallifrey (again), the flashback scene (already a bit passé but hey, Earthshock went down like catnip) and Turlough homaging the first story by considering bashing someone’s head in with a rock (albeit, the Doctor is the prospective victim this time). The capsule, a nice sturdy piece of design, appears to be bigger on the inside, I’m assuming intentionally. Mawdryn Undead progresses the show in the more cerebral vein of Bidmead, rather than the action-socky of Saward, and it’s a sign of the logistics of production that his response to Earthshock’s veneration took two years to implement. 

But we should be grateful. Mainly, Mawdryn Undead’s an example of how you should be approaching stories featuring old elements: that the concept comes first and the nostalgia doesn’t overshadow it (in his DWM The Complete Fifth Doctor take on this story, Rob Shearman commented “Season Twenty is an exercise in nostalgia”, but as I’ve suggested already, most striking is how little it succumbs to that lure. Shearman does make a good case that the story is about the effects of nostalgia, though, of time moving on. And like him, I couldn’t care less about the UNIT dating thing). That would be the problem from Season 21, rather than the anniversary year.


Snakedance

The consensus on Snakedance – at least, subsequent to its winning the DWM season poll, the year after its Mara predecessor came bottom – seems to be of a smart, worthy but less original and more routine sequel to Kinda. In some respects, such assessments are fair and accurate, although it’s arguably also more consistent in its writing and performances; if Snakedance never quite achieves Kinda’s highs, neither does it stoop to its lows. On this occasion, however, I was most taken by how well-conceived and absorbing the world of Manussa is, for all the unforgiving studio exteriors and lighting. In terms both of establishing a world with a long-since dimmed history and one populated by vivid characters, Snakedance is one of the series’ most accomplished tales.

Indeed, given the veneration in which Chris Bailey’s Whos are held by nu-Who writers, one ought to be baffled over how entirely bereft the same writers have been at creating any remotely believable civilisation (but then, one ought to be baffled at how anyone loving Classic Who could think nu-Who in any way honoured or celebrated the original). Of course, Bailey (perhaps taking his cues from Eric) doesn’t necessarily conform to the classic approach either. 

While The Discontinuity Guide’s position that “For once, we see the Doctor as others see him, a raving idiot with no justification for his wild claims of world destruction” has been rather overstated (since it’s an entirely standard device that no one listens to the Doctor), it is sustained for longer than usual. Part of this is down to the Saward go-to of locking the Doctor up. He’s so side-lined here, you’d think he was his next incarnation, pretty much out of the picture for Episode Three (but confined, it has to be said, to a very nattily designed cell; indeed, Jan Spoczynski may have been making the most of old Alien leftovers, but these scenes are easily the best lit and shot of the story). 

Ambril: Doctor? Of what? I’m sure the man has no academic standing whatsoever.

On the other hand, as has also been noted, it would be very difficult to imagine this tale with another Doctor. Absolutely not Tom. This is tailored to Davo’s fallible ingenue, someone who needs tutoring by an elder to resist falling prey to fear. In that sense, it’s a call back to the Buddhist Barry period, but put Pertwee in here, and the tone would change to one of patrician realisation rather than desperate striving. 

I’m not a fan of quite how much Davison plays his Doctor as up against it and on the edge, partly because it’s quickly rather exhausting, but it does lend the air of someone whose victory is far from a fait accompli. His inability to charm people or avoid getting to the point repeatedly puts him in the soup (either of disdain or confinement), and in that sense, the proceedings are motivationally sound. There’s very little levity from the Doctor, as was the custom during his austere run, the gag concerning Nyssa’s costume – perhaps the violent affront of its design caused a blind spot – and the casual one-upmanship of Ambril concerning the Faces of Delusion mask aside (“That was probably the idea, don’t you think?”)

Tegan is, as per Kinda, only central to the first two episodes, albeit she remains possessed here and pops up occasionally to threaten or oversee the Becoming. Which adds to the sense of a writer far more interested in exploring his world than telling a Doctor Who story, per se (other areas where the joins show include the ease with which the Doctor returns to the safety of the TARDIS – twice in Episode Two – and the business with Nyssa and the key, filler to remind you the crew are in the story). Fielding, with her new duds and hair, represents a more immediately embodied, sexualised vision of possession, and perhaps concordantly, the nature of the threat becomes less sinister. Peter Howell’s still there with the stings, and hall of mirrors/skull head is effective, as is the Trans-Mara Express of Martin Clunes’ Lon speaking with Tegan’s Mara voice (and the initial “GO AWAY!” as the Doctor probes her mind – obviously, back in the ’80s, such content indicated aberration rather than aspiration), but Fiona Cumming, dependably competent as she is, lacks Peter Grimwade’s flair and inventiveness.

This doesn’t matter too much, as the story’s so well drawn and motivated that it could almost be a Robert Holmes affair. Martin Clunes, in his TV debut, brings a certain Malcolm McDowell-ish presumption of snide superiority to Lon and has rightly been singled out as a natural, but everyone here, perhaps Hilary Sesta’s Fortune Teller aside, contributes both strong characterisation and world building. 

All the scenes between Lon and his mother Tanha (Colette O’Neil), or with blinkered bureaucrat Ambril (John Carson, marvellous in his mannered delivery), an encapsulation of materialism’s lure over and above spiritual truths, are first rate. Brian Miller’s Dugdale has a touch of Richard Mace in his theatrical zeal, but he’s simply a memorable incidental, while Jonathon Morris makes for one of the better “companion for a story” types as Chella. Preston Lockwood only has to look meditative, which he manages; if one could readily imagine another director making more of this aspect, Cumming nevertheless gives it enough.

Again, this isn’t a story where you can get away from the factors working against verisimilitude, any more than the studio floor in Kinda, but one is only really given pause when running up flats to the Snake cave (a tatty version of The Apple from Star Trek) or the drama of the Mara-infused climax, where some visual/editing bells and whistles to lend gaspy Davo some heroic lustre were needed (the final episode is, by some distance, the weakest of the four, complete with more goo, pink this time). 

The bazaar works much better, even if Julia Smith probably delivered a superior one in The Underwater Menace; it’s the incidentals, of toy plastic snakes, Punch and Judy shows with snakes rather than crocodiles, and a penny – still no change in his pockets after Arc of Infinity – to ward off an attendant demon that serve to embed the story in a world where the genuine uncanny has, through mockery and absence, been repackaged as a product to sell (sometimes, per the fortune teller volunteering her sham status to a complete stranger, this is a little over telegraphed, but that’s a rarity).

The Doctor: The Great Crystal absorbed what was in their minds. The restlessness, the hatred, the greed. Absorbed it, amplified it, reflected it.
Nyssa: And created the Mara.

One might suggest the story’s metaphysical theme has been a little too “scientised” with an explanation for the Mara, but even this has resonances. The “no evil but that which comes from within” is obviously down to Bailey’s own philosophical inclinations, but the idea of demonic possession being something that begins in the mind of the individual (rather than invading from without), is something the Seth Material – no relation to the adaptation of Bailey’s Children of Seth for Big Finish – vouches for. For some reason – I guess because it suggests ancient orbiting space stations – the Great Crystal was manufactured in a “zero gravity environment” by the Manussans, who then channelled their negativity into it and “blindly brought [it] into being”.

Nyssa: But there would be records. A people 800 years ago capable of molecular engineering? 

The idea of hidden history – and hidden, technologically advanced history – is another string to the story’s bow. We’ll see the “cave paintings tech” idea – presented with the snake holding the great crystal – again with Prometheus and its wall illustrations (and, er, AvP for that matter). Manussa is essentially a testament to the deleterious effects of focussing on the external at the expense of the inner life. Dojjen tells the Doctor as much (“No, the still point is within yourself, nowhere else” – Davison still can’t resist playing this as really exerting his still point, but still). In nu-Who, there is ONLY the external, the superficial and glib. There’s nowhere else.


Enlightenment

A (very) rare ’80s productions where everything comes together, Enlightenment is a glittering jewel almost as impressive as the story’s prize itself. Director Fiona Cumming, working from a script by one-timer Barbara Clegg, musters up a highly polished production, with only the occasional large neon warning sign to detract; the period trappings go down a treat, and their juxtaposition with Jules Verne-esque spacesuits (and deck scenes shot on film, in semi-darkness) adds to the general lustre. 

In which vein, I’m baffled by the desire to redo the model effects (twice!), since they’re actually rather good, and their physicality only adds to the story’s general atmosphere. I recall Saward suggesting the story wasn’t bad but didn’t quite work (in DWB 57, Aug 88: actually, it’s worse: “I personally didn’t like the story very much… I didn’t think it was strong enough and the casting was not very good and the direction was a bit flat”. Oh, okay… It had imagination, he admitted, but once you discovered where you were, “by the end of episode one – you really had nowhere else to go”). 

It’s certainly true there was no room for mercenaries, gratuitous violence or the unnecessarily nihilistic offing of sympathetic supporting characters, and no downer ending or formulation based upon single-minded actionfest laser zap, so that might be the reason he lost interest – or perhaps it’s just because Eric can be a terrible old misery guts (I often find myself an Eric apologist, one of the few, but he’s far off piste there. Gary Leigh even phrased the question with the recognition that it was “one of the better-received stories that season” This is the same interview where Eric says “I’m entitled to say it’s [Resurrection of the Daleks] the worst script ever written for Doctor Who”. Untrue, he oversaw the editing on several others that were much worse).

Marriner: You are life itself. Without you I am nothing. Don’t you understand?

As with the previous two stories – Dyall aside – the antagonists’ presentation is less than black and white, which furthers the sense that this period of the series is working to its strengths when contrasting a rather vanilla Doctor against a more textured canvas. The essential idea of the Eternals is developed and resonant – like Snakedance, this is a story from the Davison era that’s alive with character, contrasting with the more typically unadorned approach – most notably in Christopher Brown’s Marriner and his fascination with Tegan’s lively ephemeral mind of (while she sees him, to use Peri’s parlance, as a creep, he all but scoffs when she suggests he loves him: “What is love? I want existence”). 

It’s perhaps Keith Barron’s Striker who most lends the Eternals the suggestion of an empty entity cloaked in a veil of humanity – it’s notable that his vessel is called the Shadow, both the name of a previous Guardian agent and descriptive of the Eternals’ insubstantial nature – in contrast to the full-bodied – ahem – gusto with which Wrack (Lynda Barron) and her henchman Mansell (Leee John, of whom more shortly) inhabit their roles (of whom, About Time suggests the explanation “Both the Captain and the First Mate fell overboard” is a “shocking cop-out of an ending”, but I never took their “rather unfortunate accident” to be a literal explanation; Turlough quite evidently, possibly in concert with the Doctor, pushed them into the void during the struggle).

One might take issue with the whys and wherefores of all this, and some most certainly have. Why should the Guardians – rather than the Enlighteners of Clegg’s original script, although Striker does use that word for them – be handing out the prize? What kind of cosmology does all of this suggest? There are occasions where constructions of this ilk have failed to satisfy – the denouement of the mostly engaging The Greatest Show in the Galaxy – but Enlightenment’s obliqueness, in which one is free to draw one’s own conclusions, is an asset. 

The Doctor tells an ever-negative Tegan (albeit, not without reason) that Enlightenment wasn’t the prize (the diamond, in Turlough’s case) but the choice (good or evil, light or dark, white or black). While the Black Guardian asserts that the Eternals’ victory “will give them power. They will invade time itself. Chaos will come again, and the Universe will dissolve”, he’s actually simply presenting the argument from his own perspective. Otherwise, the White Guardian would surely be much less sanguine about the entire arrangement (unless, that is, he foresaw that an ephemeral would claim the prize. But my assumption, possibly erroneously, is that this is only one in a series of opportunities presented to the likes of the Eternals). As the Black Guardian admits, “These creatures have no knowledge of good or evil”; they are thus as disposed to seize one as the other (we can see this in the curiosity of Marriner, apt to be swayed by the honesty and truthfulness of one who commands his attention). 

Striker: This is just the sort of excitement that makes eternity bearable.

The White Guardian sends the Eternals back “to your echoing void, back to the vastness of eternity”, leaving the nature of their realm oblique. He makes it sound unappealing, certainly, and the Doctor accuses them – rather harshly, perhaps, but he’s like that, this Doctor – of being “Parasites!… You feed on living minds, use them as blueprints”. They’re amoral, absolutely, seeing ephemerals as “toys”, but his indignation makes no attempt to address them from that perspective (which is why Striker’s moderate, unruffled tone is a welcome antidote; the Doctor isn’t wrong, but he would have been better served by a cautious, probing tone). 

In Marriner’s case, exposure to humans provokes recognition of his lack, and that at least is something that encourages a degree of sympathy, compounded by the White Guardian’s description (it makes their realm sound like an endless Phantom Zone, or purgatory). In terms of their relationship with ephemerals, the Eternals are given an almost vampiric – or archonic – motivation, feeding on them for creative sustenance (“Their minds are empty, used up. They need ideas from us. They’re desperate for them”). But even in that context, there’s no outright malign intent, merely ambivalence towards those who provide a source of “energy”. 

Clegg presents the Eternals with such assuredness that, while they’re entirely fascinating, one feels any greater insight might dilute their effectiveness. They do, however, seem like a natural fit for the Black Guardian/White Guardian concept of the Universe, where good/evil, light/dark are tangible; what could be a better contrast than entities that come from beyond this, where there’s nothing by which to define them, no polarity? One wonders if they’re 6D negative – they’re clearly advanced, but they serve only themselves – while the Guardians are… what? Perhaps more of the ilk of etheric beings.

The Doctor: Enlightenment.
Striker: The wisdom which knows all things and which will enable me to achieve what I desire most.

Of the Guardians, it’s a relief to have Cyril Luckham – even homogenised by a bird hat even less becoming than Dyall’s and a complete evaporation of his playful The Ribos Operation tone – providing a less incensed counterweight to Dyall’s ludicrous venom. Don’t get me wrong, Dyall’s taunting, snarling spleen, particularly as it’s in short bursts, is hilariously OTT, but he makes Ainley’s Master look like positively restrained, reasoned villainy by comparison. 

One might suggest that’s the biggest failing of this trilogy. And one might track it back to Key to Time, motivationally, but that at least made no attempt to portray its negative pole in more than one scene (whether that scene achieved what it needed to, well… most don’t think so, but they can’t deny Dyall was a presence). Here, over the course of three stories, Saward needed to give the Black Guardian a bit more than Nhaha-haaing at Turlough for the umpteenth time. 

That said, I do really like the choice scene; it’s a satisfying ending in symbolic terms, and what a story like this – and indeed the trilogy – needed, so retrospectively atoning for a lot of sins (it’s a better “moral” than the “Immortality is a curse, not a blessing” of two stories later, particularly since that one’s been thoroughly discarded now nu-Who is effectively immortal). Larry Miles called the finale “perilously close to tweeness”, but I’d suggest that’s avoided through the tone of the piece.

In the rocky wake of Terminus, Enlightenment is pretty much perfectly judged in its treatment of its main characters. It’s the culmination of Turlough’s arc, sadly for Strickson, as he’ll only ever find anything interesting to do again when called upon to be cowardly (Frontios) or suspiciously wrapping up his affairs (Planet of Fire). Teaming him with Wrack in the second half is a great decision, and he’s about the only actor who can match Barron for overstatement.

Of whom, most of Sandifer’s review is spent promoting the idea of Turlough, rather than Kamelion, as the gayest companion ever, so I’m only surprised Rusty hasn’t picked up on this, with his unerring eye for innuendo (I wouldn’t accuse him of anything as sensitive as perceiving subtext). Perhaps he has, and I blessedly missed it. Wrack is, obviously, tremendously camp, but only comparatively so. After all, Leee John’s also present. Which goes to indicate that ’80s Doctor Who’s only as “queer-coded” as the next story, companion or guest character you encounter. 

On the debit side of character consistency but of a piece with Terminus in that regard, Turlough may be desperate, but continually calling on the Black Guardian just so he can be strangled belies the deviousness he displays elsewhere. There’s also the standard era demand to leave wherever they’ve just arrived, as tiresome as blandishments such as “The atmosphere on this ship is evil” (okay, it’s Turlough saying it, but the point is surely that it isn’t; what’s perhaps unsettling is its lack of anything providing a steer in that regard).

On which front, Tegan says “On an Edwardian sailing ship?” one time too many, but she’s as productively paired with Marriner as Turlough is with Wrack, more so even; this is the character’s best showing outside of Mara tales, unnerved by a similarly offbeat environment (notably, the story opens with a chess game – Turlough is white, not black – and she’s faced with materiality conjured from her mind). 

The Doctor is ever short with her – he’s more indulgent of Turlough, if anything – and abidingly ignorant of his companions’ assets: ignoring Tegan’s cleavage; “Is she?” in response to Marriner suggesting she’s beautiful, a step down on Tom’s casual assuredness. However, he’s also possessed of the occasional witticism (his response to Tegan asking “Well, what if the White Guardian tells me something important?”: “Thank him politely”). Davo generally works better here – as Larry Miles suggested, his “gentleman traveller” Doctor is “a perfect fit for all of this” – and if his unrestrained outrage at the Eternals is a weakness of his incarnation, his confidence at mixing with the deckhands is an unlikely strength, and undercutting his expectations of physical endangerment with a (relatively) polite and tolerant environment. 

The entire story is well paced; the exploratory first part leads to a reveal, not unlike Carnival of Monsters (also ship bound) in shifting the apparent rules. Just when the proceedings need some extra oomph, Wrack is introduced (Episode Three). Everything hits the spot in production terms; the set design and costumes are perfect, the lighting is – miraculously – highly atmospheric, from the console-room opening onwards. The Malcolm Clarke score is especially strong (including his re-used party theme), so contrasting with a season that has too frequently showcased atonal aural insults. 

Sure, there’s the occasional misstep. That vacuum shield sign. The unlikeliness of the Doctor picking up all the pieces of the shattered jewel (it’s a nice touch that smashing it doesn’t resolve the problem but rolling up the piece of carpet/rug it was shattered on would have been much more sensible). And why does the Doctor struggle to throw it overboard (it has some “gravity” or resistance, presumably)? There’s an enviable turn of phrase throughout – “A lord of time. Are there lords in such a small domain?” – and Saward evidently considered Clegg promising enough to consider further submissions (one of the multitude Big Finish has bashed out as lost stories)

And Enlightenment is often very funny, from the pig-looking-aloft joke onwards (the crew disappear as a plot point, once things progress, but that’s for the best). Barron is a tremendous, anticipating such overstatements as Tina Turner in Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome style; she even addresses the camera (but not so much the audience) at the end of Episode Three (the only difficulty is imagining that anyone so full blooded would have to worry that she’ll “never be bored again”). 

Leee John is an outright phenomenon, meanwhile, singlehandedly wrestling attention away from anyone else in any scene thanks to his extraordinary propensity for overemphasis: his steering acting is hysterical, as is his addressing Turlough in the stateroom; “Mr Marriner, my friend”; and best of all, the gesticulation that comes with “But he’s becalmed. The winds have dropped”. This story’s stock has rightly risen in the years since its debut –it came only fourth in the DWM season poll – but Enlightenment should really be ranked among the top five of its decade.


Blu-ray Extras

 

Arc of Infinity

Anti-Matter from Amsterdam, the Making Of, was made in 2007, which means the 25-years-later cast now look relatively youthful. Eric’s sniffy about all things JN-T, of course – including Tegan coming back – before suggesting in closing that it’s actually a reasonable story. Davo says the same, despite chuckling away about the Ergon, the Gallifreyan furniture, treating the roads and streets of Amsterdam as corridors, Tegan looking drunk on a bar stool in Amsterdam in the Matrix, and pondering why Collier replaced him (on location). Jericho seems enthusiastic, aside from the costumes (perhaps he stipulated not to wear the same one for his return). Byrne, Bidders like, says he enjoys the challenge of including various elements but admits Gallifrey, reduced to a few rather grey corridors, left something to be desired. Boxer says Byrne told him he wrote the thing on Tequila in Mexico, which you’d have thought would have yielded more eccentric results, if so. Most seem to agree it’s still watchable. 

Behind the Sofa – Strickson is a good value addition, even if Davison and Fielding hold court; “He’s very straight in a camp way”, he observes of Colin’s Maxil: “Arch” reply his co-viewers in unison (JN-T called him Archie). And “You don’t immediately think that’s a Doctor Who in the making, do you?” No, true enough. Colin recounts fetching Jerricho a coffee (he thought Colin was the help) and notes, also noted by Sophie Aldred, his ability to find the camera in a background shot (Wokie Aldred is very keen on his perf). Nyssa gets some stick (“Why didn’t you shoot him? Tegan would have shot him”) and gives some (“He really barked at me then!” in response to “Go to the TARDIS!”)

Omega Featurette – One of those weak-swill pieces. Nev Fountain talks about the renegade, having written a Big Finish featuring the character. Back when Big Finishes were still in the mere hundreds rather than hundreds of thousands.

Snakedance

Deleted Scenes – noteworthy for the extended, calm-after-the-storm epilogue, which is rather good. It serves to emphasise that, per Bailey’s intent and thus in opposition to everything Eric stood for, no one dies (but in contrast to everything nu-Who stands for, no one proclaims as much from the rooftops). The Doctor explains Dojjen’s failure to destroy the crystal that it was “Partly, yes” to destroy the Mara (why else, then?) The people offer their heartfelt gratitude, except for Lon who is dependably shifting the blame. And leaving it up to them whether they destroy the crystal (they’re “free to choose”) is a nice touch. Don’t you think?

Snake Charmer – 2011 Making Of in which Bailey discusses how the writing was an “absolute breeze” after the trials of Kinda (and yet, after this he wrote no more, giving up on several prospective Who stories). The snake-dancing idea derived from charismatic Christianity, while in Buddhist terms, the Manussan world is “the human world” (with attendant commerce, business and tawdrification). Rob Shearman is on hand to claim it as his favourite story, even though he realises Kinda is in some ways better (it made him want to be a writer). 

Both Cumming and Janet note how Ambril could have been very boring, were it not for Carson’s perf, while Davo felt Clunes stole the show from Morris, who thus wasn’t so happy with the production. Song for Europe’s contribution to the sets is demonstrated, while Davo admits to his directorial hankerings (had the acting gig dried up) as he opines that the lighting was too bright (Cumming confirms his input). The Episode Three craphanger is discussed (Eric relates how it entailed a three-hour phone conversation with Bailey, while Bailey relates that the business with the overpowering the guard in Four was the kind of thing favoured by Eric, but he felt was unnecessary – he’s right; in this case, anyway).

Behind the Sofa – sometimes with these, you’re disappointed a decent story isn’t getting due recognition from the attendees. It isn’t as if Janet (and, I guess Davo) doesn’t think highly of it, but Colin and Sylv, and Katy Manning and Wokie, contribute little of note. Everyone has a go at Sutton’s tablecloth, a JN-T special (Davo: “I like your look. From the neck up”). Sarah: “I was a good girl. I did as I was told”, regarding wearing it. McCoy considers it was practice for Colin’s as does Davo. Janet says it’s her favourite cast, and there’s general appreciation, particularly for O’Neil, Carson and Miller (Clunes goes without saying). “You’re so mean to your assistants!” observes Janet, accurately. Colin criticises the prison design, which is very stupid of him. Although, Katy (“No fancies or curls, extra stuff, always a very clear performance”) Sophie (“always on the backfoot”) Colin and Sylv (“Not many laughs, no not a lot of humour”) all appraise the failings of the Davison incarnation accurately. 

Martin Clunes – God, I loathe the packaging of these new docs for the collection, “puffing up” an interview with offensively twee mood music and scene-setting (or cutaway) shots. Get to the bleedin’ point already. This one’s only 20 minutes or so, and Fielding unsurprisingly gets on with Clunes like a house on fire. But I suspect one has to be pretty aggravating not to get on with Clunes. The Who focussed stuff is, as is often the case, less interesting than the career digressions, although his recounting his mirth at Davison and the boob-tube incident is expectedly funny: “It was a good one”, and he explains Sarah’s anecdote about him having a car full of drugs (he made something up about the police as an excuse for being late). Janet should have shown him Lee Binding’s phallic representation of the story for the collection booklet; I’m sure they’d have found it a scream.

With regard to the non-Who, there’s some interesting discussion of his dad Alec Clunes (I’ll have to check out Hamlet at Elsinore). There are also a few minutes at the end covering his progression from Snakedance (he suggests “I think I took a while to catch on”, with regard to his debut engendering instant success, but he started his No Place Like Home stint the same year). Obviously, what with her being a Kool-Aid snorter, Fielding bemoans how “Everybody’s so posh”, including Clunes’ stage work, repeatedly (both in BTS and interviewing Clunes). That’s now something to be ashamed of, with incoherent diction duly celebrated. 

Bailey and Shearman – Is there something a little “inscribing one’s legacy” about Rob interviewing Chris, given the latter (through his own choices) dried up as a writer, and Shearman has been thin on the ground since? Bailey’s agreeably open about his contributions, saying he was a little po-faced over the handling of Kinda (for example, the pith helmets, which he considered unnecessary once they had Richard Todd effectively embodying the same thing). As for Adric and Nyssa as the dream old people, was it a valid reading? “Yes, but not in my head.” He doesn’t think there’s anything ambiguous in his writing, and didn’t watch nu-Who, having remained bruised by his experiences (probably sensible on his part regardless). Rob gushes that he and Paul Cornell and the Moff consider his stories as temples. Which you wouldn’t know from their output (well, maybe Cornell, a bit). 

Mawdryn Undead

Who Wants to Live Forever (Making Of). The Guardian trilogy was released during a frequently dog’s-dinner period for the DVDs, when Dan Hall was allowing any old shoddily-put-together shite to warrant extra status. So this Brendan Sheppard special has an MD contributing his penneth on longevity via a rather awkward last-minute segue (“Medically, how close are we?”) Which amounts to prattish insights into growing one’s own nose. Eric is positive about Strickson’s performance but regrets not doing more with the character. Davo snarks – as he has done on various occasions – about Mark’s unerring ability to find the lens and identifies the issues with sustaining Turlough as a full-time companion. Eric blames JN-T for the opening Mara recap (he, or Sir Ian, liked the continuity). Valentine Dyall was lovely. Nick enjoyed returning but wasn’t mad keen on the story.

Behind the Sofa – Colin likes the title. He, toeing the party line, remarks on how RP everyone is (be grateful for small mercies) while Mark offers the interesting (in that general vein) observation that JN-T took him aside and asked him to be posher, and he replied he was being as posh as he could. Strickson suggests (to Davo) of Collings’ burn makeup “And you think you had it bad with Rice Krispies” while Katy, revoltingly, suggests “I’d have a slice of that” of Mawdryn’s brain. Davo promises to look at Sarah and Janet’s bottoms for the rest of the season. Colin notes Janet’s unusual gratitude at the end, and in response to Turlough’s quest to kill the Doctor getting a McCoy “I don’t think he manages it, because we’re here” Baker responds “I know that!

Finding Mark Strickson – Strickson is a good talking head in this DVD release extra, but the presentation is as irritating as the modern, more expansive interviews. He’s a country lad who stopped acting – Big Finish doesn’t count – at 29, took a zoology degree and decided to save the world, such that he’s been a natural-history filmmaker since. During the pursuit of which, he discovered a young Steve Owen.

Terminus

Making Of – most of your Terminus reportage will lead with Davo getting sorely vexed over Sutton not receiving a proper conclusion to her stint on the show, but he’s quite magnanimous regarding the story, if typically resigned – as in, it’s typical of his era – to its various failings; he didn’t mind it, it’s just that he didn’t feel it went anywhere. Gallagher seems to exhibit some authorial pride about his schema for splitting up characters into groups of two, yet entirely fails to fess up (or the interviewer fails to ask him) to giving Tegan and Turlough a slap in the face of a plot line. Cumming recounts how Mary Ridge was meticulous and tough, the classic example of a safe pair of hands, Dick Coles that she was uncompromising, while Davo suggested that while some, such as Peter Moffat, managed to breeze through without the foggiest regarding the story, Ridge was sent into a tizz by her failure to get it (he does admit that she was  a really good director and that some of his experiences testified that directing wasn’t as wasn’t as easy as he’d thought). 

Davison has the view that, even given the setbacks, there was a sense the production never ramped up the kind of momentum that would have made up for it (and, of course, there was the personal mortification for Ridge, given as Cumming recounts, a failure to complete the shoot never happened to her before or since). Apparently, costume designer Dee Robson wasn’t fazed by JN-T disliking stuff (probably a reason he wanted to avoid her being assigned to productions). Peter comments, “Liza is Liza, isn’t she?” adding “And I suppose that’s what John wanted”. Sarah meanwhile identifies that, as she does several times in the extras, that the decision to leave was made for her, likely for the best as she “probably would have stayed until I was old and wrinkly”. Gallagher cites how he’s had fans saying Warriors Gate was the 2001 of Who, while he heard someone suggest the best horror they’d seen lately was Terminus. I suspect many would agree it’s a horror…

Behind the Sofa – there’s much reference to the bra-less wonder that is Sarah Sutton throughout (“Could you run that back, please?”; Janet: “You ran without a bra?”) Mark is impressed that the story gets going so quickly. Chair Jam is noted (“Damn fine shot” says Colin). Sylvester: “Weren’t you married to her?” (Liza); Colin: “Yes”.  And soon after, in reaction Liza saying “Be quiet”, “The amount of times I heard her say that to me”. Janet on the zombie hands: “They’re going for the money”. Colin on Sarah dropping her skirt: “I feel terribly ill, I’ll take my underpants off”. Sylv: “You’ll make everybody ill then”. Peter: “There’s a lot of crooked helmet acting generally in Season 20”. Katy likes the Garm and Sylv wishes he’d come back (“Nyssa and the Garm in Space sounds good”). RTD outing Tegan and Nyssa as a couple is mentioned. Such an insight on Russell’s part figures. He does, after all, have a one-track mind, which is why his actual storylines are generally so pitiful.

In Conversation with Sarah Sutton and Janet Fielding. This is fine, but not quite as essential as some of Matthew Sweet’s probings. They discuss the age gap (eight years), meaning they’re probably better friends now, how them sharing a bedroom was a strange thing (not to RTD, obviously), and there’s some attempt to suggest Nyssa was growing up a bit in her last season. Of the “very strange moment” of skirt dropping, Sarah admits she didn’t question it, while Janet much preferred her stewardess costume to the boob tube. There are various references to how they were skint/lacked contracts. Janet tries, somewhat feebly and incoherently, to strike a feminist pose (something about the number of planets with men in charge; there’s similar lack of a gist to her identifying the malaise of ’80s companions with a backlash against feminism, when it would have been better characterised as JN-T being crap, given they’d just had the most “progressive” companion ever in an entirely organic way, No, not K9:  Romana). Sweet attempts to get the Falklands into the conversation along with chart hits, like he’s been reading his Sandifer.

The Mirror marriage (Janet to Nick Davies) is mentioned, JN-T and publicity, Amsterdam, continuity (not the answer Sweet sought, since they think it’s fine and good – it’s certainly the case that only fans get uptight about it making the show theoretically inaccessible. Theoretically, as the issues making the show inaccessible in such circumstances are generally more pervasive and inimical). The Davo Doctor’s brusqueness with Tegan is discussed, but she thinks it only really became a problem when Turlough meant everyone was pitched that way (a “really strange dynamic”). 

There’s panto (“Ain’t for me” says Janet), disconcerting fan mail (it certainly sounds it!), the problem with directors with no aptitude for actors, or only for the guest actors, or coming up through AFMs. Nevertheless, there was a family vibe, such that Sutton really was going to miss it when she left. Sarah left and didn’t do much after that (having been in work pretty much since she was 11). Janet observes Ainley was eccentric but also quite sad and lonely, that he came in with a performance created for a read through. She also discusses The Five Doctors (Trout was lovely and very eccentric, Hurndall lovely, she met Padders, and it was generally a great experience). Of Peter and Janet, Sarah comments they’re so rude to each other, but it’s when their polite that you have to worry. Engaging then, but the double act means it’s never going to plumb the psychological “depths” Sweet is so fond of, or get into their solo career/lives.

Sarah Sutton featurette – while some of the actual comments in these featurettes are interesting, the whole style and presentation of the (DVD) range during this period leaves much to be desired (see anything Brendan Sheppard produced/directed). Sutton regrets not going to drama school and offers a few anecdotes of her childhood career – appearing in Alice in Wonderland, a series called Menace (with Peter Jeffrey) and how she was scared of doing other things, such that she would quite happily have carried on doing Who; subsequently, she lost her drive and ambition. I don’t necessarily thing she’d have been a goldmine for a solo Sweet interview, but more on her actual career preceding Who mightn’t have gone amiss.

Enlightenment

Winner Takes All – Another Brendan Sheppard Making Of special, such that he even persuades poor Fiona Cumming to plug the dreadful special edition he oversaw. Most of this is very positive – Eric’s absent – and Davo, in particular, provides a contrast with his smug, above-it-all BTS takes. Strickson compliments the writing (and doubts a man would have written the Tegan-Marriner subplot). Barbara Clegg bemoans the impulse to have everything explained (that would be Davo’s general position) and suggests they “didn’t want you to sympathise with a man” (of Marriner). 

Cumming recounts how she was an AFM when Michael Ferguson was directing Who and felt “I could never do this”; Davo considers she was a safe pair of hands. He admires the subdued TARDIS lighting (“You think, ‘Why didn’t they do this all the time?’”) rather than the usual set. Leee John, whom I’d assumed was simply JN-T casting abandon, actually replaced David Rhule due to the delayed production (Rhule attended Mike’s roller disco in the second episode of The Young Ones). Talking of the producer, he apparently declared Fielding and Baron’s attire “battle of the bosoms”. Strickson was rather bruised when his Kirby wire broke; Luckham declared “You’ll work again” after his final scene.

Behind the Sofa – Sarah protests Davo’s literal-minded approach to ships in space (rightly so – “… the whole point of science fiction”) and “wind”. Strickson calls the model work “pretty terrible” (so again, a changing of tunes compared to a decade-and-a-half previously. Perhaps it’s the company). There are compliments for the lighting, again, but Davo’s generally a pedantic so-an-so. And as Janet continually points out, “You’re so rude to my character” (his Doctor really is, quite extraordinarily so, even given Tegan’s a whinger). Davo’s visibly disinterested when Mark trots out his Kirby wire anecdote. Katy and Wokie are largely irrelevant (they both liked it, though). Colin on Leee talking to Turlough: “He took the opportunity that was given to him, didn’t he?” (Colin knows about such things). He also compliments Strickson’s eyeballing abilities (“I serve you…”): “He does it well doesn’t he?” He and Sylv make quite an easy-going pairing, with an engaging rapport. Both agree the arc’s an interesting way to introduce a companion. It’s also his favourite story so far (but see the last BTS). 

Casting Off! – The “Cyril Luckham goosing Janet” anecdote has been shorn from this, but it seems is still present and correct on the commentary. Which is just hilarious for general ineptitude. Leee John is expectedly buoyant, noting Baron helped him out and that “She is camp!” (he’d be about the best person to confirm). Keith Barron thinks he did a good job with the angled-for lack of expression. Davo is unsure if Brown was good in his performance or just bad (don’t hold back, Pete). Luckham and Dyall had a wicked sense of humour together (no collective goosing, though). 

Single Write Female (really?) Writer featurette on Clegg, who worked with Luckham when she was an actress, way back (also Katherine Hepburn). And Henry Lincoln (Yetis, the Holy Grail), and on Corrie, Crossroads, and The Chrysalids. No mention that she and Eric collaborated on a proposed SF series Gateway (rejected by the BBC in 1983). Since Eric said he didn’t think much of Enlightenment a few years later, one wonders if it would have been a JN-T waiting to happen for any such partnership, had it been commissioned.

The Story of the Guardians – a half-arsed piece with some background on the actors via their relatives (daughter of Dyall, son of Luckham, the latter had worked with Troughton on Who). There’s some cobblers trying to assert the Doctor is genuinely scared when he first meets the White Guardian in The Ribos Operation. And while many suggest it is, I maintain the “Nothing… ever” line is less a threat than the White Guardian’s blunt prediction of the state of the Universe, should the Doctor opt out (this is all in aid of implying the White Guardian at the outset, in contrast to later, is ambiguous and not necessarily good at all. Which is nonsense, given he says the Black Guardian wants the key for an evil purpose and the Doctor maintains, in The Armageddon Factor, that the White Guardian would never have the callous disregard for human life shown by the fake Dyall one; these clips are even in the featurette!) Tat Wood will have you believe it’s open to debate whether that even is the White Guardian in The Ribos Operation, but such sometimes-inane speculation is the very essence of About Time’s ever-more-encompassing focus. 

The King’s Demons

Back to Bodiam – Another of these over-expanded Making Ofs that show up on Blu-rays, because more is more, and no one can be bother to edit judicially. Strickson thinks the show works best when it’s based in history, Janet really enjoyed it as a story, “thought it worked really well”, which characterises a surprisingly positive take on a little-loved two-parter. Davison comments of fresh youngster Tony Virgo that he wasn’t yet crushed by the problems of working at the BBC. Christopher Villiers remarks of his hair – dyed like that for Young Sherlock, not the movie – that it made him look like he was part of “an awful boy band”, which is true. The sets are complimented, as is Flood’s “wonderful, debauched voice”. Terrible corpsers Frank Windsor and Isla Blair are singled out, as is the “shocking, woeful fight choreography”. And Ainley being a big softy. Production problems are discussed, there having been overruns that weren’t Virgo’s fault; this mattered not a jot to JN-T. The studio was very tense as a result, and Fielding suggest the producer was wrong not to have had him back.

Behind the Sofa – Colin recalls working with “Gerry” Flood. Strickson’s hand acting gets good coverage. Colin’s also “Oh dear” regarding the duelling. 

Metal Man – on Kamelion, and Eric in characteristic mode. It was very much a prototype, and after the hassles of his debut story, Eric suggested “Why don’t we just not bring it?” along as a companion, but “He [JN-T] still wanted it on board” (cue deleted The Awakening scene). Nicola observes that it lacked a personality (in contrast to K9). If only he’d transformed into an anthropomorphic penguin, the sky would have been the limit.

The Five Doctors

Behind the Sofa – given the numerous times any single anecdote can be heard across this set, it’s no wonder Davo looks utterly disinterested when Strickson (for example) trots one out. Not that Peter’s immune from such repetitions either. We hear his nonsense that Hurndall was a “slightly more kindly Doctor than William Hartnell” on several occasions, and it doesn’t become any more convincing for saying it again and again. Everyone (Janet, Colin, Katy) loves Pat. Peter considers offering the Master a new regeneration cycle “a bit generous”, which is fair. There’s much comment on the “usual Welsh weather”. 

Davo on Pertwee: “Of all the Doctors, he was the most serious and straight one”. Yeah, aside from the Fifth. The Cybermen elicit various remarks, for humphing, for being David Banks, or being sick. Sutton on Padders: “Why’s she dressed in bubble wrap?” Colin: “It’s a rather well-made story. I rather like it”. Wokie, voicing a legion of fans’ reactions to Rassilon: “Oh, I’d never have expected he looked like that”. On the season’s favourites, Janet, Sophie and Mark (the latter avoiding one with him in) pick Snakedance. Katy says “Everything”. Sylvester picks The Five Doctors. Davo, the contrary sod, chooses Arc of Infinity (“Really?” is the response). Colin: “I don’t like favourites” (he’s still smarting over The Twin Dilemma coming bottom of the fiftieth anniversary DWM poll, poor lamb).

A Celebration – Steve Broster 2008 doc on the anniversary year/The Five Doctors, now with some tenuous “compliance” edits (Rolf’s gone, as have 9/11 references). Various pro fans are trotted out: Andrew Beech, Paul Cornell, Sir Ian of Levine, Richard Molesworth, “Doctor Who Expert” James Goss, Gareth Roberts (now afforded the esteem of Graham Linehan by fandom). Davo notes in retrospect that the show required “much more publicity than I’ve ever done on anything else”. The development of The Six Doctors is discussed (Davo likes the idea of an android First Doctor), Terrance coming in (he had the Master puling the strings, and while he’s frequently scathing of Eric, he recognises Saward was right to nix him as main antagonist; Borusa was thus plumbed for as the least likely villain). Davo says of Tom that “it was no surprise to me that he turned it down”. Gareth suggests his absence preserved his mystique and references Baker looking at the finished article (“I saw them and I thought who are these people?”), while Cornell thinks it didn’t matter so much as he was not long gone (I disagree, in an era prior to having every story on video).

One of Davo’s oft-mentioned thoughts on the production is that it was a shame JN-T was concerned over egos so kept the lead actors apart for most of the duration, as they actually “got on very well” (he said he liked Pertwee a lot, unable to resist the jab that he was a showman rather than an actor). One of Janet’s favourites, on Trout and theatre (“Oh darling, I don’t do that shouting at night stuff. Not any more”). On Moffat, Sladen said he was like a “very benevolent maître d’”, while Courtney called him very civilised and an actor’s director. Strickson offers the qualified “safe pair of hands” (a common one on this set, and usually a euphemism for not much cop creatively). Davo: “He was quite happy for Doctor Who to be slightly beyond him” (Moffat can be seen acknowledging Davison explaining the plot to him). 

Sir Ian, never backwards in demanding a spotlight, takes credit for Hurndall’s casting. So it was his fault. Strickson observes, reasonably, that he wasn’t Hartnell, but he was “a complete character”. Courtney recalls Trout asking if he fancied a “noglet” at 10.30 am, to keep out the cold on location. Ainley – another of Davo’s favourite anecdotes – was “one of the biggest cowards I’ve ever met in my life”. Terrance explains that “pretty well the best thing in the show” – the Raston Robot – was a last-minute addition as Eric thought Pertwee reached the tower too easily (Dicks came up with ninjas). He particularly enjoyed writing it, as he considered the Cybes boring. Moffat gives JN-T due credit for directing the Raston Robot sequence and was “most grateful to him for it”. Terrance insisted on K9 and the Daleks, while the phantoms were Eric. Sladen considered using the Madame Tussauds Tom dummy rather distasteful and that they shouldn’t have done it. There’s much footage from Longleat (where Tom did appear) with Cornell, slightly embarrassingly, suggesting it was “our Woodstock” (at least he didn’t say Vietnam). Colin presents, at intermediate balloon level.

The Tie that Binds – a Brendan Sheppard special. Nuff said.

Commentary – The new one, with Peter, Mark and Janet, adjudicated by Matthew Sweet. It also gives me a chance to look at the new effects without watching the story expressly for that reason… And they’re very variable. The time scoop is a joke and looks lousy. Some of the enhanced backgrounds (Eye of Orion, Tower) are quite nice, but inessential. The caught-in-stasis Tom and Romana makes the latter look like Bugs Bunny, which is unfortunate. There are some busy console scanner graphics including touch screen (so very 2010s), the Raston Robot now warps out of sight, which is odd, and Borusa is marginally less fruity and emits some static (neither choice really works). 

Janet bemoans having no Character Options figure. Sweet draws attention to the dirty studio floor. Davo recalls Tom initially suggesting he would be up for The 5-ish Doctors and then failing to answer all emails. On which subject, the Chicago con is mentioned, where Tom scrupulously stood on the far side of the stage to avoid being photographed with the other Doctors (Pat, Jon, Davo) present. Moff was “probably the most unsuited person for science fiction” (Davison). Janet considers Matthew Robinson and Peter Grimwade, of those she worked with, probably had the best grasp of narrative. Someone – Sweet – finally calls out Davo on his “nicer Hurndall” nonsense (“I think he’s much nastier than Hartnell”).

Paul Jerricho’s mis-emphasis of “not the mind probe!” came from the mirth of rehearsals and “anything so he doesn’t catch our eyes”. Trout was “Mr Mischief” (Janet) and was only really serious about gardening (Davo). Mark confirms Trout didn’t call a drink of whisky from his flask a noglet (per Nick). There’s much discussion of the logistics of the chequerboard (“Just have to be confident, don’t you?” suggests Peter). The convention circuit “is like a family”. Zoe was in bubble wrap because Padders was pregnant. Sweet suggests “Interesting” is Peter’s catchphrase. 

Davo keeps spouting a nonsense theory about Mawdryn Undead happening after this. He also recalls a Volvo add where he was between Jon and Tom and there was an atmosphere between the two – not arguments – but felt more by Jon. Sweet thinks Latham is very good (Strickson: “He’s certainly not underplaying it”. Something Strickson would know about). Janet cites Tithonus concerning the theme (trickery regarding immortality). Davo is probably recalling watching the Special Edition with Terrance when he thinks shots have changed (the Shada footage) or having been held too long.

Look Who’s Driving – This has been waiting an age to get released, recorded pre-Coof (on the way to the 2019 Timelash con in Germany (Kassel). It’s very noisy – Davo and/or Janet complaining, everyone giggling or laughing or getting frustrated with whoever is driving – and frequently very funny. Janet’s gargling vocal exercises, making chocolates with their photos on them (“I’m going to bite our heads off”: “What else is new?”) It had been 14 years since Fielding had a drink at this point. Janet recites poetry in a forest, to general bafflement. Russell Minton is the Russell constantly spoken to off camera. They all agree they enjoyed themselves and suggest perhaps another trip (driving across the States). 

Let’s Go Dutch! – It’s definitely the case that hearing these anecdotes (from Strickson, Davo, and to a lesser extent Janet) ad infinitum becomes tedious, so I have no idea how they can stand it at conventions year after year. I guess that’s the trained performer for you. The camaraderie is fun, albeit more controlled and less hysterical than the driving feature; Strickson is compering so as to maintain a semblance of structure (going round locations from Arc of Infinity and loosely re-enacting some of them).

So we get Davo on the companions (too many, but he didn’t want to get rid of Sarah), Ant (“I don’t think he was made for pantomime”) and his toupee, JN-T and soaps (trying to get one commissioned), awards (Sarah was nominated for Rear of the Year; Felicity Kendall’s bottom won), ratings (Strickson spouts guff about them getting 12 million; try closer to half that, Mark), This is Your Life (Davo being flavour of the month during a good portion of the decade), Longleat (see elsewhere on the set, ad infinitum), hair, guest stars, JN-T and jollies. There are some distinctive conversation starters too (the suggestion of Morocco for Snakedance in response to where you’d go to shoot any story, if you could, or the desert for Time-flight). The barge trip is fun, especially when the Dutch Whovian Community(!) shows up. The Jodie Whitaker co-splayer is much more appealing than the genuine article (I know, that sounds like damning with faint praise). Davo notes the gap between Look Who’s Driving and this, such that in the intervening time they have been crushed by the plandemic and Brexit and… “the advancing years” completes Janet. Davo says he “can’t wait for the making of the making of”. Which is about right.

 


The Consensus

 

A few notable poll placings over the years:

DWM 1983/1998/09/14/23

1. The Five Doctors –, 23, 38, 25, (3/20)
2. Enlightenment 4, 59, 72, 75, (5/20)
3. Mawdryn Undead 2, 76, 102, 117, (8/20)
4. Snakedance 1, 85, 120, 112, (9/20)
5. Terminus 5, 131, 169, 209, (15/20)
6. Arc of Infinity 3, 117, 177, 221, (17/20)
7. The King’s Demons 6, 140, 181, 228, (18/20)

Outpost Gallifrey 2003

1. Enlightenment 35
2. The Five Doctors 39
3. Mawdryn Undead 58
4. Snakedance 96
5. Terminus 125
6. Arc of Infinity 133
7. The King’s Demons 135

DWB 1985/87/89

1. The Five Doctors 29, 32, 33
2. Enlightenment 40, 48, 56
3. Mawdryn Undead 58, 53, 68
3. Snakedance 49, 60, 70
5. Terminus 92, 107, 108
6. Arc of Infinity 105, 114, 122
7. The King’s Demons 116, 112, –

 


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