‘Wake me when it’s finished.’ It’s Robert Holmes’ final finished Doctor Who story and if The Two Doctors was his Frenzy, this is his Family Plot: a low-key piece of work that is largely content to draw on the back catalogue. When it does strain beyond that, like the Doctor’s attempts to defend the value of all life to Drathro, it rings hollow – the Doctor seems barely able to convince himself. The peroration falls far short of the fourth Doctor’s rousing celebration of humankind in The Ark in Space. His disputes with the Valeyard aren’t much more compelling, although Colin Baker performs them with gusto.
‘A certain amount of graphic detail is unavoidable.’ After previous episodes set the scene with some general comments on how Doctor Who works, the debate between the Doctor, Valeyard and Inquisitor here turns to the nature of violence in the show, clearly a hot topic in the context of the Colin Baker run. The Inquisitor takes the part of BBC management, asking, ‘Are these unpleasant scenes necessary?’ The Doctor is forced to defend himself (and it’s not hard to see the meta commentary here) against the Valeyard’s accusation that he ‘has a well-known predilection for violence’, claiming, ‘I’m not given to violence as the Valeyard here suggests. Occasionally I might have to resort to a modicum of force… As a means of self-defence’. The conclusion is the same as Jonathan Powell’s: ‘I would appreciate it if these brutal and repetitious scenes are reduced to a minimum.’
‘What is the relevance of your presentation?’ The Valeyard’s shock decision to convert the inquiry into a trial has clued the Doctor in to a larger threat to his existence. He gently needles his new nemesis, while maintaining the niceties for the sake of Inquisitor Darkel. The courtroom scenes are short, but land the points that while the Inquisitor isn’t succumbing to the Doctor’s charms she’s not necessarily on the Valeyard’s side either. This isn’t pitched like a Soviet show trial; the possibility of acquittal, at this stage, seems real.
‘Can’t we just have the edited highlights?’ This is the big re-launch after the hiatus and… It’s not bad, actually. The new opening music sounds more contrite and modest than the electronic screeches of the (definitive) Peter Howell arrangement, but the immediate post-titles sequence is amazing, by far the most impressive effects shot to date. Some effort has clearly been put into fixing the perceived flaws in the Doctor and Peri’s relationship: they’re portrayed as pally, even if they don’t always see eye-to-eye. The Doctor is an indulgent teacher to Peri’s prickly student. He reassures her when she’s upset and scared, and tries to offer words of comfort when they realise they’ve materialised on a post-apocalyptic earth. When she stumbles and squeals, he rushes back to check she’s OK. This is pretty much how it should have been all along.
‘Your gratuitous use of violence often disturbs me.’ OK, it’s definitely poking fun at the TV show’s cancellation. A schizophrenic computer is revealed as the baddie. Its plan: to use the Doctor’s knowledge of time travel to go back and set all life on a more peaceful course to avoid all the ‘pointless wars, the butchery and self-inflicted unhappiness’. This is quite fun, and much more accessible than, say, the Cybermen tweaking the outcome of a 1966 TV episode. It has a kind of grandeur that Douglas Adams might have approved of.
‘Are you in the habit of dropping out of ventilator shafts, Miss?’ The benefit of the shorter episodes is that Saward has got the Doctor and Peri into the action much faster than usual. The downside is that when you have longueurs, as here, they can practically take up the whole episode.
‘We’re not where we’re supposed to be.’ Made and broadcast by BBC Radio, with two 10-minute episodes airing each Thursday. It picks up pretty much where the TV episodes left off, with a grouchy Peri rousing the Doctor from a drunken slumber and interrupting a very White Guardianish message about the ‘eclipse of time’. It has the same archness as Revelation of the Daleks, with a computer that sounds like it’s been programmed with the Trillian voice pattern.
‘If someone had treated me the way he has treated you, I think I would have killed them.’ It’s stylish, macabre and occasionally quite funny. It’s also another Saward massacre where each of the characters introduced in the first episode are picked off. Orcini might wax lyrical about honour, but there’s little of the heroism of the fifth Doctor’s fatal struggle in The Caves of Androzani, and so ultimately it just becomes a much better take on Attack of the Cybermen, where the deaths may lack meaning but at least it’s fun to watch.
‘They’re like a double act.’ Eric Saward’s best script so far shows his respect for Robert Holmes’ writing, and his lack of interest in the Doctor and Peri (who spend most of this literally on the periphery, looking for a way into the story). It’s constructed as a series of double acts, which keeps things moving at pace at the risk of making this fragmented. That it hangs together is largely due to Davros and the DJ fulfilling the old Arak and Etta roles of observers, commenting on the action rather than playing a part in it. And they work better than Arak and Etta because – at least in Darvos’ case – his existence is the catalyst for events, linking together Kara and Vogel’s assassination scheme; Natasha and Grigory’s graverobbing; Jobel and Tasambeker’s The Loved One pastiche, and Takis and Lilt’s administration of Tranquil Repose. This largely fixes the issue in Saward’s previous scripts of disconnected B-plots: it doesn’t matter if the characters don’t all meet if there’s a clear and common thread between them.
‘I’ll explain one day.’ Well, it continues to be very weak without being horrible or wrong, and manages to include the single best sixth Doctor and Peri scene to date (the moment when the Doctor decides to nobly sacrifice himself and the TARDIS to save Karfel, and has to persuade Peri to leave him). Bryant and Baker play it beautifully, with the Doctor’s swerve into physically picking up Peri and yelling very clearly signposted as him doing his best to get her out of danger rather than risking her life. It’s very sweet, and, I think, largely scripted by Eric Saward. It’s a bit of a shame that it’s followed by an interminable scene of Herbert doing his best Adric impression. The line, ‘There’s nothing particularly masculine about throwing your life away’ could (should) be an apology for Attack of the Cybermen.