- The Trial of a Time Lord, Parts 1-4 (The Mysterious Planet)
I really like Robert Holmes making use of the trial format to do a ‘meta’ (shoot me now) commentary on the series. That the Ravolox bits are fairly generic Doctor Who seems entirely the point: if we were desperately invested in that adventure, the courtroom scenes would be too distracting, and wouldn’t work as well. We have to recognise the Ravolox stuff as ‘typical’ for any of the Valeyard’s criticisms (or the Doctor’s defence) to stick. Sadly, it also means that Colin Baker’s big comeback consists of him standing about watching himself have a formulaic adventure.
Well, anything with Patricia Quinn in it is worth watching. It’s very CBBC, but that’s not necessarily disastrous – I think it’s preferable that Doctor Who is aimed at children with nods to the adult audience than vice versa, and there’s a lot more that’s entertaining about this than, say, Hell Bent. I really like that all the regulars are going for it, even if they haven’t necessarily noticed what everyone else is doing (Sylvester’s the only one doing slippy ice acting, for example). Sophie Aldred is pretty impressive as well: who can forget the classic moment when Bonnie gives one of the famous Langford lung-busters and Sophie winces in genuine pain?
- The Krotons
I think this one’s been a bit unfairly maligned over the years, having had to bear the weight of representing the whole Troughton era back in 1981. It’s a perfectly enjoyable first effort from Robert Holmes, with some interesting monsters. Plus, the script gives Troughton and Padbury enough leeway for some really very funny business with the learning machines.
- The Chase
Given he started off writing for Eric Sykes, Frankie Howerd and Tony Hancock, Terry Nation didn’t really bring any of that comedy experience to Doctor Who, with one exception: The Chase. For all its faults, I enjoy this a lot. It’s the Doctor Who equivalent of The Beatles’ Help! Movie – released at the height of Dalekmania, this is an excuse to throw the Doctor and the Daleks together in a variety of exotic locations. It’s the kind of thing you can only get away with in a show that’s at the peak of popularity (see also The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End), and I think we should love it for that.
- Destiny of the Daleks
Nation’s other ‘funny’ Dalek story, except this time all the jokes had to be inserted after the fact by Douglas Adams. I’m still in two minds whether this is a good thing, but given we’re talking about Terry Nation and Douglas Adams it probably is. Unfortunately it’s not serious enough to satisfy people who think Genesis of the Daleks is the Best Story Ever, or funny enough to satisfy people who think City of Death is. I like it.
- The Wheel in Space
It comes at the fag end of the infamous ‘monster season’ with all the tedious repetition that implies. But as it’s a David Whitaker script it’s much better than that. Stubbornly clinging to his original conception of the TARDIS as a mercury-fuelled magic box that can be shrunk by removing a wand, Whitaker also makes the Cybermen eerier and odder than they have been since their first story. The scene in Part Six where they slowly spacewalk across to the Wheel is hauntingly weird. Troughton gets some really nice scenes as well. I suspect this one is under-rated.
- The Invasion of Time
Season 15 is strange: everything seems to be coming apart at the seams. Even Tom looks noticeably scruffier and shabbier by the end of the season compared to the start. Obviously, things were falling apart behind the scenes as well. It’s a miracle this even got made given the production challenges, let alone that it’s as funny and ambitious as it is. It’s a shame Graham Williams never got to grips with his leading ladies’ contracts, as they keep getting written out very unsatisfactorily. And the location filming inside the TARDIS is 1% inspiration, 99% desperation. Going back to Gallifrey so soon was probably a mistake, but again one born out of desperation (they had the sets and costumes). This is much more successful than it had any right to be.
- The Trial of a Time Lord, Parts 13-14 (The Ultimate Foe)
This is another story born of desperation, which barely hangs together at all. It makes hardly any sense, the Valeyard’s introduction is botched, and the Master is at his most petty and ineffectual. But the incoherence makes a kind of sense given this is revisiting the illogical Matrix world of The Deadly Assassin. Thoroughly potty, in a way only a script written by Robert Holmes, Pip and Jane Baker could possibly be.
- The Smugglers, and
- The Highlanders
These two belong together, mirror images either side of the big Cyberman and Dalek regeneration stories. The Smugglers is an untypical historical because it’s not really a historical at all, it’s the TARDIS arriving in a Hammer pirate film. The Highlanders also has a lengthy sequence set at sea. Between them, they finish off the historicals, and highlight the difference between Hartnell and Troughton. Whereas the first Doctor jumps in, in his element, and gets involved, the second Doctor mucks about and leaves his companions pretty much to it, as though he (like the production team, by all accounts) can’t be bothered with this kind of thing any more.
Next time: 110-101