The first episode of Season Nine opens the New Year with a potted reminder of some of the highlights of the previous one. More for the audience’s benefit than Jo’s, the Doctor clarifies that he’s no more in control of the TARDIS than he was a year ago, confirming that his trip to the Colony in Space was engineered by the Time Lords. There’s a worsening international situation, a peace conference, and a temperamental Chinese delegation that must be a call-back to The Mind of Evil. And the repeated emphasis on the idea of ghosts and haunted houses, even though the finished script immediately establishes its phantoms are very much flesh and blood, comes across as an attempt to recreate some of the atmosphere of The Dæmons.
Meanwhile, the scenes of the Doctor tinkering with the TARDIS console look almost like a throwback to The Ambassadors of Death and Inferno (to which this story, with events unfolding in parallel across two time zones, bears some superficial similarities), even as the brief appearance of a second Doctor – ‘We can’t have two of us running about!’ – seems like the seed of The Three Doctors. However, it’s all part of some fairly heavy handed set up to establish that the “ghost” that menaced peace broker Sir Reginald was, in fact, a time-travelling guerrilla from a future world occupied by the Daleks and their own time-travelling gorillas the Ogrons.
It’s hard to comment much on the Daleks, given they’re largely held back here, except to say that they get to chant ‘Exterminate!’ at the cliffhanger in a crowd-pleasing way. But for some baffling reason their first proper appearance since 1968 is dropped in without any real fanfare or drama halfway through the episode. I’m surprised Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks thought this was a good idea, or that director Paul Bernard didn’t try to make more of the moment.
Elsewhere, Bernard does a pretty good job both in selling the creepy atmosphere (lots of Thriller style slow zooms into the exterior of the house, a lonely railway tunnel, a ticking clock in an empty hall), and in differentiating the present and future zones. In the present, there’s hand-held camera work and fairly natural direction whereas the future is distinguished by crash zooms and stylised performances.
This is a good “first night” for Season Nine, with a seasoned cast and production team and plenty of polish. Pertwee gets to be suave (battling a guerrilla while eating cheese ), and seeing himself – ‘good humoured… a touch sardonic perhaps, but not cynical… most civilised’ – in a bottle of wine.
Next episode: Day of the Daleks – Episode Two