‘This is lunacy!’ What is the main story of this? Is it the Supreme Dalek’s attempt to revive Davros coming up against Davros’ own plans for the destiny of the Daleks? Or is it the Dalek plan to conquer Gallifrey and Earth using duplicates? Either would have been ok, both just makes this into a tangled mess, denying each the chance to develop into anything interesting. The easy fix would have been to eliminate the duplicates plot as it’s the less interesting of the two, and to build out the possibility of Davros reengineering the Daleks. That’s the concept Saward explores further in his next Dalek script, and that’s picked up again in Remembrance of the Daleks. Here, because it’s so unfocused, it feels as throwaway as the invasion of time being reduced to an off-hand comment by the overly chatty Supreme.
‘This is madness!’ The centrepiece of Davison’s final season aims to do for the Daleks what Earthshock did for the Cybermen, restoring some credibility after a fairly derided previous appearance, and reinventing the monsters for a new generation. It will probably be obvious to anyone following this pilgrimage that I’m not the world’s biggest Saward fan, but even I have to admit this is quite powerful and stylish, from one of the show’s strongest cold opens, as Metropolitan Police officers gun down what look like refugees from Blake’s 7 on the rain-lashed streets of London, to the Daleks’ first appearance on board the prison ship, and the image of the new Davros, swathed in blue fog.
‘Don’t mention it… to anyone.’ A story that ends without a massive body count, and where the solution comes from the Doctor’s ingenious riffing on Turlough’s recollection of the Tractators’ true nature. It could do with a slightly tidier end to the Rets vs colonists sub-plot (even Cockerill shaking hands with Plantagenet would do it), and Brazen’s death seems tokenistic (and badly staged), but this is excellent: Full Circle with more sense of humour. I like it more than Bidmead’s previous stories.
‘Oh, marvellous. You’re going to kill me. What a finely tuned response to the situation.’ Maybe it’s the desperation of the situation, or maybe it’s just that Bidmead’s concept of the Doctor is different from Saward’s, but the Doctor’s unusually no-nonsense this week. He stares death in the face, then saves the life of the man who threatened him, before heading into the caves under the crashed colony ship to follow Turlough. All the time he’s setting the pace, Range trailing in his wake, and winning people round to his way of thinking – although not easily: Plantagenet lets him go off to investigate, but keeps Tegan as a hostage, and Brazen sends a guard to watch over him.
‘I think your colony of Earth people is in grave danger of extinction.’ Christopher Hamilton Bidmead returns to Doctor Who with an episode that – perhaps unconsciously, but probably not – evokes Season 18 in its tale of a desperate colony centred around an ancient spaceship and a terrible secret. The leaders of Frontios, like the Deciders of Alzarius, know there is something very wrong, but hide the truth from the wider community. The connections to both Bidmead’s previous stories and Season 18 are reinforced by Paddy Kingsland’s final score for the series – another hauntingly evocative composition.
‘There’s been a confusion in time.’ One of the show’s densest episodes, this has the slightly disjointed feel of a McCoy. Unlike the previous Davison two-parters, it’s not gentle period whimsy but full-on PJ Hammond style folk horror, immediately throwing the audience into the action mixing between thundering hooves from a BBC costume drama and a woman in modern dress trying to make her escape. From this beginning, which is exactly the kind of strange juxtaposition the show used to excel at, the story emerges as a sort of inversion of The Visitation, with visitors from the past suddenly thrust into the present day and a village in the grip of collective madness.
‘They’re all dead, you know.’ After the survival horror of Part Three, this is more like the last episode of Robot, with the clock ticking down to Armageddon while the Doctor tries to come up with a solution to the inhuman menace. It gives it a bit more urgency, even if the solution was heavily signposted in the first episode, and a huge amount of this one seems to consist of people getting leg ups. To be fair after moaning about it in the first episode, the floodlighting is really only a huge issue on the bridge set: I still think they could have turned them down, but once the attack on the base begins there’s some effort to generate some atmosphere.
‘Bring forth the cutting device.’ Even though the set designs look like Princess Leia’s spaceship in Star Wars, I think this is going for a sort of 1980s horror vibe. Replace the shuffling Sea Devils with equally shuffling zombies overrunning a military base and you have half the plot of a Romero movie. In a zombie horror, the traitors Nilson and Solow would cause the complications that allow the zombies into the base – here, they’re little more than local colour, although the warring human power blocs must surely be meant to contrast with the unity between the ‘blood-related comrades’ Silurians and Sea Devils. It’s not just a continuity fetish team-up, it has some relevance to the themes of the piece.
‘Release the Myrka!’ I remember watching this episode as a kid and being really excited about the Myrka. I can still access the thrill of seeing it smashing through the airlock door, head glimpsed through the torn metal. Obviously now, after years of hearing it be the butt of jokes, I can also see it’s a clumsily finished and ridiculous pantomime dinosaur. However, maybe I’m over-generous because of fond childhood memories, but I don’t think it’s any less credible than Erato, the Mara or the Skarasen. It definitely did the job for this kid.
‘It concerns me that they did not wake up as we planned in the first place.’ My eyes! It’s tedious to point it out, but Sea Base Four is so over-lit it’s almost painful. And, when the TARDIS is also a brightly-lit white space it doesn’t provide much in the way of interesting contrast. The show’s got this right recently (even in stuff like Four to Doomsday), so I don’t buy the argument that there was nothing to be done – particularly since, when the bridge goes into Missile Run mode, the lighting’s turned down and the atmosphere immediately improves by a corresponding amount.