‘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.
‘Mark my words, soon our planet will rule this corner of the universe with the power of a giant ocean.’ Blimey, this script stinks. The structure is terrible – the Doctor and Peri spend half the episode pratting about with bungee belts in the TARDIS which means they discover nothing about Karfel. Instead, we have to be told everything through appalling info-dumping like ‘I thought the Borad had banned all mirrors’ and ‘What sort of leader never appears in public, only on a screen?’. But then, all the dialogue sounds unnatural. Peri, allegedly an American teenager, declaims, ‘If you’re about to suggest the Eye of Orion, don’t. I’ve heard all about that elusive place once too often. No one lives there and few visit, apart from you.’ We even get the old Saward gems, ‘This is madness’ and ‘She must think we’re fools’. Oh dear.
‘May I say what a pleasure it has been to see two such dedicated trenchermen enjoying their food. Unfortunately the reckoning is rather high.’ In the end I think this is a failure, but it’s a Robert Holmes script and it’s at least an interesting failure. Broadly, I think the problems with it are that Holmes’ script is too thin to sustain the equivalent of an old six-parter, and that the direction does nothing to lift the material.
‘I think your Doctor’s worse than mine.’ This plays more like a comeback for Jamie than the second Doctor. Frazer Hines fits right into the line-up, with an easygoing rapport with Baker that suggests, given the right companion, the sixth Doctor would be a much more attractive proposition. The difference is his disagreements with the Doctor are banter rather than snide asides, and taken in good spirit, whereas half the lines Peri gets are acidic put downs or complaining that would make Tegan look mellow by comparison. The Baker-Bryant-Hines trio make this quite fun, even when a lot of the content is grim verging on inappropriate.
‘I can’t bear the sight of gory entrails. Except, of course, on the stage.’ All the ingredients of a Robert Holmes concoction are here: the baroque dialogue, a series of double acts, moments that recall past triumphs (the perils of the abandoned Space Station Camera reminded me of Nerva in The Ark in Space). The Time Lords are characterised as the pompous hypocrites of The Deadly Assassin, using the Doctor as their agent to give themselves plausible deniability. Their engagement in space politics with the Third Zoners on the cusp of a time travel breakthrough feels more like one of Gary Russell’s Gallifrey audios than anything else in the classic series.
‘The Rani is a genius. Shame I can’t stand her.’ It isn’t as good as Part One, largely because the story fizzles out and is replaced by a string of scenes of the Master, Rani and Doctor bitching at each other. Fortunately, these scenes are quite fun: Ainley plays the Master more subtly than in his Davison stories, almost like he’s aware he can’t out-camp Colin and O’Mara, and it’s more fruitful to make the Master seem more thoughtful and conniving than usual. And yet, he still get’s the campest line in the piece: ‘Luke, I want you to swallow this very special sweetmeat.’
‘The beginning of a new era.’ The third and fourth Bakers arrive with the first of 11 episodes they’ll write over the next two series. Presented with the kind of shopping list that Grimwade would have baulked at (introduce a female Time Lord villain, include the Master and set it in Earth’s history) they come up trumps with what’s easily the most solidly-conceived and scripted sixth Doctor episode to date. True, it lacks Vengeance on Varos’ red-top front page approach (although there are more exploited miners), but what we get instead has some of the gentleness of a Davison story wedded to the glossier style of Season 22.
‘I want to hear them scream until I’m deaf with pleasure.’ This helps make more sense of the previous episode, has some good jokes, and treats the Doctor like the hero of his own series. As such, it’s the best sixth Doctor episode so far. Baker gets a good mix of material, confronting Quillam in a faux-polite sneering contest, and quickly discerning the reality of Sil’s motives and the situation on Varos through observation and a few well-chosen questions. ‘He smells the truth of things,’ the Chief says, with a shudder. I much prefer the Doctor being the one to give the monsters rather than his companion nightmares. Peri even gives him a hug.
‘When did they last show something worth watching?’ It’s clearly a step-up from The Twin Dilemma and Attack of the Cybermen, neither of which appeared to be about anything in particular, whereas this practically bashes the audience over the head with a point. What that point is is harder to define. Everything I’ve read says this is “about” video nasties, and that’s in the mix (the Governeur is selling tapes of the executions).