Doctor Who Big Finish- The Juggernauts

The Juggernauts

Story 65
Written By Scott Alan Woodard
Released February 2005

“Of course. Daleks… I should have known.”

The 23rd series of Doctor Who was a turbulent time for the program as The Doctor was literally and fictionally on trial for his life. It also introduced a new companion, Melanie Bush, played by stage actress Bonnie Langford. Bonnie acted opposite Colin Baker in the final two adventures of the year and continued on for the following year, seeing in the seventh actor to play the Doctor on screen, Sylvester McCoy, in Time and the Rani. A computer programmer at a time when the audience had a less-informed knowledge of such a thing, Mel was meant to be an addition to the lighter approach demanded by the BBC Controller Michael Grade. She certainly was bubbly and spritely, appearing downright diminutive in contrast to Baker, but to be honest I never really took to her. In this adventure, however, she is positively sparkling! I have heard that Mel is also quite good in her other audio adventures such as Bang-a-Bang-Boom! with Sylvester McCoy and I look forward to that. Aside from her personality working well in this script, Mel’s computer skills are also put to use in this story. One wonders if there had been additional time on screen to develop Mel and the 6th Doctor if they would not have been more successful.

Bonnie Langford and Colin Baker in a photo op

While his incarnation of the Doctor was disliked by many fans, it has been said even by his detractors that Colin Baker got robbed by only appearing in two year’s worth of adventures (the second of which was both abbreviated and of questionable quality). He has enjoyed something of a revival in the Big Finish audio adventures. On screen, he may have been a bit too jarring for some, but in the Big Finish productions his verbose and egocentric personality comes across as perfectly charismatic and eccentric, in short ‘Doctor-ish.’ Personally, I always liked Colin Baker’s brash and maniacal 6th Doctor. I didn’t really take to what I perceived as a ‘watering down’ of his performance in series 23’s Trial of a Time Lord, as I felt that it removed the performance’s edge. I was expecting more of that gentler version of the Doctor in the Big Finish audios and to a large extent I was correct, but it works so well with higher quality scripts (something each classic Doctor Who actor has remarked on as being a major improvement regarding the audios compared to the classic serialized adventures.).

In The Juggernauts, we also have Terry Molloy, who played Davros on screen in Resurrection, Revelation and Remembrance of the Daleks. Following his capture by the Daleks on the planet Necros, Davros crash-lands on the planet Lethe where he starts his life over again with one aim, to wipe out his inferior creations, the Daleks. Renaming himself Dr Vaso, he is heading a project on the planet Lethe where a new race of robotic servants based on the discarded Mechanoids (last seen in The Chase) is being developed for private enterprise. I greatly enjoyed Molloy’s version of Davros on screen, finding that it at least met the level set by Michael Wisher in Genesis of the Daleks. A conniving and brilliant mind, Davros’ persona humanized the Dalek’s alien sense of morality that often failed to come across in some of their appearances.

This story shares a few similarities with the 1966 missing story Power of the Daleks by David Whittaker. Both stories are set on alien worlds colonized by the Earth Empire and both involve outside parties attempting to use Dalek technology to their own ends. I’m not sure if the similarities are intentional, but I find it interesting enough to note.  The three 80’s Dalek stories strove to bring back the menace of the creatures that had gotten far too cuddly and familiar over the years. The Juggernauts re-introduces the brilliant tactical minds of the monsters and their creators who play with the humans as a chess player would move pieces across the board. The story is one of survival at any cost which is of course horrifying to the human characters in the tale who are much more concerned with their own lives, relationships and needs. Even the Doctor comes across as alien as he works with the Daleks to undo Davros’ scheme. The Juggernauts is a wonderful exploration of alien morality as it relates to the human condition. The dialog is also very sharp and witty. During the 6th Doctor’s era of 1983-86, there was an intentional leaning toward intelligent and often archaic wordplay and this adventure fits into that mold perfectly.

The supporting cast sports some strong characterizations and excellent vocal talent (perhaps with the exception of Bindya Solanki whose regional accent sounds more at home in the BBC Wales version of Doctor Who).

Written by Scott Alan Woodard (who also wrote the Eight Doctor Audio adventure Absolution), the Juggernauts is a taut and well-written adventure in which the main cast are given room to move and develop, the villains enough space to be truly menacing and old ideas made new by inspired decisions. In short, it’s a damned shame that this story was not produced for TV transmission, but given the dubious production values of classic Doctor Who, maybe it’s for the best. As an audio tale, the Juggernauts is fantastic and comes highly recommended.

Doctor Who – The Juggernauts can be purchased at local retailers and online from Big Finish.

Read other Big Finish reviews at the Daily P.O.P. here.

Doctor Who and The Revelation of the Daleks

Doctor Who and The Revelation of the Daleks

Story 142
23-30 March, 1985

Davros has once again escaped the jaws of death only to establish a new hatchery for his Daleks on the planet Necros, where Tranquil Repose promises the dying of the universe a longer lease on life. In the cold mausoleums and funeral halls lurk dark secrets that threaten all of life. As the Doctor steps further into an elaborate trap, Davros prepares for the unveiling of his new creations on the galaxy.

The Daleks have always held a special place in Doctor Who. The first of the monsters, they are also the best and most bizarre. Strongly used sometimes and not so much others, they really came into their own in the 1980’s when the JNT era showcased the baddies in a somewhat connected trilogy. Following the grande guignol that was Resurrection of the Daleks in which nearly everyone on screen met a violent end, Eric Saward’s homage to Evelyn Waugh’s the Loved One (I highly recommend the wonderful film by Tony Richardson by the way) was if anything, more of a gruesome adventure.

A friend of the Doctor’s has sent a message from the planet Necros where a funeral mecca called tranquil repose is experiencing a massive boom in business. For those able to afford it (usually the wealthy and the politically important), a service of cryogenic suspension is provided, allowing the dying to stay alive a little longer while a cure to their various ailments is found.

Of course, it soon becomes apparent that there is a sinister spider at the heart of the organization. Known as the ‘Great Healer,’ Davros is conducting genetic experiments on the remains of Tranquil Repose’s customers to construct a new breed of Daleks. Encased in gleaming white and gold, these Daleks are absolutely obedient to their creator and offer none of the problems that his first creations have wrought.

 

The Doctor discovers his own grave

But there is more than one secret to Tranquil Repose. Kara and the Great Healer are corroborating in producing food stuff from the dead bodies to fight famine throughout the galaxy. What Kara perhaps does not realize is that the brains of the dead are being housed in redesigned Daleks. Worried that she may be undone by Davros, Kara hires a mercenary Orcini to assassinate Davros in his lair. However, two of Tranquil Repose’s staff have decided that they should take things into their own hands and have contacted the Daleks to remove Davros from Necros entirely.

You can see that all of these various plots combine in a violent and nasty conclusion. It also makes for one of the most inspired Dalek stories since Evil of the Daleks in 1968.

While he does get some stick for being over the top and camp, Colin Baker as the Sixth Doctor had a magnificent first series. Graced with three returning monsters, the Master and a dual Doctor story, 1985 may have been a turbulent year for the program’s future, but there are plenty of corkers in the 22nd series with Revelation of the Daleks cited as one of them, even by those who dislike Baker as the Doctor. A challenging incarnation of the character that had become so familiar, but this story is a great example of where the production team wanted to take the Doctor.

Necros Daleks

The Sixth Doctor can easily be seen as an egocentric and bombastic alien with childlike tendencies in his first year. Actor Colin Baker was reportedly over the moon at getting the chance to play the most coveted role on TV and had a scheme to alter his performance over time; starting out as irascible and harsh at first to soften later on. There are traces of this concept in series 23 as he starts out as a loud and disagreeable dandy in Attack of the Cybermen but is much more toned down in Revelation of the Daleks. Of course, it helps that he is assisted by an excellent cast including Eleanor Bron as Kara, Alexei Sayle as the DJ, Hugh Walters as Vogel and William Gaunt as Orcini. Not to mention Terry Molloy who overshadows the story as Davros.

The soundtrack by Roger Limb is one of the best of the series, embodying the synthetic music of the time in the strange and creepy tradition of Tristram Cary and Peter Howell. The sinister threat of the Daleks along with the danger to the Doctor heightens from scene to scene as the Doctor stumbles deeper into Davros’ web.

The cast, setting, soundtrack, make-up and effects are in such fine form that it is a return to greatness after the rather shoddy effort earlier in the year, Timelash. Filmed on location at the futuristic IBM building in Portsmouth, the planet Necros has a tangible atmosphere aided by the swirling mist, snow-dusted terrain and the apparently deserted exterior of Tranquil Repose, surrounded by a moss-covered wall. There’s a feeling of dread that permeates the entire production starting with the mutant attack and carrying through to the Doctor facing his own death upon discovering a monument erected in his memory. Even the ordinarily arrogant and self assured Doctor seems out of his element.

‘Doctor Who – Revelation of the Daleks’ clip

Saward has been charged with including an element of extreme violence and dark humor that challenged the sensibilities of the viewers and BBC executives alike who saw a family program become a very different experience. Speaking as someone who enjoys this era, I can agree that this is a fair judgement, but it is also a reflection of the times. It should also be noted that as an actor, Colin Baker retains the role of hero in playing the Doctor, even if it is a rather different take on the idea. Saward had attempted to capture a Shakespearean level of grim cosmic theatrical violence in his previous monster stories Earthshock and Resurrection of the Daleks with mixed results, but in this case all of the various parts come together.

Director Graham Harper, returning after the stunning Caves of Androzani the year before, perfectly understands this modern take on Doctor Who and the result is an exciting, strange and creepy story that is still fondly remembered to this day. Harper is still bringing his sharp eye to Doctor Who today, directing some of the most challenging of the new program’s adventures including the Cybermen vs. Daleks affair in Doomsday.

Just yesterday, an exclusive set of Daleks, Davros (with missing hand) and the sixth variation of Colin Baker as the Doctor, complete with mourning cloak was announced. The image below looks a trifle odd, but it may be a prototype picture.

In this exclusive sets we present Davros, a Necros Dalek, a Skaro Dalek and the Sixth Doctor in his blue mourning cloak.

The set can be pre-ordered at Mike’s Comics in the US.

Buy Doctor Who: Revelation of the Daleks on DVD

Doctor Who Classics – The Eighties

The 80’s was a very important period for Doctor Who as conventions and exhibitions became more common and producer John Natahn Turner played the dual role of series producer and publicist, ensuring that the program received attention in the press on a regular basis. Peter Davison, the first new actor to play the lead role was already a household name thanks to his part in All Creatures Great and Small. At just 29 he was the youngest actor to play the role at the time and a considerable risk for the BBC. Even so, Doctor Who enjoyed a strong and dedicated following in the 80’s and as the program celebrated its 20th Anniversary in 1983 it seemed that the series was headed into a new era of greatness.

1980′s Part One: Peter Davison


Script editors have always been instrumental in the tone of a series. Christopher H. Bidmead (in Tom Baker’s last series), Antony Root and Eric Saward all worked on shaping the face of Doctor Who in the 80’s. Whereas the previous series under Douglas Adams focused on humor and absurd plots, the new direction was more concerned with presenting sophisticated intelligent tales toward a more educated teenage viewer. In the final series, this direction shifted toward a more violent type of story and horrific elements were also added. Peter Davison carefully chose his all beige costume carefully and chose to mainly stick to the background until the eleventh hour when he would suddenly launch into action. Using his wits and everyday objects rather than gimmicky gadgets, the Doctor was more vulnerable and emotionally responsive to his companions who tested his patience or outright tried to kill him. This was a new younger face for the Doctor that viewers would easily relate to.

Kinda

The Doctor and his TARDIS loaded with three companions land on the planet Deva Loka to find that an Earth expedition is dangerously close to collapse as the small crew come close to insanity. The indigenous people, called the Kinda, are a mystery to the humans. They live simply and appear to be largely primitive but in reality have a deep connection to the universe and the forces of evil that dwell within it, such as the Mara. When Tegan becomes a conduit for the Mara to enter the corporeal world, the dangers that are brewing come to a boil and Armageddon looms. The Davison era began as a series of intelligent adventures written with wit and imagination. Kinda is a good example of this style as it operates on a higher level of understanding with deep elements of spiritual thought. It also features what appears to be a blow-up snake and a wicker tank… but never mind.

Enlightenment

The final part of the Black Guardian trilogy easily stands on its own. What appears to be a period drama set on a racing yacht is revealed to be a cosmic race by immortal beings for the ultimate prize of Enlightenment. The TARDIS crew is slimmed down to just two (Tegan and Turlough really work well together in my opinion) and the Doctor is given space to shine as he struggles to uncover the mysteries around him without becoming trapped in them. A wonderment of special effects provides some of the best images of Doctor Who in the 80’s- the idea of vintage racing yachts in space is just awesome- and the danger is very palpable.

Caves of Androzani
The final adventure of the fifth Doctor is very thin on plot and very thick on tension. Essentially the Doctor just wanders into a deadly war and gets caught in the crossfire. Uninterested in solving any mystery or in battling any monsters, the Doctor’s main goal becomes a determination to save his companion Peri. The story of the fifth Doctor can be seen as a kind of maturation into a dangerous universe. In his last year the Doctor is surrounded by death and destruction. When he decides to take part and kill Daleks, Davros and the Master he has turned a corner and transformed into a darker kind of hero. He is still very much the daring English gentleman, but he has also taken on a darker shade of character. Saving Peri is very much a desperate attempt to redeem himself for his previous companion Adric’s death, a loss that the Doctor thinks himself wholly responsible.

Caves of Androzani is atypical of Doctor Who as it’s not really about much of anything but the Doctor shows such bravery and courage in the face of impossible odds that this has to be a classic.

Honorable mentions: Four to Doomsday, Earthshock, Frontios.

There are plenty of Davison stories worthy of praise and a lot of subpar ones as well. The program had great difficulty in judging what was within its ability often resulting in silly adventures that looked embarrassing (Time Flight), but there are great ones too. Four to Doomsday is a fun smart adventure that utilizes the large crew of companions well. Earthshock brought the Cybermen back from retirement and featured a jaw-dropping finale. Frontios is a lovely Christopher H. Bidmead tale hampered by the silliest monsters and unlikeliest hair styles I have ever seen, but it features digging machines piloted by dead bodies! Ahhh!!

(Peruse my articles on the Davison era by clicking here)

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1980′s Part Two: Colin Baker


The most controversial year of Doctor Who saw the program enter a realm of darkness. The newly regenerated Doctor in a fit of rage attacked his companion, begged for mercy from his enemies and exhibited erratic behavior that challenged the viewers to accept him as the same man they had regarded as a hero for years. The sixth Doctor was a selfish, arrogant and unpredictable personality all dressed in colorful clothes more akin to a children’s program. It was a very interesting confluence of contrasts that resulted in one of the more bizarre renditions of the Doctor. Actor Colin Baker intended to outlast 7 years but was fired after only two series. Colorful, brash and over-the-top, the Colin Baker years saw viewers turn away from a family favorite as it had perhaps changed too much too soon. It’s unfortunate as the sixth Doctor starred in some great stories but after an eighteen month hiatus was brought back as a shadow of his former self.

Vengeance on Varos

Attempting to find a valuable mineral to keep the TARDIS running, the Doctor and Peri become part of the entertainment on the planet Varos in the Death Zone. Financially distraught families watch from their cubicles with baited breath as the Doctor attempts to outwit death traps and save the planet from the clutches of the Mentors. This story is just brilliant. It exhibits inspired plotting, interesting visuals and a great guest cast. The effects, sets and acting of certain actors is disappointing but the overall aim of this one is quite high. After being attacked for being too violent, Doctor Who wryly stated to its audience ‘violence sells.’

Mark of the Rani

An excellent period drama with sci-fi elements, the Master and a new character called the Rani make this story great. Colin Baker has often said that he is a director’s actor and given the right direction will shine. I can see what he means by this as this story has a lot going on in it and he grasps the opportunities with both hands. Witty, clever and brave, the Doctor redeems himself to anyone still unsure if he is the same Doctor they had loved before. I have to admit that it took as long time for me to accept Anthony Ainley but he is just fantastic in this and there is absolutely nothing for him to do (a sign of a superb actor). Ironically, the Rani is the only weak point in this as she is an interesting idea but lacks the charisma of the Master.

Mindwarp

An exercise in an adventure gone wrong, Mindwarp is part of the series-long story Trial of a Time Lord which centered on tedious expositionary sequences set in a court room with occasional cut aways to another story. It’s a terrible idea but Philip Martin (Vengeance on Varos) used his portion of the series to craft a very good story that exposed the terrifying danger that young Peri lived in by traveling with the Doctor, a man that had already been shown as unhinged mentally and emotionally. The Doctor is investigating arms sales on Thoras Beta and ends up getting embroiled in the disturbing experiments being performed to pacify the rival Alphan rebels. He ends up being subjected to the same pacification treatment in a horrifying sequence that produces a morally twisted version of himself. Whereas he was once opposed to the Mentor Sil (again from Vengeance on Varos) the two are now aligned together. The Doctor betrays Peri, works with his enemies and appears to have reverted to the personality that we first glimpsed directly after his regeneration. When the pacification process is reversed, the Doctor desperately attempts to undo all of the damager, but is far too late. Scary beyond words, even the Doctor is dumbfounded by the course of events at the end of this one, a moment that was as electrifying as it was saddening.

The story suffers from some vagueness in the plot that is unnecessary but in essence this is a fantastic adventure that stunned me the first time I saw it.

Honorable mentions:  The Two Doctors, Revelation of the Daleks.

The best of the multi-Doctor stories, the Two Doctors has lots of humor, the incredible Patrick Troughton and Frazer Hines as well as Jackie Pierce. Unfortunately it also has the Sontarans in it who serve no purpose. Even so, it’s very well shot and has unusually fine music. I’m self-conscious about citing Revelation of the Daleks as a Colin Baker classic as he is barely in it, but director Graeme Harper shows that he understood what makes a gripping Doctor Who adventure.

(Peruse my articles on the Colin Baker era by clicking here)

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1980′s Part Three: Sylvester McCoy


The last Doctor of the classic Doctor Who series was a unique decision to embrace the wishes of BBC execs and remake the program as children’s entertainment. Stage performer Sylvester McCoy was familiar to some for his appearances in Tis Was, making his casting as the 900 year-old Time Lord a puzzler to be sure. No doubt the casting of McCoy and Bonnie Langford lent to a light entertainment style, which allowed the script editor Andrew Cartmell to craft his master plan that would re-invent Doctor Who for a new generation.

In only three years, McCoy would run the gauntlet from buffoon to dashing hero and finally mysterious alien mastermind. 1987-89 was a time of experimentation and revival of Doctor Who and it saw some absolutely amazing adventures along with depressing viewing figures. The program that had entertained millions was cut down too early and would not be seen again for several years.

But it certainly went out with a bang.

Remembrance of the Daleks

In 1988 there was an increase in Doctor Who’s popularity and talk of a feature film circulated. When Remembrance of the Daleks screened, the concept of a new Doctor Who film that could be better than what I had just seen was just silly. A period drama with soldiers not unlike U.N.I.T., two warring Dalek factions, a new Dalek design and a companion swinging a baseball bat powerful enough to destroy the dreaded monsters the Doctor faced was the perfect recipe for a motion picture in my mind. After an uneven first series, McCoy had settled into the role and showed that he had what it took to be a daring, brilliant and witty version of the much-loved Time Lord.

The Greatest Show in the Galaxy

Stephen Wyatt had written what I consider to be the one redeeming story from series 24, Paradise Towers. He managed to find a way to tell a new kind of Doctor Who story that combined weird concepts with childlike innocence and fairy tale danger. Killer clowns, a circus that killed people and ancient gods that demanded to be entertained make this one a true classic. There are problems, of course and the production team doesn’t seem to be up to the challenge to make some of the rather big ideas work, but the general idea is superb. We also get more of Sophie Aldred as Ace acting opposite McCoy in what has to be the one of the best Doctor/Companion combinations ever.

The Curse of Fenric

The final series of Doctor Who is so good that it’s just tear-jerking to realize that another series did not follow. The scripts were more involved and bolder, the effects more elaborate and the acting much finer. Curse of Fenric is another period piece set in a British Army base during the final days if WWII. The Doctor is playing a dangerous game with an ancient evil entity called Fenric, a game that he began long ago. Deep in Maiden’s Bay, an ancient cursed Oriental treasure pulses with power from a crashed Viking ship. The curse brings to life the many dead bodies in the sea and a being of great power from the future, Ingiga – the Ancient One. This story is so dynamic and daring that I still find it hard to believe the BBC managed to produce it. The monsters are terrific, the plot amazing and the acting top notch. It’s a sad shame that so few families were watching as Doctor Who died a slow painful death as this is one that stood to bring about a return to greatness that the series desperately needed.

Honorable mentions: Paradise Towers, Happiness Patrol, Survival.

There area few other notable McCoy adventures that I should point out such as the mis-directed Paradise Towers that saw cannibal old ladies fattening up skinny girls to eat them, gangs of teenagers and a deadly pool cleaning robot (well, they weren’t all great ideas). The acting gets hammy and the Doctor just blows up the bad guy which never really sat well with me. Happiness Patrol is excellent and has that perfect mix of the weird and the horrific that I applaud the McCoy era for. Many fans slate this one, but it’s the ideal example of the series posing as a kid’s show and actually telling a very adult scary story. Survival could be one of the all time greats if you ignore the goofy Cheetah People and the Master’s big plan to use a gang of teenage boys to kill the Doctor. Still, the direction is tight, the script outstanding and the visuals memorable.

(Peruse my articles on the Sylvester McCoy era by clicking here)

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And so Doctor Who left our screens until it returned once in 1996 and again in 2005, but then it was a very different program.

56 Stupid Things About “The Trial of a Time Lord” (And 44 Cool Ones)

When reviewing Doctor Who stories, it is often difficult to retain a grasp of reason and logic as absurd ideas are alternately presented as laughable and serious often in the same episode. There is the added problem of creative issues, budgetary constraints and a lack of communication between the actors, directors and writers. 1986’s Trial of a Timelord has all of these problems and more, resulting in a bloated epic that teeters on the brink of classic and dross every few minutes.

In 1985, Doctor Who had come under fire from the BBC as being in need of a rest, After 22 years on the air, the series had become far too violent and lacked a certain quality that many had associated with the program. In some ways, Doctor Who was exactly the same TV series it had always been while the rest of TV had progressed and was receiving higher budgets, better actors and stronger scripts. In 1986, Doctor Who returned with a challenge to better itself. To reflect the challenge, The Doctor himself was placed on trial and asked to defend his behavior. The adventure spanned 12 episodes with four distinct arcs separating inter-linking scenes set in the court room where the Doctor and his prosecutor exchanged insults.

The folks at Kaldor City have compiled a list of the stupidest and best moments in the 12-part story. Here are a few of my favorites:

Episodes 1-4/The Wasteland/Robots of Ravolox/The Mysterious Planet/That Thing with Joan Sims in It

6. There are no animals on Ravalox. This flies in the face of everything we know about how ecology works.

13. Confronted with the accusation that he is breaking Time Lord rules by interfering with the affairs of others, the Doctor fails to respond with “oh yeah? How about your involvement in ‘Genesis of the Daleks’, ‘Attack of the Cybermen’, ‘The Mutants’, ‘Colony In Space’, ‘The Brain of Morbius’, ‘The Three Doctors’…” and thus deserves everything he gets in the courtroom scenes.

15. “All that is known is within the Matrix.” “Oh, a micro-organism in a drop of water might think it knows the universe, all it knows is that drop of water.” One of the best exchanges in 1980s Who, but unfortunately it was cut.

Episodes 5-8/Planet of Sil/Mindwarp/Vengeance on Varos II: This Time, it’s Thoros Beta/That Thing with Brian Blessed In It

39. The effect of the pacifier appears to be to make the Doctor very suggestible, acting like Yrcanos when he’s around Yrcanos, and like Sil when he’s around Sil. However, the question remains as to at what point said effect wears off.

40. The Doctor’s behaviour in the story is cleverly written so as to leave it ambiguous as to whether his turning to the bad is faked evidence, the result of the influence of the pacifier device, or, perhaps, proof that the Valeyard is right about him, or a bit of all three. Complaints that it is confusing miss the point– it’s clearly supposed to be.

41. And anyone who thinks the Sixth Doctor is generally a nice, stable, unselfish chap should go and watch “The Twin Dilemma” again.

42. Philip Martin, on the DVD commentary, indicates that he sees the Sixth Doctor as “a bad guy pretending to be good.”

Episodes 9-12/The Ultimate Foe/The Vervoids/Terror of the Vervoids/John, Here’s That Thing You Commissioned From Us In A Lift At The Last Minute, Love Pip and Jane

57. The Doctor tells the courtroom that his evidence comes from his own future. We know from Episode 4 that the evidence presented in the courtroom is material recorded by his TARDIS, so how the hell can it record things it hasn’t been through yet?

67. JNT’s character description of Mel runs in part “one of those annoying young ladies, who is a ‘woman’s libber’ at all times, except at moments of great stress, when she relies heavily on playing the hard-done-by, down-trodden, crocodile-teared female.” Issues much?

73. The Vervoids originally killed their victims by strangling them with vines, and it was John Nathan-Turner who suggested the poison dart idea. Which makes rather less sense; who goes around genetically engineering servant races with a built-in weapon?

81. “I’m always serious about murder,” the Doctor says. Well, perhaps, but judging by earlier stories he’s not above having a laugh over GBH, manslaughter (or Raakslaughter) and accidental homicide.

82. Why are the Vervoids upset about humans eating plants? Generally, the consumption of part or all of the plant is crucial to its reproductive cycle, without which the species could not survive.

83. How do they even know that humans eat plants? Have they been reading books about gardening?

More here:http://www.kaldorcity.com/features/articles/trial.html

Thanks to http://doctorno1.amplify.com for posting the link to this list as well!

Doctor Who- Vengeance on Varos

Doctor Who- Vengeance on Varos

Story 138
January 19 -January 26, 1985

“When did they last show something worth watching?”

 

On the planet Varos, the people watch horrific scenes of death and torture from the confines of their living cells, voting on the outcome. The Doctor and Peri arrive in desperate need of a rare mineral only to find that the people of Varos are in need of liberation from themselves, just as the hideous Mentors hover in the wings, waiting to take advantage. Braving a barrage of tests and traps, the Doctor must free the planet Varos from the fate it has found itself in, even as the population watch him suffer in enjoyment and anxiously await his televised death.

The Sixth Doctor’s era is a period of Doctor Who that suffers from Peter Davison backlash. That may sound odd, given that Davison’s era suffered from Tom Baker backlash, but it is also true. Doctor Who has always mirrored the times in which it was made in my opinion, making the 22nd series a particularly difficult to watch one as it mirrors all that is worst in the 80’s.

For three years, viewers had watched the youngest ever incarnation of the Doctor take them into the optimistic 1980’s only to be smacked in the face in 1984 with Colin Baker and the nasty half of the decade of hope. The early 1980’s for many represented an era of technological advancement and a new golden age. The latter half of the decade was rife with hyper-violence in entertainment, global warfare and economic/societal decline in the news. Right in the middle of it all was Doctor Who, shining an unwanted spotlight on the proceedings in Vengeance on Varos, one of its more brilliant adventures.

Written by Philip Martin (the creator of the post-modern Gangsters starring Maurice Colbourne- known to Doctor Who fans as Lytton), Vengeance on Varos is a dark vision of the near future in which the population sits glued to a TV screen waiting for something to happen while their own lives dwindle away. The second story of the 21st series, Varos follows on the strengths of Attack of the Cybermen in depicting the brutality of man against his fellow man, but in such a graphic style that it is clear this is no longer a program for the kiddies.

The Doctor and Peri find that the TARDIS is in need of a rare mineral found only on the planet Varos, a world that has hit hard times and is in the process of finalizing an alliance with the Mentors, a blood-thirsty race of slug alien/businessmen. Arriving in the midst of a public execution, the Doctor and Peri find themselves part of a sick televised ritual of torture and death, watched with baited breath by the entirety of Varos.

Undoubtedly, Vengeance on Varos is one of the more cynical Doctor Who stories ever made. A population made up of depressed workers tolling away in the mines whose only pleasure comes from voting via an interactive TV set to torture anyone on the screen… this is miles from the navel-gazing tale of Kinda. The Sixth Doctor is still the sharply alien personality whose next actions the viewer cannot predict, making this a particularly gruesome and dramatic story (long before the character was sadly soften in Trial of a Timelord). His relationship with Peri is still rather spikey and they certainly do not trust each other, a quality that viewers had no doubt taken for granted with the Fifth Doctor’s English Gentleman-persona.

This is an altogether different Doctor who is not afraid to take risks and while we may not be sure of his motives, he has never been more sure of himself.

This is probably my favorite Colin Baker Doctor Who adventure alongside Mark of the Rani. Baker is in true form as the brilliant yet egocentric madcap scientist who has a solution for every problem yet looks completely barmy nonetheless. There are many who say that Baker was hampered by his outlandish costume that producer John Nathan Turner insisted he wear as the Doctor, and while I concede that it is very distracting… I have to disagree. Given that Colin Baker had planned to play the Doctor as a morally ambiguous and shady character clothed entirely in black, the multi-colored fanfare coat smashed that decision to bits. As such, the sixth persona of the Doctor puts up a brash and bold front while underneath he is not only calculating his next move but is much more sympathetic to the situation than he lets on. I’m sure this performance would not have come about if the coat was not placed on Baker’s shoulders and in my opinion we would have missed out because of it.

Varos ranks amongst one of the few ‘classics’ of 80’s Who in my opinion as it is one of the few stories that is actually about something, reality TV. In typical Doctor Who fashion, the entire planet’s viewing population is represented by a single couple; Arak and Etta. Both are opposed to each other and act like a kind of Greek chorus to the events unfolding on the screen, watching the Doctor struggle against the challenges of ‘the punishment dome’ even as he attempts to win their planet’s freedom. It’s the abstraction of suffering that is presented as entertainment that Arak and Etta find so enticing to separate them from their dull lives, yet the Doctor has arrived on the scene to show them just how low their society has stooped.

During the mid 1970’s Doctor Who was still a program that, while entertaining, had a central message. That quality got lost somewhere and while the were glimmers of intelligence in the Fifth Doctor’s era, Vengeance on Varos makes no qualms about its meaning. Sure, it is heavy handed, but I am very taken by the sheer arrogance and self-assuredness that this adventure presumes. A TV program set within a TV program is very ahead of its time, with the first cliffhanger focusing on the Doctor’s apparent dead expression followed by the command ‘cut!’ one of the program’s more brilliantly inspired moments.

All that praise said, there are some quibbles. James Bond’s son Jason Connery as the revolutionary Jondar is so stagey that he becomes two-dimensional and the mad scientist Quillam is far too camp to be taken seriously. I do enjoy Quillam, but when I showed the program to a friend the soundtrack was obliterated by his laughter at the actor’s performance. It is a fine line between Doctor Who acting and over-the-top acting, and Nicolas Chagrin certainly crosses that barrier as Quillam with his camp scenery-chewing. All the same, at least he’s entertaining while Connery is just wooden.

Sil (Nabil Shaban)

That said, the actor who steals the show is no doubt Nabil Shaban as Sil the Mentor. Speaking in undulating tones through bizarre tongue-lashings, he makes for the most memorable of 80’s villains for Doctor Who. A creature devoted to brokering shady business deals and even suggesting selling recordings of taped executions for profit, Sil is one of the most vile villains to ever grace the screen.

Nicola Bryant as Peri is every bit the sympathetic companion in Varos and she really gets put through the ringer in this one. Transformed by Quillam into a bird-like creature by an unstable torture device, Peri experiences one of the weirdest perils ever beset upon a companion. Peri fights the good fight in this one and tries her damnedest to refuse her captors the pleasure of watching her squirm in terror. She’s a very brave gal and she rarely gets a mention in the annals in Doctor Who companions aside from the mentioning of her impressive chest. This was Bryant’s first acting gig and while it may show, she still plays the part with gusto and sincerity.

Perhaps it is therefore hardly surprising that Peri is the first companion to be released as an action figure by Character Options (unless you count the Fifth Doctor/Master set that technically featured Kamelion as the Master) in January, 2011.


(click on the above image to pre-order a Peri/Sil action figure set in the US)

The 22nd series of Doctor Who never gets mentioned as a high point of the program and while I must admit that it rarely rises above the competitive 21st and 25th series, it certainly has its high points such as Vengeance on Varos. If you are a newcomer to the Sixth Doctor and looking for an ideal place to start viewing his era, you cannot do better than Vengeance on Varos.

Recommended:

Buy 'Doctor Who: Vengeance on Varos' at Amazon.com

Doctor Who Action Figure Reviews – Regenerations 2

In my previous post , I explained the dilemma that I face as a collector of Doctor Who memorabilia.  Introduced to the program as an oddity as a child via my uncle watching old Tom Baker stories on PBS, I was inducted into the fanbase in the mid 80’s by friends only to become the only member of said group who could tolerate Colin Baker. In my own way, I inducted friends into the program and coincidentally the BBC seemed to be going for broke in merchandising the series to new fans with the Seventh incarnation of the Doctor played by children’s TV entertainer Sylvester McCoy. The Dapol line of toys left a lot to be desired, but I dutifully collected them. In my 20’s I bid adieu to all things Doctor Who only to become re-invested thanks to the DVD line. Now… I’m a fan with the energy of a teenager and the resources of an adult.

The new line of action figures from Character Options is a Doctor Who fan’s dream and nightmare combined. The manufacturer has released figures aplenty based on the new program but it is the devotion to the classic material that I find awe-inspiring. In addition to standard action figures based on the various versions of the Doctor and his monstrous foes, CO has released variants, exclusives and more.

The Sixth Doctor (Colin Baker)

At only two years’ worth of TV programming, the Sixth Doctor is the shortest reigning Doctor after Chris Ecclston (debatable as the 2005 series is essentially two years’s worth of programming crammed into one). Controversial at the time, the brash Sixth Doctor challenged fans who had become comfortable with the character of the Doctor over the program’s 21 years on the air. After having a nervous breakdown, attacking his companion, humbling offering himself up to his enemy’s mercies, the Doctor showed violent tendencies by gunning down Cybermen, pushing (?) a man into a vat of acid and committing genocide.

Currently the Sixth Doctor has five variations in action figure format and his incarnation is the most sought after action figure aside from the Eight Doctor played by Paul McGann (I suspect a new variant is on its way of Doctor No. 8 after the recent revelation regarding his new duds).

One of the first variations of the Sixth Doctor is a rather simple one based on his appearance in the closing scene of Caves of Androzani and opening of the following adventure the Twin Dilemma. This variation sees the new Doctor wearing the clothing of the previous incarnation, spattered in mud.

When he had taken over the part, actor Peter Davison carefully chose the unassuming beige costume to fit his approach to the character. Davsion decided that as the Doctor he would stick to the background and observe his proceedings with an objective eye before leaping into action in the eleventh hour.

One of the all-time fan favorite Doctor Who stories, Caves of Androzani saw the Fifth Doctor rise nobly from the quiet bystander to hero as he sacrificed himself to save the life of his companion Peri. Racing across a war zone on the surface of Androzani Minor, the Doctor was exposed to various mud bursts as the planet rages around him. The action figure attempts to replicate this state of affairs with mixed results.

A casual glance will reveal that Character Options got a little overzealous with mud applications on this one, making any attention to detail superfluous. The mud is caked on all over the costume and misses the finer details seen in the image above. It has been noted that the lack of attention to detail in a standard release is one thing but seeing as how this is an exclusive figure demanding a higher cost point, it is a sore point.

The sculpt of the Sixth Doctor’s face seems very different to what we have seen in his standard release and I find it preferable. There is a definite aristocratic snobbery in that face that captures this Doctor’s character perfectly. The painting of the curly locks is likewise perfect as is the details on the costume, a variation on the Fifth Doctor’s previous costume which we have yet to see released with Davison’s head!

The Doctor (Colin Baker) and Peri in The Twin Dilemma

In comparison, the standard release of the Sixth Doctor in his multi-colored coat and blue necktie is a monument in detailing. The costume as designed evoked the personality crisis that the Doctor found himself in after his regeneration, it also challenged anyone to look directly at it without going blind. Colin Baker was decidedly depressed at the thought of putting this thing on and acting, but he respected the work that went into it and wore the coat on nearly every public appearance publicizing the program.

There are fans who say that the Sixth Doctor’s bizarre costume is what caused such a mass exodus from the program, but after watching Colin Baker wear it so much, I view it as part of the Doctor’s character in much the same way as Tom Baker’s scarf or Peter Davison’s celery stalk (which was probably JNT’s intention). Even so, it clearly steered Colin Baker’s approach to the part and made his job all the more difficult.

In short, he was out-acted by his own outfit.

Character Options painstakingly recreated every detail of this costume to the finest point. It is just amazing and one of the best action figures made full stop.

When John Nathan Turner took over as producer, he worked very closely on the costuming of the characters seen on screen, with as particular eye on the Doctor himself. As such, these variant releases of new Doctors wearing the previous Doctor’s costume would have made him happy. It also crystallizes a moment for fandom. The previous review centering on the Peter Davison regeneration figure captured a moment when many new fans had been introduced to ‘their Doctor,’ whereas this figure is more centered on a moment when those same fans largely tuned off.

What a weird thing to capture!

Even so, the Sixth Doctor has gotten his just rewards as his popularity in recent years has soared to new heights. These action figure variants reflect that resurgence in popularity.

I’d like to note that Colin Baker in preparing for the role had envisioned a contemplative brooding character that wore all black. In contrast, John Nathan Turner wanted to depict a Victorian gentleman in profile with the imagery of a fairground. These two men must have made for strange collaborators in the years to come. Designer June Hudson who had worked on many costumes throughout Doctor Who’s long life on TV came up with a compromise of sorts… sadly long after the fairground coat was donned.

The Doctor (Colin Baker) June Hudson version

Note: There are many more June Hudson variant designs here.

I heartily recommend online retailer Mike’s Comics in Worcester, Mass who have continued to be a fantastic resource in providing these remarkable action figures. A mail-order shop since 1976, they have been serving fans online since 1996 and specializing in Doctor Who memorabilia since 1979. Click on the image below to visit their shop and be sure to mention that I sent you along.

Doctor Who and the Attack of the Cybermen

Doctor Who and the Attack of the Cybermen

Story 137
5-12, Jan 1984

Still recovering from an unstable regeneration, the Doctor answers what he imagines is a distress call and instead faces the threat of a Cybermen invasion. The mercenary Lytton, no longer an agent of the Daleks, hatches a scheme so brilliant and crafty that he unfortunately fools the Doctor as well, who discovers too late his error in judgement.

A popular monster of the 1960’s, the Cybermen had fallen in favor until 1983’s Earthshock, which saw the robotic menaces rise again as a danger the universe. An alien race who sought immortality by replacing their failing body parts with cybernetics, the inhabitants of Mondas, once a proud and powerful race, were reduced to a life of scavenging for body parts where they could find them. After attacking the Earth in the classic adventure, The Tenth Planet, the Cybermen had revealed their intentions to the human race. The loss of their home planet Mondas (thanks to the Doctor’s intervention) was a crippling blow. From the ice tombs of Telos, the Cybermen devise a plan to alter history and save themselves from years of torment and death.

 

Attack_of_the_Cybermen_by_jlfletch

 

Ghost-scripted by Eric Saward (under the name Paula Moore), Attack of the Cybermen is a weak younger brother to the explosive Earthshock. A convoluted plot, shifting locations and too many characters prevent Attack from living up to its full potential. The direction of Matthew Robinson (Resurrection of the Daleks) gives the story a haunting atmosphere that helps it from falling too flat, but it’s still an uphill battle to enjoy this one.

An unusual shift in tradition, Colin Baker was introduced in the closing story of the previous year in the dire Twin Dilemma. This move was intended to whet the audience’s appetite for the coming year but instead it caused many to switch off completely.

As a fan at the time, I was shepherded into Doctor Who during the 20th anniversary season only to find myself the only person still watching the following year when Colin Baker arrived.

Bombastic, divisive and aggressive, the sixth Doctor also was adorned with the most painful costume ever. Baker, known at the time as a dramatic actor, was prone to villain parts in soap operas. As such, his acting style is far more stilted and dramatic than his predecessor, the rather subdued Davison. Stunted by both a distracting costume and a persona that challenged viewers, Baker took some time to gain a following as the Doctor and has since found a devoted fanbase in the Big Finish audio productions.

The plan for the 6th Doctor was that he would start off as unlikeable and grow more appealing over time (much like William Hartnell’s First Doctor). In Attack of the Cybermen, Colin Baker was playing a more heroic character and was more appealing than the madman who was prone to violence and cowardice in equal measure that he appeared to be the previous year. Even so, in this adventure the Doctor is still quite unstable and even takes up a gun against the Cybermen in an unexpected firefight.

Trailer

The increasingly violent tone of the program, already seen in 1983’s Warriors of the Deep and the aforementioned Resurrection of the Daleks is in full effect here as limbs are torn off, heads whacked away and Lytton himself is tortured by having his hands crushed to a pulp. I have often cited the increase in violence seen in Series 21 and 22 as indicative of the time the stories were filmed in. The early 1980’s was largely an optimistic and positive era that grew dark as the decade wore on, causing the Doctor Who stories from 1983 onward to mirror that cynicism with dark tales. Attack of the Cybermen is hardly a cerebral story worthy of much analysis, but it is terribly violent and full of more grey and white than viewers were used to seeing, offset by the rich red of blood and Colin Baker’s awful coat.

 

The Doctor (Colin Baker) turns the tables on the Cybermen

 

The plot seems to be made up of various ideas that bravely attempt to combine as a cohesive story but never really come together. As the viewer struggles to figure out why they are watching Terry Molloy play an undercover cop in a sting operation, we watch the Doctor and Peri wander around London, each looking more undignified than the other (Nicola Bryant as Peri squeezed into a hot pink top, hot pants and high heels looks like a waitress from Hooters) before the action switches again to an alien world (quarry) where two other characters are trying to escape a prison planet populated by Cybermen. There’s also something about Halley’s Comet. Then the female tinsel-bearded Cryons arrive and you feel like giving up.

It’s such a mess of ideas and it’s very hard to care about any of them.

 

Lytton is tortured by Cybermen

 

As if to make up for the lack of quality in the script, the program rewards viewers with violence and Cybermen spewing green goo as they walk drunkenly around the ice tombs. Like Earthshock, there are many references and homages to the Cybermen stories of the 1960’s, but seeing as how they were not available for viewing it all comes off as anoraky even for the devoted fans watching.

The guest cast is quite good with Maurice Colbourne returning once again as Lytton and Brian Glover as Griffths. Even Terry Molloy (usually seen under a mask as Davros) is good to watch in this one. I am very hard on this one, but it still does deliver as a ‘monster story.’ The Cybermen again look very good and even though he looks like he has developed a pot belly, it’s nice to see Michael Kilgarriff return as the Cyber Controller (a part he played in 1968’s Tomb of the Cybermen). Colin Baker is very good in this and if you are looking for a story from his era to watch, this would probably rank as #3 or #4 (after Revelation of the Daleks, Mark of the Rani and the Two Doctors).

I have had something of a mad love affair with Cybermen recently only to discover that there not many worthwhile classic stories featuring the metallic monsters. The 60’s stories (Tenth Planet, Moonbase, Wheel in Space, Tomb of the Cybermen and Invasion) are fantastic and Earthshock is probably the best modern Cybermen story to date… but that’s it.  1975’s Revenge of the Cybermen and 1985’s Silver Nemesis are both very juvenile and disappointing. In comparison, Attack of the Cybermen comes in just above both of these duds and below Earthshock, so that’s not terrible.

An exclusive set of action figures has been released by Character Options consisting of an all-black ‘Stealth Cyberman’ seen in the tunnels of London and the rare Sixth Doctor bearing a tracking device. I found this odd as Colin Baker is one of the less popular Doctors and this will mark the fifth action figure so he must have fans somewhere!

Available in the UK at Forbidden Planet and in the US at Mike’s Comics.

Doctor Who Regeneration: 80’s

In my previous post I wrote about how the transition of the lead actor and production crew changed the direction and tone of Doctor Who in the 1970’s. In the 1980’s, this was not exactly the case as John Nathan Turner was the only producer during the 1980’s. The former production unit manager of All Creatures Great and Small (where he found the fifth actor to play the Doctor on TV, Peter Davison), JNT was familiar with Doctor Who but hardly on the same professional level as Barry Letts or Graham Williams whom he had replaced in 1978.

Be that as it may, JNT saw more changes in his time on the program than any other and shepherded the program overseas as a major success on the local public TV circuit. Love him or hate him, JNT embodies the 80’s era of Doctor Who. During JNT’s time as producer the series saw its 25th anniversary special, a spin-off pilot and the incredible Longleat Exhibition. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times and it was also the last decade for Doctor Who on the air until it returned in 2005.

Tom Baker – Peter Davison
Castrovalva
1980

Peter Davison

The actor who would take over from the then most successful actor to play the Doctor was a household name thanks to his appearances in All Creatures Great and Small. In 1978 Doctor Who had met something of a creative slump and even Tom Baker had grown bored with the part as was evident in his performance. JNT introduced several changes for Tom Baker’s last season including a new opening sequence, a revamped signature tune and a mix of experienced and new writers and directors. The result was an exciting and unusual final season built around the theme of decay and rebirth. It was stylishly done and made for an impressive debut of Peter Davison as the youngest actor to fill the role until Matt Smith in 2010.

Christopher H. Bidmead had already developed his take on Doctor Who, introducing what is now referred to as a ‘hard science fiction’ approach. Castrovalva remains one of the more successful regeneration stories, despite its flaws. For the first half of the story the Doctor is weak and hardly the indestructible hero that the audience had known him to be. In part one, he mostly stumbles around the TARDIS while companions Tegan and Nyssa try and steer the craft free from the Big Bang. Adric just hangs out and gets yelled at by Anthony Ainley playing the role he had waited for his whole life, the Master. Seeing him play the dastardly villain is something that everyone should experience. I had long thought of Ainley’s Master as more of a mincing cartoon character but on second viewing he is just insane. Not the Master, Ainley. It works beautifully.

The TARDIS database spits out some nonsense about a tranquil spot where the Doctor can recuperate, leading the crew to land on Castrovavla. Davison gets a few key moments to really shine in this story, but the supporting cast are just dreadful. Seldom have so many useless companions filled the TARDIS than in 1980. Due to the high comedy of Tom Baker’s era, there was a direct edit to tone down the humor which meant that Davison was the driest of the Doctors. Combining the toned down, flawed human Doctor with a beige suit costume results in one of the most faded depictions of the timeless hero. However, the actor’s youth and acting skill helped this incarnation become one of the most fondly remembered Doctors and is often cited as the Doctor viewers bonded with the most, included new producer Steven Moffat and David Tennant, Doctor No. 10.

Peter Davison – Colin Baker
The Twin Dilemma
1983


An unusual choice as the sixth Doctor was Colin Baker, an actor most familiar to TV viewers for his part in the program the Brothers. He was apparently chosen because he effortlessly entertained a wedding party that JNT attended, leading the producer to gleefully declare that he had found his Doctor No. 6. After just a year and a half as the Doctor, Davison had decided to leave. The scripts were poor and the quality of the program was not what he had hoped it to be. For his last season, the quality improved, ending with the Caves of Androzani which saw the fifth Doctor boldly sacrifice his life for his companion while gun runners, drug dealers and androids duked it out. Another unusual decision was to end the season not on Davison’s swan song but instead give viewers a glimpse of the new Doctor in his premiere adventure.

If there are any adventures worse than Twin Dilemma I cannot think of them. Colin Baker’s acting is bombastic but charismatic in this turkey about twin boy geniuses, birdman kidnappers, giant slugs and goofy space cops. Nothing connects from one scene to the next. Re-watching all four parts recently I found myself screaming at the TV ‘what’s going on!?’ in tears. The Doctor regenerates into a manic depressive personality, a regeneration gone wrong. He attacks his companion, dresses in hideous clothes and acts like a coward when confronted by villains. Aside from the chemistry between Colin Baker and guest actor Maurice Denham, the ancient Timelord and old friend of the Doctor’s. The scenes filmed in a Chinese restaurant set doubling as a space police precinct don’t help the ridiculousness of the story and it all falls apart.

I happen to like Colin Baker’s Doctor and think that there are some good stories in his era, but this was not one of them. Following one of the most revered Doctor Who adventures with the most derided is just insane, but this is how it was. The sixth incarnation of the Doctor was obnoxious, ill-tempered and flamboyantly eccentric, an interesting change from the mellow and serious fifth Doctor. But this approach to make the Doctor more of a dangerous anti-hero did not go over well with fans.

Rather than leaving fans to anxiously await the return of the program in a year’s time, the production crew scrambled to rethink what they had done and how they could make it up to viewers. They never really did, unfortunately and many fans and non-fans view this as the time when the tuned out, leaving Doctor Who forever.

Colin Baker – Sylvester McCoy
Time and the Rani
1987


After one year of poorly received hyper violent episodes, Doctor Who was placed on an 18 month-long hiatus. When it returned, it was a shadow of its former self. Actor Colin Baker had noticeably gained considerable girth and had dyed his hair a lemon yellow. His biting wit and harsh persona had softened so much that even in the colorful coat he barely registered to the eye. When the word came down that in order for the program to live on it would need a new leading man, it is difficult to know what anyone was thinking. In the end, they went with relative unknown Sylvester McCoy.

A children’s television entertainer and comedic actor, he would fit the demand from management that Doctor Who become more family-friendly and less dangerous. His first season was a brightly-lit candy-colored kids’ show that had little in common with the series fans had grown to love. For any that had stuck by Doctor Who through the unpopular Colin Baker era, more jumped ship after the seventh Doctor appeared on the screen in a hastily-filmed regeneration scene involving a blond wig and CGi effects. Time and the Rani shares some of the problems of Twin Dilemma, but moreover it is not as clever as it thinks it is. Filled with techno-jargon and historical figures slotted into a machine feeding a giant brain with knowledge, it’s something of a disaster. However, it all feels so very new that you almost forgive it.

We are presented, once again, with a weak and confused Doctor who cannot remember who he is. In this instance, the Rani convinces him that she is actually his companion, the squeaky-voiced Mel, and that he is working on an experiment that she knows nothing about. In reality, she is tricking him into working out some problems in her own giant brain experiment. Her cronies are the cookie monster look-a-like creatures the Tetraps who kill with a tongue to the neck. The effects are quite good, some of the acting is decent and the effort is clearly there to bring the family back in front of the tube and watch Doctor Who. The only problem is that the family audience was no longer really a part of the picture any more. In the following seasons, Doctor Who darkened its tone and refined its approach but here it is a very obvious attempt to deliver what the BBC head of serials wanted.

The seventh Doctor was an impish little Scots-accented man who appeared harmless but was actually a brilliant tactician. More or less he was a retread of the second Doctor with a goofy accent. This isn’t in itself a bad idea, but it is odd to make the new Doctor so similar to an old one. I like McCoy’s take on the character a lot and think that his heart was in the right place during his tenure, but he got a raw deal in the way of opening stories with Time and the Rani. Doctor no. 7 is a relatively controversial incarnation as some view him as ideal and others as embarrassing. Much like 1970, in 1987 the program attempted to save itself by completely rethinking what it was about… only in ’87 it didn’t quite work out.

____________________________________

As I write this the new episode of Doctor Who has already aired. Since I live in the US it will take me a while to see it but when I do I will surely share my two cents.

Here’s the new opening sequence:

From the responses that I have seen online new Doctor Matt Smith is impressing even the most cold-hearted of fans which is nice to hear. New producer Steven Moffat has stated that he will not be introducing much change at all to his version of Doctor Who, feeling that his predecessor had it right. I can understand why he is saying that but I couldn’t agree less. But I also in disagreement regarding the focus of the show being the companion and his statement that fans are lonely mentally-retarded people. Hopefully none of that will interfere with my enjoyment of the program nor will his personal views hamper his creativity.

Doctor Who and The Eleventh Hour premieres on BBC America April 17th. Matt Smith will be touring in New York City to drum up support so keep your eyes peeled.

Doctor Who on Trial (1986)

With the program a popularized worldwide success these days, it may be difficult to imagine that there was a time when it was headed for the axe by the BBC. After the 5th Doctor Peter Davison left the part, script editor Eric Saward no longer had anything standing in his way to develop some of the most hyper-violent episodes the program had ever seen. I say ‘hyper-violent’ since the level of violence is near epic, certainly not something that can be taken too seriously but definitely takes the viewer out of the moment in shock. The 22nd season was viewed as so violent that the BBC Programmer Michael Grade took it as part of the reason why Doctor Who should be taken off the air.

It ended up being a ‘hiatus’ and Doctor Who returned 18 months later… under provisions.

With the program itself on trial, editor Saward thought it may be clever to have the story mimic this. The season-long concept Season 23 was dubbed as ‘Trial of a Timelord’ and composed of four stories. Pitching an entire year’s worth of plotting, the new season opened with the most impressive shot ever seen in Who. In fact, it is so effective that many friends of mine assume that the sequence is either touched up using CGI effects or is from the newest episodes starring David Tennant. The lack of Murray Gold‘s music should do well to put that to bed, but never mind.

An uneven season, to be fair, Trial of a Timelord is also full of innovations in storytelling and production concepts. Two ‘classic’ style stories (Mysterious Planet and Terror of the Vervoids) and two very modern and striking tales (Mindwarp and Ultimate Foe) make for an interesting ride but the mixture of moods can be a little off-putting. The constant return to the trial on Gallifrey gets old very fast, too.

But is it worth it?

In a word, yes. I’m more of a fan of the unpredictable Sixth Doctor from the previous season and find that this version in Trial is more of a de-fanged ‘musical theater’ Doctor that goes too far to accommodate Michael Grade‘s paranoia of televised violence. The trial scenes are repetitive, yet if you watch closely there are a lot of bold concepts are played out.

Does the Doctor have the right to do what he does?

Is he filling a purpose at all or is he just causing death and destruction wherever he goes?

These are questions that the new program has also posed, yet failed to address in a successful way in my opinion. The original idea was for this to be the final Doctor Who story, ending with the Doctor and his alter-ego the villainous Valyard embroiled in combat in a whirlpool of destruction. In retrospect, this makes more sense and is easily seen as a statement on the perception of the program. In Trial, we see the Doctor genuinely lose faith in himself and faced with the death of a companion, he fumbles his defense to the point that he chooses evidence that not only makes him look bad… but features Bonnie Langford to boot!

If you are not familiar with ‘Peter Pan’ Bonnie Langford, just think ‘worst nightmare companion’. A bubbly and bouncy person, it’s difficult to even refer to her as an actress at all. This is certainly a step toward the pantomime style of Doctor Who that would blossom in the following year.

The DVD release is massive. Featuring a documentary for each story and several extras, this is a fascinatingly in-depth look into what remains one of the most tumultuous eras of Doctor Who. Because the program was on trial by the BBC Programmer, there were many requests made to alter the tone of Doctor Who. The companion and Doctor are seen to get along rather than bicker, there is less of a level of violence in general and more of a light-hearted direction… all of which is not entirely taken up by the script editor. This makes for some intensely uneven moments as the story leaps from fluffy to dark and deadly.

An entire season in one box set, this is an unusual treat for Whovians worldwide (with only Tom Baker’s Key to Time season available in a similar set) and one that you should not miss out on.

Recommended:

Doctor Who: The Trial of a Time Lord – Episode 144-147
Doctor Who – Revelation of the Daleks (Episode 143)
Doctor Who – The Mark of the Rani (Episode 140)
Doctor Who – Vengeance on Varos

JNT, his love of Hawaiian Shirts, and Colin Baker

Adrian Sherlock (creator of Damon Dark) has delivered an incredibly funny video bit on the infamous costume choice of Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor. A veritable mish-mash of garish colors and patterns, the many colored coat of the sixth incarnation of the Doctor has long been hated by fan and actor alike.

But perhaps producer John Nathan Turner saw nothing wrong with the hideous outfit, even years after it was derided by viewers and production team members universally?

Sadly, it’s not much of a stretch as Adrian shows in his dead on impersonation.