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.

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Doctor Who and the Resurrection of the Daleks

Doctor Who and the Resurrection of the Daleks

Story 133
8-15 February 15, 1984

In the far future the Daleks are losing a galactic war, causing them to free their creator Davros from his cryogenic tomb on a derelict space station. Investigating a time contour that dragged the TARDIS to contemporary Earth, the Doctor and his companions have been drawn into an intricate trap by the devious Daleks. With the fate of not only the planet Earth but also his own people the Timelords hanging in the balance, the Doctor is forced to reconsider his stance on violence and finally decides that he may have to kill the Dalek’s creator Davros after all.

Aside from a brief appearance in the 20th anniversary special The Five Doctors, it had been many years since the Daleks’s last appearance on TV. Destiny of the Daleks, an awkward collaboration between Douglas Adams and Terry Nation, de-fanged the Daleks, making them into simply bumbling pepper pots. Eric Saward was determined to reinforce the threat and power that the classic menaces once held. Originally planned as the finale to the 20th anniversary series and titled Warhead or The Return, the story was rescheduled to Davison’s final series due to complications with Dalek creator Terry Nation. A violent, hopeless, blood-filled adventure, Resurrection of the Daleks redeemed the monstrous Daleks as the most dangerous foe that the Doctor had ever faced once again.

Peter Davison and Janet Fielding pose at Shad Thames with Daleks

Actor Peter Davison was only 29 when he was cast as the Doctor in 1981, but in his time on screen he had already proven that he was enough of an accomplished actor as to carry the most important role on BBC TV with ease. He moved and spoke with an alacrity that matched his white tennis trainers yet maintained a gentlemanly dignity that befit a man beyond the actor’s years. In fact, alongside Tom Baker, Davsion has one of the most enduring followings of any actor to play the Doctor in classic Who. After being disappointed in the quality of scripts for his second series, Davison announced that he was leaving the program. He was shocked to find that his final series was a vast improvement as scripts may not have been as intelligent or far-reaching as the previous years’, but they were much more exciting on screen and allowed the Davison room to shine as an actor.

The first fan of the series to be cast as the Doctor, Davison admitted in an interview at the time that he would have been disappointed to have left the program before he faced the Daleks. Luckily, he was allowed to face off against the classic monsters in one of their finest TV outings. The Doctor is seen to be brave, desperate and bold at times during the Davison era, but thus could be one of the actor’s best performances. The sequence where he begs with the clone of Stein as his mind is ripped away from him is wonderful as is what could have been his final confrontation with Davros. A very human and flawed version of the character by design, the fifth Doctor can be seen to be maturing to meet an exceedingly hostile and grim universe in his final adventures.

Resurrection of the Daleks is a decidedly down-beat story. The two settings; a deserted warehouse along the Thames and a space prison falling apart in the distant future, speak to the hopelessness and defeated quality of the world in which the adventure is set. The Daleks have lost a war against the Movellans and are seek out the aid of the creator Davros who has been in cold storage for some time after being thwarted by the Doctor on Skaro in Destiny of the Daleks. They have enlisted a mercenary force of humans led by a man named Lytton (soon to be seen again in Attack of the Cybermen) to help them break Davros from his prison and achieve revenge on the human race and the all-powerful race of Timelords, their hated foe the Doctor’s own people. Rather than simply trundling down halls and firing wild death rays, the Daleks in this story use deadly poisons that quickly decay the body and zap entire crowds of humans as they tear through the space prison. The Daleks had not looked so deadly since 1976’s Genesis of the Daleks.

Introduced in 1963, The Daleks were such a terrific draw to viewers that in time their intention was lost along with their impact. The problem could lay in two factors; one in storytelling and the other in TV production. As a rule, the Daleks are said to be the most dangerous and kill-crazy alien race in the universe. Armed to the teeth and encased in nearly impenetrable armor, nothing can stop them… yet something always does. The first two Dalek stories (The Daleks and Dalek Invasion of Earth) devise ingenious ways of undoing the Daleks’ plans, but subsequent TV adventures are a little less impressive. They are seen to be torn to pieces by Frankenstein’s Monster, attacked by plants, frozen by jelly, etc. For such an unbeatable foe, there are apparently countless ways to beat them. Likewise they are apparently the most dangerous foes with horrible aim. This is tied to the second factor involving TV production as Doctor Who was viewed as children’s program and therefore could not feature lots of death and destruction… but it seemed odd that for a race of killers they didn’t really do that much killing. Additionally, the Dalek props were terrible difficult to shoot on film. It was a task and a half to make them looking menacing or powerful, something that directors asked to participate in Doctor Who dreaded. Often a director would state that they were eager to work on Doctor Who but begged, ‘don’t make me work with Daleks.’

Director Matthew Robinson has a wonderful eye for drama and action (later seen again in the series 23 Doctor Who adventure Attack of the Cybermen) that fits this story perfectly. Everything from the opening shot of the desolate Shad Thames to the explosive raid on the prison ship is done with such precision that a cinematic quality is achieved. On the 2003 DVD extra feature, a more mature but no less dynamic Robinson can be seen framing sequences with is hands along Shad Thames of today, explaining with bated breath each shot’s importance.

biggerbaddaddy trailer

Script editor Eric Saward had already shown in his previous scripts (The Visitation and Earthshock) that he not only understood Doctor who storytelling techniques but could modernize them using classic monsters. Resurrection of the Daleks is a science fiction epic of a tale with alien races, galactic warfare and genetically designed weapons… but even so it does have problems. Saward himself states on the DVD that he applauds Robinson’s efforts and adds self-consciously adding, ‘given what he had to work with.’

While it succeeds in achieving the proper mood and moves at a quick pace, Resurrection of the Daleks has a few problems such as the plot which is rather ropey. At one point the most important thing is a pair of bombs left in a deserted warehouse alongside the Thames in 1984 London, at another point the focus is on Davros and the plots jar with each other so much that the real threat – a plot to replace world leaders with clones and sending a clone of the Doctor and his companions to Gallifrey to assassinate the High Council of Timelords. The last idea is only referenced on screen a couple of times and was so influential that it made an impact on a young writer at the time Russell T Davies, who later remarked that it was the first act of the Time War referenced throughout the 2005 Doctor who series.

Davros and his 'converted' Dalek guard

Davison may shine in Resurrection of the Daleks, but it is Terry Malloy who nearly steals the show as Davros. A part initially planned to be revived by the first actor to play the role, Michael Wisher, it went to Malloy after scheduling conflicts arose. Like the Master, there are many actors to play Davros, but very few of them nailed the part. Following a break-out performance by Wisher in Genesis of the Daleks, Malloy showed that his performance could stand on its own merits and in some cases come out on top. His dialog rises to a declaration of egocentricity seen only in dictators such as Mussolini or Hitler then crawls to a sinister whisper in true Shakespearean style. His performance wavered a bit in later stories, but it is on form here.

Janet Fielding, one of the longest reigning companions on Doctor Who at the time, also has a fair share of screen time and development. The feisty and rambunctious Australian who forced her way into the Doctor’s life is seen in this adventure nearly on the point of emotional collapse in the wake of the death and destruction around her. It was a statement of the times as entertainment had turned decidedly more violent and Doctor Who was not immune to the trend. However, unlike many other TV programs Doctor Who used violence to make a statement and Tegan’s tearful departure is a clear example. The character was afraid if losing her innocence and her courage in the face of such bloodshed while a mercurial TV character like the Doctor was adapting to meet the changing conditions he found himself.  It’s a very moving exchange that brings tears to many fans even today. You think Rose’s departure was a sorrowful affair? Watch this one and you’ll see it’s no contest.

Due to the transmission of the 1984 Olympics, this story was shown as two 45 minute-long installments rather than the traditional 22 minute episodes. When it was sold oversees there was an oversight in the audio files causing parts 2 and 4 to have lost all special sound effects and music. I recall watching this on my local PBS station and being terribly confused. It looked just like my friends and I playing Doctor Who with only the pow! sounds missing.

Released in limited edition packaging in 2002, the program was re-edited into 4 parts rather than the 2-part version that was aired in the UK. Next year, both versions will be released as part of the 2nd Re-visitations box set along with Carnival of Monsters and Seeds of Death.

Finally announced in action figure format are several long-awaited Doctor Who characters including the Resurrection-style Dalek and the Supreme Dalek but the most anticipated additions are the series 22 5th Doctor and classic series Davros. Previously the only version of the Doctor in his series 22 costume was the regeneration figure from Caves of Androzani. Likewise, the only version of Davros in the 5 inch Character Options line was from the new Doctor Who. A fan favorite story with many fond memories, this set is sure to fly off the shelves!

Click to pre-order the Resurrection of the Daleks set in the UK

UPDATE: Please pre-order in the US from MikesComics (and be sure to mention this article!)

Available on DVD:

Buy Doctor Who: Resurrection of the Daleks from Amazon

Doctor Who – The Awakening

Doctor Who – The Awakening
Story 131
January, 1984

In 1643, war came to the village of Little Hodcombe. An historic recreation of the event takes on a sinister edge as an alien presence makes the danger all the more real, bringing a small English village to the brink of destruction.

In a series of monster-centric adventures, an historic two-parter mainly focusing on the danger of every day people is easily missed. I have written before about Davison’s strong premiere series being followed by a lackluster second only to shine in his final outing. This is another moment for Davison to comes across as a very strong actor as he faces threats both real and imaginary in the form of the soldiers and the psychic weapon the Malus.

The stories in the 1984 series aren’t much to crow about, but Davison seems to have found his footing as the frenetic do-gooder with a heart (s?) of gold against impossible odds. A flawed hero, Davison’s Doctor was constantly working harder than his predecessors did to save the day, making the program more dynamic and full of danger than it was before. His predecessor Tom Baker made every major victory look liker child’s play, removing any real drama from the program and inserting an element of the absurd. Incoming producer John Nathan Turner saw the departure of Tom Baker as an opportunity to add an edge of realism and action to Doctor Who and at the center of that was Peter Davison.

the Doctor (Peter Davison) is restrained by soldiers

It’s important to remember that for all intents and purposes, the 5th Doctor’s reign from 1981-84 was not only a bold attempt at revitalizing the program and a major gamble in years by replacing Tom Baker with a young actor, but also the height of the program’s popularity. Thanks to the hard work of JNT in marketing the program in America and supporting the convention circuit, Doctor Who changed from an obscure cult sci-fi program into a cult sci-fi program with a devoted (and growing) fan base in the United States… kind of like now. For many fans of Doctor Who at the time, Davison was the new face of the program and the sign that it was welcoming them into the fold.

A lot of responsibility of Doctor Who in the 80’s is laid at the feet of John Nathan Turner who made almost all of the big decisions that forever altered Doctor Who. Despite a major decline in of Doctor Who in 1984, most of these decisions were beneficial and in the long run gained the program an increase in popularity. Part of JNT’s approach as producer was to craft the year-long run of the series into several four-part stories and one two-parter. The last of these short adventures, the Awakening, is a mixed bag of results but still an adventure worthy of viewing.

Initially, The Awakening was entitled ‘Warhead’ or War Game and was intended to lead into the upcoming return of the Daleks (possibly called ‘The Darkness’). However, the idea was scrapped and as a result the story feels a little open-ended and unclear. Beginning with an unlikely attempt to help Tegan visit her uncle, the Doctor lands the TARDIS in the village of Little Hodcombe. What is normally a quiet village is unfortunately in the midst of an historic war games exercise. What could have been a harmless event turns more sinister as Sir George Hutchinson leads the townsfolk to the edge of insanity as he transforms the quiet village into a war zone.

As the Doctor chases a temporal ghost through the town church on the verge of disrepair, he begins to sense that there may be more to the situation than an overzealous madman. Teaming up with local schoolteacher Jane Hampden, the Doctor soon uncovers that the war games are being manipulated to a fever pitch by an alien entity known as the Malus.

What is essentially a giant stone muppet built into a wall becomes rather striking in this story. A psychic weapon that preys on the minds of the native population making way for an alien invasion, the Malus is apparently the relic of a forgotten alien attack on the planet that the Doctor must defuse.

Will Chandler, the companion who never was

In addition to Jane Hampden, the time-tossed character of Will Chandler gets wrapped up in the adventure. Transported from the past due to the Malus’ energy, Chandler holds the key to unraveling the mystery of the alien threat. He was also considered at the time as a new companion which makes perfect sense as he has nowhere to go and seems to trust the Doctor as authority figure. He’s sort of like Adric done right in some ways. Despite all this, he was passed on and promptly disappears.

The adventure is full of some beautiful locations, great outdoor camera work, some superb guest actors and an impressive script by Eric Pringle. The lack of any real closure and the often goofy special effects and over-acting attempt to dismantle what is a cracking good adventure from the 1984 series.

In the story of the Awakening is a message in the meaningless of war and its path to madness. Sure, Malus was manipulating the townsfolk into a frenzy, but they were  also quite keen to relive a moment in their history when sheer unbridled violence visited their village… which is pretty messed up. In that way, Pringle’s story is as much an alien invasion tale as it is a look at everyday people and their disassociation with both history and war.

There are currently no plans that I know of to release the Awakening on DVD, but as there are so few remaining stories from this era to be released, I suspect it will be packaged with Frontios as a box set (the fifth such set for Davison!) after the upcoming Mara Tales set.

Doctor Who and the King’s Demons

Doctor Who and the King’s Demons
Story 128
March, 1983

The Doctor arrives in 13th Century England at a key historic moment, but something is not right. Why is King John taking up home in a Lord’s castle instead of signing the Magna Carta in London and who is his strange French champion? As the mystery unravels, the Doctor finds himself face to face with an evil that he had thought vanquished at last. As a finale, the two-part adventure that closed out Doctor Who’s shortened 20th anniversary series is somewhat out of place, given its lack of impact, but on closer examination it is an intelligent story that provides distinction to the fifth Doctor that would carry over to the following year. The youngest actor to play the role at the time, Peter Davison was already a familiar face to TV viewers thanks to the success of All Creatures Great and Small. In contrast to the bombastic Doctor No. 4, it was decided that the fifth incarnation would instead be quieter than his predecessor, seeming to blend into the background and later rising to the occasion in the conclusion of an adventure. As he faced the evil Mara and defeated the Black Guardian, this quiet champion was gaining credibility, but more was on its way.

The last story of the second series starring Peter Davison, King’s Demons has many hallmarks of the actor’s last series on the program, which has always been my personal favorite of his. After a solid first year and a sophomore series that was perhaps far too ambitious on ideas and slim on budget, 1983/84 saw the actor in peak form as the program had at last found a strong supporting cast backing a Doctor who had finally fleshed out his own persona. In King’s Demons, the Doctor, Turlough and Tegan arrive in England circa 1215, shortly before the signing of the Magna Carta (the basis of parliamentary government) which would forever change history. If anything is an indicator of how much dumber the modern program is, the fact that an adventure of the classic series centered on the perversion of an historical event certainly is.

The Doctor’s TARDIS crew for King’s Demons is Janet Fielding as Tegan and Mark Strickson as Turlough. Both characters were introduced as one-note ‘problem’ companions who opposed the Doctor at every turn (and in Turlough’s case attempted to kill him) rather than following him blindly. By this time, however, Turlough had dropped his evil intent (having renounced the Black Guardian in Enlightenment the previous week) and Tegan seemed almost agreeable. Stripped of their prime motivations, both characters remained quite clever and combined actually made what could be considered one of the better pairings with the Doctor’s youthful fifth persona. Compared to Nyssa who served more as a valor-clad encyclopedia, Adric as the whining kid and Peri who filled out a bikini better than she could fill out a complete sentence, the competition ain’t much, but it bears recognizing that this was a strong line-up.

The story opens with a rather obnoxious King John imposing himself in the good graces of a local lord, Sir Ranulf Fitzwilliam. Accompanying him is the red-haired French Knight Sir Gilles Estram who matches the King’s irascible mood and charm, smiling while the pair slowly degrade a lord to an uncomfortable servant in his own home. After Sir Fitzwilliam rankles at paying even more to King John, his headstrong son speaks up. Deciding that there would be some sport in watching the young sir battle his champion, King John arranges a duel. In the middle of the joust, the TARDIS arrives. Immediately, the Doctor is suspicious of their landing and feels that something is not right. Proving the Doctor’s instincts to be rightly founded, King John welcomes the strangers as his ‘demons,’ rather than exhibiting shock or disbelief. Intrigued, the Doctor accepts King John’s hospitality, determined to uncover just what has gotten his Timelord nerves in a twist.

In no time, the Doctor discovers that nothing is right in the castle or with King John, who by all historic record should be in London signing the Magna Carta. Meanwhile, Sir Gilles has found Turlough snooping around and placed him in chains alongside Sir Fitzwilliam’s son. After King John entertains the court with a bloodthirsty madrigal in a lute, Sir Gilles produces the Fitzwilliam’s young lad and an iron maiden for further sport. Deciding that he has observed enough, the Doctor lashes out and engages the French Knight in a rather splendid bit of sword play reminiscent of the great Jon Pertwee himself. The sword fighting scene is so well done and accompanied with some clever quips as well (After being told that Sir Gilles is ‘the finest swordsman in France!’ the Doctor remarks that ‘it’s a good thing we’re in England’).

This adventure is a necessary step in the process of what was billed as a vulnerable and human-like version of the Doctor’s development into the bold hero seen in later adventures who finally sacrificed himself in The Caves of Androzani. The fifth Doctor was already played as an English gentleman, but here he was also a dashing cavalier.

The Doctor battles Sir Gilles Estram (The Master)

Forcing Sir Gilles to drop the facade, the French Knight is exposed as the Master, last thought to be dead in the adventure best left forgotten, Time Flight.

I have to admit that I did not appreciate the performance of Anthony Ainley as the Master when I first viewed him in the role. A character first played by the late Roger Delgado, followed by Peter Purves, the Master is a cruel and conniving villain every bit as brilliant as the Doctor but steeped in evil intent. The performance of Ainley can come across as over the top until you realize the sheer insanity of the Master as a threat.

A seasoned actor known for both stage and small screen work, Ainley was said to have been overjoyed with the role of the Master, calling it the part he had waited for his entire career and it shows as he positively devours each scene with relish. The only actor to perform against all of the surviving classic versions of the Doctor, Ainley’s Master is full of contempt for the Doctor, hunting him down like a dog that refuses to lose a scent. Each successive duel with the Doctor brings out still more of this insatiable desire to see the Doctor defeated, even to the point where he uses alien technology to alter human history. It’s easy to view this Master as camp, but it’s just so genuine that as a viewer you can feel the sinister nature of the character. If you are unclear on how much of a rare find Ainley is, just look at the embarrassing prancing by John Simm (an excellent actor woefully miscast) in the new program.

While the first half was mainly a physical battle, the second half of the adventure features a duel of the minds as the Doctor struggles to wrest control of Kamelion from the Master. The scene is vaguely similar to the mind bending routine from the Tom Baker story The Brain of Morbius and I’m sure that the comparison was no mistake. The third meeting between the fifth Doctor and the Master, the strain is beginning to show between the two.

During Castrovalva, the Doctor was too weak to put up much of a fight and the Master seemed to have crafted the perfect trap in Time Flight, but in King’s Demons, it seems that the Doctor is in peak fighting condition, making for a memorable encounter. Actors Davison and Ainley seem more at ease with each other also (I can only imagine the impact that Ainley had on Davison on first meeting!) and they play off of one another remarkably well. I’m sure producer JNT had visions of Pertwee/Delgado for the 80’s in his head and while they never quite reach that mark the final effect works, firmly re-establishing the Master for a new generation.

The key point of King’s Demons is of course the introduction of Kamelion, an alien robot capable of shape shifting into anyone. It’s a brilliant idea hampered by the fact that the only person who understood its operation passed away shortly after this two-parter was aired, leaving the program with a special effect that no one could operate. Actor Gerald Flood is positively entrancing as the eccentric King John and later the strange shape-shifting robot Kamelion. It’s tragic that the technological challenge proved too much for the production team to overcome as he would have made an interesting companion.

The Doctor and Kamelion

An under-appreciated adventure, King’s Demons is full of charm and an inspired plot. Filmed on location at Bodiam Castle, the entire production contains a touch of class that was missing from the other stories in the 20th anniversary series consisting of mainly studio-bound adventures. Released this coming June as part of a two-story set (along with Kamelion’s final adventure Planet of Fire), I recommend giving King’s Demons another look.

Kamelion Box Set Trailer
(Kings’ Demons/Planet of Fire)

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 – Frontios

Doctor Who_Frontios
Frontios
Story 132 – 1/26 -2/3 1984

The last of the Christopher H. Bidmead stories, Frontios is set in Peter Davison’s final season. The same writer who introduced Doctor No.5, Bidmead had contributed some of the most imaginative and intelligent scripts during his time on Doctor Who including Castrovalva. The 31 year-old lead actor had already made his mind up to leave the Doctor Who during the filming of his second season, the uneven and demanding 20th anniversary of the program that no doubt took its toll on Davison who must have felt overwhelmed. Later he would state that if he had known that the quality was going to pick up as it had in his final year he would have stayed on longer. It’s ironic because Davison’s performance always struck me as starting off strong, waning in his middle year then finally finding his footing in the last. While the stories of series 21 aren’t as intelligent or ambitious as the one before I think that they more closely match what the program is capable of and what the viewers wanted to see.

Gone are the convoluted plots and back are the bug-eyed monsters and classic villains. That’s not to say that it’s perfect. The series opener Warrior of the Deep saw the revival of two obscure monsters, the Sea Devils and Silurians, in one story however it is almost universally derided by fans. Odd that, as Peter Davison gives a bang-on performance. This once again supports my claim that there are no bad stories, just bad Doctors. Even though his last year as the Doctor featured more rubber this side of a Maplethorpe exhibit, the actor gave it his all and it showed. The program may have been awful, but the lead was sparkling.

Fantastic fan-made Frontios trailer

As for Frontios, it’s one of those rare gems that combines a future history of the human race along with developing the companion and introducing a new monster. As the Doctor apparently aimlessly surfs the winds of time and space, the TARDIS has overshot the boundaries of its allowed flight path. As if it’s not bizarre enough that the TARDIS is constantly moving along in time and that time is like a long interstate, there is also a thick yellow line marking construction barring forward moving traffic. But never mind. The reason behind the barrier is briefly explained but the entire story hinges on it. There are some points in time that are too fragile and delicate for the even the Timelords to interfere, this is one of them. For some reason, Turlough takes great satisfaction in teasing Tegan about the doom-filled future of the human race and their mad dash for survival across the stars to establish a new home planet, but the Doctor assures her that everything will work out. Humanity is a hearty stock.

Before the TARDIS can depart, they are drawn in by massive gravitational forces (???) that cause the craft to materialize right next to the last refuge of humanity in the middle of a meteorite shower. Things look suspicious to say the least. It turns out that the humans are at war with an unseen enemy and has been dangling on the point of extinction ever since crash-landing on Frontios. To make matters worse, supplies are sparse, the leader has gone missing leaving his ailing young son Plantagenet to take over and there is a conspiracy to cover up missing persons. Despite himself, the Doctor decides to pitch in as he can and use his medical knowledge in treating the many wounded and sick. The TARDIS is pulled down into the heart of the planet, leaving the Doctor stranded and powerless in a situation that he really would rather not interfere with.

The drama is very well played out and there is plenty going on for all three main actors. Tegan and Turlough fill equally important roles in the story (for once) and the supporting cast is just fantastic. The story only falls apart after Turlough goes mental and the giant slug things show up. Actor Mark Strickson was young at the time, give him a break, but… whoever directed him to drool and stare off spouting the word ‘Tractators!’ every few minutes needs a good talking to. It turns out that the enemy that is attacking the humans actually lives below the surface and is pulling meteors down to attack its foe… and Turlough has a deep race memory about all of this. It’s a neat idea but it doesn’t exactly read well on screen and ends up making a clever story silly. Well… almost as silly as the very monsters prompting Strickson’s eccentric performance, the Tractators.

Peter Davison tries to stay calm

Peter Davison tries to stay calm

Wow.

What can you say about these odd little critters? They are certainly unusual and the designers of 1982/83 were out to break the mold in monster designs… but still… this is just bizarre. It has flipper arms… it cannot move without waddling… and it has a muppet mouth… and it uses what look like yoga balls as weapons. You cannot make this kind of stuff up. The story comes to a screeching halt as soon as the monsters arrive and you’re in the middle of laughing yourself silly before you’re completely freaked out. The undead Captain that everyone in the story has been talking about up until now shows up grafted into a massive drilling machine. Holy crap. I still get nightmares about that visual and this is when the program was still considered ‘for children.’

The Doctor manages to use his superior intellect in defeating the goofy monsters, even gets them to fix his TARDIS, quells a massive political coup from the workers and leaves as promptly as he arrived. This story really should be considered worthy of classic status. It has a unique ambition, a smart script and also introduces a new monster (even if it’s goofy). At the close of the final part, the TARDIS is pulled into a turbulent ‘time corridor’ (????) and clips of next week’s program are shown, featuring the triumphant return of the Daleks. What a great way to round off a terrific tale.

Still unreleased on DVD, the commentary track for Frontios was recorded some time ago so you can expect to hear an announcement regarding a release date shortly.

Doctor Who: Kinda/Snakedance

Peter Davison- the Fifth Doctor
Story 118:
‘Kinda’

Most every era of Doctor Who has an epic. The First Doctor has the Dalek’s Masterplan, the Second Doctor has the Abominable Snowmen/Web of Fear, the Third Doctor has the Dalek War, the Fourth Doctor has Key to Time. The Fifth Doctor actually has two epics; the Black Guardian Trilogy and the Mara Cycle (Kinda/Snakedance). An intelligently written, mainly cerebral meditation on the nature of evil, the Mara Cycle is one of the most mature and unusual tales that the program has seen in its long history.

It also features a ridiculous rubber snake and over the top acting… this is, after all, Doctor Who.

As the first part of the Mara Cycle, Kinda arrived in the first year that Davison had taken over the role of the Doctor. As first seasons go, his had a lot going for it. A cracking opener, two historicals, the return of the Cybermen and Kinda.

One of the spooky aspects of the Mara

One of the spooky aspects of the Mara

Often referred to as the ‘vulnerable yet brave’ version of the strange Timelord, Peter Davison’s depiction as the Fifth incarnation of the Doctor has some of the loftiest and most ambitious stories in the program’s history. Kinda has to be one of the oddest stories as it involves the Doctor repeatedly called an idiot, an other-worldly evil called the Mara and a depiction of the psychic plane.

In other words, all the makings of a classic.

Set on the planet Deva Loka, Kinda concerns the colonization of the planet by humans. The few surviving colonists are anxious as members of their team have been mysteriously disappearing since their arrival. Like a sacrificial lamb, the Doctor and Adric show up on their doorstep looking for breakfast and are almost immediately arrested. The Doctor is very interested in both the native life and the creation of the wind chimes where they left Tegan resting. For any Nyssa fans, the velor-clad lady sat this one out for some reason.

The leader of the expedition, Sanders, is a blustery by the numbers type who brazenly leaves his second in command, Hindle, with the scientific advisor Todd. The Doctor can easily see that Hindle is on the verge of mental collapse but Sanders won’t hear it. Leaving the near-manic Hindle in charge has catastrophic results that nearly kills every living thing on the planet. Both Sanders and Tegan come into contact with supernatural forces, each with different results. Sanders’ mind is broken by a gift from the indigenous people, called Kinda. Tegan is taken over completely by an evil entity known as the Mara.

This story is remarkable for two things, the performance by Simon Rouse as the insane Hindle and the journey to darkness psychic transition of Tegan and the Mara.

The unhinging of Hindle’s mind is terrifying as no one can raise a hand to stop him. Mesmerizing two captured members of the Kinda tribe with a mirror, he declares martial law in the protective colony dome and proceeds to build paper people and an entire city out of electronic parts on the main control room. Having regressed to a childlike state, Hindle has also gotten his hands on a button connected to an explosive devise encourages everyone to play along. During one scene one of his paper people becomes torn. He is told that it can easily be mended which causes him to explode into hysteria, ‘You can’t mend people!!’ resulting in one of the memorable moments of the classic Who series.

This guy could be the most evil character actor ever in Dr Who

This guy could be the most evil character actor ever in Dr Who

On the other side of the story, Tegan has become trapped in a dreamlike state and is being driven to madness by a leering creature called the Mara. Tegan attempts to hold her own but soon the madness becomes too much and she relinquishes control of her psyche.

Both of these sequences are simply beautifully done and make the story memorable… so long as you overlook the wicker one-man tank and giant inflatable snake. But those elements come in later…

Presiding over the Kinda is Panna who attempt to educate the Doctor who has managed to escape from the dome. This is also a rather heady moment as the cycle of death and rebirth is played out in trippy visuals and interpretive dance. No kidding.

A cracking good story with undertones touching on the nature of evil and the evils of the Western world, Kinda also explores the role of religion in social structures. In many ways it is so brilliantly written that you forget that you are watching Dr Who.

Story 124:
‘Snakedance’

The following season is Doctor Who’s 20th anniversary year and is also a very mixed bag. As part of the celebration, producer John Nathan Turner wished to have references to the program’s past which sounds like a good idea on paper. When you are actually referencing a story from less than a year ago, it loses some the charm. Nevertheless, Snakedance is a direct sequel to Kinda, a story that the production team must have recognized the strengths of and deemed it worthy of a return visit.

Once again Tegan is battling for control of her mind with the Mara and has charted a course for the planet where the entity was first born, Manusa, once the proud center of the Sumaran Empire. The main story focuses on a bored nobleman named Lon and his mother who are tolerating the local cultural historian who is attempting to instruct them in the rich history of Manusa. The culture is interpreted through hard archeological study and parlor tricks the likes of which you would find at an outdoor carnival which is a rather bold statement on the nature of mythology and its relation to fact. The more Lon hears about the Mara and the influence that it once had over the people of Manua the more intrigued he becomes. Lik a boy told not to touch an open electrical socket, he feels compelled to mess with this evil entity until he becomes overwhelmed by it. Lon is played expertly by future celebrity Martin Clunes (of Men Behaving badly and Doc Martin fame).

The Doctor looks for answers from the hermit

The Doctor looks for answers from the hermit

As soon as the Doctor mouths off about the Mara being real and actually posing a threat to the universe, he is put away for the madman he appears to be. Only be earing the trust of a local who springs the Doctor and Nyssa from jail does he stand a chance of doing anything at all. Having failed Adric (who died at the hands of the Cybermen) and now Tegan, the Doctor seems frantic to help his companion escape the Mara’s control, but he simply cannot accept something that is so far outside of his understanding. In many previous stories we had seen the Doctor proudly denounce anything remotely spiritual as not being anything other than a craftily constructed illusion, but in the case of the Mara, it’s the real thing. After making contact with a strange old hermit the Doctor learns to work past his anxiety over the situation and discovers the method by which the entity can be destroyed.

While not as strong a story as Kinda, Snakedance is nevertheless a clever story and contains some wonderfully written lines ‘I will show you fear in a handful of sand’ is so thrilling in fact that DC Comics used it years later to promote Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series.

Both Kinda and Snakedance feature the Doctor appearing to be nearly frantic as he attempts to stop a threat that he only vaguely understands. The new series has attempted this twice now with the Tenth Doctor stories Impossible Planet/Satan Pit and Midnight, with less success. It’s an honorable attempt but frankly with only 45 minutes to establish the threat, I think the odds are stacked in the favor of the classic program. 30 year old Davison is also eager to hang onto any script that contains challenges and Kinda certainly delivered them as it juggled numerous plots, characters and high concepts at once. Snakedance seems on the surface as a much blander story. It’s no secret that Davison made the decision to leave Doctor Who during Season 20 after three years… and who can blame him?

With so few classic Doctor Who stories remaining to be released on DVD, it looks like this may be one of the last Davison stories to be released as a box set. When it dos hit the stands, give it a view.

Peter Davison looks back on his first year as the Doctor

I just stumbled across this vintage interview with Peter Davison from 1982 as the actor looked back on his first year as the star of the longest running sci-fi program on TV. As Tom Baker was a relative unknown and Jon Pertwee a stage performer/song and dance man before being cast as the Doctor, Davison was the first real actor to play the role of the face-changing Timelord since veteran character actor Patrick Troughton.

The Doctor (Peter Davison) - 1982

The Doctor (Peter Davison) - 1982

The Fifth Doctor offered the production staff the opportunity to remake both the character of the Doctor and the program as a whole for the first time in a very long while. Whereas the previous era starring Tom Baker had delved into comedy and fantasy, Doctor Who of the 1980’s was determined to become more directed toward science fiction, meaning that viewers would see more aliens and quarries posing as alien worlds than ever before. The concept of the ‘historic’ adventure was also revived, bringing the Doctor and his companions to the 1920’s and 17th Century.

Despite such a wide variety of  stories in 1982, no season of Doctor Who is perfect and I wager that if Peter Davison was quite pleased with Earthshock, he must have been heartbroken by the follow up story Time Flight featuring an offensive caricature of the Master, pantomime rejects posing as the Concorde flight crew and monsters made of scrubbing bubbles. It’s interesting to see the actor being cagey about his plans regarding staying on board as he had been advised by Doctor #2 Patrick Troughton to give the series 3 years before moving on.

Based on the negative experience of his second year (from poor scripts to studio strikes and the 20th Anniversary hassle), Peter Davison already had work lined up for when he left for good in ’83.

Kamelion

Kamelion

Kamelion and the Doctor (Peter Davison)

Kamelion and the Doctor (Peter Davison)

Of the many companions that have traveled with the Doctor through time and space, only two have been robots… and one of them was a robot dog. The other was the shape shifting android from Xeriphas called Kamelion. Introduced in the 1982 story ‘The King’s Demon,’ the character is rather fascinating as a fiction and an invention. An actual working animatronic robot, Kamelion was programmed to recite dialog supplied by voice actor Gerald Flood.

Just stop and wrap your head around this one again, a science fiction program featured a real working robot! … sure, it mainly rolled its eyes, turned it head and moved its mouth but it worked!

The thrall of the Master, Kamelion was part of the mincing Timelord’s latest ploy to trap the Doctor by altering Earth’s history. Mentally controlling Kamelion’s will so that it resembles King John, the Master sought to alter the signing of the Magna Carte, drastically changing history as we know it. The Doctor thwarted his nemesis’ plan (of course) and even dabbled in some traditional sword play before departing, Kamelion in tow.

You may be wondering why no one ever talks about Kamelion if he is so impressive. The reason is that he only appears briefly in two stories. After it’s inventor died in a boating accident, there was no one available who could actually manipulate the robot, making it impossible to integrate into an adventure. A brief scene of Kamelion was shot for the Season 21 opener ‘The Awakening’ but was never shown (expect it to be included as an Easter Egg in a forthcoming DVD!). The story goes that a simple line of dialog became screams of shock and the decision was made to just remove the scene entirely.

However, Kamelion did get a rather exciting send-off adventure the following year in ‘Planet of Fire.’ Traveling to the planet Sarn where refugees of the planet Trion are living under the leadership of crazed religious fanatic Timinov (played beautifully by former Jason King – Peter Wyndgarde), Kamelion is at once taken over by the mind of the Master. Seeking to use his slave to destroy the Doctor, the Master manipulates Kamelion once again only to fail as the robot breaks free of mental control. Begging the Doctor to kill him, Kamelion is destroyed by the Master’s own Tissue Compression Eliminator, reducing the robot to a withered ash.

Kameleon box set trailer

It really is a shame that Kamelion did not work out, but to be honest the problem was not only in his actual workings. A robot that immediately came under the mental control of the strongest willed being nearby is not really much of an asset, is he? Nevertheless, Kamelion is a neat invention and an interesting idea to jazz up the role of the companion in Doctor Who. The current series, in my opinion, could use some of this innovation.

Kamelion at the Longleat Exhibition

Kamelion at the Longleat Exhibition

(click here for more pics from the Longleat Dr Who Exhibition)