Nicholas (nwhyte) wrote,

Doctor Who Rewatch: 14

My cunning plan for rewatching Who from the beginning has now brought me to the point where the next few posts will be of complete seasons - Season 13 in this case, with the Hinchcliffe / Holmes era getting into full swing.

Well, Terror of the Zygons is a great start to the season - tight writing, memorable aliens, Baker and team on form, John Woodnutt excellent as Broton/the Duke, the UNIT team all together for one last time, and not least the late Geoffrey Burgon's memorable incidental music, a cut above the usual.

It's a real shame that the Zygons were never brought back on TV. They do appear in a good Tenth Doctor novel and a couple of very good Eighth Doctor audio plays. I suspect that if I actually knew the Loch Ness area the fact that it's fairly obviously Sussex would bother me, but I don't so it doesn't. NB also the female prime minister, assumed by most viewers at the time to be Margaret Thatcher a few years into the future, though I prefer the Wood and Miles theory that it is actually Shirley Williams (for whom I cast the only vote I have ever exercised in a Westminster election) in an alternate 1976. Tom Baker has a rather mad anecdote about being mistaken for Williams in the street.

There will be more about UNIT later on in this post but I just want to point out here that Terror of the Zygons shows Baker, Hinchcliffe and Holmes able to pick up the Pertwee format and take it to strange and different places, if they wanted. It's not such a very different story from Claws of Axos, but it is ten times better, basically because it is trying to look like a horror film rather than The Avengers.

Slightly unexpectedly, this is the Brigadier's last story as a recurring character (he comes back three more times in the next thirteen years, and indeed gets brought out of retirement for Sarah Jane in the following century, and the occasional Big Finish audio). Although it's a shame that we don't get a proper goodbye from him, it's a good place to end; the Second Doctor saw him as a friend and ally, the Third Doctor used to snarl at him unpleasantly, while the Fourth Doctor regards him with tolerant amusement, pretty much as his straight man, and he finishes as a comfortable and respectable figure rather than the buffoon of the middle years. He's had a good long afterlife, appearing in Big Finish audios and even the Sarah Jane Adventures, and is of course the focus of various spinoff novels, of which the most interesting, from a Brigadier point of view, is probably Gary Russell's Scales of Injustice. I will shout out also to the 1971 Doctor Who Annual, one of the best in that series, which has a lot of good Three / Liz / Brigadier stories.

When I was a student at Clare College, Cambridge (ie around the time that I voted for Shirley Williams in 1987), we had reciprocal catering rights with the students at Girton College, which is far out of town; this arrangement generally benefited Girtonians who needed a cheap college meal near their lectures in the middle of the day, but some of us would occasionally make the great trek north on Sundays, when the Clare Buttery did not serve lunch but Girton put on a pretty decent spread. On one such occasion, one of my friends nudged me and said, 'That man sitting over there used to play the Brigadier on Doctor Who!' I refused to believe my friend but accepted the dare to go and ask the bloke in question if he actually was Nicholas Courtney. He confirmed that he was, and in huge embarrassment I must admit that I became completely tongue-tied and couldn't think of anything else to say to him. Not the highlight of my personal encounters with celebrities, and certainly not his fault. (Incidentally, two important Who figures graduated from Girton - Delia Derbyshire, who arranged the original theme music, and my cousin Brian Minchin, who is the producer of the Sarah Jane Adventures.)

In the video collection The Baker Years, where Tom B reminisces about each of his stories in turn, he manifestly could not remember anything at all about Planet of Evil. It's a bit odd how it doesn't quite come together: the alien planet looks a bit more like some scenery dotted around a studio than usual, the script requires the Morestrans to fail to spot that Sorenson is behind it all for far longer than is at all believable, and the mechanics of the anti-matter and alternate universe are never terribly well explained (I seem to remember that Terrance Dicks does it a bit better in the novelisation).

It's surprising because while Louis Marks was not one of the great writers, he was usually better than this, and David Maloney is one of the great Who directors. There are some good bits - Frederick Jaeger is excellent as Sorenson (poor guy plays possessed scientists every time he appears on Who), and the effects of both the monster he becomes and and the desiccated corpses are well done. But really it's an unexciting space opera tale, which I'm coming to realise is not the sub-genre where Who is at its best.

NB that Louis Mahoney is the first PoC to have a speaking role since his own much briefer speaking role in Frontier in Space three years ago. On another casting note, I was intrigued that the camera seemed deliberately not to linger on Michael Wisher, appearing here for the third time in four consecutive stories, in case we might recognise him despite his heavy masks as Davros and Magrik. No real risk as it is certainly his least memorable appearance on Who, as well as his last.

This is a strong season of Who in any case, but it would have been even stronger if as originally planned Pyramids of Mars had been the first story of the season. It starts with the Doctor declaring his independence from UNIT, proclaiming a break with the past, and ends with UNIT HQ being destroyed (well, the building on the site anyway). The Doctor restates his fundamental purposes several times in the first episode, reminding us that this is a show about an alien Time Lord, not UNIT's eccentric Scientific Adviser.

In other news, it is a particularly good story: Holmes as so often comes up with a good script, where pace and wit disguise the occasional hole in the plot, and stellar performances from Bernard Archard, Michael Sheard and Gabriel Woolf, as well as Baker and Sladen, combined with Paddy Russell's inspired directing and some excellent design - note particularly how seamlessly we move from studio to location shots - make this one of the most effective stories of one of the better seasons. As it happened I was able to watch most of it with 11-year-old F and so can confirm that it remains good family viewing after 35 years.

Lewis Greifer, who wrote the first version of this script, also wrote an episode of The Prisoner (The General, the one with the teaching computer). He would qualify as the only person to have written for both great cult shows, had Robert Holmes not preformed such radical surgery on Greifer's original text as to leave it unrecognisable (and, one suspects, much better).

The Android Invasion is not quite as great as the sum of its parts. There are some great Who stories with dopplegangers - The Massacre, The Enemy of the World, Inferno, The Caves of Androzani - and some less great ones - The Chase, Meglos, Arc of Infinity, Journey's End (neither of those lists is exhaustive), and The Android Invasion is definitely in the second set. The Kraals are rather good, and it's a shame we never saw them again, even if their plan is completely bonkers and relies on the deluded Guy who has never thought to check what was under his eyepatch. The directing is much better than the plot - excellent use of location shooting, good special effects especially where you have the android doubles in place, Dudley Simpson comes up to the mark with the music. But the script doesn't quite carry it.

The most disappointing thing about the story is that it is a very weak farewell to UNIT. We do get Benton and Harry back, but only in the last episode are they really themselves rather than simulacra; the absence of the Brigadier robs the story of a core element of continuity. This is the least satisfactory farewell for any of the regular characters (far worse than Dodo); at least the Brigadier eventually comes back, but this is the last we see of either Benton (after six years) or Harry (after the intensity of Season 12). In terms of the story taken on its own it is not such a big deal, but seen in the continuity of the show from The Web of Fear on, it's a damp squib; worse, it seems like Who has become uncomfortable with its own very recent past.

John Levene as Benton has an unexpectedly long run, starting as the Doctor's kidnapper in The Invasion and finishing up as his own evil twin (for a second time, after Inferno) in The Android Invasion, who still has time to take his sister dancing. In the meantime he has been transformed into a baby, flirted with the villagers of Devil's End, and walked the Second Doctor round an anti-matter world which looked like a quarry.

Levene is not one of the great performers, but perhaps that is because he is not forced to be. The role is really one of the common man caught up in uncommon events, occasionally called on for courage but rarely for thought, and he fulfills it perfectly well. I thought his chemistry with Pertwee not as good as with Troughton or Baker, but he is not the only person of whom that is true. Slightly surprising that he hasn't been persuaded back to participate in any of the various spinoffs, apart from the one standalone Wartime which I haven't seen.

The half-hearted writing in and writing out of Harry Sullivan is one of The Android Invasion's most grievous weaknesses. Unlike the other UNIT characters, he does get a half-decent farewell, but it is at the end of his second last story, Terror of the Zygons. His slightly twittish but courageous character was rather a good lightning rod for the new Doctor's lunacy in Season 12, and put him in several of the great Who stories. Unlike, to pick a recently covered example, John Levene as Benton, he lifts every scene he is in, and even the less good stories in which he appears tend to have some good and memorable Harry moments (again, The Android Invasion is a bit of an exception).

I have written elsewhere of Ian Marter's subsequent (and sadly abbreviated) career as a Who novelist. When he was on form, he was very good, and even going through the motions he delivered readable product. He also wrote a spinoff novel called Harry Sullivan's War, which isn't great plotting but has nice character moments, a theme later developed further by Jacqueline Rayner in her rather weird novel Wolfsbane. A 20-years-older Harry also appears in Justin Richards' novel System Shock, and he gets prequelled into the Third Doctor era in David McIntee's The Face of the Enemy.

The Brian of Morbius is really rather stunning, especially in contrast with The Android Invasion, which must have had about three times as much money spent on it for roughly a third of the impact. It could all have looked so awful and John Nathan-Turner-ish - the Muppet-like monster, the peculiar cavorting of the Sisters of Karn, the under-par acting of Gilly Brown. And yet it all comes together. All praise particularly to Christopher Barry who manages to make Dudley Simpson's stirring music, various peculiar sound effects, and well-planned lighting come together and conceal the relative poverty of the production and the unoriginality of the plot. It's almost a return to the early days of Who - the studio as a very small theatre in which all the action must be concentrated, rather than as a window on the universe.

Also of course it is lifted by Philip Madoc, back again after The War Games, The Krotons and the second Peter Cushing film, and also by the regulars - the Baker / Sladen chemistry is one of the great things about this season; it really set my own expectations, as a nine-year-old, as to how the Doctor / companion relationship should always work. It's also our only Time Lord-related story of this season; we will hear much more about them next year, but it's worth noting that since they were introduced in The War Games, every year has seen a story which further developed Time Lord lore.

The Seeds of Doom, at the end of Tom Baker's second season, is only his second six-part story - by contrast, the last Pertwee season had three, which just shows how the pace of the show has changed. Of course, it's in some ways a two-part story in a very well realised Antarctica, followed by a four-part story in England. It's another good story to end what was a very strong season; the guest cast are good - a good Who story requires a memorable villain or two, and here we have the glorious Harrison Chase and his sidekick Scorbie. One wishes there had been another story or two with Sir Colin, backed up perhaps by Amelia Ducat. Even they, however, are overshadowed by the horror of the anthropophagous Krynoid and, even more nightmarish, Chase's mulching machine.

This is the first contemporary story since The Faceless Ones / Evil of the Daleks, nine years earlier, with no appearance by the Brigadier or the wider UNIT family (including the Delgado!Master) and, seen in continuity order, this is rather puzzling and throws the viewer (well, threw me). Yes, UNIT is mentioned, but the military who come to help the Doctor are the regular army and the RAF. To be very clear, since I have mentioned it rather a lot in this post, there is of course absolutely nothing wrong with writing UNIT out of the show; I just wish it had been done a bit more gracefully.

Geoffrey Burgon's music is again artistically and technically rather striking, but sometimes seems a bit light-hearted for the scenes it is set to. However it comes together in the last episode.

This has been an interesting season - four out of six stories set in the British countryside, and only two in studio-bound sf settings - another experiment in format after last season's travels without the Tardis. It has seen the end of UNIT as a constant point of reference. But it has also provided some of the most memorable images ever from Who - the fetal Zygons, the crackling anti-matter monster, the robot dummies, the android Sarah's face falling off, Morbius's patchwork body, and the Krynoid plus the mulching machine. Even Planet of Evil, the weakest story of the six, is some way better than most of the Pertwee era space opera scripts. There is a real feeling of the production team finding its feet; and of course this peaks in the next season (in my utterly unbiased view).

< An Unearthly Child - The Aztecs | The Sensorites - The Romans | The Web Planet - Galaxy 4 | Mission To The Unknown - The Gunfighters | The Savages - The Highlanders | The Underwater Menace - Tomb of the Cybermen | The Abominable Snowmen - The Wheel In Space | The Dominators - The Space Pirates | The War Games - Terror of the Autons | The Mind of Evil - The Curse of Peladon | The Sea Devils - Frontier in Space | Planet of the Daleks - The Monster of Peladon | Planet of the Spiders - Revenge of the Cybermen | Terror of the Zygons - The Seeds of Doom | The Masque of Mandragora - The Talons of Weng-Chiang | Horror of Fang Rock - The Invasion of Time | The Ribos Operation - The Armageddon Factor | Destiny of the Daleks - Shada | The Leisure Hive - The Keeper of Traken | Logopolis - The Visitation | Black Orchid - Mawdryn Undead | Terminus - The Awakening | Frontios - Attack of the Cybermen | Vengeance on Varos - In A Fix With Sontarans | The Mysterious Planet - Paradise Towers | Delta and the Bannermen - The Greatest Show in the Galaxy | Battlefield - The TV Movie >
Tags: doctor who, doctor who: 04, doctor who: rewatch, doctor who: rewatch: old who

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  • The Massacre, by James Cooray Smith

    The second of the Black Archive books analysing past stories of Doctor Who looks at The Massacre, a 1966 First Doctor story which has been lost from…

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    Given the very encouraging news that Russell T. Davies is returning to Doctor Who, it's by fortunate coincidence that today I am reviewing a…

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