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Doctor Who Rewatch: 18

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Destiny of the Daleks. This is mainly for reasons other than the Daleks or Davros: Lalla Ward's arrival is a breath of fresh air, as she takes on the role of junior clown to Baker, and Adams' humorous twists to Nation's script are very entertaining. Indeed, one feels that he has got the bit between his teeth as script editor to make Who into what he had wanted it to be in the Hartnell era (he was the first real fan to grow up to get into the series). And the basic idea of the plot, that the Daleks need Davros (at long last) so that his knowledgw ill help them break the stalemate, is sound.

The story has its downsides as well. Of the various people who have played Davros, David Gooderson is far and away the least impressive, and one wonders why people are so interested in where he is. The Daleks are exposed mercilessly by the script editor who is laughing at his own youthful thrills on their first appearance. And, for humanoid robots, I find the Movellans rather kinkily attractive (plus their weakness is even more dismal than the Daleks' inability to climb). But all the same it was a better story than I remembered.

In the essay collection Time and Relative Dissertations in Space, one contributor makes the argument that City of Death is the best Doctor Who story ever. I don't quite go that far - my youthful loyalty to The Deadly Assassin won't let me - but I think that the second episode in particular is one of the best in the entire history of the show, and found myself tweeting the best lines to the world at large as I watched it on my way to work. ("My dear, I don't think he's as stupid as he seems." "My dear, nobody could be as stupid as he seems.") There is a tremendous buzz between Baker and Ward, which converts even a banal trip on the Paris Metro into a journey of mystery and wonder.

The supporting cast are fantastic as well; Julian Glover and Catherine Schell in particular as the Count and Countess (and we are left to speculate about exactly what has been going on in their marriage). Somehow I found myself more forgiving of the special effects than on previous occasions when I had watched it. Perhaps I was just in a good mood. It may not be the best story ever, but I'll allow it to nip ahead of Horror of Fang Rock as the best of the Graham Williams era.

Again, I was surprised by how much I liked The Creature from the Pit. One's expectations are subverted a little; there's more to it than the usual ruler-oppresses-subjects-who-the-Doctor-liberates, throwing in the question of metal poverty, the wolfweeds (which again I found myself more tolerant of, watched in their historical context) and Catweazle as the astrologer. Even the Creature is not as utterly awful as I remembered it.

The change in K9's voice, this being the first of the four stories where David Brierly provided it, did grate; I'll have more to say about this in my next write-up, but I just don't think he sounds robotic enough, and perhaps his smart-aleckishness is more annoying than cute. And the other weak point is that the story basically ends at the end of the third episode, and another plot has to be invented out of nowhere to fillepisode four, which is poor pacing.

Alas, with Nightmare of Eden, things take a serious downturn. It would have made a half-decent space opera style story with a Message About Drugs, but is let down by two significant failings. The Mandrells are probably the least impressive monsters in a season that featured some very poor monsters indeed (Movellans with their power-packs, the Creature and the wolfweeds, the Nimon and the Krargs). And the two merged spaceships do not look sufficiently different from each other - nor indeed do their crew seem sufficiently different - to distinguish between them, so there are not sufficient cues to work out what is going on. This is largely (but not solely) the fault of the director, Alan Bromley, who was sacked halfway through filming.

There are things here which came closer to working - the idea of the planeetary surfaces trapped in the crystals, the sinister involvement of the scientists in drug-smuggling, the romance between Stott and Della. But one feels that the poisonous atmosphere which resulted in Bromley's departure deterred the rest of the cast and crew from giving their best.

The Horns of Nimon suffers from being a second space opera in a row, and from being an indifferent story immediately after a bad one. (I'm trying to think of another consecutive pair of stories which are both largely set on spaceships, and failing.) The story is rather basic - a re-telling of Theseus, with the Minotaur as intelligent manipulative aliens instead of subterranean half-human horror, but it's lifted from awfulness by Graham Crowden's superb Soldeed, and by Janet Ellis who out-acts her male lead despite much more slender material.

But it's not a good story. One thing that always sets off my alarm bells is the behaviour of the extras in group scenes. The Anethans here are not well directed - they always look as if they are in the same well-rehearsed position for mass cowering while the Co-Pilot yells at them that they are weakling scum; they have clearly been given no direction as to how to react, or indeed ghow to look particularly interesting. The Co-Pilot is not named either, which is another sign of incomplete preparation. And the Nimon, while not as bad as the Mandrells, are pretty poor as well. A sour note on which to end the broadcast Graham Williams stories. I felt a slight lump in my throat as I watched the closing titles of the last episode, knowing that this was the last time they appeared on television.

But that isn't the end; because I also decided to rewatch Shada, or more specifically the 1992 reconstruction in which Tom Baker supplies linking narrative between the footage that was actually shot. The bits that we have are mainly the scenes set in Cambridge, which is a huge nostalgia trip for me, and a few of the spaceship scenes. The story is exceptionallyconvoluted and makes very little sense, but for once it actually looks reasonably good, the script is witty, and Denis Carey and the two leads are in excellent form (I'm less convinced by Christopher Neame's Skagra, let alone the Krargs). If the show had been completed, we would regard the Williams/Adams era as having finished on a reasonably high note, preparing the way for the Nathan-Turner years to come.

Graham Williams' three seasons end here. He obviously had serious problems in terms of money disappearing down the drain with inflation, the unions making filming difficult (and actually killing off his last story), and his inability to control Tom Baker. One also feels that he did not have Philip Hinchcliffe's commitment to making it look good - this comes across particularly in his last two broadcast stories - and the introduction of K9 is not perhaps Who's greatest moment. But he did work with three excellent script editors, the great Robert Holmes, the underrated Anthony Read and the celebrated Douglas Adams; it's a shame that he wasn't quite able to get better results out of them.

Well, that takes us to 72% of total Old Who minutes, 71% of all Old Who episodes, 68% of all Old Who stories, and 59% of time elapsed from 23 November 1963 to 6 December 1989. Next up is most of the last Tom Baker season.

< 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 >


( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 27th, 2011 07:52 pm (UTC)
Re: Destiny - I remember while watching it that, along with the Movellans being decided un-robotic (I was reminded of the space station crew in UFO), I was never quite convinced by the idea that two sets of robots couldn't outwit each other because they'd both have the same logic.

Catweazle the astrologer was about the only redeeming factor of the Creature From The Pit.
Feb. 28th, 2011 03:06 pm (UTC)
Add to that the weirdness of presenting the Daleks as logic-bound robots at all...
Feb. 27th, 2011 08:18 pm (UTC)
Watched both Creature</i> and City this week, and enjoyed both. Creature was a first time watch, City we'd rented awhileback (Jennie not as keen on Tom, so has less DVDs, whereas James has complete run and I'm borrowing his).

Creature was insane--I agree about the pacing problem on the last bit, the whole "neutron star will kill us thing" really was a bolt on "we need another twenty minutes" problem, but it looked good, and the ideas were brilliant. And I liked the wolfweeds.

Would love to see the Shada release, wonder if James has it, will have to ask. We're not watching roughly the same stories at the same time, which is nice, I've not been watching in order this time around though, it's "whatever James has liberated from the ex's house" which. Am half way through Black Guardian at the moment, loved Terminus.
Feb. 28th, 2011 02:53 am (UTC)
I also have a kind-of soft spot for Destiny, which isn't great but has a lot of great bits in it. I like the brutality of the moment where the Daleks kill the hostages, and the steadycam work on location, particularly at the end of Episode 3. It's not as good as Genesis, but it's trying a lot harder than Planet of the Daleks, and it's a lot more successful than Death to.

First season since Season 10 with no story written by Robert Holmes. The next will be the first since Season 5 without a story written by Robert Holmes or Bob Baker.
Feb. 28th, 2011 03:04 am (UTC)
One also feels that he did not have Philip Hinchcliffe's commitment to making it look good

Also bear in mind that both David Maloney and Michael E Briant were heavily committed to Blake's 7 at the time, and Douglas Camfield had serious health problems. So all the top directing talent was out of commission. Williams used Paddy Russell once, for Horror of Fang Rock, but other than than that, Pennant Roberts and (forgive me) Christopher Barry are journeymen, and everyone else was new and (as you say) clearly wasn't coming into a culture where making it look good mattered.
Feb. 28th, 2011 07:54 pm (UTC)
A number of the newcomers are very experienced directors previously not considered appropriate for Doctor Who or who had turned it down, but who were now coming in to do young Graham, whom they'd known on their way up, a favour... Derrick Goodwin falls into this camp, I think; George Spenton-Foster might also fit, as would Michael Hayes (the best by far of those three). Alan Bromly was in a class of his own. The same problem afflicted John Nathan-Turner, with Peter Moffatt and Terence Dudley having been around the houses too many times.
Feb. 28th, 2011 08:26 pm (UTC)
You're right, of course; I'm so Doctor Who-centric that all I cared about was whether or not they had been on Doctor Who before. Either way, the important thing is that unlike David Maloney, they didn't have the experience, standing, or patience to persuade the crew to turn the lights down, which is 90% of the battle.

I think John Nathan-Turner's mistake wasn't using directors who were too old, but using them again and again even though they didn't get results that were that good. (Not just Moffatt, but Pennant Roberts and (EDIT) ron Jones). The flipside of this is firing Peter Grimwade for having the wrong lunch. I think he was more concerned with who could bring a production in on budget than with what the results looked like.

Edited at 2011-03-01 06:25 pm (UTC)
Feb. 28th, 2011 03:12 pm (UTC)
As a child, my opinions of these stories were very diferent from my opinions of them now.

I remember reading and rereading and enormously enjoying the novelisation of Nightmare of Eden, which I nowadays interpret as meaning that the actual story (and probably script but it's been too long since I've seen it) are fine, and it's the reaslisation of it that's problematic.

Destiny is a story I loved as a child (in large part, I suspect, because I was too young to remember the previous dalek story, though of course I was aware of them) but found very unimpressive indeed as an adult. Disco robots? Weird discontinuity with all other dalek stories? Silly humour sometimes undermining the drama? All this makes it one of the poorest dalek stories IMO.

I always liked City of Death but it certainly stood out more as an adult. Not my favourite Tom Baker story (I'm with you on Deadly Assassin) but close. Definitely my favourite Williams-era story.
Feb. 28th, 2011 08:41 pm (UTC)
(I'm trying to think of another consecutive pair of stories which are both largely set on spaceships, and failing.)

Seeds of Death / Space Pirates?

Last of the Time Lords / Voyage of the Damned?

And I see what you're getting at, but (EDIT) Horns of Nimon is really only on a spaceship for one and a half episodes...

Edited at 2011-03-01 06:25 pm (UTC)
Apr. 14th, 2011 09:51 am (UTC)
Belatedly ...
But he did work with three excellent script editors, the great Robert Holmes, the underrated Anthony Read and the celebrated Douglas Adams

Adams is rightly celebrated as a scriptwriter, but what we know of his general attitude to deadlines suggests to me that he was wholly unsuited for the role of script editor, and that this has a lot to do with the variable quality control of the scripts in this season. I suspect also that Graham Williams had to do a lot of the script editor role himself - it would not at all surprise me, for instance to find that Adams came up with the ideas for City of Death, but the hard work of making an actual script out of it was done by Williams.
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