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Doctor Who Rewatch: 22

I was surprised by two things about Terminus on this rewatch. First, that it is so very slow and padded - barely enough material, really, for even one episode of New Who - just how long are Tegan and Turlough stuck in the tunnel for? An awful lot of running, or staggering, through corridors seems to go on.

The second thing that surprised me was that despite the slow pace I actually rather liked it. I could see what was going on; I liked the look of it, with even the Garm's costume passing muster for me this time; I got the sense of desperation. Though I still think that the idea of there being an exact centre of the universe is as dubious now as I did when I was fifteen.

I also like the development of the relationship between Tegan and Turlough, and Nyssa gets one of the better departure narratives (with Tegan sweetly desperate to keep her on). It's not one of the great stories but it's not awful either.

So, farewell then, Nyssa of Traken. Before this rewatch I would have rated her in the top half of my companions list; now I am actually not so sure. She is not well served by the scripts, having been imagined as the brainy one but ending up as the pretty but quiet one, tending to be acted upon rather than acting in her own right. Castrovalva, where she takes charge given Adric's absence, the Doctor's indisposition and Tegan's incomprehension, is almost her best story. When there are two of her in Black Orchid, we hardly notice.

Nyssa has had a decent afterlife, though, with several good audios featuring her and the Fifth Doctor, and the current Big Finish sequence which unites an older Nyssa with the younger Tegan, Turlough and Doctor who left her on Terminus. Sarah Sutton still rises to the occasion, especially given decent material.

I came to Enlightenment rather late in my first watching of Who, and that's a shame because it really is excellent. Doctor Who has actually quite often resorted to the concept of powerful godlike entities whose powers reach just far enough for the plot to work, but never before or since with quite such style and panache. I just love the creepiness of Marriner and the episode one reveal that these are ships in space. Lynda Baron is fantastic, and I had forgotten that she doesn't appear until the third episode. I am also in the minority that find Leee John's performance acceptable, if not stellar.

It's also a decent conclusion to the Turlough / Black Guardian plotline, which was not always executed elegantly but works well here; and all three regular characters get some very good moments. It is the first outing for the Five / Tegan / Turlough team, and a promising start.

Another season, another historical two-parter. The King's Demons suffers from some basic structural flaws. The central historical plot point is bludgeoned into us and features the Doctor correcting Tegan on an aspect of history where in fact he (and the writer) are wrong and Tegan is right. Again there seems no obvious need for the Master to adopt a disguise; while it does explain Sir Gilles' awful accent, that is putting the cart before the horse. It would be just about excusable as an emotional investment in building up a new companion, except that of course Kamelion barely appears again. Much the worst story of this run.

(Am I right, by the way, that King John is the first real historical figure portrayed in a Who story since Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday? Of course it's not the real King John, so I suppose the gap really runs to George Stephenson in the season after next.)

I do not think you can look at The Five Doctors as a normal Who story. It was the first ever special, a format we take for granted now but which was unknown then. But more importantly, it is a story purely about jamming as many returning characters together as possible - Susan and the ersatz One, the Brigadier and Two, Sarah and Three, the cameos from Jamie-and-Zoe, Mike-and-Liz, the Master, the Cybermen, a Yeti, a rather pathetic Dalek; we are just glad to see all of these elements brought together in 90 minutes between the opening and closing titles - particularly of course given recent sad events.

When I first watched it, some of this was lost on me; I barely remembered Pertwee (Tom Baker was and is my Doctor, and I was very disappointed by his absence) and had seen Hartnell and Troughton only in An Unearthly Child, The Krotons and The Three Doctors. Now, having been watching an episode a day for over a year and a half, I appreciate what a wonderful nostalgia trip it is, and I am content.

(Though I'd love to see if any fan, through heroic retconning, has explained how the Time Lords warn the Doctor about the Master in Terror of the Autons, have to be reminded of his existence by the Doctor in The Deadly Assassin, locate him swiftly in The Five Doctors, and then get completely infiltrated in The Ultimate Foe.)

Having described The King's Demons as the worst of this run, Warriors of the Deep is not exactly a high point either. A lot of the fundamentals are there - the base under siege is a tried and tested formula, not in fact used as such in Who for a very long time; the idea of a subversive faction taking advantage of the non-human incursion goes back to Power of the Daleks; the music, as usual, is decent, and the Doctor's bitter final line sticks in the memory. But, quite apart from the appalling plot cop-out of the hexachromite gas (first mentioned thirteen minutes into the final episode), it just doesn't look very good. Apart from the obvious problem of the Myrka, the reptiles in general move so slowly that they lose credibility as a threat; and while we get a decent sense of the psychology of the base, its geography seems rather ill-established.

I don't usually delve into the back story here, but I was sufficiently intrigued by the line-up of Pennant Roberts and Johnny Byrne, who were both capable of much better, to check out what had happened. Byrne claimed that his script had been cut to ribbons and made much more violent by script editor Eric Saward; more importantly, studio resources and time for recording and rehearsal were abruptly removed by the calling of the June 1983 general election, which partly explains why the show feels so flat and largely explains why the Myrka looks quite so bad; it was not actually ready. (I still think the fungoids from The Chase win the prize for the worst monster ever, but I'll admit that it is a close call.) So it is all Margaret Thatcher's fault. (Except not really; though she teased us until the last possible moment, June 1983 had always been the most likely date for her to go to the polls, and the BBC should have planned accordingly.)

Hey, it's another two-part story with roots in a past period of English history! For the second time in four stories, and the third in three seasons. For once, the fundamentals are fairly sound, but the execution a bit haphazard - most notably, the Malus itself rather fails to be scary despite smoke machines and dramatic music, there is an awful lot of infodumping for little emotional payoff, and we have yet another Tardis invasion of both bystanders and the Malus somehow penetrating it. Polly James does her best bit it's not really convincing.

Tegan's grandfather is about the same age as her late aunt, but I suppose that's not out of the question.

Nice for the team to get a break and relax after it's all over. NB that The Awakening is the first story since Black Orchid, almost two seasons before, not to feature a returning villain or companion.

A rather less impressive run this time, only Enlightenment really good and Terminus and The Five Doctors OK. My next run has both Caves of Androzani and The Twin Dilemma...

< 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 >

Comments

( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
wwhyte
May. 22nd, 2011 11:42 am (UTC)
Terminus, Enlightenment, Snakedance -- the "worthy but dull" trilogy.

I haven't rewatched Terminus since it was first broadcast but at the time I really wanted to love it. It revealed its secrets gradually and had secrets that were worth revealing, and some great misdirection with the initial obvious twist, Soylent Green is people!, replaced by the twist that oh my god they're actually curing them! The Vanir were enjoyably shambolic, a far cry from the declaiming mercenaries that Saward usually oversaw. But yes, still, a lot of virtues but when it got to the screen it didn't really pop.
parrot_knight
May. 22nd, 2011 11:43 am (UTC)
Possibly Padmasambhava was intended to be the historical guru, but (happily) is so far distant from the figure of Tibetan religious writing and mythology and the presumed historical guru behind him that his realisation in Doctor Who can be discounted.
steve_mollmann
May. 22nd, 2011 02:28 pm (UTC)
The beginning of Terminus, with the door appearing in the TARDIS, is delightfully frightening.

I agree with you about Nyssa; Big Finish has really capitalized on what the show only managed to do in The Keeper of Traken and Castrovalva.
redfiona99
May. 22nd, 2011 02:35 pm (UTC)
>>(Though I'd love to see if any fan, through heroic retconning, has explained how the Time Lords warn the Doctor about the Master in Terror of the Autons, have to be reminded of his existence by the Doctor in The Deadly Assassin, locate him swiftly in The Five Doctors, and then get completely infiltrated in The Ultimate Foe.)<<

I have a handywavy theory that rests on The End of Time. (Spoilers)

The thing that Rasillon did caused such great ructions in space time and the Master's history, that it damaged the Master's history in the original timeline, 'causing some of the more egregious continuity issues.
Tim Roll-Pickering
May. 22nd, 2011 04:08 pm (UTC)
A much simpler one is that in Terror of the Autons it's the Celestial Intervention Agency delivering the warning and the bulk of Time Lords have forgotten about him. In the Deadly Assassin he picks up what he needs to infiltrate the Matrix again in Trial, whilst in the Five Doctors we can probably guess the mainstream Time Lords have been making a better effort to keep track of their renegades.
wwhyte
Jun. 21st, 2011 01:59 am (UTC)
I'm amused that you say Terminus is too long, when for me the one that's too long is clearly Enlightenment. The entire first episode should be the pre-credits sequence, which is made even clearer when you consider that none of the human sailors play any significant part in the rest of the story. (And that the cliffhanger isn't particularly exciting -- it resolves a question rather than opening up more). Then we could have ten minutes of Episode 2 and get to Lynda Barron a bit before the half-way mark. That'd be fun.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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