Skip to main content

I'm a sort of travelling time expert.

Doctor Who
Season 12 – Worst to Best

Season 12 isn’t the best season of Doctor Who by any means, but it’s rightly recognised as one of the most iconic, and it’s easily one of the most watchable. Not so much for its returning roster of monsters – arguably, only one of them is in finest of fettle – as its line-up of TARDIS crew members. Who may be fellow travellers, but they definitely aren’t “mates”. Thank goodness. Its popularity – and the small matters of it being the earliest season held in its entirety in original broadcast form, and being quite short – make it easy to see why it was picked for the first Blu-ray boxset. 

5. The Sontaran Experiment

I always want to like The Sontaran Experiment more than I do, for the entirely legitimate reason that the novelisation is one of my favourites. It’s ironic that the Hinchcliffe era, rightly upheld as a badge of quality, should kick off (order of production-wise) with a story that’s adequate at best. While the use of OB video for the Dartmoor location shoot doesn’t cheapen the story the way it does Robot – even if the absence of film means there’s no “lustre” there either – the unremitting barrenness of the landscape does rather underline how one-note the two-parter is, particularly since its shot through with a streak of sadism that can’t even call on satire as a defence (step forward Vengeance on Varos).

The DoctorI just love clocks. Atomic clocks, wall quartz clocks, grandfather clocks.

There’s little variety or relief here, as Field Major Styre (Kevin Lindsay) engages in a series of grim experiments on humans with a view to a mass invasion of the Earth (“The entire galaxy suddenly acquired some strategic importance in the endless war against the Rutans”). As the new documentary points out (and as About Time has identified before it), very little of this makes sense, to which Hinchliffe holds up his hand, and the hasty patch of a line (“As we knew, the Earth has not been repopulated. I have therefore carried out my instructions and lured a group of humans to the planet for testing”) only succeeds in drawing attention to the bodge. Unless the Sontarans are assuming the GalSecs may be of sufficient force and regionality to pose a threat. Likewise, the Doctor bluffing the Marshal at the end doesn’t remotely convince (we see a few of these hurried wrap-ups in the Tom era, most notably during Season 16).

Styre isn’t really all that, then, and not just because his costume is a significant come down on still one of the series’ best alien designs; his being mad keen on torturing his subjects isn’t enough to make him really stand out, so sadly, even with Kevin Lindsay returning, he winds up rather generic (certainly much more so than later lead Sontarans Derek Deadman and Clinton Greyn). He is very Holmesian, though, in his despicable bluntness (“The moron was of no further use to me” he says of Roth’s death). As far as his experiments go, they’re on the rudimentary side too, both in imagination and execution; in Sarah’s case, one imagines her resistance to fear-induced hallucinations (see Varos again) might have been a bit more imaginative given a studio setting (although, see Varos again). The weight bar is simple but effective bit of nastiness, however. His servo robot (Scavenger in the novelisation), meanwhile, is too “cute” – complete with whiskers – and cumbersome to be threatening.

Unfortunately, there’s little room for typical Bob Baker and Dave Martin idiosyncrasies here (some would doubtless see that as a positive), the GalSecs’ South African accents aside. Which is probably unsurprising, given how made-to-order the package is; as a consequence, the escape-and-capture structure makes it seem even more threadbare. While Hinchcliffe is big on how noting how his six-parters were split into 2-4 or 4-2 for practical purposes, it’s only actually true of this/ The Ark in Space and The Seeds of Doom, and it’s only in the case of Seeds that the decision really works.

The result is that, with little in the way of distraction from the guest cast, we have to turn to the regulars for sustenance. In respect of which, it’s Harry’s turn to get short shrift, disappearing for most of the first episode after falling down a whacking great subsidence, and then having most of his actions truncated; on the plus side, Ian Marter used the opportunity to expand the role significantly in the novelisation. Tom is, of course, good value, both in terms of silliness (“All right, Now talk”; “Certainly. What would you like me to talk about?”) and outrage (“You unspeakable abomination!”) Although, if we’re in the know, we inevitably spend much of the time noticing his handicap/Stuart Fell as stand-in, post-broken collarbone. 

The DoctorCuckoo clocks.

Possibly the only way for this one to overcome its limitations would have been a different director to the solid but undynamic Rodney Bennett, someone who might have accentuated the core action/suspense component (Douglas Camfield, say), rather than the type who would go on to make prestige period dramas. The Sontaran Experiment scrapes by, but with little to show for itself.

4. Robot

The big drawback of Tom’s first is that it isn’t really trying as a story. Which is to say, writer and recently-departed script editor Terrance Dicks isn’t really trying, volunteering himself for a freelance job that rips off King Kong and/or Frankenstein (“It’s either a rip off or an homage, depending on how you look at it”), sprinkles on a spot of topical-but-cynical eco/feminism/nuclear Armageddon spice and smugly says that’ll do. And Christopher Barry isn’t helping much – I mean, he surely could have vetoed the Action Man tank if he was that unimpressed with it – although he’s been encumbered with Barry Letts-advocated OB video that makes the whole thing look desperately cheap (not so very far from McCoy era Who).

The Doctor: Not fit? I’m the Doctor.
Harry: No, Doctor, I’m the doctor, and I say that you’re not fit.
The Doctor: You may be a doctor, but I’m the Doctor. The definite article, you might say.

And yet, this is Tom’s first, and he’s on top form from the off. And to be fair to Terrance, brilliantly written for – unless that was Holmes’ script-editing, but Dicks indicated he wrote the Doctor as wacky and they just didn’t scale back later, with Holmes’ take on the character being a slightly more restrained “cross between Professor Quatermass, Sherlock Holmes and George Bernard Shaw”. 

Added to which, James Acheson has designed a very stylish robot (okay, it may not move that well, and the hands are about as impractical as they come, but apart from that...) And Ian Marter enters the fray as Harry, and his rapport with Tom and Liz Sladen – if anything, Sarah Jane behaves as if she has licence to mock him too quickly – is palpable. I’m not a huge fan of Sarah Jane, certainly left to her own devices, but the Season 12 Doctor-Harry-Sarah line-up is nigh on perfect (even Hinchcliffe, who ultimately axed Harry, recognises the chemistry between the trio).

SarahYour chance to be a real James Bond.

Dicks and Holmes really have fun with a companion as an affable idiot – we’ve seen hints of this before with Jamie and Jo, but never in such an unmitigated way as with Harry – and that it plays is entirely down to Marter’s immense likability. I get almost as much of a kick out of watching Harry in this story as the new Doctor. And in that vein, the first ten minutes of the first episode are dynamite, the best the story gets, and a masterclass in giving the Doctor just enough larking about to make the necessary establishing impact before having him hit the ground running. It’s interesting to note that the more eccentric touches, such as the Doctor’s jump-cut costume changes, were Chris Barry’s idea (the Doctor forcing Harry into joining him skipping is pure gold, all the more so because Baker and Marter’s timing is so precise).

The DoctorAren’t you forgetting that in science as in morality, the ends never justify the means?

The plot is very low-watt sci-fi (About Time compared it to an episode of  The Avengers  – and Vanessa Bishop to The New Avengers, God forbid – which isn’t wholly unwarranted, since the robot’s pretty much used the same way as a Cybernaut, and Harry goes undercover and wears a bowler. That said, it probably only really seems typically Avengers if you don’t watch The Avengers much) but more damagingly, just too undemanding, in an overtly kiddified way. The characters are broad, but without the accompanying intelligence that would otherwise allow them to land. UNIT particularly seem like they’re in dress-up box mode, the Brigadier looking like a right scruffy sod as they unleash an arsenal on a nuclear bunker that conveys all the dramatic impact of a portaloo. 

The plot is filled with daft dribble about disintegrator guns and living metal, the kind of tat that would have looked lazy in the Troughton era (and probably be dreamed up by Dr Kit Pedler): whatever Terrance needs off the cuff. We’re not quite talking Terry Nation levels here (see The Android Invasion) but even an all-time great line (“Well, naturally. The rest were all foreigners”, in response to the Brigadier boasting that Britain’s neutrality was crucial to being trusted with the nuclear destructor codes) makes very little sense (in whatever alt-70s/ early-80s this is, would China and Russia really trust a best buddy of America?) Still, while Courtney may be a scruffbag, his timing is great – lest it seem I’m maligning the outgoing era too much – and I love the bit where Tom blows a pulverised daisy in his face.

Terrance’s reactionary attitudes are on full display, such that he has Hilda Winters (Patricia Maynard on top form, particularly her speech to the SRS) take Sarah to task for assuming ThinkTank is run by a man (“I hadn’t expected male chauvinist attitudes from you, Miss Smith”) – and crows about it whenever discussing the story – while being a member of an SRS that doesn’t allow women trouser suits. The Brigadier announces “I’ll show that wretched woman”, and there’s a daft scene where Sarah threatens to shoot Hilda. Right. Because she’s Dirty Harry.

K1I… am… confused. I do not understand. I feel… pain.

The Sarah-K1 relationship is a little on the twee and generic side, an affliction Terrance does seem to suffer from unless that was all Holmes in The Brain of Morbius (“Girl pretty”). But Michael Kilgariff really milks the robot’s internal conflict and oedipal angst, while Edward Burnham goes full eccentric (Kettlewell’s hair rocks); Terrance isn’t letting there be any doubt about their bond (“It was like putting my own son to death”; “I have killed the one who created me!”) – it’s a regular Greek tragedy. 

Following on from all that, Tom laying waste to the robot with a bucket of slop is surprisingly effectively achieved, but the aftermath is on the dismissively flippant side (“It was a wonderful creature, capable of great good, and great evil”) – Dicks very nearly gets away with it thanks to Baker’s delivery. Robot’s a funny mixture like that; on the one hand, it offers an almost Playschool-level treatment of AI, on the other, the series finally embraces Asimov’s laws of robotics (although, The Robots of Death gets most of the credit for that, understandably).

Also worth highlighting is an amusing Hitchcock riff (“What can I do to entertain you until my friend the Brigadier arrives?”), straight out of the stage invasions in North by Northwest and The 39 Steps, albeit the Doctor doesn’t get away.

The DoctorWould you like a jelly baby?

Robot’s simultaneously impressive (Tom, Liz, Marter) and a bit crap (the plot, the production values), but it’s efficiently so, with enough to distract that it doesn’t become boring. As such, it gets by where other, later intros (Colin and Sylv) singularly don’t. Setting out to make a traditional story seems a bit like saying you can’t be bothered (I’m reminded of Eric Saward and JN-T noting they’d decided on a traditional story to introduce Colin… a traditional story in which he strangles his companion as a means to settle in). As such, in a way Letts and Dicks surely didn’t intend, Robot really does cement a feeling of “Sod this boring old crap” as Tom departs for new horizons.

3. Revenge of the Cybermen

Revenge of the Cybermen is a mess, no doubt about it, but like Skystriker, there’s a certainly glory to it. It’s a story in which a good portion of the proceedings really don’t work (anything with the Vogans) and some very good actors are left stranded by uninspired costuming and politicking (the Vogans), but it’s largely saved by the TARDIS trio at their peak, inventive direction, and the wonder that is Cyber Robbie. And Peter Howell.

While Robert Holmes was able to work wonders with The Ark in Space by throwing out John Lucarotti’s script in favour of a page one rewrite, Revenge was more of a salvage operation, after he rejected Gerry Davis’ antique plotting, gold miners and space casino setting. The stitching is plain to see, and he must take the rap for the Vogans. You can blame the masks, and you can blame the limitations of Wooky Hole alternating with studio sets in terms of realising a believable world – they never remotely gel – but mostly, it’s the moribund writing and motivation that does for them. The reliable – nay, usually very good – likes of David Collings, Kevin Stoney and Michael Wisher can only do so much.

The DoctorWho’s the homicidal maniac?

As a result, the first and third episodes are the best, the Nerva-focussed former getting down to business immediately (the Doctor’s straight in there with “I don’t think you’ve got the plague here, commander”); viewers might have got the wrong idea, if not for the title, though, what with corridors full of apparently prone Autons. Jeremy Wilkin is particularly good as the petulant and self-preserving Kellman; it’s a shame that, once his agenda is fully exposed, he rather fades from view and is then dispensed with, his usefulness over.

The DoctorWe surrender.
Cyber Leader: What?
The DoctorWe surrender!

Once time is being split equally with Voga, it’s still mostly the Cyber action on the station that holds the attention – of the hands-on-hips, sarcastic, Canadian burr variety – or anything on the planet of Gold that doesn’t involve its indigenous population. About Time repeatedly attests to how rubbish the Cybermen are here, but I’d argue the same qualities maligned by Lawrence Miles and Tat Wood make them a presence to be savoured. While the Doctor calls them “total machine creatures”, it’s rather the case that they have more personality, and thus entertainment value, than at any time since their first couple of appearances (when Lester warns “Watch it, Doctor. I think you’ve riled him”, he isn’t exaggerating).

As with Genesis of the Daleks, Holmes imbues the proceedings with an effective sense of mythology (which Davis and Kit Pedler cannily first brought to The Tomb of the Cybermen), with all the talk of centuries-past events, of glitter guns, the Armageddon Convention and the now sorry state of the Doctor’s second-most-famous adversaries (“a pathetic bunch of tin soldiers skulking about the galaxy in an ancient spaceship”). He isn’t so good on the efficacy of gold in giving them gyp, though. 

And whatever Revenge’s merits, they aren’t enough to make it any less strange a story to become so enamoured by that it was deemed advisable to use it as template; Saward nevertheless gave us Attack of the Cybermen, featuring another convoluted plot (one that makes Resurrection of the Daleks seems straightforward), in which a double agent mercenary is working for both the Cybermen and their old foe – a rather feeble and poorly designed old foe – and where a bunch of gun-toting humans are gradually whittled away as the proceedings unfold.

The DoctorHarry Sullivan is an imbecile!

Revenge nevertheless retains a spring in its step thanks to the Doctor-Sarah-Harry chemistry, most evidenced by the Doctor taking the piss out of Harry (“You knew that was going to happen, didn’t you?” asks the bewildered ship’s surgeon when the time ring disappears; the famous insult above) and the playful bickering between Sarah and Harry (“Hey, what’s going on here?” she asks, awaking to find herself in his arms; “Well, that’s marvellous, isn’t it?" he responds, aggrieved. Her later protest of “My ankles aren’t thick!”) 

Of course, whatever the story’s qualitive failings, it retains a significant place in series’ history for being the first BBC Video release, as slightly mystifyingly voted for by fans (who probably asked for the then missing Tomb?) and celebrated in one of the DVD (and Blu-Ray) release’s extras. 

What’s even clearer revisiting Season 12 and its extras is that the very things the departing Letts and Holmes selected to anchor the season to a new Doctor were bugbears for Hinchcliffe, struggling to make his mark on material already mapped out; he’s critical of the story and not entirely unfairly describes Briant as “very talented but hit and miss” while decrying the Carey Blyton’s score (he asked Howell to augment it, but admits the Cybermen theme is very good, which it is). It’s a shame he wasn’t as alert to go-to-guy Dudley Simpson’s shortcomings. One has to conclude that, while Hinchcliffe’s instincts may be right about a lot of things, he definitely has his blind spots, as he qualifies his remarks on 1970s Cybermen by noting how they are “so much better today”, when of course, they’re nothing of the sort.

2. The Ark in Space

The Ark in Space falls between two stools. It isn’t quite the classic its enduring reputation suggests, but neither is it the (relative) disappointment of, say, a Planet of Evil, where its biggest boasts are undermined by more persistently humdrum elements. What it has going for it to spare is a superb Bob Holmes script and a TARDIS crew in full effect (although, ironically, the focus is on only two of them for a good spell of the proceedings), but it runs up against the limitations of executing its perhaps over-ambitious elements (never necessarily an end to itself) and a variable guest cast.

SarahWhat’s that?
HarryDon’t know. We found it in the cupboard.
SarahIn the cupboard?
HarryYeah. It’s a sort of galactic woodworm, I suppose.

While I don’t think director Rodney Bennett’s decision to turn up the lights was a thematically wrong one – as he said, this was supposed to be a sterile, clinical, futuristic environment – it wasn’t the most sensible one in terms of maintaining suspension of disbelief. The basic design of the Wirrn is very solid – almost iconic – but how to make it effective in action is another matter. And then there’s the grub version and the material used for it, which I’m not even going to name as it seems to be the most popular side-track of any discussion of the story.

Yet I don’t think those elements are the greater issue with a tale that’s consistently engrossing, inventive and appealingly at odds with the previous era. The bigger problem is that the supporting cast don’t quite make a mark in the right way. Not Nelly, I mean Vira (Wendy Williams) – she comes across as the perfect encapsulation of futuristically selected uber-specimens of the human race (as in, rigid but empathetic, smart, and not given to mockney asides). 

NoahWe shall absorb the humans. The Earth shall be ours.

Rather, Noah (Kenton Moore), who gets a lot of good notices for his heroic wrestling with an arm made of a certain substance, but for me has never sat quite right. His choices here remind me of the complaint about Jack Nicholson in The Shining, where you know Jack Torrance is going to go nuts because Jack’s nuts anyway. Noah’s revived and instantly lacking balance, wildly accusing the TARDIS crew and shooting the Doctor. He’s a crazy commander way before he gets slimed, and there’s no sense of how he attained his position or why he was so respected. 

There’s also Rogin (Richardson Morgan), in and of himself your entertainingly broad, piss-taking Holmes character, except… we’ve already had all this talk of “regressives” courtesy of Noah, presumably aimed at anyone who doesn’t correspond to their functional collective of regimented survivors (including the strictures of formal language). The first thing Rogin says is “There’s been a snitch up”, and he proceeds to be so twentieth century, you’d easily mistake him for another Drax. Don’t get me wrong, I find Morgan’s performance enjoyable, but verisimilitudinous it isn’t (“We don’t want trouble with the Space Technicians’ Union”).

The DoctorMadam Nostradamus knitted it for me, the witty little knitter.

But then there are all the great things about Ark. The opening episode is one of the series’ best ever. Just the TARDIS crew – a fleeting glimpse of Dune aside – exploring a deserted space station. And mostly only two of them, since Sarah (as Sladen notes ruefully on the commentary track) is subjected to a succession of indignities enabling the embedding of new companion Harry, who loses his shoes and is generally mercilessly mocked by the Doctor (and initiates an “I say…” drinking game, should you be so inclined). 

Sladen, possibly accordingly, is at her most short breathed and gaspy, although there is the rather fun pay off of the Doctor testing her mettle in the final episode. Marter is just superb, attitudes and abilities only more out of time than they were in his natural period (and being only qualified to work on sailors). Tom, of course, gets his "homo sapiens" speech, which some have rebelled against as being not really that great, but which is a marvellous piece of grandstanding however you cut it, and sets up the era’s positive-negative glass half empty approach to science-fiction futures.

HarryGremlins can get into anything, old girl. First law of the sea.

Also of note: the scene Hinchliffe cut, concerned it was too strong (Noah asking Nelly to kill him) gets all the attention, but the most striking one of those that made the televised programme is “Dune? But I’m here. I’m Dune” in the second episode, with all the unsettling ramifications the admission accords. I’m not sure Tom jacking himself in to the Wirrn brain in Episode Three ultimately achieves an awful lot that couldn’t be deduced anyway (as has been noted, it’s also bit of a steal from Planet of the Spiders) but it’s an effective diversion, if only for the grin that accompanies “I’ll have to link in my own cerebral cortex. That’s the only thing”. 

And then there’s the way the story is oft-cited as a precursor to Alien, but less discussed is its potential influence on Aliens, whereby a vital mission through ducts is required of one of the supporting characters, amid potential insectoid menace, in order to secure a vital setup that will enable the salvation of the crew (and, by the story’s end, a whole army of the creatures is crawling about the place). 

The DoctorMore than a vestige of human spirit.

I’m dubious that Holmes’ willingness to amend the script for Bennett made a whole lot of difference (originally Noah and the hive escaped scot-free), although you might argue the lack of benefit of the doubt for an alien species went on to inform the rest of the era. Yeah, some of Harry’s comments (“Independent sort of bird, isn’t she?”) are overegging the pudding a little, but he’s such a genial character, it’s easy to forgive. And I’ve never been fully clear regarding the logistics of the Wirrn’s entrance on the ark – since it would appear they arrived thousands of years previously, but apparently haven’t bothered to do very much since, unless they have a really slow incubation, which certainly isn’t evidenced by Noah – but I’ll let it go. 

As far as other references go, Steven Moffat selected this story in DWM’s The Complete Fourth Doctor (2004), and being the subtle wag he is, just had to allude to Noah’s gangrenous cock. Which makes him a bit of one (In 2000, he also wrote an essay on Season 12 for DWM 290, in which he suggests of Tom that “later he gets lazier, louder and ever more idiosyncratic”. He could have been describing his own showrunner tendencies post-Mat Smith’s first season, including staying much, much too long).

1. Genesis of the Daleks

Lance Parkin pretty much summed Genesis of the Daleks’ abiding status back in 2004 (“all this exposure has dulled fans to it”), long before the likes of About Time and Elizabeth Sandifer jumped on the train. And it’s true. The only way to savour Genesis is not to watch it more than once every decade; I can vouch for this to the extent that I hadn’t revisited the story since the DVD came out, which makes the experience, if not exactly fresh – like most fans, I’ve probably only seen The Five Doctors more times in various forms – then one you can still actively engage with. And inevitably, the question comes, does it deserve its rep? And the reply, inevitably, is unequivocally yes.

DavrosAnd do they win? Do they always win?
The DoctorNot always. They’ve been defeated but never utterly defeated. The Dalek menace always remains.

It makes sense that it was Hinchliffe who proposed the story’s stylistic approach to David Maloney, because you wouldn’t have countenanced the guy who made the listless, plodding Planet of the Daleks being responsible for this, the Daleks’ great reinvigoration (one that would percolate throughout their depiction for the next decade, for better or worse). He told the director “Let’s make it pacy”, which included suggesting the low angles to make the Daleks more menacing (the results were, as Letts saw it,“far more horrific than I think I would have done”). 

RavonI enjoy interrogation.
The DoctorYes, you look the type.

And then there’s Holmes’ contribution, which I’ve never been entirely clear on (the Blu-ray notes promote the idea “developed with significant input from”, and before Letts suggested the premise, he stated “Unless somebody can come up with something totally different, I’m not doing a Dalek story”). But bless Terry Nation – and particularly his work on The Avengers – as much of what we hear here seems much more Holmesian than Dalek Nation. On the other hand, all that escape-and-capture is pure Terry, as are groaners like “Why must we always destroy beauty?” 

Yet even then, the back-and-forth still incrementally advances the plot, and the care with which the visual are created extends to a perfectly mid-70s (and therefore Hinchcliffe/Holmes) redressing of the original black-and-white devil Daleks and holy Thals with muddied depictions on both sides, Thals and Kaleds, the latter tipping the scales with their internecine machinations (and Mark III Travel Machine).

NyderI’ve heard Davros say there is no intelligent life on other planets, so either he is wrong or you are lying.
The DoctorWe are not lying.
NyderAnd Davros is never wrong about anything.
The DoctorThen he must be exceptional. Even I am occasionally wrong about some things. Who is this Davros?

The plotholes in Genesis have been entirely fairly focussed on, and most of the time entirely fairly argued as not that important in view of the greater whole. On rewatch this time, I ended up thinking the weakest episode might be the second, not that any are weak per se. Three has Davros up to no good, meeting the Thals to add another twist. Four has the Doctor wired up to a Geiger-esque spinal attachment before spilling his future tense load (“You will tell me!”), Five features that conversation between “men of science” (“I shall have that power!”) And Six, of course the “Have I that right?” internal debate. 

The acclaim with awarded these last two wasn’t ever really about whether they were intellectually rigorous speeches or conundrums, or even how (undeniably) well performed they were. No, it was always down to their iconography, which remains as impacting as ever today and why they’re so easily referenced as a shorthand for the series at its best. Be it Davros crushing the imaginary phial (Wisher generally, keeping his hand hovering, is endlessly impressive) or Tom poised with the two wires. I wouldn’t go as far as suggesting that everything else is gravy, but it’s definitely the execution that lifts them to lofty peaks.

HarryWhy is it always me that puts a foot in it?

Also of note: the companions don’t have much of merit to do. Harry tags along after the Doctor and gets caught in a clam. Sarah meets a kindly monster (see also RobotThe Brain of Morbius). Davros meanwhile – and let’s not forget, he could never be bothered to open his eyes at this point in his career; this was back when he was a complete pranny and doofus – has such an impact, it’s difficult to countenance how the Daleks ever managed without him (the answer is often David Whittaker); if the Borg were modelled on the Cybermen, the Borg Queen definitely takes after Davros. Indeed, for a brief decade, before it all erupted in a Cartmelian bonfire, the Daleks actually had continuity and mythology one could just about follow, even if sometimes (Resurrection), it was too convoluted for its own good. After that, they’re nu-Who fantasy hodgepodge all the way, where anything goes and even less has any kind of coherence (bleedin’ hand mines?) 

GharmanWhat about the hardcore Davros people?

Much has been written, naturally, about what the Doctor did or didn’t achieved in halting Dalek progress – it’s difficult to take his final lines as other than a rationalisation in order to let himself off the hook – but it’s more interesting that he intervened in a series of events that resulted in Davros’ death first time round, such that subsequently, the Daleks’ history was never the same (“You have changed the future of the universe, Doctor” was right). Certainly, for all their effective mythologising here – akin to the Cybermen’s, ironically in only their third appearance – the Daleks only actually come into their own in Genesis’ final scene, and even that’s entirely based on the impact their creator has, by virtue of their decision to dispense with him.

The DoctorWhatever it is, I refuse.

Brief mentions for: Peter Miles’ Nyder (I love his nefariousness, right from his first scene, where he immediately sees the Doctor is dodgy); the hatching room sound effects, one of the show’s top five, surely; the first sight of the Fourth Doctor’s special brand of violence (he head butts guards after introducing himself with “Excuse me, can you help me? I’m a spy”); Tom Georgeson doing posh. And the Time Lords’ history-changing-happy stance signals the dividing line between a lone guy popping up and chatting to the Doctor and the CIA corruption that would become endemic; really, though it’s more that the Doctor is a little too easily persuaded, rather than that the change of tack is jarring.

Blu-ray Extras


John Kelly’s 2007 making of doc is very good. The Behind the Sofa could have been half the length, and even then…

The Ark in Space:

One of the earliest DVD commentary tracks, and one of the best; many of the comments Hinchliffe makes are inevitably rehashed for Behind the Sofa. In which, and several times throughout the set, he reaffirms he made the right decision in cutting Harry out (but I’m sure somewhere else he concedes Holmes might have been right in his desire to keep him). Tom’s “He’s a bit stiff” in response to Noah seems about right. Most jaw dropping is Louise Jameson asserting of Holmes “I think he’s sort of RTD of that era”. In your dreams, Russell.

The Sontaran Experiment:

Worth noting for the thorough new making of, and the time spent discussing Marter generally (the On Target is also rewarding in that regard). The existing Sontarans doc is serviceable, but the framing device is highly regrettable. If you plough through the extras in succession, you’ll hear Bob Baker’s anecdote about Holmes instructing him on Sontarans’ sexual habits about three times, which comes close to Michael Hayes’ “gurads” for aggravating repetition. The highlight for me is definitely the inclusion of The Tom Baker Years, which I hadn’t seen before.

Genesis of the Daleks:

The Ian Levine doc really doesn’t stand up very well. All the right ingredients are there, but it highlights the difference between those who know what they’re doing (Kelly, Ed Stradling) and someone happy to be flabby, indulgent and undisciplined (in particular, anything with Roy Skelton, and the side-track regarding the Dalek operators). Behind the Sofa – Janet Fielding quickly wears on the nerves in these, whereas Sarah Sutton is the opposite (even if she’s possibly paying a bit too much attention). Tom gets the best comment (on Peter Miles: “They say he still wears the costume, and walks up and down the Strand”).

Revenge of the Cybermen:

The new making of documentary is welcome, while the existing one on the early days of trading stories (or piracy, if you like) remains a highly enjoyable piece on the period. Behind the Sofa, well it’s fun to see Tom very amused by the Cybermen, but I wonder how long they’ll keep at these for the range.

Bonus Disc:

Matthew Sweet's interview with Tom is highly enjoyable in its easy back and forth, but somehow I had the impression it would be more free ranging than just Doctor Who, so I saw it as a bit of a missed opportunity to provide a career overview.

Nevertheless, there are numerous wonderful nuggets, from hanging out with Francis Bacon (who was only "interested in being wildly amused"), to getting along famously with Graham Crowden, to frankness about Big Finish ("And of course, I admire them for liking my suggestions"). He felt Graham Williams "couldn't get the measure of me" and notes they didn't get on, even though there was no malice on Tom's part. He says of Douglas Adams that the Krikkitmen script was presented to him as an example of the kind of rubbish Holmes said he had to deal with, and he called Adams up after reading it and told him how good it was. And of JN-T, he says "I didn't like his approach to anything very much", noting how he "managed somehow to diminish me" and that elements like the question mark collars struck him as "insufferably vulgar and cheap". No arguments there. But he also admits it was silly and capricious of him not to have confronted the producer on such matters.

Matt Smith comes out as a regular angel with regard to Tom's anniversary appearance ("He was the only one who welcomed me... No one else bothered with me").

The Doctor Who Times feature was also very well done, much more so than the ones devoted to the Doctor we’ve previously seen on the DVD range.

The Consensus
A few notable poll placings over the years:

DWM 1998/09/14
1. Genesis of the Daleks (1, 3, 3)

2. The Ark in Space (20, 28, 22)
3. Robot (87, 106, 116)
4.  The Sontaran Experiment (70, 103, 140)
5. Revenge of the Cybermen (109, 130, 160)

Outpost Gallifrey 2003

1. Genesis of the Daleks (4)
2. The Ark in Space (11)
3. The Sontaran Experiment (92)
4. Robot (101)
5. Revenge of the Cybermen (123)

DWB 1985/87/89

1. Genesis of the Daleks (10, 10, 4)
2. The Ark in Space (15, 21, 21)
3. Revenge of the Cybermen (85, 94, 98)
4. Robot (88, 88, 109)
5. The Sontaran Experiment (109, 102, 124)

Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.


Popular posts from this blog

He’s probably paranoid, high-strung, doesn’t like daylight. You know, has a lot of crumbs in his beard, if he has a beard.

Godzilla vs. Kong (2021) (SPOILERS) I’d like to report I had a blast with Godzilla vs. Kong . It’s lighter on its oversized, city-stomping feet than its slog of a MonsterVerse predecessor, Godzilla: King of the Monsters , and there are flashes of visual inspiration along with several engaging core ideas (which, to be fair, the series had already laid the seeds for). But this sequel still stumbles in its chief task: assembling an engaging, lively story that successfully integrates both tiny humans and towering titans.

It's Dark Age, by Jupiter!

The Dig (2021) (SPOILERS) An account of the greatest archaeological find Britain would know until Professor Horner opened the barrow at Devil’s End. And should you scoff at such “ fiction ”, that’s nothing on this adaptation of John Preston’s 2007 novel concerning the Sutton Hoo excavations of the late 1930s. The Dig , as is the onus of any compelling fictional account, takes liberties with the source material, but the erring from the straight and narrow in this case is less an issue than the shift in focus from characters and elements successfully established during the first hour.

You stink, my friend.

Mulan (2020) (SPOILERS) Let that be a lesson to Disney. It’s a fool’s errand to try and beat the Chinese at their own game, no matter how painstakingly respectful – or rather, pandering – you are. Indeed, Mulan ’s abysmal $40m box office take in the country – where it did get a proper release, so no plandemic excuses can be cited – feels like a direct rebuke; don’t try and tell us how to suck eggs. There’s an additional explanation too, of course. That Mulan sucks.

Roswell was a smokescreen, we've had a half a dozen better salvage operations.

The X-Files 1.24: The Erlenmeyer Flask The Erlenmeyer Flask makes for a fast-paced, tense and eventful ride, but does it make any sense? That less than mattered at the time, but revisiting the mythology arc (for probably the fourth or fifth time) reveals increasingly tenuous internal coherence as the various conspiracy elements begin to pile up and the situations become ever-more convoluted. This will become the Chris Carter’s signature: don’t examine the details too closely, go with the flow. Trust Chris implicitly.


A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon (2020) (SPOILERS) One might reasonably suggest the recourse of the ailing or desperate franchise is to resort, seemingly out of nowhere, to space aliens. Even Police Academy didn’t go that far (to Moscow, yes, but not to space). Perhaps animators think kids have no skills of discernment and will swallow any old sugar-coated crap. Perhaps they don’t, and they will. Ice Age had been enjoying absurd success until Collision Course sent Scrat spinning into the cosmos and grosses tumbled. Shaun the Sheep has been around for a quarter of a century, but this is only his second movie outing and already he’s pulling an E.T. on us. Of course, this may all be part of the grand scheme, and Nick Park is simply doing his bit to familiarise the tots in time for Project Blue Beam.

Our "Bullshit!" team has unearthed spectacular new evidence, which suggests, that Jack the Ripper was, in fact, the Loch Ness Monster.

Amazon Women on the Moon (1987) Cheeseburger Film Sandwich . Apparently, that’s what the French call Amazon Women on the Moon . Except that it probably sounds a little more elegant, since they’d be saying it in French (I hope so, anyway). Given the title, it should be no surprise that it is regarded as a sequel to Kentucky Fried Movie . Which, in some respects, it is. John Landis originally planned to direct the whole of Amazon Women himself, but brought in other directors due to scheduling issues. The finished film is as much of a mess as Kentucky Fried Movie , arrayed with more miss sketches than hit ones, although it’s decidedly less crude and haphazard than the earlier picture. Some have attempted to reclaim Amazon Women as a dazzling satire on TV’s takeover of our lives, but that’s stretching it. There is a fair bit of satire in there, but the filmmakers were just trying to be funny; there’s no polemic or express commentary. But even on such moderate t

Careful how much boat you’re eating.

Onward (2020) (SPOILERS) Pixar’s Bright , or thereabouts. The interesting thing – perhaps the only interesting thing – about Onward is that it’s almost indiscernible from a DreamWorks Animation effort, where once they cocked a snook at such cheap-seats fare, seeing themselves as better class of animation house altogether. Just about everything in Onward is shamelessly derivative, from the Harry Potter /fantasy genre cash-in to the use of the standard Pixar formula whereby any scenario remotely eccentric or exotic is buried beneath the banal signifiers of modern society: because anything you can imagine must be dragged down to tangible everyday reference points or kids won’t be able to assimilate it. And then there’s the choice of lead voices, in-Disney star-slaves Chris Pratt and Tom Holland.

Wow. Asteroids are made of farts. Okay. I got it.

Greenland (2020) (SPOILERS) Global terror porn for overpopulation adherents as Gerard Butler and his family do their darnedest to reach the safety of a bunker in the titular country in the face of an imminent comet impact. Basically, what if 2012 were played straight? These things come to test cinemas in cycles, of course. Sean Connery struggled with a duff rug and a stack of mud in Meteor , while Deep Impact plumbed for another dread comet and Armageddon an asteroid. The former, owing to the combined forces of Bruce Joel Rubin and Michael Tolkin, was a – relatively – more meditative fare. The latter was directed by Michael Bay. And then there’s Roland Emmerich, who having hoisted a big freeze on us in The Day After Tomorrow then wreaked a relatively original source of devastation in the form of 2012 ’s overheating Earth’s core. Greenland , meanwhile, is pretty much what you’d expect from the director of Angel Has Fallen .

By heaven, I’d thrash the life out of you… if I didn’t have to read the Nine O’Clock News.

The Green Man (1956) (SPOILERS) The Green movie from Launder and Gilliat starring Alastair Sim that isn’t Green for Danger. Which is to say, The Green Man can’t quite scale the heady heights of that decade-earlier murder mystery triumph, but neither is it any slouch. Sim is the antagonist this time – albeit a very affable, Sim-ish one – and his sometime protégée, a young George Cole, the hero. If the plot is entirely absurd, Robert Day’s movie wastes no time probing such insufficiencies, ensuring it is very funny, lively and beautifully performed.

Well, I’ll be damned. It’s the gentleman guppy.

Waterworld (1995) (SPOILERS) The production and budgetary woes of “ Kevin’s Gate ” will forever overshadow the movie’s content (and while it may have been the most expensive movie ever to that point – adjusted for inflation, it seems only Cleopatra came close – it has since turned a profit). However, should you somehow manage to avoid the distraction of those legendary problems, the real qualitative concerns are sure to come sailing over the cognitive horizon eventually; Waterworld is just so damned derivative. It’s a seafaring Mad Max. Peter Rader, who first came up with the idea in 1986, admitted as much. David Twohy, who later came aboard, also cited Mad Max 2 ; that kind of rip-off aspect – Jaws birthing Piranha – makes it unsurprising Waterworld was once under consideration by Roger Corman (he couldn’t cost it cheaply enough). Ultimately, there’s never a sufficient sense the movie has managed to become its own thing. Which is a bummer, because it’s frequently quite good fun.