Season 18 – Worst to Best
4. State of Decay
Season 18’s behind-the-scenes narrative will tell you how ill Tom was and how fractious his relationship with Lalla was, at least until they agreed to get hitched, as if this reflects a clear map of the fictional season’s mood. And yes, it’s quite clear at points that one or other is out of sorts or that Tom looks thin and his hair needed curling. But equally important is the actors’ response to the material, whatever their emotional/physical states. Tom’s recovery ran through the State of Decay-Meglos-Full Circle-Warriors Gate recording order, and the legend is that his mood turned around, for a spell, when Lalla said “I do” during the filming of this story (Exhibit A: the oft-cited dungeon scene). But watch it without knowing, and you’ll be convinced that, even if his hair isn’t, Tom’s on top form throughout. I suspect most of that is down to the script, because it puts the Doctor front and centre in a manner Bidmead and JN-T, keen to side-line the lead actor, don’t necessarily elsewhere.
The script is also the source of some recently resuscitated dispute, with the lately departed Terrance and the longer-since deceased Peter Moffat on one side claiming that, for the most part, Bidders’ rewrites where shown the door in favour of the originally envisaged gothic trappings. Bidders, meanwhile, suggests Terrance burst into tears at the prospect of having to retype his script (whatever else may or may not be true, the idea of Dicks bawling his eyes out seems incredibly unlikely). Dicks gives Bidders due credit for the castle-as-spaceship idea, however, which makes me wonder what his idea was for killing the Great Vampire, and lays into him for finding consonantal shift fascinating. If the latter really did amount to several pages of discussion – Terrance’s turn to exaggerate, most probably – this was maybe less intriguing than in the final programme, but Bidmead deserves due credit for using science to add mythos to the story, and he’s pretty sharp in that regard, even if that science is, in this and the subsequent story very much along the lines of magic/fantasy with a twist, so not that far from Hinchcliffe/ Holmes.
State of Decay boasts a really good script, even if it bears certain loose similarities to its immediately transmitted predecessor. Together, the feuding writer and script editor produce a very satisfyingly-structured tale that initially seems front-loaded – we’re given the techno-feudal detail in the first episode, right down to the lookalike crew and heads of state – yet manages to unfold in a gradual reveals despite itself; there’s no hint of the Great Vampire until the end of the second episode, and there’s still the Gallifreyan legend to come after that. If I had to pick a hole in that regard, it would be that, even though the Doctor comes up with the solution in the final episode, the finale’s plotting is solid but unremarkable: the peasants revolt, sacrifices are curtailed, the Great Vampire rather underwhelms.
At least some of that is down to debut director and All Creatures Great and Small old hand and JN-T pal Moffat. He has come in for some stick for his work on the show, and it would be fair to suggest that, the less technically onerous and more performance-based the story, the more satisfying the results (Mawdryn Undead doesn’t go very wrong in that regard). Here, I don’t have many complaints across the first three episodes. The peasant plotline doesn’t really do much interesting, but you can’t make a silk purse out of a serf’s ear (Douglas Adams was taking the piss out of a very similar village set up in the first episode of The Pirate Planet; perhaps he’d even read The Vampire Mutations). The gothic atmosphere is effective, though, and the location work – and effects, the odd rubber bat aside – is suitably evocative. The Three Who Rule are highly entertaining, Emrys James as Aukon in particular (Camilla and Zargo intermittently so, with their vaguely New Romantically-choreographed movements; there’s at least one point where the former appears to be doing an impression of a driving instructor from Johannesburg). Although, even he isn’t word perfect in his ham; his “Time Lords the ancient enemies” sounds a bit gabbled.
You can tell this comes from an old-school Who writer, as the TARDIS crew get fully involved in the first episode (compare and contrast to the three previous stories). Further, the Doctor is witty throughout (“There’s nothing worse than a peasant with indigestion”), responds to serious villains by undermining them, and undermines himself (he does all he needs to escape the cell and then gets bashed by a door). He even delivers an indulgent rallying speech (riffing on Henry V).
On the other hand, the layering in of civilisations’ myth-shrouded history is a running theme of at least six of the season’s stories, and there’s further fannish attention to the Time Lords’ myth-shrouded history (but then, Terrance was partial to it, and the hermit is a pure Pertwee era call back). There’s an almost Bristol Boys knack for memorable phrases – “The arising is at hand”; “You are in the resting place” – while a big thing is made of the Wasting (“Did you say the Wasting?”; “The Wasting is… the Wasting”) only to forget about it. Perhaps it was a grump on Bidders’ part, as he didn’t get to use it as the name of the story; the final title better sums up the themes of the season than any other, though. But both writers know the value of the cod-Shakespearean, something sadly absent from nu-Who, where “people don’t talk like that” has become the last word.
One is left wondering a few finer points, such as how the Great Vampire gets enough food and blood in such a small village. And presumably he doesn’t mind if it isn’t fresh, even if his servants do (“The blood of the dead is stale and flat”). Plus, for a vampire story, it’s disappointing we don’t get to see them actually feed on anyone, whether in human or bat form. Also, is it really more likely that Adric knows about cheese than the villagers? Marsh cheese?
The Doctor: Psst. You are wonderful.
Romana: Me? Wonderful? I suppose I am. I’ve never really thought about it.
Talking of whom, Waterhouse’ “horrific inability to walk across the studio floor unselfconsciously” is much less aggravating in his first season than his second. As I’ve noted above, he’s mostly tolerable. If Lalla can’t disguise her contempt for him, meanwhile, this is nevertheless probably Romana’s best showing in a season that does its best, either through characterisation or performance, to make you glad to see the back of her. And it’s a great K9 story, even if can’t make up for the serial abuse he suffers elsewhere during his final lap.
I don’t tend to see much difference qualitatively between State of Decay and Full Circle, except in terms of execution; with a really high-powered director, this might have been an all-timer; there are hints here, such as Aukon and the superimposed bat – accompanied by Paddy Kingsland’s eerie score; he’s still prone to comedy music though, this time for Adric – and the seamlessly expanded throne room. Moffat also had the sense to keep the Great Vampire reveal to a minimum (the scanner glimpse is appropriate unsettling, and one might suggest John Carpenter was inspired by the hand for Prince of Darkness… or not). Generally, however, he set the tenor for JN-T’s approach; style be damned if it meant overruns (the most impressive stories of Season 18 both had that problem, and the producer arguably ran scared subsequently).
3. Full Circle
It wouldn’t have taken much to make Full Circle a straight-up classic. It’s generally much more consistently good than it is wobbly, and that applies across the board: to the script, the direction, the performances, the effects and the music. But there are wobbles in all those areas, and they’ll become more obvious as the JN-T run progresses – eventually becoming gaping cracks in the supporting wall – especially so once the unbeatable Doctor-Romana-K9 line-up has been breached and thrown off a satellite dish.
Indeed, while the story is first and foremost remarked upon for introducing the dread Adric, it’s really merely continuing the season’s attack on the current crew. K9 has been submerged and kicked, but now he has his head knocked off. Tom remains intact this time, but instead Romana finds herself in an altered state, Lalla’s Vampire Circus experiences coming in handy (and again in State of Decay). As for Adric. To be charitable, sometimes he’s an effective presence in a scene, be it the awkward boy who doesn’t fit in with his peer group or the way he exclaims “Sometimes!” when Tom asks if he thinks it’s right to take other people’s property (every scene he’s in with the Doctor is somehow better than any other scene he’s in; perhaps it’s simply through basking in Tom’s glow).
How irksome Adric is relates to how much focus there is on him. As in, how much it disrupts the story. Here, it’s only sporadically that he becomes an infernal nuisance, partly because Grimwade noticeably lets the quality slip whenever the teen posse are on screen. Presumably, the Blu-ray booklet’s production notes are alluding to this when they suggest some of the cast felt the director was concerned about camera shots “sometimes at the detriment of performances”; certainly, you’d be hard-pressed to find faults with the acting elsewhere. As many have noted, Richard Willis’ Varsh was much better companion material, closer to a Droog than a light-fingered, sandwich-guzzling maths geek, but they had to wait another two years for a TARDIS crewmate who looked a bit dodge.
Mostly, though, Grimwade impresses. His work isn’t as consistent as Bickford’s –all four of his stories have variable elements, putting him closer to a Michael E Briant than a Douglas Camfield – but the location material is terrific – like Briant, he delivers a classic rise-from-the-depths cliffhanger – and he conjures a palpable sense of claustrophobic tension during the opening episodes that’s rare (he’d repeat the trick in a more macho, action-movie manner in Earthshock). He rather blunders with the obvious studio cave set and its clockwork spiders, and probable time constraints sometimes work against effective geography and blocking (Varsh and Adric gassing Marshmen), but his achievements are far more in the positive than negative.
For the most part, the music complements the tone perfectly; it’s eerie, haunting and evocative. But as always, Paddy Kingsland doesn’t know when to stop; he has that in common with Dudley. At its worst… well, just what is K9’s jaunty theme doing bursting in as he trundles around the marshland?
Fan-turned-writer Andrew Smith is very complimentary about Bidders in the making-of doc (lest it be said it’s all about Bidmead, Smith also notes how encouraging both Anthony Read and Douglas Adams were previously). And Bidders, while careful to preserve false modesty in labelling Smith’s premise “a wonderful dream idea” – so alluding to the underpinning mythic fantasy of much of the season – makes it known that the story’s twist was all him. Smith admits that, in terms of logic, “you probably don’t want to look at too closely”; as a counter to Bidmead’s stated principals, the evolution element isn’t a positive because it’s good science, but because it’s a great twist. There are very few Who stories that have this kind of active plotting in them (and credit where it’s due, a good number of those are in this season).
Sure, there are parts that don’t work – Bidders’ Achilles’ heel is that, by focussing so hard on the feasible, he lets nonsense through of the kind that those he derides would laugh out of the room. Pushing the TARDIS down the hill irritates more than opening its doors under water to flush out the Master. Sure, Marshmen aren’t the greatest deductive thinkers ever, but even they should see some serious obstacles to the success of their plan… like the serious obstacles in their way: the trees, the mud, the lack of rollers… But there’s some great material here too. Incidentals like K9’s head becoming a religious icon (pre-empting C-3P0 in Return of the Jedi). And the Marsh child subplot is about as mature as ‘80s Who will get in theme and content, with genuine pathos for the creature’s plight while Dexter comes on like a psycho Bill Nighy. Is it a problem that no one is really a bad guy? I don’t think so, because the intrigues of the plot sustain the lack of absolutes in the conflict.
Whenever I think of Full Circle, Jeremy Bentham’s “only real criticism” of the story in DWM 52 comes to mind. He considered it lacked a real climax: “In a way it was rather akin to Empire Strikes Back – the most dramatic bits were at the beginning”. A reminder that The Empire Strikes Back wasn’t immune to complaints at the time. Bentham recognises the power of the twist but balances it against the “cinematic” punch of the earlier episodes. For me, that twist, and the Deciders’ prevarication, prevents Full Circle suffering from a Tomb of the Cybermen, where (to put in the words of The Discontinuity Guide) “once the Cybermen are released from the tombs, they go back in again”; once the Marshmen invade the Starliner, they promptly exit.
Indeed, once you get past the first two stories, Season 18 has generally been well regarded – give or take odd individual elements – from the get-go. Bentham commented of Meglos that “In all honesty I could find little in this story to recommend it” but “everything was redeemed in Full Circle”. Lawrence Miles loved it. Tat Wood didn’t think much of it (I’m with Wood on his praise for the Williams era, but very much not on this season), while Bidmead blames JN-T just as much as infamous Eric (mostly regarding Adric here). It’s telling, though, that the first couple of paragraphs of Bentham’s Season 18 review are devoted to the joys of continuity, gorging himself on all that intertextual goodness. Sometimes it feels crudely crowbarred, but then so does Bidders’ science speak; the key really is having sufficiently strong performers and production values that such indulgences get a free pass.
Plus: everyone loved George Baker. Tom seems well again – watch him slide across the TARDIS floor in episode one, in his beloved knee boots; he’s positively zesty (and you can bet Bidders squirmed at his jovial “And I’m the Doctor!”). JN-T’s lack of production vision (aside from a vague idea of glossiness) comes through in the sheer inconsistency of his stories, often from scene to scene, something Full Circle falls prey to, but such limitations can’t prevent Season 18 from being, overall, superior to any other of his era.
2. Warriors Gate
I’d like to be able to give Warriors Gate full marks, for the abundance of inspiration and imagination on display from messrs Gallagher, Bidmead and Joyce (even if the latter makes Bidders look modest) – and Graybags Harper, who probably contributed more than the official director would like to admit. But I can’t, and that’s mostly down to Romana.
Of course, Lalla had been a bit off for much of the season, not helped by her co-star’s (mostly off-screen) behaviour, but here, in her departure, where she’s given character-based “attitude”, she seems at a loss how to play Romana for posterity, instead seizing on her own mood of the moment. This is by no means only about the leaving scene (although Bentham was on target when he commented in DWM 52 “To me Warriors Gate could have been the hit of the season were it not for the final moments… the final denouement was something of a let down”).
Romana’s in a bad mood in the first episode (“Astral Jung!”), is given some self-consciously quirky companion business in the second that Ward can’t quite pull off (‘Especially if I do this”), but is positively, or negatively, insufferable in the final one (“It’s a matter of complete indifference to me” she tells the Doctor, which presumably extends to not giving a damn about his imminent death, since she bellows an irritated “I know, I’ve done it!” in response to his instruction as Rorvik throttles him). After that, the rushed finale is something of a relief, even if her “No more orders, Doctor” is somewhat disingenuous (even if he was giving them, there was always a sense of equals, in both incarnations), and it’s the Doctor who ends up looking magnanimous (“She’ll be superb”), despite the shit she’s been shovelling his way.
It’s a shame, since it leaves a bad smell back-blast bouncing back over a three-year period that had been, for the most part, one of the very best Doctor-companion relationships; Bidmead even acknowledges something was missing, that he needed to “build that more into a proper subplot” (Gallagher’s original script, if his recently-released re-novelisation – or pre-novelisation – is anything to go by, was less fractious but also less satisfying, giving Romana very little to do and characterising her as the apprentice who needed to become the leader, something, again, that she never really seemed to be – she was only ever less worldy-wise).
But putting that aside, Warriors Gate is almost, a masterpiece. I have to admit that, after Joyce’s self-congratulatory showing off on the making of documentary, I’m disposed to find faults in his approach, and give any stylistic credit to Harper, but for the most part, he had very much the right idea. The Gundan entrance into the banquet hall is one of the greatest visual moments in old Who (and the subsequent episode ending one of the classic episode endings). I will pick a particular fault, however, and suggest that his realisation of the void is noticeably less effective than David Maloney’s in The Mind Robber, mostly because he rarely shoots wide enough to create a sense of depth of space (or void). The model sequences are also guilty of this.
Bentham called Warriors Gate “baffling but thoroughly watchable”, and its rep is definitely one where you have to go with the gist rather than grapple with the minutiae. And yet, tellingly, the public actually went for the story, relative to the rest of the season, and its Cocteau-tinged, New Romantic-tech-fantasy melange. The best of Bidmead marries a kind of fantasy mythos pertaining to the scope of the-possible-if-stretched-far-enough with his hard-science shtick (it’s telling that he was “tinkering around with the I Ching at the time. Very interested in the concept of the holistic universe”). Reduce that to Chariots of the Gods and you have State of Decay. Or here, Astral Jung. Notably – and I have a feeling Gary Gillatt suggested as much – it means Bidmead’s willing to go further into all-out fantasy than Adams ever would have.
But the story very much obeys obvious rules, and runs by clear themes. The slavery element would probably be underlined to the point of over-didactic speechifying if tackled now, but is succinctly covered in the central, standout banqueting conversation, as the Tharils’ proud heritage is undermined by the Doctor symbolically letting the wine flow (“This no way to run an empire”). The banality of the Privateer crew’s evil is mirrored by Biroc’s “They’re only people”; it’s interesting, however, how in the historic scene the present Biroc takes on the attitudes of his past, yet later observes “The weak enslave themselves, Doctor. You and I know that”, lending itself to several interpretations.
As per the rest of the season, the sense of entropy, decay and diminishment is everywhere, from the decreasing dimensions of the void to the Keys of Marinus-esque cobwebbed banquet hall. This is fortified – something true of most of its peers in the season, to be fair – by a sense of verisimilitude one can trace back to its big-screen genre counterparts. Bentham namechecked the bored crew as a “steal from Alien”, which it clearly is, but the world building of ancient SF history is post-Lucas (even if it was always one of Bob Holmes’ crutches); the Gundan are magnificent creations, from their design, to their movement, speech and characterisation via collective self-identification, to their ability to leave you hanging (“The secret of the gateway is…”) And, given their limited use, it’s impressive that about five of them are glimpsed in the banquet scene. Bidmead referred to Gallagher’s original as a “novel in script form” and the televised version abounds with that sense of density of material.
As is often the case with the series, one might point to the final episode being less persuasive than the preceding three, and there’s the odd hole (when did Adric rescue Romana? K9 not being able to go through the mirror meanwhile, because the time isn’t right, smacks of Bidmead noticing a hole and hoping that if he points at it, it will go away).
Lane: It’s a ship.
Rorvik: What, for midgets?
Lane: Or a coffin, for a very large man. Ha-ha.
The guest cast are great, although Aldo and Royce aren’t anything new, conceptually, even for Who. Clifford Rose as Rorvik is a masterfully malicious and unhinged psycho version of Captain Mainwaring and even veers into full Wallace Shawn mode with his “I’m finally getting something done”. My favourite character might be Lane, though, David Kincaid coming across like a budget Peter Ustinov. I love the look he and Biroc give each other before the latter exits the ship, and his exchange regarding the TARDIS (above).
And Tom. Well, he’s clearly well again (“When the pickles run out”), but his Doctor’s got a gammy hand and is getting beaten up by Rorvik, while K9 is getting thrown about and lashed by time winds and generally messed up (Leeson does his best Twin Peaks backwards talking). Notably, though, the Doctor hits on the solution to all their problems at the outset (“We’ve got to do something”; “Have we?”) and then needs prodding by Biroc to live that suggestion at the climax (“If it’s the right kind of nothing”).
As I suggested a few paragraphs back, Warriors Gate is very nearly a Who masterpiece. Yet again, Peter Howell delivers a superb score, and if the direction isn’t quite up to Bickford’s standards, that might be explained by Joyce’s shades. It’s just a shame about Romana.
1. The Leisure Hive
Does The Leisure Hive being one of the most – if not the most – gorgeous-looking productions of classic Who automatically make it good? Evidently not, as it has singularly failed to undergo any kind of mass re-evaluation in the 39 years since it was first shown. I’ve already gone on quite a bit about how much I love this story here, so it should come as little surprise it’s at the top of this Worst to Best, but I’m fully aware I’m in the overwhelming minority in that regard (invariably it ends up besting only Meglos out of its season stablemates in polls).
Chris Bidmead is very critical of the story, of Lovett Bickford, whom he believes took liberties with his material, of David Fisher, whom he believes needed his guiding hand and ideas to knock the concept into shape, of Tom, who was too silly, and of JN-T, noting his limitations with regard to story. I’m a fan of the script editor’s work on the season, by and large; even if the proud flourish of “science-first” led to its own flurry of technobabble that may as well have been the magic he was nominally reacting against, he had incredibly good storytelling instincts. That doesn’t mean he has the detachment to recognise what does and doesn’t work in the finished article, though. Fisher may have (once) had a point when he commented that TV is a “very literal medium”, but that has to be balanced against a writer smarting about material run roughshod over by a director keen to cut anything that would work against his stylistic approach.
The opening tracking shot (which Bidmead hated) is probably a good indication of how well this story will go down for you; if you like it, you’re set. Otherwise, you’ll probably chafe against the precise (one camera) approach, and the emphasis on music, atmosphere, montage and dissolves over dialogue and exposition. It’s a story that repays repeat viewings to attune oneself and immerse oneself fully in its distinctive pace and rhythm. And to be fair, one could argue that the cutting occasionally leaves open plot holes and lapses of logic.
Personally, though, I don’t think it suffers; The Leisure Hive’s full of captivating ideas, but style happens to lead the way. If only JN-T could have kept up this approach visually – sticking to his guns when it came to budget overruns à la Hinchcliffe – then his renowned deficits when it came to story might have been somewhat compensated, or at least appeared less unforgiving. And visually, The Leisure Hive only occasionally feels like its reach is extending beyond its grasp; the Foamasi are a classically underwhelming Who monster, and the docking sequence, fuelled by a rousing Peter Howell score (a shoe-in for the series’ best) can’t quite get beyond the shuttle design being pretty rudimentary (think loo roll). Otherwise, though: the outside of the Hive is a marvel, the lighting gorgeous, the sense of place (sets with roofs) and style (the costumes, the design of the Argolin, old Tom’s Gandalf makeup), and the use of Quantel (the experiment gone wrong still looks impressive) all go to make this a very rich, rewarding piece of television.
Any beefs might be justified if the plot itself was piffle. But this has, as you’d expect from Fisher, a surplus of ideas and a solid structure in which to express them.The writer has various cons going on, both scientific and business, but the bigger themes are of survival and genocide, apocalypse and armageddon (the twenty-minute war is even more Adamsian in the novelisation). It also introduces the season-wide themes of decay, death and rebirth, remarkably presciently given Tom hadn’t handed in his notice at this point. Structurally, this season has some of the best put-together stories ever, and The Leisure Hive provides its reveals niftily (the Child of the Generator, Tom aging, Tom refreshed) so the story isn’t front loaded; like Fisher’s previous, it appears to resolve itself at the beginning of Episode Four, but unlike that one, it still has more than sufficient meat to see it through to the conclusion.
It also bears emphasising that there are not only strongly defined characters but also outstanding performances from all concerned, something you can’t necessarily say about the season’s other stories. Adrienne Cori (Mena) and David Haig (Pangol) very much lead the pack, but Nigel Lambert as Hardin and John Collin as Brock also excel (and Laurence Payne as Morix, in a just a few impactful early scenes). The relationship between Mena and Hardin is sincere and touching, all the more so for the duplicity involved. Pangol’s a petulant brat, but highly intelligent and not entirely unjustified in the responsibility he feels for leading Argolis to a new dawn. And if the Foamasi come up short in design terms, they’re motivation and background has just enough colour (the West Lodge private faction) to follow successfully in the short-strokes underpinning of characters and locations that was the Bob Holmes template.
And then there’s Tom and Lalla. Once it’s been pointed out, you can’t exactly not notice that Tom isn’t exactly all smiles towards his co-star, but unlike other places in the season (stand up, Warriors Gate) it doesn’t leave a bad taste in the mouth. It’s also a relief that, despite Bidmead’s herculean efforts, Bickford and Tom conspired to retain some humour (“Arrest the scarf then!”; the fourth wall breaking; “Have a baby”) and some even got by him he probably okayed (“You mentioned Foamasi?”) It was probably subconscious, but like K9, the taking Tom apart is an interestingly passive-aggressive strategy to let him know who’s boss (the story after, he’s given a doppelganger), one that retrospectively only serves to emphasise time is up for him and his Doctor.
And for the story, it works beautifully, side-lining the Doctor in the final episode only to give him a great reveal (one that tops not entirely dissimilar – but less “scientific” – strategies in The Masque of Mandragora and The Ribos Operation). The Leisure Hive is unlikely ever to be regarded as a classic, let alone as a contender for the upper pantheon of the series, but it should qualify uncontested for both.
The Leisure Hive:
I haven’t relistened to any of the existing commentaries for this season, as they tend to be a dispiriting collection of slights and grievances, head of the pack being Ward, followed by Bidmead. And if they’re not present, there’s Waterhouse (who I can only take so much of, bless him; it’s like listening in on a rhapsodic fan, and who’d want to do that?) or Fielding (just the one on the season, but her salvos at old Tom are just unnecessary).
They make The Leisure Hive a miserable experience, one sniping about Tom, the other about everything else. I did revisit the A New Beginning, which is a superior insight into the genesis of a new era, candidly so from Bidmead and Tom, and JN-T archivally. The major addition to this set, though, is the new Leisure Hive commentary with Tom and Matthew Sweet (who previously interviewed Baker for Season 12). So successful is Sweet at this business, personable but probing, that you wish he’d been seconded for such duties at a much earlier date. Sure, he’s occasionally a bit cheeky (“You have the eye of a gossip columnist” Tom observes at one point, refusing to be drawn on areas Lalla was all too candid about in pretty much every prior commentary of the season). He’s also a bit too full on about the power of Tom’s eyes, but generally, he gets the best out of Baker, who has a great time watching the story (if anything is going to rehabilitate it, it’s that both this and Behind the Sofa elicit unguarded admiration). “I thought that was absolutely splendid” Baker comments at one point, a very telling contrast to his only other commentary of the season, in which he can’t disguise his boredom. He’s bowled over by his co-stars (Haig especially) and remains unconvinced by the question marks (“John had a quick and vulgar flair for that kind of thing” he notes of the BBC Enterprises tie-in). And we can agree wholeheartedly – or should – when he opines “I’m sorry this didn’t make Lovett Bickford’s career”.
The Behind the Sofa, as these largely redundant offerings go, is agreeable enough, Wendy Padbury and Fielding indulging a playful antagonism, no doubt nurtured through decades of conventions, while Sutton is as ever supremely nice. It’s notable that in neither the new commentary nor this are those present furnished with viewing figures, but when even Fielding is saying “That was quite impressive, I thought” you know something’s going right, even if the public didn’t respond.
I couldn’t brave the commentary again (Lalla), but given the torpor of the other extras, I can quite see why no one felt like doing a proper Making Of for the Blu-ray. The writers get their own featurette, in which they eventually visit Bidders, terrifyingly sporting a hoody and baseball cap and quaffing white wine like a demented grandad coming down off the nose candy. You can see they’re somewhat bemused by his claims regarding getting rid of the “magic and sorcery stuff” (yeah, that stuff) and how he was impressed at how serious the story was when he revisited it (they were only really in it for the laughs). Generally, though, this is nearly as redundant as Meglos itself. We definitely dodged a bullet when Anthony Root nixed Project Zeta Sigma.
I’d suggest you’re in a bad place where the techy extra is the best thing on the disc, but the scene sync featurette is pretty good (at least one clip from Gulliver in Lilliput is very impressive – it’s a shame we didn’t get show the Jane and the Lost City moment one of the contributors was boasting about).
After all that, Behind the Sofa proves contrastingly much more entertaining than the story. Sutton continues to make lucid remarks, wondering why Time-Flight’s effects looked so awful when this one’s look half decent, while Padbury and Fielding snark at each other (the former’s actually a little bit scary, like the lairy old drunk lady down the pub who won’t leave you alone). Tom, June Hudson and John Leeson are more subdued, but Baker does get a classic Tom line, saying he wore his makeup home (“Caused a sensation on the Tube from Notting Hill Gate”).
All Aboard the Starliner is a terrible title for the Making Of, but reflects that, while individual bits and pieces of the extras and interviews for the E-Space trilogy are interesting, they’re far from peak for the range. Almost as if, despite the fertile ground for material, those concerned were lacking enthusiasm. Andrew Smith is good, self-effacing value, Bidmead over-flowing with false modesty – I know, surprising right? – and Lalla, well even on a doc almost every line is a barb at Baker.
Nothing really stuck in my mind from the Behind the Sofa, but Toby Hadoke’s A Weekend with Waterhouse was expectedly relaxed, the former pulling a sub-Louis Theroux by letting his victim do his worst to himself. Waterhouse is an amiable chap, blessed or cursed with a tremendously, er, “healthy” view of himself, such that flaws become virtues and his character is revealed as “one of the great Doctor-companion relationships”, while “once Adric’s gone, neither Tegan nor Nyssa are as interesting characters”. Actually, he might have something with the latter point, at least until Turlough arrived to cause friction.
State of Decay:
As noted, the Makings-Of on this trilogy lack that something (compare and contrast to the top-notch The Leisure Hive doc), but there’s juicy material in the Dicks and Bidmead swipes (ongoing in DWM, as noted above). Lallas’s positively effusive, probably because it’s more representative of earlier eras. I didn’t revisit the crappy vampire featurettes.
Behind the Sofa has its moments “State of Decay, ay?” notes Tom, of himself. And Sutton looks at Fielding as if to say, “Stop it” as soon as Waterhouse comes up (I think she did likewise in Full Circle, actually).
I persevered through the new Lalla commentary with Rachel Davies and moderated by Sweet. Perhaps because she’s being pressed – or maybe because she was aware she was nothing but on the earlier releases – she cuts off any (frequent) line of inquiry regarding her and Tom, aside from a withering “Talk about drawing out a story” for one of the best bits (the hermit), and replies bluntly “No” when asked if she helped out newcomer Waterhouse. She maintains that she liked Bidmead, despite his penchant for a “teenage nerdy serious” approach.
I suggested the docs weren’t all that, but The Dreaming is actually everything you want from a doc, even if Joyce’s self-aggrandisement quickly becomes as irksome as Bidmead or Ward can be. Still, Bidders scores some points (“I was doing all the work, and Paul was sitting with his feet up”) and Gallagher gives him some too (“Chris Bidmead should take credit for the execution”). The damning report to management on Joyce makes good reading (“self-indulgent incompetence”) while Irvine suggests much credit is due Harper (“interesting to think how much Graeme ended up doing”). Joyce meanwhile is high on a cloud of his own fumes (“No one else could do it”) and manages to get several digs in at old-hand Bazza Letts, while a chastened JN-T admitted an “error of judgement” in employing someone who “works so slowly”. It’s noticeable that almost everything Joyce has done since is in the documentary arena.
Behind the Sofa finds a particular scathing Fielding (given she’s been broadly positive hitherto) noting “a bit of a door stuck in the middle of a studio” and “visually, it’s just not happening for me”. Sutton continues to be a great antidote to Fielding, calling her out for her nonsense (“Is that what reiki does?”), but I’ll admit I never noticed the “pretty shocking” time rotor in the final scene before. That said, Janet’s right when she calls out the goodbye: “I thought my farewell was pretty abrupt”.
The Keeper of Traken:
Behind the Sofa: Tom’s on good form with Ainley anecdotes (interesting to hear that he shared a flat with the actor’s half-brother): “He loved playing the Master, didn’t he?”, an anecdote about losing his toupée, “He was mysterious alright”. And Leeson noting that he and Ainley went to drama school together. Padders thinks it’s the best of the season so far.
Bidders noting Who “wasn’t science fiction”, like his I Ching anecdote, rather reinforces that the hard-science attitude has been over stated (which anyone watching will agree with, even given the recourse to such ideas). Byrne doesn’t convince anyone that his initial concept of opposing Greys and Blacks kept in line by the Keeper, along with Shogun designs, was better (I know, scarcely creditable given Arc of Infinity and Warriors of the Deep); About Time thinks he probably just re-pitched it as Guardians of Prophecy for Season 22. I can quite believe Sutton found Tom a bit scary, but it’s nevertheless amusing to hear he called her “Miss Basingstoke” throughout their working relationship.
The Master featurette is good for emphasising what a strong choice Geoffrey Beevers and his mellifluous voice were for Melkur/the Master (whatever Black’s limitations as a visual stylist, he had the right ideas in casting), and interesting to be reminded that Beevers only didn’t have the golf ball goggles of Peter Pratt because he put in the request that “I would like to be able to use my own eyes”; I think he was right, because while Pratt’s Master has an appropriately unsettling Death Wish (the comic strip) look in still shots, the limitations are very obvious in action (besides which, Beevers’ performance is just plain better; Pratt’s brand of up-to-eleven madness is of the same school as Stephen Thorne as Azal or Eldrad).
A New Body At Last: if some of the season’s VAM is of a middling nature, the opening and closing docs largely make up for any deficiencies. This 2006 one from Paul Vanezis is refreshingly frank about pretty much everything pertaining to Tom’s departure and Peter Davison’s arrival, right down to the former’s penchant for a lunchtime tipple (that would be Peter Moffatt telling takes out of school). Odd that JN-T with his new broom was considering bringing back an old companion – or maybe not since they would have been “his idea”, so wouldn’t have made him defensive.
Hanging on a Thread is consequently rather redundant, managing to make an hour’s worth of documentary out of largely familiar material but with a few superfluous bits about the score and costumes thrown in. Bidmead’s wheeled on to complain again (Tom “gabbled through the exposition”, as if you could blame him, and doesn’t look at the Master when they shake on it, even though that’s the whole point). Bidders is generally full of terrible observations, from boasting about passing the Bechdel test until the “knight errant” line comes out, to saying the script is “pretty damn good” (he’s a much better script editor than original writer); however, I do agree that Tom’s demise is more dramatic without the flashbacks. Baker has some choice moments (“Poor Matthew Waterhouse, he did the best he could, but he didn’t have the ammunition, did he?”; how he slept on a mattress in the studio sometimes – “In some ways I was a sad Tom Baker”; of JN-T – “his kind of vulgarity didn’t suit my kind of vulgarity”).
Behind the Sofa has more nuggets on Ainley (“Infamous in some ways” Tom says of Henry AInley), but not generally especially essential.
Stripped for Action: revisiting this, it’s way too short; it’s barely gotten going on the Marvel years and it’s over. Someone needs to do a new doc (for the Season 17 box set?)
Doctor Who Stories: familiar, but then, you can happily listen to Tom talking for hours.
K9 and Company:
Sears (now an Emmy-nominated editor) is very engaging on the documentary (and adds his own “K9” to the classic Levine theme tune), indicating his jealousy that he didn’t get to be in the title sequence and wondering generally about it “if that’s why we didn’t get picked up for a series”.
Behind the Sofa is ho-hum for the most part, but John Leeson delievers a good Wilfred Hyde White anecdote (which I hadn’t heard before).
The 1993 Panopticon footage of Tom is most welcome, best when he’s allowed to roam free rather than taking Who-centric questions. Highlights are his digressions on blowing his nose and absolutely splendid dog-at-a-bus-stop story.
A few notable poll placings over the years:
1. Logopolis (1, 19, 53, 62)
2. The Keeper of Traken (2, 32, 70, 94)
3= State of Decay (4, 45, 87, 109)
3= Warriors Gate (5, 42, 81, 115)
5. Full Circle (3, 52, 101, 143)
6. The Leisure Hive (6, 80, 149, 174)
7. Meglos (7, 138, 188, 231)
Outpost Gallifrey 2003
1. Logopolis (24)
2. The Keeper of Traken (40)
3. State of Decay (43)
4. Warriors Gate (44)
5. Full Circle (64)
6. The Leisure Hive (91)
7. Meglos (140)
1. Logopolis (16, 19, 24)
2. The Keeper of Traken (56, 50, 62)
3. Warriors Gate (64, 72, 67)
4. The Leisure Hive (94, 84, 86)
5. Full Circle (103, 92, 102)
6. State of Decay (104, 95, 100)
7. Meglos (121, 116, –)
Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.