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A bad workman always blames his fools.

Doctor Who 
Season 24 – Worst to Best

The most unloved original season of Doctor Who, and so of any season of Who old or nu-, aside from anything Chibbers has pooped out on the side of the road, usually comes down to two contenders: Season 23 or Season 24. Now, I actually quite like Season 23, for all that it makes some, er, regrettable choices. I liked it at the time, and I like it now, more or less. Season 24, I did not like then, and more or less, I’m none too keen on it now. It’s a conflation of terrible acting, writing, direction, music and production decisions, resulting in episodes you’d think twice about letting go out on CBBC. This is, however, an exception in all this. It doesn’t go as far as making Season 24 worthwhile, but it does provide with a saving grace.

4. Delta and the Bannermen

You see comments, now and again, that time has been kind to Season 24, but it really hasn’t. About the only positives to be found are (a) the top-ranked here, and (b) McCoy isn’t playing – although playing suggests acting and is therefore far outside is dojo – his fabled, NAs-inspiring Dark Doctor yet. Delta and the Bannermen is an embarrassment of ineptitude (or should that be a feast of the same?), one that found Lance Parkin stuck for anything nice to say in DWM’s The Complete Seventh Doctor; he spends most of his review attempting to talk about anything but a story he admits not liking, offering the weak sauce that at least it’s different… Unlike (here’s the de-rigueur, tired justification) the previous five years of the show. So there you go. Delta and the Bannermen is good because it isn’t the Saward era. It’s not really such a hot take.

I’m readily able to recall my initial responses to Season 24, and they do, mostly, hold firm. One of these was that Delta and the Bannermen’s first episode is actually kind-of okay, before it deteriorates to the status of total shit show. Ken Dodd’s an instant winner as the Tollmaster, and as performers-turned-actors go, he offers a far superior shake of it to the guy cast as the lead. Johnny Dennis is also really good – another non-professional actor – as space bus driver Murray. There’s some likeably quirky business involving space tollports and errant satellites. And, erm…

No, by the time of the Episode One cliffhanger, a muppet slime baby is cracking out of an egg, and the devastating combination of Chris Clough’s rudimentary visuals – there’s a reason he graduated to successful producer – and Keff McCulloch’s clashing cymbals ensures there’s no chance of Malcolm Kholl’s gentle rock ’n’ roll romance with an alien twist approaching any degree of charm, or unfolding with anything approaching an assured rhythm and tone.

Delta and the Bannermen’s only consistent feature is a succession of jarringly awkward scenes, jarringly and awkwardly performed. Poor Don Henderson takes the proceedings entirely seriously, but he has nothing to bite into as Gavrok, aside from that bizarrely sloppy baguette thing; Gavrok’s a one-note villain who appreciably suffers from being played straight. Stubby Kaye and Morgan Deare are supposed to be offering endearingly comic asides but are as strained as if JN-T had called in fake Americans to deliver their schtick. Belinda Mayne is shockingly bland as Delta, and every “nuance” of her romance with Billy (David Kinder) is absurdly incompetent. That’s without even getting to the superfast growing kid and Billy taking royal jelly à la Tales of the Unexpected. If nothing else, Delta and the Bannermen succeeds in dampening the fuse of ’50s nostalgia in vogue at that time – Back to the Future; Stand by Me; Tutti Frutti. It’s Happy Days from the producers of Rentaghost. And with these spaceships converting into Earth vehicles, someone’s seen The Last Starfighter.

Evidently, there’s a strand of fandom that genuinely rates the story, mostly comprising those who’d wax warmly as McCoy’s era developed upward and onward and off TVs into the realm of NAs: “Confident, slick, and hugely enjoyable from beginning to end” was The Discontinuity Guide’s scarcely fathomable verdict. It went on to list a number of things that are quite awful about it, including the Doctor hugging a Stratocaster, confronting Gavrok and threatening the Bannermen. They’re the sorts of elements that would duly inform nu-Who (the grand, showpiece speechifying by the Doctor, and his pop cultural down-with-the-kids-ness). This is the grim point where the writers’ own undistilled affiliations and foibles become foregrounded. Aspirational fanfic.

Is Gronowy a Time Lord? I’ve no idea, but his faux-wisdom is pretty lame. Sara Griffiths is a much more personable performer than the new companion we got saddled with in the following story; alas, Andrew Cartmel was determined to have his post-Aliens heroine. As for how well-meaning and loveably upbeat Delta and the Bannermen is, let’s not forget the sick Sawardian slaughter on display. In the previous story, it was Pex being unceremoniously dispatched. This time, it’s Ken and a bus load of tourists.

And to clear up any misconception, Delta and the Bannermen isn’t rubbish because it’s silly. Silly is often a very good thing in the show. It’s rubbish because it’s the show at its most amateurish, incompetent and clueless. Except for Ken Dodd; he’s the one craftsman in this botch job. Elizabeth Sandifer called it “one of the most stunningly fast turnarounds of a show in television history”. That much is true, just not in the way she meant.


3. Time and the Rani

I know, I know, inquests bore you, and they’ve undoubtedly been held multiple times with this one. I have a feeling that the last time I saw Time and the Rani (probably when the DVD was released), I gave it the benefit of the doubt. To the extent I suggested, as horrendous as much of it is – in terms of story, dialogue, performance, direction, costuming, location work and incidental music – it at least boasted the benefit of Kate O’Mara’s devastating performance as Mel, and such a contribution couldn’t be underestimated when it came to the story’s overall palatability.

Well, if I did, I was mistaken. Because O’Mara is indeed the one positive here, but only as Mel; her panto level grand-dame-ing, complete with Colbys-cast-off shoulder pads, is fairly tiresome for the most part. As a result, she in no way ameliorates the story’s across-the-board gross deficiencies.

Andrew Cartmel is fond of laying the blame for this one squarely at Pip and Jane Baker’s door. Certainly, their anagrammatically incontinent script, devoid as it is of internal coherence or tension and suffering from a surfeit of turgidly verbose dialogue, is indeed the pits. But he still worked on it, and as is evidenced by his contributions to the subsequent three seasons, his skills as a script editor were near to negligible. He was quite right not to want P&J-type fare in his “vision” for the show, but that in no way suggests his preferences were any more suitable.

Generally, though, it would be unfair to look his way in respect of the actual production points here, the acting and the making. This is possibly the most unadulterated JN-T story there is, from that point of view, the perfect distillation of a pink-skied garish excess, and about as empty as ’80s TV gets – and that’s saying something. The images are the perfect storm, in tandem with the contributions of the journeymen scribes and terribly-at-odds performers offering wooden turns at every turn. There’s nothing under the tasteless hood.

And the few that don’t cause splintering are either very sketchy when it comes to the acting craft (McCoy) or buried beneath a monster costume (at any rate, Richard Gauntlett seems to be enjoying himself as Tetrap Urak). McCoy’s of the view he perfected his characterisation subsequently (see the Dark Doctor), but I tend to the position that it’s tremendously difficult for someone with an extremely limited range to summon gravitas, and so his best foot forward was probably the one delivering continual pratfalls and playing the spoons on Kate’s tits. I mean, at least he couldn’t be said to be punching above his weight, except when he attempts to deliver a line of dialogue in a vaguely competent manner. McCoy fans/apologists will insist that Sylv, “let’s be clear, is quite good here…” (Sandifer), but that’s cobblers.

The thing is, though, no one else is exactly putting him to shame. Donald Pickering and Wanda Ventham, understandably embarrassed to be asked to don dayglo jammies and spout garbage, are at best indifferent. Mark Greenstreet had just been the (dual) lead in Sunday Classic serial Brat Farrar for Terrance Dicks, but you’d be forgiven for assuming he’d never taken an acting lesson in his life. As for Bonnie, this is the first port of call to confirm every assumption you had was justified about her inappropriateness for a show struggling for survival. Screaming (“Mel, if you don’t stop squealing…”), deathly over delivery (“Now will you accept I’m not your enemy?”) and impossibly perky perkiness. And gifted the worst costume of an eye-bruising bunch.

We must also apportion blame to Andrew Morgan. I don’t think Morgan’s incompetent. He seems to know some basics, like where to place the camera, but in combination with Keff’s devastating, nerve-shredding incidental music, his work is aggressively tone deaf. At no point does it appear he has the remotest idea how to distil this into a functional whole (this is the guy who’d give us “exciting Dalek action” on wobbly cobbles the following year). The Tetraps look a bit rubbish, so make sure to shoot them in broad daylight. Make every set look as plastic as possible (but then utilise surprisingly effectively lighting in the monsters’ lair). I can’t necessarily blame Morgan for the performances, given the dialogue, but he certainly isn’t smoothing over the troubled waters. And he’s surely to blame for Lakertyans running like Ron Burgundy.

Time and the Rani’s an unpleasant mess, alternately excruciatingly dull and jarringly noisy, or both at the same time, such that it’s rarely less than painful to sit through. Even the title is an awkward, ungainly, can’t be bothered thing (Strange Matter is no great shakes, but infinitely preferable, as is Delta and the Bannermen’s working title Flight of the Chimeron). Tat Wood attempted to offer a partial defence, but then he’s generally quite kind to the era (“Watched with the sound down, this is more visually impressive than anything from the last five years” You sure about that, Tat? Oh wait: “Even then the resemblance to… Emu’s Pink Windmill Show is worryingly close”. Okay then, you’re just talking bollocks).

But yes, Kate’s Mel. Forget about Sixie throttling Peri. The Rani’s Mel impression is the series’ most savage takedown a companion bar none. It can’t take away from Time and the Rani’s grim aftertaste of, but it at least gives it a reason to exist. Colin absolutely wasn’t wrong to nix appearing in this train wreck. Ken Campbell, on the other hand, could only have improved it. Loyhargil be praised.


2. Dragonfire

Dragonfire winning DWM’s Season Poll was very much the case of least-worst rather than a rightful champ (the order was reverse transmission, largely the way it has been since in polls); no one was singing Season 24’s praises at the time, and even today, the laurels cast its way tend to be more charitable than heartfelt. There’s a case to be made that Dragonfire is the series’ most shockingly cheap effort ever, replete with shameful sets, dreadful direction and appalling acting. The script isn’t much better. Such an opinion may make me a “bilge bag” or an “A-grade, hundred percent div”, but if so, I’m quite willing to stand guilty as charged (to paraphrase Mel in The Ultimate Foe).

If push comes to shove, I don’t think Dragonfire’s quite as awful as the first and third stories of the season. Episode Two is even half watchable. As ever, Tony Selby is an agreeable presence. Glitz isn’t written half as well as by Robert Holmes, or Eric, or even Pip and Jane, wrote for him, of course, and the very idea that he would be co-opted into taking Mel as a co-traveller is insane. Only less so by degrees than learning Ace’s first time was with Sabalom “On the floor of his spaceship” (per NA Happy Endings, and Love and War, and apparently implied in Ian Briggs’ Dragonfire novelisation). Briggs reportedly hated having the character imposed upon him, so it’s entirely fitting that Glitz is the best thing in the story. Certainly, nothing about the premise or Briggs’ predilection for garbage exposition is anything to crow over.

Dominic Glynn’s score is a blessed relief after three successive bouts of aural warfare from killer Keff. It isn’t in the same league as his Season 23 work – his zombie Cyber theme leaves something to be desired – but it’s Mozart next to McCulloch. The “Excuse me, what’s your attitude to the nature of existence?” exchange, while derivative (not least of Douglas Adams), is actually well played (by the guard, mostly). Much less commendable are the pointless film references, or risible homages (Ace as Ripley, an irksome moppet as Newt, the BioMechanoid as a Xenomorph, Kane as Kane, Nostromo as Nosferatu) and steals (The Hand of Fear, Raiders of the Lost Ark).

Regarding Raiders, and the much-overpraised melting effect, did Clough really offer Ronald Lacey the part of Kane? How inspired, to cast a role in which a character’s face melts to someone who already played the decade’s most famous melting face. Edward Peel received relative raves as a fine, straight villain turn (by dint of comparison to, say, Richard Briers), but he’s strictly limited by faux characterisation and motivational logic holes (3,000 years imprisonment, the quest for Dragonfire; About Time and numerous others can supply a ready rundown). As for Kane’s beloved ice sculpture, it somewhat resembles the “retouched” 19th century fresco Ecce Homo.

Patricia Quinn is undermined by a role that resolutely fails to utilise her strengths – natural eccentricity – and kills her off two-thirds of the way through in the ineptest assassination bid ever (previously resulting in the dispatch of accomplice Tony Osoba). At least this means she’s relieved of ANT hunt duties; not for nothing, DWB’s review headlined “Aliens: The Pantomime”.

You also begin to wonder if Eric wasn’t right that you should feel it when violence occurs, since the Cartmel era is so cavalier towards such matters, while simultaneously offering Doctorly platitudes and reproofs like never before. In the last story, it was a space bus full of passengers. This time, it’s Glitz’s spaceship full of Ice World denizens. Next story, it’s a whole planet. The idea that Saward was the bloodthirsty one may be misplaced.

Dragonfire’s a melee of awful companions too, exiting and incoming. Alternatively, Ace is “of course, one of the absolute classic companions”. Sure, she is, in a similar way to Adric. An absolute classic. As for the idea that she isn’t supposed to be a realistic depiction of a late-80s urban teenager, that’s really a way of saying, “If you think she’s a bit shit, that’s intentional”. How about just being a halfway-convincing teenager, rather than a rather posh, middle-aged TV presenter? Bonnie inevitably takes the biscuit for overacting (Clough apparently kept telling her to do less, to no avail), but at least there’s no pretence at a strong characterisation there. Ace, with her Wizard of Oz real name, her Nitro 9 and her bog breaths and bilge bags, is as offensive as McCulloch’s incidental noise.

Sandifer suggested “let’s call an end to this ridiculous marginalization of Season 24, both from the rest of the McCoy era and from the annals of good Doctor Who” I can certainly get on board with the first part, since the only discernible difference between them is that half the stories in a season are worth a look rather than a quarter, but in no way should that grant admission to the second.


1. Paradise Towers

It’s very evident that Steven Wyatt, as he readily admits, made Paradise Towers up as he went along. However, that does nothing to prevent the story being one of the wittiest of the era, and if it ultimately fails to stick the landing, it also benefits from being less impressed with its own intricacies than the later, also rather witty, Ghostlight.

At the time, I was not only relieved but also surprised by the gear change from the tatters of TATR. If I was unconvinced by the regulars – which remains the case – it’s notable now that McCoy benefits from both avoiding pratfalls and faux-moodiness. This might have been the better middle ground to tread for one of his “skill set”, but it remains a relatively isolated moment (and, just as I was baffled that the following season’s opener scored 85% in its DWB review, I was equally mystified this mustered a paltry 36%).

There are a number of inspirational ingredients in Paradise Towers’ construction. Most obviously, because Wyatt and Cartmel readily admit to it, Ballard’s High-Rise, with a touch of Brazil (the rule-bound bureaucrats, the entropic infrastructure). Then there’s the Nadsat of the Lost Girls with their corrupted language, only with an ’80s, Bananarama spin. About Time emphasises 2000AD, although that’s more Cartmel than Wyatt. And Freddy Kreuger is in the mix, with rezzies slaughtering someone who persists supernaturally in order to haunt them (in Freddy’s Revenge, he also takes possession of a young man, who’d have rightfully been Pex, and is, of course, Wyatt’s riff on Rambo).

Certainly, the story’s magical-realist streak is a break with the series norms, in that there isn’t even a superficially plausible SF explanation for The Great Architect’s survival. We’ll see more of this in Wyatt’s second script, The Greatest Show in the Galaxy, and if he shows an inability to wrestle his premises to a satisfying conclusion on both occasions, he remains by far the most satisfying writer brought to the series during Cartmel’s watch.

Which may, in part, be because he’s smart enough and mature enough to avoid letting the script editor’s prevailing social-justice-warrior instincts get in the way of the storytelling. They’re all there – urban planning and squalor, bureaucratic fascism, juvenile delinquency, futile warfare, dystopian breakdown – but they don’t require foregrounding in a patronising way. Indeed, one gets the impression Wyatt would be incredibly uncomfortable with anything so unsubtle. That might be why he didn’t get asked back for a third story. He wasn’t Rik (as in “Prick is a wonker”) enough for Cartmel.

None of this is as effective in execution as it might have been, of course. The story only becomes genuinely unsettling in the sequences with dear-old-lady cannibals Tilda and Taddy, which means it does only half of what it sets out to do: the being witty and funny part. As a result, that side has to prop up the rest. Nick Mallett isn’t much cop, but he’s less not-that-much-cop than Peter Moffatt, who also had to make a cannibal story (his last contribution to the series; this was the fourth cannibal story in three years, and there’d still be The Curse of Fenric to come). And in truth, Mallett’s first story for the show, much derided as it is, probably boasts his “best” work.

As an apologist, then, I find Richard Briers tremendously entertaining here; if Episode Four is a fumble, that’s down to the storytelling more than Briers’ paralytic zombie performance. He must have been doing something right if even JN-T took exception. Clive Merrison is wonderful (and would have been a wonderful seventh Doctor, had anyone thought of it; someone would soon think of him playing the next best thing, Sherlock).

Elizabeth Spriggs and Brenda Bruce (Jeeves and Wooster’s Aunt Dahlia) make a splendid double act. Howard Cooke makes Pex work, even as a very different realisation to the conception, while Annabel Yuresha gives the most striking performance of the Kangs as Bin Liner. Bonnie is still Bonnie throughout, although pairing her with Cooke wears down some of her brittle edges. Likewise, McCoy benefits from the likes of Merrison and Briers constraining him, and the Kangs putting him in mentor mode. McCulloch’s score is occasionally tolerable, and the rule-book muzak scene even quite likeable.

Notably, in plot terms, The Great Architect, having raised this society up, is bent on a depopulation agenda. He no longer even seems to relate to a former human form; ironically, given he’s disembodied, the Great Architect is the ultimate materialist, ruling over concrete and machinery. This isn’t a great reset, though; it’s a trad-apocalypse scenario of menfolk leaving everyone else to survive, something Mallett failed to translate with his range of mostly young to middle-aged caretakers.

I’m a little more guarded in my praise of this one than Gareth Roberts was – and I certainly think it’s alone in reaching some kind of semi-successful form in its season – but I generally concur with his sentiments in The Complete Seventh Doctor: that, come the following year “The series tries to be portentous and political, and succeeds only In being unintentionally camp”.

Sandifer was convinced Paradise Towers is “absolutely brilliant”. It gave her a chance to drone on about modernism and council estates, thereby missing that this very much is not the “Wicked!” story that signifies the greater Cartmel era. She continues that it is, therefore, “utterly removed from anything that a fan in the Ian Levine model would ever care about”. Again, this is the old tool of boosting an era by slagging fans of another one, something that has been stock-in-trade with nu-Who. I know I indulge it too.

Consequently, I can only laugh derisively at the notion “We’re now in an eleven-story run where quality is the norm and disasters are an aberration”. No. If you take away the magical realism – but then, Enlightenment – Wyatt’s story(ies) would have slotted quite comfortably into the Saward era, and you can’t say that about anyone else among Cartmel’s coterie of writers (except, maybe, Rona Munro).

Oh, and no, I don’t think the League of Gentlemen comparisons are apt. But then, I always found that show both unpleasant and trying way too hard. Paradise Towers couldn’t be accused of the latter. Howard Cooke astutely summed the story up as walking a fine line between satirical and pantomime. Paradise Towers could undoubtedly have been granted a more complimentary gait, but this one, at least, comes across as consistent and largely of-a-piece – “a Ballardian dystopia performed as broad-stroke children’s television”, if Sandifer must – which means it bears some resemblance to the ideas Wyatt had in the first place.


Blu-ray Extras

Time and the Rani 

Not much to say about the Making Of. Behind the Sofa is largely engaging for the Davo/Fielding contributions, and then mostly the former: “You can’t do a wink”; “Is that the worst of two worlds? It’s Sylvester McCoy in Colin Baker’s outfit”; “He’s diving in with a certain excess of enthusiasm, isn’t he?” and “acting his heart out”; “It’s quite bright, isn’t it?”; “Please, forget it” (in response to Sylv in his cricketer costume). Janet: “She’s the best screamer since Deborah Watling”; “Is that the Gruffalo?” “Mother of Cumberbatch” elicits comment and the doubtless scarring fact that Benedict came to the set. Sophie’s verdict: “I loved it” (there’s a surprise). Colin talks shit about how great the Rani is (yeah, right).

Clive Doig on casting Sylv: “Some people think he’s too off the wall and not disciplined enough”. And Doig was interested in producing, but didn’t get it. He wanted a woman (of course, he did).

Paradise Towers

Making Of: Wyatt admits to making it up as he went along (Episode One was written as a sample, and then he penned 2-4 very quickly). The guards were supposed to be old, fat and lazy (but then we’d have missed out on Merrison). The rule book was much too thin (true). Pex was a Stallone parody. Briers “ignored the great man” when he instructed him to tone down his performance.

Behind the Sofa: Davo, with his keen eye, observes that Bin Liner has an “interesting look” (she does). There’s much observation of near-corpsing. Everyone loves Spriggs and Bruce. Colin: “At this point, I’m wishing I was in this story”. Colin and Jayston aren’t much cop together, unfortunately. Davo is disappointed at Pex’s demise: “Oh, that’s terrible”.

The Doctors Table: There isn’t a whole lot to be gleaned from Bonnie/Sylv/Sophie (by the time you’ve finished this set, some key Sylv anecdotes will have been heard approaching a dozen times). Merrison is good, though. He’s aghast at Sophie’s Mrs Goody Two Shoes; “Vegan, you don’t swear, you’ve never done anything naughty in your life”. And his description of Selby as authentically London: “He was out floggin’ it”.

Delta and the Bannermen

A new Making Of finds Cartmel characteristically high on his own fumes: “A Wagnerian opera shot by Chuck Jones”. You wish! A 45-minute making of, this is about thirty too long, especially when there’s nothing new to say. Although, the then-and-now of Barry Island is interesting. “An underrated gem”. Yeah, because someone will love anything.

Behind the Sofa: “Shame you didn’t do a wink” says Janet. “What are we going to call it? Brussel Sprout”. Don Henderson: “One of the sweetest men you could ever hope to meet” (again, this seems to be universal). Davo: “A bit of a mess… a bit too silly… music really inappropriate”. What a fanboy.

Dragonfire

Sophie Aldred appears to be dressed as a Russian peasant in the Making Of doc.

Behind the Sofa: Jayston thinks “The scripts were a lot better than ours”. Oh dear. He is 85, though. You’d have hoped Colin was hypercritical, but he’s hyper accommodating. Davo takes the piss out of Sophie’s pronunciation of “Pery-vale”. He’s also spot on about Bonnie and her stagey, balletic movements. Colin meanwhile, on Sophie: “She’s real”. Well, Colin would know.

Here’s To the Future. Decent new doc on the incoming Doctor. Cartmel may talk cobblers, but he’s an easy, responsive interviewee (on Mel: “It just seems to be in a different movie from the other performances”. Well, if you swap movie for crap TV show, I’ll give him that). Jonathan Powell was unconvinced by Sylv, rightly so, and there’s much talk of JN-T loading the auditions in his favour. Time and the Rani was “Jonathan Powell’s worst nightmare”. References to Swamp Thing and Halo Jones obviously abound as influences.

Sylv’s constant fluffs would drive anyone to distraction. Dodd’s ad-lib “Is that your husband, or are you taking the bulldog out for a walk?” is funnier than anything in the transmitted season. Kholl “wanted to make it more filmic”. Shit out of luck there. The BioMechanoid turned out to be a “dumpy little thing with short legs” due to miscasting. Kate Easteal is a good find. Briggs is incredibly wet (“just kind of drawing from real life” for Ace. Yeah, it really shows). JN-T reading DWB obsessively gets a mention (Cartmel thinking: “You don’t want to do that”). And Nina Myskow’s description of Sylv as “a smelly old dosser discovered under a railway bridge in Glasgow” made me chuckle (as did McCoy’s very good-sport response, on Open Air).

Sweet’s interview with McCoy, for a good forty minutes, might be the highlight of his innings in this role for the Blu-ray sets, even given the appalling glasses he has chosen. Because he’s set on talking to McCoy not about Who – which let’s face it, he has nothing interesting to say on, and is called on to say that nothing interesting to entirely redundant, continuous effect – but his life and times.

How he’d hang a testicle out to get a laugh on stage, explode a bomb on his chest, performed in the Arctic Circle, discovered his “little willy” got a laugh (him and Barrowman both), the Sunday People on ferrets down trousers being good for business, his actual name, his parentage and orphan status, his schooling (including a seminary) and selling insurance.

And on Ken Campbell not getting the Doctor: “JN-T didn’t want Ken because he thought he’d frighten the children. Now I think he was right. Ken would have been an amazing Doctor. But I think he’s have made a great villain. The Master….” Of course, JN-T would have probably said Tom Baker would frighten children (after seeing The Golden Voyage of Sinbad). Sylv’s of the view “We got seven million against it” (Corrie). No, 6.6. Once. He and Cartmel liked having politics more in the foreground. Yes, we could tell. 26 episodes for the fourth season? Unlikely. He was up for Bilbo, and it was between him and Holm. A clash of acting titans. One, anyway. Good stuff. I wish Sweet had asked him about Dracula, though.

The Consensus
A few notable poll placings over the years:

DWM 1987/1998/09/14

1. Dragonfire (1, 126, 186, 215)
2. Delta and the Bannermen (2, 150, 180, 217)
3. Paradise Towers (3, 152, 193, 230)
4. Time and the Rani (4, 154, 198, 239)

Outpost Gallifrey 2003

1. Dragonfire (130)
2. Paradise Towers (141)
3. Delta and the Bannermen (148)
4. Time and the Rani (158)

DWB 1989

1. Dragonfire (72)
2. Paradise Towers (94)
3. Delta and the Bannermen (106)
4. Time and the Rani (126)


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The Blob (1988) (SPOILERS) The 1980s effects-laden remake of a ’50s B-movie that couldn’t. That is, couldn’t persuade an audience to see it and couldn’t muster critical acclaim. The Fly was a hit. The Thing wasn’t, but its reputation has since soared. Like Invaders from Mars , no such fate awaited The Blob , despite effects that, in many respects, are comparable in quality to the John Carpenter classic – and are certainly indebted to Rob Bottin for bodily grue – and surehanded direction from Chuck Russell. I suspect the reason is simply this: it lacks that extra layer that would ensure longevity.

Are you telling me that I should take my daughter to a witch doctor?

The Exorcist (1973) (SPOILERS) Vast swathes have been written on The Exorcist , duly reflective of its cultural impact. In a significant respect, it’s the first blockbuster – forget Jaws – and also the first of a new kind of special-effects movie. It provoked controversy across all levels of the socio-political spectrum, for explicit content and religious content, both hailed and denounced for the same. William Friedkin, director of William Peter Blatty’s screenplay based on Blatty’s 1971 novel, would have us believe The Exorcist is “ a film about the mystery of faith ”, but it’s evidently much more – and less – than that. There’s a strong argument to be made that movies having the kind of seismic shock on the landscape this one did aren’t simply designed to provoke rumination (or exultation); they’re there to profoundly influence society, even if largely by osmosis, and when one looks at this picture’s architects, such an assessment only gains in credibility.

I work for the guys that pay me to watch the guys that pay you. And then there are, I imagine, some guys that are paid to watch me.

The Day of the Dolphin (1973) (SPOILERS) Perhaps the most bizarre thing out of all the bizarre things about The Day of the Dolphin is that one of its posters scrupulously sets out its entire dastardly plot, something the movie itself doesn’t outline until fifteen minutes before the end. Mike Nichols reputedly made this – formerly earmarked for Roman Polanski, Jack Nicholson and Sharon Tate, although I’m dubious a specific link can be construed between its conspiracy content and the Manson murders - to fulfil a contract with The Graduate producer Joseph Levine. It would explain the, for him, atypical science-fiction element, something he seems as comfortable with as having a hairy Jack leaping about the place in Wolf .

You ever heard the saying, “Don’t rob the bank across from the diner that has the best donuts in three counties”?

2 Guns (2013) (SPOILERS) Denzel Washington is such a reliable performer, that it can get a bit boring. You end up knowing every gesture or inflection in advance, whether he’s playing a good guy or a bad guy. And his films are generally at least half decent, so you end up seeing them. Even in Flight (or perhaps especially in Flight ; just watch him chugging down that vodka) where he’s giving it his Oscar-nominatable best, he seems too familiar. I think it may be because he’s an actor who is more effective the less he does. In 2 Guns he’s not doing less, but sometimes it seems like it. That’s because the last person I’d ever expect blows him off the screen; Mark Wahlberg.

This risotto is shmackin’, dude.

Stranger Things Season 4: Part I (SPOILERS) I haven’t had cause, or the urge, to revisit earlier seasons of Stranger Things , but I’m fairly certain my (relatively) positive takes on the first two sequel seasons would adjust down somewhat if I did (a Soviet base under Hawkins? DUMB soft disclosure or not, it’s pretty dumb). In my Season Three review, I called the show “ Netflix’s best-packaged junk food. It knows not to outstay its welcome, doesn’t cause bloat and is disposable in mostly good ways ” I fairly certain the Duffer’s weren’t reading, but it’s as if they decided, as a rebuke, that bloat was the only way to go for Season Four. Hence episodes approaching (or exceeding) twice the standard length. So while the other points – that it wouldn’t stray from its cosy identity and seasons tend to merge in the memory – hold fast, you can feel the ambition of an expansive canvas faltering at the hurdle of Stranger Things ’ essential, curated, nostalgia-appeal inconsequentiality.

That, my lad, was a dragon.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013) (SPOILERS) It’s alarming how quickly Peter Jackson sabotaged all the goodwill he amassed in the wake of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. A guy who started out directing deliciously deranged homemade horror movies ended up taking home the Oscar for a fantasy movie, of all genres. And then he blew it. He went from a filmmaker whose naysayers were the exception to one whose remaining cheerleaders are considered slightly maladjusted. The Desolation of Smaug recovers some of the territory Jackson has lost over the last decade, but he may be too far-gone to ever regain his crown. Perhaps in years to come The Lord of the Rings trilogy will be seen as an aberration in his filmography. There’s a cartoonishness to the gleeful, twisted anarchy on display in his earlierr work that may be more attuned to the less verimilitudinous aspects of King Kong and The Hobbit s. The exceptions are his female-centric character dramas, Heavenly Creat

Gizmo caca!

Gremlins (1984) I didn’t get to see Gremlins at the cinema. I wanted to, as I had worked myself into a state of great anticipation. There was a six-month gap between its (unseasonal) US release and arrival in the UK, so I had plenty of time to devour clips of cute Gizmo on Film ’84 (the only reason ever to catch Barry Norman was a tantalising glimpse of a much awaited movie, rather than his drab, colourless, reviews) and Gremlins trading cards that came with bubble gum attached (or was it the other way round?). But Gremlins ’ immediate fate for many an eager youngster in Britain was sealed when, after much deliberation, the BBFC granted it a 15 certificate. I had just turned 12, and at that time an attempt to sneak in to see it wouldn’t even have crossed my mind. I’d just have to wait for the video. I didn’t realise it then (because I didn’t know who he was as a filmmaker), but Joe Dante’s irrepressible anarchic wit would have a far stronger effect on me than the un