I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Destiny of the Daleks. This is mainly for reasons other than the Daleks or Davros: Lalla Ward’s arrival is a breath of fresh air, as she takes on the role of junior clown to Baker, and Adams’ humorous twists to Nation’s script are very entertaining. Indeed, one feels that he has got the bit between his teeth as script editor to make Who into what he had wanted it to be in the Hartnell era (he was the first real fan to grow up to get into the series). And the basic idea of the plot, that the Daleks need Davros (at long last) so that his knowledgw ill help them break the stalemate, is sound.
The story has its downsides as well. Of the various people who have played Davros, David Gooderson is far and away the least impressive, and one wonders why people are so interested in where he is. The Daleks are exposed mercilessly by the script editor who is laughing at his own youthful thrills on their first appearance. And, for humanoid robots, I find the Movellans rather kinkily attractive (plus their weakness is even more dismal than the Daleks’ inability to climb). But all the same it was a better story than I remembered.
In the essay collection Time and Relative Dissertations in Space, one contributor makes the argument that City of Death is the best Doctor Who story ever. I don’t quite go that far – my youthful loyalty to The Deadly Assassin won’t let me – but I think that the second episode in particular is one of the best in the entire history of the show, and found myself tweeting the best lines to the world at large as I watched it on my way to work. (“My dear, I don’t think he’s as stupid as he seems.” “My dear, nobody could be as stupid as he seems.”) There is a tremendous buzz between Baker and Ward, which converts even a banal trip on the Paris Metro into a journey of mystery and wonder.
The supporting cast are fantastic as well; Julian Glover and Catherine Schell in particular as the Count and Countess (and we are left to speculate about exactly what has been going on in their marriage). Somehow I found myself more forgiving of the special effects than on previous occasions when I had watched it. Perhaps I was just in a good mood. It may not be the best story ever, but I’ll allow it to nip ahead of Horror of Fang Rock as the best of the Graham Williams era.
Again, I was surprised by how much I liked The Creature from the Pit. One’s expectations are subverted a little; there’s more to it than the usual ruler-oppresses-subjects-who-the-Doctor-liberates, throwing in the question of metal poverty, the wolfweeds (which again I found myself more tolerant of, watched in their historical context) and Catweazle as the astrologer. Even the Creature is not as utterly awful as I remembered it.
The change in K9’s voice, this being the first of the four stories where David Brierly provided it, did grate; I’ll have more to say about this in my next write-up, but I just don’t think he sounds robotic enough, and perhaps his smart-aleckishness is more annoying than cute. And the other weak point is that the story basically ends at the end of the third episode, and another plot has to be invented out of nowhere to fillepisode four, which is poor pacing.
Alas, with Nightmare of Eden, things take a serious downturn. It would have made a half-decent space opera style story with a Message About Drugs, but is let down by two significant failings. The Mandrells are probably the least impressive monsters in a season that featured some very poor monsters indeed (Movellans with their power-packs, the Creature and the wolfweeds, the Nimon and the Krargs). And the two merged spaceships do not look sufficiently different from each other – nor indeed do their crew seem sufficiently different – to distinguish between them, so there are not sufficient cues to work out what is going on. This is largely (but not solely) the fault of the director, Alan Bromley, who was sacked halfway through filming.
There are things here which came closer to working – the idea of the planeetary surfaces trapped in the crystals, the sinister involvement of the scientists in drug-smuggling, the romance between Stott and Della. But one feels that the poisonous atmosphere which resulted in Bromley’s departure deterred the rest of the cast and crew from giving their best.
The Horns of Nimon suffers from being a second space opera in a row, and from being an indifferent story immediately after a bad one. (I’m trying to think of another consecutive pair of stories which are both largely set on spaceships, and failing.) The story is rather basic – a re-telling of Theseus, with the Minotaur as intelligent manipulative aliens instead of subterranean half-human horror, but it’s lifted from awfulness by Graham Crowden’s superb Soldeed, and by Janet Ellis who out-acts her male lead despite much more slender material.
But it’s not a good story. One thing that always sets off my alarm bells is the behaviour of the extras in group scenes. The Anethans here are not well directed – they always look as if they are in the same well-rehearsed position for mass cowering while the Co-Pilot yells at them that they are weakling scum; they have clearly been given no direction as to how to react, or indeed ghow to look particularly interesting. The Co-Pilot is not named either, which is another sign of incomplete preparation. And the Nimon, while not as bad as the Mandrells, are pretty poor as well. A sour note on which to end the broadcast Graham Williams stories. I felt a slight lump in my throat as I watched the closing titles of the last episode, knowing that this was the last time they appeared on television.
But that isn’t the end; because I also decided to rewatch Shada, or more specifically the 1992 reconstruction in which Tom Baker supplies linking narrative between the footage that was actually shot. The bits that we have are mainly the scenes set in Cambridge, which is a huge nostalgia trip for me, and a few of the spaceship scenes. The story is exceptionallyconvoluted and makes very little sense, but for once it actually looks reasonably good, the script is witty, and Denis Carey and the two leads are in excellent form (I’m less convinced by Christopher Neame’s Skagra, let alone the Krargs). If the show had been completed, we would regard the Williams/Adams era as having finished on a reasonably high note, preparing the way for the Nathan-Turner years to come.
Graham Williams’ three seasons end here. He obviously had serious problems in terms of money disappearing down the drain with inflation, the unions making filming difficult (and actually killing off his last story), and his inability to control Tom Baker. One also feels that he did not have Philip Hinchcliffe’s commitment to making it look good – this comes across particularly in his last two broadcast stories – and the introduction of K9 is not perhaps Who’s greatest moment. But he did work with three excellent script editors, the great Robert Holmes, the underrated Anthony Read and the celebrated Douglas Adams; it’s a shame that he wasn’t quite able to get better results out of them.
Well, that takes us to 72% of total Old Who minutes, 71% of all Old Who episodes, 68% of all Old Who stories, and 59% of time elapsed from 23 November 1963 to 6 December 1989. Next up is most of the last Tom Baker season.
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