Eight classic Who stories

I have finally finished the Tom Baker TV stories, but will save my assessment of the Fourth Doctor until I’ve finished reading the books. Apologies to those of you reading by RSS, but here are my views on seven Fourth Doctor stories and one Fifth Doctor story for luck.

This may not be the greatest of stories – I rather missed UNIT being able to let the Doctor take control of the quarry and the nuclear plant – but it is still rather fun. In particular, it’s unusual for the Doctor to be so thoroughly hoodwinked by the bad guy (or gal in this case), and I rather liked the setting of Kastria. Of course, everyone remembers this for Sarah’s departure, but I could entirely sympathise with her fury at getting hypnotised yet again (I haven;t counted, but it must have been roughly the fourth time in five stories).

Almost all of The Androids of Tara is basically a lift from The Prisoner of Zenda – Romana actually finds the fourth segment of the Key to Time, the ostensible point of the plot, in the first episode while the Doctor is off fishing. But it is all great fun – Mary Tamm gorgeous as ever in all her parts (ie all her roles), the villainous count yelling “Next time, I shall not be so lenient!”

I noticed that Declan Mulholland, playing the Count’s sidekick Till, did so with a marked Ulster accent. I checked back on his one previous appearance in Doctor Who, in The Sea Devils, but his character is too busy dying in agony to really display much of an accent there.

The Power of Kroll is generally regarded as one of the lower points of the great Robert Holmes’ career, and it’s fair comment. In particular, the primitive natives vs capitalist exploiters narrative is not terribly sophisticated here; and the actual monster itself is, sadly, incredible and not in a good way. I concentrated hard on the gun-runner Rohm-Dutt’s accent, as he has been flagged up to me as another potentially Irish character in canonical Who, but I think he is trying to sound Australian.

Fannish opinion is a bit down on The Armageddon Factor alerted me a while back to his view that this is not entirely fair, and he’s quite right. Sure, it is several different stories crammed together; but it seems to me that Big Finish have done princess + lover + crazed military leader on wartorn planet several times, and never quite as well as this. Also, K9 developing his own sinister agenda is genuinely creepy. Also, Lalla Ward and Mary Tamm are a dynamite combination (one thing that Big Finish resurrected a quarter-century later and did very well). Also, Mary Tamm, in her last TV appearance, is wonderful – looks fantastic and her interaction with Baker is brilliant. And the denouement, while of course on the one hand it is a bit of a let-down – we had 26 episodes, only for the Doctor to decide it was a bad idea after all??? – is entirely in character with Baker’s performance, perhaps rather more so than taking the quest on in the first place. Shame about Drax who is the one element (with the Doctor’s past) that doesn’t really work for me, but apart from him I think this story is pretty solid. It was actually the last Fourth Doctor story I watched in this run, and a good note to finish on.

This, as we now know, was the beginning of the end: The Leisure Hive starts with K9 blowing up, episode 1 ends with the Doctor being pulled apart and episode 2 with him being changed almost out of all recognition. But with all that it is rather good – we actually have a believable alien culture, and factions within both the alien races represented, and a plot that more or less makes sense. David Fisher’s book is (as so often) slightly better, but the original is fun too.

Imagine if you were a 19-year-old fan and submitted your script idea to Doctor Who and it actually got accepted… again, I was surprised by how good Full Circle actually is, bar Matthew Waterhouse. Quite a sophisticated plot, both in terms of rebels vs establishment and in terms of the scientific hand-waving; and lots of nasty tension involving threats to Romana and the Tardis. The Gallifrey stuff at the beginning does seem a bit bolted on, and it’s one of the drawbacks of this season that it is dealt with a bit inconsistently.

Once more, I was surprised by how enjoyable State of Decay turned out to be. Terrance Dicks, as I’ve mentioned before, loved to go for the old horror tropes and adapt them for Who, and did them on the whole very well. Where The Power of Kroll didn’t quite seem able to transcend cliche, State of Decay manged to adapt it to the Whoniverse convincingly. (Still a shame about Matthew Waterhouse.)

I skipped ahead a bit (as even this takes me only half way through the Fifth Doctor stories), and found that now I had seen so many more Brigadier stories, and indeed listened to numerous audios featuring him, I enjoyed his resurrection in Mawdryn Undead much more than first time round when he was a vague childhood memory and a figure from the Target books. There are essentially two plots here, the Mawdryn plot which is good sf stuff, teleports, spaceships, time shifts and all, and the Turlough/Black Guardian stuff which seems to me as superfluous as Turlough himself. Really, if the Black Guardian wanted to kill the Doctor off, there might be better ways to do it than hiring an unreliable alien posing as a schoolboy! Nyssa and Tegan are good here though, and I really loved the Brigadier flashback which actually incorporates a clip of Hartnell as well as the other three.

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