Sorry for much Who posting today, but this one brings me up to date with three stories from the Tom Baker era, indeed from two different parts of Graham Williams’ term as producer: his first two stories from 1977, and his second last from 1980.
Horror of Fang Rock is a very bleak and horrific story. Indeed, it made me reflect that for all his cuddly public personality, Terrance Dicks’ actual writing is often rooted in pretty horrific stuff – vampires, Frankenstein, King Kong, and his first ever story, co-written with Malcolm Hulke, was The War Games which surely has the bleakest ending of any classic Who.
This is the one with the Rutan, the electrical alien foe of the Sontarans which can change shape and indeed does so as it picks off the inhabitants of the light-house one by one. There is one actor of dubious talents, but fortunately his character is the first to die and the others all give it their best.
This is the last story in which we just have the Doctor/Leela Tardis crew, and it’s worth pausing to reflect that this was surely one of the greatest ever combinations, with a consistent run of four good stories (Face of Evil, Robots of Death, Talons of Weng-Chiang and this one). Leela could so easily have been a one-joke character, but in Louise Jameson’s portrayal she is completely credible, always earthed in her own identity, able to clash and spark with the Doctor, playing the dramatic role of a companion as the one who gets things explained to her not because she is stupid but because she is different. She is the one companion who we see the Doctor trying to change and educate, and that somehow makes it all work much better. After watching the Troughton stories over the last year or so I decided I was a huge fan of Wendy Padbury’s Zoe; but now I see things in Leela that passed me by as a ten-year-old. (Meaning the integrity of her performance, of course.)
The next story of the 1977-8 season unbalances the relationship by introducing a new companion. F insisted that we watch The Invisible Enemy together as like any sensible eight-year-old he loves the idea of K9. The first three episodes are actually rather brilliant: the sinister spread of the virus, including to the Doctor himself; the clones struggling to achieve their mission in their brief lifetime (though it should be said that they manage to spin out the 10 minutes they have for an entire 25-minute episode); stalwarts Michael Sheard and Frederick Jaeger give it their best; there is the lovely detail of peculiar spelling on the notices of the various space installations;
and we have Leela back in her hunting skins apart from a couple of scenes in green PVC. K9 is cute and engaging on this first encounter, though it is odd how easy it is to inflict fatal wounds via the human knee. It is notable that he changes loyalty to the Doctor and Leela as soon as his creator has been taken over.
Unfortunately all this decent set-up is comprehensively destroyed in the fourth episode, or rather the cliff-hanger to the end of the third, by what is very nearly the worst designed monster ever – nothing will ever outdo the mushroom-creatures of The Chase for awfulness, but this comes close. After that we struggle to maintain interest with shootouts and narrow escapes, but it’s all for nothing; the story has been killed stone dead with one poorly designed costume. F lost interest and wandered off to fix his model K9, coming back only for the end, and he was right.
Unlike the other two, I hadn’t seen Nightmare of Eden before; I had heard it was pretty awful, but it was not quite as bad as that. It seemed to be a story in the wrong era, however; surely this would have worked better with the Third Doctor and Jo Grant rather than the Fourth Doctor and Romana? (Indeed, surely it did work better with them, and was called Carnival of Monsters?) There is a lot that doesn’t work; the central plot idea that there are two ships stuck together isn’t described or portrayed very well, and we just don’t get a sense of the spaces involved, on the ships or in the Eden of the projector. The Mandrells were actually all right until the moment when they started marching around the place, and then, sadly, it all falls apart again. Professor Trist made a good villain (one area where Season 17 seems to have done rather well in general).
So, one and three quarter excellent stories, the rest not so good.