Two classic stories from the end of the Tom Baker era – the first to be filmed with Lalla Ward playing Romana, and then the first to be filmed after she left.
The Creature from the Pit, which I missed first time round due to living in the Netherlands that year, is nothing like as bad as I had feared it might be. The Creature itself is admittedly not fantastic, but by the standards of Season 17 (which includes the Nimon and the Movellans, and the Mandrells who I have yet to experience) it’s pretty decent. Lalla Ward is still getting into being Romana and notably less assured in the role than in any of the other stories I’ve seen her in. And the plot makes the cardinal mistake of finishing at the start of episode 4 rather than the end, relying on hand-waving and dodgy special effects to get us through the last 20 minutes. But it’s all done with great gusto, especially from Geoffrey Bayldon as the court astrologer. And there are some great lines as well. I remember David Fisher’s novelisation with affection, and I’m sure I’d still rate it higher than the original show, but it really wasn’t too embarrassing, rather to my delight.
The Keeper of Traken, broadcast barely a year later, seems like a completely different show; gone are K9 and Romana, replaced by the ambiguous Adric and the newly appointed Nyssa; and we have the return of the old enemy as well. I saw a comment on the New Beginnings box set from somewhere to the effect that it’s basically the same story told three times over, and there’s something in that, but Traken still has some originality, as the corruption of the Melkur brings about a military coup and the downfall of order. Geoffrey Beevers is better than I remembered as the Master, and the disrupted Trakenites all put in a good show. Tom Baker, however, rather seems to have lost interest. Eight-year-old F offered the most damning comment when I was trying to get him to guess the true nature of the Melkur (his first guess was that it was a weeping angel from Blink, his second that it was a Cyberman, and he got it right third time); he asked me slightly plaintively, “Why didn’t they make Doctor Who exciting back then?”
Anyway, two stories which are neither especially bad nor especially outstanding.