The Doctor Who Ratings Guide: By Fans, For Fans

The First Doctor's era


Tom Baker


Tom Baker's Era - The First Three Years by Carl West 21/3/98

Sometime back in 1982, an eleven-year-old kid in the Fort Mill, SC, area was flipping through the wasteland of American airwaves on a television set, when he suddenly stumbled upon a very unusual looking show on a static-ridden PBS station from Concord, NC. That was a very fateful moment! The show featured some eccentric-looking fellow with curly brown hair and a colorful scarf engaged in some sort of a conflict with some slightly comical looking silver robot-men (Revenge of the Cybermen). I absolutely loved it-- it reminded me very much of the atypical Land of the Lost which I had watched quite avidly as a kid in the late Seventies (although I'll confess that I wasn't using words like "atypical" back then). For some reason, I completely forgot about my fantastic new discovery for about a month or two after seeing Revenge (come on, I was only in the Fifth Grade). When my brain finally kicked itself back into gear, I tuned in again and saw the marvelous Pyramids of Mars. The following week, I had the pleasure of seeing an adventure about doppelganger androids in a lovely picturesque English village (The Android Invasion). I was absolutely hooked, and have been ever since.

Every time I re-watch a story from the Hinchcliffe/Holmes/Baker era, I'm reminded of how much I love that period of the show's history. Tom Baker's portrayal of the Doctor was a bit more subtle and effective than it was during the Graham Williams seasons (he is definitely my favorite Doctor). Elisabeth Sladen was a definite plus; after reading Carl Malmstrom's review of Sarah Jane, I'd have to say that the wonderful rapport between her and the Fourth Doctor was due mainly to that great off-beat sense of humor that they had together. The gothic horror aspect of the stories was absolutely beautiful. A fan named Peter Dixon wrote a letter for Doctor Who Magazine recently in which he pointed out that atmosphere is probably what most of us enjoy predominantly about Doctor Who. The Hinchcliffe/Holmes era is full of great atmospheric touches: the smoke emanating from Marcus Scarman's hands as he kills Namin (Pyramids of Mars), the nightmare wilderness inside the Matrix in The Deadly Assassin, the possessed Sarah Jane calmly infiltrating the Nunton Power Complex (Hand of Fear), the emotionless voice of the murderous SV7 in The Robots of Death, the dying Li H'sen Chang in the opium den (Talons of Weng-Chiang). The first three years of Tom Baker's Doctor was certainly a very defining era for Doctor Who.

A Review by Thomas Cookson 14/11/05

Sometimes as a fan of a long running and inconsistent series like Doctor Who, I do like to think of isolating a particular Doctor's era of the show and saying forget all the rest. A lot of Doctor Who feels like baggage - there's either too much of it that's bad, complicated, convoluted or necrophilic or where the Doctor isn't quite the hero you trust.... or maybe we feel there's too much of it, full stop. So here I am to make a case for the Fourth Doctor Era being the standalone of choice.

I think it's actually a very common feeling among fans of Doctor Who that they are not really fans of the show as a whole, but are more a fan of the show's best moments and ergo are more of a fan of what the show could have been more than what the show often was. The fact is that Doctor Who was often marred by its special effects, its dumbing down themes, its acting, its continuity (and by this I mean contradictions within a story, not contradicting a story prior), its lighting even, and sometimes even its writing.

For this reason a favourite activity of mine has been to think up the ten story choices to go into a time capsule to represent the best elements of Doctor Who - picking stories that are varied but somehow connected all the same.

And the other possibility is to carve off the best or most likely candidate for accessible appeal period of the show, by the actor who played the Doctor:

The Hartnell Era can sit easily by itself. A lot of voyages into history, presenting a largely safe universe - the Daleks are the only real catastrophic threat to life as we know it, and they are utterly destroyed in their first episode and each recurring encounter with them takes place before that ultimate victory for the good guys. The Meddling Monk is also disempowered, and the Cybermen too meet an ultimate demise. It begins with the two companions - Ian and Barbara being taken from their own time, but they are ultimately returned home safely. The one missing factor is that the Doctor's regeneration lacks any real context - meaning there's not much meaning behind his regeneration or any forewarning of the Doctor's ability to do so.

The Troughton Era fares even better as a standalone. The Daleks are given enough of a backstory before being ultimately destroyed, then the Cybermen, Yeti and Ice Warriors continually return to menace the Earth, but the Doctor always saves the day. The Doctor is more like the hero here, and there is more of a trust formed with the viewer. The era is accompanied by the Doctor's most constant companion, Jamie, whilst the ending of the era, in The War Games is far more in context of what the Doctor represents - the regeneration is like the Doctor being finally unmasked. His speech on fighting evil sums up his era perfectly. And in many ways The War Games is a fine candidate for being a potentially good episode for the series to go out on.

The Pertwee Era has a strong sense of established constant setting in our world. The occasional bit of freedom allowed to the Doctor is usually to the future of the Earth empire - portraying how the Doctor's actions on saving the Earth now made this grand future possible, and maybe one could say that the parralel universe stories Inferno and Day of the Daleks showed us a counterpoint of how it could all go wrong if the Doctor failed. It was here where the Doctor was most strongly characterised as a hero devoted to the cause of peace, in the context of our modern political world. The series focused on introducing new enemies: Silurians, Sea Devils, Draconians, Drashigs, Ogrons, Autons and the Master and didn't bother much with old enemies - it's one of the few eras where the Cybermen don't appear - however the appearance of the Daleks presents continuity to the past, but the Daleks lack needed backstory of their origins, and as monsters they lack menace as they are overshadowed by many other monsters or more often are kept behind the scenes. The era refers continually to Metebilis 3, which nods early on about where the Third Doctor will meet his end. However the era's strongest stories are in its first season, and most of what follows on from that is somewhat bland and dogmatic. A bit like cinema of the 1980's - starts off great with Raging Bull, but ends us with Howard the Duck, Star Trek V and Mac & Me. Also the Doctor isn't always a trustworthy hero here. Sometimes his devotion to peace and anti-violence makes him a poor protector of the innocent, and sometimes he would rather run away in the TARDIS and leave the Earth to its current alien threat.

The Fifth Doctor era however is far too geared towards continuity, story arcs and recurring villains and I'm sure that that era played a big part in alienating potential newcomers to the show. Having said that it does well to tie up a lot of loose threads that should have been left to rest there and then - the Daleks are pretty much finished by the Movellan virus, as is their creator, and recurring Time Lords like Omega, Borusa and even the Master meet their final end. In many ways I think it would have been nice if the old series had ended with The Caves of Androzani.

The Sixth Doctor era is hardly a great standalone period of Doctor Who, with the Doctor being frequently obnoxious and completely incidental to the plot, too much continuity bringing back the dead villains, giving us confusing messes of stories like Trial of a Time Lord - in fact, the era is some of the least entertaining portion of the show.

The Seventh Doctor era fares somewhat better - but its continuity is no easier to follow, the exposition in stories is either rushed through or completely absent and some stories of the Ace trilogy are far too complicated.

The Eighth Doctor era ammounts to only one movie which manages to be reasonably self contained. It's just not representative of the show's best qualities - it lacks punch or smartness and is horrendously melodramatic and hyperbolic. That said it exhibits better acting, sets, directing and even lighting than any other era of the show.

And of course there's the Ninth Doctor era, or rather the Ninth Doctor season, which does pretty well - in fact better than most eras - to be a nice, self contained segment of the show - but then again that's exactly what it was meant to be for a new audience.

...and so lets get to the Fourth Doctor Era

Well the Fourth Doctor Era does very well to be an era of Doctor Who that can be an island to itself in terms of self-containment and quality - that in many ways I wish actually had been an island to itself.

The elements of the past are occasionally nodded to - UNIT, Daleks, Cybermen and the Master have their moments in the Fourth Doctor Era - in many cases they have their best moments and don't allow anything faltering to creep in.

Season 12 introduces us nicely to the Fourth Doctor From the earliest moments that the maladapted new Doctor talks of dinosaurs and mistakes the Brigadier for Alexander the Great, we get it immediately that the Doctor is a time traveller. When he takes us to the future and then to Skaro we are reassured by seeing it through the eyes of newcomer Harry Sullivan, watching Sarah and the Doctor, clearly old friends who are in their element together. And we get a Dalek story where the average Joe can see Dalek history from scratch in just a few hours. Harry was a very good companion I thought, and sadly he leaves too soon. But then again he would be somewhat out of place in many of the adventures that follow on from this. Still it's a shame he never appeared again, if only the K9 and Company spinoff had been successful, he could have had a comeback in that.

But the adventures continue, and in Pyramids of Mars we are told, in case we missed it that the Doctor is an alien from Gallifrey, even though he has a job on Earth working for UNIT now and again. In Deadly Assassin, we get to see Gallifrey and are given a nice summary of the regenerative abilities of the Time Lords, and in Robots of Death, by the benefit of introducing the new character Leela, we get a nice explanation of the TARDIS's ability to be dimensionally transcendental, and the inclusion of a Time Lady companion or Romana who regenerates mid-way is a nice bit of icing on the cake.

Wouldn't it be nice if we could remember the Daleks for their finest hour in Genesis of the Daleks and forget about the times they were rendered easily disposed by Thals or Exilons armed only with sticks, or by the Movellan virus, constant civil wars instigated by Davros and many other pathetically easy demises witnessed in The Chase. If we could remember them as always being a really robust and indestructible force that can destroy entire cities even when there's just twenty of the salt-shakers, where the Timelords tell us that one day they could exterminate all other life forms and we for once we can believe them. And what happens at the end? The Doctor fails to destroy them and simply walks away, letting it be known that there will be millions of years of destruction and misery caused by the Daleks, and he's just going to leave it for now and fight on a different day. A story so historically important and powerful that one can barely imagine the show before it.

On the subject of which - doesn't Genesis of the Daleks work so well within the context of Season 12 - doesn't the talk of universal armageddon work so well side by side with the Doctor's speech about the endlessly prevailing infallibility of the human race in Ark in Space, as well as Davros's speeches about survival at all costs? The talk of abused technology and bunkers in Robot, but all taking place in a safer world of the sanctuary of modern Earth and the UNIT establishment, contrast that with the chaos and metaphorical hell of Skaro in Genesis, or even contrast Skaro with the false heaven of Gallifrey as seen in Deadly Assassin and The Invasion of Time.

Likewise we have some pretty good UNIT stories that provide this homely sanctuary from the more savage elements of the universe without constraining the series. Robot, Terror of the Zygons, Android Invasion and Seeds of Doom represent the UNIT years well - Robot being the classic example of moral shades of grey and an indictment of mankind "your enemies are homegrown, Brigadier", Terror of the Zygons and Android Invasion focusing on the fear of replica and facsimile humans with some ghost story undertones. Seeds of Doom is also a good choice as one of the most desperate fights to save the planet, with a few mercenaries thrown in for good measure.

There is also the Master, and to sum up what Mike Morris said in his (as ever) brilliant review on the character of the Master, he had very few finest moments, or even decent moments, but the Tom Baker era exhibits three of them - Deadly Assassin, Keeper of Traken and Logopolis - his best appearances of the era are his only appearances of the era, and his appearances, just like those of the Daleks and Davros are nicely bookended around the beginning and end of the era - indeed the Master is inititally thought dead by the Doctor in Deadly Assassin, but he returns, and in doing so, ends the life of the Fourth Doctor.

The Time Llords and Gallifrey get a more explicit portrayal in the episodes Deadly Assassin and Invasion of Time, and they play more of a role than simply neutral observers, they send the Doctor to stop the Daleks, they use the time loop, even one of their number, Romana joins the Doctor in his journeys and heroism. Gallifrey becomes more part of the series just like Genesis of the Daleks establishes the world of Skaro more explicitly, making the Doctor Who universe more defined and vivid and polarised - without revisiting Gallifrey so much that it becomes dull and repetitive.

There was a lot of culture on display in the Tom Baker era - the universe of E-Space, the peace-loving worlds of the Leisure Hive and Traken, the worlds where the segments of the Key to Time were to be found. There were four direct story arcs, the Nerva/Time Ring arc, the Key to Time, E-Space and the Master's return, and perhaps one could say that Genesis and Destiny represent a belated story arc, and then of course there was the more constantly underlying war between the Sontarans and the Rutans throughout Sontaran Experiment, Horror of Fang Rock and Invasion of Time. And connections give a very nice feeling - that's why we enjoy bingo or drawing parralels in literature and history. But by the same token, much of the Tom Baker era can stand alone from interconnected narratives. The Krynoids and Zygons are a wonderful threat, but they don't affect the rest of the era, and likewise, you don't need to be a fan of the show to follow their stories.

The Doctor is frequently up against invincible foes in this era, whilst in other eras particularly Jon Pertwee and Colin Baker's reign, the villains are built up and then easily knocked down by gunfire and explosions. But this isn't the case here - the Rutan in Horror of Fang Rock is one tough cookie to kill, like the Robots in Robots of Death, like the Mummies in Pyramids of Mars. And you can say what you like about Revenge of the Cybermen (and I will say now that I really like that story), but the Cybermen are really indestructible, particularly in the scene where the Doctor and Harry try to tackle them with gold dust and find themselves damn near dismembered by the mechanical brutes - compare them to the easily disposed Cybermen in Attack of the Cybermen.

In so many ways the series just felt so much better under Tom Baker's era - the lighting, the scripts, the directing, all far more edgy and sophisticated and seemed to take the program far more seriously than eras before or since.

More importantly, the Fourth Doctor was a figure you could always trust. He was never quite the thug that William Hartnell, Colin Baker or Christopher Eccleston were, but he knew when violence was called for - he would not hesitate to use violence to save the lives of innocents, whereas Jon Pertwee or Peter Davison would. Despite the oft quoted "Do I have the right" moment in Genesis, I think the Fourth Doctor would have easily killed Davros in Resurrection of the Daleks, he would have used the Time Ram to finish the Master for good in The Time Monster (with it in mind that in both cases he had witnessed both of them be humanely imprisoned before only to escape and kill more innocent people) and he would have spent less time searching for an alternative to the hexachromite gas in Warriors of the Deep and let the homicidal lizards have it (he would have tried for an alternative, but he would have been quicker to realise that time was too much of the essence and that the violence and genocidal intentions of the Sea Devils and Silurians didn't really entitle them to a humane retaliation - it was not like he was killing Silurian/Sea Devil civilians as well as warriors like the Brigadier and Walker had).

Portraying the darker or more ineffectual Doctor might make interesting TV, but it does not make a trustworthy heroic Doctor, which is what Tom Baker's Doctor always was. Now granted, whether you consider the Doctor to be trustworthy or untrustworthy because of his passiveness depends entirely on your world view. If your world view is threatening then you are not going to feel safe with Jon Pertwee or Peter Davison's Doctor by your side, then again that can be a very misguided view that draws insecure and vulnerable people to violent fanatics.

The Fourth Doctor looked and sounded more heroic than Doctors past or future - he was tall and grand, he wore a perpetually optimistic expression, and had a voice that was commanding and eloquent and somehow always reassuring.

Somehow Tom Baker's Doctor was always comfortable - even when shrugging off the corpse of Lawrence Scarman, or trapping the Zygons in their exploding ship, or taunting Davros with his bomb "just press this switch and boom-boom-Davros!" you knew that violence and dismissing collateral deaths was not something that the Doctor really relished. And you knew that behind the grumpy putdowns and insults, that the Doctor actually quite liked Harry. At the time that the Fourth Doctor was on TV - the 70's and 80's, the Doctor as a hero was mismatched to the cynical vengeance-happy, conservatively aggressive (to the point of advocating vigilanteism and right wing terrorism), and exaggeratedly masculine cinema of the period. The Doctor could crack jokes, he would befriend any stranger warmly, calmly and politely speak to his adversary, and even offer his had to the bad guy dangling off the ledge. Basically the Doctor was a breath of fresh air, liberating us from the perpetuated image of traditional repressive, brutish or perverse man, portraying hope and humour in a paranoid, violent and unwelcoming world. He was positive and free, he was compassionate but not to a fault, he was protective but not hostile, he was eccentric but was always self respecting and could stand up for himself well, which was especially important!

He was just right...

For the most part however, the Fourth Doctor Era does not focus on the strong qualities of the past. Whilst the First Doctor Era was an especially expressive and emotional period of the show, most of the Fourth Doctor era was lacking in any poignancy. But it was nice that Pyramids of Mars exhibited a pinch of poignancy with the scene between Lawrence Scarman and his possessed brother as a nice homage to the scene where the robotised Phil guns down his brother Larry in Dalek Invasion of Earth. The expressive imagery and surrealism of the experimental early years was also nicely, if briefly homaged in the Matrix segments of The Deadly Assassin. And of course there was plenty of allegory and metaphor to be found in the biblical and hellish environment of Skaro in Genesis of the Daleks.

Speaking of the old days, I must say Talons of Weng-Chiang and Horror of Fang Rock are the two Tom Baker stories which for me perfect the authentic dialogue that it seemed only David Whitaker could write for the series - although The Unquiet Dead and Father's Day are also wonderful candidates.

Whilst there wasn't as much of the social commentary that had characterised a lot of the Pertwee era, there was certainly the odd example - Robot being the most immediate example, Horror of Fang Rock commented nicely on classism and war fanaticism, The Deadly Assassin comments on the drive to create a perfect society, and on corruption within politics and the media - based heavily on the CIA in America. Chris Boucher's stories Face of Evil and Robots of Death both have the kind of psychology and presentation of the influence of nurture on perspective that says a lot about the human condition - a bit like the "Mutants are in the eye of the beholder" theme of The Daleks.

Genesis of the Daleks may be the only explicit morally driven, anti-war story of the Tom Baker era, but it is actually the best anti-war story that Doctor Who ever did - about sinister governments espouting dangerous words, sending the youngest to their deaths, mindless violence and war, and in an unstated way it's about how the Daleks might have been destroyed forever if the Kaleds and the Thals - Gharman's men and Bettan's forces - had only worked together in alliance. It also commented nicely on the situation in Britain at the time when Generation X, casting off the older generation and looking for something new to believe in were being drawn to extremist outfits like the National Front.

(on that note I think the Big Finish audio adventures with Davros couldn't have come any sooner, given the growing support for the BNP and the emotional insecurity of young males today)

It was undoubtedly the Hinchcliffe years that were the best years of Doctor Who - and beyond that?

Well I like the fact that the Hinchcliffe years had been so dark and violent, but come the Graham Williams years things became so much more lighthearted. The show was clearly no longer aimed at the more adult audience and was more for kids - that's where K9 came in. That was in some ways a positive thing - to see the universe reach a cooler temper that made it a safer place.

I've always said that for all its detailed presentation of the origins of the Daleks that anyone could follow, the one thing about Genesis of the Daleks is that it still needs a companion piece alongside it, because it makes the Dalek threat so immediate and needs a resolution. That's one reason why I agree with Mike Morris's point that Genesis of the Daleks invented continuity, not just because it introduced Davros, but because it made grand implications about the future of the Daleks which needed to be settled - Remembrance, Resurrection and especially the New Series Dalek episodes would all make fine candidates for a companion piece. If we boxed off the Tom Baker era, then Genesis of the Daleks would be stuck with Destiny of the Daleks as its companion, which isn't great but isn't bad either. People can say that Destiny of the Daleks belittles the Daleks just as much as The Chase did, but the fact is the Daleks are still tough and evil bastards in this one - more evil than they've been in the new series - whether killing their slaves to blackmail the Doctor into surrendering, or the Dalek blinded by the Doctor's hat, still able to track the Doctor's movements by sound and blast away at him. Okay, so Davros is pants and scarcely justifies being resurrected, in fact this is Davros' most pitiful appearance ever, never before or since has the intellectual character of Davros been so completely reduced to a stupid ranting cartoon villain.

Destiny of the Daleks may have been something of a belittling comedown from Genesis of the Daleks, but maybe it had to be for the sake of reassurance, to resolve the open-ended Dalek threat in Genesis and let us know (after a four year wait) that the Daleks would never conquer the universe like the Time Lords predicted, and that the Doctor didn't have to wipe them all out as long as the Movellans kept them contained. In a way it reinforces the Doctor Who notion that even evil has its place in the universe - the Daleks and Movellans are as bad as each other and by the Doctor giving neither side an advantage over the other keeps the Universe safe from both sides, complimented well by references to the Sontaran/Rutan war. It's also a nice bit of irony that the Daleks should face the same war of attrition that their ancestors did.

Destiny of the Daleks is overall a more hopeful story, where even the world of Skaro has come to blossom, where the once dead world can now support some vegetation, where the Daleks have left, and the world feels as deserted, but safe as a walk through suburban nightfall.

City of Death was likewise a nice return to safer territory. Although there is no sign of UNIT, this is unmistakeably a return to the same sanctuary of modern day Earth that we saw in the UNIT episodes at the beginning of Tom Baker's era. Except that on the face of things, Earth is not under threat at all - there are very few deaths, only one of which is on screen, and initially it seems that all Scaroth wants is to steal the Mona Lisa for money, then he wants to go back in time and save himself - in fact the Doctor comes across as quite a git really when he keeps interfering with his plans. But then in a bold twist the story becomes one that threatens the existance of all of us, taking us back to the primordial soup to meet spaghetti face (one might even say this image of our genesis completes the frame of the human race suggested in Ark in Space). It is also one of the few Doctor Who episodes to use the concept of time travel for its worth. And ultimately it is another display of the more sophisticated writing of the Tom Baker era that allowed for such intelligent twists.

On that subject, it occurs to me that Evil of the Daleks, Inferno, Deadly Assassin, Caves of Androzani, Remembrance of the Daleks and Parting of the Ways are other such examples of the ability of Doctor Who to educate young people about inventive narrative writing and twists in the plot, just like it taught them about characterisation, irony, telegraphing, sophisticated lexicon, formulaic plotting and the more off the wall variety. In fact, it surprises me that the New Series hasn't used more of these kind of twists in the plot now that twist endings in movies have become far more popularised (and rather too obligatory) than they ever were in the 60's, 70's or 80's. (For more on that angle see Empire Strikes Back, Once Upon a Time in America, Angel Heart, The Innocents, The Wicker Man, Don't Look Now, and some Hitchcock films)

Speaking of which, the last season of Tom Baker's reign was in many ways its most off the wall and experimental, taking the series back into adult territory (some would say kicking and screaming), which was quite fitting in a season that would see the Doctor superceded and destroyed by a universe getting on top of him.

I'll be honest and admit that I have seen perhaps half of the Tom Baker era, perhaps less than half. These are the episodes I have seen in chronological order:

Robot, Ark in Space, Sontaran Experiment, Genesis of the Daleks, Revenge of the Cybermen, Terror of the Zygons, Planet of Evil, Pyramids of Mars, Seeds of Doom, Deadly Assassin, Face of Evil, Robots of Death, Talons of Weng-Chiang, Horror of Fang Rock, Destiny of the Daleks, City of Death, The Leisure Hive and Keeper of Traken.

Whilst I have not seen everything, I like to think I have a grand enough picture of the era to be able to appreciate it as the most spot-on, as close to perfection as Doctor Who ever got. Now I have not seen many 'turkeys' of the Tom Baker era, but the few I have seen don't seem too bad. I thought Revenge of the Cybermen was wonderfully gritty and pulp, and contrary to popular opinion I thought it treated the Cybermen with the respect they deserved. I found Destiny of the Daleks to be watchable, mainly on the strength of the brilliant and underrated directing of Ken Grieve, and the atmosphere. Still I thought only the first half of the serial was strong, the second was very silly indeed. And The Leisure Hive was a very confusing and messy to the point of incomprehensible story, but within that was still a wonderful portrayal of alien culture and the search for a better world of peace.

So overall I'd gladly take the Tom Baker era as the closest to flawless and self-contained the series ever became.

Supplement, 1/5/06:

In recent times I have come to see and hear more of the Troughton era, both stories I've never seen or heard before like The Abominable Snowmen and The Mind Robber, and stories I've always loved like The War Games, Power and Evil of the Daleks, and I've come to the conclusion that actually the Tom Baker era was second best to Troughton's reign - which was overall tighter, and generally more abstract and more poignant.

I've also recently watched several other Tom Baker stories that I'd not seen before: The Invasion of Time and The Creature from the Pit.

I must say I came to really dislike The Invasion of Time after I finished watching it, viewing it as easily the worst Tom Baker story: criminally apathetic and boring with no momentum, no rhyme or reason to it and some of the most detestably cold-blooded moments of the series. It certainly proved the adage that when Doctor Who is bad, it's truly atrocious, and the worst thing is there were vague suggestions of some good ideas lying underneath it all. (I can't believe Mark Campbell - writer of the Pocket Guide - seriously gave this story more points than he did for Evil of the Daleks or The Three Doctors)

Creature from the Pit was pretty mediocre, and I can see how it garnered a reputation for being one of the more bland and unimpressive exercises in Williams-era humour. I found most of the entertainment of the episode came from Lalla Ward looking especially hot here. I had hopes that this story would prove me to have underestimated the topical content of the Tom Baker era in a rather cliched but still topical story of fear and prejudice, although on that front I feel the story really did itself an injustice by having the Doctor have a hand in effectively murdering the villainess quite cold bloodedly, when she could have easily been imprisoned. Mind you I did like the approach of the Neutron star, which for me really aided that sense of cosmic scope I described, with a post-Destiny of the Daleks sense that the stretch of the galaxy we see here is safe from the Dalek menace thanks to the Movellan intervention.

It's been suggested to me that in terms of sampling the more topical stories of the Tom Baker era that I should watch The Sunmakers for its taxation allegory (which seems quite appropriate to modern times) as well as the Key to Time story arc which amongst other issues, apparently made an effective allegory of nuclear war, hopefully more effectively than The Leisure Hive did for me.

But in any case I still like the romantic idea of the Tom Baker era being self contained in an island to itself.

The Last Four Years by Stephen Maslin 4/11/16

It was all going so well but then...

Williams-Holmes (Stories 92-95). Success Rate: 3 out of 4.

In spite of the great producer's enforced absence, the tone of the Hinchcliffe-Holmes era didn't really come to an end until mid-Season 15. Horror of Fang Rock and Image of the Fendahl are very much in the Hinchcliffe mode (dark and Gothic - as if you didn't know), and Robert Holmes stayed on as script editor until his own excellent script for The Sun Makers was in the can. Three good stories to one bad is still a pretty good ratio, but though the underlying qualities were still in place, things had started to look a bit threadbare. In the face of shrinking budgets (hand-in-hand with union troubles and uneasy self-censorship), it would have been truly miraculous to have maintained the high standards so recently achieved. Thus, if the defining trait of the first half of the Fourth Doctor era is how bloody good it is, that of the latter half (and of the show as a whole right up to its cancellation) is how it veers between the marvelous and the better-left-unsaid. Horror of Fang Rock is followed by The Invisible Enemy; The Sun Makers is followed by Underworld.

Williams-Read (Stories 96-102). Success Rate: 5 out of 7.

In fact, it's not until Underworld (a story that seems to function only as a training video for CSO) that we see what life could well be like without either Philip H and Robert H. It is very much the product of a team that has just lost both its guiding lights: rudderless, overly cautious, shoddily put together and another poor Baker and Martin script but without any redemptive Holmesian input. Against all the odds, season finale The Invasion of Time restores some order, though, watching it now, one can only think what a struggle it must have been to get ready in time. Confidence could not have been high. A pleasant shock then that the first stories of the following season (The Key To Time parts one to four) are, in terms of consistency, almost without parallel. You would be hard pressed to find a continuous run of so many great episodes back-to-back anywhere else. (The Enemy-Web-Fury trio from early 1968 perhaps?) It was as if, no matter what you did to it, Doctor Who would sooner or later emerge triumphant. Alas, just when you think the days of infuriating inconsistency are behind us, the unthinkable occurs: a Robert Holmes script that is no damn good. Perhaps The Power of Kroll is not a bad script per se, but it is weighed down by completely unrealizable ambition. There was no Philip Hinchcliffe to tap the author on the shoulder and say "Giant squid, Bob? Can we do this? Remember what happened when we tried a giant rat". Add to that some very poor direction, a split-screen effect that never quite works and those bloody swampies, and you have something to put very firmly in the loss column.

Williams-Adams (Stories 103-109). Success Rate: 1 out of 6.

You'd hardly notice the difference, but apparently Douglas Adams' first story as script-editor was not at the beginning of the 17th season (as commonly thought) but at the end of the 16th: uncredited, for The Armageddon Factor. One can't really blame Anthony Read for off-loading such a turkey onto his successor. Apart from the poor script and painful lack of funds, we can perhaps put down the resulting yawnfest as teething troubles. Or can we? There was a phrase coined many years ago that aptly describes the tone of subsequent Season 17 (a season that, in spite of having the mighty City of Death, still averages out as one of the show's all-time lows). That phrase was 'The Tom Baker Show'. No longer Doctor Who but a light entertainment confection, and a very poor one at that. You can see the warning signs of it much earlier. The Pirate Planet and The Stones of Blood both have moments where the leading man tips over into unsuppressed manic exuberance, but, isolated as those moments are, they can be easily passed over. Yet, with a season kicking off with Adams' head-to-toe rewrite of a Terry Nation non-script, the dam starts to break. We do not really notice until after we return from Paris, when it collapses completely, unleashing a torrent of bad comedy. Had Shada been finished, the train wreck ending to Doctor Who in the 1970s might be less noticeable. It wasn't and it isn't. Graham Williams is usually given the lion's share of the blame for "The Horns of the Nightmare Creature" but he had already shown that, with a different script editor, he could come up with the goods. It is painful to admit but, apart from two good scripts and one unmade story, Douglas Adams' contribution to Doctor Who was a disaster.

Turner-Bidmead (Season 18). Success Rate: 5 out of 7.

John Nathan Turner was supposed to be the antidote to the tawdriness of late Season 17 and all that it represented. For a hundred minutes of screen-time he really was, but, after the techno-colour new broom of The Leisure Hive, the next couple of stories under his charge were just as bad as before. Meglos is a squabble between Mr Dull and Mr Daft. With Full Circle, we get our first long look at (and listen to) two figures who were to bedevil the show for some time to come: Matthew Waterhouse and Paddy Kingsland. The last four stories of Season 18 are, however, excellent, in spite of both of them, the best two of those having no Kingsland at all (with far superior incidental music courtesy of Peter Howell and Roger Limb). The problem overall is that one instinctively knows what is coming; that the moment has been prepared for. One sits through the second half of the season ticking off the boxes of things that have to be done: lose K9 (twice), lose a Time Lady, get out of E-Space, gain Nyssa, regain the Master, gain an Australian air hostess (but not her Aunt Vanessa), lose Tom. It's like watching a ticking clock, counting down to a very uncertain midnight.


Season 19 (5 out of 7 by my reckoning) is at least as good as the last four years of the Fourth Doctor, but it flatters to deceive: the Davison era as a whole falls short. Like the Pertwee era a decade before, half of it just doesn't need to be there. (Unlike the Pertwee era, times were not so forgiving.) Even though Tom Baker blotted his copybook by not joining in the Five Doctors shindig, reducing it to a preposterous irrelevance in the process, when someone with the same surname and very similar hair was cast as the Fifth Doctor's replacement, it was a subconscious admission as to what the show really needed back but could never hope to regain.