The Doctor Who Ratings Guide: By Fans, For Fans

BBV's P.R.O.B.E.
The Zero Imperative

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A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 23/9/98

After two re-releases, this, the first in the P.R.O.B.E series is an intriguing piece of suspenseful drama. Centred around the mysterious goings on at a clinic, recently taken over by a new director, The Zero Imperative tells of how a powerful source of mental energy is responsible for a series of inexplicable murders, and how it is linked to one of the patients at the clinic.

To reintroduce Caroline John as Liz Shaw is a touch of genius. As the recent novels have shown, the character was vastly underused and had a great deal of potential .To have Liz heading the P.R.O.B.E teams investigations into the paranormal, and in this case the murders, is interesting to watch as Doctor Who. However, unlike Doctor Who, she doesn't spend her time playing second-fiddle to the Doctor. Speaking of whom, we are joined by no less than three here.

Jon Pertwee as Dr.O`Kane plays the retired director and as such his role is minimal. Colin Baker as Peter Russell, the new backer (and who funded the clinic, thus saving it from closure) is an interesting character, playing the less bombastic side of the Sixth Doctor. Best of all however is Sylvester McCoy`s Colin Dove, an all-knowing, not-telling darker version of the Seventh Doctor. Most surprising is Linda Lusardi in her her first acting role as Lou Bayliss, Liz`s assistant. Her character is actually quite memorable, getting some of the best lines in the show. Unfortunately, Louise Jameson and Sophie Aldred only play small parts, and their involvement wasn`t essential to the plot.

The storyline itself is very confused in parts as well, but writer Mark Gatiss rises above this to end the tale on a cliffhanger and the lead in to a possible sequel. With in-jokes aplenty, solid acting, and an enjoyable storyline, this debut for the P.R.O.B.E series bodes well for the future of Doctor Who spin-offs.

Spooky old man... by Joe Ford 18/10/02

Ahh spin offs... always dangerous waters to cross. When done well they can remind you why you loved the original show so much, capatalise on some of its characters and push its own identidy in directions the original never could. Deep Space Nine is an excellent example, a cracking show, thoughtful, intelligent... a far cry from the tedious runarounds of The Next Generation or the tacky origninal series. Angel is a poor example, a shadow of Buffy the Vampire Slayer... it has all the gore and agression of the earlier show but none of its charm or wit. So you see it is pot luck as to whether you are going to be disapointed or not. Having myself been sorely disapointed by many Doctor Who spin offs (the new Sarah Jane Smith audios are just terrible... but then I'm waiting to hear a script that's not written by old hacks Terry and Barry... maybe the next one, the underground bomber one will be more exciting than the bland storytelling they have so far produced and some of the later Benny audios just didn't capture my interest like the old ones) I was more than a little nervous about entering the world of spin-off videos. But thanks to the suggestion by Stuart Gutteridge I bought this video and by golly wow I'm glad that I did...

I'll tell you why this was so good, because it had all the core ingredients of what made The X-Files so great in it's early years (and, shockingly, ingredients it learnt how to use again in its last two years). A real sense of fear about the unknown, recognisable things twisted slightly to pump the wind out of you, a strong set of compelling regulars and an ambiguous but highly suspenseful finish that leaves you begging for more.

The acting is of the highest calibre but then with Caroline John, Colin Baker, Mark Gatiss, Slyvester McCoy, Jon Pertwee and Louise Jameson on board it's no great surprise. I have to say it was a stroke of genius to pick out Liz Shaw and give her her own show, she is the only 'companion' that could be shunted realistically into the role of head of PROBE. John plays Liz as you would expect, assured with the fact that she was always a strong character she imbues her with as much intelligence and pluck as the script will allow. She is quite a revelation. Even better though is Louise Jameson who shakes off her skins and takes on the role of Patricia Haggard, PROBE's liason with the Ministry. She has minimal screen time but she lights up the story whnever she appears with her fiery temper and viscous tongue. I certainly wouldn't want to meet HER on a dark night!

But what of our Doctors? To my great surprise it is McCoy who stands out the most from this line-up although there isn't a bad performance between them. It is so disconcerting to see the lovable goofball seventh Doctor acting like a deranged madman. McCoy delivers his lines in such a terrifying way, he is perverted, psychotic and but more often than not shown to be in control. That is scary. Baker gives a solid performance as Peter Russell, he is our anchor throughout the story, we share the mystery of what is going on with him throughout. And Pertwee, in what I think is one of his last performances ever, reminds why his Doctor was so well characterised. Because he had an excellent actor at the helm.

Mark Gatiss has written an exciting and thoughtful script which doesn't (like so many X-Files) sacrifice intelligence for atmosphere (although there are some terrific set pieces in here but they are all tied chillingly with the main plot). We are fed answers a little at a time, catching glimpses of the surrounding menace before the climax is upon us and the answers spill out (I would never have guessed the outcome of this story and it's all the better for it). His performance is a little eager in places but entirely acceptable and indeed his characters pursuit through the woods is a scare-filled high for the tape.

These are made on a shoe-string? I couldn't tell. Shot entirely on location this story looks great with some highly memorable (and frightening) images thrown in. There is one shot in a darkened room where Doctor Dove turns round and we see a knife glinting in front of the camera waiting for him which left me on the edge of my seat. There are lots of slow pans across walls with a child singing 'Daisy, Daisy' which are equally frightening. To make this sort of programme you have to understand how to scare the audience and the little peeps here and there of the approaching terror is enough to keep you in total suspense. Doctor Who itself was made on a low budget and had to cut corners, production wise, but it was often all the better for the finished product. I think when you don't have a lot of money you are forced to be more creative to impress and this certainly applies to The Zero Imperative.

My boyfriend sat and watched this with me with some serious reservations about watching a Doctor Who spin off (of all the low paths to walk down!!!). He was transfixed, utterly mesmerised by the story and scared to pieces by the shivery bits. We slept with the hall light on that night! He loved spotting the different Doctors and companions (he loves Liz and Leela so that helped!) but more than that... it was the STORY that hooked him and the performances impressed him. And that is what I think it's important to remember, these aren't just Doctor Who reunions but genuinely thrilling mini movies in their own right.

This story scared me more than Doctor ever has. I was quite eager to watch the rest of the PROBE adventures to see how things turn out for Liz and co...

A Review by Richard Radcliffe 21/1/04

This positively glows with its Doctor Who connections, with no fewer than four ex-Doctors and three ex-companions. The four ex-Doctors play widely different parts from their turn in Airzone Solution - but again it is marvellous to see them all - and in the same production.

Zero Imperative is a PROBE drama though - and thus the main character has to be Liz Shaw - indeed the only Doctor Who fictional character in this drama (if you know what I mean). PROBE is a British X-Files, and Liz is heading it. A highly unusual detective she is too - but nicely played by Caroline John. She's rather submerged under the weight of DW casting going on around her - but she holds her own well.

Ex-Companions first. Louise Jameson is here as Patricia Haggard (Patsy), but she hardly does anything, apart from be a sort of X character. Sophie Aldred is here too, but it's a very blink and you'll miss it cameo at the start. I would particularly like to see more of Patsy in future dramas.

Ex-Doctors now. Jon Pertwee has a much bigger part here than in Airzone. Dr Jeremiah O'Kane is the former head of the Clinic - he's a bit dotty now but still capable of wise words. Peter Davison has a cameo, which would spoil the story - but at least he can carry a tune. Colin Baker has a great part - Peter Russell, the mysterious benefactor for the clinic. Sylvester McCoy plays the current head of the clinic - Colin Dove.

It is Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy who impressed the most for me here. McCoy is superb as the angst ridden psychiatric Doctor in charge. He really doesn't want to give any control to Russell - but yet he knows he has to. And what is the deal with Patient Zero?

The end is rather cryptic, make of it what you want. Scared the hell out of me - particularly all that knife wielding. Mark Gatiss again deserves credit for the script. He plays one of the Doctors here, Bruffin, and does that well too - is the man full of talent! Recommendations also to Nicola Fulljames as Dr Hearst - a reassuringly pretty presence amongst the uneasy goings on, and Linda Lusardi - well, just because she's in it really. Can Linda Lusardi act - who cares!

I'm moving on now to the next PROBE drama - I think this series definitely has some mileage, and it looks like there's at least three dramas to enjoy. They will do well to match this one for intrigue. I'm impressed Mr Baggs. 8/10