The Ark in Space
The Sontaran Experiment
Genesis of the Daleks
Revenge of the Cybermen
Season Twelve


"Harry Sullivan is an imbecile!" by Joe Ford 20/6/02

An entire season linked together? A return to SF stories of the Troughton era? A new apparently loopy Doctor? A pair of seriously fashion victimized companions? A new gritty diection… after the comfortable homeliness of the Pertwee era surely these radical Hinchcliffe changes couldn’t take hold. Season Twelve was a big bold move in 1975 but will it survive the test of time…


A story I used to loathe. It is such an awkward transition watching now, all the Pertwee elements are there, the earth setting, the monster roaming about the countryside, the Brigader being a right idiot, UNIT firing before thinking, a cheesy score…it’s all there. It only feels awkward because we know how dark Tom Baker’s first three seasons deveop but at the time it must have been comfortably familiar for the audience and easier to accept the new Doctor in this archetypal story. After Robert Smith?'s revisionist review on the story I was compelled to go back and watch it again. I was astonished. I had ignored the manical improvisation of Tom Baker’s performance, the sweet King Kong parallel using Sarah Jane in a critical way for a change, the superb location work, the witty lines courtesy of stalwart Terrance Dicks (his stories may seem familiar but they are all great escapist adventures). It’s not perfect, some of the FX are cheesy beyond belief (the tank) and I can’t deny the story has a really comic book feel but then considering the shows great diversity that can’t be a criticism: 7/10

Top dialogue: “But you can’t take on the whole world! Don’t you understand they’ll destroy you!” The great Lis Sladen’s ability to make the situation dramatic through her corny dialouge is unparalleled.

Top moment: The hysterical scenes between Harry and the insane Doctor in episode one.

The Ark in Space.

Tightly plotted, deadly serious and absolutely riveting. People suggest this is just another ‘monster story’ but it’s far more than that. The depth that Robert Holmes brings to the script is breathtaking, he carves a future for us that is brutal yet optimistic and sketches in with vivid details of solar flares, thermic shelters, the ministers voice…his ability to create fascinating worlds through words alone was second to none. The plot itself is gripping, with all humanity at stake and with the quite horrible threat of the Wirrn it becomes a tense, have to finish in one sitting experience. Tom Baker is already in his swing, dominating the proceedings with his charisma and wit and Sarah and Harry are used well, poked fun at of course but treated intelligently too. Watch this on your crystal sharp DVD player with the enhanced CGI effects… I’m not one for updating these stories but with such a classic in hand the stylish shots of the Ark merely enhance it’s power: 9.5/10

Top dialouge: “Besides we can’t let the Wirrin eat throught the cryogenic sleepers as though they were a load of…” “Jelly Babies?”

Top moment: The Doctor baits Sarah when she gets stuck in the conduit. Very funny.

The Sontaran Experiment.

This is spoilt by its title as the cliffhanger is brilliant and worth conserving as a surprise. Why leave clues like “The creature in the rocks!” when it’s right there in the title? Still when that’s my only complaint things can’t be that bad can they? This is a superb little two parter and a great change of scenery after the stifling atmosphere of the Ark. The location work is wonderful, I always love watching the Doctor and friends wondering about outside it adds a sense of realism missing in certain studio based stories. There are a few moments where the production crossed the line, the guy chained up dead is pretty sickening but then we are never left in any doubt about the seriousness of the situation. The all action finale is great and Sarah and Harry make a great companion team. Two minor complaints: the silly robot and the horrid accents (and I think they’re real!): 8/10

Top dialouge: “Don’t worry I’ll get you out of there even if I have knock his bally head off and grab his keys!” Love that Harry!

Top moment: The Doctor goading Styre. “You unspeakable abomination!”

Genesis of the Daleks.

This is what Doctor Who is all about. I’m not sure if I have ever seen any show that reached utter perfection but this is as close as it ever got. The scripts are just ace, more Holmes than Nation I’m inclined to think unless he had a profound influence on the chap! The production values are rock solid, the acting phenomenal, the pace is perfect. The very idea of going back to see where the Daleks began is genius but to twist it into such a frightening idea was thanks to the talent involved in the show at the time. David Maloney's direction (and later with Talons of Weng-Chiang) just shows how underated the guy is…he doesn’t miss any attempt to keep us enthralled (even the Muto shot dead and the electric fence made me catch a breath!). The cliffhangers not only add to the story but remain some of the most memorable in the show (I still LOVE Sarah falling away from the scaffolding despite the resolution!). And not to mention the two stars, Tom Baker and Michael Wisher, who bring to life the Doctor and Davros with such aplomb. Davros is the ultimate bad guy, no arguments. I could just rave on all day…even the ending is just perfect (it would have been such a memorable departure!): 10/10

Top dialogue: Do I have to choose? Okay ignoring the oft quoted Davros speeches…”I realized out of their evil must come something good…”

Top moment: When you realize how Davros is playing the two sides against each other just to continue his research! What a bastard!

Revenge of the Cybermen.

No! Nonononono! NOOOOO! How could they? How could they end such a fantastic run on such a crappy, worn out second rate hack of a story? The mind boggles! Okay good things first: the location work is excellent, creepy and stylish. Bad things: Everything else! The plot…just a rip of the far superior Genesis, the logic… the Cybermen beam on to the planet of gold, the only substance they fear nobody think to pick some up and attack them with that?... the acting with the exception of Kellman is atrocious, those US accents are just embarrassing and when I realised I had Kevin Stoney (The Invasion), David Collins (Robots of Death) and William Marlowe (Mind of Evil) on board it just makes me weep! The Cybermen look ridiculous (their tubing and jug handles are more comical than ever and I don’t think I need to go near the Cyberleader's accent!) and the music is just bad. The regulars try so hard to make it watchable but are fighting a lost cause but given their material (Sarah holding up the cybermat! Pur-lease!) why bother? The weakest Tom Baker story by far simply because it could have been so much more… you can’t give such criticism to duds like Underworld and The Power of Kroll: 1/10 (an all time low score for me!).

Top dialogue: Erm…. I’m trying…nope sorry, even the “You just a pathetic bunch of tin soldiers…” is rubbish.

Top moment: The TARDIS takes off at the end leaving this horrible nightmare behind.

Well, well, well, what a year! It was a real time for change on the show and in nearly every way it was successful. The regulars adjusted well into their whacky adventures and gave solid, charismatic performances. The increased violence and serious material was welcome and Robert Holmes script editing meant we were never short of excellent dialogue. My enjoyment is tainted somewhat by the inclusion of Revenge…and it would have helped considerably to have kept Terror of the Zygons in this season to finish things off on a real high but c’est le vie… you can’t win them all. Hinchcliffe and Baker had made their mark… it was now up to them to prove what they could do!

New Directions on old situations by Terrence Keenan 4/12/03

Season 12 is a bit of an odd duck. Three of the stories have returning villains. One is an old-fashioned UNIT story. The Doc gets sent on another mission for the Time Lords. In a way, it's treading on very familiar ground.

It's the approach that sets Season 12 apart from the Pertwee years. There's a new Doctor, new producer, new script editor on the scene. And for the first time in five years, the show gets a rethink while touching on the past in fresh ways.

Robot is the most conventional of the season. Sarah, Benton, The Brig and Bessie all are on the scene to keep the viewers oriented. But, Big Tommy B is definitely not Pertwee. Younger, less conventional, more alien. The other kicker is that the villains of the piece are a bunch of loony British scientists who want to take over the world with the help of a giant robot and the codes for the nukes of the superpowers. Familiar, yet fresh.

The Ark in Space shows off the new direction. More horror elements. A well motivated, powerful foe. Tom Baker really establishes how he would play the Doctor for the next three seasons. And there are moves to push the show in a more adult direction.

The Sontaran Experiment is an exercise in concise storytelling. The regulars are tossed into trouble right away. In fact there's no chance to catch your breath as you bounce from scene to scene.

Genesis of the Daleks takes our beloved pepperpots and reinvents them. We meet their creator. The Daleks are kept on the sidelines and come across as savage weaponry than an actual race until the end. The meat of the story revolves around Davros and concepts of changing history and the moral implications thereof.

Revenge of the Cybermen shows the Cybermen at their very end of existence. This is a tired race gambling on the chance to destroy a planet that caused their extinction. The more I watch Revenge, the more I dig the gold plot line in concept. It's a way of showing historical context with a well known alien race. The ultimate weapon was found and used. And although future Doctors encounter the Cybermen, this is their last moment of existence, in chronological terms.

The big question: is it any good? Yeah. Ark and Genesis are brill. Robot is loads of fun. Revenge and Sontaran are flawed, but work well enough. The new production team were finding their feet and pushed the show into directions that would be more prominent in the next couple of years.

Thematic Review by Phil Fenerty 23/3/04

Season 12 is something of an oddity in the early Tom Baker run. The established production team of Letts and Dicks was giving way to the Hinchcliffe/ Holmes combination which would create memorable, entertaining stories in the seasons to come. Given that the five stories making up this shortened run were partly commissioned by the previous team, it is hardly surprising to find little of the hallmarks of future seasons in here.

Given the popularity of Jon Pertwee's Doctor, and the relative obscurity of Tom Baker, it is not surprising that the stories form a linked arc, running from one to the other with nary a seam between them (despite what some MA's might have you believe). This is, consciously or not, a return to the original "loyalty series" concept written into the 1963 format document for Season 1. The only deviation from this concept is the lack of cliffhanger leading from one story to the next.

The impression given is that of trying to ensure viewer loyalty to the series whilst the new lead actor is being installed.

The season has other links to the past as well. Robot features (basically for the final time) the Pertwee stalwarts of UNIT, providing a bridging link between the different incarnations of the Doctor. Sontarans, Cybermen and Daleks all make re-appearances in pivotal stories. Even The Ark in Space harks back to previous stories: Part One features only the regulars exploring a strange, deserted location whilst uncovering mystery and enigma - similar to (for example) The Dead Planet or The Web Planet from the early Hartnell stories. So, despite having no obvious trappings of past eras, The Ark in Space resonates with a previously-employed method of story-telling.

Strangely, in a Season which is using so many past elements to create a feeling of familiarity in Doctor Who, one major element is missing. From The Ark in Space Part Four to Revenge of the Cybermen Part Four, the TARDIS does not appear. Eleven episodes (over half of the season) with the one constant factor from the previous twelve years not present. Perhaps this was an attempt by the production crew to "play against type" and confound expectations.

Much has been written, both on the Ratings Guide and elsewhere, about the themes and roots of the individual stories in the Season. But, whether by accident or design, there is a recurring motif which runs through Season 12.

There are two obvious examples of this: Robot and Genesis of the Daleks. In Robot, the Doctor is re-born, changed from the Dandy to All Teeth & Curls. Genesis of the Daleks shows us the process by which Davros changes the Kaled race into the Daleks. In both cases, the the change is total, prolonging the lifespan of the subject at the expense of the being which previously existed.

Change and re-birth is present in The Ark in Space, too. Whilst Noah has been changed by the Wirrn, this is more a consumption than a re-birth, a metamorphosis if you will. The Wirrn Queen's actions on the Ark are those of a desperate being trying to ensure the survival of the race. But Robert Holmes' optimistic view of humanity (encapsulated in the 'sleeping amongst the stars' speech in the Cryogenic Chamber) shows the race being re-born after their hibernation.

The Sontaran Experiment continues the theme of humanity's re-birth, this time showing Earth re-born as a habitable planet. The two stories almost form a six-part "whole" sharing common themes and ideas (if different plots and protagonists). The Sontaran Experiment also shows how humans have survived outside of the Ark, the colonists now believing the sleepers to be a myth.

The closing story, Revenge of the Cybermen, continues the re-birth and survival themes. The Cyberleader boasts that they have a sufficient stock of parts to re-build their army - the only thorn in their side being Voga's existence. However, it is the re-birth of the Vogans, and their escape from isolation once the Cybermen have been destroyed, which highlights the over-reaching theme best.

Terror of the Zygons (originally slated to close Season 12) contains fewer of the re-birth/ survival elements which percolate through the rest of the season, and its transition to ease the Season 13 recording block highlights the themes present in the stories which remained.

Whilst Season 12 is not unique in its having recurring themes in the component stories, it seems to have more resonant motifs running through it than have been seen in any other. The re-birth elements inherent in each of the component parts contribute to a satisfying whole, one of the strongest seasons presented in the series' history.

A Review by James Neiro 6/9/10

Tom Baker would assume the role of the Doctor and would become the incarnation often regarded as the most popular of the Doctors. Season 12 would follow the first story arc ever used on Doctor Who and would see the return of the Cybermen for the first time in half a decade.

Robot, the season opener, was a slight disappointment to fans, being quite ludicrous plotwise and by the curious cast addition of Harry Sullivan, but the episode would still be highly regarded due to it being Baker's first episode. The Ark In Space would follow and would begin a four-part story arc that would see the travelers journey without the aid of the TARDIS. The Sontaran Experiment followed, a brief two-part episode, seeing the return of the ruthless Sontarans.

One of the most popular stories in the show's history would follow: the epic Genesis of the Daleks. Superbly cast, magnificently filmed and amazingly written, the story would redefine the genesis of the Daleks themselves, proving unpopular to some diehard fans. The story would introduce us to Davros, the evil creator of the Daleks, and a character that would appear in almost every Dalek story to follow.

The season finale saw the return of the Cybermen and yet another design change. The story would not be considered very popular; due to the Cybermen being absent for some time, one would and does wonder why not put a little more effort in?

A Lieutenant's Year by Stephen Maslin 1/12/18 which 73 year-old Lieutenant John "Harry" Andrews-Sullivan of the British Merchant Navy spends nine months travelling the universe with The Doctor and Sarah.

I believe... that Morton Dill is just Space Pilot Steven Taylor putting on a funny accent; that Tigellan Priestess Lexa really did teach history at Coal Hill School; that Private Johnson is the Master in a purloined UNIT uniform; that the Fifth Doctor regenerated into Chancellery Guard Commander Maxil; but most of all, that Lieutenant John Andrews from Season 10 classic Carnival of Monsters is Harry Sullivan.

"Oh, he's a very fine chap. First class..."

Robot (Terrance Dicks)

Montage clips: Mitchell, Haldeman and Ehrlichman are found guilty of the Watergate cover-up; OPEC raises crude oil prices by 10%.

Montage music: 'January' by Pilot, UK number one for 3 weeks from 1st February, 1975.

Thought you'd seen the back of the Pertwee era? Think again. UNIT family? Check. Badly executed CSO? Check. Lettsian earnestness? Check. Dicksian boy's own heroics? Check. Lieutenant John Andrews? Check. There is something marvellous about the return of Ian Marter. He belongs here - more so than Tom Baker's new Doc - and his characterisation is perfect right from the get-go. In fact, he is used much better here than in any other story. The plot of Robot is, however, rather silly (how stupendous does one mechanical man have to be to take over the world?) and we are clearly watching "the wrong Doctor". This is Third Doc territory through and through. It's great fun nonetheless (and it's nice to see Professor Watkins again).

Verdict: 7/10

"Gremlins can get into anything... first law of the sea."

The Ark in Space (Robert Holmes; novelized by Ian Marter as Doctor Who and the Ark in Space)

Montage clips: the two-man Soyuz 17 crew return to Earth after a month aboard the Salyut 4 space station; Margaret Thatcher defeats Edward Heath for the leadership of the UK Conservative Party.

Montage music: '(Come Up and See Me) Make Me Smile' by Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel, UK number one single for 2 weeks from 22nd February, 1975.

The Wirrn and the bubble wrap skin-complaint are, with a bucket or two of hindsight, two of Doctor Who's less convincing creations. Yet hardly anyone mentions them. When I first saw The Ark in Space, on VHS some time in the 90s, someone had to point out its flaws to me. The reason is obvious: with Robert Holmes on top form, combined with Tom Baker's first real statement of intent, it's hard to focus on the duff bits at all. All this, and the trio of Tom + Sarah + Harry is suddenly such a joy. Indomitable.

Verdict: 9/10

"Don't you worry, old thing: I'll find a way. I'll get you out of there if I have to knock his bally head off and grab his keys."

The Sontaran Experiment (Baker and Martin; novelized by Ian Marter as Doctor Who and the Sontaran Experiment)

Montage clips: a major tube train crash at Moorgate station in London kills 43 people; Charlie Chaplin is knighted by Elizabeth II.

Montage music: 'Kashmir' from the Led Zeppelin album 'Physical Graffiti', released on 24th February, 1975.

Does anyone remember The Five Faces of Doctor Who? It was a retrospective broadcast in November 1981 which looked "back in time to previous journeys of the Tardis", as a JNT-inspired prologue to Season 19. The delectations on offer were An Unearthly Child (natch), The Krotons (little choice in those days), The Three Doctors, Carnival of Monsters and Logopolis. (Originally, it was also supposed to include The Masque of Mandragora - a very odd choice if you ask me - and the following summer, another series of repeats, 'Doctor Who and the Monsters', was broadcast as epilogue, edited into 50 minute episodes. This time it was a more conventional pantheon of greatness: The Curse of Peladon, Genesis of the Daleks and Earthshock.) Though now is not the time to assess the merits of such selections, one wonders what one might choose were this for a modern audience, steeped in the standalone fifty-minute-colour-only-please format of the present day. Much to my surprise, I find myself erring towards not one but two Bob Baker & Dave Martin stories for such an imaginary cornucopia. The Three Doctors is an obvious pick (Doctor Two in colour AND Doctor One in colour... well, just about colour), though it would need some tarting up. My choice for the Fourth Doctor would come from the same unlikely source of authorship: The Sontaran Experiment. This is not because I consider it one of the show's best ever. Rather, that it's compression into 40 minutes of screen time means that it is more of the pace expected by a modern audience (and works when seen in one gulp in a way that other better stories do not). Plus it's got Harry in it.

Verdict: 7/10

"I say, Doctor, that was a pretty rough landing. What happened?"

Genesis of the Daleks (Terry Nation)

Montage clips: King Faisal of Saudi Arabia is shot and killed by his nephew; Bobby Fischer refuses to play in a chess match against Anatoly Karpov, giving Karpov the title; 'Monty Python and the Holy Grail' is released.

Montage music: 'Down Down' by Status Quo, UK number one single for 1 week in January, 1975.

In 1979, the BBC released an LP of Genesis of the Daleks, condensed down from it's original two hours of telly, to well under an hour of audio, with narration by Tom Baker (and now available on CD). Do you know what? It's better. Yes, better than the TV original once voted the best Doctor Who story ever (in DWM 265). It deals with two flaws that the television story has: one, that it's too damned long; two, that it frequently looks awful. (For example, the retaliation that is supposed to be "so massive, so merciless" involves a couple of Daleks trundling round a corner, followed by some people falling over. Don't get me started on the giant clams that grab Harry by the leg...) More than that, it allows us to concentrate on the production's undoubted strengths: the furious intensity of some of its scenes, and the brilliant acting performances by the five main actors: Baker, Sladen, Marter, Peter Miles and, above all, Michael Wisher's Davros. (A special mention, too, for John Franklyn-Robbins' Time Lord: the part may be small, but he judges it perfectly.) Genesis of the Daleks? That was junked, wasn't it?

Verdict (TV version): 5/10

Verdict (condensed audio): 8/10

"I say, Doctor, do you want this ring-thing?"

Revenge of the Cybermen (Gerry Davis)

Montage clips: a succession of awful things happening in south east Asia.

Montage music: 'Someone Saved My Life Tonight' by Elton John, from the album 'Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy', released May 1975.

Revenge of the Cybermen was cursed. It was said that the numerous mishaps occurring during production were due to the director's wife pocketing a few archaeological finds down Wookey Hole. Now I don't believe the world works that way, but curses do exist, though they are of human manufacture. The real curses that lie at the heart of Revenge of the Cybermen are its desperately poor script ("Sky Striker" for heaven's sake), its really bad Cyberleader (why would a cyborg put its hands on its hips?) and those bloody Vogans, who look and sound f**kin' stupid; their interminable pew-pew gun battles are indescribably naff, and their entire demeanour is some kind of anti-design. It's easy to forget that most of Season 12 forms a story arc (The Time Ring Tetralogy) and a pretty impressive one at that, until this sorry heap of ordinariness hits the fan to round it off. This is the only Jon Pertwee Cybermen story but which, like season-opener Robot, just happens to star Tom Baker. Yes, it is precisely what a Third Doctor versus Cybermen story would have looked like: another episode of 'Blokes in Space', Sarah Jane the only female. (Naturally she catches a nasty space plague before episode one is over, thus necessitating rescue by a man.) It's also what a Third Doctor Cyber-story would have sounded like, complete with archaic Carey Blyton musical instruments in the sound track, the overall effect being very similar to watching the very worst of the Pertwee era. We should be eternally grateful that this kind of awfulness was the last of its kind. And what of our naval Lieutenant? Word has it that episode four had to be rewritten as it focussed on Harry and much less on The Doctor. I wish it still did, for the simple reason that he was not going to be with us for much longer.

Verdict: 3/10

"We're going to need reinforcements..."

Terror of the Zygons

(Robert Banks Stewart)

Montage clips: September 19, 1975 The British comedy sitcom Fawlty Towers airs on BBC 2.

Montage music: 'Sailing' by Rod Stewart, UK number one single for 4 weeks from 6th September, 1975

But, but, but, it's not part of Season 12! I know it isn't. But it is. Season 12 was one story short. Here is its true finale. We get our final proper time with Harry Sullivan and his chums at UNIT (The Android Invasion doesn't count), and we don't end on the sour note struck by Revenge of the Cybermen. A line is drawn in the sand, a line in precisely the right place. Terror of the Zygons is magnificent television. Yet this was not just a great era for Doctor Who but for British television in general. This is the era of of 'The Ascent of Man' and 'The World at War', of 'Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads?' and 'Porridge', of 'The Naked Civil Servant' and 'I, Claudius', of 'Nuts in May and 'Abigail's Party', of 'Parkinson' and 'The Old Grey Whistle Test', of 'The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin' and 'Pennies from Heaven'. This is the era of 'Fawlty Towers', whose first episode ('A Touch of Class') was broadcast the day before Zygons' episode four. Everyone who grew up in the post-radio, pre-internet era of shared TV experience is always going to have a soft spot for the programmes of a particular era. (Usually their own. Taste is, after all, usually a matter of familiarity.) There seems, however, to be something objectively wonderful about British television in the 70s (and perhaps the early 80s). Uncynical, inclusive and without the need to beg for ratings. One might think the rise of competition and the expansion of choice would have improved what was available to be watched, but it didn't. The more telly was made, the worse things got. The soup got watered down. True, good programmes carried on being made until the end of the century and beyond, but they had to be intended as such: what became known as 'landmark' TV. Ordinary, everyday (or every-week) TV returned to being just that. Damn shame.

Verdict: 10/10

P.S. The Doctor is a very clever chap, probably, but about "the energising of hydrogen" as a substitute for "a mineral slime", he was flat wrong. Hydrogen can only ever be a storage medium. Unlike oil, it is not waiting out there in the world to be tapped. It has to unlocked from its chemical bonds and that requires energy. One has to use energy (probably a mineral slime) to 'create' energy. So there.


Leela left too soon. Romana One left too soon. But the too-soonest of them all was Harry Sullivan.