The Masque of Mandragora
The Hand of Fear
The Deadly Assassin
The Face of Evil
The Robots of Death
The Talons of Weng-Chiang
Overrated...? by Joe Ford 25/2/02
At a mere twenty one years of age I never had the privelige to see any of the Tom Baker stories when they broadcast (in fact my first terrified memory of Who is seeing Davros in Resurrection of the Daleks) and for that I am a little disappointed, I could imagine a child's perspective of the more horror orriented Hinchcliffe seasons would be really scary (I was petrified when my Ma bought me Terror of the Zygons when I was eight!!). So how do the stories hold up from an adults opinion?
Masque of Mandragora.
Still one of the best historicals in the series. Much like the rich stories of Hartnell's era, you can tell this story has been given much attention to its historical detail and has more than it's fair share of memorable dialogue. Tom Baker and Lis Sladen always work well together but this shows their relationship at its absolute peak, Sarah strong willed and passionate and the Doctor loving his involvement in all this historical fun! Even the guest characters are given detail, the power mad Count is particularly horrible and the duke is a pleasant ally. It's got some of the finest Who location work, the lush sunny town of Portmerion duplicating italy in all its ornate splendour. Even Heironymous with his silly cartoon beard is given some great scenes (when the Doc appears in a puff of smoke!). Overall one of the best tom Baker stories for its wit, charm and utterly solid production values: 9/10
Top moment: The Doctor's sword fight ("You can't count count!")
Top dialogue: Sarah: I was almost sacrificed to the great god Demnos (sorry, its just the way she says it!)
The Hand of Fear.
Hmmm, not all that good really. It all starts off well (despite stoopid Doctor and Sarah walking straight into an exploding quarry!) with the creepy possesed Sarah ("Eldrad must Live") and some more wonderful seventies location work (was it ever poor?). Even the nuclear base scenes are tense and enjoyable even if the science is silly (hiding behind a truck from a nuclear blast...please!). Then it all goes to pot as we move to Kastria with all its pantomime sets and Brian Blessed inspired voices! The last episode is a true disappointment especially the revelation about the planet (four episodes to find out that?). However it's redeemed slightly by the tear jerking ending that easily matches Jo Grant's departure for making me blub like an old woman. It ends Sarah and the Doctor's fabulous relationship on a real saddening note: 5/10 (for the story), 10/10 (for the end!)
Top moment: "Eldrad must live...just kidding!"
Top dialogue: The Doctor: "I've got to go (to Gallifrey).
Sarah: Alone? (boo, hoo...!)
The Deadly Assasin.
A return to form. What dialogue! Was it ever this sharp before? I love the way we are thrown straight into the action on Gallifrey with the threat of the assasination a tense nail biter of a first episode. Tom Baker excels, eating up the wonderful Holmes script with particular relish. Politics on Who never really interested me but all the devious wranglings here had me hooked. Of course the highlight is the third episode, about as scary as the show ever got (thank god) with the Samurai moment being the only time the show ever left me heart-racingly terrified! It is visually stunning with the vast Panopticon set and all the delicious location work, the script and direction complement each other perfectly. Until episode four that is, where I hate to say it things get a little stagey with the unfortunately poorly realised Eye of Harmony climax. Still Peter Pratt is a fine replacement for Roger Delgado (and I wouldn't say that about anyone else...Delgado rules!) and his vengeance against the Doctor and Gallifrey adds a lot of dramtic weight to this formnat breaking four parter: 8/10
Top moment: All of Borusa's scenes particularly his "We must adjust the
Top dialogue: " As I believe I told you long ago, Doctor, you will never amount to anything in the galaxy while you retain you propensity for vulgar facetiousness!"
The Face of Evil.
I love the premise behind this. I love the way they don't patronise you into giving you all the information at once and creatively and subtly reveal the plot (the ships hull being a gong, the weapon they taunt the Doctor with). The jungle set is a little sparse but looks great on film with some atomospheric sound effects. Introducing Leela who already shows great promise with her scenes with Tom Baker's Doc. Unfortunately it all goes pear shaped in episode four (third story in a row!) with boring scenes walkiing around corridors hiding from the not-scary Tesh. Mind you Tom Baker's turn as Xoanon is really creepy and the end of episode three is still a corker: 8/10
Top moment: The Doctor over the horda pit.
Top dialogue: "Would you like a jelly baby?"- "Its true then, they say the Evil One eats babies!"
The Robots of Death.
One of the first Who videos I ever saw and I was hooked! This is really an adult version of Who, it's got some really scary themes... the faceless Robots are terrifying with their delicate moments and silky voices and the whole Robophobia (brought to life with chilling realism by David Collins) is a psychological spin not often seen in the programme. The Doctor and Leela prove a real success team, Louise Jameson is ideal for the naīve yet strangely compelling savage. All the production values are outstanding, the model work (for once) is sumptuous, the sets are gorgeously designed and the effects used sparingly yet effectively (the red eyes never fail to scare me!). The guest cast are top drawer characters and the claustrophobic setting gives it a lovely nostalgic troughton era feel... while providing a perfect location for this murder mystery. Love Dask. Love Toos. Love SV7. Just love the story. Period: 10/10
Top moment: Chubbs murder scene... brrr!
Top dialogue: "Please do not throw hands at me"
The Talons of Weng Chiang.
I cannot believe so many people on this site don't think this is the best! It must have been a great time to be a Who fan when these two were transmitted back-to-back, ten weeks of pure Who bliss! Did I say the dialogue was sharp in Deadly Assasin? Scrap that and just listen to Henry Jago's gorgeously stylised lines... even without the other strengths this show has, it's worth watching just for the pleasure of hearing some of the phrases they come out with! This is Robert Holmes' ultimate Who story, an atmospheric, witty, horrific, pacey and satisfying piece of drama. All the actors are in check and deliver first rate performances, the location work is stunningly effective and the plot as diabolically good! Kudos for David Maloney for tackling such a demanding script and producing something that is so enjoyable to watch: 10/10
Top moment: Leela eating at Litefoots.
Top dialogue: "England's peerless premier professor of pathology!"- and so many more!
Season Fourteen: Overated, never! Sure there were a few flaws here and there, a few effects that threaten to take down classics (Talons of Weng Chiang) and the curse of the fourth episode (Hand of Fear, Deadly Assasin, Face of Evil). Despite these problems it must go down as one of the strongest seasons of Who for consistent quality entertainment, production values and acting. Could you imagine what Hinchcliffe could have achieved given another season, makes you salivate a bit!
Topiest toppest moment in season Fourteen: Anything between Jago and Litefoot in Talons. Season Overall: 9/10
Heart of Darkness by Rob Matthews 29/10/02
Situated more or less at the heart of the show's run on screen and as the culmination of the extraordinarily effective Holmes/Hinchcliffe partnership, this really is one of those turning-point seasons of Doctor Who. It features not a single bad script, and three stories that are now considered 'classics', it has solid production values, and it introduces the Robert Holmes version of Gallifrey, the Time Lords and the Master. I'm not surprised that so many fans would nominate the season as their favourite. And yet it's also derivative and violent and selfconsciously baroque. Plus it marks the first time the show got in serious trouble with that gang of busybody biddies who set themselves up as that nation's guardian angels, the National Viewers & Listeners Association, leaving the show with a taint it never entirely shook off and which - arguably - finally killed it.
I suspect its popularity is partly attributable to simple texture - dark baroque scripts and dark baroque sets, right down to the TARDIS console room used for this season (built only because the original had became warped, but it's telling that Hinchcliffe decided to go with a more gothic design instead of a straightforward replica of what had came before. It suited the Doctor's personality more, and in that sense could be seen as the prototype to the set built for the later McGann telemovie). The scripts often allude to gothic literature, and in terms of production the stories all have more of Old Dark House than Shiny New Spaceship to them - Renaissance Italy, Victorian England, a Halloweeny Gallifrey that's all ghoulish green and shadows, the twenties art deco look of the sandliner and its crew in Robots of Death. Only Hand of Fear has a particularly 'modern' look and it's arguably the least successful story of the season (while still no failure). And there are several highly effective horror moments and set pieces - not least the Voc robots, the Peking homunculus and the remarkably original third episode of Assassin. It's Doctor Who's House of Horrible, full of "Do you remember the one where..." material.
Not that I'm suggesting it's all style over substance. Rather it's a successful coordination of the two. Great production isn't used to gloss over shoddy scripts, but rather to render them as effectively as possible on screen. I know it seems obvious that's the way the show should have been made all the time, but we all know it didn't always work out like that - there were a number of production mistakes made in the Davison era in particular (Kinda and Warriors of the Deep were too brightly lit, and with Arc of Infinity you'd think they'd filmed a few actors running around Amsterdam and then tried to write a script around it). In season 14, only Talons of Weng Chiang can really be accused of style over substance (and I'm sure there's a hard core of Holmes-Hinchcliffites who won't even concede that that's true).
But I think what I like best about this season is its portrayal of the Doctor. Baker's at probably his very best here, with more of an edge to him than before, and less excursions into the land of scenery-chewing than later. Not that I don't love the scenery-chewing Baker too, mind you, but that's a matter for another review.
The Fourth Doctor of this season is angry, cynical and alone. Not always noticeably so; in fact, not often noticeably so, but Baker's characterisation is very much suited to these scripts - most particularly those by Holmes and Boucher -, and what really strikes me about this season is that the Doctor is most in his element when battling against dogma - whether superstitious or societal/political.
Consider the opening story, The Masque of Mandragora. An almost comically decorous title, and some evident cribbing from Poe, but it's not simply gothic pastiche or a collection of mere effects. It's actually about something. It's not regarded as highly as, say, Spearhead from Space or even Terror of the Zygons, yet it has more substance than either of those stories (both of which are highly flawed in plot terms and have really no thematic depth to speak of). It's set at the dawn of the Enlightenment, and the Doctor's mission here is to ensure that history stays on track, that mankind makes the difficult leap from an age of superstition to 'the dawn of a new reason'. His speech about Mandragora turning humanity into 'sheep, useless sheep' is very telling, as is the effectively disgusted way he spits out that word. This is a Doctor who champions ambition and rationalism, and has no use at all for the world of oppressive superstitions. His disdain for 'that old fraud Hieronymous' echoes throughout the season, in his contempt for 'religious gobbledygook' in The Face of Evil, in his dismissal to Leela of the 'superstitious rubbish' of the Black Scorpion cult in Weng-Chiang, in his quiet but clear disgust at Borusa's 'adjustment of the truth' in Deadly Assassin.
"The very powerful and the very stupid have one thing in common", he says to Leela in Face of Evil, "They don't alter their view to fit the facts. They alter the facts to fit the views. Which can be uncomfortable if you happen to be one of the facts that need altering".
A more succinct summation of both organised religion and secular politics I have yet to hear. It's one of my favourite lines in all Doctor Who, simply for its absolute refusal to tolerate bullshit. Admittedly I have my own personal reasons for admiring this - I'm gay, and homosexuality's a fact of the type mentioned above, abominated by people who can accept the word of millennia-old propaganda texts about magical men who rise from the dead, but not the idea that some people might be attracted to members of their own sex.
Okay, my anger's showing. But there's a point to be made here. Anyone who's read Tom Baker's excellent autobiography knows that Baker had even more reason to be angry at this sort of nonsense. And perhaps some of his childhood anger was stirred up by these scripts - because for my money he's always at his best when angrily relieving people of their prejudices or assumptions.
Incidentally, in its opening story of this season, the show demonstrates some commendable open-mindedness - not least in making the Doctor's two rationalist allies in this story, the Prince Giuliano and Marco, obviously homosexual. Not that I'm trying to make some silly and simple argument that 'gay equals good' or something. I'm just impressed that a seventies children's show would feature such progressive elements - this is after all the decade that gave us Love Thy Neighbour -, and that the terrible Whitehouse didn't pick up on it.
The Doctor of season 14 is a permanently dissatisfied, mercurial wanderer who prizes curiosity and open-mindedness above easy answers and establishment fictions. And with the Time Lords revealed not as a bunch of eternally benevolent wizards, but rather a group of fusty public schoolboys with no concern for the truth, this Doctor is also more of a lone figure than ever before. That's a very important development. Lurking in the background too is a sense that he wants to be alone. He rather too willingly ditches Sarah to go to Gallifrey - even though he's genuinely pained to let her go -, and doesn't actually ask Leela to join him aboard the TARDIS, despite having formed a friendship with her. Rather, she just jumps in.
Depth, anger, a bit of a dark side. There's some character development here, albeit on the quiet. But I think that's what really makes this the most effective of the Holmes/Hinchcliffe seasons. Baker is well and truly established. He's the heart of the show.
The High Point... by Terrence Keenan 1/5/03
Season 14. A producer and scriptwriter in concert with their Doctor. A season that gets stronger as it goes along. A season with no weak serials. A four story run that can't be touched.
Nothing tops this season. I'll say it again. Nothing tops this season. It goes from strength to strength in terms of writing, acting, story, concept and execution. Season 14 culminated a three year run where the creative team of Philip Hinchcliffe and Robert Holmes were so in tune with Tom Baker, the evidence on the screen is all that's needed.
In terms of plot, The Masque of Mandragora is more set piece than solid story (unusual during the H & H period) -- inside the helix, the chase, political intrigue, the masque, etc. As an argument between enlightenment and superstition, Masque works well, although it's definitely on the side of reason. You can also make the argument that Masque preaches tolerance over tyranny of all types (Frederico represents political tyranny, and Hieronymous is the symbol of ideological tyranny). The Doctor's advice to Guliano at the end to "keep an open mind" is a reaffirmation of the idea of tolerance and enlightenment going hand in hand, a common Doctor Who theme during the Tom Baker years.
Oh, by the way, Tom and Lis are brilliant in this one. But you knew that I was going to say that, right? You want to see the best ever TARDIS team in action ever? Watch Tom and Lis in this one.
The rest of the cast is just as good. Jon Laurimore feasts on a classic villain role as Count Frederico. Norman Jones is great as Hieronymous. Gareth Armstrong and Tim Pigott-Smith hold their own as Guliano and Marco, respectively.
We move on to the Hand of Fear. After an atmospheric prologue, the TARDIS arrives in the official BBC quarry -- which is a quarry in the story as well instead of an alien planet -- where after the Doctor and Sarah get trapped in an explosion, Sarah finds a stone hand in the wreckage. From this odd opening (it reminds me a bit of the opening of Tomb of the Cybermen) events spin off from here. It seems the stone hand is the only remaining bit of a Kastrian named Eldrad. And, being Doctor Who, Eldrad has both immense powers and issues.
The visuals are well done. Somehow, the BBC got permission to film in an actual nuclear power plant, which gives the story credibility. Even the sets for the reactor core, control room and decontamination room look well designed and plausible. The scenes set on Kastria are a bit duff, but are helped by atmospheric lighting.
The regulars are both on top of their game, but Lis Sladen steals the show, especially when she's possessed by the hand. Instead of going over the top, Lis goes for creepy. Brill stuff. Tom is on his game, as always and shines throughout. His exchanges with Judith Paris make the third episode special. Judith Paris gives a great alien performance, trusting and completely untrustworthy at once. She takes over in the third episode. Stephen Thorne is OTT as the male Eldrad, but considering his performances in both The Daemons and The Three Doctors, this wasn't a surprise. The rest of the cast hold their own and don't embarrass themselves. Glyn Houston is deserving of much praise for the scene in episode two where he calls his family to say his good-byes.
And then, after Eldrad trips over the Doc's scarf, we get the best leaving scene in Doctor Who history, bar none. Tom and Lis had a chemistry like none other on the show (and that includes the Tom and Lalla chemistry, which was amazing). Sarah bitches, with reason, and the Doc ignores her. And although we expect the Doc to use his charm to win her back after she's packed her bags, The Doctor get the summons to come back home. Sarah, who's waiting to be charmed, is suddenly told she has to go. The look on Lis's face is priceless. There's no hug and no tears between them, but the raw emotion is there. Sarah leaves the TARDIS, parked in a cul-de-sac, suburbia for all intents and purposes. It's brilliant and full of real emotion and it gets me every time.
The Deadly Assassin is one of three true benchmark serials. The other two are An Unearthly Child and The War Games. The series was irrevocably changed after its airing, yet it stands alone. It also shows Robert Holmes pushing Who to its limits and moving it beyond a mere "children's show."
Holmes, in four twenty-five minute episodes, told the be-all and end-all story of the Doctor's home planet, leaving others to try and emulate him, and not really measuring up.
The truth, though, is despite all the trappings, all the background, all the things revealed about the Doctor's home world, The Deadly Assassin is a great detective story with a surreal battle of wills bridging the gap in the detective story.
And it's the battle in the matrix that sets this story apart. The Doctor is stripped of his charm, wit, and MacGuyver-like adaptability and forced to tap into basic survival skills in order to defeat -- kill -- his enemy. The world is populated with child-based nightmares given serious weight. A surreal world where one can be run over by a train, shot at by biplanes and hunted down like an animal. Thrust into this primal dreamscape, the Doctor is forced down into the level of his enemy, and through brute force, manages to survive barely.
The Deadly Assassin features the Doctor's biggest rival, the Master in his most evil and desperate form -- a living corpse hanging on by hate and willing to destroy Gallifrey for his own survival. This portrayal is so far removed from the suave, cigar-smoking Bond-ian villain of Delgado or the comic book villainy of Ainley. It's an interpretation that was closest to Holmes's original intention for the character -- a vile, corrupted version of the Doctor, the dark soul made flesh. Peter Pratt makes him sound like a man on the verge of death, consumed by hatred, moving beyond the static face mask he wears throughout the story.
Mixed into this battle of wills is a portrayal of the Time Lords as petty, political animals; fluid of truth and more interested in appearances and obtaining their power rather than venturing out and seeking the truth of the universe. Holmes shows us exactly why the Doctor left this static, pedantic place without ever having to resort to some silly backstory. The Time Lords of Gallifrey are a living anathema to the Doctor's core ideas of curiosity and truth. And in coming back to help his own people, despite their core differences, also is true to the Doctor's character in general.
The Deadly Assassin is at one a reaffirmation of the core beliefs of what makes the Doctor tick as well as showing how the character can be pushed. It's a benchmark show, not in only of terms of the big picture of continuity, but also in having an influence on every episode of Who going forward. Not since The War Games, could a story claim this. It's also one of the best stories of all time, a classic on any fan's list.
For some reason, The Face of Evil doesn't get much love. I don't understand why. An intriguing script, with top notch performances all around.
Tom Baker and Louise Jameson have great chemistry together. Louise manages to show toughness, inquisitiveness and charm over the course of four episodes. Tom shows a more agressive side in this story (not really seen since The Seeds of Doom). He's also deeply concerned about the mess he's caused with the Mordee ship, and its consequences, contrary to conventional fan wisdom.
The story's implied theme is one of taking responsibility for onešs actions. Xoannon won't take responsibility for the actions of its madness. The Sevateem blame all their troubles on The Evil One. The Tesh are hoping the Lord of Time will save them from the savage. And of course, it was the Doctor who caused the mess in the first place. Once he remembers what happened, he sets to work on correcting the problem. The Face of Evil -- such a shame it wasn't called its original name "The Day God Went Mad" -- benefits from a strong script and a cast who gives it their all....
Just like The Robots of Death.
There's a rare moment of a director really understanding how important rhythm is in scenes. After the Chubb is killed, the rest of the crew gathers to discuss who the murderer might be. The dialogue overlaps, people are cut off by other speakers, and the whole scene seems more realistic than normal.
The script is wonderful. Robots is a murder mystery, but its also about class, the continuing dependence on machines, and perceptions based on body language and other little psychological nuggets.
And what a look. Instead of drab overalls for the crew and shiny metal boxes for the robots, we have those wild art deco costumes for the human crew, and those soft spoken, almost "human" robots who look harmless at first glance.
Tom and Louise are brilliant. It's a nice touch that Leela, an instinctive person picks up on the body language clues, and also the inherent problem of existing with robots. Tom is less violent, but even more flippant than ever in this one.
The guest cast shines as well. Like in The Face of Evil, there is a sense of a gourp of actors understanding that to play Who right, you have to play it straight.
The season closes with The Talons of Weng Chiang.
Weng Chiang read like Bob Holmes Identikit: Double Act, check. Hustler/showman character, check. Second level villain in conflict with the main villain, check. Nods to past movies and/or literature, check. Dangerous experiments with time travel, check.
It's brilliant. On all levels. It's an instantly recognizable setting: Ripper London, with nods to Fu Mancho and Sherlock Holmes. The story unfolds at a leisurely pace. In fact we don't get the whole picture until episode five. It's not as tightly plotted as other Holmes stories, but the set pieces and the character interaction more than make for this.
Like many of the stories during the Hinchcliffe/Holmes era. Weng Chiang is a horror story, with some sci-fi bits tossed into the mix just to remind you this is Doctor Who, and not Dark Shadows.
Acting, like every other serial during this season, is top notch. Everyone in the cast is a scene-stealer. Tom and Louise are brilliant, and act like they've been together for far more than just three stories.
Okay, it doesn't get any better than Season 14. Six brilliant stories. A season that gets stronger as it goes along. A benchmark tale that changed Who as we know it forever. A scriptwriter and producer who knew what they wanted and got it from the scripts, the set design and the casts, both regulars and guests.
A Review by James Neiro 7/7/10
The season opened with The Masque of Mandragora, an episode set in Italy in 1492. The following story would see the departure of Sarah which came as a shock to fans who had become quite attached to her. She had become one of the longest serving companions to date and her absence would be felt.
The following story would become one of the most, if not the most, popular episode in Doctor Who history. Set entirely on Gallifrey and the first episode to feature a companionless Doctor, the Time Lord is accused of assissanting the President. But it would not be the only twist to the story: the Master would reappear for the first time since the early Pertwee seasons. In this incarnation, he would be utterly mad and more monster than stylish villain.
The following story, The Face of Evil, would introduce new character Leela: a savage and violent warrior who would be used to pump up sex appeal to the many male fans. Tom Baker would be visibly arrogant and rude towards his new co-star, citing that the character was too bloodthirsty and that he rejected not the actress but the part she was playing. In later episodes, the on-screen duo would become closer when actress Louise Jameson would stand up to Baker in relation to some early entrance scenes Baker would deliver in error. Tom would show her more respect and the on-air chemistry saw major improvement.
The Robots of Death was the following story and would become another fan favorite. Set aboard a mining vessel, the plot saw a claustrophobic crew battle killer robots. The Talons of Weng Chiang was the final episode of the season and set in the times of Jack the Ripper in the late 1800's of London. A strong season indeed.
The Face of Fear and Other Stories by Stephen Maslin 26/5/19
"Z, Y, X, W, V, U, T, S... F, E, D, C, B, A"
The Masque of Mandragora (Louis Marks)
Montage clips: Mao Zedong dies of a heart attack; The Muppet Show is broadcast for the first time on British television.
Montage music: 'Have a Talk with God' by Stevie Wonder, from the album 'Songs in the Key of Life', released in September, 1976.
Season 13 had really thrown some punches. Philip Hinchcliffe and his chums had made sure that Doctor Who was once again a show with real depth, not just Saturday-evening filler. The new season kicked off with all guns set to blaze: serious threat, serious peril, serious balls (of light). Strange, then, that The Masque of Mandragora becomes so very ordinary so very quickly. As precursor to the mighty Season 14, it is a proper under-achiever. One thinks it just HAS to blossom into something special any moment now, yet it never does. There's something a little over-hammed about it all, and though it is often visually arresting, Masque seems an oddly unconfident way to start any season, let alone such a lionised season as this. No one seems entirely convinced. Neither am I.
"It is the law..."
The Hand of Fear (Bob Baker and Dave Martin)
Montage clips: the InterCity 125 high-speed train is introduced in the UK.
Montage music: 'If You Leave Me Now' by Chicago, UK number one single for 3 weeks in November and December, 1976.
I read somewhere that The Hand of Fear episode one was completely re-written by script editor Robert Holmes. In fact, it seems like a lot of the first three eps have substantial Holmesian input, as it is one of only two Baker and Martin scripts that doesn't suck (the other being The Sontaran Experiment, which, at a mere couple of episodes, doesn't get chance to suck). As a whole, The Hand of Fear really shouldn't be any good. (The title's not exactly scintillating.) Indeed, it does fall to biscuit crumbs somewhere near the end of episode three. Yet early on it has a very strong, and very Pertwee-esque, charm. The power-station footage is particularly fine, and Sarah Jane's evil Andy Pandy persona is first class. Though some of the dialogue is extremely clunky (Glyn Houston is particularly badly served in this regard), there is enough Robert Holmes to bring out some sparkle from time to time.
"cheep, cheep, rustle, rustle, rustle, tweet, tweet, tweet..."
"an old anti-tank gun..."
"chirrup, chirrup, chirrup, splosh, chirrup, chirrup..."
The Deadly Assassin (Robert Holmes)
Montage clips: The Sex Pistols unleashing several four-letter words live on Bill Grundy's early evening 'Today' show; Denis Healey announcing to the British Parliament that he has successfully negotiated a 2.3 billion pound millstone from the IMF.
Montage music: 'Paris Maquis' by Metal Urbain.
The Deadly Assassin is brilliant: Robert Holmes at his best, Tom Baker at his best, Erik Chitty at his best. Okay, so now we've got that out of the way, let's look at episode three. The Doc goes into the matrix to do battle with whomever it is he has to do battle. (One of the Time Lords who imposed a change of face at the end of The War Games as it turns out.) It's a very unusual episode, to say the least; very thin on dialogue, though what strikes one now is the amount of birds one can hear. Have you ever heard such a cacophony of avian song? That was what it was like in a British quarry forty years ago: full of the damn things. Try going into a disused quarry these days and see how many birds there aren't. Okay, so now we've got that out of the way, let's look at the de-elevation of the Time Lords. You may think that cosy old Doctor Who is a million miles apart from The Sex Pistols being verbally naughty on primetime TV (two days after The Deadly Assassin episode one), but it seems to me that the iconoclasm of The Deadly Assassin is of the same source: ultimately, a weariness with the way things were; the overpowering need to shake things up a bit. To say that the story is any way "punkish" is absurd: the Doctor is a member of a patrician elite, rebelling against but then saving that patrician elite. Nevertheless, the underlying concerns are there. ("Bill Grundy? Nine hundred years he lasted!") Okay, so now we've got that out of the way, did I say that The Deadly Assassin is brilliant?
"Men do not fight well on empty stomachs..."
The Face of Evil (Chris Boucher)
Montage clips: Gary Gilmore is executed by firing squad in Utah (the first execution after the reintroduction of the death penalty in the U.S.); scientists identify a previously unknown bacterium as the cause of the mysterious Legionnaires' disease.
Montage music: 'Gary Gilmore's Eyes' by The Adverts.
How many female parts are there in The Face of Evil? Let me rephrase that: how many female roles are there in The Face of Evil? Ignoring Pamela Salem (one of the voices of Xoanon), there is only one: Louise Jameson as Leela. This bothers me on two fronts. BOTHERATION NUMBER ONE: on the lesser in-story front, how did the Sevateem and the Tesh continue their respective races? The Tesh might have the technical jiggery-pokery to procreate without two genders (or to carry on living indefinitely instead), but this means that, at some point, they decided that a men-only world was better than one with two genders. Either that, or the Tesh are not quite Tesh enough to consider gender equality to be advanced thinking and have all the female Tesh off scrubbing floors and making pots of stew. The Sevateem are worse, prepared to kill the only female of their species that we see. This means that either they are stupid enough (and aesthetically challenged enough) to get rid of their only possible bearer of children OR that there are other women hidden (again) elsewhere; who take no part in the ordinary to-ings and fro-ings of the tribe; who spend most of their time 'indoors'. Which is wrong. No, not culturally relative: wrong. BOTHERATION NUMBER TWO: on the greater real-world front, there is the tacit assumption that women are not worth writing about, and/or hardly any of them can act. The Face of Evil is not such a bad story, but it is perhaps the most glaring example that the Doctor Who world, indeed the universe at large, is a playground FOR MEN. (21st century Who likes to think it has resolved this by lining women up as villains and sacrificial victims, which may or may not be an advancement on their hardly being there at all.) One can't help feeling that with a few more women in the cast, this would be a story that hasn't aged as badly as it has.
"Today the mine, tomorrow the world..."
The Robots of Death (Chris Boucher)
Montage clips: the first test flight of Space Shuttle Enterprise; British science fiction comic 2000 AD is launched.
Montage music: 'Dreams' by Fleetwood Mac, from the album 'Rumours', released 4th February, 1977.
There were two BIG things that bothered me about The Face of Evil. Conversely, there are only two small things that bother me about The Robots of Death. The first of these is the hats in episode one. How the hell did those past muster? Presumably everyone knew that they were going to be there. Did no one say "No"? Try explaining their presence to any casual viewer and see what happens. In fact, don't try. You can't. The second little wrinkle is the phrase "Storm Mine 4 is under complete robot control". Why the shag-nasty are we being told this so early? Fair dos, the title has already given the game away, but there's no need to hammer it home so ham-fistedly. Wouldn't it be so much better to have the same shot of robots at work but with no dialogue? These two caveats aside, the rest of the story succeeds on every level. Well, almost every level. Examined too carefully, some of the acting can come across as a tad wooden, while some of it is rather over-cooked, but this doesn't seem to matter. It all conforms to the Agatha Christie pastiche: village hall am-dram in space. This is one of the show's crowning glories, and anyone who has ever witnessed the cliffhanger to episode three - the impassive looming face of V5 intoning "Kill the Doctor..." - is never going to forget it.
"I'm always borrowing things from other people"
The Talons of Weng-Chiang (Robert Holmes)
Montage clips: Luciano Pavarotti makes his American television debut 'Live from the Met' in a complete production of Puccini's La Boheme.
Montage music: 'London's Burning' from the debut album by The Clash, released on 8th April, 1977.
Having already played Sherlock Holmes during six episodes of Doctor Who in Spring 1977, Tom Baker played the character for real in a 1982 television adaptation of 'The Hound of the Baskervilles'. Apparently, it was not that good. (I've never seen it, nor intend to. BBC Radio's Clive Merrison is "my Holmes".) Talons shows us that the affinity between the Doc and Sherl is strong indeed: much of the story seems borrowed wholesale from Conan Doyle. (Borrowed beautifully, but borrowed nonetheless.) So how could Baker's 'Hound' not have been any good? One reason might be that with Tom Baker having so perfectly hit the right Sherlockian tone in Talons, any finessing he did to differentiate Holmes from the Doctor could only have lessened the portrayal. Moreover, Talons' near-perfection came at the end of two years where he had barely put a foot wrong (and he would keep hitting his mark for at least another two years after that). Talons is infuriating not because of its crap rat but because it so effortlessly hits the Victorian target that it demands an extended period of exile in late nineteenth century London. Which it never got. Season 15 should have been set entirely in fin-de-siecle Britain (The Invisible Enemy set during the Boer War, Underworld on the eve of World War One, etc.). Alas, no.
Season 14 overall
This is held to be Doctor Who at its finest, boasting three out-and-out classics and without any real lemons. Is it the best of the classic era? Season 13 has one more big hitter, generally better music and feels like more of a unity. Yet when Season 14 hits its stride, it really scores. Plus it is the end of an era, an era when the show had been good week in, week out. If only the BBC had stuck to its guns and given Hinchcliffe and Holmes one more full season...