The Horror of Fang Rock
The Invisible Enemy
Image of the Fendahl
The Sun Makers
The Invasion of Time
Season Fifteen


Budget Cuts... by Joe Ford 4/11/02

Season fifteen is one of those years in Doctor Who that seems to be forgotten about. We all know the popular seasons (five, seven, thirteen, eighteen, twenty-six) but there are a surprising number of lost years that while containing some classics (such as The Mind Robber in season six) they are generally not well regarded. The Graeme Williams era is fondly remembered these days but you'll find it's the instantly recognisable season sixteen (with its zany plots and sparkling humour) or the despised season seventeen which are brought to mind. Poor, neglected season fifteen doesn't get a look in. Such a shame.

There are probably several reasons for this. The budget cuts, for one. Clearly after three years of glossy looking Who the sudden appearance of hysterically bad looking monsters (The rutan, The Nucleus) and sparse sets was quite a shock. Another reason is how awkward transitional it seems at times, with the first half of the season still influenced by the gothic aspects of the Hinchcliffe era and the second half thick with humour.

However, there is much commend this season (as you're about to find out) for. It's clever ideas, the fab-o Doctor/Leela interaction, the glorious dialogue, even K.9. who at this stage is only a minor annoyance. Let's take a peek at the stories...

Horror of Fang Rock: Why oh why do we watch Doctor Who after all these years? The effects, like the ones in this story are often dire; the Rutan seen here has got to be one of the most offensive examples of a crap looking villain. I'll tell you why the show is still popular: because the script and acting here are so good we can ignore one lousy effect compared the tight drama unfolding. Terrance Dicks creates some fantastic characters in very little time, Adelaide is great as a wimpy screamer and placing her beside Leela proves just how far the show has come in its portrayal of women. The tiny setting, a shadowy lighthouse with monsters hiding in every corner is evoked beautifully by experienced director Paddy Kingsland (the show is always superbly directed when a lady is at the helm): 9/10 "Gentlemen, this lighthouse is under attack and by morning we might all be dead. Any questions?"

The Invisible Enemy: Underated, but flawed. The first two episodes are actually very good. I just love the sets of the Titan Base, shadowy, with all those pipes on the ceiling... the perfect setting for some running around trying to escape some monsters. Tom Baker is superb as the possesed Doctor, a genuinely scary performance. Things get a little unstuck when we transfer to the Medical Centre what with the now predictable infection of the staff and the boring, spartan sets. The ideas are brilliant though, and whatever the show might lack in budget it more than makes up for in imagination. The scenes in the Doctor's mind are okay but should have all been whacky and surreal (like the bubbles and the scene with the nuts and bolts flying at the camera!). Still, Louise Jameson is excellent, Michael Sheard doesn't know how to give a bad performance and I quite like Marius too. Only the King Prawn drags this down seriously but the cool shots of its eggs bubbling and oozing makes up for that. Energetic and fun, if a little embarassing at times: 7/10

Image of the Fendahl: Hinchcliffe may have been better known for the darker, scarier stories but this is probably Doctor Who's best horror story yet. The early scenes of the hiker being stalked through the woods at night are terrifying. The end of episode one is superbly paced with an unseen menace approaching the Doctor... the story is full of such nuggets... the Fendahl coming to life, the house exploding, the disgusting Fendahleen stalking Leela and co through the priory, the glowing skull... the production is sparkling, the script clever and involving and the conclusion very satisfying after an incredible build up. I love the old woman ("Ere! That ain't the way to make a fruit cake!") and Colby's accent is dead sexy. Frightening and superbly made, this ranks as one of the best: 9/10 "That skull is human... it's a skull like yours and mine! Modern man... Homo sapien!"

Underworld: Dr Who at its absolute worst. There isn't even a flash of the brilliant humour that adds so much charm to the Williams stories. The CSO sets are so bad you have to wonder how on earth they thought they'd get away with it! I give the show one point, the only redeeming feature is the creepy computer voice but since that only appears in episode four it's not saying much: 1/10 No memorable dialogue as far as I can see!

The Sun Makers: A biting satire on the British tax system with some great gags, quality performances and top notch set pieces. Bob Holmes strikes again and it's a wonderful remedy to have a story with no dodgy monsters or robots... just a very human drama albeit with comedy trappings that makes it that more satisfying. The Gatherer is simply amazing (his dialogue is so hysterical!) and together with the Collector they make a dazzling pair. This is another story that proves the potential of Leela's character, when she's treated seriously she is one of the most alien (and engaging) of companions. Her confrontation with Mandrel is scorching: 9/10 "You? You have nothing Mandrel. No honour. No dignity. No manhood. Even animals protect their own! You say to me you want to live, well I say this to you, if you lie skulking in this black pit while the Doctor dies then you shall live... but without honour!"

The Invasion of Time: Isn't that a bit of a dramtic title for such a lightweight story? It's an extremely poor end to the season and a horrible way to write out Leela's character, a companion with such potential, some of which was tapped into well. The production is poor, despite some fine location filming the show has a pantomime feel to it not helped by the arrival of the Sontarans who are so thick and unmenacing it drags a dull story to an even lower quality. Tom Baker is quite convincing in his portrayal of the Doctor gone rogue but one man cannot hold up a production forced on his shoulders. The end of episode four is a truly great cliffhanger but it's clear at this point we have sacrificed all drama from the show for camp humour. A shame: 2/10

Well, well... three classics in amongst all the dreck (not fair actually, The Invisible Enemy can be recommended) with only the two major SF stories letting the side down. What made those stories SO bad was how boring they were, so many dull corridor scenes (and those TARDIS shots in The Invasion of Time are inexcusable!), too much concentration on tedious characters (The Minyans are such a dull bunch and most of Gallifrey seems to be populated by complete losers these days too!) and not enough action. And please cut down on the cheap laser effects! Jesus, if it's going to look that bad use a real gun with bullets!

I can't complain though because the other four are quite wonderful and not at all the budgetary disasters they are made out to be. The model work in The Invisible Enemy is top notch and the location work in Image of the Fendahl stands out. The ligthouse sets in Horror of Fang Rock are superb.

Delightful characters populate those stories... Skinsale, Adelaide, Vince and Ruben (Horror of Fang Rock) - Lowe, Marius, K.9. (The Invisible Enemy) - Thea, Colby, Old Ma (Image of the Fendahl) - Marn, The Collector, Cordo (aww he's so lovely!), Mandrel, The Gatherer (the BEST villain of the year!)... they make up an impressive list and paint the stories with such fascinating colours. I too agree that the Williams era produced some of the finest character work of the series and season fifteen is no different!

And of course let's not forget the delightful combination of Tom Baker and Louise Jameson, one of the most interesting Doctor/companions line ups yet. I love the way he is always seen to be teaching her but at times she can teach him too ("I love my idea about blowing that place up!") and how snappy he can be with her sometimes (Baker's professional disgust for her 'senses' leaking in somewhat). Leela's continual cuture shocks never cease to entertain me, its especially good in Horror of Fang Rock ("As for the girl you'd think she was tied to him by a piece of string!" or "You will listen to the Doctor or I will cut out your heart!") and Image of the Fendahl (where the farmer thinks she's escaped from a loony bin!) but she lights up the screen in The Sun Makers with her predatory instincts on overdrive ("Before I die I'll see this rat hole ankle deep in blood. That is a promised thing!" and "Oh try Mandrel, prove you have a heart as big as your MOUTH!"). She is a great character and deserved so much more than her underwritten exit. Baker fizzles with wit throughout (although he does seem dreadfully bored throughout the tedium that is Underworld but then who can blame him?). He gives possibly his best performance in Fang Rock ("Gentlemen this lighthouse is under attack and by morning we might all be dead! Any questions?").

So all in all a triumph and a good start to Williams tenure. It laid an impressive path for the Key to Time season to capatilise on. If there are problems here they are purely functional (money, padding) and we've complained about them in all the other eras too. So go on, give it a chance. Watch it again, you might find it's not quite as bad as you remember...

Paling Shadows, Nervous Laughter by Mike Morris 9/7/03

Season Fifteen would appear to be one we don't much like discussing. At time of writing, it has only garnered one review on this site, for example. One might be forgiven for wondering why.

More specifically, I've never quite worked out why it isn't more hated. That isn't to say I hate it, although I do think it's the weakest of Tom's seasons by some considerable margin. But in the final analysis, after a wonderful (if almost accidental) opening story, Season Fifteen is average at best. Of the remaining five stories only one is much use, the rest can be comfortably ranked in categories ranging from 'Tries hard, must do better' to 'Almost relentlessly dreadful'. This is usually the stuff that inspires bile-filled rants from people like, er, me.

And yet; no. I'm basing this on scanty anecdotal evidence, but I suspect a straw poll among fans for Doctor Who's worst season would have Seasons 23 and 24 in front by a country mile, with 11 and 20 mopping up a fair few stray votes. I don't think Season 15 would be in the running at all. And yet the thought of watching Underworld and The Invasion of Time in quick succession is enough to induce coma, even before you throw in the rest.

Perhaps it's just because Tom's in it, and it cannot therefore be criticised. Perhaps it's because the sets are so cheap and the acting so bad that it's too embarrassing for us to remember. But I think the most important thing about Season 15, and perhaps the reason it receives a certain level of indulgence, is that its faults stem from being Doctor Who's most obvious transitional season.

Phillip Hinchcliffe had left the show at its height of popularity, but with the very things that made it popular having been banned from on-high. Without recourse to horror, Doctor Who was forced to take its ideas from different areas - and although revamps had happened before, it had never happened that the programme's creators were specifically forbidden from using a winning formula. It's inevitable that the product would suffer. Comparing seasons 14 and 15 shows the programme's quality plummeting overnight in a way that is really unrivalled in its history. And yet one can see Season 15 fishing around, tentatively taking steps in a new direction - it just hasn't got very good at it yet. By the following year confidence had returned, but this season is one big long identity crisis.

Odd, then, that it should start with one of the best stories ever. Horror of Fang Rock is the definitive base-under-siege story, a triumphant exercise in Doctor Who doing what it does best. Terrance Dicks' best story is deceptively multi-levelled, operating as a standard B-movie horror but also as a character-driven snapshot of Victorian snobbery and clannishness. It touches on many themes; reputation and appearance (replete with shape-shifting alien), manners and savagery, greed and goodness, class, and the perverse power of women over men. Unfussily and modestly, Horror of Fang Rock has much to say. It's a cracker.

Of course, if it wasn't for various production matters this story might never have featured in Season Fifteen. And in a perverse way the season might have gone better if it hadn't. After all, curtain raisers should really act as statements of intent, advertisements of where the rest of the season will go. Horror of Fang Rock, though, is vastly different from the rest of the season and has more in common with the previous year. So it rather shows the rest of the year up, reminding the audience what they have lost.

The Invisible Enemy is a good counterpoint. It is a confident, noble failure that might have been better suited to open the season (and I think was intended to do so originally); the sprawling scale and multiple settings are far more what one expects from a curtain-raiser than the professional claustrophobia of Fang Rock. What with the impact of Star Wars, it's not surprising that Doctor Who might try space opera as its new direction. And for an episode or so, and in patches thereafter, it's fresh and successful. The scenes on Titan, especially, are really very good. It also shows a concern for an overriding continuity that the Williams era continually added to; mentions of the great break-out and historical data behind cloning show an attempt to build up a cohesive future history of Earth.

But... dear oh dear it's cheap, and in Professor Marius creates the inaugural Williams comedy stereotype. The script unwisely relies on battle sequences in the hospital, but Doctor Who never had the budget for that. There are also irritating shortcuts in the script (the Doctor comes round whenever convenient) and the principal monster looks appalling. Then there's the modelwork, which is generally praised as brilliant; confusing, since it's obviously atrocious, with ships wobbling everywhere and the hospital's establishing shot showing damage it acquires later in the story. I can only assume the 'good modelwork' rumour was put about by the same people who convinced us that the church explosion in The Daemons looked real. Sorry folks, but the emperor is in the nip and there isn't a single model shot in The Invisible Enemy that isn't shit. The direction is a marvellous rearguard action, struggling against a limited budget to create some memorable scenes - not least the sequences inside the Doctor's brain, which are a rare example of Who using CSO well.

All that said, I rather like this story. We see, for the first time, the birth of Williams-era imagination, the sheer joy of invention. The mind/brain interface portrayed as a dark chasm, the Doctor's internal dialogue, the close-up revelations of the virus, and generally the pure originality of the idea - which Who had never done before, never come close to doing. These are enough to sustain the story and make me enjoy it.

Oddly, The Invisible Enemy is the only really "Williamsy" story of the season. No other story quite achieves that joyful anarchy of ideas, and without any 'backup' it doesn't quite work. Four more similar stories would have provided a sort of 'critical mass' and in that climate The Invisible Enemy might have made more sense; but instead they continue to vary.

Image of the Fendahl is, like Horror of Fang Rock, much more at home amid the Hinchcliffe-era gothic stories than anything the Williams era produced. Image of the Fendahl's spiritual bedfellow is one of Hinchcliffe's better-regarded (if overrated) stories, Pyramids of Mars - their similarities run beyond the use of the same location. What's interesting is that in many ways, Image of the Fendahl is actually a better story.

Whereas Pyramids of Mars relies largely on period pastiche characters, melodramatic horror and an all-powerful supervillain, Image of the Fendahl is more modern and more thoughtful, giving hard-edged reasons for all phenomena and investing a full-blooded horror story with a scientific edge. The revelation of the Fendahl as having influenced man's evolution is more ambitious and intelligent than anything the Hinchcliffe era produced; Adam Colby, whose flippancy conceals his intelligence, is a well-worked character never before seen in the past three years; the Time Lords involvement is well-conceived; the gestalt creature is a supreme piece of imagination. And in the 'mankind has been used' scene at the climax of Part Three, the story contains a scene I consider to be one of the most frightening in the programme's history. This is all due to things Williams brought to the show; good characters, logical plotting, real motivations rather than Hammer Horror melodrama. It can touch heights all right.

What damages Image of the Fendahl is its unevenness. The script loses pace drastically in Part Three, despatches its all-powerful creature with ridiculous ease in Part Four, and has dialogue that swings from witty and sharp ('You must think my head zips up the back!') to dreadful ('Soon it will be too late, too late for all the meddling fools!'). The excellent location work is undermined by unconvincing design, a dreadful make-up job on the Fendahl, and the disappointing Fendahleen. In a Hinchcliffe-type story, the lack of Hinchcliffe's professionalism is very obvious. There is no way Hinchcliffe would have tolerated the stereotyped crone, or Fendelman's variable German accent, or all manner of other bad bits. In its own way, of course, this is the joy of the story; the way it swings from downright brilliant to very dodgy is something close to the wonderful, giddy anarchy that is the Williams era's most enjoyable trait. And yet at the same time it's not really good enough. And again, the final episode is a big let down after the thrilling climax of Part Three.

Still, Image of the Fendahl is a good story on the whole with some great moments. The last three stories are anything but. There is The Sunmakers, a stab at satire manifesting itself as a smug, pointless pig of an adventure. There's Underworld, slow-moving and dull, a reasonably imaginative plot undermined by no characters to speak of and the infamous CSO. Finally we have The Invasion of Time, cheap and dreary, a work of desperation with one or two good points lost in a mess.

The Sun Makers marks the point when Bob Holmes, by his own admission, was starting to run dry on Doctor Who ideas. It shows; the plot is by-numbers stuff and the jokes stereotyped. It has pretensions to be a 'biting satire', which is like saying Big Brother is a serious study of socio-psychology, or that Matthew McConaughey is an actor. Worse still is the smart-arsed camp that underscores the whole thing. I understand that not everyone shares my opinion of this story (hello, Matthew Harris!), but it's my least favourite of the season by a mile. And it's up against competition. In his review, shortly before a large pulsing vein in his forehead exploded, Matthew asked me a question; can't a story just be a laugh? The answer is; no. 'It's just a bit of fun' isn't a justification. Piss-taking is what you do with your mates down the pub, and Doctor Who should do more. I love the funny stories; The Pirate Planet and The Androids of Tara are two of my favourites. But they've all got more going on than the humour, which separates them from this crap-fest.

The fun and the jokes aren't the problem in themselves, though; it's the camp that really works against this one. I'm not exactly sure how 'camp' is defined, but sometimes I think it's maybe the single most destructive influence on contemporary art. Camp is why we're supposed to think Abba are a good band; why Jackie Collins is an 'icon' rather than a vile purveyor of terrible books; why Laurence Llewellyn-Bowen can paint MDF purple and call it design; why people watch the Eurovision; why shallow imbeciles like Graham sodding Norton have jobs. It's glorying in crap because it's crap. What's most irritating is the way it places itself above criticism, the implication that if you criticise it you're missing the point. Exhibit A: apparently the stupid, stupid scripting and hammy performance of Gatherer Hade is the whole point. Oh, I see. It's supposed to be shit. That's cynical writing, the same logic that says the best thing about Doctor Who isn't the morality or the imagination or the storytelling techniques or the individuality or the characters or the wit or the fun or the heroism of the Doctor himself, it's the cheap sets and dodgy monsters.

To summarise, I despise The Sunmakers and everything it represents.

Underworld is another matter. I don't dislike this story, I just don't have much to say about it. It's routine in every way. The only smidgeon of intrigue is the way that the story references the myth of Jason and the Argonauts, showing another change in the programme's attitudes; the referencing of myths and legends, rather than B-movie horror, was a feature of the era and gave the stories a more literate and thoughtful backdrop (as in the Image of the Fendahl/Pyramids of Mars comparison). And the idea of Underworld - the planet forming around the ship, the ship's computer going mad and the cybernetic enhancement of the serfs - are well-thought out and imaginative. There's also some nice incidental touches, like the rejuvenation and the lead-up to Part One's cliffhanger. In fact it's a fine premise...

...but who could possibly be entertained by this? Apart from Jackson, I can't remember the name of a single character. The plot is nonexistent, replete with lots of running around. And there are the same shortcuts that appeared in The Invisible Enemy, such as the computer creating some fission grenades from nowhere. The CSO, of course, makes it far too difficult to watch, but what really rankles is not the bad CSO but the dullness of the backdrop. The Invisible Enemy showed what could be achieved with some imagination and CSO, and there's no reason that the Underworld caves couldn't have been re-imagined as something else a bit more interesting. The fact that they're not is hugely annoying.

Ultimately, though, there's nothing particularly offensive about Underworld. There's just nothing interesting either. There's a good first episode that hints at epic sci-fi but after that it's relentlessly dull, and perhaps if it was a bit more imaginative the viewer might make a bit more effort to look past the superficial faults. But why bother?

The Invasion of Time is a perfect example of an oh-shit-the-money's-run-out extravaganza of crapness. The fact that it was written in seventy-two seconds or so probably doesn't help. For any story, that's a problem. For a Gallifrey-based story it's insurmountable.

It's well-known that this was a work of desperation, born when David Weir's The Killer Cats of Geng-Singh fell through just because the BBC costume department weren't able to run off 100,000 costumes (C'mon, surely they could have made an effort?). As such The Invasion of Time was thrown together and, because of this, receives a bit of forgiveness. It shouldn't. Unlike the season's opening (when the production of The Witch Lords was actually stopped by the BBC) this wasn't out of the production team's control. It's all very well to say Williams and Read were left in the lurch by a writer, but as they're the ones commissioning the scripts it's ultimately their fault if those scripts don't work. Williams and Read shouldn't have allowed the Killer Cats fiasco to happen. So yeah, they had to write the story in a week, but it was their own fault that they had to do so - emphasising once more the drop in the show's professionalism.

The Invasion of Time actually has a lot of interesting things happening, not least the wonderful portrayal of the Doctor, and for a fan it's not without good points; however, the thought of showing this to a non-fan is terrifying. Objectively one has to say that this is awful television. It's cheap, non-linear, slow, flatly directed (Part One's cliffhanger is hugely incompetent) and populated by stereotypes like Kelner, Rodan, and Andred - the latter being one of the most pointless and stupid characters imaginable. The villains are ridiculous, and although the appearance of the Sontarans is a cracking moment (great music for that bit too) the rest of the story degenerates into a chase through the TARDIS. That said, I think criticism of the TARDIS interiors are way off the mark - filming these scenes on location was a brave and imaginative move, and after the initial jolt of 'hey where the hell are we?' is very successful. It's certainly better than the endless roundels and bland corridors of the eighties.

It's got something else going for it in a brilliantly-scripted Doctor, and Tom Baker giving it his all. The contrast between the Doctor and the society he has left is well-handled, his valedictory explanation of his plans to Borusa being a vindication of him and his thinking. The degeneration of Time Lord society is more obvious here than in The Deadly Assassin, where the gothic shadows of the Capitol gave the Time Lords a sense of grandeur. Here they are completely prone to attack, spineless, and 'as transparent as good old-fashioned glass'. All very interesting, very commendable - and close to unwatchable.

Just a word for the two leads this season. The Doctor, aside from Tom Baker's (understandably) somnambulant performance in Underworld, does very well indeed. For the first time he is given scripts that focus on him as a character - The Invisible Enemy sees him possessed, Image of the Fendahl focuses on a creature from his own mythology, and The Invasion of Time is all about him and his methods. Baker responds with a series of excellent performances; Fang Rock and The Invasion of Time are two of his best, he is also excellent in The Invisible Enemy (especially when possessed) and is generally as marvellous as ever.

Leela is another matter. Only Nyssa can give her a run for her money as Doctor Who's most underutilised companion; Nyssa gains far less attention than Leela does, but then Leela had far more potential. After an excellent start - Leela's first four stories are brilliant - she becomes a cipher. In The Invisible Enemy her acute senses (used so brilliantly in Fang Rock) become a childish all-pervasive sense of evil, or more accurately, "eeeevilll". She gets a better treatment in Image of the Fendahl, but in the remaining stories she's really just a savage with a knife - the only exception being her chastisement of Mandril in The Sun Makers. The relationship between the Doctor and Leela goes similarly undeveloped, and aside from a few scenes in Fang Rock and Image of the Fendahl there's no sense that the Doctor has any sort of affection for her. Much has been made of Tom Baker's dislike for this 'cold-blooded killer', and while that's obviously a factor his attitude may have come from her shallow scripting in this season. The absurd decision to marry her off, seemingly at random, is telling.

Overall? It's hard to cope with the drop in quality between this season and its predecessor. We fans can find some things to like, but this is what ordinary people use to show how crap Doctor Who was. The start is reasonable, with a great story, a good one and a likeable enough attempt, but the last three are dreadful. What makes Season Fifteen tolerable is that one can see, just about, the seeds of what would emerge so wonderfully in the following season. There are attempts at universe building - the Time Lords and their mythology are key to three stories, and earth's future is a focus of two. There's a definite attempt to increase the use of humour, although the stories themselves really aren't that funny yet. The programme also tries to be more literate, and is at times highly imaginative.

That said, it's just not good enough. The Hinchcliffe era's production levels and tautness are visibly eroded, but the riot of imagination and fun hasn't yet emerged to take its place. The result is a season that falls between two stools and, ultimately, fails. One can make all the excuses in the world, but this remains Tom Baker's worst season, and a rather poor effort all round.

So no, it probably doesn't deserve hatred. Then again, it doesn't deserve to be praised either; sadly, the objective truth is that Season Fifteen barely deserves to be watched.

A Review by James Neiro 26/7/10

The 15th season opened with the remarkable Horror of Fang Rock. A tight script set entirely among the narrow corridors of a Lighthouse in the 1900's. We would see the only introduction of the Sontaran's deadliest enemy, the Rutans.

The following story would see the Doctor succumb to an alien parasite in The Invisible Enemy and the introduction of fan favorite companion, K9, the first of the Doctor's mechanical companions. Image of the Fendahl aired next, a horror story set in the 1970's centering around the unearting of a human skull.

The following two stories, The Sun Makers and Underworld, would be a slight letdown considering the season had opened strong. However, big things were to come as the season finale would become a major event to fans and to Doctor Who itself.

The Invasion of Time would be set on Gallifrey and would contain such revelations as the Doctor becoming President of the Time Lords, the return of the Sontarans, and their invasion and brief rule over the homeworld of the Time Lords and even more shocking the departure of the Doctor's two companions, Leela and K9.

A stormy sea change by Thomas Cookson 18/5/11

Doctor Who's demise was sowed when Mary Whitehouse's campaign against the show's violence finally succeeded in getting the BBC to sack the show's best producer, Philip Hinchcliffe. All producers leave eventually, but the premature and acrimonious nature of Hichcliffe's departure created disaster all round. Hinchcliffe spitefully decided that since he was being kicked off the show, he would overspend the budget on his final story. Resultantly, Talons of Weng Chiang looked absolutely lavish, but unfortunately Graham Williams inherited a heavily slashed budget to work with. This left the show looking cheaper than ever, but it had a more disastrous knock-on effect later when Graham Williams became impressed enough with JNT's useful suggestions for budgeting to nominate him as his successor.

The point is, Hinchcliffe wasn't originally planning on leaving. His producership hadn't yet run its course. Williams intended to start his era with the Key to Time quest, but first he had to do the stories already commissioned by the previous regime. This is why Season 15 is so lopsided and why after the remnants of the Hinchcliffe/Holmes legacy (Horror of Fang Rock to The Sunmakers), the season runs out of inspiration and degenerates into filler with Underworld and The Invasion of Time, as though simply marking time until Season 16.

Horror of Fang Rock shows that Williams could have maintained Hichcliffe's horror legacy. Indeed, it's more frightening than anything in Hinchcliffe's era. Mainly because of Pyramids of Mars director Paddy Russell and the old hands of writer Terrance Dicks and script editor Robert Holmes. Maybe it was just a last hurrah from the remnants of the Hinchcliffe era. But, even if Williams had the aptitude to maintain Hinchcliffe's horror direction, the BBC with their strict guidelines upon the show's content and what was acceptable wouldn't allow him to.

Once we got past Horror of Fang Rock's remarkable minimalism (particularly how well it conjures the sense of two vast galactic empires at war in the skies above), the stories after began to feel downright incomplete and look half-finished. Hence why I get the impression that after Horror of Fang Rock, suddenly the interference of the BBC in terms of what the show was and wasn't allowed to be, had left the team feeling very frustrated and left the stories feeling very half-hearted.

Tom Baker's prima-donna misbehaviour seemed to get worse the more people from his early years departed, such as Elisabeth Sladen and Philip Hinchcliffe, and he was particularly difficult and unpleasant to whomever replaced them. Perhaps if Hinchcliffe stayed, he would have been able to control Tom and earn the respect that Graham Williams couldn't. It's even possible Tom Baker would have left when Hinchcliffe did, just like Jon Pertwee and David Tennant decided they would leave with their producer. But that's the kind of bond that Barry Letts and Jon Pertwee had. Hinchcliffe never got a chance to develop such a bond with Tom.

If Tom had left sooner, he'd be remembered as the Fourth Doctor for his early classics, rather than for the show's later degeneration into the 'Tom Baker goon show'. Whilst I enjoyed the 'Tom Baker show' years, it brought about an enormous backlash afterwards with the Fifth Doctor's character being forcibly neutered and weakened to try and reassert a sense of drama and threat by reducing the Doctor to a shadow of himself. Had Tom Baker departed back when his moments of weakness and vulnerability in Genesis of the Daleks, Pyramids of Mars and The Deadly Assassin were far fresher in memory, then the next Doctor after him wouldn't need to be conceived as a total contrast to the point of becoming the ineffectual appeasing anti-Doctor that Davison was. With Hinchcliffe gone, what was keeping Tom Baker around was no longer a family atmosphere to the production team, but the lure of the limelight. He didn't feel anything but contempt for those he had to work with.

Then there's Leela. The Leela character was again the brainchild of Hinchcliffe who liked the idea of the Doctor assuming a Pygmalion role of Educating Leela. It would have been interesting to see what Hinchcliffe would have eventually done with Leela's character, but Louise Jameson herself felt unsatisfied with how little Leela seemed to develop under Williams, and indeed Mary Tamm has expressed similar reasons for leaving the show during this era. Horror of Fang Rock is the obligatory fourth chapter in Season 14's Leela trilogy (in fact, I think it's her best story) and I couldn't imagine any other companion in that story.

The Sunmakers is another Season 15 story that uses her well, allowing her to function entirely independent of the Doctor and be a protagonist in her own right. Unfortunately, in the rest of Season 15, she does become a background character. Considering Tom Baker's open dislike for her, you can tell why Louise Jameson decided to leave the show this season. It's a shame because she was stronger and more dedicated in her performance than most actresses who followed her. Louise Jameson wanted Leela to be killed off, preferably in an act of self-sacrifice, and apparently it was planned to happen in The Sunmakers. Obviously the BBC's tight reign on the show's violence meant Leela's death didn't happen. Personally I'm glad they didn't kill her off, but I do feel that The Sunmakers is where Leela should have departed.

I've always defended Leela's departure in The Invasion of Time where she's married off to Andred as being potentially quite plausible for someone of Leela's tribal background to simply choose her mate on pure instinct. But the fact is there are far more plausible males that Leela could have picked in Season 15; Cordo in The Sunmakers is probably the prime candidate. There honestly does seem to be sexual tension in her scenes with him and Louise Jameson really plays it as though Leela has an honest crush on him. But that sums up the feeling with Season 15, of it being a season that dragged out and wore its elements thin rather than building to a proper crescendo.

Horror of Fang Rock is probably as solidly plotted as Doctor Who gets, and each death has its own Shakespearean context, particularly Skinsale's fatal flaw of greed. When I try wrapping my head around Lawrence Miles' woolly, cultish notions of the show's message of embracing the alien and how the Williams era 'betrayed' this by turning the alien monsters into something for Tom Baker to laugh and sneer at, I think Horror of Fang Rock should be one to win him over by actually showing human beings at their worst and almost perversely painting the Rutan warrior as more honourable than them. But Tom's performance makes his Doctor come across as cavalier about the whole massacre.

While Tom Baker's Doctor was the jolly friend to all, when teamed up with Sarah-Jane, he always seemed justified in his violent actions in defence of humanity as in Terror of the Zygons and The Seeds of Doom. However, in Season 15, Tom's contempt for the show and for his co-star made him seem far less compassionate.

The Williams era did try to make a virtue out of its cheapness. The minimalism of Horror of Fang Rock was superbly done, Image of the Fendahl showed ordinary people being resourceful with household goods from the kitchen in order to win against cosmic forces. The Sunmakers is particularly about economic decline and having to fend for oneself with dwindling resources. Likewise Underworld and The Invasion of Time make heroes out of the tribal hunter-gatherer characters who make do with the primitive tools they have.

This would of course continue throughout the Williams era, and indeed Creature from the Pit, Nightmare of Eden and Horns of Nimon would make a big deal about galactic recessions, empires in decline and worlds riddled with moth holes from the spread of galactic locusts. This might explain why something as high concept as The Invisible Enemy feels misjudged, but not quite as misjudged as the last two stories of the season.

I don't fully understand fandom's antipathy towards the Williams era. I'm baffled by claims that Horns of Nimon is 'not proper Doctor Who' when it's probably the most Hartnellian colour story. But I can appreciate how disheartening the double blow of Underworld and The Invasion of Time were. Both have a potentially good idea with a rich source of mythology that's ultimately let down by lousy execution, and both actually start quite well in episode one. But on both occasions the inspiration quickly runs dry and the story quickly becomes barren and loses any momentum. They're both significantly stories where Tom Baker begins to indulge himself and get out of control, rewriting the script to his leisure, although here one can understand his boredom.

There are moments in The Invasion of Time where Tom Baker's performance as an unhinged, power-mad despot is actually one that demands to be taken seriously and which really puts Colin Baker's performance in The Twin Dilemma to absolute shame. But they're undone by moments of self-indulgent fourth wall breaking like "Even a sonic screwdriver won't get me out of this one" and where he walks the same derelict swimming pool three times over whilst rambling about his past foes.

The Chase was plotless, and The Android Invasion was unfinished, but The Invasion of Time really was an unprecedented train wreck of an incomplete story. Productionwise, it feels utterly incomplete. It is transparently clear which parts of the story were filmed in a school, and whilst that perhaps couldn't be helped because of the strike taking place, it is a huge blemish on the production. No matter how cheap or expensive a story's production values, they almost always succeed in suggesting a complete environment that all takes place in the same space. I don't think any other story fails to get that across quite as badly as The Invasion of Time does, and that's principally because the school environment was not designed for the story or suited for it in any way.

And what rubs salt in the wound is that the entirety of those scenes are extraneous and could have easily been cut or relocated to a proper studio set. The idea of the TARDIS having an entire hotel complex within it was a potentially good one but it required the kind of craft and futuristic look that this story doesn't even attempt to convey. The story makes the invasion of Gallifrey into the dullest, most lethargic affair. There's very little sense of what the characters are doing or why. No one seems to be taking the invasion itself that seriously.

Some moments actually predate JNT's worst excesses in having shocking events take place without rhyme or reason, such as the scene where the guards outside the Doctor's room are harpooned by Leela's army. No reason why and no condemnation from the Doctor. It doesn't make any character sense. But, moreso, in failing to create an air of urgency, it makes the same mistake as Vengeance on Varos and The Two Doctors. It depicts the Doctor resorting to killing the enemy, blasting the Sontarans with Rassilon's gun, without the story ever conveying the urgency that would mitigate his actions.

Ironically after Mary Whitehouse's 'moral victory' against the show, Season 15 was as amoral as Tom's era got. The Sunmakers even condoned mob violence and murder when Gatherer Hade gets thrown to his death. It somewhat gets away with it by playing it for comical absurdity, so you don't quite get the sense the story really 'means' it, but it certainly reveals that the shocking mean-spiritedness of Robert Holmes' later The Two Doctors, wasn't entirely unprecedented.

Quite simply, Mary Whitehouse in removing the show's violence and horror, took away what made the bad guys genuinely bad and worth fighting against, and which gave the Doctor and his human allies good reason to do what had to be done.