Four to Doomsday
Soap! by Rob Matthews 18/10/01
What was arguably the most difficult transition in the show's history was handled pretty well by the production team. Indeed, they'd had the whole of the previous series to adjust the 'house style' of the show with good old Boggle still in the role. The new title sequence was already established, and the movement towards both more hardcore sci fi and a rather bleaker worldview had already culminated in a grim story in which the Master didn't so much try to destroy the universe as take the sellotape off and let it destroy itself. Old companions had left and new ones had joined, and a reinvented Master was all ready for a Delgado-like series of battles. Added to that, season 19's opening story picked up exactly where season 18's closer had left off, utilising its puzzling block transfer concept into the bargain.
And yet Castrovalva's opening episode didn't quite flow. We were left alone with Nyssa and Tegan, neither of whom we really knew that much about. The most established of the trio of companions, Adric, was made to act weird and so couldn't be our identification figure. The story was wildly unlikely - as I say, block transfer was a difficult idea to get to grips with, and though it had been under-explained in Logopolis, we had at least been allowed the impression that it was something a bunch of wise men had perfected over - presumably - millennia. I'm no physicist, but the idea that Adric could do it alone - or even with a bit of help from the Master - didn't strike me as believable. Another valid point someone made in a review of this particular story was that it was written successfully for fans, but not for general audiences. There wasn't enough in the way of contrived plot summary in the opening episodes - something which would have been helpful not only for those who hadn't seen Logopolis, but for those - like me - who had, but didn't completely understand it.
Anyway, it was a reasonably good start for Davison's Doctor. My favourite moment in his first episode was when he scratched his head and was shocked to find no curly hair there - particularly because it was done visually, with no accompanying lines. His 'channelling' of previous incarnations also helped put the loss of Tom into the wider context of the show's history. As indeed did the presence of the Master - though in my opinion, Anthony Ainley's giggling Delgado knock-off was nowhere near as effective as the cunning emaciated version from The Deadly Assassin and The Keeper of Traken, and his disguises in this season as the Portreeve and Kalide served no plot purpose at all (unlike his use of the Melkur-Tardis, which was necessary both because he was immobile, and because it was a devilish cunning way of infiltrating Traken). A shame, because Ainley was great as Tremas, as the Porteeve, and, in his final story Survival, as the more feral Master. It would seem to be the fault of the producer and directors that he'd degenerated to the status of a bearded silly sod by the end of season 19.
With an unusually extended lineup of companions in the Tardis, it seems that it was decided the best way to replace Tom's one-man show would be to establish some kind of group dynamic. Many fans have commented both that there's more of a soap opera feel to this series than before, and I think that's true. Unfortunately, this was the season's major failing. For one thing, the stories were linked by rather clunky opening scenes in which the characters would make some pointless reference to the previous adventure. More importantly, though, soap opera just doesn't work when you can't mention sex and no-one drinks; The attempt to inject a soapy element made it look more like a kids show. Sexuality was conspicious by its absence. I don't expect a Tardis shagathon of course, but a frank admission of human nature - or indeed a bit of an explantion of Time Lord-nature - is necessary if you're going to go down that route. We got both of these with the Virgin books only because the concept was free of the shackles of 'kid's show' . Benny Summerfield or Chris Cwej would certainly never have made it to our television screens.
A shame, because the regular companions in season 19 were a dull bunch who didn't really gel as friends or convince as antagonists (or, for that matter, ever change their clothes). The maligned Adric was actually perfectly okay when teamed with Baker, but with Davison - hell, even their matching yellow outfits made me feel queasy, as did the Amazing Purple Woman aka Tegan, whom the Doctor didn't think twice about leaving behind on Earth at the end of the season (neither did he seem too chuffed to have her back at the beginning of the next). One would think that with stories as bland as The Visitation or Time Flight, there would have at least been plenty of room for developing relationships between characters. But all they did was engage in contrived bickering. Adric and Nyssa weren't even treated as young adults; in Black Orchid, they were actually referred to as 'children'. Indeed, in Four to Doomsday the Doctor - much to everyone's satisfaction, I should think - referred to Adric as a 'young idiot'.
So what better to do with these lifeless companions than kill 'em off for effect? Adric became a memorable companion just by dying tragically, certainly becoming a more important figure than if he'd left by simply popping off to Xeraphas to study trigonometry.
Tegan, meanwhile, ought to have been left at Heathrow. The only hope for a really convincing relationship in this quartet was between the Doctor and Nyssa, and if it couldn't have flowered in this season, it should have been allowed to in the next. Think about what the Doctor should mean to Nyssa - he's the man who battled the killer who supplanted her father and yet who, because of his friendship with Tremas and his new guardianship of her, had also supplanted her father. One could conceive of her developing a crush on him - especially in this younger body -, only to gradually realise his true alienness (there was some hint of this in Snakedance the next season). It seemed to me that there was a sexual frisson between the two in their very few scenes alone together, and certainly the Doc's asexual nature felt more jarring in this aforementioned younger form, and should perhaps have been addressed, rather than creating a campy effect by never mentioning it.
Disappointingly, the scene they shared at the beginning of Arc of Infinity was just another of those annoyingly frequent ones where the Doctor ran breathlessly around the console trying to do something. Probably something very interesting to do with accelerating time compensators or neutron whisk override or something. Yawn.
Season 19's standout stories were Kinda and Earthshock - the one for its daft psyho-mysticism, the other for its straightforward action plot. One of the superficial problems with Kinda was the dreadfully obvious studio lighting (the scenes should have been set at night), but it was intriguingly different to any Who story seen before, and felt genuinely more fitted to Davison than Baker. At the same time, an actual plot might have been nice. A good story, after all, fits this kind of psychological and mythical stuff in though subtext rather than incomprehensible blather. Earthshock, meanwhile, added a lot of momentum to a season than had been sadly lacking that since Castrovalva, and of course continued the updating of the show with a dramatic redesign of the Cybermen.
The best thing to be said for this season was that there was a reasonable effort towards originality - something which was dropped the next year in favour of recurring villains (ostensibly there because of the show's twentieth anniversary, but they stuck around for the next couple of years for good measure). After the drama, strong stories and rapport between actors of season 18, however, it was disappointingly limp. A bit of a wasted opportunity.
A Review by James Neiro 16/4/11
Doctor Who was nearing a milestone with its 20th season but all eyes were on its current - the 19th - and everyone waited anxiously to see how Peter Davison would turn out as the new Doctor.
Castrovalva, the season opener, continued the Return of the Master story arc and would be the only story in the show's history to have a large portion of the story filmed within the TARDIS. It would also be the first time since The Invasion of Time that we, as a viewer, could journey to the deepest corridors of the time machine.
Four to Doomsday aired next in a rather dull tale set aboard an alien starship. The following story, Kinda, would be a visually stunning and refreshingly scripted four-parter set on the planet Deva Loka. A lot of effort was obviously put into the set and boy does it show. The Visitation aired next, followed by the two parter Black Orchid, the first story in decades without a supernatural or alien element.
Earthshock would air next and saw the return of the Cybermen, redesigned for the final time. Earthshock would shock fans with the unexpected departure of Adric who would be killed off in the final few minutes of the episode. The season finale would see the crew attempting to recover from their grief at losing Adric. It would also see the surprise return of the Master and would also see the shocking departure of Tegan.
Season 19 was a season not to be missed and proved that even though Tom Baker had left the role, Doctor Who still had a lot of tricks up its sleeve to keep the audience glued to their TV screens.
The weekend's over by Thomas Cookson 12/3/12
I find myself meticulously going over the 80's to clarify what went wrong, and how things could've been different. JNT made good choices in Season 18 to reshape the show for a new decade, particularly casting Peter Davison who had the star-power and audience-draw that could benefit the show enormously, ensuring the show could survive Tom Baker's departure.
They completely blew it.
Ten million people, attracted by Davison's casting and Earthshock's buzz, tuned in to watch Time-Flight. The ratings declined from there, and Davison himself started thinking of leaving. JNT put Season 20's lower ratings down to poor promotion and rescheduling onto different weekdays. But still, Davison was the audience draw, and even he wasn't sticking with the show.
Had the show ended on Logopolis, it's cliffhanger ending could leave a massive demand for a novels range continuation, State of Decay likely being their heaviest influence. Castrovalva, The Visitation, Black Orchid were all novelised by their original authors, and they'd probably still be written in the TV show's absence, making Christopher Bidmead's idea of the Fifth Doctor being an old man trapped in a young man's body the definitive portrayal for the books. Season 19's Famous Five companion dynamic would be much better suited to prose. More importantly, respected sci-fi novelist Christopher Priest was lined up to write a Season 19 story. Maybe he'd have written a full-length novel, possibly the Human Nature of the 80's.
Or what if JNT only produced Season 18? JNT had provided a writing team shake-up, and a new producer could've inherited Peter Davison and JNT's new blood writers, without shunning Terrance Dicks and Robert Holmes. With Eric Saward onboard, we could've still had Revelation of the Daleks and discovered Barbara Clegg. Perhaps a more easy-going producer wouldn't have brought out Eric Saward's passive-aggressive streak that tainted the show and its hero, and Christopher Priest's story would be produced, and this new sci-fi credibility for the show would maybe bring more sci-fi novelists onboard.
Instead, Christopher Priest's script endured many rewrites, mainly to accommodate Adric's absence. Christopher wanted a payrise, JNT got volatile and abusive, completely souring a golden opportunity for the show that previous producers could only have dreamed of. Leaving me wondering how the JNT apologists ever pulled off the 'scapegoat producer' myth, given the queue of talented people the prima-donna producer drove off the show, including PJ Hammond, making a creative drought inevitable. Sure, those apologists could blame the budget and say JNT couldn't afford the demands of high-profile writers so they had to go, but good writers are the show's bloodline and arbitrarily changing the companion dynamic was needlessly complicating to those trying to write for the show.
My justification for what happened is that the BBC, in giving the producer's job to an underquallified man and showing poor faith in him, guaranteed that he'd become a producer with something to prove, hence why the show became more neurotic, forced and pretentious. Maybe JNT's coping mechanism and drive was about keeping himself going by seeking constant adulation and shunning anyone who might tell him he was doing it wrong. Or maybe he just was an unpleasant narcissist determined to hog the glory and remove any other big names associated with his show.
Whatever JNT's reasons or insecurities, he should've never been given the power he had to abuse his privilege and treat others unpleasantly. In Season 18, JNT was the only uncompromising tyrant who could deal with an uncontrollable prima donna leading man. But JNT should have left then. Many say JNT should have produced light entertainment or variety shows, even though he produced the most humourless and depressing Doctor Who stories. Maybe he could have found his niche. But he should never have been in charge of a show with Doctor Who's name and fanatical following that he could take for granted.
Season 19 finds the show caught between three script-editors. Christopher Bidmead had left by now because he wanted a payrise for his hard work on amateurish scripts. But he'd commissioned many of Season 19's stories, and he wrote the opener, Castrovalva. Anthony Root became a temporary fill-in for the portions of the season Eric Saward didn't edit; according to Eric Saward, JNT fired Root because he was too discerning and kept rejecting unworkable scripts. This would explain some of the dreck Eric Saward passed, because he didn't want to get the boot too. Either JNT wanted stories ready quickly without fuss (even after he himself blacklisted the show's past writers who could write Doctor Who in their sleep), or he was wielding authority for its own sake.
Season 19's scripts were a blend of the carefully chosen, and the outright plastered together. After the solidity of Season 18, and the grubby realist feel of Warrior's Gate and Logopolis, much of Season 19's crude artifice and soap opera was jarring. The stories had clever ideas and even winning whimsy, but badly constructed plots. Castrovalva's plot doesn't start until episode three, any plot in Four to Doomsday is nebulous at best (although it's refreshingly playful and entertaining), Black Orchid works by being a condensed 'moment in the life' story. Kinda is unpleasantly clunky in its narrative construction, and Time-Flight is the most incoherent, unfinished story since The Invasion of Time.
Tellingly Eric Saward edited Kinda and Time-Flight. Kinda failed by not getting all its elements to dovetail, whilst substituting focus and drive with random contrivance. The Doctor happens to forget Tegan and leave her sleeping, Hindle happens to go mad at the same time the Mara is awakening. Compare with Horror of Fang Rock, where the Rutan's sabotage of the lighthouse causes Lord Palmerdale's ship to hit the rocks. Or Genesis of the Daleks where Davros' madness and the madness of war are all-encompassing: both civilisations are developing at the same rate, including their own secret weapons, the Thal's rocket and Davros' Daleks. Then Davros' science helps the Thals destroy his own race just to protect his Dalek project, and so everything comes from Davros' ambition. That's what tried and tested Doctor Who writers (who JNT didn't want) were good at. Sure Kinda has some refreshing and groundbreaking cliche-breakers. There are hardly any deaths, the unhinged commander isn't killed off and is even restored to sanity and benevolence, but somehow the story doesn't blossom and just feels barren. It doesn't have the natural, organic feel of past Doctor Who.
Time-Flight makes you appreciate how the rest of the season is comparatively quite easy and engaging to watch. I've tried to reappraise it many times, tried seeing it as a cosy bit of whimsy after Earthshock's downer. There are some splendid moments and the guest characters are likeable enough. If JNT's tastes were stuck in 1930's Hollywood, then this and Delta and the Bannermen suit that vision. But whenever I rewatch it I always find it far worse and staler than I remembered.
It's understandable why Eric Saward got the script editor's job, since he wrote the season's best scripts. The Visitation and Earthshock are very satisfyingly workmanlike and far more organic and tangible than the rest of the season's offerings. In a season of experimentations and a sudden unsureness of identity for the show, The Visitation and Earthshock stood as simple and replicable. They're also admittedly top-heavy.
Matthew Brenner said this season seemed more about cliffhangers than story content. Nearly every story opened with a soap-opera argument happening in the TARDIS for the sake of 'drama', and it did reek of contrived desperation. But I'll try and play devil's advocate here. In Castrovalva, the three companions all served an important purpose in being the paralytic new Doctor's support pillars. Sometimes they were unmanageable, and the contrived way Nyssa is written out of Kinda is telling, but there were also moments where they were a workable dynamic, particularly in Earthshock.
Adric grew more unpleasant and argumentative, which was a comedown, given he'd worked well as Tom Baker's apprentice. In Four to Doomsday, his bickering with Tegan was amusing, but in Kinda, given Tegan's exposed vulnerability, it was just horrible to watch. But maybe the fraught anger and territorial conflicts in the TARDIS contributed to the season's themes. Season 18 was about headspaces. Castrovalva and Kinda are about the therapeutic. The Visitation exhibits Eric Saward's idea of morality being a state of mind. With Tegan venting anger, but the Doctor assuring Adric that sometimes humans disguise their true feelings, perhaps there was an idea of getting beyond the hostility and coming together. Sometimes there were genuine moments of warmth amidst this, like Tegan and Nyssa's premature goodbye hug in The Visitation, or her joie de vivre in Black Orchid. Season 19 wasn't just Tegan at her most angry, but also at her most passionate, spirited and enthusiastic, and even wondrous. By toning down her character later, they rendered her simply apathetic and negative.
Season 19's main theme was how 'we're all in the same tribe'. Whether the imagined inhabitants of Castrovalva, Monarch critiquing how we have starving populations in a world of surplus, the Kinda tribe making peace with the humans, or Scott and Briggs' men joining together in utilitarian spirit against the Cybermen. So the blend of TARDIS teamwork, territorial arguments and inner steel did somewhat contribute to this theme.
This gave Season 19 a sense of direction, but afterwards the series became more aimless, incoherent and morally confused and as the Doctor became more reduced as a hero to the point of defeatism. What also gave Season 19 a direction, a journey with a destination, was the Doctor trying to get Tegan home, hence why Time-Flight was a massive mistake. Her hasty reintroduction the following season made the show seem on auto-pilot, even though there was potential in the Doctor being stuck with a troublesome woman he can't get rid of; it's what all great love stories ('an exchange of two fantasies') are made of.
Morally speaking, Season 19 honed the show's conscience as something instinctive. Davison's Doctor remained still heroic. His confrontation with the Master in Castrovalva was inspiring; he saved virtually everyone in Kinda, thus briefly seeming cleverer than all his predecessors; and in Earthshock he's the quick-thinking, actioneering hero needed to replace the aged, frail Season 18 Doctor. When he gets it wrong, he seems still capable of learning from his mistakes. Time-Flight lets him be a smaller-scale hero who simply saves a complement of plane passengers. Unfortunately, the lousy non-ending botches this, as he simply assumes the Xeraphin will heal and escape, and the Master will be trapped with them, but makes no effort to go there and make sure. It smacked of negligence.
There are many problems with the Master's recurring presence (again, a JNT decision). After Castrovalva, there wasn't much left for the Master to do. The opening of Castrovalva, where the Master's TARDIS materialises above our heroes, might be the last time the Master's arrival was genuinely menacing. It'd be better to have remembered him so, and left him trapped in Castrovalva. The Master killed those dear to Tegan and Nyssa, but this is never emotionally acknowledged again. It all screams that the Master shouldn't be here anymore.
Rather discomfortingly, Earthshock sees the Doctor kill the Cyberleader in a horrific, agonising manner. Arguably he had no choice, but it seems warped that the show has the Doctor administer this sadistic punishment to a Cyberman, but not to the Master after he wiped out the civilisations of Traken and Logopolis. It shows unpleasant signs of JNT's superficial, reductive 'branding', where the Doctor himself labels his foes, showing nasty racial favouritism, placing the Master's life above the Cybermen, Silurian life above the humans they're massacring, Davros' life above his own creations (something Tom Baker's Doctor never did), and Androgum life as lowest of all.
Nonetheless, Season 19 had something promising and durable, and the show could've gone somewhere from here. Maybe this season's a keeper, maybe I could live with two seasons of JNT's producership.