Arc of Infinity
Mawdryn Undead
The King's Demons
The Five Doctors
Season Twenty


Stop this madness! by Joe Ford 23/10/02

Oh dear. I'm in a really bad mood, I've been stuck at home all day with a head cold so I've availed myself of my trusty video collection and brushed up on some of my Peter Davison stories. Oh dear. Why do I bother? I sound so horribly crictical don't I but I just can't find any excuse for this season and its severe lack of quality in almost every department. Oh there are a few gems here and there but my general feeling towards the 'anniversary' season is it should be erased from time and the planned 'Missing season' after Colin's first year should pop into existence instead! Let me explain why...

Arc of Infinity: Okay it is the start of a new season and we want to lure in the punters. We got ten million viewers for the first epsiode of the last broadcast story so lets keep up that average. It's the anniversary season so let's unload a whole bunch of continuity on the viewers, just so they know what they're in for... Gallifrey! Borusa! Omega! What a line up! We need to force Tegan back into the show somehow because Sarah Sutton is just too boring to be the sole companion of the show and we can't have Peter getting his own way, can we? We don't want a repeat of the Tom Baker in control syndrome! I know let's include a foreign shoot... you can just shove some halfway decent explanation so they don't realise it's just for the hell of it. But don't forget to show off as much as possible, I don't care if it's at the expense of the plot as long as it looks nice! Let's have some subplot about two lads sleeping in a crypt, that way we can include our obligatory monster. Roger Limb is busy twing twanging his instruments so we can have really repetitive score... don't want anything too bold or dramatic, this isn't The A-Team you know! Oh and I've decided Gallifrey should be a kind of pulpy seventies theme, you know globe lit cafes and shiny corridors! Oh and don't forget to soak the rice krispies in green slime otherwise Peter Davison would look very odd running through Amsterdam, won't he? Corr I think we're onto a winner! Or not: 1/10 (and that point belongs to the delightful Sarah Sutton who walks around this nightmare shooting people, ACTING (thank god somebody is!) or generally looking totally gorgeous.) Result: We've fallen down to 6.9 million viewers... what did we do wrong?

Snakedance: Thank god for Snakedance. Lovely, lovely Snakedance. You know that biege blur of a man who bumbled his way through Arc of Infinity... his name's Peter Davison and he really can act! No seriously! Watch as he tries to convince everybody of the return of the Mara! Make a note of his fabulous cemistry with both Sarah Sutton and Jonathon Morris! See how he stands up to the evil Snake Tegan in the last episode! It REALLY is the same man! But don't worry, it doesn't last long. On almost every count Kinda count failed as a piece of entertaining drama but Chris Bailey makes superb amends with his script for Snakedance. It is packed to bursting full of wonderful lines ("The fifth face of delusion is the wearer's own, that was probably the idea don't you think?", "Once a man had a dream he was a...", "Well if only it were that simple...") and terrific ideas. One of the best things about Kinda was Janet Fielding's powerhouse performance, being able to break out of the bitchy Tegan mode and really show her teeth. She is simply astonishing here, a truly malevolent presence, her "Look now..." at the cliffhanger to episode one never fails to put the wind up me! On almost every level Snakedance succeeds, direction, writing, acting, lighting...even the snake effects are good enough to convince this time around: 9/10

Mawdryn Undead: Good stuff, a very thoughtful spin on your average monster story. Why oh why didn't Who explore time travel more often? When it can be as entertaining or as gripping as this I cannot see an argument for it's baffling underuse. It's halfway through the second episode that you realise how clever Peter Grimwade has been, telling up until that point a very simple story. When you realise that Tegan is talking to a 'different' Brigadier things really start to pick up. The tale of Mawdryn and his followers is well done and how it ties into Gallifrey is very clever. And all the stuff with Tegan and Nyssa aging and getting younger is suitably gross. However two factors drag this down considerably and their names are Peter Davison and Janet Fielding who are at their most irritating throughout. "I will mean the end of me as a Time Lord" he says like he's reading from a bus timetable. And how shifty does Turlough look... the Doctor doesn't even suspect him? Maybe a better actor could have added some awakward glances or a little caution but Davison wants to be chums with Strickston immediately! And as for Tegan... don't get me started... moan, moan, moan... bitch, bitch, bitch... yeah okay she's right about Turlough and Mawdryn but you just WANT her to wrong so you can shove it in her shrill aussie face!!! How much does she go on? Why doesn't Nyssa just tell her to shut up? And to sneak in her feminist bollocks AGAIN "Chauvanist!" she exclaims at the Brigadier... why couldn't she end up 'pureed' in time? Oops sorry, got a bit carried away, needless to say this is not Tegan's best story. It might be a little slow but it's a good deal more interesting than your average Davison runaround: 7/10

Terminus: I recently reviewed this in my worst ten Doctor Who stories and basically my opinion still stands. A genuinely creepy first episode (despite apalling haircuts which I suppose are quite creepy too!) that leads into an atrociously slow SF clunker. I can honestly say I've never been able to watch this in one go, halfway through episode two I always switch off and watch the rest in small, less insulting, chunks. Nyssa is an often ignored character and this was her chance to have a fine send of. Unfortunately she is locked up and falls ill (oh and drops her underwear) and that's all we see of her until her revelation in episode four. Tegan and Turlough are so bloody dull they are consigned to moving around in some ducting for the entire story, I cringe every time we return to their time wasting plot (and why is that shot on film whilst the rest is shot on video?). Is Davison in there? I cannot remember one scene with him present and I watched this today! I recall Lisa Goddard and her hysterical space helmet, her wooden friend who quickly disapears, Bor and his terrible burn make up, some mumbo jumbo about the universe, a huge dog with red eyes (competing with the Ergon for worst monster of the year!) and load of moaning lepers but Davison... beats me? Maybe those naunces he so subtly adds to his performance makes him vanish completely? Oh that's right he is in Nyssa's leaving scene, the one scene in the entire story with actual emotional resonance. Isn't this just running around for four episodes and than Nyssa leaves. That's how I would sum up the plot. Oh and Roger Limb is back... and the music is even more talentless than Arc of Infinty. Go figure: 2/10 (as I said, the first episode has some merit).

Enlightenment: This just goes to show how much your opinion can change with re-watching a story. I can recall raving about this in my Top Ten Davison stories but watching today I was frankly more than a little bored. Don't get me wrong the Eternals are still a fabulous idea and gorgeously brought to life by Keith Barron and Christopher Brown and the effects still impress. No it was all the endless corridor wandering that got me... Davison charges down them like no tomorrow from the first episode to the last. Poor chap, all he wants is some action. Unfortunately Turlough steals the rug from his feet and has all the fun over on the Buccaneer, and some wonderful scenes crop up with his conspiracy with Wrack. The whole 'who will win the race' plot is okay but could do with a little more oomph... the crews of both ships seem to take all developments in their stride and with the Doctor's non existant reactions to everything "Oh it's a ship, a spaceship... that's alright then, Tegan why don't you go and have a lie down?" you just want somebody to inject some LIFE into these characters!

The rare exception is, astonishingly, Tegan. Why couldn't she act more like this all the time? Subdued? Bland? No... her scenes with Marriner are first rate. His desperation to understand her mind and her attempts to resist are quite beautiful especially when they are up on the star lit deck. And by God Janet Fielding looks fabulous in that Edwardian dress! As the end of an arc it's okay (oh I haven't mention The Black Gaurdian yet who proves to be the best thing about Terminus and similarly menacing threat here) and Turlough gets to make his choice in a melodramatic manner but it is typical of this writing team (or should I say script editor) to forget this plot after this story. Turlough is now one of the good guys after trying to kill the Doctor for three stories! Very realistic.

So not a complete disaster, there are too many pleasant scenes that pop up unexpectedly but it's hardly the masterpiece it shouldhave been. Leee John detracts a few points for making me die of embarassment too many times: 6/10

The King's Demons: How can I be fair to this little two parter? It is surely the most pointless Doctor Who story ever, serving no purpose (okay Kamelion joins but... ahem... doesn't appear again until he leaves), having nothing to say (even horrid Pertwee stories had a moral to the story) and providing no entertainment whatsoever. I don't want to go on because I have been negative enough as it is but in all honesty who can justify The King's Demons existence? The location work is okay I suppose but wasted on such an obscure plot. The music is terrible (that cod medievil score... ouch!). Even the actors can't seem to be bothered.

Anthony Ainley returns to the series in predictably dire style. I genuinely thought nothing could be worse than the Kalid in Time-Flight but once again I'm proved wrong. Sir Giles Estram (ho ho what a clever name) is only beaten by De Flores from Silver Nemesis as the worst bad guy ever to appear in the series. "You insult ze King!" he exclaims through his horribly fake orange beard and proceeds to have a sword fight that makes the similar one in The Sea Devils look like a choreographed piece of art! I suppose it gives Davison a chance to DO something for the first time all season. Then we get the spectacular 'surprise' that this is the Master... and I turn off with only his cheesy "Oh Doctor you have been naive" line to see me off.

I can't bear to watch the second episode, more singing, Kamelion struggling to move his head, Turlough's OTT delivery of every line, the absurdity of the historical characters believing anything they are told "The Master is the devil..." I give this story a very kind 0.5/10 for it's ability to cure insomnia for all time.

I told you I was in a bad mood. Season Twenty is inexcusably bad, the only season in Doctor Who's long history that fails more than it succeeds. If only Saward could have juiced up the writing. If only Davison could have CARED about what he was taking part in (which he freely admits during this season, he didn't). If only Tegan could have been blown up on Mawdryns ship. If only...

I know I'm too harsh on the Davison era and don't mean to upset those who enjoy his tenure but these lifeless stories do nothing for the defence of his time with the show. Some Hartnell stories weren't as slow as Terminus or Arc of Infinity... and never has a historical reached such plummets as The King's Demons (hell Black Orchid in season nineteen was a mini masterpiece... no wonder I was expecting more!).

Maybe there is a secret method to watching these stories that I just don't get but all I ask when watching ANYTHING is that I'm entertained. Season Twenty is easily the least entertaining the show has produced. And considering seasons 2 and 24 that is saying something! Season nineteen wasn't perfect but it maintained a happy consistency of highly watchable stroies and season 21 came up trumps with two Davison classics whilst the others surrounding weren't so bad so what the hell happened in this middle season. Somebody explain to me please.

A Review by James Neiro 17/7/11

By Season 20, producers knew Doctor Who had to remain fresh to survive its American counterparts and with ratings dipping ever so slightly some changes had to be made. The season opener, Arc of Infinity, saw the Doctor return to Gallifrey to battle Omega, an old enemy last seen during the Pertwee years. Tegan also rejoined the TARDIS crew. Snakedance saw the return of Tegan's nemesis, the deadly Mara, who once again infested her mind.

Mawdryn Undead began the Black Guardian Trilogy which also saw the introduction of Turlough, an anti-hero and final 'full-time' male companion to the Doctor. The Briagdier guest starred for the first time since the early Baker seasons. Terminus continued the trilogy and saw the departure of Nyssa, Sutton being the youngest female actor to play a companion in the series. Enlightenment saw the trilogy conclude in spectacular fashion with lavish sets and a proven guest cast.

The season ended with The King's Demons pitting the Doctor once again against the Master. The Doctor would also gain a new crew member, the robot Kamelion, voiced by Gerald Flood. Freelance effects designer Richard Gregory and software designer Mike Power gave a demonstration of the robot prototype for Nathan-Turner and Saward. Nathan-Turner was so impressed he commissioned scriptwriter Terence Dudley to develop a storyline to introduce Kamelion into the series. However, shortly after filming, Power died in a boating accident and no one was able to continue his work. Subsequently, this would be the first of Kamelion's two appearances before the machine was written out of the series. The story would also mark the last appearance of the TARDIS console room set which had been in use for the past decade.

It's not easy being grey by Thomas Cookson 13/2/12

Season 20 was only JNT's third season as producer, and already he'd seemingly outstayed his welcome. Rumours are he'd intended to leave at the end of this season (mind you, that's been said since Season 18). Apparently what made him stay was he wanted to produce The Five Doctors, but that would've come under Season 21, meaning he'd have to produce the whole season too, and fandom were so taken with a producer who pandered to their love of continuity and shared their antipathy for the Williams era that they begged him to stay, offering him a going-away present at a convention and so near moved to tears was he by the gesture that he announced he'd been ‘persuaded to stay'.

Until now, Doctor Who always had something that gave it thrust and direction, even in the experimental, erratic periods of the Hartnell era and Graham Williams' producership. What gave the series a constant sense of direction was strong, determined leading characters. JNT eroded this aspect of the show, neutering the Doctor, crushing any strength of character he had, and surrounding him with cipher companions.

There's barely a story between Power of the Daleks and Horns of Nimon where the Doctor isn't seen to have a perpetual fighting spirit within him. Season 18 changed this in backlash to the Doctor being too infallible during the Williams era. From thereon the Doctor became frequently resigned to submission or doing nothing, in Warriors' Gate, Logopolis, Kinda and Black Orchid. Occasionally there were examples of him still being a fighter such as State of Decay, Castrovalva, The Visitation, Earthshock.

Season 20 however removed this fighting spirit completely. The Doctor is fairly capable in Arc of Infinity's final act, but only after previously giving himself up for execution on the most dull, demystifying version of Gallifrey ever. Snakedance erroneously depicts him as having to relearn everything about how to be a wise, strong-willed hero again. This might be forgivable if this learning curve wasn't completely undone afterwards. Snakedance comes close to perfection in every department, conveying the pre-millenial dread that Keeper of Traken failed to. Unfortunately, because it returns to and drains the same well as Kinda, and because there'd be no threat to Manussa had the TARDIS not landed there in the first place, it feels far less imponderable and more disposable, and overall it just seems sterile.

Then came Mawdryn Undead. Although Season 18 had toughened up the show, rendering it more serious, particularly the depressing Warriors' Gate and Logopolis, the show could still overall be seen as light entertainment. Meglos, State of Decay, Four To Doomsday, The Visitation, Black Orchid and Earthshock all had that family entertainment feeling.

Mawdryn Undead is where the show loses all sense of being light family entertainment and takes a turn towards the morbid. Its central premise is a group of people existing in a state of eternal suffering and pain, and in which the Doctor is called upon to commit euthanasia. Doctor Who had never been this depressing before. Worst of all was seeing the Doctor unable to do anything but reprimand them harshly and abandon them to suffer further, only to then be coerced into helping them to die, and only the contrived and predictable moment of the two Brigadier's meeting and touching lets him off the hook. The day is saved by contrived coincidence, not by intelligent, decisive heroism. Suddenly the heroic Doctor had become vindictive, cowardly and defeatist. This is why I'd describe Davison's Doctor as the anti-Doctor.

Terminus continues the show's descent into leering misery. It marks the point where the show becomes like exploitation cinema, with contrived money shots, scab-picking at the human spirit, and pretentious attempts at angry social commentary. Nyssa's skirt dropping is yet another JNT-era example of characters acting involuntarily and being puppeteered for spectacle's sake (like Tegan immediately mistaking Mawdryn for the Doctor). From here follows the humanity-hating Warriors of the Deep, the pointless massacres of Resurrection of the Daleks, with moments of surreal fringe satire about police brutality, disturbing hints of Peri being victim of a perverse grooming relationship with her overpowering stepdad, and such nastiness pretty much becomes the norm up until Mindwarp.

What I find unforgivable about Terminus is that whilst it comments on exploitation and the dehumanisation of the underclass, it depicts Nyssa going through absolute hell throughout, whilst the Doctor is so negligent that he doesn't even realise what's been happening to her. This, more than the compassion-fatigue manner in which Adric's death is coldly dismissed in Time-Flight, speaks volumes about how little Adric's death or anyone's death now impacts on the Doctor beyond the pretentiously downbeat ending. The only time the Doctor's been this unchivalrous since was in Day of the Moon where he did nothing whilst overhearing Amy's cries of distress over a long period. Again, Nyssa is only saved by submission to the inevitable and a random serendipity that saves her life. The Doctor's heroism is being undermined by blind chance. Without that he's a nothing hero.

Enlightenment is the best of the season by far. When fans talk about why Doctor Who wastes its time on the same old pulp-fodder alien invasion plots when the show's capable of greater things, this is the story I think of.

It's an enchanting, haunting story. I didn't want to break its spell for an hour after watching. I didn't want to lose its powerful, magical after-effect, much like Colin Baker said of first watching An Unearthly Child. I could still hear the mystical music and solar wind sound effects ringing in my ears. It's immaculately structured, a slow-burner and anomalously organic, but there's not a single dull or wasted moment in the whole thing, or a wasted character (which is refreshing in an era dominated by extraneous companions and bickering scenes). It's consistently intriguing and unpredictable. In fact, it's the most unpredictable story since City of Death, and the most life-affirming, because each carefully crafted moment of the story matters, it emphasises that each moment of life is precious too.

What makes this story so strong and compelling is the level of thought that's gone into the Eternals and how they might see existence and the lesser species. In fact, it raises the question of whether they really are villains or just doing what any of us would do in order to keep upbeat and sane if we had an eternity of existence dragging ahead of us. They feel truly alien in a way that makes most Doctor Who aliens seem like half-baked concepts by comparison. Simultaneously they also represent human nature - our hedonism, our obsessive nature, our child-like curiosity - and there really is something beautifully existential about this story. It gives the story a very ghostly and unnerving quality and real atmosphere, becoming more unnerving when Marinner stalks Tegan, obsessively reading her mind, demonstrating that there's no privacy here. As such, when Turlough panics and jumps ship, I can actually sympathise with his desire to escape. The Doctor does play second fiddle to Turlough's choice, but the story seems written as though the Doctor had always been Turlough's wise, guiding mentor. The scene where he deduces the limits of the Eternal's telepathic abilities made him come across as particularly clever and quick-thinking.

Enlightenment might be the only JNT story that supercedes anything prior (its oldest next of kin being Carnival of Monsters or The Mind Robber), but it's weakened by being interlinked with the Black Guardian trilogy and not self-contained, so its awe-inspiring, life-affirming content is drowned out by Season 20's generally depressing mood. It's the right story, but at the wrong time.

With The King's Demons, the JNT era falls from its magnum opus to suddenly already seeming well past its best. That's the worst problem with the JNT era. The best stories no longer have any impact on the show. This is the era where all of Doctor Who's past greatness was flushed down the toilet. The King's Demons is easily Terrence Dudley's weakest story, lacking even his usual spirited panache to characters. It feels incomplete, inconclusive and features the Doctor's weakest characterisation so far, ending with the Doctor leaving the Master's weapon right by his TARDIS, and then just waiting for the Master to leave.

If Eric Saward is to be believed, and I personally don't doubt his word (he may be passive-aggressive, and thus unforthcoming about production faults until long after the event and he's not one to acknowledge his own faults, but that doesn't make him a liar per se), Eric's predecessor, Anthony Root, was sacked by JNT for being too discerning and for rejecting bad scripts, so Eric simply commissioned what he was given. So we ended up with an era where gold like Enlightenment and dreck like Arc of Infinity made strange bedfellows and the show became directionless and stuck on auto-pilot.

Here JNT's narcissistic fixation with pleasing the fans led to an anniversary year where navel-gazing stories were placed over viewer enjoyment, and we got a season of ‘event' stories which added up to a big non-event. Unfortunately, Season 21 ended up inheriting Season 20's worst leftovers. Time has proven that the best JNT stories - Enlightenment, The Five Doctors and The Caves of Androzani - were written on the spur of the moment. The worst - Time-Flight, Warriors of the Deep and Resurrection of the Daleks - were holdovers from previous seasons (State of Decay being the glorious exception to the rule). So the bad stuff was kept and accumulated.

The show seemed still salvageable at this point. But the miserable truth is that, if JNT had moved on here, it wouldn't have prevented the worst travesties to come. The damage had been done. Warriors of the Deep and Resurrection of the Daleks were already commissioned, and it would take a producer of considerable gumption to have binned the stories and still waste money on paying the writer's fee for unused material. The show's descent into mindless violence and self-destructive defeatism was already set in stone. It's possible that, under a more co-operative producer and script-editor, the stories could have been reworked for the better. Maybe if Eric Saward wasn't made to do rewrites to Warriors of the Deep, it wouldn't have ended up with quite the contrived, downbeat ending it got or the Doctor's twisted humanity-hating speeches. Maybe with JNT gone, Peter Grimwade could have returned and directed Resurrection of the Daleks and brought proper excitement and class to it all. But somehow I just can't see those stories as salvageable. This means that the show had no future from this point.

I've flirted with the idea of The Five Doctors being the other perfect point to end the show on: the perfect 20-year mark, all the Doctors back in action again, a proper goodbye to the Brigadier, Susan and Sarah Jane, the closing line "why not, after all that's how it all started", Davison having two years as the Doctor under his belt, and the fact that it would rest the show with a story that was a perfect template for any revival, a story that made the writing of the show seem easy and replicable. It's the perfect resting note.

A novel range could continue the story from there, depicting the Master's final comeuppance (as Rassilon predicted), utilising Kamelion and the morally dubious Turlough well, and building on how Enlightenment played to the Fifth Doctor's character strengths and opened new storytelling avenues.

Alas, The Five Doctors wouldn't have been produced as anything other than the beginning of Season 21. This means The King's Demons is the only other viable end-point for the show and it would be a terrible final story. Anything prior to Season 18 was doing too well ratings-wise, Season 19 itself was a ratings hit too. Logopolis would therefore be the show's only viable and desirable end-point (or where JNT should have left) to spare us the horror and irreparable character damage to the Doctor of Warriors of the Deep and The Twin Dilemma.