Attack of the Cybermen
Vengeance on Varos
Mark of the Rani
The Two Doctors
Revelation of the Daleks
A Schizo Review of Season 22 by Rob Matthews 8/5/00
Whatever else might be said about this season, it's certainly one of the most colourful in the show's history. And I must admit that, as an unfussy eight year-old, I loved it; the jazzed-up opening titles, the glittering Timelash pyramid-thing, the primary-coloured infrastructure of Dastari's space station, the opulent-looking new Daleks, that big blue man with the giant shoulders and the squeaky voice in Timelash. At that age, I wasn't even particularly aware of the awfulness of the Doctor's coat, except as a colourful variation on Peter Davison's.
Change, my dear. Was the show, like the Doctor himself, simply more bloated and full of itself?
Well... It's main problem in my view was the half-heartedness of attempts to truly change. It seems to me that they did want to reinvent Doctor Who, but to do so in a way that wouldn't alienate the fans. Hence everything new arrived swaddled in a comfy blanket of Who history. Think of the Doctor in The Twin Dilemma (not quite season 22 but as near as dammit), swaggering around trying to act unpredictable, but all the time surrounded by the old familiar costumes of his predecessors. It came off like some desperate attempt to break with a twenty-one year past in about ten minutes. His instability felt contrived and unconvincing, and the extent to which the scripts continued to go on about it more than halfway into the season suggests that the production team didn't know exactly what they wanted to do with the character or with the show. We kept hearing lame reports from Peri about his 'offstage' actions - refering to her by the names of previous companions, wandering around the Tardis jettisoning 40% of its storage space and the like. Why? Well, because if he mentions old companions and wanders around the Tardis then he must still be the Doctor.
In fact, Baker was a very good Doctor. But that was thanks to his performance rather than the sketchy scripts. It's always been said that the intention was to return to William Hartnell's approach, to portray the Doc as someone mysterious and perhaps not entirely trustworthy. But the Doctor's character and background had been gradually developed over the many years of the series' development. It would have taken more than a couple of mood swings and murder attempts to really make us distrust him again. There was no genuine threat in the initial bout of overacting. A better approach would have been the more subtle one they took later on, with Sylvester McCoy; acting the buffoon like Troughton or Tom Baker, but revealing a sinister method in his madness that had not been present previously. The sixth Doctor tried too hard. He acted unstable and threatening, but didn't actually DO anything that suggested real danger in his personality. He was all bark and no bite.
And, as the season went on, he simply did not develop. Every single story seemed to open with he and Peri indulging in the same old tedious bickering. Why??? What was the point?
I've suggested that this particular season seems to be one in which radical change was intended, but very shoddily effected. Given that in some ways it merely followed the lead of the previous couple of seasons (a lot of theoretical mathematics, over-reliance on Timelord-based plot ideas, too much arguing in the console room, silly costumes for both the Doctor and his companions), what do I think was really new or different about season 22?
A change of template. In Davison's era, the major influences were serials like Logopolis and Earthshock. Most stories were variations upon these. They were pseudo-scientific but visceral. There was, if you will, a lot of story but no plot.
The template story for season 22 was Resurrection of the Daleks. Which also had a lot of story and no plot, but added some new tweaks to the formula -
Possibly a more focused approach to the writing could have produced a series of excellent 45-minute stories. There's always been padding in Who, and I think increased concision would have revitalised the show, and truly reinvented it for a new era.
But is season 22 as it stands responsible for the downfall of Who? No. If the BBC hadn't arsed around so much during seasons 23 and 24, we could have gone directly from the tone of season 22 to that of late-in-the-game classics like Ghost Light and Curse of Fenric. The whole premise of season 23 was pointless (wasn't the 'trial of a Timelord' in The War Games far more effective?) and - with all that Valeyard/evil Doctor nonsense - really quite stupid. Season 24 could have rescued Doctor Who, but instead drove a big fat silly stake through its heart. It was mind-bogglingly terrible, and it needn't have been. Apart from that one moment of "I'll explain how I escaped certain death later" in Timelash, season 22 was never less than competent. After Revelation of the Daleks, Doctor Who simply stopped evolving and started panicking. The show lived and breathed from 1963 to 1986. What we witnessed after that were its inconsistent death throes. Living under the axe, it didn't have the space to breathe. The good stories came like moments of clarity in a fugue. The fact is that Doctor Who - no matter how cheap-looking it may have appeared compared to other sci fi - did cost a lot of money, and the BBC was no longer willing to spend that money. The show was destroyed not by any writer, producer or season, but by the success of talk shows and imported soaps. Why go to any creative effort when massive ratings can be garnered on the cheap? If season 22 had contained stories of the calibre of Deadly Assassin, Robots of Death or Inferno it would have made no difference. British TV is simply no longer willing to produce a show like Doctor Who. In a way watching Who was like reading a book - you had to imagine a lot of it for yourself. Audiences are no longer willing to use their imagination. That was probably why season 22 tried hard to make itself so flashy. It didn't work, of course. But it was nowhere near as bad as fans try to make out. Season 22 was, to my mind, the last real season of Doctor Who.
The Hollow Men by Jonathan Hili 15/2/01
Whether he consciously intended it or not, John Nathan-Turner introduced a quality of production into Doctor Who that had not been seen before. This quality had nothing to do with flashy titles, better special effects or a famous guest cast - in fact it had nothing to do with actors or plots per se - but the underlying atmosphere (perhaps "feeling" is a better word) of the show.
This was an important stage in the programme's development and a real sense of doom, dread and decay was beginning to set in, a la the late 19th/early 20th century. Doctor Who was becoming more than a kid's show and more than light entertainment for adults; it was becoming an adult itself, sometimes manically paranoid; an entity very conscious of itself, its supporters and the harshness of reality.
Both script editors Chris Bidmead and Eric Saward played off this quality to different degrees, the former mixed it with hardcore science-fiction in stories like State of Decay and Logopolis, while Saward developed it further by deliberately injecting a sombre and dark adult undertone into the stories under his tenure. It emerged in force during Davison's portrayal of the Doctor, as companions died or left in very uncertain situations and the world became a lot more precarious, a haven for "violent souls", particularly in Season 21. And when Colin Baker took over, its crystallisation was complete. Stories were less like traditional Doctor Who and more like a piece of art by Munch or a Kafkaian nightmare. Plots as such became irrelevant as ideas and images: dark, violent, grotesque and adult, became the realisation of the show. "Shape without form, shade without colour; paralysed force, gesture without motion" - all these qualities predominated and critics arguing that the programme had evolved into a Flash Gordon or A-Team stereotype completely misinterpreted this overriding influence and the evolution that was going on.
A brief look at Season 22 will show what I mean. Before this season cannibalism and sexual perversity were never pertinent subjects in Doctor Who but now were central themes in at least three stories. Revelation of the Daleks was one of them, containing strong necrophiliac allusions, with "weirdo" characters like Jobel (incessantly calling Peri his "pretty"), the grotesque squire Bostock ("the odour of nature has charms of its own... Bostock may smell like rotting flesh but he is a good squire") and a drunkard doctor ("I'll know the name of each organ that pops out"). Images play a strong part in this story and the ones that easily come to mind: the Doctor being attacked by the mutant, the Dalek growing in its shell, Tasambeker plunging a hypodermic into Jobel's back (and as he dies his toupee falls to the ground) and Davros's hand being blown to kingdom come, are all violent, gruesome and disturbing in some way, appropriately accompanied by similar characters and dialogue. Furthermore the music is haunting and the setting is that of a morbidly artistic necropolis. The Two Doctors also dealt with cannibalism, perhaps less sensitively, and contained the sexual perverse undertones of Revelation through the mannerisms and dress of characters like Shockeye (the name 'Shock'eye indicates the anticipated affect the character would have on viewers). Again images are important: I always remember Chessene lustfully smearing blood on her face or the gluttonous remarks of the Second Doctor and Shockeye as they hurry to the restaurant, and death scenes, like those of the Sontarans and Oscar, are vivid and horrific, although the latter is also poignant. Vengeance on Varos dealt with torture, punishment and oppression on a very realistic level (again with cannibals!), and hideous mutations (Peri and Areta and Guilliam's face); moreover an alien (Sil) whose features and voice made him unsettlingly realistic. (Incidentally, Saward's story Slipback which featured on radio during the hiatus also carries some of these trademarks.)
Perhaps the most striking indication that Doctor Who was growing up and feeling increasingly disillusioned by its own maturation was the Doctor's attack on Peri in The Twin Dilemma. Strangling Peri, in what Antony Howe took to symbolise a "rape-murder" attempt, betrayed the adult direction which the show had taken but the Doctor's subsequent comments: "Regenerate, yet unregenerate...I am a living peril to the universe!" reflect the simultaneous fear that accompanied this bold direction, like setting off to explore a new world only to suddenly find oneself frightened in an alien environment. In fact there is plenty of evidence that shows that the Doctor was just as much shocked as the viewers by what he saw: his outrage to the Punishment Dome on Varos, his eschatological soliloquy in The Two Doctors and Revelation of the Daleks, and the look on his face as he stood behind Peri when the mutant died in the latter story, just to name a few.
Thus the first story and following season of the Sixth Doctor's era deliberately shocked fans and viewers alike. But why? I think it was neither the horror content nor the violence nor in fact the Doctor himself that disturbed people the most but how adult Doctor Who had really become. Yes, this quality had emerged during Tom Baker's last season but to a large extent it had not been acknowledged by characters so was disregarded by viewers. In Resurrection of the Daleks, it was Tegan's reaction to the slaughtered Daleks ("That was horrible") and her leaving the Doctor because "it's stopped being fun" (paralleling the future concerns of many viewers) that served as the prelude to Season 22, during which audiences witnessed the Doctor himself face this horrific reality. The Sixth Doctor, with his garish outfit and boisterous voice, was shocked by the truth but did not hide it from the viewers and instead shoved it straight down their throats, making them uncomfortable and frightened. (But blaming Colin's Doctor for being a hooligan is both wrong and unfair. The universe had suddenly become more adult, dangerous and violent, and he merely adopted a nature that could swim in this murky water. The fact that the Doctor still fought against oppression and injustice proves that he was not a different character altogether, and he would have said, like the Fifth Doctor, "You think I wanted it this way?") People wanted the programme to remain a child, naive and innocent, and naturally the shock was massive, particularly for the casual viewer who tuned into the series after a year or two's absence. It was like finding your teenage daughter in bed with a man after coming home from work! The transition had been subtle over a period of years but it had occurred. Where had the child gone?
In this sense the horror of Seasons 21 and 22 was very different in context from any stories of the past, specifically those during the Hinchcliffe/Holmes era, which also caused an uproar. The difference was that the horror was now more down-to-earth since themes like violence, alcoholism and sexual perversion confront society every day, as opposed to those of dictators trying to take over the earth or apocalyptic good versus evil stories evidenced in Terror of the Zygons, Pyramids of Mars, The Deadly Assassin and other serials. Furthermore images, like being killed with a steel blade or a hypodermic, were realistic and could adversely affect young viewers.
However not all the stories of Season 22 were of this ilk, and violence, though it predominated was not always adult (in the same way as cartoon violence is often childish). Attack of the Cybermen is a good example of this story, because it is violent but generally handled in a very light-hearted vein, except on rare occasions, for instance, Lytton's hands being juiced like an orange. These traditional Doctor Who stories - Time and the Rani and Timelash were the others - served as a contrast and highlighted the change in direction. Interestingly it was these stories that were arguably the least successful of the season.
When Tom Baker said, "It's the end" he was absolutely right - gone were the pre-pubescent days of Doctor Who, in a way the magic had gone too, as scientific disillusionment, decay and doom ran rife. Perhaps these elements are best left out of Doctor Who, perhaps not. I've always thought that the true genius of Doctor Who was that it tackled every concept and genre courageously and did not talk down to children, as Eric Saward commented, "When you show violence, you should show that it hurts". Season 22 did that, and more. Had the BBC not put Doctor Who on hiatus I am certain the next season, with stories by Martin, Bidmead, Holmes and probably even Saward, would have continued down this road. But the hiatus did come and (as Rob Matthews pointed out) the production team began to panic and tried to completely revolutionise the show, deliberately ignoring their own philosophy for it. Therefore the serious adult direction of the series was replaced by its absolute opposite: silly childishness, which we can see at times during the Trial and especially in the very artificial Season 24. And when the series became darker again in McCoy's twilight, these adult ideas were left out and replaced by a naive darkness, a darkness in which viewers felt comfortable. And partly because of this, when Doctor Who did finally "end" it was, in the words of T.S. Elliot, "not with a bang but with a whimper".
Quality... by Joe Ford 25/3/02
I'm going to stop the buck of season twenty two haters right here and admit I find it the best season of Doctor Who since Season Fourteen. All the seasons in between had inherent flaws that I could not ignore (Sixteen had a piss poor ending, Seventeen was too campy, Eighteen was solid but had to much reliance on heavy science, Nineteen to Twenty One all had Davison….need I say more?), Season Twenty-Two I feel had all the elements that made Doctor Who great. Let me explain why…
Here are my ratings:
Attack of the Cybermen: 8/10
Vengeance on Varos: 9.5/10
Mark of the Rani: 8/10
The Two Doctors: 9/10
Timelash: bad dream
Revelation of the Daleks: 10/10
Untrue Grit by Mike Morris 9/4/02
One of the great things about Doctor Who is that it very rarely produces something that's completely without merit. As a programme that can't rely on visuals it is - for SF - extremely intelligent and most stories have something to offer. Ditto the seasons. There hasn't been a season ever that's got nothing going for it.
Season 22 has a lot going for it. A lot. Not only that but it is such a change from what went before that it's easy to find an awful lot to admire. There's more real content in Season 22 than Season 20 or 11, for example. It's more thoughtful, more daring, more interesting.
I don't like it.
I don't get any pleasure from not liking it, mind you. I want to like it, I really do. Too many times it's dismissed as derivative, overly-violent, gaudy rubbish, which just isn't fair (and I've been as guilty as anyone). But we have to accept something; the damn thing didn't work. Doctor Who got cancelled after it aired, for god's sake, and there's such a queue of people who don't like it that they can't all be wrong. Before Season 22 Doctor Who was, overall, in reasonably good shape; it was popular, the Doctor was liked, the stories were (vaguely) consistent and the ideas were deceptively thoughtful. Yes, Season 20 was mostly rubbish; but 21 had a freshness, a confidence and a thematic consistency that overrode the odd dodgy story.
Afterwards came The Trial of a Time Lord, a confused and desperate mess which was symptomatic of the show suddenly finding it no longer had a niche. Something went wrong in-between. What was wrong was Season 22.
Why? Why? What's wrong with it?
The continuity links! some people may cry. The violence! others will say. The portrayal of the Doctor! is another element. There's a grain of truth to all these, but they aren't the core reason. Season 14 is probably more violent than Season 22, The Seeds of Doom showcases the most violent Doctor the world has ever seen (as well as a mercenary who wasn't created by Eric Saward), Genesis of the Daleks is continuity-obsessed; these things aren't unpopular.
In particular, the continuity of Season 22 is somewhat overstated. Admittedly, there's only one story that doesn't have a reference to previous Who. But let's not forget it was the Sixth Doctor's first season and it made sense to bring the popular monsters back (it's the same idea as Season 12, as The Power of the Daleks, as Season 25). People like Daleks, they like Cybermen, and they like Pat Troughton! Why not bring them back to aid the new Doctor's settling in?
And to say it's derivative is misleading also. The old mythology was actually re-interpreted every bit as much as it was during the McCoy era, which takes so much credit for re-defining the old mythology. The Cybermen were given a new edge; the process of "cybernization" was examined in detail for the first time, "rogue" Cybermen - there's a lot of new stuff there. The Daleks were revolutionised too, and all the "invention" of Remembrance was actually invented here. The presence of the Third Doctor in Timelash was another new departure, an attempt to give the Doctor a past beyond the televised programmes and to examine the consequences of his actions. In addition, the crucial idea of the "Web of Time" was actually first examined here. Yes it went too far, with too many touches (the Cybermen from The Invasion in Attack was too much) but many elements were incidental. The Totters Yard scenes in Attack aren't offensive, so why criticise them and not criticise an equally meaningless reference in Remembrance?
(Yes, the return to Totter's Yard in Remembrance is meaningless. Just because there's a gunfight there doesn't mean there was any reason to go back)
Derivative? Vaguely. But not, as yet, offensively so - that came next year.
I'll return to the question of violence and the Doctor later. They were important, yes. But not as important as a much more fundamental flaw; namely, that the stories of Season 22 display astonishing deficiencies in plotting, logic, and characterisation. This is the only season of Doctor Who where the programme seemed unable to tell a story well; and I'd argue that this is the real, primary reason it's disliked.
Admittedly, this trend didn't start in Season 22, but during the Davison era, and probably took root in the Big Stylistic Change of Season 18. Set-pieces and good visuals became more important then than previously. But most stories had an internal logic at the least. For every Resurrection of the Daleks there was a Frontios. Plotting, structure, motivation; these remained important.
Every single story of Season 22 is deficient in this area. Attack of the Cybermen, for all its good points, is an utter mess. Here's a few questions; how in the name of physics did Lytton pick up a Cryon distress call from the future? Why is his distress call still signalling after they've hired him? What are the Cybermen doing on earth anyway? If they're rescuing leftover Cybermen from The Invasion why have they set up a base there and why don't those Cybermen look different? Why send out Cyber-scouts when their base is so well-concealed? How does Lytton know who Stratton and Bates are? Why do the Cybermen lock the Doctor in a room full of explosives? Why are the Cybermen mining the surface of Telos anyway?
Doctor Who has always had plot holes, in fact some of the best stories are full of them. But never have they been so constant, so blatant; and when the plot holes weren't obvious the motivations were daft. Revelation of the Daleks is ultimately based on a very stupid premise, namely that Davros has lured the Doctor halfway across the universe to drop a fake tombstone on him. The Mark of the Rani hinges on another daft notion; three Time Lords have coincidentally arrived at the same point in history, and the motives of two of them are meaningless. Quite why the Rani has to take brain fluid from so many points in history is anybody's guess, and the Master's fiendish plan is ludicrous even by his standards. In The Two Doctors it's hard to see why Dastari and Chessene have allied themselves to the Sontarans, certainly why they brought them to earth, and why they've decided to set the Time Lords up anyway - the Time Lords were the ones giving them all the trouble, and they can hardly expect to fool the Time Lords into thinking the Time Lords destroyed the space station!
In the last two examples the returning villains are very much tacked on, hence the "derivative" tag, when it's really just bad scriptwriting. In Revelation, by contrast, it's the Doctor that seems added at the last minute. Revelation is the best story of the season, simply because the plot without the Doctor is quite logical - and largely, it's the Doctor / Davros story that lets it down.
Side by side with this is another issue; padding. I might accept that hey, these stories are fun runarounds, if not for the fact that nothing happens in them for long periods of time. In Attack, Vengeance, The Mark of the Rani and Timelash the Doctor and Peri seem to spend half the first episode in the TARDIS arguing. Eric Saward has said that the 45 minute episodes (another brave and positive move) allowed for a more "relaxed" opening, which is fair enough, but this is counterpointed by another factor - that the conclusions of these stories looked rushed (Attack) or lacked sufficient depth (Vengeance). Attack of the Cybermen is the greatest offender. The slow pace of Part One is actually quite nice. But then the events of Part Two are so hurried that Part One looks indulgent, particularly given that the earth-based segments of the story are completely unnecessary to the main plot. And Timelash is taking the piss utterly, treating us to Scottish detours and TARDIS "safety" belts before we get anywhere near the famed Planet of Tinsel.
These are merely the most blatant examples of the way that, in this season, the Doctor and Peri spend a lot of time running up and down corridors, getting captured, escaping, getting recaptured, and hanging around in the TARDIS for half an hour. Padding of the best Pertwee tradition.
Without the traditional focus that Doctor Who had always had - narrating a story - the principle energy had to be derived elsewhere. It came sometimes from allegory (Vengeance), sometimes from continuity developments (Attack, Revelation); but largely from action, explosions, and - by extension - people getting hurt. This, I feel, is where the violence accusations kick in.
Here's a quick list of some of the more cited "violent" scenes of the era. The hand-crushing of Lytton; the laser-rigging, acid bath and plant-traps on Varos; Shockeye eating a rat, bits of Sontarans all over the place, the murder of Oscar and the killing of Shockeye in The Two Doctors; Grigori's interrogation and Davros's hand getting shot off in Revelation of the Daleks.
Each of these scenes has been defended somewhere on this site, and I won't duplicate those arguments here. I will say that some have less of a case to answer than others - I consider the death of Shockeye, and the chase-scene leading up to it, one of the most frightening and effective scenes of the season. Suffice it to say that in themselves, none of those scenes are that bad. Certainly they're no bloodier than, say, Condo's death in The Brain of Morbius, and no more sadistic than Sarah being dangled over a sheer drop in Genesis of the Daleks.
The issue isn't the violence; it's the use of it. It's unnecessary except in itself. Condo's death is a necessary plot-point, whereas Oscar's death is not. In the absence of linear stories, the violence became the point rather than a story element. There is no reason, none at all, that we get a shot of a Sontaran leg in The Two Doctors; it's there to shock us. The impression given is that the whole long messy death of the Sontarans was there just so we could see their blood all over the place.
This isn't a more violent philosophy, just a more witless one. It's no different, really, to the way that the last ten minutes of The Mark of the Rani Part One are there just so the Doctor can roll down a hill on a trolley - it's just more uncomfortable. Plots aren't as important as moments in Season 22. Hands get crushed, people turn into trees, dinosaurs grow in TARDISes, guards die in acid, Daleks fly; these are set-pieces good and bad but they aren't linked into a story in any meaningful way. It's no coincidence that Grigori's interrogation and Davros having his hand shot off are often not mentioned, simply because they take place in the best story of the era. Revelation actually makes perfect sense, or rather it would if it didn't have to include the Doctor.
Oscar's death is a blatant example. Doctor Who has killed countless characters but never like this. The whole "Shockeye goes to a restaurant" jaunt is meaningless, a quick chase through Seville that doesn't add anything to the story. It's then ridiculous to assume that Shockeye (a chef!) wouldn't understand the concept of a bill, or wouldn't know that Nargs are not negotiable currency on primitive planets. And it's a hell of a coincidence that, out of the hundreds of restaurants in Seville, Shockeye just happens to go into Oscar's. What disturbs me about that scene is not the death (it's well acted and even poignant on its own merits) but that the last fifteen minutes seemed to have one purpose; to kill off a character. It's not there to show the horror of random death, as has been suggested elsewhere, because Oscar's death is not random. In fact, the story goes to extraordinary lengths to kill him. The scene makes the programme feel cynical, contriving a hollow way of manipulating the audience's emotions because it can no longer think of anything better.
In a season where the show became notably more intelligent in its ideas (examining television, profit-making monsters, meat-eating) it was notably less so in its plotting. The wit, invention, and structure went out the window and was replaced with bigger explosions and more deaths. The violence isn't the problem in itself; it's a result of the root problem, that Doctor Who can't be bothered telling a story any more.
The final issue is the Doctor. Of course we all know that the Sixth Doctor was great, really, and that Colin played him brilliantly and that it wasn't his fault the scripts weren't very good.
Hang on a minute. You know what? I don't really agree. I don't think that Colin Baker played the Sixth Doctor brilliantly. I think he lacked screen presence and charisma. His performance verged on the pompous and I often don't believe in the character.
There. I've said it. Sorry.
I just don't fully subscribe to the Doctor-was-great-but-scripts-were-bad theory. I think that at times Baker's performance was over-the-top and misjudged. That's not to say he isn't a thoroughly good actor; not to say he wouldn't have been a great Doctor given more stories (Colin is apparently proving this in the audios and I'm glad). Most Doctors got an initial run of good, energetic stories and eased their way in. It's not Colin Baker's fault that, by contrast, his character was the focus of the programme from the start, and that the programme was poorly written at the time. Anyone would have struggled; but the fact remains that if you compare Colin's "unlikeable Doctor" with the rude, arrogant Doctor of The Seeds of Doom there's not much competition as to who's better. Tom is loud, prescriptive, bossy and generally not very nice - and yet we like him. This is partly because the story's better and one feels that the Doctor's being rude because he's genuinely concerned about a real menace; and it's partly because Tom is a better actor.
I'll put it another way. A flatmate of mine has seen quite a few of my videos by now and he likes the programme, sort of. His analysis of what I show him is sharp, and the points he makes are valid. He's never going to be a fan but I respect his opinion.
He describes the Sixth Doctor as, "that obnoxious little man."
I've argued in the Sixth Doctor's favour; I've said how that was part of the point, that the interesting aspect of his character was that his brashness was a veneer covering up a very heroic figure. And yet I find my arguments fading when I watch the programme, because I frequently find myself watching an obnoxious little man.
There are attempts at comedy and they tend to make this worse. I find that I can like completely obnoxious bastards, but it's harder to like obnoxious bastards who keep trying to be funny. The inherent stuffiness in his character (all that quoting, the pomposity of his speech) means he might have been funnier if he was more humourless. But:
Colin. Baker. Isn't. That. Good.
Having said all that, there are many occasions when the Sixth Doctor is wonderful. My favourites from this season are the oft-cited mutant death scene from Revelation; his outrage at the Rani, which rises against the obvious limitations of the tree scene; the energy of his striding around London in Attack; the downbeat finale of that story; the aforementioned chase scene with Shockeye; "no arm in trying"; in fact, all the scenes with Davros. I'm not saying he's awful, but he wasn't great either. He was great - sometimes. Just as he was awful - sometimes.
I'd kind of forgotten about Peri, but since the writers usually did as well that's quite appropriate. I should say there's sharp retorts as well as annoying whines, and that her relationship with the Doctor could be very funny indeed ("watch it, Porky!"). Like the rest of the season, however, the bad bits tend to conceal the good. What damages Peri isn't her arguments with the Doctor, it's her sheer uselessness. The bloody girl spends the entire season being rescued and screaming, so whining at the Doctor every five minutes is adding insult to injury. In Vengeance she says, "I was supposed to have a cold supper," expecting to be waited on hand and foot. In The Mark of the Rani she discovers that the Doctor's not dead, and says "I could have been stuck in the eighteenth century forever." The Doctor would be forgiven for telling the ungrateful little bitch to jump down a mineshaft. In the entire season she does two constructive things - hit a mutant with a stick and collect some plants. She didn't even hit the mutant convincingly, and her plant-collecting is in its own way an admission of defeat, the authors unable to come up with a character beyond She's A Botanist.
No, it's not the whining. It's just that Peri seemed incapable of anything but whining. She has some great scenes, but they're outweighed by scenes that make me want to hit her. And while we know that Nicola Bryant is a bit pretty, there's no need to have every bloody story revolve around her being a bit pretty. The poor girl even gets lusted after by the Borad, who then wants to change her appearance; what, he loved her for the beauty within when he hadn't even met her? At least it's an improvement on the hermaphrodite slug that fancied her in The Twin Dilemma. Ultimately, the problem's basic - no plots for her to engage with. No motivations given to her. No imagination beyond "she whines and she's got big tits" - and really, she only argues because it's the easiest filler material to write.
As a whole the season deserves some - but not all - of the criticism it gets, and ditto the praise. It tries new things and it pushes a lot of our buttons, so it's hard to be objective about it. I just think that the thought and intelligence put into plotting, environments and characters has always been what distinguishes Doctor Who from other SF shows, and the lack of these aspects is primarily what makes me dislike it; and, moreover, what gives rise to all the other faults. I can't tolerate plotting and logic this bad. This is, maybe, a personal thing. Other people can look beyond the problems and enjoy Season 22. Good for them, because it does have a lot going for it. It's important. It's the point where the writers tried to make the programme grow up. It has some great scenes. Doctor Who might not exist as it does today without this season. I don't care.
The complexity of Season 22 means it should be looked at beyond "it's crap," "no it isn't," "is too." I try, honest I do. But I just can't like this stuff, and there my opinion will always begin and end.
Hardy Appetites and the Specter of Death... by Terrence Keenan 17/9/03
Intentional or not, there's actually a running theme through Season 22. Which I found a bit shocking upon returning to this much maligned season. Two of the stories feature it front and center, while the others have it in the background.
In fact the theme can be summed up through one character, Shockeye. He is the living embodiment of the Hitchcockian themes of hunger, consumption and death. He wants human flesh, consumes copious amounts of food -- without ever really sating his hunger, and kills indisciminately and frivolously (Poor Oscar Botcherby's demise).
Here are the relevant examples:
Attack of the Cybermen -- The Cybermen hunger for time travel to change history. They consume humans to create more Cybermen (an appetite which will never be sated) and are killed/driven to rogue condition by the Cryons, whom they wish to destroy for no rational reason.
Vengeance on Varos -- The Varosians consume video nasties like popcorn, and are more concerned with full bellies than bettering themselves. There are cannibals in the Punishment Dome. Governors are consumed to maintain the status quo. Sil hungers for power and control.
The Mark of the Rani -- The Rani needs the brain fluid that causes sleep to sate the denizens of Miamisia Goria. The Master craves power and consumes opportunistic moments (his forced collaboration of the Rani).
The Two Doctors -- Shockeye, as mentioned above. Chessene's hunger for knowledge and time travel capability. The Androgum-ized Second Doctor. The senseless death of the truck driver. Shockeye eats a rat and comments on the culinary potential.
Timelash -- The Borad's lust for Peri. Magellan's hunger for knowledge and power. (All right, it's a big reach).
Revelation of the Daleks -- Davros uses the system's desire for food as a front to create a new army of Daleks. Kara wants to kill Davros so she can control the food monopoly. Peri inadvertently sets off the attack by the mutant when she tosses a nut roll into a river. The cryogenic bodies who aren't turned into Daleks are converted to food. And in the end, the Doctor comes up with an alternative food supply to help the people of Nekros survive the destruction of Tranquil Repose.
One wonders if Eric Saward saw hints of it in one of the stories (The Two Doctors seems the obvious impetus) and added it the rest of the stories, including his own Revelation. Because it adds a thematic whole to a season that is far better known by fans for gaping plot holes, loads o' violence and continuity references. Coming on the heels of the remarkable Doctor-deconstruction theme of the previous season, I think it was intentional.
Does having a strong thematic link to stories mean the stories themselves are good?
Alas, no. Only Revelation of the Daleks is a great story. Vengeance on Varos, The Two Doctors, and Attack of the Cybermen are flawed, but watchable. The Mark of the Rani and Timelash are deeply flawed and highly unwatchable.
It's a shame, because if the stories had managed to match the strength of the themes, then maybe Season 22 would be honored, instead of reviled.
A constant state of rage by Thomas Cookson 1/9/12
Season 22 is often blamed for killing Doctor Who's public popularity. Attack of the Cybermen is especially blamed for this, being a continuity-heavy story that saw a massive ratings drop which still haunts fandom to this day, and probably birthed fandom's cultish disassociative thinking, and knee-jerk tendency to dismiss fan criticisms of New Who as worthless against the show's public popularity. It remains impossible to discuss New Who without ratings figures being quoted.
But really fandom's whipping boy should be Arc of Infinity, not Attack of the Cybermen. I'm no fan of Season 19, but its high ratings suggest it was doing something right. However, when the season finale, Time-Flight disappointed expectations after Earthshock's buzz, I think the show began quickly losing credibility.
Fans insist the show didn't fail until Davison's departure. Caves of Androzani remains the landmark for when the show was unbeatable, even though the story was an anomalous fluke in an otherwise poor era.
The show lost popularity by degrees. Season 21 opened on a particularly casual-viewer repellent story, then gained a huge ratings boost on Resurrection of the Daleks, but viewers probably came away thinking it was a mess and that the Doctor was half the hero he once was, and too much of a failure to root for.
Finally, the last burst of positive publicity over Colin Baker's casting was wasted by The Twin Dilemma. Frankly "I am the Doctor, whether you like it or not" smacks of producer's megalomania, as if testing fan loyalty to its limits, to separate the hardcore loyalists from the rest.
The Sixth Doctor's character was a product of the culture of the times; 80s television was dominated by reductio ad absurdum characterisation. Davison was a reductio ad absurdum of the Doctor's pacifism, and Colin was a reductio ad absurdum of the cranky, antiheroic First Doctor.
Perhaps Colin Baker's arrogant, ruthless characterisation wouldn't seem so shocking or radical coming straight after Tom Baker, without the sanitised, pacifist-appeaser Fifth Doctor in between them. However, Colin's Doctor was simply a shallower and more charmless character. The qualities that made him shockingly unlikeable seemed his only characteristics. Pertwee's Doctor was a thug sometimes, but it hardly defined him.
But attitudes to violence had seemingly changed after the Toxteth riots: a violent public display of disillusionment in the police and the system. Worryingly, there were public sentiments that the rioters were right to be violent and destructive, and that the police in trying to stop them were oppressing them. With the police and the state being demonised, a raging culture developed where violence was ubiquitous. The tyranny of violence became the glue holding broken families and communities together. Without faith in justice, people thought like laws unto themselves, believing it their right to treat each other and their community as horribly as they liked.
The peasant's revenge in The Sunmakers seemed a harmless nostalgic nod to Robin Hood mythology. But Saward's violence felt more worringly part of a modern philosophy. Johnathan Hili pointed out how the era reflected a culture that had become 'a haven for violent souls'. But the Doctor should always represent the way forward, and the right side to take. But here he took the side of madness.
Warriors of the Deep saw him become a snidey, appeasing enabler, praising the attacking, murderous, disenfranchised mob and condemning the efforts of the people of the state machine to defend themselves. Warriors of the Deep only works if you believe in cultish fashion that the Doctor has an alien detachment to human deaths, whilst simultaneously having a completely contradictory deep conviction in the sanctity of life.
When fans can't explain the Doctor's reckless, harmful behaviour, they usually trust in the 'it's because he's an alien' excuse. Or try to pick a precedent somewhere in the show's vast history that they think justifies anything cavalier or wrongheaded the Doctor does currently. Even though the past example probably showed an actual reason for the Doctor's actions then, which is absent here. But it actually tapped into that warped mood of hopelessness and self-destructive revenge in a troubling way. Resurrection of the Daleks continued this trend, by outright demonizing the police. And Twin Dilemma gave us a Doctor who was a violent domestic tyrant.
Season 22 seemed to finally return to Williams-esque fun and humour and colour, and a more flamboyant, pro-active Doctor. But, for all its breeziness, Colin's strong force of personality and some daring political content, Season 22 still suffers that frustrating 80's feeling of running on empty. And the emptiness seemed filled by this warped violent philosophy, as the Doctor degenerated further into this 80s idea of being a law unto oneself.
We begin on the top-heavy Attack of the Cybermen. Potentially, the new look 80's Cybermen could have replaced the Daleks as the show's star villains. Unfortunately, the Cybermen are reduced to easy cannon fodder. Unlike Earthshock, there's no real urgency to the Cybermen's plan of dumping explosives on Earth at some point to prevent Mondas' destruction that's due next year. Mondas was dying anyway, and was dependent upon drawing power from Earth, so how would destroying Earth beforehand solve anything?
Many criticise its overreliance on continuity, accusing it of alienating casual viewers. However, the story's too lightweight to be alienating and the biggest continuity excesses come after the ratings drop. Part one's actually rather good, witty and pacy, but in part two the story goes stale quickly. It tries too hard to capture the zeitgeist and the 'pain builds character' philosophy of Rambo, whereby Lytton's hand-crushing supposedly represents his 'penance'.
Maurice Colbourne's screen presence almost holds it together, but Lytton's 'redemption' makes no sense. He led his fellow criminals into the Cybermen's trap and their deaths. Like Warriors of the Deep, it's so desperate to be downbeat it reduces the Doctor to a shadow of himself who laments the 'misjudged' mass murderer over anyone else who died. Perhaps if Lytton was a Dalek replicant who'd broken his programming and sought a new identity, then Lytton's fate would be genuinely tragic, as would the Doctor's misjudging him. But in this post-Toxteth riots culture, Lytton's criminality itself was celebrated as perversely noble.
Vengeance on Varos, however, says something more worthy about this violent culture, via its prophetic depiction of reality TV gone mad and the desensitising effects of media violence. It also exposes the prison system as being antithetical to rehabilitation by breeding only brutality and spiritual decay in both its prisoners and captors. The Sawardiverse in microcosm. Unfortunately, it barely raises itself above a plotless runaround, punctuated by stinging nastiness and violence. The Doctor seems callous about Varos' horrors and injustices, even angsting far more about the TARDIS breaking down than anything afterwards. He may not deliberately push the guards into the acid bath, but he initiated the whole scuffle by tapping the guards on the shoulder when he could have snuck away. Unfortunately, much of the Doctor's violence could be cut without affecting the plot or the resolution.
Mark of the Rani is probably the dullest, padded, most autopilot story this season. The Rani makes a fairly interesting villainess, but why not just bring back Wrack? However, the Doctor comes across much more Doctorishly here, as he plays against the Master with real moral outrage and careful discernment about when to resort to violence. Pip and Jane Baker actually nail the Sixth Doctor and the Master and pen some good sparring dialogue between them.
The Two Doctors is almost the most entertaining, atmospheric story of the season, imbued with Robert Holmes' usual love of writing, and it almost nails Season 22's visceral aspirations. But its delicate eloquence sits awkwardly with what's at heart an angry, hateful story (undoubtedly Robert Holmes was frustrated with JNT's arbitrary story demands). The Doctor expresses repulsively elitist and fascistic attitudes about Androgums being beyond redemption or enlightenment because savagery is in their blood. It's also frustratingly top-heavy and whenever the story begins to get interesting it takes a complete tangent. The best setting is the eerily deserted space station, and the idea of the universe unravelling from this ignominious, lonely outpost is like Terminus done right. Sadly, neither strand goes anywhere. The Troughton-Hines dynamic is wonderful, and the scene where Colin's Doctor is musing on the end of everything shows how Robert Holmes truly understood the detached Sixth Doctor (ironically, he was also the writer JNT didn't want on the show), and who, in the Trial season, emphasised the Doctor's dualism as being both a rebel against a sanctimonious, snobbish society, and yet simultaneously a product of that society.
Unfortunately, we also get some of Colin's nastiest sniping at Peri. Oscar's off-colour, gratuitous death is supposed to justify the Doctor's decision to kill Shockeye, but unfortunately the Doctor doesn't seem to care when Oscar dies; in fact, immediately afterwards he has a petty squabble with his earlier self. Like in Warriors of the Deep, the Doctor behaves so oblivious to the deaths happening around him that it becomes a corrosive anti-drama where nothing dramatic that happens in the story can affect or motivate the main character at all. As for killing Shockeye, I'd buy the self-defence clause if this was face-to-face combat rather than a sneak ambush and if the Doctor hadn't condemned the humans of Warriors of the Deep, for doing the same thing. Not to mention killing a disarmed Chessene.
It's amazing that Timelash was made the same year as Edge of Darkness. Timelash has been reappraised somewhat as being Season 22's least mean-spirited story. It has fun moments, like "you microcephalic apostate" and the Sixth Doctor and Herbert playing off each other. Also, the Doctor's unfussy decision to sacrifice himself is sheer gold compared to Tennant throwing a tantrum about how unfair it is in The End of Time. But the story's not remotely good-natured. It's treatment of Peri is horribly degrading and misogynistic. The Doctor's jibes about the Borad's ugly deformity are cheap and nasty. The Doctor once used wit and intelligence to defeat his enemies. Here, he defeats a tyrant by calling him ugly and saying he'll never get a girlfriend. Also, holding the reflective crystal at the Borad and waiting for it to refract the deadly rays is no morally better than just shooting him.
Revelation of the Daleks almost suggests a renaissance, getting the series away from meandering nihilism and back to forward-looking utilitarian ideas and well-crafted scenes that each have a purpose. With the present looking bleak, the story speculates on the future possibilities of medical science. The Sixth Doctor finds his niche in this morally ambiguous environment where a war criminal like Davros can become saviour to the galaxy, and where the surrogate hero is a vigilante assassin who succeeds by dispensing with any scruples the Doctor has. Colin's confrontation with Davros has real bite, and his outrage at Davros' extermination of the much-reviled bodysnatchers is beautifully done. Even his discreetly kicking a gun to Orcini is a gem moment. The story's pure rock n' roll. It's amazing that this was made by the same production team as Time-Flight.
Had the show not survived cancellation, Revelation of the Daleks could've set up an interesting novel range continuation, building on its adult, moral ambiguity, its multidimensional understanding of villains like Davros and hints of the Time Lords' omnipresent, covert influence.
So, given the cancellation crisis, why was JNT still kept on? I think the BBC had admired JNT's conceiving of the straight-laced Fifth Doctor, and his resourceful budgeting.
Indeed, Timelash aside, Season 22 looks pretty lavish. So JNT justified the BBC spending what money they did on the show, so they still wanted JNT on the show, but after Season 22's unsavoury, out of control violence, they wanted him controlled. So we were stuck with the same producer. And this violent philosophy was jettisoned, but never reckoned with.