Spearhead from Space
Doctor Who and the Silurians
The Ambassadors of Death
Season Seven


A Review by Rob Matthews 16/9/00

This season is generally thought of as one of the show's finest, and certainly the best of the Pertwee years. In general, I'd have to agree. Season seven has a strong sense of place, a strong focus on humanity and its tendency to become its own worst enemy, and an even-handed view of the perils and benefits of science.

As often tends to be the case in Who when there's a regeneration or change of direction, the first story in the series tends to be a bit tentative. Though Spearhead from Space is enjoyable - perhaps even the most straightforwardly enjoyable yarn of the season -, it's the latter three stories which really give #7 its identity. Each is different, but each has a common theme, and the result is that the season itself has a nice narrative flow, which gives it the feel of a cohesive whole rather than just a bunch of separate stories.

It's intelligent and thought provoking, but, like most Who, it's also silly and sometimes rubbish-looking. And this is one of the big problems with Doctor Who in general. Us fans can forgive the appearance of the Silurians and the Primords; we can have a laugh at them, certainly, but still appreciate that there's a good story propping up these daft rubber masks and werewolf outfits. With season seven, the makers have to bear in mind that this is meant to be a children's show, and so seem forced to kind of check themselves every now and then, including things like the Primords and the lightbulbs in the Silurian's heads. It's a weird compromise - one that the show always had to struggle with - because those elements which are aimed at the show's target audience are also the ones that come over as intrusive and unnecessary to the grown-ups who appreciate it on a different level. In the case of season seven, that 'different level' would be the contemporary humanist philosophy that the show is developing. Seriously, would any child comprehend the Doctor's "So free will isn't an illusion after all" from Inferno?

So this is the thing - the season is both silly children's entertainment with unconvincing monsters, and grim, coldly admirable science fiction drama. It's a paradox of Doctor Who's entire run, but particularly obvious here. I think the virus-struck humans in DWA The Silurians are probably as chilling for adult viewers as for kids - the image of a mutated Geoffrey Palmer lunging around that grey, bleak London is unutterably grim, and Doctor Lawrence is extremely unnerving when he is struck by the plague and loses his marbles.

Characterisation in this season is consistently excellent. I enjoy the relationship of the Doctor and the Brigadier here, not overly friendly and, in fact, downright antagonistic. As has been commented ad infinitum, the Brig and UNIT have a harder edge here than in later seasons. Liz Shaw is a companion I've always liked - intelligent and not given to screaming (so obviously she had to be replaced the next year by a pretty airhead). It's a pity she and the Doctor never went out on Mulder and Scully-type investigations. Lawrence, Carrington and Stahlman make a suitably cautionary set of unhinged officials, and it's good that the final story of the season reminds us the Doctor is still very much itching to get away from Earth.

It's Pertwee's debut season, of course. I'm not a big fan of his Doctor - I cringe when he talks about the 'charming' royal family -, but he's got his interpretation of the role pretty much nailed down. In Inferno particularly, the chin and neck scratching are very much in evidence. The Venusian Akido too. Unfortunately. I think he's more 'Doctorly' here than in later seasons, because he's more often at odds with those around him. His role as mediator in both DWA The Silurians and The Ambassadors of Death is very commendable.

So, a very good season all in all. I still find it admirable rather than enjoyable (except Inferno, which does hold the attention extremely well and actually benefits from its length), but that's just personal taste. The Pertwee era did, in the main, degenerate after this. Still, if this harder approach had to end here it's good that it concluded with Inferno - which did, after all, feature the end of the world.

Experiments (Quatermass and otherwise) by Andrew Wixon 29/10/01

I've posted a fairly off-the-wall review of Spearhead from Space, the main thrust of which I'll recap here: watching Season Seven immediately after its' predecessor, there is a striking sense of discontinuity - that this might as well be a wholly different series under discussion. Other than the Brigadier, Benton, and various bits of the TARDIS, nothing from the B&W era appears. It's clear that the heart and soul of the programme were up for grabs and all four of the stories of Season Seven experiment with taking Doctor Who in radically different, if not wholly original, directions.

Spearhead from Space is an attempt at the glossy, all-action style of ITC series like The Avengers and The Prisoner, something only made possible by the unplanned switch to shooting exclusively on film. It's certainly the shallowest, most traditional story in the season, and as an 'aliens invade' story a potentially dangerous precedent. But on its own merits - the startling direction, the dazzling production values, committed and clever performances throughout - it's a clear success. (The 'aliens invade using meteorites' theme is reminiscent of Quatermass 2.)

Doctor Who and the Silurians is an only-one-attempt-possible experiment in moral ambiguity and general bleakness, in an unsustainably dark vein. The complexities of characterisation and general moral awareness it introduced would remain with the show for most of the next decade. (The 'race memory of an elder civilisation, remnants of which survive underground' theme is reminiscent of Quatermass and the Pit.)

The Ambassadors of Death is an attempt to turn down DW's fantasy-SF element as low as it will go. There is another plausible, perhaps even mildly sympathetic villain - most significantly, a human one - and an almost documentary 'hardness' to the location filming. (The 'space capsule returns with alien astronaut(s)' theme is reminiscent of The Quatermass Experiment.)

Inferno is the least experimental story and, perhaps significantly, the most successful. But it shows a new awareness of SF themes and an ability to challenge the audience (both derived from Star Trek, perhaps), in addition to a total mastery of how to create and sustain a mood guaranteed to keep any viewer enthralled. The season transcends its' Nigel Kneale fixation and the story has a much more Who-ish feel as a result.

The three seven-parters share a lot in common. Self-evidently, they are all long stories, but only Ambassadors noticeably drags. The other two manage the notable trick of including large padded subplots and making them the most memorable and dramatic parts of the story. So powerful are the scenes of the plague and the fascist world that both stories' final installment seem mildly anticlimactic as a result. All three stories feature research centres of some kind, and also dangerously obsessive humans. Two are about xenophobia (and humans are as guilty of that, if not moreso, than any of the season's aliens).

There are a number of things that give Season Seven a maturity most others lack. There is the moral element, true; but there are couple of others. Firstly, the regulars. All three are mature, credible adults. By the end of Inferno the third Doctor has entirely settled in as an intensely moral, rather arrogant, patronising charmer with a speed-fixation and a black belt. But he benefits here by not being surrounded by stooges and children, as would be for so much of the next three or four years. Liz Shaw is a great character but not a very good point-of-identification for a family audience - she's smart, cynical, and not entirely happy about being drafted into UNIT. Similarly, the 'hard' Brigadier works brilliantly here but it would have been unsustainable for him and the Doctor to have been locking horns every single story.

Secondly, the threats they face. I was going to say 'monsters', but there really aren't any in the true sense. All the physical threats are much closer to home, rooted in reality, subtle and complex - the Autons are window dummies, the Silurians are demonstrably people, not monsters, the Ambassadors are hidden by their space-suits (very familiar to a post-Apollo 11 1970 audience), while Inferno's mutants are all victims of the green ooze. Furthermore, all the villains bar the Nestenes have a plausible, worked-out psychology and motive - they're xenophobes or obsessives. Compare this, if you will, with the Master, waiting in the very first story of Season Eight - a season which is everything this isn't: cosy, jokey, fantastical and stuffed with alien monsters of various kinds.

Season Seven was great but everything great about it was unsustainable for a kid's tea-time action adventure fantasy show. It's arguably the only season to stick to the 'exiled to Earth' format (you could argue the Master was introduced solely to keep the team from having to contrive a new menace every six weeks), a format which it explores quite comprehensively throughout its' twenty-five episodes. It has virtually nothing in common with Seasons Six or Eight, stylistically. But it kept Doctor Who alive and pointed the way ahead, even if its' very excellence demonstrated some of the inherent weaknesses in the DW format.

Realism rears its ugly head by Mike Jenkins 11/2/02

I'm going to level with you. I have never been a big fan of season seven and it's certainly not Pertwee's best work. Like Season 18 after it, Season seven is overated at best. To begin with, there are only four stories to chose from, and only one of those is truly interesting (The Ambassadors of Death), but even the most interesting story of the season is far too realist. Season Seventeen is the best season in the history of the show but I suppose it reflects just about the opposite of what Doctor Who did in season seven. But for me, despite the fact that all the stories in season seven are good Whoviana, Doctor Who is much more about silly humour and colourful and fun concepts. A wise man once said that Doctor Who is escapism and that's exactly what it is but each fan has a different style of story he enjoys more to escape with, if you see what I mean. Season seven's just not my cup of tea.

Both Spearhead from Space and Doctor Who and the Silurians were above average. Ambassadors of Death was a much better but it could have been a true classic had David Whittaker written it entirley on his own. Inferno is once again above average, but that drill give me a headache and the parrallel universe, while interesting doesn't really have anything to do with anything. Another let down of this season is it is not fully explained why Liz Shaw went back to Cambridge. She might have worked well in whimsical stories but we'll never know. Much of the dialogue in these four stories is overtly dreary, callous, and the stories seem repetitive. While the seven part stories do not drag, they wouldn't have exactly been hard to follow if they were shorter. If you want to go for classic Pertwee, I suggest season 8 or 10.

The Superlative Seventh Season by Nick Needham 6/8/02

It was Season Seven that kept me watching. The show was on probation after the loss of my (to this day) favourite Doctor. Could it still really be Dr Who, with Troughton gone? I was sceptical. But I decided to give it a try. I think I wanted it to succeed.

Season Seven succeeded beyond wildest hopes. From the first episode of Spearhead From Space, I was enthralled. Surely Dr Who had never been so exciting, so gritty, so adult, so well-made! I can still remember the shock we all felt at Brampton Road Junior School from Ransom’s fearful encounter in the factory, and his reaction afterwards, trembling uncontrollably as he tried to explain the cause of his cosmic terror. It spawned a short-lived schoolboy phobia of shop window dummies. And I vividly remember how anxious I felt for Liz at the end of episode 2 of The Silurians: the subject was discussed on a coach outing to London - where we gazed with trepidation at those dummies.... Clearly Dr Who was to be alive and well and compulsive viewing for however long this new regime lasted.

Looking back 30 years later, I still think Season Seven was the greatest in the Third Doctor’s tenure, and indeed one of the great seasons of the entire show. I realise that this is a cliché. But for me, it’s a true one. I could watch these four stories endlessly, even the sometimes maligned Ambassadors Of Death. The formula seems to gel so solidly: an abrasive new Doctor, resenting his exile; an intelligent and competent female companion (a grown-up Zoe); a professional, slightly ruthless, always believable Brigadier; and stories that rank with the best for their craftsmanship in writing and production.

So yes, for me, Seasons Eight to Eleven are a decline from this lofty height, although still (for the most part) eminently watchable. They seem a little "comic strip" compared with the debut season, but they have their own gems (Mind Of Evil, Curse Of Peladon, Frontier In Space).

One point often made by fan critics in defence of the change of ethos in Seasons Eight to Eleven (the development of he "UNIT family" approach) is that the brittle Doctor-Brigadier relationship as portrayed in Season Seven simply couldn’t have continued. It had to mellow. How long could they have workably co-existed in that state of original tension? Well, I have no difficulty in thinking that they could have gone on quite successfully in Season Seven mode. There’s no real reason why not. After all, in another great TV series, "Callan", the hero and his various Hunters had a perpetually tense relationship within a UNIT-like organisation. It added to the atmosphere and the depth of characterisation. At least an ongoing Doc-Brig tension would have spared us the degeneration of the Brig into a near-buffoon with cringe-inducing lines about Cromer.

I owe a lot to Season Seven, then. It hooked me and kept me on board for another five years of Dr Who. Quite a tribute. And what did I do when I was briefly exiled in Africa by my job, with no TV set? Among other things, I listened to an audio recording of Ambassadors Of Death, in some ways the least brilliant story of Season Seven – and was as gratified by it as ever.

New Age by Mike Morris 10/2/03

First of all, I should say quite candidly that I don't really like early Doctor Who. It's dull and it's slow and it's not all that good. I accept that it was of its time; I accept that it's not fair to look upon it as one would look at contemporary drama. It's just that most early Doctor Who doesn't really stand up in the same way that the later stories do. I don't dislike it or anything, I don't see any point in slagging it off, and I recently bought the Hartnell box set for twenty euro because, hey, it was cheap and it's amusing to look at every now and then.

It's just that it's not really relevant. I don't hate The Sensorites; I just don't consider it worthy of my attention. I don't think it's worth hating, or liking, or anything else; I have no real opinion about the vast majority of early Doctor Who.

The next question is, what exactly is 'early' Doctor Who? It seems to be a shorthand for the Hartnell and Troughton eras, which in a sense is fair enough as they have a lot in common. Black and white, episodes recorded in five minutes flat, constantly running seasons. When I say 'early Doctor Who,' I think this is what you, dear reader, would assume I am referring to.

(Dear reader, you might also wonder when I'm going to actually talk about Season bloody Seven. Bear with me, I'm getting there.)

However it's fair enough to classify the Pertwee era as early Doctor Who also. For a number of reasons it is generally considered to be modern Doctor Who, and because of this it attracts a level of bile and criticism that Hartnell and Troughton escape. I don't think anyone really hates the Hartnell era, but a lot of people don't really like it or watch it or have any opinion. Hartnell and Troughton have a sort of general amnesty from criticism that Pertwee doesn't. Plenty of anti- Pertwee diatribes have graced many a fanzine, comparing the cosy Dandy and his military buffoons unfavourably with the joyful anarchism of Tom.

And yet really, the vast majority of the Pertwee era should still be considered 'early Doctor Who'. The Monster of Peladon and Death to the Daleks have far more in common with The Sensorites and The Chase than they do with The Ark in Space and Genesis of the Daleks. Were we to wipe all the colour from the Pertwee era it would probably nestle quite comfortably in with 'early Doctor Who,' and would receive the same benign indifference from people who didn't like it all that much. We would look upon it with a more nostalgic eye, as we (quite rightly) do with earlier stories; we would excuse the CSO just as we excused crap Hartnell/Troughton modelwork, and the cartoonish soldiers would be no worse than cartoonish American 'gee-whizz' characters like Captain Hopper.

Of course, I'm being a touch harsh on the earlier stories, as some of them do stand up very well today. The Aztecs, The Daleks (well the first four episodes anyway), and The Mind Robber still have a lot to say, which is a testament to their greatness. By the same token, Carnival of Monsters and The Sea Devils and The Curse of Peladon could be seen as isolated stories that transcend the clumsy, dated nature of the rest of the programme.

But then (you see, I made it!) one looks at Season Seven. And realises how adult and modern and relevant it is. And how much it has to say. And one has to say that, yes, the beginning of the Pertwee era is where the series grew up. I think that Season Seven is, strangely, the main reason that the Pertwee era can inspire such extreme dislike. Because it makes us look at the rest of the era with different eyes. If it had never happened, and Terror of the Autons immediately followed The War Games, I think the Pertwee era would receive more of that cosy nostalgia than it does.

All this points in one direction very clearly; Season Seven is Doctor Who's single greatest season. It's not my favourite, although it's damn close; but bearing in mind what came before and after it's no great stretch to say that no other season was so ahead of its time, so continually relevant, so plausible and edgy. Seasons Eight to Eleven receive negative press because we fans expect that they should have been more like Season Seven. But maybe we should accept that we had no right to expect Season Seven in the first place.

Put it this way; compare The Dominators or The Krotons or The Invasion or The Space Pirates to The Ambassadors of Death. It's pinch-yourself stuff. Only The Invasion really bears comparison, and then it's really only the presence of UNIT that makes it hold up; if The Invasion starred Pertwee it would be crucified as boring derivative padded trash. And while Season Eight retains some of its predecessor's edge, that edge was quickly eroded and resulted in stories like Colony in Space, which is worthy enough in its own way but not that different from any of Troughton's output.

For a short period, Doctor Who became a dynamic programme, contemporary and relevant, posing moral questions and embedding itself into society. In the Brigadier it created a wonderfully flawed hero, a leader of poise and integrity but with a ruthless streak. The idea of UNIT predates the X-Files by quarter of century, but says everything that series had to say about politics and cover-ups. The Ambassadors of Death could be easily form the basis of a mini-series today, and what a good one it would be. Most of today's Sci-Fi programmes - Buffy, Farscape, Enterprise, Smallville and dross like Mutant X and Roswell - contentedly play to a niche market of teenagers, hardcore Science Fiction fans, and smart-arsed Generation Xers who are on an intravenous irony drip and think that in-jokes and high-school settings are clever. Season Seven, though is a brand of telefantasy that strives to include everyone, in much the same way that the X-Files at its peak garnered a large audience from wide demographic. There's nothing in Season Seven that the average person wouldn't understand and find entertaining. It takes itself more seriously than Buffy's increasingly tedious tongue-in-cheek wit. It doesn't overcomplicate itself like Farscape. It isn't stuck in Peace, Justice, the American Way and Star Trek Continuity like Enterprise, and it isn't crap like all the others.

In fact, in a very real way, it isn't science fiction at all.

This explains - at least partly - why it's so damn good. Because previously, and afterwards, Doctor Who was largely science fiction, and science fiction was yet to really grow up in 1969. 2001: A Space Odyssey was only released the previous year, and the only really adult film before that was Planet of the Apes. Science fiction was still very much a cheap B-movie genre, ranging in quality from Forbidden Planet to Plan 9 From Outer Space and taking in all sorts of It Came From Outer Space movies on the way. Doctor Who was, in truth, childish because the genre it was based on was childish. And the most successful stories of the Hartnell/Troughton period are those that aren't science fiction; The Aztecs is straight historical drama, and The Mind Robber is surreal fantasy.

Of Season Seven, only the first, and least successful, story is science fiction in the common sense. That isn't to say that Spearhead from Space isn't an enjoyable tale, but it isn't the standard nasty aliens plot that makes it special. Rather it's the Doctor's regeneration and the establishing of the UNIT template that makes it enjoyable, as well as Liz's entrance and some fine location filming. And the Autons themselves are terrifying creatures, very obviously based on Invasion of the Body Snatchers. This is important, as Invasion of the Body Snatchers is another one of the very few sci-fi films of the period that transcends B-movie status; it is famously a commentary on Communism, but is also a statement on how the world can destroy individualism and how the establishment becomes an inhuman machine. Spearhead from Space has similar overtones, with the Auton 'drones' a clear underclass to the better-formed politicos, and Channing the totalitarian leader. The structure of Auton society is a frightening vision of any totalitarian system, not just a Communist one; and this is what makes the story memorable.

What lets it down is a conclusion similar to the previous years of Who, where the Nestene creature appears and is rather conveniently dispatched. This is an idea stolen from another (inferior) sci-fi film, Invaders from Mars, and although it wouldn't raise an eyebrow during Season Six it's obviously simplistic here. In fact, the jarring nature of this element rather displays just how far the programme has come in a short time.

Next up are the three seven-parters. These are lengthy affairs that operate on a large scale, all of them making good use of their resources and the earth-bound setting. There are scenes that, like the famous shop-dummy sequence in Spearhead, tie the series into contemporary England; the plague scenes around London in The Silurians, the hijack and warehouse shoot-out in Ambassadors, and the highly realistic structuring of the Inferno project's hierarchy, with Stahlman bludgeoning his way through departmental bureaucracy.

To call these stories 'padded' is a shallow understanding of what storytelling can be. It's understandable, because most Doctor Who stories are based on quickness and economy. We want as much as possible to happen in very short spaces of time, provided it all makes sense. However, Season Seven's longer stories take their energy from elsewhere. They rely on plausibility, with the emotion, excitement and threat carrying more weight because it takes place in a genuinely real world. And the slow pace allows time for scenes that reinforce the story's themes without really developing the plot; when Platoon Under-Leader Benton calls his men to attention as the world explodes around them, it's a stunning exposé of pointless military bullying in the face of death. If someone like Stanley Kubrick had made a film of Inferno he would probably have made that the most breathtaking moment in the movie. It's not quite that good, of course, because this is Doctor Who rather than Full Metal Jacket, but it's still nice to have it. And it's also nice to have Reegan burying his men in a gravel pit (a development born of cynical distrust in a story about cynicism and suspicion) and the scenes with the men driven insane by the Silurians, a variation on that story's central theme of men becoming mindlessly aggressive by their fear of what they don't know.

In fact it all shows up just how meaningless the word 'padded' is. Yes, one of the joys of Doctor Who is its driving narrative pace. But we've an aversion to 'unnecessary' scenes, particularly in longer stories, which doesn't really hold up to scrutiny. Insisting that every scene is connected to the plot is overly simplistic and implies that The Awakening is the best Doctor Who story ever told. Technically, the entire parallel universe in Inferno is padding, for heaven's sake! There are no padded stories, there are only bad stories or boring stories.

The Silurians, by contrast, is a wonderful story, with only the rather silly waggly-head Silurians and terrible music letting it down. There's also a lack of information about the Silurian society, with no names and one Silurian killing the leader and assuming command in a rather simplistic way. In a way this is appropriate, as the viewer knows no more of the Silurian society than the story's characters; but this is a cop out excuse really.

Again, The Silurians is only nominally science fiction. These aren't evil aliens come to take over Earth because they've nothing better to do. In fact there aren't any aliens at all, technically, and this story is much more about conflict between races than anything else. In the environment of the Cold War, this tale of mistrust and aggression had a lot to say; and now that George W Bush and his lapdog Tony Blair have decided to bomb whatever country has a funny-sounding name it is just as relevant. What's wonderful is the inevitability of it all. The Doctor might act as peacemaker, but in the face of both side's fear of the other his view seems naïve and simplistic. Of course, what's right often seems simplistic. But the actions of both sides, although reprehensible, are understandable. Come on, if you were in the Brigadier's shoes would you be quite so willing to take the Doctor's advice?

And the final scene is beautiful, and poignant, and understated and sad. And real. The Doctor is horrified to see an intelligent species wiped out in that way. But then, the Brigadier can point to a single Silurian action that has wiped out thousands of innocents, and could claim that these beings were not interested in peace and represented a terrifying threat to freedom.

Yeah, that might be a bit relevant today as well. If only two lines from Mac Hulke's fantastic novelization had been included; the Doctor saying about Major Baker "That's a very brave man, Liz. A fool. But a really brave man". And at the conclusion; "We've lost the chance to find out now. We will never know." Oh well, we can't have everything.

And then there's The Ambassadors of Death, with similar themes to The Silurians; fear of the unknown. But where The Silurians had a political subtext, Ambassadors is very overtly political. It draws on spy dramas and political thrillers more than any science fiction elements, and as such is an incredibly mature and thoughtful story. Its characters are uniquely believable, and the paranoia of Carrington again draws strongly from the paranoia of the time. I don't think any other Who story has ever been so ahead of its time. There's a finger-on-the-button tension to the whole thing that only Kinda would ever really achieve again, and it comes from Doctor Who drawing on the kind of well-honed story type that's a world away from the B-movie antecedent that Doctor Who usually relied on.

Inferno is also about aggression and paranoia, and thereby completes a set of stories with a real thematic cohesion. It also isn't science fiction, as witnessed by the whole angle with the green slime / green monsters plot that has drawn a few negative comments on this site. If Inferno was a science fiction story, this wouldn't make sense. But Inferno isn't sci-fi; in fact, it's something Doctor Who has never really done again. Horror.

So it doesn't make sense. But then, horror doesn't. Why do the dead rise and walk the earth in Dawn of the Dead? Doesn't matter, they just do; what's important is how people react. And again, as horror was generally rather more developed than science fiction (it's older), the storytelling standards are higher. The Primords are creations of animal savagery, the kind of creature that appeared again recently in The Adventuress of Henrietta Street. So again we have a story about the darker side of human nature, predating a similar theme to Season Twenty Six by quite some way.

This notion of aggression, and questioning the 'strike-first' attitude, makes the presence of UNIT doubly satisfying. The Doctor's relationship with them is ambiguous at best, and their methodology is often called into question by the programme. The Brigadier commits genocide, which is denounced as such; and Inferno shows us the bad side of the man in a very real way. This kind of tension, when good guys have a bad side, was another side of characterisation which broke new ground.

If the rest of Doctor Who didn't exist, I think this season would be remembered in the same way as Quatermass; as a revolutionary and crucial entry in science fiction. It is credible and intelligent and wonderful, and if the rest of the world would only drop their 'Oh wasn't Doctor Who cosy amusing crap?' prejudice they might just realise that. As it is, only us fans know just how good these stories were. As I've already said, it isn't my favourite season, but that's for subjective reasons. Objectively, I think Season Seven is the show's best by quite some way. It's breathtakingly good. It's thirty-odd years old now and still remains relevant. It introduces season-long themes, flawed heroes, and new ideas of what science fiction can be. Its greatness extends far beyond Doctor Who.

'Modern' and 'relevant' are probably the two most important words in this piece. This is admirable because Doctor Who can rarely be classified as such; its storytelling structure is particularly old-fashioned, and although it was popular I don't think the public would ever see it as saying anything of importance. These days the same applies to televised science fiction as a whole, with so many shows being incestuous combinations of Dawson's bloody Creek and old, cheesy (B- movie) ideas. Televised sci-fi is making less and less of an effort to include a wider audience. In this climate, the earnest thoughtfulness of Season Seven is an real oasis.

Thoughtful, thorough and thrilling. If only it could all be as good as this.

Political Thrillers and Allegory for a wider audience by Terrence Keenan 22/1/04

Season 7 managed to stretch the boundaries of Who, in spite of storytelling limitations. It was a season about themes, and about deeper characters than had been previously seen. It was about a deal of convenience between a Alien in Exile and a paramilitary investigation team. It was about expanding the companion role, about grounding a fantasy show in a distinct reality and seeing where things would go from there.

There are few stronger story runs than Spearhead from Space, The Silurians, The Ambassadors of Death and Inferno. In fact, for me, only the run of stories from The Seeds of Doom through Horror of Fang Rock is better.

Spearhead from Space is the most straightforward of the season. However, its importance seems to be underestimated. Spearhead sets the tone for the new "Whoniverse" as well as establishing UNIT, the third Doctor and Liz Shaw. An early key scene is when the Brigadier and Liz arrive at the hospital to check on the Doctor and find themselves surrounded by reporters. Granted, in story terms, the real reason for the reporters is to establish Channing, but its bigger importance is to show UNIT and the Doctor operating in a "real world" setting, where the press would show up to cover stories about meteorites and possible aliens. What Spearhead also does is show that both Liz and the UNIT team can have screen time and carry the story without the Doctor...Ùs constant presence. Finally, Spearhead establishes the relationship between the Brigadier/UNIT and the Doctor. It's a precursor to Scully and Mulder from the X Files. There is mutual respect and similar goals, but with differences in approach. Also, the Brigadier acts as the voice of reason and skepticism for the Doctor's more fanciful deductions.

The larger thematic concerns appear in the final three serials of Season 7. They are about politics, about man's dark desires, and fear of the unknown. I'm going to focus on politics, because it rears its head in all four serials.

In The Silurians, Masters is more interested in making a politically expedient decision in regards to the Silurians than trying to find a long term solution. You can see it when Masters recommends that Wenley Moor be shut down, but will make sure that Lawrence will be blameless. Inferno highlights the political infighting and maneuvering between Stahlman and Sir Keith Gold. Just as interesting is that in the "fascist" Earth, it is hinted that despite the fascist regime, the same bureaucratic infighting still takes place. The Ambassadors of Death shows political corruption as the status quo.

Speaking of politics, everyone's favorite Brigadier is quite the political animal in Season 7. Lethbridge-Stewart is continuously dealing with bureaucratic red tape and politicians who are unable or unwilling to see divergent viewpoints. He is also put in the position of dealing with the Doctor's reactions to bureaucracy, which does put a strain on their relationship. It's very fitting that Alistair doesn't tell the Doctor he plans to blow up the caves because he instinctively knows the Doctor wouldn't understand the politics involved in the decision.

Liz makes for an interesting Doctor parallel, because she is just as disinterested in politics as the Doctor is. Therefore, Liz understands the Doctor's point of view more readily than the other characters in each of the Season 7 serials. She knows that the Doctor is addressing the issues in terms of a bigger picture, explicitly shown in The Silurians, where she knows that the Doctor is correct in trying to contact the Silurians and make a long term peace beneficial for both races.

The other mission of Season 7 was to grab an older audience. So, while the Silurians and the Primords and Autons are there for the kids to have their big scary monsters, the human "monsters" (Carrington, Lawrence, Stahlman, Channing) are more complex in design (being self-obsessed, driven characters). The political wrangling serves this purpose as well. Even moments like the "free will" scene in Inferno and the plague scenes in The Silurians are geared for an older audience.

Season 7, despite being different from what was and what would be in Who, is another prime example of what makes great Who. Good stories with interesting characters. Take, for example, Section Leader Elizabeth Shaw. She starts off as a sold-on-the-company-line fascist who thinks the Doctor is a crank that should be shot, or at least locked up. But under the Doctor's influence, we see the Mighty Liz Shaw we all know and love come through to the point where she ends up shooting the Brigade Leader in order for the Doctor to escape because she feels it's morally right. Wonderful character development over a few episodes. The Brigade Leader goes from fascist thug to a snivelling coward who can't exist without a weapon. And there are many others including a new favorite villain in Reegan the thug from The Ambassadors of Death.

Season 7 is so strong in terms of all levels that it stains the rest of Pertwee's era. I have my own little theory. Although technically Derrick Sherwin was only the producer during Spearhead from Space, I have the feeling that both he and Terrance Dicks had already planned out the season by the time Barry Letts came aboard as producer. Letts didn't want to rock the boat, so he let the season happen as shown, then used Season 8 to stamp his own mark on Who. It's the only way to explain the shift in style and tone from Season 7 to Season 8.

I don't want to end this by saying something obvious like "Season 7 is brilliant." But what is most impressive about Season 7 is that is manages to be contemporary 33 years after its initial broadcast. That speaks volumes about the quality of these four serials.

And I managed to get through the entire review without mentioning Caroline John's legs.....

Everything Old is New Again by Robert Smith? 23/5/04

The series the BBC chose to replace Doctor Who in the Saturday tea-time slot was, famously, The Exile starring Jon Pertwee as an alien stranded on Earth who's forced to assist the UN in investigations of unearthly phenomena. Those few Doctor Who fans still around often argue that the new series was little more than a blatant copy of their favourite, and that some elementary rewrites of Spearhead, The Exile's debut story, would have made it an ideal opener for a revamped and reformatted seventh season of DW. It's true that many of the cast and crew of Spearhead had previously worked on DW, including writer Robert Holmes, but the two series were fundamentally different in many ways, and this script could never have succeeded as an installment of the B&W series.
-- Andrew Wixon, reviewing Spearhead from Space
Any long-running series must change, as Doctor Who has proved over and over again. And it's not as though the series hadn't changed before - the most obvious is the change in lead actor after three seasons, but the whole style of the program had undergone massive restructuring previously. The Hartnell era has one base-under-siege story, the Troughton era is chock full of them. Hartnell's historicals were dropped as soon as Troughton took over. The only 'sideways' story - so prevalent in the Hartnell era - that appeared during the second Doctor's run is The Mind Robber. The state of play by the time of season six is almost wholly different to that of season one.

Editor's note: You can read the rest of this article in Time, Unincorporated, Volume 2, published by Mad Norwegian Press. For copyright reasons, we are unable to display the online version simultaneously.

Extrordinary... by Joe Ford 15/6/05

Without a doubt one of the most important seasons of television ever filmed. It is four stories of Doctor Who that Buffy, Star Trek, Farscape and all the other TV shows that dare to call themselves science-fiction these days would kill to have in their series. To have four classic Doctor Who stories so close together is a miracle (you'll usually find one or two real duffers per season) but to find four such stories that comprise one season is unknown. I don't even think Russell T Davies will manage to make his first season so unquestionably perfect.

To figure out this seasons success you have to look at preceeding and approaching seasons as season seven has an identity all of its own, both in its stories and their look, and one that would never be repeated again.

It makes me laugh to think that the producers turned to stories set solely on Earth to save some money which results in one of the most expensive looking seasons in the shows history. You've got to remember that it could have all gone the other way, the series could easily have been cancelled by the end of the season six (as indeed Terrance Dicks has pointed out, that it was only due to the fact that the BBC could not think of anything else that allowed them to continue to make the series) and so season seven is effectively a trial, not only for the third Doctor's life on Earth but also the series in general. It could have all ended here...

And let's face it on paper it all sounds incredibly trite. A frilly, eccentric Doctor played by popular comedian Jon Pertwee facing off alien threats to Earth week after week by teaming up with an army offshoot that was created to deal with alien menaces. As Verity Lambert points out on every occasion she can, this is about as far from the non-establishment first Doctor as you can get!

And so being the safe and cosy corporation that they are, the BBC decided to test this new formula in an eight-part story in season six. I think Douglas Camfield deserves most of the credit for Doctor Who continuing to exist after season six because he produces one of the most expensive, entertaining and gripping Doctor Who stories of the first six years. And those ideas that sounded so thoroughly awful on paper really, really work because everybody involved takes the alien threat so seriously (including the production team... something that would be forgotten in later years) and the script allows us to see UNIT from many angles, facing threats of action and politics. Tucked away in season six, The Invasion feels fresh and invigorating, a new leash of life for Doctor Who after some stale storytelling in the preceeding two stories.

It worked enough to convince the BBC that an Earthbound Doctor could work. The next surprise is Jon Pertwee who every man and his dog severely underrates to this day. Pertwee is a character actor through and through and is famous for slipping on a silly voice or stupid costume and playing up to the cameras (go and watch him in The Goodies or the Carry On Films). What would be the point of plonking the Doctor down on Earth in the middle of some pretty dramatic crisis, when he is camping it up and making an ass out of himself? Pertwee was clearly a much more perceptive actor than anyone gave him any credit for as he shocks the nation by playing his Doctor deadly straight, almost conservative and reacting to the horrors facing the Earth with absolute conviction. Whilst there would be moments in later years where the actor would grow tired of the part and concentrate more on his wardrobe than his lines, Pertwee's thoughtful and brilliant portrayal of the Doctor in exile in season seven is one of the all-time highlights of the Doctor's long story. Had this fundamental element not worked out, had Pertwee not been so shockingly recognisable and believable, the whole Doctor on Earth could have panned horribly.

The casting during season seven is terrific and shows a better hit rate than practically any other year. Perhaps it is because every story is set on Earth so the actors were only called upon to act like humans in a crisis rather than silly aliens from the planet Zog (and performances only mar in season seven when people are turned into slavering, primordial beasts). Key to the success of UNIT is casting the regulars properly and the trio of the Doctor, Liz Shaw (played with subtlety and icy charm by Caroline John) and the Brigadier (the talented and gorgeous Nicholas Courtney) are still regarded as one of the finest lineups in the series' history. Perhaps the key to their success is because their time together was so short leaving fandom gagging for more or perhaps they are a winning combination because the scripts treat their characters with some respect and they breathe that into their performances. I find this team thoroughly believable and likable and they complement each other perfectly. The Doctor's rudeness and anti-authority locks horns hilariously with the Brigadier's play-by-the-rules attitude. And both of the gents sexism rubs empowered scientist Liz up the wrong way. Pertwee, John and Courtney are afforded some fabulous material that allows them to do some real acting (as opposed to the material offered to Matthew Waterhouse) and all three are portrayed as ruthlessly intelligent people (as opposed to the regulars of, say, season Ten with dippy Jo, cosy Doctor and dopey Brig).

But the casting goes further than this with some highly memorable guest performers stamping their style on the series. Actors of the calibre of Peter Miles, Faulton Mackay, John Abineri, Michael Wisher, Olaf Pooley and Christopher Benjamin add a lot of weight to the quality of the stories. This isn't JNT-style guest casting to stun the audience into recognising a popular actor but carefully considered casting which matches the actor to the part that will bring the best performance out in them.

So with the Earthbound premise pulled of with adroit charm and stonking good actors on display, only the scripts could fail the season now and this is another thing that season seven gets very right. Whereas The Invasion used the comfortable familiarity of the Cybermen to ease the viewer into the UNIT premise, season seven concocts four separate and totally believable alien threats for the Doctor and his team to defeat. The season thrives on the idea that the horrors we face are already here on Earth with a different catalyst in each story turning them deadly. Spearhead from Space uses its idea of living plastic creatures to chilling effect with the Nestene Consciousness breathing life into shop window dummies and provoking some wonderful scares. The Silurians deals with the intelligent idea of creatures that existed on Earth before the human race and the natural conflict that would come with their revival to discover their planet had been overrun with apes. Ambassadors of Death explores xenophobia startlingly well with its mysterious spacesuited aliens causing General Carrington to go to any lengths to expose the creatures as invaders despite their peaceful intentions. And that old favourite... something deadly bubbling underneath the surface of the Earth rears its head in Inferno, a deadly green substance that reverts whoever comes in contact with it into a vicious animal.

I love how the season uses its menaces to explore its characters, rather than concentrating on the characters of the aliens themselves (the Autons, Ambassadors and Primords are left frighteningly enigmatic) the scriptwriters use the opportunity deal with how people would react to the realisation and dangers of contact with alien life. The idea of dummies coming to life is absurd but thanks to the reaction of Ransome, the very idea is terrifying, his jabbering, tea-dribbling horror is unforgettable. The Silurians says more about the Brigadier than practically any other story as he makes the brave and terribly foolish decision to kill an entire species rather than let the world face the consequences of co-habitation with them. You could argue that their homicidal actions throughout the story brought this on themselves but considering it was the Brigadier's strong-arm tactics that forced their hand on many occasions, it makes his decision seem even more prejudiced. The Doctor's desperate attempt to reach out to the Silurians is touching and his disgusted reaction to their fate makes the last scene of that story one of the most affecting moments in the series.

Considering the publics anxiousness about space travel at the time, it was an incredibly brave to include a character like Carrington in the series, a blatant racist who will murder and lie to trick the world into believing the aliens he has made contact with are hostile. His eventual downfall is gloriously uncomfortable viewing because there is a little bit of Carrington in all of us and the sight of this once-great man being surrounded by armed men and locked up and still holding his head high believing he did his "moral duty" is far more complex characterisation than a show like Doctor Who dares to go. The various reactions of characters as the world cracks open around them in Inferno remain some of the most brutal drama in the series. The Brigade Leader, once a bully and sadist, reverts to cowardice as he realises pushing people around won't save his life. Greg Sutton grows a backbone and decides to trust in the Doctor, standing up to the brutality of the military and sacrificing his life so the Doctor can escape. It says something of how utterly terrified the characters of this story are when confronted with living versions of their own viciousness, something that is dissipating as the situation grows worse, proving the triumph of human spirit in such a horrible world.

The much-criticized length of the Pertwee stories (usually six parters) is used to superb effect in season seven, the extra episodes often used to add depth to the characters or plot and of course by having three stories with extended lengths means there is more money to lavish on each one. I used to think Ambassadors of Death was too long, the middle episodes just muddled action confusing the story but watching just a few days ago it is clear those episodes are used wisely, the smaller character moments (such as Liz's reaction to Lennox's part in the conspiracy) and disturbing set pieces (like Reagan burying his henchmen in a brutal monochrome sequence). Plus the complexity of the story is only there because the story has more time to explore Carrington's insanity and the lengths he goes to.

There is a stark, industrial look to the season, which suits the stories perfectly and adds another layer of realism. The location work is lots of ugly buildings with pipes billowing out smoke and walkways and ladders, usually on a cold rainy day. Even the Auton massacre has a grainy, nasty quality to it. The harshness of the location work usually reflects the ugly violence on display making for some uncomfortable, believable (I know I keep using that word but it applies to this season in so many ways!) action. Is there anything more horrible than the Doctor being trapped on top of giant fifty-foot drum with a slavering beast coming at him? Or UNIT being slaughtered by thugs in a filthy warehouse? The sets (usually scientific installations) have a functional look about them, usually simple but effective and pulling off their functions believably. Certainly the space centre is far more convincing than it would have been a year earlier.

Personally my favourite story is Inferno but watching the stories in sequences it clearly has the most production problems and struggles with its episode length more than the others (the alternative universe story taking up half the story). However it is remains the most dramatically satisfying of the year with some amazingly mature scenes for television, let alone (supposedly) children's televison. And it contains the scariest moment in Doctor Who and if you don't know what that is go and watch it; you don't need me to tell you what it is.

Ambassadors of Death would be my next story of choice, thanks mostly to the gob-smacking production and touches of nastiness. How it inverts the usual alien invasion story is inspired and the characterisation throughout is stunning.

Spearhead from Space comes next with some disturbing imagery and a lush, expensive filmish look. Robert Holmes writes some of the best dialogue of the year and sets up the UNIT situation with his trademark skill.

The Silurians only comes last because of its horrific incidental music which might be a little unfair but it's totally distracting. The episodes themselves are fantastic with the story building up to that choking climax. It hits fewer highs than the others but when it strikes it is twice as vivid (especially the icky virus London scenes) and this has the best final scene for any Doctor Who story.

A truly remarkable year. Go and watch it now.

A Review by James Neiro 22/3/10

The seventh season of the show would see many changes to the format. The Doctor would now be played by veteran actor Jon Pertwee, the show would now be played in color, the TARDIS would no longer be used and barley ever seen on screen. No alien planets would be used and the Doctor would be limited to having his adventures on Earth, the Daleks would again not appear for three seasons running and finally the seasons would be shortened to an incredible degree at just four stories long.

Spearhead from Space introduced us to the new Doctor, his new companion Liz and a new adversary, the Autons. From this point on, the show would become focused around the mission of UNIT and its commanding officer Brigadiere Stewart. The following story, The Silurians, proved to us just how evil the human race could be. The next story, The Ambassadors of Death provided us with one of the first ever Doctor Who mystery/thrillers. The season finale saw the departure of the unpopular companion Liz Shaw in one of the most popular Doctor Who stories ever transmitted, Inferno, dealing with a paralell universe that would become popular in fellow sci-fi franchises.