Warriors of the Deep
Resureection of the Daleks
Planet of Fire
The Caves of Androzani
The Twin Dilemma
A Review by Rob Matthews 9/12/01
An oft-ignored season this one. Despite its containing what many would consider the best and worst Doctor Who stories ever - and back to back at that -, it doesn't seem to get a great deal of attention. Criticism and what scant praise there is of this period seems to get pulled, centrifugal-like, to the neighbouring season 22.
Understandable, since the two series have strong similarities - one outstanding story directed by Graeme Harper, several continuity-heavy but generally entertaining ones with returning villains, a couple of absolute stinkers, and a general feeling of being either more adult or more gratuitous, depending on how you look at it. The depiction of violence is increased in the latter season, so it gets noticed more.
Actually, though it starts badly with Warriors of the Deep and ends badly with The Twin Dilemma, the core of season 21 has a consistency quite rare in Doctor Who. The run of stories from Frontios to Caves of Androzani develops the central characters in a way rivalled only by season 26. As a matter of fact, even The Twin Dilemma has a crucial part to play in this development. It's botched, but the entire season builds up to it.
I've cited before, in my review of season 19, the soap opera element that was introduced with Davison's Doctor. I argued that it didn't really work there because a kid's show is unable to explore adult themes, but, perhaps having finally noticed its new timeslot, the show does grow up a bit in season 21. Sex rears its head a little ('Beauty I must have'), violence a lot, and the scriptwriters and editor actually let characterisation grow out of the show's setup rather than just stick pointless squabbles onto stories that don't need them. This is a show about people who travel through time and space and regularly get into trouble with monsters. And all the important character developments in this season hinge effectively on this simple silly premise - Turlough is a coward, constantly trying to avoid having to face those monsters; Tegan tires of the horrors she has to witness and abruptly but convincingly leaves; the Doctor tires of the horrors and the monsters and seriously considers cold-bloodedly destroying them. The show is true to its own concepts and makes you believe in their reality. And its treatment of the Doctor is probably more thorough than at any other time in the show' s run on screen. In Resurrection of the Daleks he takes it upon himself to kill Davros, guilty for having failed in his original mission, in Genesis, and having apparently regretted it ever since. His decision horrifies Tegan who, realising that not even the Doctor is unaffected by the madness around her, leaves. The Doctor's sense of failure is compounded. He realises he's betrayed both her and himself, and vows to mend his ways. Yet when, in Planet of Fire, he is faced with the sight of the soon-to-be-destroyed Master, he finds himself unable to do anything to save him. He seems genuinely surprised by his own unwillingness to stop the destruction of his enemy. He couldn't directly murder Davros, but neither will he do anything to keep the Master alive. He's failed himself again, and Tegan too, though she's not there to see it. And then he carelessly puts himself and his new companion Peri into mortal danger. So when he rescues Peri and sacrifices himself, he's not only taking responsibility for that, but repenting his near-murder of Davros, his alienation of Tegan, his unwillingness to save the Master - and even his failure to save Adric.
The newly-regenerated sixth Doctor nearly kills Peri and talks about penitence, but it's a poor parody of the themes of the preceeding stories. And perhaps what makes people uncomfortable about the sixth Doctor's debut story and the grim season which follows is that it negates the catharsis we feel we deserve - the Doctor's dark side and weaknesses should be expelled by his regeneration, but instead they are strengthened. He's not reborn as another innocent, but as a product of his dangerous travels who no longer flinches from use of force. It feels like a betrayal, and I think that's the point. Saward's universe is one where the worst thing that can happen does, so things take a nightmare turn as the season ends. The Doctor seems to have destroyed the Master only to become him, and we have to take it on trust that his mania will subside. So, in fact, even The Twin Dilemma - failure though it ultimately is - contributes to the overall flow of the season. There's one part of it in particular that strikes me as effective, and that's when the Doctor comforts Peri with the words "Brave heart, Tegan" and is abruptly saddened. The melancholic music that accompanied Tegan's departure is re-used and we get a sense of the Doctor's deep sadness; his old life and his old friends have disappeared like things imagined. Also, this is the only time on screen that the continuity between one Doctor and the next is emphasised and examined. The sixth Doctor comments that the fifth's repression of his wilder side had almost led to his becoming neurotic - thus explaining the psychology of the new personality as resulting from the perceived flaws of the old one. We're used to this kind of thing in the novels now, but there are no other instances of it in the show's run, and it demonstrates this season's willingness to explore character in more depth. Okay, okay, it's not Proust, but it's a welcome development nonetheless.
Anyway, backtracking to the fifth Doc.. After a confused, directionless two years, Davison finally finds his feet in the role. Conversing with the ridiculous Gravis in Frontios, he finally looks like he's enjoying himself, the way Tom Baker did. What other TV show allows an actor to share a scene with a big lump of fibreglass? He does everything in his power to make the thing convincing, by acting as if it were. And he actually succeeds. By now he's not the wet vet we hear so much about, but The Doctor. I understand Davison wanted to stay on for a year longer than originally planned, but JNT, too eager to chop and change, didn't allow it. While in retrospect, I wouldn't want to lose Baker or McCoy, I do think each actor should have been allowed to stay in the role until he was ready to leave. When I watch much of the Davison era I mentally shrug my shoulders, yet when I watch Caves of Androzani Davison becomes, for ninety minutes, my favourite Doc.
Resurrection of the Daleks and Planet of Fire, meanwhile are two stories which demonstrate how Doctor Who can work as soap opera. Their plots per se are rather confused, but they do entertain, they have resonances with earlier stories, they develop the main characters, and alternately tie up loose ends and sow seeds for later adventures. The unexplained and unacknowledged resurrection of the Master in Mark of the Rani was an obtuse betrayal of what we saw in season 21 but his death scene in Planet of Fire should, like Davros's death in Genesis of the Daleks, be watched on its own terms (in the same way as you put the Jaws sequels out of your head when you watch the original!). The Master is killed in that story.
So, as with season 22, when the flaws are there, they're baaad - the Myrka and the Magma beast come to mind. But also the Doctor's perfunctory and unconvincing 'There should have been another way' in the Warriors of the Deep, a cheap way of absolving him of blame that's adopted as a kind of genre convention of Silurian stories, as if it's written in the Doctor Who production team guidelines that Silurian/Sea Devil stories must end with their being destroyed and the Doctor expressing regret. Peri and Howard's 'accents' in Planet of Fire, meanwhile, are excruciating. I would absolutely cringe if I had to watch those scenes with an American. I suppose it's no more awful than when Daphne's 'British' friends or inexplicably cockney brother appear in Frasier. But that's pretty bad too. I wonder if anyone actually decided exactly where in the US Peri was supposed to be from?
However, the good points of the season ultimately outweigh the bad. It's too inconsistent to be anyone's favourite -
(or is it? Answers below, please)
-, but for my money it's certainly the best of the Davison era.
Down then Up, Up then Down? by Mark Irvin 27/12/01
As with the previous two seasons starring Peter Davison, this one continues on with the highly annoying trend of being awfully inconsistent. It's what frustrates me most about Davison's Doc - occasionally you could expect him in something truly great - but unfortunately more often than not - he appeared in offerings that were very average or perhaps even sub par.
I suppose at least season 21 differs slightly in the fact that it actually builds itself up nicely, starting off abysmally but climaxing with an unforgettable regeneration in the first-rate Caves of Androzani.
First of all to that poor start. Warriors of the Deep was a very ordinary story to say the least. It completely wasted a comeback for the Silurians and the Sea Devils, being presented in a boring and predictable manner, failing to present fans with anything new or interesting.
The Awakening.....well.....the less said about this fantastically dull piece of trash the better.
Frontios marks the start of the seasons improvement and whilst it isn't really my cup of tea, I find it quite a curious and original story. However I must take a couple of points off for the cruddy looking Tractators. O.K, I know it's a bit harsh to criticise a Dr Who story for unconvincing effects, but in this instance they were noticeably bad. (And it was 1984)
I'm a big fan of Resurrection of the Daleks, with the Dalek's reappearance being nothing short of 'explosive'. It was great to return to a Dalek story where they were once again more central to the plot, with Davros only getting an equal share this time. True, the storyline isn't flawless, having a few inconsistencies and silly bits tacked on - but in it's basic frame, I found Saward's plot to be rather good.
Planet of Fire is a passable outing whilst not being anything special. The main point in it's favour is that in my opinion, Anthony Ainley's Master produces one of his best stories and performances here. I was intrigued by the fact that he was miniaturised by an experiment with his Tissue compressor, and for once what he's up is (well..almost) plausible and possible to follow. He worked very well opposite Nicola Bryant, the result at times being quite amusing. Turlough actually isn't bad in his last outing and finally impresses alongside the Fifth Doctor. (Hmm what a coincidence, Tegan has left.)
I don't think I'll surprise anyone by pointing out that The Caves of Androzani is excellent. It further concretes my view that Davison combines to great effect with the more serious Dr Who episodes. The regeneration scene is quite simply unbelievable, and I must really give praise to both Tom Baker's and Davison's regenerations under JNT. It's certainly one thing that wasn't muffed up and really improved upon in the eighties.
(Of note : In his last two adventures notice how much more effective Davison's Doctor is alongside a single companion - in great contrast to when he is lumbered with three companions, that go together about as well as orange juice and toothpaste!)
And finally we come to that unusual one tacked on at the end. The often kicked story The Twin Dilemma, which really does look bad, especially when viewed straight after the climatic Caves. But to be frank, I've always found regeneration stories to be sub-standard. I don't really see how this one is much worse than ridiculously overrated Castrovalva and Robot - And don't laugh because I am being deadly serious (And possibly unbiased). Fair enough the story is a rather dumb, (Moving planets about?!) and would really have benefited from the use of some slightly less silly looking aliens. Not to mention Twins that produced an acting performance about as wooden as a piece of....um.......firewood. (Sorry)
The main positive point to The Twin Dilemma however, is the wonderfully turbulent way in which Colin Baker begins his interpretation of the Doctor. I personally scorn uninsightful fans that criticise Colin and his transition. I must admit that I too was initially surprised by this outlandish man that replaced that nice cricketing fellow. But by about the third episode you realise that the Doctor has returned to that hero that we all know and love. And in only Colin's second story - Attack of the Cybermen he truly starts to impress, working his way into finally being my third preferred Doctor - behind Tom Baker and Pat Troughton.
Overall Season 21 isn't one of my favourites, although it's certainly an interesting season that did produce a few spectacular highlights and lowlights, typical of Peter Davison's run in general.
Loose Stories Tightly Bound by Mike Morris 22/8/02
As Rob Matthews has already pointed out above, Season Twenty One is hard to review in isolation. There's a certain sea-change in the programme's attitudes that appear to carry through to Season Twenty Two; mainly it marks the first real appearance of what is termed Saward-era violence, although that violence in fact only appeared in a few stories of this season and then most of the next one. This is strengthened by the appearance of the Sixth Doctor in the season finale (all together now, ouch ouch ouch) which creates a direct link between this season and the next.
Hard; and yet easy. Ignoring the various things that re-appeared in Season Twenty Two, Season Twenty One manages to be extremely successful and far more than the sum of its parts. It contains, in The Caves of Androzani, a story generally acknowledged as Great, but apart from that the standard of the individual stories is not particularly good; The Twin Dilemma is not just the season's clunker but a generally abhorred story that finished bottom in a DWM poll of a few years ago, and while there are a couple of solid, well-regarded tales in Frontios and Planet of Fire, all the other stories have been ripped apart by various reviewers on this site. What makes Season Twenty One so satisfying in itself, though, is the consistent application of a central theme that gives the twenty-six episodes a cohesion never really seen in Doctor Who before or since. That theme can be best summarised as the Doctor's principles being squeezed by a nasty universe, resulting in him losing his morality, his friends, and ultimately his life. And it's so carefully applied that, if it were to pop up in the books, we'd be calling it an "arc".
Also satisfying is the shift in tone that has taken place since Season 19. Davison's first season is probably my favourite, with its airy dynamic of the Doctor and his gang of pesky kids. The Saward universe has only partially taken route at this stage, giving us some gritty action adventure (Earthshock, The Visitation), but also some concept stuff hung over from Season 18 (Four to Doomsday, Kinda) and some light, waltzing tales (Castrovalva, Black Orchid), all unified by the naturalistic group dynamic between the companions. While the tone of Season 20 shifts somewhat, the stories are so bogged down in nostalgia that it's hard to get any real reading at all. It's not until this year that we clearly see the change; two companions who genuinely don't like each other at all but maintain a respectful politeness, and whose respective characters are woven into the stories themselves rather than being established in TARDIS bickering scenes. There are TARDIS prefaces to every story except Caves, but these are more to do with establishing setting or plot; this aids the ethos that the season is rather more businesslike than its predecessors.
The season kicks off with Warriors of the Deep, a much-maligned return for the Sea Devils and the Silurians. The numerous superficial faults have been allowed to distract from a very serious script that kicks off the season's theme marvellously. The Doctor finds himself trapped in the midst of a three-cornered battle between the two power blocs and the reptiles, fully in the knowledge that he has the power to bring this to an end immediately; but he is unwilling to pay the necessary price. He searches for a solution, but finds himself caught up in a world of mistrust that he can't cope with. The result; everyone ends up dead, and the Doctor can only count the corpses and say that "There should have been another way."
That line seems to be both loved and loathed. Lovers of the Sixth Doctor can call it hypocritical and pious, a false excuse for the Doctor permitting a terrible act that Colin would have done without any self-righteous moralising. Wrongo; of course the line doesn't excuse the Doctor, because it's not supposed to. Warriors of the Deep looks at the Fifth Doctor deeply, and bravely criticises his methodology. It launches the season's theme brilliantly, and the question it poses is taken up and brought to its conclusion.
The next story, The Awakening, might seem to be a cosy English-village-story with a nice cup of tea at the end. This is partly true, but then The Awakening is another story with problems. Most of them stem from the obvious trimming of the story from four episodes to two, with a result that most of the important scenes are there but without anything to hold them together. The Doctor stumbles from discovery to discovery, characters act without any sense at all, and all kinds of everything are dismissed as psychic energy. Although it's superficially not that bad, The Awakening is my least favourite story of the season bar the obvious one, as it has very little to offer beneath its gloss.
With one exception. At the finale a remarkable exchange takes place between the Doctor and Will.
Will: Be it better Sir George be dead?This obvious mirroring of the Warriors of the Deep line shows a subtle change in the Doctor's mindset. He has accepted, at least in principle, that the killing of another life might be justifiable in certain circumstances. Two stories ago he would have said "it's never better to kill" or something like that. Not now. But tellingly, even though there is clearly no other way, the Doctor doesn't have the courage of his convictions to do the necessary. Instead it's Will who kills Sir George, and effectively does the Doctor's dirty work for him. More flaws in the "nice" Doctor's armour; he could be justifiably accused of moral cowardice for his behaviour here.
Doctor: Not if there's another way.
Frontios, meanwhile, is more stand-alone and isolated than any other story. It's satisfying for a number of reasons, not least the energetic portrayal of the Doctor. Once again, he's assailed by cynicism and mistrust, and spends as much time fighting the colonists as he does the Tractators. This time, though, he is effectively given a helpful way out, the TARDIS offering a get-out-of-jail-free card and preventing the Doctor making any tough decisions. So he gets lucky, but there's a new toughness there; the Doctor "judges" the Gravis himself, and condemns it to a lifetime on a deserted planet without batting an eyelid. No effort at reasoning with his foe, or attempt at redemption. There's a change.
Then Resurrection of the Daleks comes along.
Resurrection of the Daleks is a curious story, because its atrocious plotting goes side-by-side with one of the most thoughtful character pieces in the shows history (and has some interesting Dalek stuff to boot). We see, once again, a level of hypocrisy in the Doctor's behaviour. He is accused of being "soft" - and by someone other than Joe Ford too. In the conclusion he loses his best friend. The result is a story which annoys me, because although I find watching it a thankless experience there's too much good stuff in there for me to ignore it totally. Every now and then, Resurrection demands my attention. It's just that to get to the Doctor/Davros confrontation I have to sit through all sorts of crap dialogue and plot holes you could sail an aircraft-carrier through. "Your bile would be better directed against the enemy, Doctor!" Good lord, it's rough, and I'm afraid I'm not convinced by the "day in the life of the Daleks" argument. Let's not fool ourselves; "They kill anyone, even if they need them" is a commentary on the nature of the Daleks, but the Gallifrey-assassination-thing is a crappy fan-pleasing line and nothing more. Eric was just off his game in the plotting stakes. He surely wasn't stupid enough to write a bad story to make a point about the Daleks; he just wrote a bad story.
Anyway, to the many positives in a story which does probably contain the guts of the entire season. The Doctor is, from the outset, much more violent than usual and far less concerned about the feelings of his friends. Trapped in the middle of a war about which he knows nothing, he acts out of an instinctive hatred - now there's an odd word - of the Daleks more than any real logic. Tegan, meanwhile, just looks on as so many people die.
The story's kernel comes when the Doctor decides to kill Davros, a decision which alienates his friend irreparably. And then he backs out. This scene has been dismissed as a shallow retreading of the Genesis of the Daleks "do I have the right?" scene, but it's actually very different. There, the Doctor made an intellectual decision. Here, he just chickens out. As Davros keeps talking, the Doctor desperately wants to believe that he doesn't have to kill him. Davros says, in the end, that the Doctor is soft. And he's right. Without Will Chandler there to get him out of a tight fix, the Doctor is unable to take the action he knows is necessary; and when he walks out of the room, ostensibly to see what's going on, he's obviously just taking any chance to get himself out of a situation he can't deal with.
Later, though, he airily announces that "lunch has arrived" for a Dalek-killing virus. This, again, is simply hypocritical; he doesn't have to see the face that he kills and suddenly has no problems at all in murdering living beings.
Tegan, seeing the change in the Doctor's attitudes and not privy to the way the Doctor backed out of executing Davros, walks out on him in the best leaving scene ever ever ever. The scene shows the Doctor in a bad light, contrasting a Time Lord with a person whose simple, instinctive actions have always been honest. Morally, the Doctor is becoming duplicitous, while Tegan had always been fiercely loyal and truthful - and her leaving forces the Doctor to see things from yet another perspective, and to resolve to mend his ways.
This is why Planet of Fire, a fine story spoiled by the Master and a pointless detour on Lanzarote, is so perfectly placed within the season itself. It's been commented that there's no "end-of-an-era" feel to this story, which is true despite the fact that three recurring characters say goodbye. The start features the Doctor blaming the Daleks for Tegan's departure - more shifting of the blame, or perhaps the first quiet admission that this Doctor isn't doing his job an more? Certainly, the truth is coming through at this stage, that this Doctor is not at all cut out for performing the acts his predecessors did. We see this again in the wonderful climax to Part Two, which rises above Ainley's, em, unsubtle performance in one of the worst-scripted appearances the Master ever made. "You must believe me," says the Doctor, only to be told "Oh, but I do believe you"; the look of confused horror on Davison's face as the Master continues the slaughter of innocents, for no reason other than malice, is wonderful to see. Once again, in a crisis situation the Doctor is frozen into inaction, and with a very different result the same thing happens at the end. The Doctor's reaction as the Master burns is a treat, and wonderfully, it's so very difficult to read. Tortured by his new philosophy of "not if there's another way" and his gut inability to do the right - but terrible - thing, he simply does not act and lets events make the decision for him. This is clearly cathartic; his next action is the more ruthless decision to kill Kamelion, and this time, notably, he does it himself. And yet, in an unusual move, he also admits to having a "friendship" with Turlough, not long before that friend is also forced to leave him.
What are the Doctor's reactions to the events on Sarn? He has destroyed both a friend (hey, if K-9 can be a friend Kamelion can too) and an enemy, he has lost a friend so soon after being rejected by another, and finds himself with only a rather innocent young girl for company. Stripped of old comforts, he has to make decisions about the way he lives.
The Caves of Androzani is obviously a great story, and there's not much to say about it that hasn't already been said. One point of interest is the oft-made observation that the Doctor sacrifices his life, not to save the universe, but to save a friend. This is frequently set forth as one of the reason's for the Fifth Doctor's greatness, but The Caves of Androzani has a far greater significance; it shows the Doctor's response to events of the last two stories. He can't do what his predecessors had done, as he cares too much; he makes friends, not companions, and is unable to cope with the betrayal and death that goes hand-in-hand with saving planets. In The Caves of Androzani, the Doctor has divested himself of any responsibilities beyond showing a botany student around, and has decided to let the universe go to pot; and what makes The Caves of Androzani so perfect is that the universe won't even let him do that. Having broken the Fifth Doctor, the universe hunts him down and kills him. People who call the Fifth Doctor ineffectual would do well to remember that in his most vivid story he's at his most ineffectual ever, struggling against death and left as nothing more than a tragic, beautiful symbol.
(Oh, and as an aside, the lengthening list of Fifth Doctor/Peri novels is the shittiest decision ever made, negating one of the key aspects of Season Twenty One; that the Doctor sacrificed himself for someone he barely knew, because he saw it as his duty. Whenever another one comes out I get angry, and I've never bought one. It's my own personal protest at a development as depressingly stupid as when the TV show resurrected the Master and Davros.)
"Change, my dear. And it seems not a moment too soon."
True; yup, those words are completely true. The Twin Dilemma is the final stage of the Doctor's regeneration which has, in truth, lasted all season. The Fifth Doctor was not able to perform the role his past had thrust upon him. He cared too much for those who were close to him. He valued life too much to carry out the terrible things he knew to be necessary. He lost, but in losing was more heroic than any other Doctor. And The Twin Dilemma is the last instalment of the ongoing discussion of the Doctor's character, a compare/contrast exercise between the Fifth Doctor and his successor, who is far more able to do the things the Fifth Doctor couldn't. The Sixth Doctor's regeneration is unstable, perhaps because all the confusion and conflicting duties the Fifth Doctor had been unable to resolve are re-enacted during the new boy's birthing pains.
Yes, it's a shame the story is such a painful, embarrassing, gnaw-your-own-leg-off, dictionary-listed definition of bollocks, but there's stuff worthy of discussion in here.
We see the various emotions the Doctor had expressed during the season being re-enacted in the Sixth Doctor's childlike tantrums. There's the violence against evil that he was beginning to suspect was necessary; the desire to retire from his way of life all together; the resurfacing of the belief that he was soft, or "effete"; the resolves to mend his ways; the temptation to submit; the doubt and confusion. It finally ends up with the Doctor describing himself as a "hero" and dismissing Peri as a useless appendage. This Doctor is the Fifth Doctor's opposite, a reaction to the failure of his previous character, perfectly suited to the heroic stuff and thoroughly hateful. It's only at Part Three's climax that the old concern for the people close to him becomes apparent, the Doctor perhaps realising that the traits that lead to his destruction were part of what made him great. In the same way, the audience only realises the Fifth Doctor's beauty once he's gone, and been replaced with a new character who they thought they wanted. So oddly, The Twin Dilemma is much more about the Fifth Doctor than the Sixth.
"This is me, Peri," he says at the conclusion. Apparently uncaring, apparently unfeeling, and no longer willing to emotionally attach himself to what he does. A monster, with only vague hints of compassion to preserve our belief in him. From the Fifth Doctor's failings a terrible beauty is born, and we're left wondering what the hell's happened. Yes, it's unwatchable in practice, but on paper it was a bravely downbeat and pessimistic ending to an a season with an amazingly strong character development.
I've gone on much more about the Fifth Doctor than about the season itself, but that's because this is the only season that's completely about the Doctor. It's about the things that made him beautiful destroying him. It's a season-long tragedy that transcends the decidedly average mish-mash of stories that go into the mix. It criticises the Doctor, it renders him impotent and then destroys him... and only then do we realise what a hero he was. Season Twenty One is a wonderful discussion of this most conflicted of all Doctors, and although it does mean watching some dodgy stories it's well worth it.
Well that's the end of the review, my dear. And it seems not a moment too... no, never mind.
Hurt\Comfort by Matthew Harris 30/1/03
Season Twenty-One. Hmm. Season 21. An epic season. So this is an epic review. I have to say, Mr Matthews, it's one of my favourites. In fact, behind the sublime Fourteenth and the near-flawless Twenty-Sixth, it's my third favourite (occasionally flip-flopping into fourth with the startling Seventh according to mood). So there.
I do seem to be in the minority in that respect (in fact it is just me in the whole of Creation itself), but bear with me. Not really true to say that there's nary a bad story, but there is (nary) a story that isn't either well made or well written (except Twin Bloody Dilemma), and (this is the deal clincher) an excellent character arc for all three initial TARDIS crewmembers. It's the story of the Doctor's disintegration, from the Mr Nice Guy figure so beloved of Joe Ford, to Mr I'm Going To Kill Davros Oh God Do I Have To, to Mr Sacrificial Lamb in nix amount of stories. I always disliked the idea of other stories cropping up during this period (particularly ones with Pete 'n' Peri, grr) because it's just so damn tightly woven together. There are a few exceptions, like the haunting Loups-Garoux, which acknowledge the character arc and play toward it, but largely they sit uneasily in the ongoing storyline of the 21st season. Not to mention bloody Erimem. Nice character, but why not put her between seasons 19 and 20, with Nyssa? That would be more interesting and it WOULDN'T ARSE UP SEASON 21.
In fact, considering the prediction in the Who community for linking stories together under tenuous banner headings (the Future History Arc never felt particularly arcy to me, and the Psi-Powers Arc had its own problems) this season should really be called the World Of Shit Arc. Or maybe The Real Trial of a Time Lord. Actually, that sounds too much like a Channel Four Bio-Documentary. About a Trial.
The Twin Bloody Dilemma has its place in the arc as well; in Androzani, the Fifth Doctor, faced with a universe out to get him in so many ways - literally by trying to kill him, but also by beating him in the face with his own ethical code in Resurrection and Warriors - finally gains redemption. Not by any grand gestures like, for instance, killing Davros, or not killing the Silurians, but by sacrificing himself to save another person - who he had only just met, Chris Bulis, Terrance Dicks et al. Thing is, of course, the only reason he didn't kill Davros or the Silurians is a dearth of inner strength and a desperate, near-obsessive clinging to his Should Have Been Another Way ethical code, which in its own way gets buggered up during the course of the season. So he regenerates into Colin Baker - the Inner Strength poster boy. Not to mention Mr Sod-Another-Way 1984. That The Twin Bloody Dilemma Oh God Oh God is rubbish ruins the entire World Of Shit Arc for everyone.
The season has its problems, of course. But I will mention those as I come to them. Which I will now. Let's take a look through the "cracked" window...
Warriors Of The Deep: Deconstructing Peter
I couldn't believe it when I found out that the Who community at large hated this story. I saw it, and I loved it. Though I did see it before Doctor Who And The Silurians, but I don't think that matters - I've seen Dr Who And That now and I still love Warriors. I'm not saying it's God; but I am saying it's Good. In fact, it's almost Great. Almost. I mean it! Please don't hit me. Michael Morris put it perfectly in his review on these pages; if it's flawed (if? Yes, it's flawed) it's mostly flawed superficially, and as a result of it being the first, therefore cheapest, serial of the season. The Myrka, for example. Big old pantomime horse. But not much worse than seventeen million others in the show's history (Ergon, anyone? Vega Nexos? Those damnable Dinosaurs what had an Invasion?). It doesn't help that it's green-on-white crapness, and that bloody karate kick is really not worth mentioning again (oh, God almighty that bloody karate kick). Anyway, the Myrka... you can overlook it, can't you? If not, what are you even doing here? Doctor Who always was more MFI than CGI, and if you can't cope with a pantomime horse, you're not going to enjoy this series one bit.
The acting's hardly first rate either; Ingrid Pitt in particular looks lost without the option to take her top off. Or at least shove her breasts in someone's face, which seemed to be pretty much all that got her through Time Monster. Mind you, the regulars are good - Davison puts out the first of many great performances in this season, Fielding, though short-changed a little, is solid, and Strickson is as great as he can be when he gets the chance.
But. The script, as has been pointed out, is great. It's dark, and claustrophobic (sets and Pennant "Bloke" Roberts' in-over-his-head direction aside) and mean. The only bit of the script I don't like is the lines given to the Silurians and Sea Devils (well, Sauvix anyway) - it's just... well... stupid. They are given almost nothing intelligent to say (barring the "sea of blood" bit which I quite liked) and are, at times, just stooges, evil-gits-of-the-week.
But maybe that's the point. Johnny "I Wrote Keeper Of Traken!" "Yes, But Didn't You Also Write Arc Of Infinity?" "Oh, Shut Up" Byrne uses yer Earth Reptiles, driving straight into a World War situation, to criticise his characters, and, in particular, the Doctor. Someone criticised Warriors for having "the worst characterisation of a Doctor ever" - nope. For a start, the EDAs broke the record in the late 90s ("McGann, is it? And what do you do?") and for a second, the whole point of Warriors is to deconstruct the Doctor, to place the poor sod in a situation where, in his attempts to do the right thing, he will be forced to do the wrong thing. It sets up the arc perfectly. From here on in, the fifth Doctor is on borrowed time.
And of course, there's the closing line, to the debate about which I can add little, other than I loved it. It's brilliantly delivered, for a start (note how his voice quavers), and wonderfully edited: the music ended a while ago, and the whole last minute is spent in a stark reverie. And no, it doesn't abstain the Doctor from blame, you can see it's his fault. He's trying to abstain himself from blame, but he's failing. Which is pretty much what he does for the rest of the season.
The Awakening: Prime Cut
"Fantastically boring piece of trash"? Do calm down, Messr Irvin. It's not really all that "bad". However, it's not really especially "good" "either". The main reason, I think is that it was cut down from four parts to two, and it doesn't fit anymore. Everything from floaty knights, to Will Chandler, to that brick being slightly out of place, to the sky being blue, are put down to psychic energy. Things happen, but not always for any particular reason, as the rhythm that Pringle (who I always imagine as having an elliptical head with flat brown hair and a huge 'tache, and a huge bowtie) had presumably built up ripped apart. Not that nothing's his fault - episode one draws to a close with a wodge of fanwank (oh, God I hate that word) of quite horrific proportions. It's like a fanboy car-crash: references to just about everything in the entire universe collide and collapse in a heap. Sod the bloody Terileptils, the Malus fell out of a spaceship and buried itself under a church. There, job done. Also, Tegan and Turlough are cruelly wasted. Especially Turlough, who I believe spent roughly 87% of his onscreen time in the series locked up in a small room (cf King's Demons).
However. Enthusiast-Onanism aside, I still believe T'Awakening is more sinned against than sinning. It has a rather great villain in the scary-face Malus, a good performance from Polly "Nerys did it, so why can't I" James, and a, well, a memorable cliffhanger - the Malus appears, spits smoke at the Doctor, said smoke fills the screen. Which could have been splendid, but then Polly screams "Doc-torrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr" at him and makes it brilliant.
Point is, you could skip The Awakening entirely without missing much. Except the final scene, where the Doctor dawdles for so long about killing\not killing Sir George that Will Chandler does instead before everything goes belly-up. And thanks to Mike Morris (again) for pointing out that so-subtle-it's-probably-a-coincidence-but-a-damn-good-one-nonetheless line: "Not if there's another way". Which marks a change from his Warriors Of The Deep attitude of Not At All.
And it's going to change again before the season's out.
Frontios: Third Tuesday After Pentecost On An Irrational Border World
Thing about Frontios - the third and final contribution to the series by the 'Mead - is that it contains one of the greatest Doctorly performances in the show's history (in fact, one wonders if Joe Ford's seen it - oh ho, criticise Davison's acting would you? I'll show you! And so on, and so forth). Davison is quite superb in this, bounding about at times with the energy of a cheetah on steroids (with a bottle of Lucozade*) yet refraining from even giving the scenery a polite nibble. Not even a taste.
*Gatorade to the Americans. Which sounds disgusting by the way. Carbonated reptiles? Ew.
Just one thing interests me.
He's Tom Baker, isn't he?
Really, imagine Tom in Frontios. Season 18 Tom specifically. It's pretty much the same, but taller and darker (and with a less ridiculous costume). Maybe it's not exactly the same (Tom would have improvised more than Peter), but it is odd... one wonders if Tom was just a character that Bidmead was good at writing for - and the Doctor here does strike me as being like Season 18 Tom more than any other - and so he wrote Peter as Tom through force of habit. Or maybe I'm talking rubbish. But lines like "Jolly good, now you can take them down again" - okay, Tom wouldn't have said "Jolly good", but other than that, it is similar.
Anyway. In terms of the World Of Shit arc, Frontios is, largely, it's Christmas On A Rational Planet, though not really as throwing-paper-in-the-air-and-screaming-your-lungs-out-for-no-apparent-reason silly. What I mean is, it's not really especially arc-heavy. It's pointed out above that there is a new toughness about the Doctor in that he judges the Gravis arbitrarily, but I think that's probably more to do with the 'Mead needing to, like, end the story, yeah? I suppose it could be said that the energy Davison exhibits may be overcompensation for his natural weakness, which got him into a whole heap o' trouble in Warriors, and almost again in Awakening, only Will "Narrative Purpose Nil Until That Very Second" Chandler did his thinking for him. Of course, this overcompensation (if t'is so) isn't going to help much either. As evidenced in the following story.
Oh, and Frontios is great. But you knew that. Although I keep expecting Plantagenet to turn up in a bunny cardigan (readership alienating minor British pop-culture aspect reference #43,300).
Resurrection Of The Daleks: Wanton Acts Of Senseless Characterisation
"Their plots per se are rather confused". Rather CONFUSED?
I liked this. At first. Perhaps it was the atmosphere of despair around me at the time (I had to get up to see it as the VCR was bust). More likely it was because, confound it all, it's really, really, really well made. So well made that the first time you see it, you don't notice how utterly... well... horribly violent, terribly mindless, and utterly story-free this is. Irvin seems to have the advantage over most of us: he says, er, (scroll, scroll, scroll) he "found Saward's plot to be rather good" - which is interesting, because no-one else has ever found the bastard thing at all. "You won't be able to invade Earth!" What? Who the hell even mentioned invading Earth until that point?
This is a bugger. Because the story is so important. If Frontios is the Arc's Christmas On A Rational Planet, then Resurrection is its Adventuress Of Henrietta Street (different stage of a different arc, I know, but then Psi-Powers doesn't really gel until So Vile) - huge things happen, wounds are opened that aren't going to heal very quickly, and the whole arc explodes out in a massive, well, explosion.
The hub of all this is the I'm Going To Kill Davros Oh God Do I Have To sequence, which has, of course, been compared to the Do I Have That Right scene from Genesis. This is of course bollocks. It could very easily be that it was supposed to be a copy of said classic three-people-leaning-on-cardboard-staring-at-wire genre-defining episode, but was eventually a really, really bad one. Since the rest of the story is so badly written, that seems quite likely. But. It may also be a sudden attack of good writing seeping into the mix. Consider. TomDoc in Genesis never came to a decision at the time as Gharman turned up and explained how gullible the Kaleds really were. The resulting massacre, witnessed by the Doctor on that big old screen, reminded him of how grotesquely evil the Daleks were and would be (except in Resurrection, I must say, where they seem slightly more like whining ninnies than the supreme being in the universe), and so, in his own words (ish) he went back to "do what he should have done before" - which, as is often forgotten, he managed (remember? The Dalek completing the circuit?)... though to a lesser extent than he would have hoped.
Meanwhile, PeteDoc points a gun at Davros, holds the pose for about fifty-seven minutes without doing anything, wanders off because Bob Ferris is doing something, and then the door closes behind him. Okay, so the wandering off and the closing door are contrived. But the chickening out isn't. The increasingly schizophrenic Doctor both knows what he has to do (at least in his brain) and knows that he cannot do it. By now, he will vicariously slaughter a few thousand blobs in bonded polycarbide armour, mind, as Not If There's Another Way becomes Not If I Have To Pull The Trigger Myself - actually pointing and shooting is something he can't manage. He'll convince himself it's because he's morally strong - that to kill is immoral, therefore since he can't kill, he's being strong. His mannerisms seem to belie this belief - the faux-powerful strides towards Davros, the fake steely-determination type expressions on his face and so on. Of course, most of him knows that this problem is because he's morally weak - that he can kill ("Lunch has arrrived") but only in a way that he can wash his hands of blame very easily (it was the virus that did it, not me) if not convincingly.
This sea-change in his attitudes, from Mr Cuddly to Mr Lunch, ends up alienting, and, more than likely, emotionally scarring Tegan (come to think of it... cf the short story Good Companions from one of the BBC Short Story books - ...More Short Trips, I think), whose leaving scene, along with the characterisation of the regulars (oh, and the acting - shame on DWM for saying that it's crap, just because they're 80% of them well-known. Even Chloe "Play School" Ashcroft's good for crying out loud), in its abruptness, and its simple touching, er, ness, constitutes a saving grace against the terrible story and the mindless violence.
Thank God it was delayed. It's odd to think that this could have ended up in the middle of Season 20, where (assuming it was basically the same all-ends-up) it would have stuck out like a sore thumb eight miles wide (painted green). Here, it fits perfectly. It's still not right, but it fits perfectly.
Planet Of Fire: How Peter Got His Groove Back
There isn't much to say about Planet O' Fire that hasn't been said already, or that anyone wants to listen to for that matter. It's a good, nearly-great episode, featuring Turlough basically as he should have been all along (ie not standing around with his hands in his pockets looking surly for 100 minutes), the Master exactly as he shouldn't (alright, his script's terrible - worse than Time-Flight as a matter of fact - but come on, Tony, at least try to rise above it, eh?), a genuinely moving final appearence for Kamelion, and of course the first appearance by two large breasts with a mouthy American (come on, the accent's not that bad... it fooled JNT) attatched. Not to mention some more excellent acting - voice aside, the chap who played Dahktar Hahoward Fahstar (his name, and the inclination to find out what it was, both escape me) turns out a fine performance. The "contact has been made" bit at the end of part one (presumably, "contact" refers to your Master chap) is quite genuinely creepy, not least because of the sheer delight of Hahoward's face. And, of course, there's Jason King's Timanov (Russians on Sarn? It's probably in the plot somewhere...) who is a superb character, done total justice by a haunting Wyngarde, if not by the script - his uber-pointless sacrifice is far more interesting than the Master's "hound you to the corners of the universe" rubbish.
Oh, and some arse in a beige suit with go-faster stripes turns up and sneers at Turlough like a sort of proto-Wesley "Shut Up, Wesley" Crusher, only British, and in doing so pretty much sums up why Turlough wanted to run away so badly. If all the Trionians are such sneering, poncey twats (who wear beige) the only other option would have to be genocide. Which is damn fiddly.
Which reminds me. Though this one doesn't have a huge place in the wider character Arc, to say that Frontios is to Christmas On A Rational Planet as Planet Of Fire is to Return of the Living Dad (as I had considered saying) just ain't right. For a start, the Doctor kills the Master, or at least doesn't do anything to make him not die quite so hard. Maybe he somehow knew that he would come back anyway next season in one of the show's major "d'oh" moments, due to a combination of Pip 'n' Jane's innocence and Eric's apathy.
Anyway, the Doctor lets him die. Then he wanders into the TARDIS, with an expression betraying of nothing whatsoever. My theory: he's finally had enough. He's come to the end. Watching his "oldest and deadliest enemy" ((C) 1973 Terrance Dicks) die in the most genuinely horrible way, and doing nothing about it, that's pretty much that camel's back gone. He finally realises that the universe is a gigantic ball of sickness and despair, and trying to fight it with his good old Should-Have-Been-Another-Way, This-Is-Right-That-Is-Wrong, Rally-To-The-Banner, Goodness-And-Light values is destroying him. And will destroy him. He cares that the Master, someone he once described as the most evil force of the universe (though that was Tom), is going to die... and yet he can't be bothered to do much. He's realised that fighting the evil in the Universe as a shiny goodness warrior isn't working out. If he's to succeed, he has to fight evil on its own terms, not his. So he lets the Master die.
But that's all he can do. He's weak, morally weak. He can kill the Master - he can perform Euthanasia on poor old Kamelion at the end without blinking. But he can't do this as a job anymore.
Bring on Androzani.
The Caves Of Androzani: The Becoming, Part One
Overrated, of course.
(Washes mouth out with soap) I'm joking, of course. 1980s British SF does not get better than this. Even the production values are good, for Who (Magma Beast notwithstanding... and the estimable Graeme Harper shoots it so we don't notice anyway). About the only complaint of Caves that I've ever heard is that the Doctor and Peri don't do much. Which misses the point so far it pretty well circumnavigates the Earth and comes close to hitting it anyway. Come on, the Doctor can't save the universe every time he steps out of the TARDIS. That's a bit glib, I know, but it's true: it wouldn't be very realistic. Besides, he deliberately landed on Androzani to avoid having to save the universe. Unfortunately, the reason was cut out of the final version, but Peri mentions it in the first 120 seconds or so: he wants some sand, in order to blow some glass (Nicola, love, an American would say "glaas", not "glahs") to make a new reticular vector gauge.
Why, hello, Robert Holmes. We missed you.
Good old Bob. He had a similar bleak universe-view to Eric's, but his execution was much more subtle. Instead of sticking a planetful of grizzled mercenaries\short-tempered soldier guys\manic depressives in the story and then killing everyone in sight (except the bad guy, natch) simply in order to say "gosh, this universe of ours is a bit crap, isn't it?" Bob was more careful and meticulous. For example, in Deadly Assassin, the Holmes quietly undermined the series' patented Godlike figures, turning them into a corrupt and complacent bunch of poncey arseholes (as is well documented) by using initally strangely likeable but eventually genuinely sinister characters (like Borusa, or maybe even Goth) in an intially shiny but eventually really rather horrible setting. Bob's knack was finding the most hideous things in the nicest places, and letting the ultimate horror grow from the most innocent of intentions.
And so it is with Caves. The Doctor's ultra-innocent desire to kick back and blow some glass after seeing his entire self ripped apart over the last however-long-it-took, combined with that bloody natural curiosity of his, result in his becoming wrapped up in a web of corruption, deceit and casual violence so utterly horrible it makes All The President's Men look like My Dog Skip. And this, in turn, leads to his death. Which, David Barnes, is why there isn't really much in the way of plot in Caves. The plot starts before the Doctor arrives; it continues after he gets there, but with him and Peri floating around inside it, rather than taking an active role; and it hasn't really ended when he's gone - Trau Timmin is still knocking around, and with Jek's Spectrox now in no-one's hands, and the people in this part of the universe all so, well, horrid, the war will continue. The Doctor and Peri are caught up in this "web of mayhem and intrigue" (if you like), but they don't try to change it. They just want to get the hell out of Dodge, double-quick, and understandably so. And that's the point. And that is crucial. The Doctor - as speculated above - now no longer cares about trying to stop bad things. If Caves had happened earlier, at the start of the season, he probably would have gone all-out to stop Jek, or maybe Morgus, and either way would have probably blown the gaff entirely and wandered off mumbling about "other ways" as if it makes it all better. Here, he just wants to get out of here, at least at first; then it becomes he just wants a cure for Peri and himself (in that order) and then to GET OUT OF HERE.
(Interesting thing to note about Caves: though most of the guest cast are dead - in fact, only Timmin and the android Salateen are alive - by the end, it's not like the example above at all. Bob gives each of the characters space to breathe and, helped by the stunning all-round performances, makes sure we feel exactly right when they die: sorry for Chellak, punching-the-air for Morgus, really rather sad for Jek and so on. Compare and contrast with something like Resurrection of the Daleks, where all of the characters are, basically, meat. I don't want to sound like an Eric-basher here - I don't want Rob Matthews coming at me with a clawhammer and a pound of margarine - and besides, I have a great respect for Eric and much of what he did. But his disposition - and his vision - brought out the worst in his writing, especially in Season 21)
And, of course, he has only just met Peri. Again: he has only just met Peri. Alright? That's his redemption. He's spent the whole season trying to do the right things for the right reasons, but has ended up doing the wrong things for reasons that even he can't define. Finally, he gets his chance, his black-and-white deal - he's finally faced with a situation where there are no grey areas. The right thing to do, obviously, is to save Peri (quiet at the back there). The right reason - duh - is "cos, 'er might die else!" Not to mention the fact that her illness is his own direct fault. That he can't save himself is incidental. He's exhausted. As long as his friend survives.
And then he dies. In possibly the best regeneration sequence of all (it's a dead heat between this and Logopolis). It's so well directed, I was surprised to find that Peter "Look At This, Ha Ha Ha" Moffat had done it (Graeme didn't think he was experienced enough - for shame). The faces of every companion (including Kamelion) flash up in front of him and say something. They almost come in order, but one person is saved till last especially.
The Fifth Doctor's last word is "Adric".
He always did blame himself for his death (cf Timewyrm: Revalation). His season 21 attitude could be seen as a hangover from Earthshock. As Michael Morris once put it, he didn't make "companions", he made friends. Which was the worst thing he could do, as the horrible universe Eric envisaged turned around and bit him on the backside by killing one of them. He was the "nice" crusader in a nasty cosmos, and with his mule-headed insistence on not altering a failing formula, was eventually destroyed. Which makes his last word as perfect and as powerful as "It's the end... but the moment has been prepared for.."
And what an ending. Wibbly-wobbly, wibbly-wobbly what-does-this-button-do shenanegins, then "blam". Suddenly there's this large bloke standing there, insulting the very lady "he" just a second ago sacrificed himself to save. And the credits roll up and there's his face poorly plastered on top of the starfield, and the name "Colin Baker" comes before the name "Peter Davison". So, "Where," as the song goes, "Do We Go From Here?"
We go Titan 3. To atone. Or something.
The Twin Dilemma: The Becoming, Part Two
(Or "The Sound Of Giant Shrugs". I've been wanting to use that one for ages. Tee hee hee.)
When I was taping the late showing Dilemma recently (for this review, you understand, not in expectation of getting any enjoyment out of it) my house was struck by lightning overnight. My modem was destroyed, and my digital box burnt out completely, meaning that I missed the second half of Twin Dilemma entirely. I was terribly glad.
I often forget that this had anything to do with Season 21. I think I mentally put it in Season 22 cos it has Colin in it and that. But also because it's genuinely a terrible, terrible experience. I actually forced myself out of bed at the hideously early hour of 9:00 to watch it the first time because my VCR was busted. Bastards. It's not right at all. Everything's botched: the massively stupid story, for example. The terrible-even-by-Who-standards Giant Slug Guy (who, unlike the Magma Beast, is given almost loving exposure by the director). The three terrible cliffhangers: ep. 1: Kevin McNally interrupts an interesting discussion by waking up and trying to kill the Doctor for no reason other than "we need a cliffhanger". Sigh. Ep 2: the Doctor may have exploded. Fine, but the direction is so ham-fisted any impact it may have had is deadened entirely. Sigh. Ep 3: Edgeworth\Azmael\Fletch's Cellmate\Maurice Bloody Denham\Whoever threatens Peri, or points out that maybe she'll die, or similar, though Peri isn't actually in the room, and the words are so bloody out of character, and it's just ludicrously unexciting. Sigh. Not good for us episodic-format advocates (I say "us"... it's really only me and one other person on RADW at one point).
Then there's the let-me-out-of-here-for-the-love-of-humanity script - although on closer inspection (prompted by the words on this site of Paul Cornell, no less) it feels more like rushed, poor script-editing resulting from Anthony Steven acting, not be disrespectful (he was apparently suffering from the ilness that eventually killed him), well, weird. For instance, one of his excuses for not keeping to deadline was that his typewriter exploded. Maybe it was. Who knows. And then there's those bloody twins (who would have been enraging even if they'd been acted well)... It burns! It BURNS!
Except... except. Okay, I failed to come up with a Saving Grace for my Top Ten a while ago, but I've got a couple now. Drak and Noma are good-looking, and some of the sets are quite good. And of course, the now-late and lamented Maurice "Porridge" Denham is wonderful, especially his death scene (I seem to remember). But... it... hurts!
Except... except. It fits. In theory, anyway. As I said way back in the introduction there, he's regenerated into the Sod Another Way poster child. The Doctor says as much here: that his last self's repression of his wilder nature made him "neurotic". This is true. So he has become someone who doesn't repress anything. Someone who would have unleashed the hexachromite, shoved Sir George without a second thought, shot Davros in the head without bothering to speak, and be back in time for tea. It would end the Arc properly, - and the season on a thoughtful cliffhanger "type thing" - but doesn't. Because - and I keep saying it, but God, how true it is - it's rubbish. Not so much a failed experiment as a vast thermonuclear explosion in the lab.
So Now Then
But Twin Dilemma or no Twin Dilemma, experiments failed or otherwise, Season 21 will always be one of my favourites. It takes the "nice" Fifth Doctor, twists him out of shape, and eventually destroys him - or allows him to destroy himself. You won't see many shows willing to rip their main character apart like this (Buffy is the only other show I can think of that would take - indeed, has taken - a risk like that). They rip him up and start again, as the great man said. Colin Baker rises out of the ashes, and is totally ruined. For the next three years. Big Finish seem to get the idea where Colin is concerned (Erimem notwithstanding... damn your eyes), but that's scant compensation for the show not getting it right in the first place.
Still. Not to end it negatively: Season 21 is my third favourite. Fourth favourite. Third favourite, because it makes a lot of some slightly meagre resources. It asks questions of its title character, and therefore of the audience. For more than that you cannot ask.
Rising and falling... by Joe Ford 6/3/03
What an odd season of Doctor Who this is. Peter Davison (as it has been pointed out to me by my friend Matt) managed to reap in some ratings from the shadow of the great Tom Baker and convince viewers that the show could survive without him. Season nineteen reached such heights as ten million, the highest in JNT's entire era. Unfortunately the bland storytelling and poor quality of the continuity heavy season twenty meant viewing figures dropped to a regular six or seven million per episode. People were bored already. If the show was to survive season twenty-one had to be something special indeed, we needed that bright spark of magic that made season nineteen so fresh. But could they manage it...
Warriors of the Deep: Oops, this is just dire. Has there ever been a story so badly sabotaged by production values as this? Every area of the production can be critisized, the overlit, unmenacing sets, the lumbering Silurians and Sea Devils, the embarassing Myrka, the matress airlock, the make up... not exactly an inspiring way to start the season. Pennant Roberts tries to blame the scripts in recent interviews but he doesn't get off that likely, his direction for Timelash next year is just as amateurish. The is no style in the camerawork, he lingers on the most unrealistic monsters the show has served up, he almost seems to want to highlight the faults by including such daft moments as Ingrid Pitt's Kung-fu attack on the Myrka. The scripts aren't very interesting really, the two power blocs aren't given enough exploration and so it is hard to care about the main plotline and the Sea Devils are reduced to any old heavy, none of the depth they received on their first appearance. Maybe a better production could have made something out of this, there are some exciting moments , the Doctor's apparant death, the nuclear weapons... it just doesn't work here. Poor Tegan and Turlough, they have no character to hang onto and resort to running about in the corridors and growling at anybody who gets in there way... Turlough's "WHERE IS IT!" moment is hysterically bad. Davison tries so hard but I could understand why he gave up, it is impossible to take any of this seriously. His "There should have been another way" should be dramatic and tear jerking but it is impossible to think he isnt talking about the production values. It is quite enjoyable on the same level of The Chase and The Web Planet, terrible, terrible stories that fail on every level but are quite fun if you're depressed! There isn't one performance of note either. And one of the characters is called Servix!!!: 1.5/10
The Awakening: Oops again, how is this any better? Fortunately this story is at least watchable on a production level, it is beautifully put together with some glorious location work and nice set pieces. But that's all this is, set pieces. There is no intelligence behind the story, lots of bad things happen, some statue appears in the TARDIS, throws up and the story ends. The Doctor just spouts out some nonsense about everything being a "psychic manefestation" as if that explains everything. He once again takes an entire horde of people inside the TARDIS as though he's running a bus service, yes he has to save everybody but why can't they go through the front entrance of the church like in The Daemons. And what's up with the cliffhanger, Polly James tearing out her lungs as the Doctor walks towards the smoking Malus... why? Why does he do this? And people say the end of Dragonfire part one is bad! I would happily walk into this story and kill Tegan myself, she has become so redundant at this point all she does is moan. Moan, moan, moan. Does anybody care when she's being frightened by Jack Willow (another daft, humourless character)? The only function she has is to get them there to see her grandfather, after that she is as usless as ever.
The music is quite nice and as I said some of the set pieces, especially where Will uses the torch to save the Doctor, are okay. But I would much rather have a Williamsesque all story no budget tale to watch. A good story will never date but much of this story already has. Will Chandler is a very promising character and superbly acted but this being a two parter he isnt given the time to shine. Maybe another couple of stories and he would sparkle. He's so cute!
That's The Awakening in a nutshell... cute. Metaphorically it is has the beauty of a supermodel and the intelligence of one too! Some nice moments but that's not enough: 3/10
Frontios: God bless Christopher H Bidmead. I wish the BBC had managed to find it in their kitty to pay the extra he was asking for script editing season nineteen because on the evidence of Castrovalva and Frontios he would have written a hugely different and much more interesting fifth Doctor era. If Peter Davison had material of this calibre throughout his tenure and had offered up such energetic, ambiguous performances like this I may these days be hailing him as the best Doctor of all time. What is this fool talking about I hear you ask? Just watch the scene where he tries to save Plantagenet's life..."Tegan rip those wires down", "But I've only just put them up", "Well jolly good now you rip them down again!"... it's hysterical and how he should have treated her at all times! At times he acts as though he is a wise old man, full of curiosity and wonder... just how I love the Doctor to be. It's truly a marvellous performance and one of the best 'Doctor' stories in the series entire run. This is my fifth Doctor and this how I want him to be.
The strength of Frontios doesn't lie in it's production (although the effective music and amazing sets help) it's how 'interesting' and 'desperate' the situation is. I highlight these two words because the majority of Davison's time cannot comply to such descriptions. Frontios is a fascinating world, rightly pointed out to me by Rob Matthews that its grim atmosphere is compelling. Bidmead constructs his worlds like a character... Castrovalva was a fey and poetic gentleman, Frontios is a bitter, cynical guy with plenty of attitude. He gives his characters lives and duties, we hear all about their past, their desires, their fears... it makes them feel so REAL. And what a character list... the pathetic Plantagenant with his speeches of glory, the bully Brazen, the inqusitive old scientist (gee I can't remember his name) and his adventurous daughter Norna... the performances are rock solid (especially the ever-wonderful Lesley Dunlop).
But the real shock is that Bidmead manages to give Tegan AND Turlough something constructive to do (swoon). Tegan's moment in the spotlight (literally!) as an android is a moment of comic genius in an era that has all but lost its sense of humour! Her chemistry with Davison is phenomenal in this one... it's just fabulous material that even Janet Fielding couldn't cock up! And the slow emergence of Turlough's race memory is chilling even if he does overdo it in places (c'mon Mark Strickson is the most OTT companion actor ever!).
The Tractators aren't the best designed monsters ever but the ideas are so creepy especially when we see the mining machine with Revere all but dead inside they emerge as the most effective bad guys of the year. All in all, a real treat and even better restores hope after three miserable clunkers. Frontios achieves much more than people realise, it may just have saved my interest in the Davison era on its own: a well deserved 10/10
Resurrection of the Daleks: Wow, one of the most exciting, well produced, action packed stories ever. It is highly engaging, the return of the Daleks is one of those moments you never forget and as they burst from that airlock door you are just petrified as they gun down the hapless (and faceless) guards. The location work around the Thames is superb, it looks like it has been filmed on one of those horrible rainy London afternoons and adds immesurabley to the urgent feel of the show. How cool is it when the policemen chase Tegan to the river and almost gun her down? The pace is relentless with something new thrown at us to keep us entertained and the number of great looking set pieces is terrific (I love it when they shove the Dalek out the warehouse door, the bit where the guy loses his face, Davros as he calls the Doctor a coward (oh it's sooo true!), and the final sickening battle in the warehouse. The opening is very memorable, and the closing scene with Tegan finally getting something truthful to whinge about is written out (possibly a season too late) in style. Davison's pained acting is one of his best moments in Doctor Who.
However it might be exciting but by god it is brainless. Eric Saward wants to put everything in including the kitchen sink and whilst he never lets things get dull you do start to tire after a while of the constant plot holes (or excess of plot) and brainless action adventure. Placing this next Frontios exposes how different Saward's approach was to Bidmead's and whilst they are both good you know which you would rather watch. The one that treats you like an adult and not like a big kid who wants to see guns, deaths, spaceships and Daleks!
Matthew Robinson's direction is superb, glossy and imaginative and although only Davison (gosh!) and Fielding (double gosh!) stand out there isn't an insulting performance here. The death toll is incredible and it's worth it watching just to see some of the brilliantly overdone exterminations: 8/10
Planet of Fire: Hmm this has come down a bit in my estimation. The religious angle is quite interesting but its neglected in favour of the brainless minature Master plot. Which is a shame because Jason whathisface is giving his all as the leader Timinov and manges to escape the production with dignity despite his scenes against pantomime Ainley. And there are some interesting ideas, in a similar vein to The Face of Evil with another colony a product of an abandoned spaceship. It is nice to see the Doctor piece together the mystery, working against Turlough, revealing the truth about the 'Outsider', the space suit, the blue flames...
Fiona Cumming has stated this is her least favourite Doctor Who story that she directed as it was the least fantastical and yet despite a few lapses (some of the stuff with Peri kicking the Master and Ainley's bland reactions to everything mars slightly) it is another beautifully packaged story. Glorious loaction work, easily the most sumptuous in the series and I don't care if Lanzarote does look like Sarn it makes a change to see Doctor Who out on location. The breezy first episode is a particular delight but the eruption of the fire mountain is also a visual treat. It is hard to believe these eye candy delights herald from the same season as Warriors from the Deep.
The music too is great, another smashing score from Peter Howell. He adds extra poignancy to Timanov's tricky situation and Turlough's departure (although that couldn't come a moment sooner. Never before has a companion shown so much promise and failed to deliver).
Nicola Bryant breaks the record for showing the most clevage in Doctor Who which is a delight for you hot blooded straight guys out there but I have to admit her performance and writing are both great too and she makes an instant impression. I for one knew this companion was going to do some interesting things (stop laughing). And for you girls out there Turlough breaks out his pants... but it's just not the same is it? Let Doctor Who stick to providing female eye candy, we can do without the 'issuses' of having two companions scantily clad shoving one into bed! Peter Davison returns to his roots of blandom with only a few bright spots. His reaction to the Master's 'death' is effective in a way only the fifth Doctor can be and his relationship with Turlough finally hits some bumps (NOW he doesn't trust him... what about five stories back after he tried to kill you?). He seems to be enjoying the exotic shoot though, he breezes through the story without much effect. Saving the juicy stuff for Androzani...: 7/10
The Caves of Androzani: I have already written a HUGE review about this story so I'll make this short. What can be said. A work of absolute genius and the best closing story for ANY Doctor! Robert Holmes returns to the show in true style with his finest script yet, a dark and nefarious piece with some fascinating characters and brilliant twists everywhere! Incoming director Graheme Harper does an amazing job coaxing every ounce of drama from the script and motivates some highly impressive from the actors (Chris Bowen and John Normington are great!) and Davison gives his greatest performance as the Doctor finally out of time and unable to beat a system that doesn't recognise justice. His regeneration scenes are absolutely riveting. Unbeatable: 10/10
"Is this death?"
The Twin Dilemma: Hmm, not exactly an inspiring way for the new Doctor to start his regin. Yes it's tacky and lightweight considering what it's following and yes Mestor is a pathetic baddie but unlike the clunkers in the Davison era this one has four highly redeeming factors. Colin Baker. Nicola Bryant. Kevin McNally. Maurice Denham. They each breathe more life into their characters than the script allows and are so engaging that the stupid plot they're following is blown away. Ignore the silly bits with Womulus and Weemus and concentrate on the excellent private drama between the Doctor and Peri. The last scene is worth well worth waiting for. The direction is apalling (hell the book ends of the season were both apalling!) but I love the way the story turns from an opening Doctor tale to a traditional monster story in the last episode. There is something very refreshing about seeing the 6th Doctor triumph against evil proving he is the hero after all and not just the cold and unlikable git he has been acting like so far. Colin Baker's wife was absolutely correct, the death scene with Azmael is one of his best. "I shall miss you old friend, I shall indeed..." and who said he was heartsless?: 7/10
A Review by Owen A. Stinger 3/4/03
Season 21 was one of the best Doctor Who seasons ever. Dramatic tension is consistently held over the entire string of stories, driven on by extraordinary character development and a wonderfully compelling sense of anxiety and foreboding that builds and builds before rushing headlong toward the inevitable conclusion in fantastic climactic fashion.
In retrospect, one undeniable factor contributing to my copious praise for the season is that when it was first broadcast by my local PBS station, the much-maligned Twin Dilemma was omitted (It was later tacked onto the beginning of the Season 22 stories to form a complete Colin Baker package). So for me, the season concluded with the equally universally praised The Caves Of Androzani.
My first viewing of Season 21 back in 1984-or-5 followed two viewings of Seasons 19 and 20, as the station repeated the first two Peter Davison seasons before getting around to purchasing The Five Doctors and Davison's final season. So I had pretty well come to grips with the Fifth Doctor, after overcoming my initial urge to reject any replacement for the consummate Fourth Doctor (who had been firmly established in my mind as the archetypal Doctor following numerous repeat runs of his entire era during my middle school years).
My overall impression of the Fifth Doctor's era was largely influenced by the format in which it was presented by my PBS station. Whereas the Fourth Doctor's stories, and the Third's before that, had been broadcast in their original episodic format, the new fifth Doctor stories were broadcast exclusively in the omnibus "movie" format. Being rather oblivious to the behind-the-scenes production at my young age, I assumed that these were not specially edited together versions, but the actual format in which Doctor Who was now being produced and broadcast in the UK. It just seemed naturally suited to the Fifth Doctor stories, which seemed, in contrast to stories from previous seasons, more gradual in development with less dependence on bare action to maintain drama (in retrospect I can see that the script writing of the era, with relatively longer plot introductions and some less than suspenseful episode cliffhangers, surely helped foster this notion).
Although I enjoyed Davison's first two seasons, I found myself feeling odd that, with the exception of a few outstanding gems like Earthshock, I didn't seem to enjoy them as much as I had the Tom Baker stories. Naturally, I thought there was something wrong with me rather than the production. After all, this was Doctor Who! How could I possibly not fully enjoy it? Still, something seemed missing somehow. My quandary would be resolved before too long.
Just as the Fourth Doctor had an urgent desire to wring his hands of his U.N.I.T. obligations at the outset of his run of the series, so to did I get the impression that the Fifth Doctor wanted to move on in some sense. Thus it seemed that the Doctor spent a great deal of seasons 19 and 20 resolving residual conflicts and commitments held over from his previous incarnation, and a TARDISful of companions from the previous season certainly supported this notion.
These lingering ties would gradually be resolved. Adric's death, tragic though it was (no snide comments from the peanut gallery now!), relieved the Doctor of some of his obligations. In Timeflight, The Doctor fulfills his promise to return Tegan to her own time, and during her between-season separation from the TARDIS crew she is finally able to resume her career as an airline stewardess. Tegan's subsequent reunion with the Doctor and Nyssa refreshes and rejuvenates the Doctor's relationship with her, allowing him to progress and grow even further. With Nyssa's departure, sad though it must have been for the Doctor, his emancipation from the vestiges of his former incarnation seems at last to be in his grasp, except that the drudging Black Guardian turns up to divert him again. Finally, at the end of Season 20, the Doctor is liberated of all past obligations and is once more free to explore the universe at his leisure. He has no need to return Tegan to her own time as she is now a willing partner in his travels and he is free from the threat of assassination by Turlough, who is released from his contract with the Black Guardian and joins the TARDIS crew as a devoted companion.
With the slate thus wiped clean, I looked forward to seeing the Fifth Doctor's era truly come into its own, and the jolly family reunion that was The Five Doctors and the light-hearted The King's Demons seemed perfectly logical as a brief reprieve before getting on with business. It was with this enthusiastic mindset that I eagerly awaiting my first viewing of Season 21. By this time I had begun to pay more attention to the actual production of Doctor Who and started to attend conventions as well. When John Nation-Turner announced that there would be a heavier "monster" presence in the season, I recognized immediately that this was the very element that I had felt was missing from the first two Davison seasons. Apart from The Visitation and Earthshock, Doctor Who had been virtually monster-less for the past two years!
Glimpses, teasers, and sneak peaks of Season 21 stories taken in at conventions sent my anticipation soaring. I saw Tegan (in a leather miniskirt! *pant, pant!*) discovering scattered fragments of the TARDIS in the passageway of an ominous cavern. I saw the Daleks exterminating more victims and the Doctor bellowing in pain. I saw Turlough about to be BBQed, and I saw the Doctor and a provocatively clothed new female companion in the company of a mysterious figure whose face was concealed behind some tribal mask and who might be either friend or foe; it was unclear. What were these scenes all about? I couldn't wait to find out!
By the time my PBS station started actual broadcasting Season 21, I had already succumbed to the temptation of the many enticing "spoilers". I knew that the Silurians and the Sea Devils would be back, that both Tegan and Turlough would depart before the season's end, and that Peter Davison's Doctor would regenerate into Colin Baker's. All this foreknowledge, however, in no way diminished my enjoyment of the season. I would be pleasantly surprised not only by clarification of the teaser scenes I had seen previously and the promised heavier presence of entertaining Doctor Who monsters, by also by marvelous character development of a degree and kind rarely seen in Doctor either prior of since.
The spectacular season kicks off with Warriors Of The Deep. I know this one is widely panned, but who cares! It features the return of the Silurians and the Sea Devils. This alone makes it worth viewing! These are two classic Doctor Who monsters that were begging for a rematch. In their initial stories, both races' effectiveness was inhibited by the shortcomings of their superannuated facilities, but now they return wielding the full potential of their advanced technology. Yes, the Myrka was crap, yes design flaws in the Sea Devils made their helmets tilt lop-sided and hindered their mobility, which diminished the impact of some of the "action" scenes, and yes the Silurians look slightly daft lumbering down the corridors in affected slow motion. But these faults are all superficial. The story is fantastic! Once they seize the sea base, the Silurians are wonderfully menacing! Take for example their initial reaction to the Doctor: "Oh, it's you! Well, we don't have anything against you, so just sit quietly out of the way while we destroy the world." How you like to be told that? The Doctor's task, to thwart the Silurian's plan but still remain on amiable terms, while promoting piece with the humans, now is all the more urgent! This is classic drama. Contrary to many claims, I also find Icthar's utterances of "excellent!" perfectly appropriate to the character and situation. The plot clearly states that the Silurians had long ago abandoned the way of mediation, so it is completely natural for their leader to take a militaristic tone. Although Tegan is sidelined slightly, both the Doctor and Turlough really take the initiative. And then there is of course the famous ending. The amount of discussion that has been devoted to the "there should have been another way" scene testifies to its profundity. Here is the Doctor, a steadfast champion of justice, a pacifist through and through, someone who is determined to resolve each conflict not through violence or brute force, but through wit, reasoning, and compassion. Now, suddenly and pitilessly, he is forced to confront the cold reality that he can't always win the day with this methodology; that there are times when he has no choice but to accept the lesser of two evils. This is Doctor Who growing up in a magnificently dramatic and moving way. And it is the beginning of the unraveling of the Doctor's confidence in his understanding of the universe and control of his environment. It is this captivating sense of uncertainty and vulnerability that forms the motif that would persist and gain momentum as the season progresses towards its inevitable conclusion.
The Awakening is a little gem of story that is unfortunately undermined by a hopelessly abbreviated plot thread. There really is much here than met the viewer's eye. I feel sure that had it been produced as four parter, fans would be raving about it to this day. Shortcomings aside, the continuation of the Doctor's character development is clearly evident. Failing to find the preferable "other way" alternative to killing Sir George but bound into inaction by his inner moral code, he allows Will Chandler to commit the loathsome deed for him. Notice how he doesn't seem all that upset at the outcome. He is inner self is beginning to harden.
"Atmospheric" is perhaps the most accurate word to use to describe Frontios. While the success or failure of many dramatic productions hinges on atmosphere, Frontios is positively overflowing with it! Castrovalva was good, Logopolis was superb, Frontios is Christopher Bidmead's Doctor Who masterpiece. From the very beginning, the sense of tension and foreboding is established. The world of Frontios is brought to life by fully fleshed out characters, fascinating sets, and superbly effective music. Those breathy shakuhachi-type flute arrangements perfectly add a sense of forlorn desperation to the ailing colony. Frontios also succeeds through some excellent characterization. Every character among the guest cast is memorable, each having their own firm and credible motivation. And the regular cast have rarely been this effective, both toward each other and in interaction with the guest characters. Tegan takes a proactive and crucial role, while Turlough's struggle with his race memory of the Tractators not only propels the narrative along, but also provides an insight into the past and identity of the character, which had hitherto been shrouded in mystery, leaving the viewer still reluctant to trust him. And Frontios provides one of the best characterizations and performances of the Fifth Doctor ever. Besieged on all sides by the distrustful Plantagenet, the Tractators, as well as the misgivings from his companions, he adopts an aggressive approach. He delivers harsh rhetoric in his efforts to convince Plantagenet of his good will, and having cunningly ensnared the Gravis, he summarily sentences his foe essentially to life imprisonment (and probably death) in solitary confinement on a desolate planetoid. No starry-eyed searching for "another way" here. The Doctor's character has clearly hardened, a change he may soon come to regret.
Frontios segues directly into Resurrection Of The Daleks, arguably the most gruesome story of the season, if not the entire Davison era. While the script has been nearly universally lambasted, I offer testimony in its defense. Seriously, this is one of the best Dalek stories of them all, and the plot is really not all that elusive: the Daleks aim is to conquer Earth (likely along with all major inhabited planets/governments in this section of the galaxy, including Gallifrey), which they intend to accomplish through infiltration, replacing key leaders with their duplicates. Concurrently, they need Davros to develop an antidote to the Movellan virus, which has caused massive Dalek casualties. However, they have no intention of allowing Davros any opportunity to attempt a coup, and plan to eliminate him once he has fulfilled his purpose. To this end, they succeed in ensnaring the Doctor, against whom they know Davros holds a vendetta, which will keep Davros occupied while they plot his demise. Meanwhile, capsules containing the Movellan virus have been located in 20th century Earth, and duplicates are dispatched to secure them. A credible enough plot line surely, and one intriguingly intricate. In fact I would applaud Eric Saward for delivering a script that paints such a fully fleshed out view of the Dalek universe, with politics and tactics working simultaneously and interlockingly on so many levels. In contrast, many of the other televised Dalek stories seem alarmingly one dimensional, offering mere isolated incidents of limited significance to Dalek history. The one perplexing piece in the plot that I have failed to fathom, however, is the significance of the band of people (likely duplicates but certainly not from 20th century Earth judging by their attire) of whom Stein is one, who are gunned down by Lytton's troops at the story's introduction. Who were they and what was their significance? I have a number of theories of my own, but if there is an official explanation, I would certainly like to hear it.
In addition to such rich Dalek intrigue and drama, the serial delivers the most significant event in the Doctor's character development of the entire season: his declared assassination attempt on Davros. It is clear to the viewer that despite his recently hardening the Doctor is indeed still "soft" as Davros denounces and he lacks the conviction to following through with an act so opposed to his basic nature, and when afforded a convenient excuse to do so, he backs out. But as far as Tegan is aware, the Doctor has indeed executed Davros just as stated he would. While I don't think Tegan condemns the Doctor for using the Movellan virus on the Daleks (she was attempting to do so herself), it was a devastating blow to her sensibilities to be confronted with the Doctor's announcement of his intention to willfully murder another sentient being, after witnessing the cold blooded slaying of several anonymous innocents as well as acquaintances she had only just only made. Where she sought solace from her trusted comrade, she instead found disgust and betrayal. Suddenly and tragically, she finds that the Doctor is no longer a trustworthy friend, and witnessing the carnage in the wake of the battle between the two factions of Dalek and human troops is too much for her and she must leave the Doctor, then and there. It is only at this moment that the Doctor recognizes his folly. He is mortified not only at the loss of his dear friend, but also at his failure to realize that it was he who was causing it, and he vows to mend his ways. This is without a doubt one of the most touching and effective companion leaving scenes ever, and the beginning of the final phase of the Fifth Doctor's end.
This awkward loss of his friend is so unsettling for the Doctor that he is still preoccupied with it at the commencement of the following story Planet Of Fire. While he may have overcome initial feelings of denial, he is still consumed with anger, now blaming the Daleks for Tegan's abrupt departure. Although the somewhat inconsistent pacing of the story denies it classic status, Planet Of Fire is still a top-notch adventure. The conflict between the spiritual, religious interpretation of the blue numismaton gas flame and the secular, pragmatic view provides a compelling backdrop to the story. Similar subjects have been explored previously in Doctor Who and always contribute to compelling drama. I oppose the majority of fandom again by finding the Master in top form in his best story since Logopolis. In particular, characterization in this story is outstanding. In this single story alone, the relationship between the Doctor and Turlough is both strengthened and brought to and end. Without Tegan to bridge the gap, the Doctor and Turlough interact directly, a previously rare phenomenon, and the mystery and doubt surrounding the Turlough character are resolved as his past is dislosed. Then, just as Turlough is at his most effective and emphathetic, he leaves, having been pardoned by his native Trion people. While this is the introduction story of new companion Peri Brown, it is also arguable her best (alas), and she was rarely as effective and likeable again. And we are again shown further development in the Doctor's character. He is totally firm in his resolve to stop the Master, even to the point of harsh confrontation with Turlough on suspicion of withholding valuable information. The story's climax revives the Doctor's inner struggle when he refuses to rescue the Master from the deadly flames. While he is still not capable of out and out murder, as he attempted to do with Davros, he is just barely able to restrain his instinct to save a life, but it is clearly evident that it is a painful struggle. The Doctor's facial expression reveals his disconcertion both for the spectacle of the Master's death as well as his own willingness to do nothing to save his foe. The Doctor is clearly coming to grips with the foul decisions his universe presents to him in this hugely dramatic scene, which is directly preceded by the Doctor's near immediate granting of Kamelion's request to the euthanized.
I disagree that there is no end-of-era feel to this story. Season 18 conveyed the constant impression that the Fourth Doctor's days are numbered, even without the viewer knowing that Tom Baker's tenure in the role would actually end with Logopolis. The stories consistently compelled the view to wonder how much longer the Doctor would last. The same evocative tension is present throughout Season 21, and Planet Of Fire is no exception. While the Doctor regains vitality, there is an overriding sense that his time is limited. Over these two stories alone, Resurrection and Planet, the Doctor has parted with three companions, one awkwardly, one amicably, and one by destruction at his own hand, and has caused the seeming death of his arch nemesis. Severing all these links to his recent past and welcoming his new companion Peri aboard, the moment is right for amending his approach to life. Enter the final chapter in the tale of the Fifth Doctor.
It seems redundant to point out by now that The Caves Of Androzani is a masterpiece. While this is by far Peter Davison's finest portrayal of the Doctor, presented with more confidence and wit than ever before, leaving the viewer to long for more of this side of the Fifth Doctor, at the same time it is the most fitting juncture on which to end the era as all the emotive elements and character development of the past season (in fact all three Davison seasons) come to fruition. Having learned well from his recent experiences, the Doctor is now fully aware of the costliness of his overambitious altruism. Whereas he could have focused his efforts on opposing Morgus for the disregard of human life and dignity with which he operates his corrupt conglomerate, Stotz for fueling the conflict with his gunrunning, or even General Chellak and his forces for exploiting a planet for its natural resources (it is implied that the Androzonian bats are on the brink of extinction). In the past, assuming such colossal tasks, while by and large successful, has often resulted in tragedy on the personal level. Earth was saved from destruction by the Cybermen, but Adric was killed. The Doctor once again defeated the Daleks, but at the cost of his relationship with a dear friend. No, in The Caves Of Androzani, the Doctor focuses on preventing casualty on the individual level and goes to extraordinary lengths to save the life of his companion, even though his relationship with here was in its infancy. This is why the characterization of Sharez Jek fits so perfectly into the mood of the piece. A sympathetic villain, he is neither completely good nor evil, but misguided by his desire for revenge, and the Doctor refrains from judging him in anyway, his primary concern being the saving of Peri's life, even if it means forfeiting his own. Caves, and the entire Fifth Doctor era, then ends with the most magnificent regeneration scene in the show's history, Logopolis being an extremely close contender.
While it is admittedly a cop out and an act of denial to omit The Twin Dilemma from a review of Season 21, it simply does not belong as not only does it feature a different actor in the lead role, but it is devoid of the type and level of character development and drama that formed the motiff linking that preceding stories of the season. Moreover, end-of-ear Doctor Who seasons have traditionally concluded with the regeneration story. While The Twin Dilemma as not nearly as dire as the majority of fandom claims, the simple truth is that Season 21 is far more effective without it.
Whether intended by Doctor Who's production at the time or simply a serendipitous outcome, the story arc spanning Warriors Of The Deep to The Caves of Androzani is one the best ever. It contained an extraordinary level of consistency in presentation and the most profound level of character development in such a short timeframe than ever in the series' entire run. All that is great about the Fifth Doctor and his era is both presented and summed up spectacularly in this one season and therein lies its greatness. The Doctor's character is dealt devastating blows, he reels off course, gets back on track, and his finally redeemed. Perhaps JNT and Eric Saward actually had realized that the Doctor's constant struggles with larger-than-life contention really were detrimental to the life both the character and the show. The Doctor was forced to learn to stop trying so hard to do everything right, since such ponderous ambitions often result in tragedy, and instead concentrate on just doing one thing right at a time, starting as it happened with saving his friend's life that he was responsible for endangering. This is the level of tension and completeness of plot development of which classic drama is made. At the individual season level, Doctor Who was rarely better than this.
Mixed Bag by Thomas Tillier 19/1/07
Season 21 is a very shocking season: it's all change with the TARDIS crew. With Peter Davison, Janet Fielding and Mark Strickson all waeing farewell to the series, it also writes out Kamelion. It is a very different season to the previous one (i.e. better). However, several people believe that the season after this is very dark and the reason it was cancelled by Michael Grade. I belief however, that there are long-term effects from this season.
In my opinion, Season 21 is perhaps one of the darkest series of the old Doctor Who. The death toll is huge. Look at Warriors of the Deep (apart from the Doctor and the comapnions, everyone dies); Resurrection of the Daleks is a gore fest, with only Lyton surviving (and there was a huge cast list remember); and in Caves of Androzani only Peri and Timmin survive. Plus in The Awakening we have a three way decapitation and in Frontios we have some deaths as well (however these two stories arent as dark as the other three). How is this less violent than season 22?
Another factor that annoys me slightly in season 21 is poor Turlough. From such a promising character created in Mawdryn Undead he seems surplus to requirements in most of this season (apart from Frontios when Mark Strickson goes OTT, and Planet of Fire). Such a waste of a potentially good character. Season 21's stories are far better than season 20's. It has some absolutely brilliant stories (Frontios and Caves), to some rather decent (Resurrection, Planet of Fire and Awakening). Its just a pity about the beginning and end. Warriors of the Deep has such a good story but Pennant Roberts ruins it and The Twin Dilemna is a script that should never have got on to the screen.
Overall, a rather mixed season that seems to be one of the darkest in the series history.
Why Season 21 was the death of the show by Thomas Cookson 18/12/09
Before Season 21, the show was in relatively good shape. If JNT left on The Five Doctors, the show might have survived and grown, with his era remembered for Logopolis, Earthshock and Enlightenment. The Five Doctors was the last time the old series could entice newcomers with the wonder and dangers of the Whoniverse.
But Warriors of the Deep renders the show unsalvageable, destroying the Doctor as a hero, and utterly void of any hope. Like the soulless insincerity of Time-Flight's Adric-grieving scene, it's a contrived pointless massacre followed by a hypocritical moralising speech to feign insincere regret about the way it deliebrately contrived itself to turn out. Everyone dies at the end only because the Doctor insisted on keeping the enemy alive, but the Doctor only insisted on keeping the enemy alive so the story could end with everyone dying.
It's so desperate to be downbeat that it reduces the Doctor to a shadow of himself in the worst character assassination ever. The 'real' Doctor is incapable of this much negligence and stupidity. It was the beginning of the end, because without a hero you've got nothing left. The Doctor had become a passive appeaser, and backlashing against that dead end meant the Sixth Doctor becoming an unsympathetic homicidal brute.
When Pertwee's Doctor watched the Brigadier shoot the young Silurian leader, or a tank officer blowing away invading Sea Devils, he had no words of condemnation. His condemnation was for attacking the Silurians' base, killing innocent civilians. Using Hexacromite gas to prevent a war would have been no moral dilemma to him (see Seeds of Death), and he'd have no condemnation for the humans for suggesting it.
Why are we supposed to support the Doctor's rant that the humans are pathetic savages, when Preston sacrifices her life and takes a bullet to protect the Doctor? The Doctor doesn't honour her noble sacrifice and decides to try and save Icthar, urging that the Silurian race somehow needs warmongering genocidal leaders like him who'll lead his race to destruction.
But Icthar succumbs to the toxic Hexacromite gas and the Doctor decides to forcibly revive him, thereby needlessly prolonging his agony, just so the Doctor can prove himself morally superior (despite having callously let poor blind Nilsen die). It can't be because he hopes to negotiate peace with Icthar after massacring his soldiers and mortally wounding him with lethal corrosive gas and then refusing to let him die mercifully and quickly.
Why would the Silurians stay on the base during the gassing, and only send one Sea Devil to the chemical store, where the humans have an arsenal of Hexacromite? A single Sea Devil wouldn't stand a chance. The only reason is to kill off a character in a nastily contrived fashion.
By contrast to the fun and involving Five Doctors, Warriors of the Deep is utterly uninviting and nasty. Earthshock was probably the last time the show was cool, and Warriors of the Deep only confirms how naff, cheap and badly acted everyone says the show is. It's also repellently preachy, and mean spirited in its twisted scorn on humanity.
The heavy rewrites by Eric Saward on JNT's petulant demands reflect Eric's bitter frustrations with his impossible boss. This should be a morality play about understanding the enemy but everyone's actions defy logical sense. From the Doctor setting off the base reactor to Solow karate-kicking the Myrka and other forced, contrived set pieces. The Doctor seems like a parody of JNT, causing needless interference in a crisis, changing his mind every five minutes, making unfathomable decisions he refuses to be questioned over, and taking no responsibility for the inevitable disaster. Everyone dies, so no moral lesson is learned.
It takes continuity too far. It was fine bringing back simple, self-explanatory foes like the Cybermen and the Master, or the familiar Brigadier and Omega so soon after the 1981 repeat of The Three Doctors. The Silurians and Sea Devils, however, were over ten years out of date. Those who remembered them would be insulted by Warriors of the Deep. Nothing's more redundant than a sequel to a tragedy. And why's the Doctor suddenly holding a grudge about the events of The Silurians after being so chummy with the Brigadier a story before?
Warriors of the Deep begins the evil season on an unforgivable, self-destructive note. Then there's The Awakening, which is a watchable, tender contrast to the vulgarity elsewhere. But it's a forgettable remake of The Daemons. An unremarkable, join-the-dots routine.
Frontios is far better, showing humanity on the brink, forced to struggle together to survive. So we essentially get a welcome return to the utilitarianism of the classic show, back to the 'we are all in the same tribe' arc that ran from Castrovalva to Earthshock. Like Logopolis, there's something almost realist about this story: it's told almost in real time and it's vividly memorable in its sight of humans disintegrating. Christopher Bidmead was the kind of tedious perfectionist the show really needed. If he'd stayed on as script editor, the show might have survived.
Then is Resurrection of the Daleks, so gratuitously violent, vulgar and repellent it nearly ended my connection with the show. The whole thing just looks cheap and horribly desperate in its attempts to compete with action-movie bodycounts.
Whilst Earthshock was fresh, dynamic and unpredictable, this is predictable, leering and tired. It neuters the Doctor, but it's somewhat more sincere about it and worthy of our empathy. The scene where he can't bring himself to kill Davros is beautiful in its vulnerability (despite JNT blacklisting all past Who writers who could write Shakespearian moral indecision with proper substance). What isn't sincere, though, is how the supporting characters - particularly Professor Laird - are required to take suicidally stupid actions for the sake of facilitating contrived deaths. There's no horror, because we can't empathise with people who have no survival instinct whatsoever. Such forced, unbelievable actions are unique to the 80's, from Nyssa's goodbye striptease to the Seventh Doctor dangling from an ice cliff for no reason.
Despite Janet Fielding's apathetic performances preceeding it, Tegan's goodbye scene has a raw beauty about how the Doctor has unknowingly alienated her and she slips through his hands before he even comes to terms with it. But when the Doctor observes the virus killing the Daleks so slowly and painfully, it feels wrong. When Troughton's Doctor destroyed Daleks he did it quickly and near-painlessly.
It represents 80's materialism. Not just money-orientated but the view that the physical world is all there is. Just our bodies and our hardware and nothing really connecting us to each other. This is the anti-society where words and attempts to connect and empathise don't work. It's all about who has the biggest guns, not spirit or soul. I can take or leave Resurrection. It has its moments and I can't deny its place in Dalek history.
Planet of Fire is again a collection of set pieces that fails to mesh into something solid. But Peri being menaced on the mountains by a robot Master is gripping stuff, and the Master's death is chilling and poignant.
Caves of Androzani is undeniably a classic story. Robert Holmes' great comeback was briefly the saving grace for the show. Finally giving Davison a chance to be heroic and prove what a champ he can be when he isn't being constantly neutered. JNT didn't want Holmes back, so JNT's greatest achievement was a story he didn't want made.
The script was delicately honed for the richest dialogue, perfect pacing, and sharp binary oppositions. Putting such a poetic spin on the Sawardiverse, with falls from grace, a good man doing evil things and the human will to endure adversity without allies. The dialogue, characters and momentum are so rich and dense that it burns the screen. It takes us to a dangerous, new world, a dystopia where chaos rules, and explores it from top to bottom, from the hierarchy of power to the hellish bowels of the cave system and makes it feel wondrous and deadly; a place of life and death decisions, like a Labyrinth in a Greek myth. The 'fountain of youth' angle really says a lot about human society. Like Brain of Morbius, it portrays a society where the leaders never die and so society remains in a static state of perpetual reactionary conservatism, industrialism, paranoia and corruption.
It's Davison's great swansong, honing his spirit of determination, and it can make you fall in love with his Doctor all over again. He spends the episode running about, desperate to find the cure, and it's sad when the illness inevitably catches up with him and he must give up and take it lying down. The regeneration is beautiful and really opens up all the personal demons that have long haunted the Doctor; "It feels different this time" always makes me shiver. Unfortunately, the poignancy is destroyed when Colin Baker opens his mouth.
If a fall like The Twin Dilemma was so inevitable that even Caves of Androzani couldn't turn things around, things were wrong long before then. The Twin Dilemma is just awful, with a ten year old's dialogue; the strangulation scene was just moronic, desperate sensationalism that destroys the Doctor's dignity utterly. The first cliffhanger is so awfully contrived and yet you want to groan "Just kill him" because this new Doctor is so deeply, relentlessly hateable. Warriors of the Deep and The Twin Dilemma are the show at its most self-destructive, tuning its hero into a delusional bad risk. The feeling is just as helpless and horrible as watching a relative self-harming.
Season 21 desperately tried to compete with 80's smutty, violent cinema. It was also a reactionary decade so even this smutty, violent cinema treated the audience like moral children, practically demanding at gunpoint that they be shocked and disapproving. Like Season 21's pointless violence, chaste companion interactions, scornful tone, harsh retributions and hypocritical angry moralising. Perhaps the anti-hero Sixth Doctor should have been the antidote of moral ambiguity.
Many of the era's defenders say it reflected a scary and helpless time (these are usually fans who hated the Williams era 'comfort viewing'). We live in an age of cosy nostalgia now, but 80's Doctor Who was nostalgic in an uncosy way, in which murderous evils from the past haunt the Doctor and put him through the same nightmares all over again.
In terms of frightening viewing, the late 70's and 80's gave us Terminator, Quatermass and Threads. So why have they stood the test of time and 80's Doctor Who hasn't? Because 80's Doctor Who was simply about shock, about playing on and manipulating the feelings of the time, not encapsulating or immortalising them.
Threads suited the mood of Mutually Assured Destruction, whereas Warriors of the Deep advocated self destructive suicidal appeasement and having a self-indulgent crisis of conscience instead of actually preventing nuclear war.
Tat Wood argued that Resurrection of the Daleks' death-laden ending is no climax because the whole story was one long massacre. Threads, however, has a narrative plot and a proper climax, despite featuring a nuclear explosion as an early plot point. The climax is almost a revelation. The whole story was about a family tree, ending when the next generation proves incapable of giving birth, marking humanity's end.
But instead of conjuring contemporary anxieties, JNT would rub at fan's anxieties. He didn't commision Frontios to express fears about humanity's future, but to threaten the TARDIS's destruction.
Likewise, without Eric Saward's rewrites, Warriors of the Deep could be a cold war classic about our uncertain future in the nuclear age, asking how higher species would judge our petty belligerence, rather than incoherent sound and fury with a repulsive 'blame the victim' message. That's my real problem with Davison's Doctor. Previous Doctors guided us through real world anxieties with moral courage. Davison's Doctor told us to be a victim and to never fight back.
I'll forever hate Season 21 for that.