Sunday, December 10, 2017

Classic Doctor Who serials + extras

Not a judgemental ranking this time, because I watched these over the course of a few years and it's not like I can remember the subtle nuances that make 'Warriors of the Deep' slightly more or less poor than 'The Horns of Nimon.' Instead, judgemental ratings and reviews in chronological order, copy-pasted from my old TV blog onto one conveniently unwieldy page.

I didn't watch these in the correct sequence (6-7, 4-5 and finally 1-3 with breaks in-between), so I may become noticeably less aware of continuity and influence as I go along. But I know what I like. I'll throw in a top 10 at the end if my first-impression reflexes are that valuable.

The Key to Time (Lords):

William Hartnell (1963–66)
Patrick Troughton (1966–69)
Jon Pertwee (1970–74)
Tom Baker (1974–81)
Peter Davison (1982–84)
Colin Baker (1984–86)
Sylvester McCoy (1987–89)

An Unearthly Child (pilot) ***

This adorably inferior prototype is a delight to watch, with its incompatible information and characterisation, actors fluffing lines, knocking over props and getting trapped in doors, cameras bumping into things and inexplicable off-screen voice cues. But despite all that, it's still really good.

I watched this before the real episode, and its misanthropic Doctor was closer to what I'd been led to believe about William Hartnell's archetype than the softened version in the series proper. We should be glad they did such a poor job and had to re-film it, otherwise we would have been stuck with the concept that the Doctor and Susan are time travelling 42nd century humans. Doubtless they would have found a way to retcon that before too long.
"A thing that looks like a police box... stuck in a junkyard... can move anywhere in time and space?" - Ian Chesterton

An Unearthly Child (1x01-04) ***

It's ridiculous that I hadn't watched this until now. It's probably a combination of marathon season lengths and having to sit through all those reconstructions of missing episodes that delayed me taking on the 60s Who, and I'm already slightly regretting it.

Anthony Coburn lays down the surprisingly consistent groundwork for 52 years and counting in the first episode, which is an intriguing mystery about a curious teenage girl, her quirky grandfather who hangs around a scrap yard and two amateur sleuth school teachers who make a fantastic discovery.

The other three episodes are boring twaddle about anachronistic cavemen. It doesn't even have the excuse of being educational.

It's fascinating seeing the surprising similarities and subtle but potent differences from what the series would become. This Doctor has a granddaughter to take care of, so is much more about self-preservation and staying out of the limelight. He has no love for humans yet, especially their savage ancestors, and doesn't have qualms about bashing their brains in with a rock. He isn't the hero here.
"Fear makes companions of all of us" - The Doctor

The Daleks (1x05-11) ***

I'd seen the colourful Peter Cushing film, so I already knew the story that introduced the series' most iconic villains and their slightly less iconic Aryan antagonists, but the Hartnell original is predictably the superior. Even if it is tediously slow and drawn-out for the most part, from the radiation sickness to more damned caves.

It would be churlish to completely knock this serial though, as it's an entertaining B-movie and a landmark for the series, featuring its first alien world and the effing Daleks. Like the Doctor and the TARDIS, the shouty pepper pots will remain remarkably unchanged from this pioneering appearance. You know, apart from all the changes.
"I'm afraid I'm much too old to be a pioneer" - The Doctor

The Edge of Destruction (1x12-13) **

It's fair to say we're between landmarks right now, even if this two-parter is superficially notable for being the only proper TARDIS-confined story. That isn't something to be proud of, especially when the circumstances are clearly a lack of budget and a rushed, often nonsensical script.

The plot is basically non-existent - a spring gets stuck on the TARDIS console and the characters act strangely for 50 minutes - but there are a few character moments that give a reason to watch beyond mandatory respect for its vintage. The underlying tension comes to a head and the hostage situation on which the series was founded now seems to be resolved.
"Rash action is worse than no action at all" - The Doctor

Marco Polo (1x14-20) ***

The first consistently decent serial is also the first pure historical story and the first to really live up to Sydney Newman's hopes of a genuinely educational adventure, making up for that earlier rubbish with the cavemen.

Unfortunately, it also has the dubious distinction of being the first story that you can't actually watch, unless you found some old tapes in a dusty cupboard in Nigeria and you're holding out on us.

I didn't fancy sitting through a photo reconstruction or trying to work out what was going on by audio alone, so went with the novelisation written 20 years later by the original writer. Apparently it's mostly the same. I didn't get to see their adorable attempts to realise mountain and desert landscapes in the studio, but the cliffhanger fade-outs are tangible.
"We're always in trouble! Isn't this extraordinary - it follows us everywhere" - The Doctor

The Keys of Marinus (1x21-26) ***

Terry Nation's second story is much more entertaining than his first, but it's consigned to comparative obscurity for introducing rather less iconic baddies. I won't hold out hope for the Voord making a comeback, nor those brain slug guys.

It's a collect-the-MacGuffins quest in the classical mould and delightfully episodic, taking us on a tour of Marinus from its acid seas and geometric ghost towns to a slithering jungle, frozen wastes and slightly more boring courtroom. I didn't even mind that the Doctor disappears for a long stretch as he lets his younger companions take on The Crystal Maze.

Even better, for cynical viewers, it's treasure trove of wobbly sets, visible crew limbs and cardboard cut-outs falling to their doom. This is going to be a fun ride after all.
- "It isn't frozen, is it?"
- "No, impossible in this temperature. Besides, it's too warm" - Barbara and the Doctor

The Aztecs (1x27-30) ***

Another educational historical story, writing a topic book on the Aztecs in primary school doesn't make me sufficiently expert to know how accurate it all is, but those costumes and sets look nice.

There's a fair amount of condescension towards the stupid, superstitious savages, but Barbara's desire to enlighten them and change the course of history does at least bring up the series' first discussion of time travel ethics. The Doctor is uncharacteristically conservative in that respect. He just needs more experience.

It's a good story for the Doctor too, continuing to soften the prickly progenitor to the point that he even gets married, albeit accidentally. It's understandable why this is often touted as Hartnell's best, but I have a softer spot for the more unhinged and outlandish ones. We also get our first satisfying bastard villain in Tlotoxl, who doesn't even get his just desserts. Until the Spanish show up, anyway.
"You can't rewrite history! Not one line!" - The Doctor

The Sensorites (1x31-36) **

This one was quite the ordeal, though outside its painful pace, patronising plotting and the most embarrassing guest actors yet (which is saying something), there's still plenty to like.

The Sensorite design could have had more care, but their brain power over brawn is a nice change after Dalek ray guns and whatever the Voord did (I've forgotten already). There are some nice scenes between Susan and the Doctor (even if you have to wait right to the end), and Susan gets more to do than be a screeching prisoner this time (though there's still a bit of that). We also get our first descriptions of future Earth and the Doctor and Susan's as-yet-unnamed planet, which are as consistent and contradictory as you'd expect in a show that frequently alters the fabric of space-time. Seriously, pedants, all continuity errors are self-explanatory.
"It all started out as a mild curiosity in a junk yard, and now it's turned out to be quite a great spirit of adventure, don't you think?" - The Doctor

The Reign of Terror (1x37-42) **

The old man and his old girl drop Ian and Barbara back home, and are only a couple of centuries out this time, and at least in the right continent. Getting better. Unfortunately, this sees the gang get caught up in the French Revolution and spend six increasingly interminable installments popping in and out of prison cells and laughing off the historical atrocities they're unable to prevent.

Along the way I got to "enjoy" my first reconstructions for the missing fourth and fifth episodes. It was no problem, the still images over a complete audio track was just like watching Rupert. The whole serial is easy on the eye, as will forever be the case with period drama closer to the present, and there's even a little location filming, even if that's not a real William Hartnell in it.

But my, is it bleak. Perhaps appropriately so, considering the subject matter, but less appropriate when you remember this was intended for family teatime viewing. I'd ask what they were thinking, but I doubt I'd get a straight answer.
"Our destiny is in the stars, so let's go and search for it" - The Doctor

Planet of Giants (2x01-03) ****

Sure, it's a daft, less than original gimmick, but why not? They're going to work through them all eventually. And it's easily my favourite story yet, though that only means it beats 'The Keys of Marinus.' Why do I like the stupid ones?

It's funny, of course, but also very tense, and with some solid science and ecology in there... as long as you ignore the oversight that they'd all suffocate immediately. The giant sets look fantastic (the sink especially), the bugs look a damn sight more impressive than most Doctor Who monsters even from later decades, and at a more reasonable three parts of just over an hour total, it flies by.

The weak link is the rubbish murder-conspiracy plot going on in the world above, which isn't even resolved by the TARDIS gang. They only get to dispense a little vigilante mutilation.
"We have been reduced roughly to the size of an inch!" - The Doctor

The Dalek Invasion of Earth (2x04-09) ****

The Peter Cushing film adaptation was a frequent Sunday afternoon schedule filler when I was growing up and the BBC was averse to showing proper Doctor Who, so I was looking forward to seeing the proper version. I like both versions about the same, just to be blasphemous. The original has Susan's departure and the Dalek sightseeing tour with frantic bongo soundtrack, but the film did have Technicolor Daleks and Bernard Cribbins.

I was happy to see the Daleks return, because I'm somehow able to pretend I'm watching this in 1964 and haven't been bored by years of increasingly redundant plots. Let's give them a rest now though, eh? We wouldn't want to overdo it or anything.

Terry Nation smartly sets the invasion in the future to preserve the innocence of the present, for a while at least, even if this future is remarkably unadvanced. Maybe the mid-22nd century goes through a retro '60s phase like Star Trek's mid-23rd.
"What you need is a jolly good smacked bottom!" - The Doctor

The Rescue (2x10-11) ***

It mostly comes across as pointless filler made artificially significant by introducing a new companion, but I still kind of liked this one. Mainly because they managed to pull the wool over my eyes, having long accustomed me to accept ridiculous-looking alien costumes at face value. Well played, now I'm going to be suspicious about everything.

Since this is mainly about Vicki, she's quite interesting too - is this the only companion from the future? (Excepting aliens and whatever the deal was with Leela). It's a direction I'd enjoy seeing in the new series, but they bottled it with their Victorian companion, so I won't hold out hope.
"We haven't had much luck with these caves during our travels" - The Doctor

The Romans (2x12-15) ***

I wonder if this is the pinnacle of the non-sci-fi historicals? How long did they do these for? It's not my favourite story or anything, but it's nice looking, the mandatory cameos are there, and it's even a bit funny. Though I can't really class it as a knockabout comedy episode, what with all the murder, slavery, rape insinuations and public displays of brutality.

I shared the gang's relief at getting some well-earned idle time, which lasts all of 16 minutes before swords are pulled and chains shackled. Imagine the new series getting away with that!
"I am so constantly outwitting the opposition, I tend to forget the delights and satisfaction of the gentle art of fisticuffs" - The Doctor

The Web Planet (2x16-21) **

I'm quite torn on this one. Obviously, it's totally rubbish, but also highly distinctive and ambitious. It's nowhere near as boring as 'The Sensorites,' but as a six-parter it was still hard to get through.

It's only been three stories since we last had giant insects, and they were much more convincing in 'Planet of Giants.' But then, those didn't have the burden of representing an entire alien civilisation. The Zarbi and the crawling larvae things are bad enough, but it's the choreographed Menoptera wasp people that would provide the biggest source of shame if a significant other walked in. Forget what you learned in 'The Rescue' - sometimes unconvincing alien costumes just have to be accepted.

Yes, it's impressive that they fly, but the way it's done only makes it look more like some weird play. I did like the eerie, Mélièsesque landscape, even if those camera filters messed with my eyes.
"We must make mouths in it with our weapons, then it will speak more light" - Hetra

The Crusade (2x22-25) **

I'm getting a bit bored of these pseudoeducational historicals now. Can't they throw in some androids or a Mandragora or something? I could do without Barbara getting taken prisoner by thugs every time too, but I remember Sarah Jane, so it's not like that's going to go out of fashion any time soon.

There are lots of familiar faces from the past and future here, even if some of them are blacked up. Half of it's reconstruction and thus borderline unwatchable, but I made it through the '80s so I can handle anything.
"A girl dressed as a boy? Is nothing understandable these days?" - Chamberlain

The Space Museum (2x26-29) **

It seems we're continuing to alternate between real history and escapist space stories. I'd say I prefer the latter, and I know they'll win out eventually, but they're not doing themselves any favours at the moment.

It was great at the beginning, with some seriously weird phenomena going down and the Doctor being amusingly unperturbed. Hartnell chuckles his way through the first couple of episodes, before the fourth dimensional stuff is abandoned and it turns into a tedious revolutionary story between two unimaginatively designed alien races. I suppose that's what we get for criticising 'The Web Planet.'
"The least important things sometimes, my dear boy, lead to the greatest discoveries" - The Doctor

The Chase (2x30-35) ***

The not-so-long-awaited third Dalek story is their weakest yet, simultaneously making them more threatening - as they develop time travel and pursue the TARDIS across time and space - and much less so - with some bumbling comedy Daleks undoing all that hard work. The bit where the TARDIS TV spies on them making their plans was a bit scary, probably because it reminded me of when the Dungeoneers used the Spyglass to spy on Lord Fear in Knightmare. I couldn't handle the tension and had to hide in the hall until my brother gave the all-clear. Twenty-eight years old I was.

Even before I read about its rushed production, it's clear that there's little focus here. Terry Nation gives us another eclectic travelling adventure after 'The Keys of Marinus' that varies as wildly in tone as it does in location, from gags with tourists at the Empire State Building to double-crossing amphibians, the Mary Celeste, a haunted house, a carnivorous jungle (again), robot duplicates and Robot Wars. There's way too much going on - are the Daleks not enough any more?

It's saved from total mediocity by quite a nice exit for the remaining original companions, but spoiled by some out-of-place Beatlemania undermining the Dalekmania. Apparently this is considered the worst Dalek story of the classic series, but I still preferred it to 'Destiny.'

The Time Meddler (2x36-39) ****

There have been a couple of contenders for the first properly good story of the series, but this is the stand-out so far. Now that the teachers aren't around, the historicals are under less pressure to be educational - a Viking helmet with horns is the first clue - and the rustic Medieval village plays host to our first encounter with a recurring baddie and fellow Time Lord, not that they're identified as such yet. The cliffhanger where a sarcophagus is revealed to be a TARDIS would have been genuinely mind-blowing if I wasn't already acquainted with the Monk from Paul McGann audio adventures.

I really liked The Monk (his nickname is presumably a recent affectation, unless he just really has a thing for vestments). He's no Master - he's much too bumbling and even more cartoonish, especially when he leaves step-by-step instructions to his nefarious schemes lying around to give the goodies a fair chance. I especially liked how his properly functioning TARDIS got under the Doctor's skin, which was presumably even more incentive to thwart his meddling ways.
"You know as well as I do the golden rule about space and time travelling. Never, never interfere with the course of history!" - The Doctor

Galaxy 4 (3x01-04) *

My opinion may have been swayed by sitting through three parts of a gloomy, deteriorating VHS reconstruction, but I don't see how infamously bad episodes like 'Underworld,' 'The Twin Dilemma' and 'Timelash' are really any worse than this. I assume those rankings are influenced by so-called "fans" like me who put off the off-putting trawl through missing episodes until a later date and then did their best to forget about them.

This isn't completely unmemorable, mainly thanks to a couple of aliens seemingly designed after poo. The unsurprising twist that the Chumleys aren't the baddies after all at least excuses their unintimidating design, since I thought we were supposed to take them seriously as something to rival the Daleks in episode one.

The third alien race is just some rubbish women. The regular characters act out of character, and even the title was composed with minimal effort. Worst. Episode. Ever?

Maybe 'Time and the Rani' is still worse. I'll give you that.
"This isn't a joyride, it's a scientific expedition" - The Doctor

Mission to the Unknown (3x05) ****

Here I was thinking 'The Web Planet' was the weirdest story ever, then we get this peerless curiosity. It helps that it's actually good this time.

Even by this point there's been more than a handful of individual episodes where the Doctor wasn't around, as William Hartnell headed off to Brixham or wherever older people went on holiday in the 1960s, but this is the first and so far only time that no familiar characters feature or even get a mention. The closest thing is the Daleks, and I'm going to go out on a limb and predict that the threat of their imminent Master Plan is more nail-biting than whatever that gargantuan story ends up being about when I get to it. Hopefully I'm wrong.

I'd love it if the series went off on odd tangents more often. Maybe not these days, when we're lucky if we get a baker's dozen a year, but back in the days before workers' rights when those people would work practically all year, the odd one-part adventure would be a fresh of breath air for everybody. They don't all have to be so bloody dark, though I wouldn't mind.

The Myth Makers (3x06-09) ***

I would have read the book if I'd known the reconstruction was so lacking.

The obvious comparison here is 'The Romans,' taking the same not-entirely-serious approach to historical drama (though less Carry On this time) and having the Doctor unintentionally inspire mythic events, the damned time meddler.

The supporting characters are unusually strong too, thanks to them being well-established for millennia. The exception is Katarina, an assistant soothsayer or something who abruptly ends up replacing Vicki in the TARDIS. What was that all about? I feel I hardly knew Vicki, though to be honest I'm still having trouble adjusting from the original companions. That doesn't bode well for the decades ahead.
"When we enter Troy, I can't stop every woman and ask her if she's a friend of yours. It wouldn't be practical" - Odysseus

The Daleks' Master Plan (3x10-15 & 17-21) ***

The more I see of the Hartnell era, the less it feels like a default template for what was to come, and the more I admire its restless ambition. The finished product might not live up to the ambition most of the time, but I'd rather sit through a wildly meandering 12-parter than play it safe with alternating historical and futuristic serials every month.

This should have been the ultimate Dalek story, if Terry Nation hadn't hit on the inspired 'Genesis of the Daleks' a decade later. If I was a kid, I've no doubt I would have been gripped. As someone who's much too old for it, I at least admired the brutal finale. 'Destruction of Time' has got to be near the top of the recovered episodes wish list.

These umbrella serial titles were added retroactively, so I don't mind that it's a jumble of ideas, from galactic summits to invisible monsters to meddling with the Monk in Ancient Egypt. It's no worse than 'The Trial of a Time Lord' or even 'The Chase' in that regard. The notable exception is the ludicrous digression of episode seven, which I'm not including because they didn't bother to either.

For all the time and space hopping and Dalek busting, this story is most memorable for its characters. Nicholas Courtney makes a surprise appearance years before becoming the Brigadier, so nerds can have fun speculating about future genealogy there. The revolving door of companions is swinging faster than ever, with the replacement The Woman One from the end of the previous story not making it four episodes into this one before being bumped off, and her replacement being similarly short-changed further down the line.

The Doctor and The Man One look appropriately depressed. Give them a whimsical historical or something.
"What a waste. What a terrible waste" - The Doctor

The Feast of Steven (3x16) *

Whoops! I just noticed that the mid-point of our 12-part Dalek epic lands slap-bang on Christmas Day. Well, that's alright - kids love Daleks, let's just throw in a bizarre fourth-wall-breaking Christmas message from the Doctor at the end to acknowledge it.

No, on second thought, scrap the Daleks and any semblance of continuity. Let's just film as many unconnected ideas as we come up with until we've filled 25 minutes and broadcast the most pointless and disposable episode of all time, even by our standards. With any luck, it won't survive.

And I thought the modern Christmas specials were lacking.
"Incidentally, a happy Christmas to all of you at home!" - The Doctor

The Massacre of St Bartholomew's Eve (3x22-25) *

It's a historical alright, but gone is the humour that's characterised these romps recently. This is a deadly serious trip to 16th century France that left me even more bored than the last French historical. Couldn't we have stayed in Egypt for a full story?

Things perked up a bit with the appearance of another Doppeldöctor, but that amounted to absolutely bugger-all. The only saving grace is the last 10 minutes when the Doctor and Steven have the argument about everyone dying that they should have had at the end of the last serial. The Doctor is briefly left to contemplate a life of solitude before the next The Woman One shows up to be abducted.
"They've all gone... all gone. None of them could understand" - The Doctor

The Ark (3x26-29) ***

Our first of many - probably incompatible - grim far future forecasts for humanity, this is a mash-up of hack sci-fi tropes that had already been done to death by this point (it wouldn't stop Star Trek doing them all again later). But I really enjoyed it. The first half anyway, before it became about another revolution and invisible, godlike aliens, but I liked how time travel was used to give us a sequel within the same story.

Most impressive is the steamy jungle set that incorporates real wildlife (not all real) and is a chance to dispense some valuable nature and health education, even if the latter is just doing The War of the Worlds. Then there are the Monoids, of course, which are easy to criticise but are still one of the creepiest and most distinctive species yet.

In spite of her inconsistent accent and nearly wiping out the last remnants of humanity, I'm quite liking Dodo and her '60s slang. It's making me realise the value of contemporary companions for grounding things, having only hung out with futuros and a Trojan in recent history.
"Why are you dressed in these stupid clothes? Have you been frootling about in my wardrobe?" - The Doctor

The Celestial Toymaker (3x30-33) *

I would have enjoyed this more if I was a kid, or at least not realised it wasn't worth watching. I thought it might just be down to the reconstruction, but the surviving fourth part revealed I hadn't been missing much.

It made me think of a scary Playschool crossed with a low-budget Crystal Maze, but only because I'm not old enough to know some of the specific, dated characters it's referencing. The Toymaker himself is one of various characters who I've encountered in the supplementary canon before seeing the real deal, and he hasn't made an impression on any of those occasions. He's certainly no Monk.

The Doctor's hardly in this one, even during the two episodes William Hartnell was around for. I have to admit, I've started counting down the stories to his departure, though that's mainly because I'm excited about Troughton. I doubt I'll feel the same when it's Pertwee on the horizon.
"Nothing is just for fun" - The Doctor

The Gunfighters (3x34-37) **

Vintage American shows would often fall back on a Western episode when they ran out of ideas or wanted to make use of existing sets. Here's a British series boldly setting out to do a Western musical without a surplus of sets, convincing accents or musical talent.

At least it's more fun than the last bloodbath historical they did. The narrative song segues are irritating, but at least they're trying something different - I prefer a bit of misguided experimentation to playing it safe any day. So even if I didn't like it all that much, it's not like I'm going to forget it in a hurry.
"You're fast becoming a prey to every cliché-ridden convention in the American West" - The Doctor

The Savages (3x38-41) **

Where 'The Gunfighters' was deeply flawed but unforgettable, here we're back to just plain boring.

It's annoying how clearly they're sidelining Hartnell towards the end - here, another character absorbs the Doctor's "life force," which leads to some impressive mimicry but basically recasts the Doctor for most of an episode - and another companion is dumped on a whim. It's almost like these were weekly programmes rushed to a deadline and not expected to hold up to scrutiny over five decades later or something.

The story itself is passable for kids, who might be genuinely surprised when the 'Savages' turn out to be the goodies after all, though I'm probably underestimating their intelligence too. I was just grateful when the futuristic people showed up to spare us from another four episodes of cavemen.
"The sacrifice of even one soul is far too great" - The Doctor

The War Machines (3x42-45) ****

I'm probably guilty of disproportionately rating this one, but it feels like a long overdue step in the right direction. I don't want to say it feels 'modern,' but there's little difference between this and the 2013 episode 'The Bells of Saint John,' which also fawned over snazzy new London architecture (Post Office Tower/The Shard) and had a strain of technophobia. The Doctor doesn't ride a motorbike up the side of a building this time, but he does heroically stare down a rampaging death machine while the wimpy military runs away.

It's prescient sci-fi too, thanks entirely to new science consultant Kit Pedler, sort-of-predicting the internet and the inevitable rise of the machines. I didn't even mind that the eponymous War Machines looked a bit silly and sounded worse. In the swinging sixties spirit, the Doctor even visits the hottest nightclub in town and engages in a little companion swapping. Dodo didn't amount to much, then.
I can't justify that. I'm just going to have to ignore it like I've learned to do with the cameras bumping into scenery, unconvincing monster costumes, unexplained background music, titles overlaid on the scene, actors I've seen in other things, etc.

The Smugglers (4x01-04) *

I like the new complementary companion dynamic, but that's the only positive thing I have to say about this latest boring and inappropriately violent historical. Why did they even give Ben a nautical background if his first story's going to be about pirates and he doesn't set foot aboard a boat?
"Oh dear, all this distraction. I really thought I was going to be alone again" - The Doctor

The Tenth Planet (4x05-08) **

I've made it through William Hartnell, missing episodes and all. Tom Baker was much longer, but I didn't feel I was owed some sort of celebratory cake or sticker after that, since that was the programme I actually liked.

This was strictly for completion's sake, with more troughs than peaks, and despite the double significance of this final story, it still managed to be an entirely disappointing farewell. Fitting, I suppose.

Could they get away with bringing back the original Cybermen in the new series? Those headlamps would have to go.
"It's far from being all over" - The Doctor

The Power of the Daleks (4x09-14) ***

As much as you have to respect Terry Nation, it's a relief to see a different writer taking on his creations. And David Whitaker is a fresh of breath air indeed, serving to make a lone, disarmed, apparently servile Dalek more intimidating than a time-travelling horde. It's a lesson the revived series took to heart in Robert Shearman's Dalek episode, then instantly forgot. Even the Doctor's uncharacteristically terrified of them here - but what is characteristic any more?

Because stuff the Nth failed invasion of the pepper pots - the real interest here is the Doctor's renewal, and while new clown-shoes-filler Patrick Troughton doesn't exactly storm out of the gate to win over all sceptics and confused 1960s children alike, I like the handling of the transition very much. He's unconfident, confused in his identity, and even one of his companions doesn't seem entirely convinced. They didn't take the easy route, and the ripples are still felt in every post-regeneration story of the modern era.

What a tragedy those critical scenes are missing then. Couldn't we have exchanged it for a few fewer Hartnells?
"Life depends on change and renewal" - The Doctor

The Highlanders (4x15-18) *

I was looking forward to Jamie's arrival, but beyond that introduction and some pleasant moors scenery, this was a surprisingly, depressingly unimpressive tale. If it does turn out to be the last of the pure historicals, I'm at least hopeful that the worst is behind me. I've already made it through all of the '80s, after all.

As ever, it didn't help that these episodes don't actually exist. Ten episodes in and I still haven't had a proper look at this new Doctor (aside from '80s team-ups, I've only seen 'Tomb of the Cybermen' and that was years ago). Though considering he spends much of this story inexplicably putting on a German accent and dressing in drag in the midst of carnage, I'm at least glad we didn't lose a better one instead.
"Don't the women of your age do anything but cry?" - Polly Wright

The Underwater Menace (4x19-22) ***

From a violent historical, we plunge into a completely kid-friendly, fantastical, pretty damn stupid B-movie, and it's much more entertaining.

The inexplicably mad Professor Zaroff is an over-the-top delight, who shares the same thirst for total destruction as some of the Doctor's more famous nemeses, if not the resources.

Troughton's Doctor finally finds his feet here too, utilising his clumsy facade to cause distractions and get up to mischief two decades before they tried the same approach with McCoy.

The less said about the Atlantean fish people, the better, but it's only one slightly embarrassing sequence. It's not like it's 'The Web Planet.'
"I could feed you to my pet octopus, yes?" - Zaroff

The Moonbase (4x23-26) ****

Kit Pedler is the new Terry Nation. His second Cybermen story is really enjoyable, but they're going to hit diminishing returns before too long. As far as design goes, they might be slipping already - the cloth faces and sing-song voices of their debut were downright weird, and that's why I sort of liked them.

It's nice to see moon fever gripping this pre-Armstrong episode, which fawns over its bouncy, airless possibilities and sees the Doctor & co. don spacesuits for the first time. I'm also enjoying Jamie's superstitious primitivism when confronted with modern technology - it'll probably get old fast, but historical companions hit the sweet spot that futuristic ones don't.
"There are some corners of the universe which have bred the most terrible things" - The Doctor

The Macra Terror (4x27-30) ***

I'm getting a bit depressed by all these recons, especially as I'm really into this Doctor now and this isn't just historical curiosity any more. I tried to comfort myself that actually seeing the Macra would detract from their menace, but I wasn't convinced. Then again, with Dudley Simpson's weird electronic soundtrack and imitable sound effects, it probably would be one of the best stories to listen to.

You might, not unreasonably, expect 'Doctor Who and the Giant Crabs' to be among the worst excuses for a story they ever dared to broadcast. I certainly went in expecting B-movie trash, but it's really pretty good - and very reminiscent of The Prisoner with its mind-controlled conformist holiday camp. The Doctor's all hands-on and his companions are screwed around with, this is proper Doctor Who now. I just wish I could see it.
"No one in the colony believes in Macra! There is no such thing as Macra! Macra do not exist! THERE ARE NO MACRA!" - Controller

The Faceless Ones (4x31-36) ***

How long until UNIT shows up? Having some allies Earth-side would really cut down on the authority-evading padding. Throw in some psychic paper and this could all be over in 45 minutes.

Predominant recon grumbles aside, my main problem with this one is that it feels too long at six episodes, especially when most of that's spent in the airport. I already know that this particular gripe won't be dealt with for another decade or so when they finally abandon the six-parters, but since the series has become authentic Doctor Who now, I don't want any barriers to enjoying these as much as the Tom Bakers.

The last shreds of the Hartnell era are shed as Ben and Polly bugger off and the theme tune gets a nice, subtle rearrangement to fit Troughton's face. The only other time there's been an all-male TARDIS team it lasted all of several minutes - will they beat the record? First they'll have to find that elusive TARDIS.
"It's going to be one of those days, isn't it?" - Jenkins

The Evil of the Daleks (4x37-43) ***

David Whitaker certainly isn't short of ideas in this Victorian mirrorpunk Dalek apocalypse, but his Dalek stories are becoming as over-stretched as Terry's, so it was a good idea to rest the pepper pots for a while. Their resurrection in Pertwee had better be worth it.

Although only a seventh of the footage remains, I still don't rate this among the most coveted missing stories (it's no 'Daleks' Master Plan'). I don't think being able to see what's going on would make the plot any less nonsensical.

The best scenes are the character-heavy ones, as you realise is always the case when you get older than the target demographic, and it would be nice to recover the scene of Jamie berating the Doctor. Some rare, satisfying discord there, it must have been a surprise when he stuck around for the long haul.

And now we've got two historical companions, one slightly more out of touch than the other, which could be interesting. Though I suppose not all that different to watching characters from the 1960s, who are half way to Victorian themselves.
"DIZZY, DIZZY, DIZZY DALEKS!" - Immature Dalek

The Tomb of the Cybermen (5x01-04) ****

This is the only Troughton story I'd seen before (my only black and white serial until I cracked open Hartnell a few weeks ago), and it's fair to say I enjoyed it more in context this time, already being accustomed to the racism and atrocious accents and not batting an eyelid at obvious wires, pull-back-'n'-go Cybermats and Cyberman actors being replaced off-screen by lightweight dummies that are easier to throw. I don't think it's up there with the all-time greats, but it's undoubtedly my favourite up to this point. (To be fair, last time I said that it was about 'The War Machines,' so I needed a new benchmark).

Not only does it feature the Cybermen when they were still good (if self-defeatingly stupid) and that iconic, unflinching scene where they wake up after centuries of hibernation, it's also very well-paced with gradual reveals ramping up the tension, about half of the guest cast is very likeable, and the Doctor and companions dynamic couldn't be better. I still don't have a clue why the Doctor allowed and even encouraged any of this to happen in the first place, but if you can just ignore that, you'll love his witty banter and cowardly heroism.

Just a shame about the racism, innit?
"I think perhaps your logic is wearing a little thin" - The Doctor

The Abominable Snowmen (5x05-10) ****

By the end of the second episode (the only surviving one), this had already overtaken 'Tomb of the Cybermen' as my favourite story so-chronologically-far. It was one of those I'd been most looking forward to as well, introducing one of the Doctor's most enigmatic adversaries in the form of the Great Intelligence and still finding a place for vicious beasties. Alright, cuddly critters. The snuggly Yeti design works perfectly when you learn they're naturally docile.

I love Doctor Who when it's downright weird, and with its energy spheres and pyramids and transcendental possession, this is a story that lives up to the theme tune. Those five missing episodes are the most tragic loss to the series so far (even more than the Macra, I'm going there), especially as particularly muffled recons meant I had to resort to Wikipedia summaries to understand what was going on in the last two thirds of the story.

I'm only two stories in, but with more Great Intelligence and Yetis on the cards in a mercifully more intact serial, season five is looking to be a cut above. Who needs Daleks? Come to think of it, my favourite Tom Baker years didn't see bumps nor plunger of the buggers either.
"Down there is going to guarantee us the welcome of a lifetime" - The Doctor slightly underestimates the danger ahead

The Ice Warriors (5x11-16) ***

I was glad to see the back of the historicals, but these stories are getting a tad formulaic now. The scenes in the futuristic base under siege might as well be from 'The Moonbase' (with a splash of Victorian decor from 'Evil of the Daleks') and the snowy wasteland and caves aren't much different from the story we just finished. Not to mention that every time the Doctor lands next to a frozen base, he bumps into a new recurring adversary.

The Ice Warriors (who had better not end up referring to themselves as that) aren't a bad design, but I can see why they didn't catch on in the same way, since there's nothing particularly distinctive about the hissing, hulking reptiles. At least they're not robots for a change, and I hope their B-movie Martian theme sticks around for their next story at least.

The series doesn't pretend to be educational any more, but there are some ecological messages and technophobia mixed in here that are quite nice. And minimal missing episodes, which looks like it's going to be the case from now on, after a very rough patch. I would have exchanged a few of these for a more complete 'Abominable Snowmen' or some Macra action, but that's just getting greedy.
"What are your qualifications for existence?" - Varga

The Enemy of the World (5x17-22) ***

I asked for something different, so instead of Doctor Who, this time the characters have crossed over into an explosive ITC action adventure. At least it's not a historical. It's certainly a memorable outing, even if it's all downhill from the Doctor's splashing seaside exuberance at the start.

This is most notable for featuring Troughton in three roles: as the Doctor, the evil Mexican dictator Salamander and the Doctor impersonating Salamander with an even worse accent. It's a little infuriating that we have to wait right until the end of episode six for their inevitable face-off, but that is one tense scene.

I've no doubt I'd be less well-disposed to this one if I'd had to sit through five recons, as was the case until the whole thing was recovered a couple of years ago, but since it's a rare complete Troughton I can't be too ungrateful. I can even overlook the Doctor meddling massively in Earth history just because he happened to bear a resemblance (what was he subconsciously trying to tell himself during that regeneration?) Maybe when he revives with Hitler's face one day, he can go back and sort all that out too.
"They're human beings, if that's what you mean, indulging their favourite pastime: trying to destroy each other" - The Doctor

The Web of Fear (5x23-28) ****

I don't mind the Intelligence and its incongruous Yeti cohorts returning so soon, as that means a return to Weird Who, my personal favourite. Scenes of the TARDIS getting wrapped up in a space web and Abominable Snowmen lurking in the London Underground certainly do the opening titles justice. I even liked it when it turned into Action Who with an exciting shoot-out led by the not-yet-Brigadier in the character's first appearance - maybe I'll love the Pertwee years after all.

This was one of my most eagerly anticipated stories of the whole classic series, even if on reflection I preferred the first Yeti tale. Just as the soldiers speculate, how did those Tibetan robots make it all the way over here? Couldn't the Intelligence have lashed together something more fitting for subterranean London and the web motif, like, I don't know, spiders? But then the creature shop would have more work on its hands than just sticking eyes on existing costumes. In the most pathetically pedantic way, I was disappointed at their appropriation of the Cybermen's theme too.

It's another strong entry for season five and a deserved classic that I'm so glad was recovered rather than one of the rubbish ones. I certainly haven't wasted any time ungraciously fantasising about 'Enemy of the World' being exchanged for 'The Abominable Snowmen' so we'd have the almost-complete Yeti set. Life's too short for such futile exercises, especially when you're already wasting a substantial amount of it watching recons.
"We're the flies alright, but where is the spider?" - The Doctor

Fury from the Deep (5x29-34) ***

"The sky had never looked more menacing. Huge clusters of dark grey clouds had overwhelmed the early morning sunshine, threatening the approach of a gathering winter storm. And beneath it all: the sea; the cruel, unyielding sea, crammed with dark secrets that Man on planet Earth has never fully understood. Quiet and calm now, with small white tufts of foam curling gently across the surface, waiting for the gale force winds to lash them into a frenzy. An ancient mariner once said that if you stand alone on the sea shore, you will hear the sound of those who dwell in the deep depths of the ocean. Today was to be just such a day..."
So ominously begins Victor Pemberton's novel adaptation of his own script. I couldn't be bothered sitting through another full six-part telesnap reconstruction. I was hoping that my imagination might result in a better looking episode too, but that faculty has evidently been destroyed by watching too much '60s Doctor Who - my mental base-under-siege was still claustrophobic and the weed creatures didn't amount to more than a bit of bubblebath and someone shaking some foliage from (mainly) out of shot.

We're back to the conventional Second Doctor formula again, but the seaside and industrial scenery help to make it superficially different. What most struck me - from the novel at least - was how grim and horrific it all is. Until the silly and soppy finale, it's practically Quatermass.

I'm indifferent to Victoria's departure, since you can always bank on getting a replacement screamer before the end of the next story. Even if her screams won't save the planet.
"Every time we go somewhere, something awful happens" - Victoria Waterfield

The Wheel in Space (5x35-40) *

I didn't really mind that this was the first rubbish serial in a while. It had been a solid year up to this point, and there's a later tradition of the last story being the worst of the bunch, so it's nice to trace even these least desirable conventions to their origins.

A few more stock character traits are added to the Doctor's repertoire too, as he offers sweets and uses his John Smith alias after introducing the sonic screwdriver in the previous story. Let's just ignore the bit where he temporarily turns the TARDIS into an ordinary police box.

This is another boring space one with increasingly boring Cybermen. Hopefully this is their last appearance in a good while and they'll be rested like their other metallic counterparts, but I shouldn't set myself up for disappointment. The last episode has lots of cute space effects, but it's not enough to make the rest worth watching. Hopefully new companion Zoe's autistic Spock mannerisms will be toned down going ahead.
"We're all going to be killed shortly unless you switch over to sexual air supply" - The Doctor (alright, you can hear what he meant to say if you strain your ears)

The Dominators (6x01-05) *

After 'The Wheel in Space' the Troughton nadir is lowered even further, and season six gets off to a devastating start with an unwelcome reminder of the dullest space stories of the Hartnell era. Why did this one get to survive?

A bumbling bumpkin Doctor and Zoe's short skirt aren't enough to make this worth anyone's time. I suppose the Quarks might be enjoyable if you're five.
"Guns kill people, is that what you wanted to know?" - The Doctor

The Mind Robber (6x06-10) ***

I'm always happy to see the return of psychedelic weirdness, but after a fantastically eerie and minimalist opening episode - and undoubtedly one of the best cliffhangers in the whole series, as the TARDIS explodes and Zoe mounts the console in her delightfully inappropriate catsuit - things rapidly descend to childish riddles and fables.

It doesn't reach 'Celestial Toymaker' levels of immaturity, but I wasn't impressed with the bulk. Like 'An Unearthly Child,' it's redeemed by an unrepresentative opener.
"I think we may be in a place where nothing is impossible" - The Doctor

The Invasion (6x11-18) ***

I spoke too soon about resting the Cybermen, but this was worth it for iconic scenes of the silver villains stomping around London landmarks and sewers. This is Troughton's equivalent of 'The Dalek Invasion of Earth,' and it lays the foundations for his successor to have plenty more where those came from. I'm not entirely looking forward to being grounded - hopefully this year's remaining stories won't be similarly Earth-bound so I can get my space fix.

Classic images and UNIT introduction aside, this isn't a great serial. It's too damn long at eight parts, and the Cybermen only come in at the half-way point. It's essentially the same as many earlier and later stories, and it's a return to the ITC action style that isn't my cup of tea. On the plus side, only a quarter of it's missing - they really are spoiling us in this final year.
"I hate computers and refuse to be bullied by them" - The Doctor

The Krotons (6x19-22) ***

I wouldn't go as far as calling 'The Krotons' a good story, but it's important to distinguish it from the absolute garbage of 'The Dominators,' a recent story which probably looks indistinguishable to a casual viewer wandering into the room at embarrassing moments.

I'm happy to see Robert Holmes' name finally showing up, and beneath the tin-foil-and-kitchen-utensils surface, there is a lot more to his script than running away from rubbish robots in a quarry. The eponymous rubbish robots have a believable and suitably inhuman objective - waiting patiently for the primitive natives of this planet to educate themselves with the tools they've provided to the point where they can fix their spaceship and send them on their way, however long that takes.

It is a bit frustrating to see yet another bunch of spineless, gullible idiots obeying their unseen overlords without question. But don't worry, the Doctor will arrive some millennium soon to rouse them into atheist Luddites.
"Great jumping gobstoppers, what's that?" - The Doctor

The Seeds of Death (6x23-28) ****

I have a soft spot for the Yeti episodes, but this might be the best Troughton story so far. It's a shame I'm close to the end now, as his performance is getting better and better - though to be fair, that could just be because I can actually see it now.

It's yet another futuristic base under siege story - another Moonbase at that! - but it's fair to say it perfects that particular formula. The Ice Warriors were due a second outing, so as laughable as those lard-arsed costumes and their non-existent peripheral vision are, this is automatically more interesting than another Cybermen caper. There are even adorable Thunderbirdsesque rocket sequences.

More satisfying is the arty direction and the saturation of Moon fever in the story (this was 1968), celebrating the endeavour of space exploration and postulating a dystopian future in which humanity has lost interest and missions have been abandoned. I wouldn't want to live there.
"Oh no, this is worse than the TARDIS" - Jamie McCrimmon

The Space Pirates (6x29-34) *

The final ever story with missing episodes, I can't say it's a tragic loss. This might be even worse than 'The Dominators,' since at least that was good for a laugh before becoming interminable, and at least the Doctor and his companions did something in that one. It's flabbergasting that it was written by the revered Robert Holmes - now there's a writer who improved with age. Hopefully it didn't take too long.

The series has hardly been consistent with its four-dimensional universe-building, but this story of space pirates, space cops and space prospectors feels hard to reconcile with the various human futures I've seen. So best to ignore it then. If only episode two hadn't survived the purge, that'd be even easier.
"What a silly idiot I am" - The Doctor

The War Games (6x35-44) ****

If only it wasn't so damned long and repetitive, this would be up there with the greatest of all time. I'm not even sure if it's my favourite of the black and white era - I have a soft spot for 'The Abominable Snowmen,' if only I could actually watch it - but the initial multi-historical mystery and the entirely different, tragic finale are excellent. There's just a little too much capture and escaping and comedy Mexican bandits in-between.

I may have been especially receptive to them, but it seemed there were nostalgic call-backs to the entire Troughton legacy throughout, long before the shamefully re-used TARDIS clips and monster montage in the final part. A fitting finale indeed - and as regeneration stories go, it's only 'Androzani' that beats it (though I haven't seen 'Spiders' yet).
"Man is the most vicious species of all" - The War Chief

Spearhead from Space (7x01-04) *****

This certified classic inaugurates a bold, colourful, slightly worrying new era in style. I'm not greedy enough to expect every Pertwee story to meet this standard (I've only seen one of them before, and it was a bit rubbish), but this is extremely promising. Third time's the charm for Robert Holmes, and I might even warm to the Third Doctor who I previously would have ranked towards the bottom of the bunch, being as I am the sort of judgemental sod who'd form an opinion of a whole five-year period based on one slightly rubbish story.

Even if this didn't introduce a new Doctor and new order of things, it would still be notable for the terrifying Autons and their iconic high street rampage, which was lifted wholesale by Russell T. Davies to launch the new series in 2005. These dead-eyed, bulletproof mannequins that shoot indiscriminately and can actually run are fantastically inappropriate for the target audience, and since the Mary Whitehouse pressure wasn't applied until Tom Baker's run, I'm hopeful of many more unreasonably disturbing images in the days to come. And hopefully not too much of the Doctor driving around in vintage cars like a ponce.
"Shoes" - The Doctor

Doctor Who and the Silurians (7x05-11) ***

Pertwee's second story is his second to be essentially re-made for the modern series, he's doing well. Again I prefer the original, even if it has as many annoying flaws as interesting quirks. Sometimes these are the same thing, such as the kazoo soundtrack.

I understand why fans were disappointed about the updated look of the Silurians. The earliest I'd seen them previously was 'Warriors of the Deep,' but I've tried to scrub that from my memory. Because of that story, and since they remind me of the guys from Stingray, I've been mixing them up with Sea Devils. I'll get to them soon enough.

Now that Pertwee's settled in and under a new producer, the Doctor's lost the Troughton comedy cowardice and is taking more of an active role. He feels less like the Doctor to me, but I could say that for about half of them, so it doesn't have any meaning anyway. At least now I can finally understand his need for that stupid car as a TARDIS substitute to ease his withdrawal and give him some semblance of control.
"The knowledge I shall gain is worth any risk" - John Quinn

The Ambassadors of Death (7x12-18) ***

It took until half-way through the third story of this new era, or about 15 episodes, for me to get UNIT fatigue. I hope he gets that bloody TARDIS working before too long.

This story's very Quatermass, almost plagiaristically so. But I shouldn't complain, considering most of my favourite classic serials are even more blatant rip-offs of other stories.

It feels a little disappointingly mature as well, with no shoddy rubber suits in sight this time, and all these shoot-outs are getting extremely wearing. Do they really need to interrupt every single episode? I suppose it would have been less of a problem if you were watching over seven weeks rather than in one tedious sitting.
"Will you clear us for re-entry?" - Van Lyden

Inferno (7x19-25) ****

It feels like these plots all start out identically, with advanced technology going haywire and their arrogant inventors not listening to reason until it's too late. But they always end up somewhere radically different - in this case, a dystopian mirror universe where the Brig's eyepatch substitutes for Spock's beard.

This is a pretty great one, as usual cursed by being too long, but for once it's structured well for the marathon viewer. The car chases, shoot-outs and death-defying stunts are used sparingly for effect rather than interrupting every episode, and the set-up lasts a whole two parts before the Doctor crosses over and we get to enjoy bizarro action.

I don't know if this originated the trope of an alternate world being sacrificed so we can save our own, but it's cropped up in plenty of things since. Those things didn't usually feature inexplicable werewolves or Venusian karate though, so this wins.
"Compared to the forces that you people have unleashed, an atomic blast would be like a summer breeze" - The Doctor

Terror of the Autons (8x01-04) ****

In the fine sequel tradition, Robert Holmes delivers a satisfying second installment of those abominable Autons that manages to be even more inappropriately terrifying for its broadcast slot while also featuring some of the series' most famous unintentionally hilarious scenes as the living plastic turns chairs, telephone lines and creepy dolls homicidal. It's times like this I regret not being born 20 years sooner for the nightmare fodder.

More noteworthy than the return of the Nestene is the introduction of the Master (or reintroduction if you enjoy desperate continuity patching). This is the first time I've seen Roger Delgado after making do with all of his successors, but you just have to look at him to know he'll always be the best. Maybe that hypnotism isn't just in the script. The Doctor sorely needed a Moriarty, and this one's capable enough to be a credible threat while being self-destructively arrogant and vain enough to keep him permanently on the losing side.

I don't have much to say about the replacement of the smart blonde assistant with the slightly dumber blonde. There wasn't time to warm to Liz, and I'm sure Jo will be perfectly adequate in the screaming department. I'm just waiting for Sarah Jane really.
"That jackanapes!" - The Doctor

The Mind of Evil (8x05-10) **

Entertaining banter between the Doctor and the Master is hampered by a humdrum and typically drawn-out plot that feels even more disappointing in contrast to the recent zaniness. Would the kids have got a lot out of this? I didn't.

Innovative technology is running amok once again. For all its scenes of the Doctor tinkering with test tubes, there's quite an anti-science message embedded in this series. At least there's satisfying continuity with the Doctor's experiences last season, even if continuity with other eras is waaaaaaay off the mark.
"Let me tell you sir that I am a scientist. And I have been for several thousand..." - The Doctor

The Claws of Axos (8x11-14) ***

I have the bad feeling I've already passed through Jon Pertwee's "golden" period and it lasted a single season (and a bit). This is alright, but it feels a bit off, like when the Tom Baker era introduced K9. Oh well, at least the Autons were good. The Axons less so, though I appreciate their unpleasantly organic technology. Like the budget was ever going to do that justice.

I hoped it would take longer for the Master to descend from a credible if eccentric threat to a pantomime buffoon, but he's already arrived. I hope there's at least one more solid classic before I link up with Tom Baker. How long until Robert Holmes' next one?
"The Claws of Axos are already deeply embedded in the Earth's carcass!" - The Doctor

Colony in Space (8x15-20) **

We go temporarily traditional for one episode, and even though it's a break from the Earth and UNIT, it's not the good kind of nostalgia. And it's still full of shoot-outs, silly vehicles and the Master anyway.

It's amusing how out of touch the series is with some technicalities of its roots, evident in TARDISes failing to fade away properly (they had that effect sorted in 1963) and wallpaper failing to convince that we're looking at a three-dimensional wall. I'm fond of the stupid-looking aliens and the magnified lizard too.

My problem is entirely with the story itself, which is just drearily dull and trite in its allegory. They should have saved the six-parters for when they had a sizeable story to tell, but that's not going to be sorted for a long time. Dudley Simpson's music's finally started to piss me off too.
"Don't worry, Jim'll fix it" - Mary Ashe

The Dæmons (8x21-25) *****

Having previously ripped off The Quatermass Experiment ('The Ambassadors of Death') and Quatermass II ('The Seeds of Death'), it's time for Quatermass and the Pit to get the Doctor Who treatment, with less incisive social commentary and more exploding helicopters and unconvincing gargoyle beasties.

This is their first full-on gothic horror, a sub-genre that has a proud legacy ahead of it, and I bloody loved it, Bok and all. It's not like it's not supposed to be cheesy as Hell. But then, I am a sucker for ancient astronaut tales and clunky mythological retconning - the Doctor's OHP presentation is the sort of thing I watched all the time when I discovered YouTube. Plus, younger viewers get to learn a little about their pagan heritage and the value of rational scepticism in the face of superstition, even if that's undermined a bit by this series being so inherently ridiculous.

I can forgive the Master being find-and-replaced over a generic human baddie yet again, because it's my favourite performance from Delgado yet. Even though that poorly-planned "arc" seems to be over now, I hope he'll be back for at least one more story. It'd be nice to see what happened to turn him into Skeletor by the time he runs into Tom Baker.
"Chap with wings there, five rounds rapid" - Alistair Lethrbridge-Stewart

Day of the Daleks (9x01-04) ***

Go on then, you've behaved yourself, you can have the Daleks back. And it's not such a bad episode, so I won't begrudge a few more appearances, but those had better not be terrible.

Like the abnormal TARDIS a few stories ago, the Daleks have been out of action for so long, they've forgotten how to do them properly. The voices are rubbish, I'm already struggling to reconcile their chronology, and while they once glided impressively through narrow doorways, here they stumble around and temporarily reveal what look suspiciously like feet propelling them along like a Flintstones car. It's cute. But fix it. And why are there so few of them? They make up the numbers with the Klingon-like Ogrons who we've never seen before and may not see again, at least until the Dalek Attack Amiga game.

At least the jaunt to the future was a break from UNIT, and the Master didn't show up this time. The best part was the time travel oddness - why did they hardly ever do stuff like that?
"You are trapped in a temporal paradox" - The Doctor

The Curse of Peladon (9x05-08) ***

This is the only Pertwee story I'd seen before this time around, back when YouTube first came out and was less well policed, and I sampled a story or two from each Doctor. It's no surprise I decided not to explore this period further - what an arbitrary choice of story!

Maybe I'd seen that the Alpha Centauri delegate was in it, and I was intrigued to see just how bad that looked. Its image featured in a book about aliens I had as a kid, and greatly amused me. Imagine if it had been the Kandyman, I would have pissed myself.

It's a shame the aliens are either ridiculous or boringly human, as the castle and mountains are atmospheric and the story's an adequate whodunnit, painting the Doctor and the audience as slightly racist for assuming the Ice Warriors must be behind the mischief just because they've tried to ruthlessly conquer the Earth a couple of times.
"There is no plot" - King Peladon

The Sea Devils (9x09-14) ***

The Silurian sequel is much the same thing as before, except the Master's in this one and it's on beaches, not in caves. The music's still annoying, but not as bad as the kazoos. The costumes are bloody rubbish. Look at it.

The maritime scenery's all very nice, and the Navy vessels and extras add some weird authenticity, but as ever it's padded as hell at six parts. Like complaining about that is going to make a difference 44 years later.
"I reversed the polarity of the neutron flow" - The Doctor

The Mutants (9x15-20) **

The Doctor is sent on another reluctant mission for the Time Lords. Look, if you're running out of Earth-based antics and want him to go to space every once in a while, just have him fix the TARDIS already!

This one has a pretty bad reputation, but I don't let these received opinions influence mine. I strive hard to be contrarian, but considering 'The Mutants' a fine example of the series' heyday would be pushing it too far. Still, I didn't think it was as bad as loads of other Pertwees I've seen, mainly because of the lovely, gloomy location filming on moors and caves (though that didn't save 'Revenge of the Cybermen'). If they'd cut out all the boring, set-bound space politics that feels like a different story already, I'd even be fond of it.

Future humans are portrayed as dicks as usual. Don't ask me if this future Earth chronology stacks up, I'm not responsible for worrying about that.
"They shall have their independence, whether they're ready for it or not" - Administrator

The Time Monster (9x21-26) ****

Another famously bad one, and finally my chance to break with convention - I thought 'The Time Monster' was cracking!

I should be tired of the Master by now, but I'm still enjoying Roger Delgado's performance, and luckily I find it amusing rather than frustrating how he keeps making the exact same mistakes and how little effort he puts into his "disguises." He's just being sporting and giving the Doctor a chance. It's nice to have UNIT back too after their brief absence, this is a very comfortable era.

The guest performances are better than they've been in a while (even if Ingrid Pitt is most notable for reasons other than her acting), and there are loads of grand ideas in this, from the time-devouring Chronovores to the overlapping TARDISes. So what if the glowing chicken and lazy Minotaur aren't in any way convincing? This is a story that takes juvenile delight in making repeated reference to "TOMTIT" and "coccyx" and designs props to be unmistakably phallic. They knew what they were doing!
"Really, Doctor, you'll be consulting the entrails of a sheep next" - Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart

The Three Doctors (10x01-04) ***

It's a landmark event story, but I didn't enjoy it all that much. The continuing tradition of one Doctor letting the side down begins in earnest with William Hartnell unfortunately being too ill to make much of a contribution to this anniversary reunion. At least he bothered to show up - Baker and Eccleston didn't have arteriosclerosis, did they?

It's also a strange oversight to not bring back at least one old companion or familiar enemy. As much as I enjoy Stephen Thorne's bellowing as Omega, the Gell Guards are rubbish.
"Wonderful chap. Both of him" - Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart

Carnival of Monsters (10x05-08) ****

Another early classic from Robert Holmes, this is dang close to being perfect - even the Drashigs look more ferocious than the series' usual awkward puppet monsters (including the one in 'Terror of the Zygons' a few years later).

Since I wanted it to be one of my favourites, I'm going to be picky. The mystery could have been kept more mysterious if we'd started on the TARDIS arriving in a looping world of ghost ships, sea monsters and inexplicable giant hands rather than revealing the Miniscope right at the start. And the bickering bureaucrats are a Holmes staple, but that gets repetitive after a while - entirely my fault for having watched all but one of his other stories first.

Nitpicky ingratitude aside, this is a fine return to form now that the Doctor's finally able to leave Earth and explore the multicolour cosmos. I've been enjoying the terra firma UNIT era more than I expected, and I know it's not over yet, but this feels like proper, golden age Doctor Who again.
"You ought to have an L-plate for that police box of yours" - Jo Grant

Frontier in Space (10x09-14) **

You can't always judge a serial by its title, but in this case my worries were justified, as Malcolm Hulke expands on his future Earth mythos in a story only marginally more interesting than the similarly lazily titled 'Colony in Space.' I've been spoiled by those recent four-parters, this was a chore.

After four episodes of the Doctor and Jo breaking out of cells only to be instantly reincarcerated, things finally pick up when the Master gets hands-on in his machinations and the Doctor goes for a couple of space walks. I don't care that you can see the strings, these space scenes are looking considerably less crap with each passing year. Unfortunately, they'll only start looking truly impressive in the '80s after a diabolic sacrifice of story quality. Not that these are all belters.

The Draconian make-up also doesn't look bad at all, especially in contrast to those terrible masks from the previous story, and I appreciated Jo being written less pathetically as she holds her own against the Master. The big reveal in the last 10 minutes was probably exciting if you didn't already know the name of the next story too. It's not enough though, is it?
"Only you could manage to have a traffic accident in space" - Jo Grant

Planet of the Daleks (10x15-20) **

Old-school nostalgia is one thing, but Terry Nation's triumphant return to the series is just a complete re-hash of 'The Daleks' in a different setting. The 10th anniversary is almost an excuse, but I've got my eyestalk on you, Nation.

I was actually disappointed that the Master wasn't in this, after the build-up last time. It's not like there wasn't already an excess of padding with the Daleks' virus, the purple fur-clad Spirodons and the never-requested return of the Thals.

Oh well, at least the Daleks finally sound right again. That's about the only positive I can give. What was with the Supreme Dalek's torch? That's rubbish even for this.
"Courage isn't just a matter of not being frightened ... it's being afraid and doing what you had to do anyway" - The Doctor

The Green Death (10x21-26) ****

Dark, dank and surprisingly mature, this is about as stark a contrast to the faff of the preceding story as you can get. It'd work well in a boxset with the tonally similar 'The Seeds of Doom,' a pair of uncharacteristically serious stories that still make time for 'orrible beasties.

There's lots to love about this one, whether you're impressed by its still-progressive eco message, warm character moments or arguably the scariest scenes of the whole series. It's as padded as the average six-parter, but some of this padding is brilliant, namely the Doctor's solo, death-defying mini-adventure to swipe a Metebelan crystal. Now that's how you fill up those minutes! I didn't even mind Pertwee's tone-shattering disguises that much, but the computer was a bit of a pain, especially for teasing a final outing from Delgado's Master for most of the story before the disappointing reveal that he isn't behind things for once.

Hastily marrying off the companion is never my preferred departure strategy, but at least this one's less jarring than Leela's and half of the Hartnell ones. I felt for the Doctor as he drove off into the sunset, but it's impossible to be unhappy when you know who's over the horizon.
"It's exactly your cup of tea. This fellow's bright green apparently, and dead" - Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart

The Time Warrior (11x01-04) ****

Bernard Lodge's amazing new title sequence inaugurates the final season of my mixed-up voyage through the classic series. Everything's a countdown now.

Speaking of, this is my final Robert Holmes story, and a much better one to bow out on than 'The Ultimate Foe.' If I'm looking for flimsy excuses to binge in the future, the Holmes collection would be as good an incentive as any, though maybe I'd skip the Troughtons. His support characters are as delightful as ever, though to be fair, he isn't forced to pad out six episodes this time.

I've seen all the companions now, so I can confidently confirm that Sarah Jane is the best. I could have guessed that at the start. The Sontarans are a hell of a lot of fun here too, menacing but just arrogant enough to guarantee a downfall, aided somewhat by their massive design flaw. Sadly, they're all downhill from here.
"Bother me now, little toad, and you will feel an axe in your skull!" - Irongron

Invasion of the Dinosaurs (11x05-10) ***

It's hardly Harryhausen, but what did you expect? You could argue that they shouldn't have attempted dinosaurs if they couldn't pull it off, but for a time travel series to have avoided the eternally popular prehistoric monsters for so long is already impressive restraint. I'm sure the kids loved it, and there are a lot of incredulous laughs for grown-ups.

If you look beyond the dinosaurs, the flimsy excuse for their presence isn't half bad. Insane, sure, but no more than your average '70s plot, and if this had been part of season 8 they could have easily shoehorned the Master in there, it makes no difference.

The genuinely good parts are Captain Yates' unexpected betrayal and Sarah actually using her journalism skills before she becomes a full-time time traveller. Worst is the Doctor's new wheels. For god's sake.
"Sometimes that girl baffles me" - The Doctor

Death to the Daleks (11x11-14) **

Terry Nation rounds out Pertwee's pointless Dalek trilogy with another completely forgettable entry that fails to justify their continuing presence. He'd finally redeem himself next time with 'Genesis,' but that's three stories we've lost to the pepper pots, two of them precious four-parters. Oh well, at least we were spared the Cybermen for a while.

As usual in Terry's tales, there's a plague, disgruntled humans prone to betrayal and a secondary alien race of the month that we'll never see again. And action divided between a quarry, a futuristic city and dank caves. And Daleks, obviously, who are more pathetic here than we'll see again until 'Destiny.' It's all textbook Doctor Who, truth be told, but I don't like it when they refuse to think outside the police box. There was more variety when the Doctor was stranded on Earth.
"Inside each of those shells is living, bubbling lump of hate" - The Doctor

The Monster of Peladon (11x15-20) *

I wasn't exactly gagging for a return to Peladon. The series has a long established tradition of duologies, from the Yeti to the Autons, but Brian Hayles just rehashes the exact same story, with most of the same characters or equivalents, and stretches it to an interminable six parts. I don't want to risk reopening old wounds by scanning back through this era and potentially souring my opinion so close to the end, so I'll just say that it's the worst Pertwee serial. That's in my brain forever now.

Sarah's reaction to Alpha Centauri is insensitive but appropriate. The giant shrieking veiny green cock isn't even amusing any more.
"There's nothing 'only' about being a girl" - Sarah Jane Smith

Planet of the Spiders (11x21-26) ****

What a way to bow out! This manages to be both atypically weird and a love letter to the whole Pertwee era, bringing back characters, aliens, vehicles, planets and plot points with the sole, glaring exception of the Master for obvious, sad reasons.

You get the feeling Pertwee was making requests in the madcap part two, and why not let him chase the bad guy down by vintage car, flying futuristic car, helicopter and hovercraft all in the same gratuitous scene? He earned it. Tom Baker wouldn't get anything like this.
"Where there's life, there's..." - The Doctor

Glorious Goodwood *

The brief Doctor Who/Goodwood crossover that the BBC was too embarrassed to broadcast, you'd be hard pressed to find a worse example of the franchise than this, with the possible exception of 'Dimensions in Time.' The only consolation is that it's so short and obscure as to have absolutely no impact whatsoever. We wouldn't even be able to listen to it if not for its inclusion on a BBC archive compilation.

Jon Pertwee's Doctor literally phones in a weak excuse for not being able to be in this one, so it's up to Sarah Jane to... I don't know what happened, to be honest. She's taking the Whomobile for a spin on the race track that's totally in-character, some incorrectly voiced Daleks show up, nine minutes pass and then the wrong era's theme music closes things. I was too distracted by the lackluster audio production to concentrate, maybe I missed some gold.
"Put that in your Dalek pipe and smoke it!" - Sarah Jane Smith

Robot (12x01-04) ****

I've spent a lot of time exploring, enjoying and enduring the lesser and more obscure eras of the Whoniverse, so I thought it was about time I dared to watch episodes that I actually liked. I was worried that revisiting some old favourites and discovering a wealth of new classics in-between somehow wouldn't be entertaining. I should do this more often.

It's universally recognised that the Tom Baker years, specifically those overseen by Philip Hinchcliffe, are the best the series ever got. Isn't it? Really? Well, not everyone can be right. I didn't grow up with this Doctor, or with any Doctor at all (thanks, Grade), but even a few years into the revival series I refused to watch any other but Baker 1. That was a bit snobbish of me, but that young fool had a point, and limiting your scope to the series' longest serving star, covering many of its most acclaimed episodes, isn't the worst way to get acquainted before expanding your horizons. This is going to be great. And a bit rubbish too, because that's part of the fun.

This first episode is a very fitting passing of the torch from the Pertwee era under Barry Letts to the new. At least, that's what the internet tells me - I've only seen a couple of Pertwee stories, as the heavy UNIT involvement and action quotient doesn't really appeal to me as much as Tom Baker's bohemian wanderer in the fourth dimension. But even as an outsider, it's obvious that these are fond characters, sets and vintage vehicles getting their last hurrah before being relegated to nostalgic cameos.

The story itself is kind of daft but full of charm. The titular robot is adorably clunky and looks like it's going to fall apart at any moment, but to its credit, when it starts disintegrating tanks by episode four you're not laughing any more, and actually feel pity for the mistreated metal monster. Then it grows to a massive size and carries a Sarah Jane doll around, and it gets a bit funny again.

The new Doctor goes through a now-customary period of adjustment to get us to warm to him, but it won't be until the next episode that he gets a chance to really establish himself. This is more of a farewell to the Brigadier and humdrum Earth-bound villains before we set off to the stars and the golden age.

One day I'll get round to watching the Pertwee years. I'm open minded to the possibility of adoring them.
"There's no point in being grown-up if you can't be childish sometimes" - The Doctor

The Ark in Space (12x05-08) *****

Now that introductions are out of the way, the Hinchcliffe era begins in earnest and is instantly brilliant. This is Doctor Who doing a compelling mystery, proper sci-fi and the claustrophobic space horror of Alien before Alien, and even beyond the intriguing and engaging plot it perfectly establishes Tom Baker's definitive Doctor.

I guess that some modern viewers might not be able to get past the visuals, which is a shame. The wobbly toy space station is quite sweet, and wrapping the alien parasites in painted bubblewrap can seem hilarious to anyone watching post-1975, but you're just going to have to get over it, or alternatively stick to the Target novelisation.

In complete contrast to the unconvincing effects, I was impressed that they bothered to note details such as gravity and oxygen that are easy to take for granted in these stories, and the cramped white sets felt convincingly like a utilitarian space station. Speaking of whiteness, it was interesting to compare the Doctor's expectation that Earth's chosen specimens would be a melting pot to the actual result. While the strictly Caucasian and British crew is just as much a symptom of the time as the bubblewrap beasties, it does invite sinister speculation in a story that doesn't balk at exposing humanity's less noble tendencies.
"It may be irrational of me, but human beings are quite my favourite species" - The Doctor

The Sontaran Experiment (12x09-10) ***

This story has a few notable gimmicks to its name: it's a very rare two-parter, it's all outdoors, it continues directly from the last one (like all the stories this year) and it's a break from the TARDIS.

It's refreshing to see Sarah Jane and Harry enjoying some care-free time on the supposedly barren Earth after their latest ordeal, but it isn't long before Harry falls into a trap, Sarah's chased by a 'hovering' drone and the Doctor's captured by terrified colonists. Before the sole cliffhanger comes around, we learn what they're terrified of - a genuinely scary Sontaran performing clinically sadistic experiments.

The Sontaran here looks better than the ones from 'The Two Doctors' a decade later, proving that they used to have credibility before the revival series chipped away at it. I also enjoyed the South African / Australian-tinged accents of the off-world colonists, which is a simple and effective way to makes them feel more believable than the usual RP accents would have done. I liked Sarah Jane's extremely unstealthy outfit too.
"The moron was of no further use to me" - Styre

Genesis of the Daleks (12x11-16) ****

There's an unfair proportion of certified classics in the early Tom Baker years, and this was one of the first full stories I ever sat through, partly due to the reputation that comes before it. While it's a darned sight better than most Dalek stories (all of them? I'm fond of 'Remembrance' and quite partial to that second Peter Cushing film), it isn't up there with my personal all-time best.

That's partly because it's all a bit necessarily dreary, with little time for light-hearted moments beyond the Doctor emptying his substantial pockets for inspection, but maybe also because I'm not used to six-parters yet, and those multiple imprisonments and breakouts and serial tangles with random giant clams felt like conspicuous padding.

There's plenty to like though, from the grand scope of the Doctor being sent on a mission to avert the creation of his arch enemies to the atmospheric battlefield and the mix of compelling and comical cliffhangers. Showing us the Daleks' origin robs them of their mystery, but like all good retrospective origin stories, the pieces fit very well - Terry Nation takes the Nazi symbolism to the logical conclusion of actual SS officers who wear iron crosses and even do the 'clop' salute. One of them's even played by the effeminate Nazi from Allo Allo.

The Doctor's hesitation over committing genocide is deservedly legendary, and something that will haunt the character forever, but this story is most notable for introducing Davros. A completely merciless villain, it's a shame he'd be so overused in every single future appearance, though to the series' credit, the Daleks and their creator won't be back for some years yet.
"You have a weakness ... you are afflicted with a conscience" - Davros

Revenge of the Cybermen (12x17-20) **

This is an acceptably disappointing stinker in an impeccable run, I really don't mind having to sit through lots of running in caves when they actually bothered to shoot on location at Wookey Hole this time. I don't mind the re-use of the space station setting from 'The Ark in Space' either, since it serves as nice continuity in these semi-serialised adventures, and it's a real relief to see the TARDIS show up at the end after so long.

As for the bad points, most of that lies with the Cybermen, who are terrible. The only earlier story of theirs I've seen is 'Tomb of the Cybermen,' but those cold, synthetic-voiced machines that were genuinely sinister now have normal human voices, impractical head guns that require them to nod in the direction of their targets and are now (and forever after) massively vulnerable to gold. The Doctor's right to call them pathetic, but now that Tom Baker's had his mandatory encounter with them, they fortunately won't return until after his lengthy tenure is over.

We're done pandering to hesitant old-schoolers. Everyone loves this new Doctor now, so it's time to meet some new classic monsters.
"This time we shall not fail" - Cyber-Leader

Terror of the Zygons (13x01-04) *****

A holdover from the previous, truncated season, this damn fine romp would only have made Tom Baker's debut year more solid.

It's always been one of my favourites, partly because the Zygons themselves are so well realised with their tactile sucker suits and sinister whispers that you soon get over their stupid, what's-the-first-alien-sounding-name-that-pops-into-your-head name. But I also love it for getting the balance right between adventure and japes after a string of serious stories: the world may be in danger, but that danger comes in the form of the Zygons' sub-Harryhausen Loch Ness Monster cyborg pet.

The location shooting on the moors and quaint villages of Suffolk-passing-for-Scotland gives the story a brilliant dingy atmosphere too. The Brigadier gets a fittingly explosive send-off, Sarah Jane gets to be a journalist again for all of two seconds and there's even time for an eco-message about the perils of oil dependency.
"Very good, very good. Almost impressive" - The Doctor

Planet of Evil (13x05-08) ***

The Hinchcliffe sci-fi horror era begins in earnest with this remake of Forbidden Planet meets Dr. Jeykll and Mr. Hyde, complete with a bubbling potion. It's tellingly one of the less frequently discussed episodes from this golden period - I hadn't even heard of it before, and it turned out to be the most squarely average of Tom Baker's run so far (which still puts it above 'Revenge of the Cybermen').

There's an over-reliance on technobabble, more bland space humans meddling in antimatters they don't understand and lots of pointless running around to fill time, but the mummified corpses are creepy and the sound stage jungles of Zeta Minor look incredible. I'd watch two hours of the Doctor and Sarah just squelching around in that.
"What did you do, enter another universe and have a chat with it?" - Sarah Jane Smith

Pyramids of Mars (13x09-12) *****

Doctor Who meets The Mummy in this bona fide classic from Robert Holmes, bringing Egyptian mythology and ancient astronaut theory into the series, not for the last time, and introducing another compelling one-time villain who gives the Doctor a run for his money.

This is a strong contender for the all-time best story, spoiled only a little by conventional 70s racism. After all the fatal hi-jinks with robot mummies, zombified egyptologists and sacrophagus time portals in the first three parts, we head to Mars in the final episode and get to play The Crystal Maze.
"Kneel before the might of Sutekh! In my presence you are an ant, a termite. Abase yourself, you grovelling insect" - Sutekh

The Android Invasion (13x13-16) ***

Doctor Who meets Invasion of the Body Snatchers in this rare non-Dalek story from Terry Nation, which continues the reliable formula of a middling, unremarkable story being sandwiched between classics. The reveal of the androids themselves and their simulated habitat is well done, but it's spoiled by adding another forgettable set of aliens that sound like cartoon characters.

Like 'Terror of the Zygons' there's more scenic location shooting in the wilderness and around a quaint village, though less gloomy as they were filming in the summer this time, and when the Doctor is robbed of the TARDIS, he and Sarah have to make their way back to Earth in a less dignified, more reckless style. Even if you're not really enjoying the episode, you get the inevitable fistfight between the Doctor and his android counterpart towards the end, which is what you're always waiting for in stories with duplicates isn't it?
"I'm sure you shouldn't be drinking so soon after breaking your neck" - Sarah Jane Smith

The Brain of Morbius (13x17-20) *****

Doctor Who meets Frankenstein and goes all-out gothic in what might be my new favourite story. I've always been most partial to this horror-inspired era of the series, and this one features a gloomy castle, a body-snatching scientist and his deformed, dim-witted henchman, witches and their prophecies (basically), a torch wielding mob, hulking creatures carrying helpless maidens, thunder and lightning, a spaceship graveyard and perpetual fog. Hopefully it'll be a while before we're back to clinical white spaceship corridors.

It's not just a gory horror romp either, as we gain more insights into the mythology of the Time Lords ahead of our trip to Gallifrey in a few stories' time. Sarah Jane is contractually obliged to be a damsel in distress, but before she's cruelly blinded and carried around she proves her resourcefulness by getting the Doctor out of a sticky mess. The Doctor himself is great in this one too, wisecracking in the face of peril but still managing to take things seriously when required at this point.

As for the supporting players, I'm delighted but confused about why the head fetishising scientist was allowed to be broadcast, and I love Morbius' endless grumbling when he's restricted to life as a brain in a jar. He reminded me of Krang.
"Even a sponge has more life than I!" - Morbius

The Seeds of Doom (13x21-26) *****

Doctor Who does The Thing for a bit before becoming Day of the Triffids. Like 'Planet of Evil' and 'The Android Invasion' before it, I assumed I hadn't heard about this story before because it was another fairly dull one alternating with famous classics, but it's the first one so far that I can really call undeservedly overlooked. For a six-parter, it also felt surprisingly un-padded - even 'Genesis of the Daleks' didn't keep me interested throughout.

The main impression I was left with by this tale of deadly alien plants was how comparatively mature and adult it felt. Even the dafter characters - like the obsessive plant collector frustrated by his incompetent goons - feels more credible than the wacky scientists of 'Robot' at the start of this era. And while Jon Pertwee's Doctor often karate chopped his adversaries, here Tom Baker's snapping necks (non-fatally, it must be said).

The body horror as humans begin to vegetate initially feels like the same sort of thing as 'The Ark in Space,' albeit with less bubblewrap, but then all of the victim's humanity is consumed and that thing just grows and grows. While most people probably associate giant, tentacled green monsters with Doctor Who, it's actually pretty atypical - and the creature effects are a damn sight better than that laughable Loch Ness Monster just a few stories previously.

This is up there with the least laughable Who episodes generally, which extends to the Doctor's more dour, frustrated and hostile demeanour throughout. Even the presence of Boycie as the main villain can't lighten that mood - it might not get this dark again until the Colin Baker years, but I still have all the helpless tragedy of Peter Davison to come.

While I'm probably giving more credit to continuity than is really deserved, this may have been the straw that broke the Doctor's back when it came to assisting UNIT in its endless campaigns to fix the meddlings of humans. Next time they dig some weird artefact out of the ice and start shooting each other over it, they can get out of that mess on their own.
"It’ll be the end of everything! Everything! Even your pension" - The Doctor

Doctor Who and the Pescatons **

I'm not even thinking about attempting to cover all the Doctor Who audio dramas out there, since the number of those released by Big Finish alone exceeded the number of televised episodes long ago. But this one has special significance for being the first, and for the prestigious 1976 vintage that means the actors still sounded just like their characters. Big Finish doesn't always offer that.

I say "audio drama," it's really a dramatic reading audiobook with the Doctor narrating an uncharacteristically genocidal extracurricular adventure, accompanied by sound effects, endearingly crap electronic music and Sarah Jane Smith as herself. It's a lightweight alien invasion story that's really just for kids, and there's nothing wrong with that. It reminded me of a Batman audiobook I had as a kid, which featured a similar scene of underwater tentacle tangling.

If I'm going to treat it seriously as a Doctor Who story, the main flaw is that the Doctor himself is too generic. He's got Tom Baker's voice, but he won't be this out of character again until his lethargic final year.
"A fool, an eccentric, a liar. That's what the experts called me..." - The Doctor

The Masque of Mandragora (14x01-04) ***

They're enthusiastically pursuing the gothic vein in the new season, and even introduce a purpose-built TARDIS console room with wood panelling and stained glass roundels to help set the atmosphere. After spending some time in a psychedelic time-space whirlpool, the Doctor and Sarah are flung back to 15th century Italy, and they've brought something evil with them.

The historicals aren't my favourite of the series' many sub-genres, but they're more appealing when they're Hammered up with extraterrestrial 'demons,' and the villainous astrologer sounds suitably like Christopher Lee when he's under a mask. The Doctor gets to clash swords and ideologies, but Sarah Jane comes off less well in her penultimate story as she's reduced to a sacrificial maiden and possessed plaything.
"You humans have got such limited minds, I don't know why I like you so much" - The Doctor

The Hand of Fear (14x05-08) ***

Sarah Jane's swan song sees her get possessed for old times' sake and dress like Andy Pandy for no discernible reason. But before their touching farewell comes another horror-tinged story that begins strongly with an explosive dismembering and a crawling hand before Eldrad gains a boring body and we head to Kastria to navigate an obstacle course.

This is also notable for being the type of story that would normally feature UNIT, but since we've moved on from all that, it uses expendable scientists instead. With the Doctor no longer having any reason to hang clingily around Earth, we're really into new territory now.
"Eldrad must live!" - Sarah Jane Smith

Exploration Earth: The Time Machine **

By the time it was immersed in classic horror remakes, Doctor Who had let its original educational brief slide somewhat, but this BBC Schools special helped to make up for it. Starring Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen at the height of their powers, I'm surprised the series didn't do more things like this - though Sylvester, Sophie and K-9 would eventually give it a shot.

Alright, so as an adventure it doesn't stand up to the 'rest' of season 14, but you have to take it in context. These kids were going to learn about the formation of the Earth from someone, and they got to hear it from the best Doctor.
"Order is coming to this planet, a vast and lovely process. See how the surface quakes. See how it opens yawning wounds of fire" - The Doctor

The Deadly Assassin (14x09-12) ****

It's delightful to see Gallifrey, even if a 70s TV budget means we don't venture beyond a few similar-looking rooms before entering the Matrix and going on a psychedelic wilderness survival course.

I didn't dislike the Time Lords as much as I expected to. They're too preoccupied with pomp, tradition and class, but there are some good eggs in there, and they're all quite amusingly incompetent. The addition of a decaying version of the Master is frankly bizarre - would recasting Roger Delgado's character in the usual way really be more disrespectful than making him look like Skeletor?

This is also noteworthy for being the only story in which the Doctor goes it alone (for another 39 years, anyway). It works really well, but I'm sure the ratings would have suffered before long without the regular presence of totty. They'll make up for that very shortly.
"Only hate keeps me alive" - The Master

The Face of Evil (14x13-16) ***

In a break with tradition, the Doctor's new companion is a rebel, a killer and a "savage," to use the patronising parlance of the episode. More true to form are Leela's perfect RP accent and good looks, and they make the most of the opportunity to show those off.

I like to imagine that the Doctor's been travelling alone for some time. Certainly long enough to have started talking to an imaginary audience, and to have become even more care-free in the face of peril. It's refreshing to see him have to deal with the consequences of his carelessness and egotism, even if he's typically flippant about all the deaths and generations of misery he's partly responsible for. Ah well, nobody's perfect, even the infallible.
"Never be certain of anything, it's a sign of weakness" - The Doctor

The Robots of Death (14x17-20) ****

Some stories look good on paper but are a disappointment when realised on the screen. This one goes the other way, turning what could have been a by-the-numbers murder mystery with boring robots into a compelling story with the aid of dingy industrial sets and characters that act like real people, which isn't always a given in the series.

A strong sense of paranoia is in the air throughout, and when you combine it with the creepy look of the robots, you get another strong, nightmare-inducing installment for the classic era before they had to start toning things down.
"You're a classic example of the inverse ratio between the size of the mouth and the size of the brain" - The Doctor

The Talons of Weng-Chiang (14x21-26) *****

This is one of the favourite episodes, and as the culmination of a year and of Philip Hinchliffe's tenure as producer, they go all-out with the gothic horror and splash the budget on recreating foggy Victorian London. It's one of the best looking episodes of them all, with a strong story and some beloved characters too. Shame about the mild racism, but you can't have everything.

Many of the best stories from these past few seasons have been remakes of classic horror and sci-fi tales, and this one throws in elements of Sherlock Holmes, The Phantom of the Opera, Fu Manchu and Pygmalion along with real-life references such as Jack the Ripper. There's much more to it than homages though, as there's enough nonsensical technobabble and bizarre creations to keep it original and totally Doctor Who.

Jago and Litefoot are two of the most fully realised characters the series ever offered, handling their two-hander scenes with aplomb, and it's nice that they're keeping the savage-out-of-water trope going with Leela. It might get old soon, but it's necessary to keep her from being another shrieking sidekick, there'll be enough of those in the 80s.
"Never trust a man with dirty fingernails" - The Doctor

Horror of Fang Rock (15x01-04) ***

New producer Graham Williams isn't too quick to ditch the horror trappings of his predecessor's era in this claustrophobic creeper set splendidly in a lighthouse, in which (SPOILER ALERT) absolutely all of the guest cast dies. Like the previous story, the historical setting has kept it from dating too badly - that's taken care of by some of the special effects, though the Rutan itself doesn't look too bad for a glowing space jellyfish.

This is the first story in a while that has felt longer than it needs to be at four parts, which isn't helped by cliffhangers that feel more shoehorned than usual and the introduction of a new batch of expendable and quite annoying characters in part two just to give the Rutan something to do.
"You will do as the Doctor instructs or I will cut out your heart" - Leela

The Invisible Enemy (15x05-08) ***

The gothic atmosphere is ditched in favour of a lighter tone, and the Doctor gets a robot dog. I have a bad feeling I've come out on the other side of the golden age now, but I know there are still some crackers to come. Even better, I've now reached a point in the series that I know practically nothing about. I hope there isn't a good reason for that.

They certainly haven't run out of barmy plots or stretched homages yet, as what begins as a standard possession story gradually evolves into a Fantastic Voyage taken by a clone of the Doctor into his own brain to combat a macro microbe. There's some truly awful science here, so don't pay attention kids.

Leela's back in the leather leotard but at least she's still valued for her hunting skills, saving the Doctor's life a few more times and coming up with the violent solution that ultimately saves the day. As for the TARDIS' new recruit, I didn't instantly loathe K9 like I expected to. He's actually pretty funny, and it's going to be entertaining to see just how many times they have to awkwardly frame shots to disguise the fact that he can't actually go in or out of the TARDIS.

Image of the Fendahl (15x09-12) ***

It looks like this is going to be the last gasp of the gothic era, and while it includes all the right ingredients - a dingy manor, spooky skull, sinister demon/god and her hooded acolytes, plus more than a little borrowing from Hammer ("Don't look at the eyes, Rex!") - it doesn't feel like one of the classics. Actually, it feels like exactly the sort of thing Russell T. Davies would write for kids' TV 15 years later, reminding me of both Dark Season and Century Falls. I guess this one really made an impression on the young imagineer.

There's some really excellent mythological background here, as we learn about yet another lost planet in our solar system's past - one that terrified even the Time Lords - and the appearance of the Fendahl would definitely have freaked me out as a kid, which is certainly aided by it not having any lines. Unfortunately, the whole thing feels pretty repetitive with yet more meddling scientists and giant bug monsters, plus an overwhelming amount of technobabble in the final part that I enjoyed at first but eventually tuned out.

So far, this hasn't been a bad season by any means, but without the usual highs and lows it feels like the most distinctly average one in Tom Baker's run. Even Leela's started to lose her individuality and to become a generic assistant. They don't even use K9.
"How do you kill death?" - The Doctor

The Sun Makers (15x13-16) **

One of the things I've always admired about the Tom Baker years is their commitment to trying new ideas, rather than relying on the popular baddies. But it's reached the point where falling back on tried-and-tested successes might not be the worst idea.

This four-part satire of the dehumanising tax system isn't the most gripping story they've ever produced, and doesn't even try for laughs as much as it should. It's no 'Happiness Patrol,' and it isn't helped by villains who are more irritating than amusing or intimidating and exteriors and interiors of 'Pluto' that look like car parks because they were.

I've read contradictory accounts of when exactly Tom Baker stopped taking his role seriously, but even by this half-way point of his tenure, the Doctor's absent-mindedness and clumsy mannerisms feel forced. And K9 makes plot resolutions too easy by blasting everything, like a Nu Who sonic screwdriver. The bit where Leela's filmed from below as she climbs down a ladder is pretty good though.
"You touch me again and I'll fillet you" - Leela

Underworld (15x17-20) *

The 'distinctly average' season 15 took a sharp decline in the last couple of stories, and this severely disappointing entry is every bit as bad as the worst of the derided Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy years.

Just about everything is wrong with this one, which recycles some of the most over-used elements in the series (personality-free astros, a cocky computer), is padded out to fill the running time by repeating scenes and even has a monotonous soundtrack to help you drift off.

If it was a decent story I could forgive the horrible virtual sets necessitated by a lack of budget, but if they had to make one story look terrible to save money, at least they did it here and didn't ruin a half-good one. Some scenes looked like they were straight out of Knightmare, but without the exciting tension.
"Myths often have a grain of truth in them if you know where to look" - The Doctor

The Invasion of Time (15x21-26) ***

The season crawls back from the depths for this intriguing return to Gallifrey, though the home of the Time Lords doesn't look or feel as mysterious as it did in 'The Deadly Assassin.' Our long overdue in-depth exploration of the TARDIS is also a mixed bag, combining endlessly repeating corridors and storage rooms with the occasional carnivorous jungle.

The story is awfully padded at six parts. It actually looks like it's going to end at part four before a twist brings the Sontarans from out of nowhere, but they're basically just a replacement for the generic plastic bag villains that had already taken forever to invade.

It was enjoyable enough at the time, but I really can't imagine sitting through all this again. To cap off the disappointments, Leela is robbed of the blaze of glory she deserves and concludes her tenure in the most pathetic way possible.
"There's nothing more useless than a lock with a voice print" - Borusa's voice print

The Ribos Operation (16x01-04) ***

I like the gimmick of a season-long arc shoehorning fragments of a MacGuffin into every story, though not as much as I would have done back when I was the appropriate age for this stuff. After a brief prologue in which the Doctor is sent forth on his noble quest to gather the pieces of the Key to Time, it's predictably back to otherwise self-contained stories that could really be watched in any order.

Still, with this being the first one, we get to meet the Doctor's new Time Lady companion. As well as being a nice change from all those inferior humans, Romana's ice queen personality (she actually wears white furs in the snow in this one, just to make that clear) works like Leela's hunting skills to keep the Doctor in check, something that seems to be ever more necessary as Tom Baker stops taking the role as seriously as he used to.

For me, these superficial charms overtook the actual plot, which is fine but not one of Robert Holmes' most compelling. At least he can actually write characters in more than one dimension, something that's been lacking in the past few stories.
"If you call that being nearly killed, you haven't lived yet. Just stay with me and you'll get a lot nearer" - The Doctor

The Pirate Planet (16x05-08) *****

As someone who originally checked out Doctor Who for the Douglas Adams connection, this was naturally one of the first ones I watched, and I remember being a bit disappointed by it compared to the more popular 'City of Death' (which Adams co-wrote) and even the patched together remains of 'Shada.' Watching it again a decade later, and with considerable background viewing behind me, I enjoyed it a lot more, especially coming at this otherwise mediocre point in the series.

The BBC wanted the show to move away from horror, and it (mostly) complied, but this is the first episode that really tries to take it in a new genre direction towards comedy. I think it works brilliantly, and that's not entirely my inner Douglas Adams fanboy speaking. Like the Hitchhiker's Guide, Red Dwarf and other genuinely decent sci-fi comedies, its sci-fi concepts are absurd but inspired, and Adams has a lot of fun sending up the usual stock characters that the series falls back on in its less excellent moments.

It's true that the cast and crew don't do the best job of translating this sarcasm to the screen, and you could debate whether Bruce Purchase's bellowing and completely over-the-top space pirate (complete with Lego Technic eyepatch and a robot parrot that scraps with K9) is a great gag or one of the worst things the show ever did. But why be negative? I might change my mind again when I watch this in another 10 years, but after a shaky season 15, this felt like a confident step in the right direction. Let's see if it lasts.
"The concept is simply staggering. Pointless, but staggering" - The Doctor

The Stones of Blood (16x09-12) ***

Well, Douglas Adams can't write them all - he did have other things to do - and David Fisher's first story still manages to be fun, even if it can't really decide what it wants to be.

I preferred the reprise of the Hammer gothic tropes in the first couple of parts over the claustrophobic space court stuff with twinkling barristers towards the end. Stone circles are long overdue in Doctor Who, and this goes a step further than Children of the Stones by having the stones chase our characters down.

I know that sounds a bit ridiculous. Maybe it was ridiculous? I've been immersed in 70s Doctor Who for a couple of weeks now, so my sense of the ridiculous isn't to be trusted. I thought it was great.
"It's getting rather exciting, isn't it?" - Amelia Rumford

The Androids of Tara (16x13-16) **

Robots again, and another planet that might as well be medieval England, albeit one where the people have the technology to build lifelike androids and laser swords but there are no other signs of industrialisation. They just wanted an excuse to have the Doctor sword fight, and to chain up Mary Tamm yet again.

Still, there's more pleasant location shooting, especially in and around Leeds Castle, and I appreciated the efforts to mix up the formula a little - Romana finds the Key to Time segment straight away, before it gets impounded for most of the episode, and the Doctor decides at the onset that he's taking this adventure off to do some fishing, before he's dragged in regardless.

What I would have appreciated more would be if they'd paid more than brief lip service to the over-arching quest. Why not have the Black Guardian or his agents show up occasionally throughout the season, to make the action feel more urgent? Why not see if the segments have special properties that can be used in the plot, rather than just having K9 shoot everything? It's asking too much for 70s TV, but with a few tweaks it feels like this season could have been so much better than the sum of its segments.
"Do you mind not standing on my chest? My hat's on fire" - The Doctor

The Power of Kroll (16x17-20) ****

Apparently people don't like this one very much. I was surprised to read that, as it's the one I enjoyed most since 'The Pirate Planet,' another one that people tend to look down on. People are morons - come on, this one has a gigantic mutant squid monster!

There's a little more to it than that, though all the other things I liked were similarly overblown, such as the heavy-handed parallels with colonial imperialism as the green-skinned 'swampies' are subjugated and forced to relocate from their homes by the new oil company in town. Even if the green paint job is a clumsy metaphor for darker skin tones, I'm glad they at least went to that effort, rather than having another race of generic humans. And I would have been more on their side if they didn't try to sacrifice Romana the first chance they get. I'm starting to see the people's point.
"Your mind is bent" - Ranquin

The Armageddon Factor (16x21-26) ***

The 'epic' finale is, as expected from the series' track record, not especially grand at all, and like 'The Invasion of Time' the previous year it does drag. The difference with this six-parter is that the story actually improved as it goes along, moving on from a boring war between two planets we don't have any reason to care about to the Doctor pitting his cunning (and his robot dog) against agents of the Black Guardian as both sides seek to possess the MacGuffin to Time.

My hope that the series was moving in an increasingly humorous and sardonic direction this year haven't really been borne out, and it's only the Doctor's aloof mannerisms and inappropriate gags that lighten the otherwise dreary tone. If it falls under any genre, it's more like a fantasy, with the transforming princess, technology indistinguishable from magic and the battle between gods... that doesn't really come to much.
"I've stopped the universe... still, they'll never notice" - The Doctor

Destiny of the Daleks (17x01-04) **

Oh dear... I did say I like the injections of humour into these stories, but this is a very odd start to the year. Romana's regeneration fashion parade is a befuddling excuse to bring in a new actress that surely could have been achieved much more simply, and the TARDIS' randomiser means these arbitrary trips are the exact opposite of last season's purposeful adventures, which I quite enjoyed. But none of that would really be a problem if the story was any good.

Terry Nation's final contribution to the series (apparently heavily rewritten by script editor Douglas Adams on an off day) is far from a triumphal return for the pepper pots, who hadn't been seen for five years. Faced with the apparent threat of some other robots intent on conquering the universe, they decide they need to crawl back to their deposed creator to benefit from a little humanoid illogic, which means Davros gets dusted off too. As does the original Davros mask, which doesn't fit new actor David Gooderson and looks terrible.

If you were a child who superficially liked the Daleks, you'd probably enjoy these episodes just fine, though you'd doubtless be annoyed that the Morvellans take up more of the screen time. They didn't exactly inspire the public imagination in the same way, did they?
"If you're supposed to be the superior race of the universe, why don't you try climbing after us?" - The Doctor

City of Death (17x05-08) *****

Growing up in the wilderness years, I didn't see any proper Doctor Who for a good while, unless you count 'Dimensions in Time,' the failed 1996 pilot and the Peter Cushing films, which is at your discretion. This was the first 'proper' story I saw and it's still probably my favourite, though not for nostalgic reasons. It just strikes the perfect balance between ingenious sci-fi concepts, compelling peril and bloody brilliant humour.

The story is often mistakenly credited to Douglas Adams, who was really one of the three writers alongside David Fisher and producer Graham Williams, but Adams' distinctive flair is very evident in much of the dialogue and certain concepts, and this wouldn't be anywhere near as enjoyable without him. For a series based around travels in time as well as space, it rarely (never?) took advantage of the concept as well as here, as the Doctor strives to foil an evil alien genius' centuries-spanning art heists to fund an infernal machine that will uncreate the life on Earth he is accidentally responsible for.

Beyond the brilliant plot, it's also clear that the cast were enjoying themselves immensely, and that really come across on screen. Tom Baker and Lalla Ward skip around Paris as the BBC gets the most out of its location shoot, Julian Glover is charming and pompous as the various versions of the villain, and the Doctor and Romana even benefit from the one-time services of a heavy-handed henchman, who fulfils the requirement of a stupid human sidekick who the two alien geniuses can explain things to. A John Cleese cameo is the icing on the cake - exquisite.
"What a wonderful butler, he's so violent" - The Doctor

The Creature from the Pit (17x09-12) ***

Wow... did nobody notice? That's not just me, right?

This story might have the Doctor making friends with giant, green genitals and being attacked by what look like giant sprouts (so that's where Erato was keeping them), but it was still enjoyable in a simplistic, 'Power of Kroll' sort of way. It's also helped by some fun supporting characters in the form of a chirpy old astrologer and Myra Frances' delightful dominatrix Lady Adrasta, as well as the most picturesque studio jungle since 'Planet of Evil.'

Douglas Adams' script editing influence is also pleasingly evident, as the Doctor has some magnificent comebacks and there's a great scene that implies he carries an endless selection of books in his jacket to prepare for literally every eventuality. Look, it's not the Hinchcliffe era any more - just try to enjoy the silliness before we plunge into the John Nathan Turner tedium for a decade.
"The future foretold, the past explained, the present... apologised for" - Organon

Nightmare of Eden (17x13-16) **

This joins 'Destiny of the Daleks' in the dull and lifeless part of an otherwise fun season. It has some of the same ingredients as early Baker classic 'The Ark in Space' - cramped spaceship sets, rampaging bug-eyed beasts - but it's a lot less good. It also has the dubious distinction of carrying a hefty anti-drugs message, the sort of thing I expected the series to do more often but which feels out of place and preachy because it doesn't.

This was the first truly bad episode for me since 'Underworld' in season 15, though it doesn't quite sink to those depths. It feels more like something from bad season one of Star Trek: The Next Generation, even if it predates that by almost a decade.
"I don't work for anybody, I'm just having fun" - The Doctor

The Horns of Nimon (17x17-20) *

Oh dear, oh dear. Just when I'm confident that popular received opinion about the highs and lows of the series aren't all they're cracked up to be, this absurdity happens. It's only the second example in recent history (I haven't seen much before Tom Baker), but there's a clear trend that every time they do a spacey take of Greek myths, it's a story to avoid.

This still isn't as bad as 'Underworld' - the lowest point for the Fourth Doctor, unless his final year has something terrible in store - but their take on Theseus and the Minotaur isn't any more well realised than their take on Jason and the Golden Fleece. The labyrinth itself is realised as boring corridors, and as for the Minotaur/Nimon... well, I'm obviously a veteran of unconvincing monsters by this point, but that's just too much.

The saving grace of this serial is that, at times, it does cross the so-bad-it's-amusing threshold. Soldeed will go down in history as one of the most ludicrous pantomime villains even by this series' standards, and he is fun to watch - I'm sure he directly inspired Jonathan Pryce's intentionally campy Master of 'The Curse of Fatal Death.' And then there's the Co-Pilot, who doesn't even get a name but does get a catch-phrase, and in one of the more amusing goofs of the franchise his trousers split open when he dies. Fans could have fun staging a genuine pantomime of this.
"We're up a gum tree without a paddle" - The Doctor

Shada (Reconstruction) ***

I was always pissed off that, of all the stories they had to lose because of the BBC strike, it was one of Douglas Adams'. Especially considering the poor quality of the preceding two that made it! Because of the Adams connection, the VHS reconstruction of 'Shada' was among the first episodes I ever watched, which was probably unwise, but watching it in its intended sequence I feel I finally have a grasp on what the finished product might have been like, even if almost half of the scenes have to be filled in by Tom Baker's narration as they were never filmed.

Douglas Adams apparently wasn't very happy with this story, or at least the bits he didn't reuse in his own books, but compared to previous season closers it's a damn sight more enjoyable than the last two. The Cambridge setting makes it stand out, and fortunately all of the location filming was already in the can so we can enjoy the Doctor and Romana's punting in full and laugh at the silly sight of the Doctor being chased on bicycle by a floating sphere.

It's still the weakest of Adams' three major contributions to the series, which might have something to do with him being his own script editor, but there's more appeal to 'Shada' than just the tantalising glimpse of a lost artifact from the canon. There are some good twists and turns and a lot of great dialogue, and the light tone means that even some of the poor visuals have more of an excuse than they usually do.

The audio/webcast remake recasting Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor is probably the best version of this story out there, though Gareth Roberts' novelisation probably does the job pretty well too. Still, I'm very glad that they put this reconstruction together, especially as after the 50th anniversary special we can have fun speculating about the identity of Tom Baker / The Doctor / The Curator here, who refers to his character's exploits as his own but seems to be under the impression that his life is a TV show.
"Undergraduates talking to each other, I expect. I've tried to have it banned" - Professor Chronotis

The Leisure Hive (18x01-04) **

There's no doubt we've entered the 80s as the new, glittering opening titles sparkle into view accompanied by Peter Howell's weak, melodic take on the soundtrack. Those must have seemed like cutting-edge improvements at the time, but now they date the episodes so much more badly than the classic spooky tunnel they replaced.

Continuing with the superficial changes before I get onto the actual plot (also weak), the Doctor has a new burgundy outfit and is looking noticeably gaunter and older, which does at least suggest the possibility of a century or two of further adventures since we last saw him, as long as they don't make any further mentions of him still being 750-ish to spoil things (he'd reached 900 by the time of Colin Baker, those years have to fit in somewhere and I'd prefer them to belong to this one).

The story, then - well, we're clearly into the John Nathan-Turner era now, which I'm familiar with through Doctors Six and Seven, and pretty much all traces of the humour that characterised the previous three seasons have also been eradicated in the great sweep. This makes it seem as if Tom Baker's Doctor has been through some great off-screen tragedy, as he's so much more dour than the aloof, relentlessly wisecracking extraterrestrial of 'City of Death.' I miss him.

To its credit, 'The Leisure Hive' does look very good, presenting an alien colony that's more convincing and less wobbly than the studio sets of the 70s, and the Doctor's old-age make-up looks so good that I wished they'd kept the wizened Doctor for the rest of his run, but it's all surface. My attention drifted in and out from the plot about a Mafia-style takeover and clone uprising, or something, but there are some effective and surprisingly horrific cliffhangers. Audience figures dropped considerably this year, I guess Mary Whitehouse was among them.
"Don't cross your bridges before they're hatched" - The Doctor

Meglos (18x05-08) ***

To go ever-so-slightly against the grain once more, as is my duty, I quite enjoyed this flimsy tale about a space cactus stealing a dodecahedron, mainly because it was ever-so-slightly more jolly than the last outing, giving Tom Baker the chance for a little fun as he plays the goodie and the baddie. It's also the second story in a row that's required the notoriously difficult actor to deal with facial prosthetics, so you have to give them credit for making that happen.

The main problem with this story (I'm fine with the villain literally being a cactus) is that not much happens, but it's still spread over four parts. They'd start tinkering with the structure in future years, but for now it's one of the few things they haven't updated that would have improved the show more than giving the Doctor question mark branding and taking out the jokes.
"Oh blast, here we go again..." - Romana

Full Circle (18x09-12) ***

It isn't much fun being negative, and fortunately this dreary season seems to be on the turn thanks to the latest loose story arc superficially linking otherwise unconnected stories and fooling me into treating them with more reverence. It worked on all the previous occasions, and being trapped in another universe/dimension/thing (E-space) gives more drama to the Doctor and Romana's adventures than there's been since they installed the randomiser.

I'm also easily pleased by pretty location filming, which is usually enough to bump a mediocre episode up by a star, and that's the case here too with some lovely marshlands and a great scene of the commendably unpleasant looking Marshmen emerging from the depths. It's a great design, but like most of the series' monsters, the suit isn't served as well under the harsh studio lights.

This is also notable for introducing new teenage companion Adric - not that we know he's staying on yet - and it's easy to see where the hate comes from for this Wesley Crusher-esque self-proclaimed maths genius. To their credit, his gang of brats do hijack the TARDIS, which doesn't happen nearly as often as you'd expect in the series, and the story doesn't shy away from showing most of them meet a grisly end.

As is customary, there is a plot to string these elements together, and while it's not the most compelling, it is big on the morals. Don't judge a book by its slimy cover, don't blindly follow tradition and maybe learn how to operate the ancient spaceship that represents your only salvation. There's also some actual science as the Doctor spends a lot of time around a microscope, which seems to be a deliberate trend back towards the show's original educational brief. I can live with it, as long as they don't ditch the rubber monster suits.

It's still sadly lacking in the humour department, though I'm at least enjoying the running 'gag' of K9's care-free attitude leading to him getting battered in every other episode. I guess the new regime isn't fond of that dog.
"We're all basically primeval slime with ideas above its station" - The Doctor

State of Decay (18x13-16) ****

This holdover from season 15 really feels like a relic from another era - an era I happen to like a lot better (right, like I'm in the minority on that one). When I first learned that there was history between the Time Lords and a race of giant vampires I found that hard to reconcile with the series as I knew it, but Terrance Dicks' script fits in perfectly with the run of classic horror homages that characterised the great season 14. In fact, a take on Dracula was conspicuously absent from that run that included the likes of Frankenstein, Jekyll and Hyde, The Mummy and The Phantom of the Opera. Now we just need a werewolf story.

Supposedly, John Nathan-Turner's lot made an extensive rewrite to fit in with the series' current style, but the director wasn't happy with it, so they went back to the gothic original. Without knowing anything about what the reworking entailed, this was obviously the right decision, recapturing the haunting atmosphere of what's widely recognised as the series' golden age complete with funny sci-fi adaptations of vampire tropes that culminates in the Doctor using a spaceship as a giant stake.

If it had been made in season 15, as originally planned, I don't imagine it being much different. Romana could just as easily have been Leela, and K9 and Adric are hardly essential, though I was glad to see some rare warmth between the Doctor and Romana during their brief spell chained up in the dungeon. I don't normally pay much attention to behind-the-scenes faff, but this is such a curious season in so many ways that I had to do a little background reading, and what I've read about Tom Baker and Lalla Ward's tumultuous relationship do seem very apparent on screen.
"Knowing's easy. Everyone does that ad nauseam, I just sort of hope" - The Doctor

Warriors' Gate (18x17-20) **

Well, I didn't understand much of that, but it had atmosphere. Parts of it were convincingly like being in a dream and the long discussions about confusing technobabble will send you there.

Most notable is the departure of Romana (and K9) at the end, which comes out of nowhere. So now the TARDIS has escaped back to regular space it'll be business as usual, except the Doctor's only got Adric for company. If I wasn't rapidly approaching the end of Tom Baker's era, I'd seriously consider taking a break for a while. It's about time he did too.
"Gobbledygook" - Commander Rorvik

The Keeper of Traken (18x21-24) **

Out of one loose 'trilogy' and into another 'trilogy' with a more tangible link in the form of a long overdue foe's return. One of the strengths of Tom Baker's era (which really comprises several eras) was its resistance to bringing out the big name baddies too often, and while I'm grateful the Cybermen were left to rust, the Master's return seemed to be on the cards as soon as he escaped at the end of 'The Deadly Assassin' four years earlier, so it's odd that it took so long for them to think of a story.

While the Master's cold and calculating presence hangs over the whole story even before he's revealed, this isn't really about him - it's mainly a rather dull and plodding courtly drama. It's at least uncomplicated after the bamboozling previous story, but it's really only the scenes between the Doctor and kindred spirit Tremas that make it enjoyable, especially since he's just lost Romana and Adric's hardly a substitute.

It's very satisfying to see Anthony Ainley playing a subtle and straight role, but even though the actor will be back in his new role (again and again), the new companion we gain is actually the much less compelling Nyssa. Like Adric, she's teased for an episode before we learn that she'll be hanging around for however long, but I can't say she really made an impression beyond Sarah Sutton's requisite pretty face. At the moment, my knowledge of 80s Doctor Who is pretty slight until Peri and Colin Baker show up, but it's a safe bet that Nyssa is up there with the least noteworthy companions of all time.

I don't miss K9.
"Wouldn't it be nice to be right about everything?" - The Doctor

Logopolis (18x25-28) ***

They weren't in the habit of doing epic or fitting finales back in the day, and Tom Baker's era closes on a whimper - which is some feat, considering this story sees the destruction of a substantial chunk of the universe.

Judged on its own merits outside of the pivotal regeneration scene at the end, this is actually a very interesting story, and certainly one of the better offerings of the serious and pseudoscientific season 18. It arguably goes too far as writer and self-script-editor Christopher H. Bidmead takes the opportunity to discuss entropy and the power of maths in a way that will go over most people's heads, and which I can't imagine being too educational for the little 'uns. Still, it does at least make a sort of sense, so it isn't another befuddling outing like 'Warriors' Gate' - though the spectral figure of the Watcher does border on unnecessarily vague.

Let's presume that the emphasis on death and the inevitable decay of all things was intended as a parallel for the end of Tom Baker's colossal reign behind the TARDIS console, as there is a definite atmosphere of foreboding. Baker's Doctor has never looked more serious, having little time for his gaggle of new companions (now including Tegan - there isn't time to discuss the stewardess now, maybe she'll do something noteworthy some other time) and finally meeting his end after being predictably betrayed by his arch enemy. He should have seen it coming, and thanks to the presence of the Watcher, he probably did.

That was the Tom Baker years. Apart from the last one they were mostly really good, and even the bits that weren't were really. If I ever make it through the rest of the classic Doctors that I haven't covered yet, and cobble together a predictable top 10 of the lot, it might just look like edited highlights of seasons 12 to 14 with 'City of Death' thrown in for good measure.
"I'm going to stop him if it's the last thing I do" - The Doctor

Castrovalva (19x01-04) ****

Mr. Bidmead picks up directly from his previous story to oversee the historic changeover between Doctors, and as much as he gets criticised for siphoning the fun out of the series, I have quite enjoyed this pseudointellectual pair. 'Castrovalva' mirrors 'Logopolis' in many ways, but I preferred this story's M.C. Escher city over the dull computer world of the previous one, and the Master's pantomime machinations are also more enjoyable here.

I'm a relative newcomer to the Peter Davison age, but there's a definite sense of a new paradigm being established here, as the Doctor spends much of the early episodes incapacitated and accepts his reliance on his companions more than his predecessor ever did. The crowded TARDIS is also a nice change of pace, even though it's not likely I'll warm to Adric, Nyssa or Tegan as much as any of Tom Baker's companions. I know the series will revert back to solo companions and a domineering Doctor in a few years, so I'm going to enjoy this as the fresh of breath air that it is.

It was only a glimpse, but I can already appreciate why the Peter Davison years have a special place in many peoples' hearts, and I have to say I feel more positive about the ride ahead than I did going into Tom Baker's final year-too-long. Let's make time for a few jokes though, can we?
"The universe is purged of the Doctor and his impossible dreams of goodness!" - The Master

Four to Doomsday (19x05-08) **

I haven't heard of any of Peter Davison's stories being singled out in particular for their awfulness, like the first outings of his two successors for example, but now that we're settled in, things don't get off to the most promising start here. Cramped, spaceship-bound episodes aren't necessarily bad, but this isn't one of the counter-examples, and after a couple of plots that arguably tried too hard, there are just too many weaknesses to prod at here, from the unintimidating villain who spends most of the time commenting on the action rather than taking part to the overlong culture performances that seem designed expressly to fill precious minutes.

On the other hand, there are some distinct positives. We're well into the Star Wars era now, and the spaceship models and most of the special effects actually look convincing, just a year or two after wobbly model kits dangling on string were deemed suitable for broadcast. The Doctor cracks a couple of jokes. Adric's near-treachery and general attitude may be annoying to be watch, but at least that's some characterisation. They actually hired genuine ethnic minority actors rather than blacking people up. And after a couple of stories dealing with difficult concepts like the second law of thermodynamics, we return to straightforward science lessons here as Nyssa explains what photosynthesis is to someone who should really already know.
"That's the trouble with women. Mindless, impatient and bossy" - Adric

Kinda (19x09-12) ****

That's as in the egg.

This story has its problems, but overall I think it's the one I've enjoyed the most since the Graham Williams era. Where the previous episode retrod old and tedious ground, this one is our first real look at Davison's passive and considerate Doctor and gives us an enemy that takes an unsettling psychological approach... before turning into an obligatory rubber monster at the end, which is a definite low point of the serial.

I'm glad they found something for Tegan to do, even as they unceremoniously sideline Nyssa completely, and this is the point where I finally got on board the Adric loathing bandwagon. The kid needs to die.
"You, my dear, can't possibly exist, so go away" - Anatta

The Visitation (19x13-16) ***

I'm a sucker for loosely connected stories, and this seemingly season-long effort to get Tegan to Heathrow on time is a bit of humour at least, and I'm grateful for every morsel these days. This time they arrive at the right place but a few centuries too early, which means another great-looking period piece is in store.

There isn't much that's new in Eric Saward's story of aliens invading "primitive" Earth and inevitably being thwarted by the Doctor & co, but it's another fine addition to the canon. I especially liked their ex-thespian highwayman buddy, who's realistically sceptical and delightfully Shakespearean, and the Terileptils are probably the best looking rubber suited monsters since the Zygons, complete with animatronic lips and gills. It's not exactly the Jim Henson Creature Shop, but after tolerating and laughing off 70s effects for a while, it's great to see the series actually looking pretty decent these days.

The time period isn't just window dressing, as a couple of fairly major late-17th century events can now be blamed on alien interference, even if it's not quite up to 'Earthshock' proportions. As far as the characters are going, this Doctor continues to demonstrate his uniqueness in the lineage by apologising to Tegan for his outbursts and accepting his limitations, while Adric's sulking and ineptitude are getting interminable now.
- "You are being a very stupid woman."
- "That isn't a very original observation" - Terileptil Leader and Tegan

Black Orchid (19x17-18) *

This is a curiosity in the canon and nothing more, as it only tends to be mentioned as the first/only non-sci-fi story since the 60s, to the point that you have to wonder if it was really just a leftover script from some period murder mystery series or other.

I was looking forward to this actually, and for a while I enjoyed the teasing hints of alien interference and the Master's meddling being debunked, but then nothing of interest really happens, a plot thread about Nyssa's doppelganger goes nowhere and none of the characters even act like real people. Are you sure this wasn't another planet of malfunctioning androids?

I'm so used to four-parters now that this two-parter feels too short to tackle anything worthwhile, and even with the briefer running time (equivalent to a regular episode of the 2005 series) we spend longer than you'd reasonably expect watching the Doctor play cricket, Tegan and Nyssa dancing and Adric eating. I can't see any reason for this story existing beyond John Nathan-Turner not wanting to deal with a six-parter later on.
"Why do I always let my curiosity get the better of me?" - The Doctor

Earthshock (19x19-22) ***

This is a legendary episode, and while the ending certainly makes it a landmark, for most of the run time it's just another bland, post-60s Cybermen story, where the once horrific techno-zombies are reduced to robot thugs.

I think this one tends to get overrated for the (Earth)shock companion death, and the return of the Cybermen after a long absence might have been exciting back in the day, but I don't rate it much higher than 'Return of the Cybermen.' Yes, this one has Tegan playing commando but the other one had the scenic Wookey Hole Caves. The plots are pretty similar, again featuring a stupid human traitor, Cybermen emotionally discussing their lack of emotions and that ridiculous vulnerability to gold.

There are some things I liked about it though, including another example of Eric Saward retconning real historical events as alien interference and a very nice montage of earlier Cybermen episodes featuring Hartnell, Troughton and Baker that I imagine will have been extremely pleasing for fans at the time (though unreasonably nitpicky fans of later years may have questioned why chronologically earlier encounters with Colin Baker and McCoy's Doctors weren't included, because we're like that).

I'm also a fan of Adric's death, and not only because he was so annoying. Davison's Doctor has already been established as a paternal figure to these lost kids (Adric and Nyssa are both orphans and presumably the only members of their species in this universe), and failing so badly in his duty of care will hopefully have a lasting influence, depending on how much character development was permitted back then and whether subsequent writers will remember it. Also, the crowded TARDIS was fun for a while, but it took its toll on the characters. Nyssa's barely had anything to do in half her stories.
"Now I'll never know if I was right" - Adric

Time-Flight (19x23-26) ***

I'm aware this story isn't exactly a popular one, but for the first half I was really enjoying its mystery and silliness. But then the thin plot is stretched taut, random aliens are introduced, the Master is unsurprisingly unmasked from an absolutely pointless disguise and those painted backdrops and lousy effects start to lose their retro charm, especially when that side of the programme has really been on the up recently.

Another thing this season has done well is continuity, and it's satisfying to see Tegan finally make it to Heathrow, just as the Doctor stopped actively trying to get there. The TARDIS has always had more of a sense of the dramatic than him.

When a Concorde goes missing shortly before their arrival, the Doctor and his more-manageable-these-days team is drafted in to help, which means another jaunt to prehistoric Earth - though fortunately not to save Adric. Even the slightly annoying Tegan is left behind at the end, now that she's where she wanted to be, so we're back to the familiar model of a single, unreasonably attractive companion. Things are looking better all the time.
"So typical of the Doctor's predilection for the third-rate" - The Master

Arc of Infinity (20x01-04) ***

It's the start of the Onanistic anniversary season, and this first story sees the return of the increasingly pompous Time Lords and the Doctor's old adversary, Omega. I haven't seen 'The Three Doctors,' but I think I got the gist regardless, and at least that meant I didn't have to be annoyed at how the character was inevitably spoiled by re-use. I know me.

It's a bit annoying that every time we go back to Gallifrey all the actors have changed, though at least there is a precedent for that. The most curious addition is Commander Maxil, a trigger-happy guard who takes a little too much pleasure in his duty to execute the Doctor out of necessity, which is even weirder as he's played by Colin Baker who would appear inside the Doctor's cricket outfit in just over a year's time to take over the role.

To balance out the stuffy Gallifrey scenes there's a parallel plot that's just as drawn out about Omega trying to transfer from his antimatter universe to our realm in contemporary Amsterdam of all places, which leads to Tegan getting involved and being grudgingly accepted back on board the TARDIS at the end. Seriously, what were the chances of that? Why does the next Doctor have Maxil's body? It's like the universe is trying to tell him something but the Doctor's too constrained by a 1980s episodic format to notice.
- "I have my orders."
- "You don't have to relish them so much" - Maxil and the Doctor

Snakedance (20x05-08) ****

Was 'Kinda' too recent to arrogantly count the Mara as a returning 'classic' villain? I'm happy regardless, as this pair of scaly tales will surely stand among the best of the Peter Davison era.

There are a few reasons I prefer this sequel to its predecessor, none of them based around the quality of the snake puppets at the end, though this episode does fare slightly better in that regard too. Tegan is possessed again, but she gets to play up the arch villain role a little more; Nyssa actually gets to do something this time (even if it's not much); Adric isn't in it; and the Doctor makes up for his passive behaviour last time by putting his life on the line (alright, he has plenty of those) and dedicating himself to ridding the universe of the Mara for good. Or at least until a future writer finds a reason for it to inexplicably come back like all the other villains that died for good many times over.

It's sadly not as psychedelic as its predecessor, though this story makes up for it by dressing a young Martin Clunes in increasingly embarrassing outfits. All things considered, probably my favourite story of the 80s so far.
"You won't succeed. In the end, evil never does" - The Doctor

Mawdryn Undead (20x09-12) ****

Hooray, it's another gimmicky 'trilogy' of random stories connected by superficial and ultimately annoying plot threads. I'm a sucker for these, and like the 'Master trilogy' that ran over the last transition between Doctors, the connecting element is another of the Doctor's arch nemeses - though you may have to strain your memory there.

It's about time the Black Guardian made a reappearance really, considering the fuss they made about trying to evade him for more than a year after his sole appearance at the end of the Key to Time arc (a gimmicky hexalogy that comprised all of season 16 - what a treat that was!) Unfortunately he's crap now, with pantomime dialogue and ridiculous get-up. It's also not clear why he enlists the help of an alien posing as a mischievous public schoolboy to be the instrument of his revenge against the Doctor, but that can be overlooked as it gives us, potentially, one of the most intriguing companions of all time.

There's more superficial fan service with the return of the Brigadier and even Tom Baker's late period coat, which is all nice and everything, but it does distract a little from what's actually a really smart plot. Returning writer Peter Grimwade ('Time-Flight') continues to plough the tragically under-utilised time travel aspect of the series by splitting the Doctor and his companions across two time periods six years apart, as they try to thwart the machinations of Mawdryn and his brethren to steal the Doctor's remaining regenerations.

Grimwade has clearly done his homework on the series, and unless it's been done before, this story provides a handy explanation of why earlier Doctors never remember encounters with their future selves, so watch it and shut up.
"I am the Black Guardian! The Doctor's good is my evil! You will absorb my will, you are to be consumed with my permanence! The Doctor shall be utterly destroyed!" - The Black Guardian

Terminus (20x13-16) *

This is about as bad as Doctor Who gets, though unlike some of the more memorable offenders like 'The Horns of Nimon' and 'Timelash' there isn't anything laughable to make it entertaining in a different way, it's just interminusable. I suppose the cuddly wolf monster could have been a candidate, but by the time that shows up we've already been subjected to endless scenes of grey spaceship interiors and Tegan and Turlough climbing through ducts.

Not even threatening the annihilation of the universe can make this one more gripping, especially as said catastrophe seems to be averted with some computer meddling unless I just drifted out. The space pirates are infinitely less fun than when Douglas Adams had a crack at the idea, much of the acting is awful, and there aren't even any gimmicky references to classic friends and enemies this time, which I thought was the brief of this anniversary season - unless you count the Black Guardian again, who does nothing of interest in the sagging middle of his trilogy.

This story is most notable for the departure of Nyssa, which would be more emotional if she'd ever been given the chance to do much of anything, and for stripping Sarah Sutton down to her underwear before her departure. I'm not really complaining about that part.
"If we don't do something quickly, the whole universe will be destroyed!" - The Doctor

Enlightenment (20x17-20) *****

A surprisingly and disproportionately brilliant conclusion to the Black Guardian Trilogy wraps up that particular plot with customary brevity and convenience, but it's the stand-alone adventure I was more interested in. It's a corker, and I think the first time I've given full marks to a serial since 'City of Death' at the tail end of the 70s.

The premise of a boat race held in space by ancient seafaring vessels is enticing in itself, and means the episodes are full of atmospheric sets and jaunty nautical music, but I also loved the introduction of the Eternals, who are different from your average villains. They couldn't care less about conquering your planet or your galaxy - you're nothing but playthings to them, helping them to stave off boredom like the gods of Olympus.

They're even high and mighty enough to piss off this usually placid incarnation of the Doctor, who's less passive here than normal. Turlough gets his inevitable redemption arc and Tegan becomes an object of fascination for an Eternal who ought to be out of her league, which feels like the first glimmer of humour there's been in the series for a long while.

I miss the days when there'd be one or two clunkers in an otherwise highly entertaining season, but even now the trend seems to be reversed, I'm grateful for some 'late' classics (I know there are six more years to go, but I've seen most of those and the overall trend doesn't go in an upwards direction).
"This is the sort of excitement that makes eternity bearable" - Captain Striker

The King's Demons (20x21-22) **

This lightweight two-part historical is at least a little better than the last time they did it in 'Black Orchid,' but only really because all the medieval stuff looks so good. The BBC's costume and props departments have been ransacked for a story that's so much better on the surface than in actual plot, which features the Master's worst disguise yet as well as his most small-fry evil scheme of all time, a fact that even the Doctor comments on.

This is also the story that introduces Kamelion, the Doctor's animatronic new companion that supposedly proved to be more trouble than it was worth behind-the-scenes and so barely shows up again. Not the most successful tale, but they had to fill those two episode blocks with something.
"You've always been my greatest stimulation, my dear Doctor" - The Master

The Five Doctors ****

This is a fun outing, and despite all its Onanistic references celebrating 20 years of the series, it's really best approached as a stand-alone adventure without worrying about its own effects on that continuity.

With returning friends and enemies, robot fights, simplistic puzzles and a charming fairy tale atmosphere it has everything you could ask for - well, apart from the glaring omission of Tom Baker, aka the best Doctor, who felt it was too soon to return to the role. I can't blame him, just like I can't blame Christopher Ecclestone for not returning 30 years later, but it's impossible to watch these celebrations without wondering how much better they could have been.

The plot itself is as silly as we ought to be used to after 20 years, and since it's a feature length episode without cliffhangers, it's much better paced than your standard story. The major attraction is seeing four classic Doctors interact (even with Richard Hurndall substituting for the late William Hartnell), and even though I'm not very familiar with the first three Doctors' eras (yet), they put across their contrasting personalities well. Unless they're exaggerating for effect, of course, like when 'The Day of the Doctor' reduced David Tennant's Doctor to a horny buffoon.

It has its problems - it wouldn't be classic Doctor Who without those - but as a one-off celebration of a cultural phenomenon, it can't really be faulted. Especially when you compare it to the horror of 'Dimensions in Time' 10 years later, Jesus H. Corbett. I'll get back to relentless nitpicking when the next regular season comes around, they won't get off the hook so easily.
"Wonderful chap. All of them" - Brigadier Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart

Warriors of the Deep (21x01-04) *

I really disliked this episode, which is as much to do with its obvious visual failings as my patience wearing thin. Maybe I shouldn't have ploughed straight into the Davison years straight after the Baker epoch, but it'll all be over soon. I would appreciate it very much if this is the last terrible story of the year.

The plot might have something going for it, set against the backdrop of a looming nuclear conflict between unnamed superpowers in Earth's not-too-distant future, but then it's usurped by the return of two 'iconic' monsters from the Jon Pertwee years, which are easy enough to confuse as it is without jumbling them together like this. I haven't seen those original stories, so I don't know if the Silurians and Sea Devils looked any better in the early 70s, but they can't have looked any worse. I warmed to the Sea Devils slightly more, but that was probably lingering Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles nostalgia as they look a bit like ninja turtles wearing the Shredder's outfit. The Silurians reminded me more of Stingray.

Even worse is their marauding Myrka beast, which looks like a mutant pantomime horse and is probably one of the finest examples of something that looked better on paper than under the harsh studio lights. Why is it all so bright? I'd read criticisms of the lighting in the Davison era, but this is the first time it's really been glaring in all senses. It also stands as the best example so far of that other oft-cited trait of Davison's Doctor, as he stands among the corpses of his reluctant 'enemies' and regrets all the unnecessary deaths he failed to prevent. Maybe try the Target novelisation instead.
"Progress doesn't seem to have solved anything" - Tegan Jovanka

The Awakening (21x05-06) ***

The only decent two-parter in this era of the series, this is again a historical of sorts, but with the twist that a psychic alien influence is merging Civil War era England with the present day.

It looks as good as these period pieces always do, and there's even a welcome return of the gothic as a giant devil face smashes into a crumbling church, ghoulish apparitions wreak havoc and a creepy gargoyle hitches a lift aboard the TARDIS. I like it when the enemies remain silent and mysterious, rather than booming their repetitive demands using that same booming voice effect.

Character development would be too much to ask, but we meet Tegan's grandfather, which is something, and the Doctor has enjoyable banter with some near-miss companions I wouldn't have minded hanging around longer. Turlough's still inexplicably wearing his school uniform, and I don't know where Kamelion's been hiding all these weeks.
"Insight is often mistaken for madness" - Sir George Hutchinson

Frontios (21x07-10) ***

In the distant future, in the depths of space, some of the last morsels of humanity are being besieged by a terror from below. There are a lot of things I liked about the story, and I suppose the biggest flaw has to be the reveal of the adversaries themselves - the Tractator prawn people give 'Warriors of the Deep' a run for its money as far as silly monster suits go. The series wasn't doing itself any favours by this point.

It's therefore very gratifying to see the Doctor not taking the threats too seriously as he gets a bit of his flippant mojo back, teasing friends and enemies alike and not even bothering to hide the sarcasm in his voice as he goads the overconfident baddies into doing exactly what he wants.

Turlough finally gets a bit of backstory too, at least as far as his still-anonymous people having bloody history with the Tractators, while Tegan gets to be bossed around, menaced and captured again. It's not really been her year, but when has it ever?
"You can't argue with fate" - Vislor Turlough

Resurrection of the Daleks (21x11-12) ***

After the japes of 'The Five Doctors,' this has been one of the bleakest seasons ever. It's not a stretch to consider that might have been international, considering we're headed to the end of an era, but the misery and carnage reaches breaking point in the only Dalek story of Peter Davison's tenure. To the point that we get the first companion departure in a long time that feels fully justified, as Tegan has enough.

Eric Saward's story recaptures a little of the magic of 'The Dalek Invasion of Earth' (alright, I've only seen the Peter Cushing version), but a grimmer tone is set from the onset in a story that features more on-screen deaths than perhaps any other, if you don't count the ones where planets explode and that one time the Master accidentally wiped out a substantial chunk of the universe. What's he like!

Unfortunately, the story gets less entertaining as the bleakness drags on, and while Davros looks and sounds more convincing than his last appearance - now played for good by Terry Molloy - he isn't any more interesting here, and there's a whole plot about human duplicates that seems to exist just to fill up time. On a positive note, the pepper pots themselves are now threatening again, giving a generation of 80s kids the chance to be terrified like their parents were 20 years earlier.
"It seems I must mend my ways" - The Doctor

Planet of Fire (21x13-16) ****

There are probably plenty of people out there who lump this in with the not-insubstantial pile of 80s Doctor Who stinkers, but I'm not one of them. Though I may have felt differently if I hadn't been subjected to several dreary stories in a row, after which the sunny scenery and scenery chewing of the Master are a huge relief.

The production team certainly made the most of their trip to Lanzarote, which portrays the volcanic planet Sarn as well as a sunny Earth-bound destination that could well be Lanzarote itself. They're similarly immodest about showing off the assets of new companion Peri, as Nicola Bryant slips into a bikini and gets soaking wet several minutes after being introduced. Peri's certainly a screamer, but at least they make a point of showing her quick wits to keep things from being retro in the wrong way.

It's also Turlough's time to depart, clearing the way for an imminent new era, and the backstory they hastily cobble together to explain what the hell he was doing attending an English public school makes as much sense as any. It's Kamelion's exit too, if you even remembered that he's supposedly been hanging around off-screen all season long. Imagine if the prop hadn't been so troublesome and Kamelion had faced off against the Daleks and everything. Sometimes these things are for the best.
"Have I travelled a billion light years through time and space to be thwarted by this brat?" - The Master

The Caves of Androzani (21x17-20) *****

I wonder how much of the general goodwill towards the Peter Davison era hinges on this final adventure, which is deservedly celebrated as one of the all-time best. That's all thanks to the ever-reliable Robert Holmes, who throws in a few tried and tested ideas from his earlier stories, borrows a little from Dune, The Phantom of the Opera (again) and Dig Dug (seemingly), and heightens the drama by having the Doctor and Peri increasingly succumb to a deadly disease as it goes along.

While the requisite easy cliffhanger escapes are still there, as the Doctor survives a firing squad, a pointless monster and a crash landing, this has the added bonus of being a regeneration story, and Davison's Doctor goes out on a truly heroic note. It is very fitting to the popular idea of this incarnation's compassionate and tragic character, even if 20 serials wasn't really enough to see these traits form fully before now, and despite easily being head and shoulders above most stories from this era, it is true to the period with its high body count and generally bleak and serious tone. That keeps it from being the defining example of Doctor Who for me, since I'm partial to a little daftness with my peril, but it's up there.

There is one thing I really don't like about this, and it's the rather insulting conclusion that wants us to instantly forget about Peter Davison and embrace this pompous new Doctor, even to the extent of listing Colin Baker first in the end credits and plastering his face over them. It might have been pretty exciting for fans at the time, but now that I'm up to speed - having watched through the Sixth and Seventh Doctors when going through a masochistic spell last year - this ending is an unwelcome reminder of just how low the series will sink in the absolutely immediate future before cruelly improving again right before its ungracious end.
"Curiosity's always been my downfall" - The Doctor

The Twin Dilemma (21x21-24) *

Why did I choose to crack open the oft-maligned Sixth Doctor era rather than any of his more respected predecessors or successors? There are a few reasons - the comparative brevity of his run; morbid interest in seeing just how bad some of these stories from this turbulent period really are; and because, tragically, it's often more rewarding to tear a terrible thing apart than sing the praises of something decent.

This isn't the strongest opening episode a Doctor could have asked for. That's partly thanks to the infamously terrible story, but also the deliberate decisions made to present a harder, brasher, less human Doctor who would gradually soften over time, if only he'd been given that time. It could have made for a successful game plan, but to have the character turn violently on his companion, and specifically slag off his previous incarnation when he's hijacked the end of Davison's season, not to mention that bloody coat, is all too much too fast.

The episode itself is pretty terrible too. I found myself enjoying it in a silly retro way, as it's the first classic Who I've watched in a long while, but I had to stay objective. The bad guys are slug men in unconvincing suits and bird men in rubbish make-up. There are some annoying twin boys for no real reason, and the special effects reminded me more of kids shows of the era, like T-Bag. The only aspect I quite liked was the nicely naff model spaceship shots, you have to take what you can get.

The best thing about this episode is that I've got it out of the way early, meaning the worst should be behind me. We'll see.
"I am the Doctor, whether you like it or not" - The Doctor

Attack of the Cybermen (22x01-02) **

Refreshed for a new season (like they should have done it originally), the Colin Baker Doctor is a bit less irritating now that his mania's in control. I'd probably admire the efforts to recapture the character's alien-ness if I'd just endured the Peter Davison years, but compared to the likes of Tom Baker, he just doesn't cut it.

I can't say I was best pleased to see the Cybermen return, especially in their rubbish 80s suits and with that silly synth soundtrack. A lot of the incidental music is ridiculous actually - while the 70s serials have dated in charming ways, this is just bad. At least there's some dingy location shooting and sewers to get away from the bright sets.

There's a little too much reliance on established lore, with the history of the Cybermen explained in too much detail and references to past companions as far back as Susan that would doubtless have alienated many kids at the time, but watching these years later to fill in the gaps between better eras, that stuff feels more at home.
"Didn't go very well, did it?" - The Doctor

Vengeance on Varos (22x03-04) ****

Maybe I'm letting the sliding scale work in this one's favour, but I've always liked this episode - the only one of Colin Baker's I'd seen before this run through, having made the effort to watch a compulsory serial from each Doctor a few years ago and deciding I didn't need to see any more of this one. It'll probably be his best, but I'd be happy to be surprised.

I can really see why there were complaints over the series' darkness and violence during this period, as this is really pretty nasty - a far cry from the bright sets and general daftness of 'The Twin Dilemma.' The Doctor controversially aids some soldiers in falling to acidic deaths (or at least manages a grim wisecrack at their expense), people are tortured with lights and Peri turns into a bird. She got better.

Varos is just another Orwellian dystopia, but its focus on reality TV torture porn could be considered reasonably prophetic. This angle is also responsible for my favourite aspect of the episode, in the form of the two native viewers watching and commenting on the action occasionally. It's these quirky touches that make a story stand out.

Of course, the most memorable character and contribution to the Whoniverse is the repulsive, slimy Sil, played with wonderful unpleasantness by Nabil Shaban. It's just another head in a rubber suit, but at least this mini Jabba the Hutt isn't just another full-size guy in an animal suit. I just realised exactly what he looks like: he's a Boglin. Thank goodness I was still safely in the womb when this aired.
"Death is my only friend. My constant and loving companion" - Governor

The Mark of the Rani (22x05-06) **

The Master's back, and this time he's joined by a new face in the form of the Rani, a character whose legacy would probably end up doing more bad than good by offering a source of tedious speculation to fans concerning the identity of every single female character in the new series who didn't end up being the Rani in disguise. They struck gold with Sil last time, they can't come up with classic villains every week.

The presence of two moustache-twirling panto villains (only the Master literally has one) is too much for this story to bear, which is otherwise inoffensive and quite a nice, if dull historical piece set during the Industrial Revolution. There's some nostalgically gloomy location shooting, regional accents, a historical cameo or two and more unnecessary violence to upset parents, particularly when the Master vaporises a dog. I know he's evil and stuff, but that's just obscene.
"You really do have an extraordinary capacity for seeking out danger" - The Doctor

The Two Doctors (22x07-09) ***

Multi-Doctor stories are usually more gimmick than substance, and that's reliably the case here - though being a Robert Holmes script, it's better than the average mid-80s serial.

It's disappointing that Colin Baker and Patrick Troughton don't interact more, though based on the trite bickering we do get, it's not like we were robbed of comedy gold by separating the two parties for most of the story.

This is a particularly violent and nasty episode even for Who, which certainly didn't help the ailing show in its battle with the censors. Both Jamie and Peri are threatened with the butcher's cleaver, and even the Doctor gets his hands dirty with a bit of self-defence poisoning.

Bits of it are set in sunny Spain, because why not? Oh yeah, the Sontarans are in it too, almost forgot about that. Probably because they're interchangeable for any angry aliens in terrible masks.
"I think your Doctor's worse than mine" - Jamie McCrimmon

A Fix with Sontarans *

I enjoy seeking out these obscure noncanonical oddities, even if they're inevitably somewhat disappointing. I'd say this was even worse than 'Dimensions in Time,' but nothing is that bad. As a ten-minute segment of now-infamous kid's show Jim'll Fix It, it can similarly be forgotten quite easily, or dismissed as a bad dream the Doctor's having if you really need to reconcile everything.

Made after the current series wrapped, Nicola 'Peri' Bryant wasn't available so we get Janet 'Tegan' Fielding from the Fifth Doctor era instead. It doesn't matter, she barely does anything - the hero of the hour is a young boy who dreamed of meeting his hero Colin Baker (who's still putting in the effort, bless) and turns up wearing a similar costume that his nan made for him. Lay off the kid, he's eight!

It's embarrassing and painful even before the Doctor faces his most evil adversary yet as Jimmy Savile invites himself aboard the TARDIS, but this was never meant to be taken seriously. It was just a slightly strange and presumably rather cheap way to fill a programming slot and grant a kid his realistic wish, rather than the kid who wanted to go to the Moon or something.

Weird that they gave out these kids' full addresses on national TV. These were simpler, darker times.
"Now what foul evil have I brought aboard the TARDIS?" - The Doctor

Timelash (22x10-11) *

Oh dear. This is the first serial I've gone into without having any idea whatsoever about it, outside of the cold reception towards the Colin Baker era in general and having never seen this brought up as evidence to the contrary. This initial bias is always balanced out by my support for the underdog and a contrarian nature, but by the end it bored and embarrassed me almost as much as 'The Twin Dilemma.'

We're on a planet that the Doctor apparently visited in his third body, but that wasn't an actual episode and to date no one's bothered to write a novel or record an audio adventure to follow it up. The planet is secretly ruled by a ghoulish half-reptile mutant whose make-up is probably the stand-out feature of the whole thing, while the rest comprises his slimy servants and more posh rebels.

Where to start with the terrible stuff? The puppets are abominable - there's a dinosaur head on a stick that tries to rape Peri and an ambassador who looks like ALF. Rubbish face-painted androids with a soundtrack that sounds like a Look Around You parody. Flashing-light technology and the Doctor participating in a sequence that belongs in The Crystal Maze. He even retrieves the crystal at the end. Allusions that try to be clever but end up creating unnecessary continuity problems, and let's not overlook the overriding moral that girls will never like you if you're ugly.

The only aspect that almost saves this episode from the toxic waste heap is the historical cameo by a young H.G. Wells, but that's handled so poorly and half-arsed that it ends up being a wasted opportunity. The violence is toned down slightly compared to previous episodes, but there's still a ray gun that turns people into smouldering skeletons and did I mention the part where Peri's tied up screaming as a sexual offering to a dinosaur? This ailing show isn't making a strong case for its defence.
"There's nothing particularly masculine about throwing your life away" - The Doctor

Revelation of the Daleks (22x12-13) **

Hooray, it's another identikit Dalek episode featuring the increasingly unthreatening Davros. I didn't miss them, but I suppose it's nice for fans that Colin Baker's Doctor got to cross their path this once.

In fairness, there are a few new additions to Dalek lore this time, but as the introduction of human-Dalek hybrids brings them closer to the Cybermen (a melding that would be complete by the time of the revived series in the 2000s), it isn't especially welcome. More interesting is the friction between Davros and his bastard flock against the pure Daleks ruled by the Supreme. I saw the previous Dalek stories years ago, so I can't be sure if this is a totally new thing - it's certainly possible that this story has less going for it than I'm giving it credit for.

The guest cast isn't very impressive, from a typically over-the-top and out-of-place Alexei Sayle to the usual mix of villains, double-crossers and self-sacrificing heroes. Even through all this expected disappointment, I did like the morbid setting of the tomb planet Necros, and the Doctor gives an unsettling talk on the possibility of time travellers coming across their own graves that would be followed up in a somewhat bigger way around the time of the 50th anniversary.
"I'm a doctor, not a magician" - Grigory

Slipback *

This is one of the weirder phenomena in the Who canon, up there with that episode where Tom Baker fellates the giant green genitals. The series was put on death-defying hiatus for 1985, during which the BBC permitted one original radio story to be broadcast instead. And it didn't do any more favours than the 'Doctor in Distress' song to prove the show was worth saving in its current form.

Eric Saward was one of the better writers of the '80s, but this is his shamefully transparent attempt at doing Hitchhiker's Guide with the same type of characters and none of the charm. Because Doctor Who fans aren't going to notice that.

It might be the most throwaway story they ever made, but it's still not quite the worst. There's at least one story on either side that deserves that accolade. I've read that Colin Baker's Doctor is supposedly redeemed by his Big Finish work, but it'll take a lot of those to shake off the bad associations.

On a personal note, this is the closest thing my birth story. It's a wonder I ever became a fan.
"There's nothing I hate more than a cocky computer" - The Doctor

The Trial of a Timelord: The Mysterious Planet (23x01-04) ***

After the general disappointment of Colin Baker's first year, the show was slightly rejigged and the subsequent, much shorter season presented as a single 14-part story placing the Doctor on trial for spurious and mysterious purposes... though in reality there were the usual independent plots mixed in there, just with the trial as an awkward framing excuse a little like Star Trek's 'The Menagerie.'

The trusty Robert Holmes wrote this first and least mediocre batch, which brings back a little of the quirky humour the show has sorely missed since the Tom Baker years. The curious identity of this Earth-like planet is suitably compelling, there's a clunky, evil robot and I gradually warmed to new recurring character Sabalom Glitz once I got past the mullety biker thing.

As the least integral of these individual stories to the overarching trial plot, this really could have been any old tale edited around the edges with suggestions of Valeyard tampering. Still, it's probably better than what they originally had planned for this season before the BBC gave them an ultimatum.
"The purpose of life is too big to be knowable. A million computers couldn't solve that one" - The Doctor

The Trial of a Timelord: Mindwarp (23x05-08) ***

Catching up with the Doctor's present and leading directly into his trial, this is still another mostly unconnected story that sees the return of the repulsive Sil and more of his kind on their home world, who manage to be a little less vile. I appreciate that they've tried to give the setting a genuinely alien look with the weird colour correction, but the bleed-over onto the characters is laughable. How can you have a matte colour when you insist on dressing your main character in a technicolour dreamcoat?

There's lots of weird stuff in this one, from bug-eyed monsters and a wolfman to Brian Blessed over-acting his massive socks off and learning about love. Casting the Boglins' human slaves as entirely black and ethnic actors is unpleasant, but the finale is disturbing in a more effective way as we're told Peri's supposed fate. This was post-Adric, these companions don't have the automatic safety net any more.

It's still not the series at its best, but the clunky trial gimmick is working. I'm suitably gripped.
"Ambush! A woman's way of fighting!" - King Yrcanos

The Trial of a Timelord: Terror of the Vervoids (23x09-12) *

That was torturously awful. There's so much about it that bored, depressed and annoyed me, it might even overtake 'The Twin Dilemma' as my least favourite Colin Baker story. At least that was a bumpy start, whereas this is his death warrant.

The very notion of the Doctor using an adventure from his own future as a defence is more of a violation of these time laws than whatever it was he was put on trial for in the first place (it's open to change on a whim). Doesn't that mean he will inevitably survive these proceedings too, if we can actually see his future? How many more adventures was he permitted to browse through and learn how to solve ahead of time, and for that matter, why didn't the Doctor in the story remember having viewed all this back in the... forget it, I'm giving it all more thought than the writers did.

After brutally discharging Peri last time, we get the shock introduction of new companion Mel, played by the shrill Bonnie Langford who may have been hired solely for the power of her cliffhanger screams. She does nothing of interest to distinguish her from other young female companions. The plot itself is another dull spaceship-bound one, with several terrible alien designs and a trite hijacking plot.

Yes, I did notice that the vegetative Vervoids look remarkably like both a penis and a vagina but were somehow deemed suitable for broadcast. Truly, no one cared any more.
"Is the vocabulary of all Time Lords so antediluvian?" - Melanie Bush

The Trial of a Timelord: The Ultimate Foe (23x13-14) **

After twelve episodes featuring three mostly unconnected serials, the trial reaches its conclusion in these two episodes pitting the Doctor against the Valeyard, who turns out to be an amalgamation of... I don't understand it, nor how a quasi-incarnation of the Doctor from his own future can kill his past self without ceasing to exist, but if we're going to get stalled by things not making sense, we won't get very far in this story.

The Master shows up too. Of course he does. As in his last appearance, the character is a little weakened by sharing the villain duties with someone who's fundamentally the same. Sabalom Glitz returns too, probably out of desperation to give the season at least a little sense of a genuine arc, and we learn Peri's real fate which is arguably worse than death.

There isn't much I liked about this one, and when you find out it was Colin Baker's last outing, and that his Doctor doesn't even get any kind of send-off in the next, it's even worse. The show was cancelled here, and if fans hadn't successfully clamoured for its return, the classic run would have ended on that stupid cliffhanger. If the BBC had their way, it would have been a shame to lose the pretty good late period stuff with McCoy, but honestly I wouldn't have blamed them.
"Ten million years of absolute power. That's what it takes to be really corrupt" - The Doctor

Time and the Rani (24x01-04) *

Nothing could be quite as bad as Colin Baker's inaugural episode in the clown costume, but Sylvester McCoy doesn't get treated much better. The series had returned to the BBC under the duress of fan pressure, but right now it doesn't look much like a show worth saving.

The regeneration scene itself is notorious and insulting. The new Doctor is struck with convenient amnesia through the machinations of the Rani, who makes a return presumably just because Pip and Jane Baker wanted to write her again. Those writers wielded clout that was in no way proportional to their abilities, they're even given the privilege of establishing a new Doctor, which they do by making him an outrageous, stumbling, bumbling, impromptu spoons-playing, non sequituring oaf. He gets better when Ace shows up. Surely that can't be too long.

There's mad stuff happening around the Doctor and Rani plot, as Mel teams up with some boring yellow aliens on the run from bat monster things in suits. Mel is still rubbish. The title sequence has been redone too, which might have looked brilliant in 1987 but looks ludicrously dated now. The stripped-down 16-bit version on the Amiga Dalek Attack game looked better, at least that was understated.
"Absence makes the nose grow longer" - The Doctor

Paradise Towers (24x05-08) **

I hated this story's guts for most of its duration, but it won me over a little by the end. That was largely thanks to the acting talent of the Caretakers, with a Hitler moustached Richard Briers as the pointlessly ruthless boss and Clive Merrison (BBC's radio Sherlock) as his shockingly gullible number one.

The attempts at humour didn't excuse the rest of it for me, which is yet another bloody tale of young, spunky gangs ineffectually rebelling against stuffy, senior authority figures in badly lit sets and only making any kind of progress once the Doctor and his irritating assistant show up.

Much about this is just embarrassing, from the unrealistic slang of the Kang gangs (not exactly the Bloods and Crips) through some dithering old ladies to Mel's cowardly guardian Pex, who's actually called that. There are some rubbish robots too.

I guess I'm glad that there are still Doctor Who stories out there that I have no prior knowledge of and can 'enjoy' as a fresh experience. But there are clear reasons why this era tends to be overlooked.
"I'm a finely tuned fighting machine!" - Pex

Delta and the Bannermen (24x09-11) ***

This is much more like it: a quirky story with some creative ideas, refreshing location filming and a classic rock 'n' roll soundtrack. My main criticism this time is that it's way too bloody ruthless, which kills the jolly atmosphere. They even shoot Ken Dodd in the back!

The Wales setting is a nice precursor to the revived TV series, and there's a blatant beta version of the soon-to-appear Ace in the form of a biker girl who stands head and shoulders above the rest of the guest cast, especially her pathetic boyfriend who becomes instantly infatuated with a blonde alien to the point that he changes species to go off and raise her green kid together. I didn't claim it was realistic.

Justifiably daft and a little dark, this is more what I remember the McCoy era to be like, having watched most of the following two seasons a long time ago but avoided this one until now due to concerns it would be completely terrible. I'm grateful there's at least one serial worth salvaging from the year.
"I spit on your justice" - Gavrok

Dragonfire (24x12-14) ***

After just a season and a bit, Mel's departure already feels overdue. In steps the feisty, spunky Ace, in many ways her opposite with an overly fleshed out backstory and a deceptively sweet facade masking a backpack full of explosives. Finally, after enduring all those stories with Peri and Mel, we arrive at one of the classic duos.

I like the Ice World setting too, with its occasionally slippery floors depending on each actor's respective enthusiasm and its guardian 'dragon' that's clearly ripping off the very popular Alien films but forgot the part about not showing the costume in too much detail.

With the addition of Ace, the return of Glitz and the excitement over a treasure map and sparkling ice caves, the main plot involving the evil Kane doesn't feel especially gripping until his remarkable death scene, which is bizarrely gruesome considering the trouble the show was already in with Mary Whitehouse's lot. The end of part one has also gone down in infamy for its literal cliffhanger ending that comes completely out of nowhere.

Like the previous story and other late period classics, it's acceptably daft and a little dark. The script is also genuinely funny at times too, if you can ignore all the times Sophie Aldred is forced to say "ace," "brill," "wicked" and other 'hip' terms. What are the chances that the Doctor and Mel would run into Glitz here, and that another human from late 20th century England would be serving as a waitress? Does none of this coincidence intrigue the Doctor even slightly?
"Ace!" - Ace

Remembrance of the Daleks (25x01-04) *****

It's relieving yet frustrating to see the show recapture its former glory this close to its demise, but the damage was done in the intervening years and the looming end is inevitable. This was among the first serials I saw - admittedly not when it first broadcast as I was three, but a couple of decades later - and it's still one of my favourites, instantly transforming Sylvester McCoy's Doctor from a bumbling clown into a scheming manipulator, a change I'm all in favour of.

This is also the first decent Dalek episode in more than a decade, making them feel genuinely threatening again and with mercifully minimal Davros. The famous levitating scene should have finally put an end to the joke about Daleks not being able to climb stairs, but it still persisted until Russell T. Davies hammered it home in the 2000s.

It works as an unofficial 25th anniversary celebration too (broadcast a month shy of the actual date), revisiting the time and setting of the first ever story as the Doctor deals with unfinished business. It's fan pleasing and welcoming to newcomers too, with fresh companion Ace being a conduit to bring us up to speed on Dalek and Time Lord history. There's lots of shooting and exploding action, cute spaceship models, an underlying commentary on racism, a creepy kid and a solid guest cast of friendly locals and Nazi toerags who get their just desserts.

Oh yeah, and Ace batters up Daleks with a baseball bat. This is not the same show I've been struggling to sit through for the past Doctor-and-a-half. I wouldn't go as far as saying it's 'my' Doctor Who, but if we do have to settle on one specific era, like we're still at school or something, Sylvester & Sophie is a candidate. Maybe I will check out the books when I'm through after all.
"You can always judge a man by the quality of his enemies" - The Doctor

The Happiness Patrol (25x05-07) ****

While the previous story is generally rather highly regarded even by those who gave up on the show during its most troublesome years, this follow-up is more of an acquired taste. The copyright-infringing Kandy Man is the worst offender, especially as he's really pretty unnecessary as a secondary villain and spends half the story stuck to the floor, but I'm actually glad he's there, adding a layer of absurdity to an otherwise straight-laced satire.

The planet (or rather, as usual, part of one small city signifying an entire planet) Terra Alpha is a film noir dystopia with desperate splashes of pink where banal contentedness is mandatory and any semblance of melancholy or thoughtfulness results in execution. Helen A has got to be one of the maddest dictators the show's given us, but unlike last week's well-rounded group of supporting humans, most of the others just fulfill stock roles.

The Seventh Doctor and Ace dynamic suits this story well, I imagine I'd like it a lot less if it was Mel or Colin Baker's Doctor riding around on go karts and wielding lemonade.
"You're a nice guy Doctor, but a little weird" - Earl Sigma

Silver Nemesis (25x08-10) **

A bit of a step down after the recent run of good 'uns, this was apparently the official 25th anniversary episode, but outside of the silver theme and a forced references to 25 years, it's much less satisfying in that capacity than 'Remembrance of the Daleks' was. I enjoyed jumping between 16th and 20th century Windsor well enough until the mandatory cliffhanger happened and the Cybermen showed up, then it all goes downhill.

The Doctor battles against the impotent metal foes, a power-crazed queen and Neo-Nazis, but with all his bumbling around and casual demeanour, things never feel genuinely threatening. If the Cybermen weren't even worse shots than the Daleks, Ace would definitely be dead.

There are more overt hints that the Doctor's never-hinted-at-before-until-recently secret past will gradually be unveiled over the coming years, including the old "Doctor who?" zinger. It's an interesting direction that could have played out brilliantly if the show hadn't been cancelled, or might just have served to put off casual viewers even more than they were already by this point. Still, it at least makes this era feel artificially important compared to the disposable Colin Baker years.
"This may qualify as the worst miscalculation since life crawled out of the seas on this sad planet" - The Doctor

The Greatest Show in the Galaxy (25x11-14) ***

They are fond of their quirky stories, aren't they? I don't have the same soft spot for this that I do for 'The Happiness Patrol,' mostly because it feels a lot more haphazard, like they just brainstormed a load of ideas and put them in a circus tent.

The creepy clowns are effectively sinister, but when you add killer robots, racial stereotypes, a stereotypical explorer, a stereotypical nerd, a bloody werewolf and the Gods of Ragnarok into the mix, there's too much to concentrate on. They could easily have trimmed half of those characters for a stronger three-parter, but after 25 years they're still learning.
"I know it's not as good as it used to be, but I'm still terribly interested" - Whizz Kid

Battlefield (26x01-04) **

'Silver Nemesis' was the stand-out disappointment of the surprisingly decent previous season, and this opener to the final year of the original series sadly fails to learn from those earlier mistakes. There are more displaced mythological figures speaking in cliched Shakespearean and over-the-top doomsday weapons trying to outdo each other, but that previous story didn't have the Brigadier.

I'm not as familiar with the more highly-regarded early years of Doctor Who as I am with its much-maligned 80s nadir, so Nicholas Courtney's character doesn't have any special nostalgia for me, but even so his comfortable affability interacting with Time Lords and interdimensional monsters clearly comes from experience.

The other thing I found to enjoy in this otherwise uninspired transplanting of Arthurian myth to the present day are the suggestions that the Doctor will take on the role of Merlin at some point in his future (unseen or maybe it was in the books or audio or something), leaving himself unhelpful clues and messages.

I admit it's not especially good as an episode though, with fairly bland guest characters and a terrible soundtrack that doesn't match the picturesque scenery or mythic atmosphere at all. The portrayal of a 'darker' Doctor continues in earnest, and while I'm generally in favour, the frankly ridiculous plot could have really benefited from that more humorous streak that characterised previous seasons but may be gone for good now.

It's far from the worst the show's ever been, but at this point they desperately needed another 'Remembrance of the Daleks' to impress. It's not really a surprise that this serial drew the lowest audience figures in the show's history. The end is nigh.
"High drama is very similar to comedy. It's all a matter of timing" - The Doctor

Ghost Light (26x05-07) ***

Another odd serial from this era that may well be objectively awful, but I have a real fondness for. Those who despaired at the 'darker,' less frivolous direction the series was increasingly taking in its dying days won't find much to appreciate here, and as gothic horror it presumably isn't up there with the best of the Tom Baker/Philip Hinchcliffe era, but it does have a strong, creepy ambience that puts me in a good mood.

There are even direct allusions to some of my recurring childhood nightmares in the golden spectre and glowing-eyed animal heads on the wall, so it's possible I did watch this the first time around after all (I would have been four) and have a legitimate claim to belong to the sofa generation. Nah, it was Lord Fear in Knightmare that sent me cowering to the hall before my younger brother shouted that the coast was clear.

The story itself is as convoluted as they tend to be, with too many oddball characters including an insane game hunter, a preserved police officer, a Neanderthal butler and robot maids even before we get to the extraterrestrials. The heavy handed evolution themes don't really have any educational value, but when is evolution ever portrayed accurately in sci-fi TV?

As far as our heroes go, the Doctor is continuing to take a slightly creepy interest in his companion's life and wellbeing, secretly bringing her back to the site of a 'haunted' house she torched in her youth in retaliation for a racist firebombing of her friend's flat. Jesus, is this the same show that brought us 'Time and the Rani?'
"You are endlessly agitating, unceasingly mischievous, will you never stop?" - Light

The Curse of Fenric (26x08-11) ****

While not my favourite of his run (let's say third after 'Remembrance of the Daleks' and 'The Happiness Patrol'), this is the closest they came to a quintessential Seventh Doctor story before the series was cancelled and the fabled 'masterplan' for the character could be further developed. That's assuming you favour the portrayal of McCoy's Doctor as a Machiavellian manipulator rather than the punning comic relief of his early episodes. Would the casual 80s viewer prefer the colourful pap of 'Time and the Rani' and 'Paradise Towers' or the sinister ambience and mythological overtones of 'Battlefield' and 'The Curse of Fenric?' Neither would be my guess.

This one is most notable in the grand scheme of things for trying to convince us there is a grand scheme of things, explaining how Ace showed up on Iceworld in the first place (as long as we're clarifying coincidences, what were the chances they'd bump into Glitz there?) and even attempting to make 'Silver Nemesis' make more sense. Bizarrely though, this join-the-dots exercise fails to do anything with the Gods of Ragnarok established a few serials previously, despite the heavy Nordic themes here. That's what happens when you try to please the serious fans, you just open a can of worms. Just ask Steven Moffat about that.

It's also notable for showing the Doctor at his affected worst, telling Ace she's worthless in order to temporarily break the spell caused by her trust in him. It's a cruel scene, but since we know from the start that it's a ruse, it doesn't have the genuine unpleasantness of Colin Baker strangling Peri in their first scene together. The McCoy era wasn't perfect, but it's a great improvement.

For her part, Ace's personal and emotional development continues at a satisfying pace, which was a long time coming for a show that utilised its female characters exclusively as pretty shriekers until she came on the scene. There are also some World War II stock characters, goth vampires and ugly merpeople besieging a pastoral church, you should find something to like.
"I'm not a little girl" - Ace

Survival (26x12-14) **

Did they have to go out on this one? People who like to over-analyse these things have attempted to lash together a rickety bridge between this final episode of the original series and the 2005 revival, with its suburban setting (shared with one last quarry) and the suggestion of a more-than-friendly relationship between Ace and a female cat that doesn't exist. But really, the 1996 'movie' did more than it needed to by referencing the Master's glowing yellow eyes, before turning him into a ghost snake or whatever. At least McCoy got a send-off there.

The Seventh Doctor era is my favourite of the unreliable 80s, and part of this is the reduced reliance on overused old foes. This is the only time the Master shows up, following the Daleks and Cybermen the previous season, and he doesn't make much of an impression. Then again, few of the new aliens turned out all that impressive either, and here that honour goes to the terrible Cheetah People and their Kitlings, which are sometimes animatronic and sometimes just a cat.

This is the first serial in a while that's attempted humour, with a clumsy cameo by then-popular Hale and Pace as shopkeepers in part one, but sadly this final outing only ends up being funny for the wrong reasons. From what I've read, the sketchily planned season 27 wouldn't have been a great improvement but the subsequent continuation in book form was quite well received, so maybe cancellation was for the best. But that's easy to say 26 years and more than 100 new episodes later; if I'd been an adult nerd in 1989 I may have been reasonably vexed.
"This is the end, Doctor" - The Master

Search Out Space **

Another obscure oddity, you can struggle to reconcile this kid's science quiz with the official Doctor Who canon if you wish. You wouldn't be the first.

It's the sort of thing my primary school teachers would use as an excuse not to have to teach for 20 minutes of the day, though to be honest I don't remember the shows we watched to be quite this educational. In the guise of a quiz presided over the Doctor with assistance and goofiness from Ace, K9 and some annoying guy called Cedric who apparently hangs around with them post-'Survival,' the show covers a range of topics from the Earth and the Moon to the other planets, stars and the universe in general.

It does it very well too, not just hammering bullet points into the audience's heads, but asking them to consider why the Earth is round and why the Moon looks like it does. It's no Cosmos, but it strikes a nice balance between information and shots of a robot dog floating around in space. Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred are really at home on kid's TV.

Obviously, the only reason it's of interest to anyone today is because it's one of those rare Doctor Who-ish artefacts from the barren 90s, and a last chance to see McCoy's Doctor and Ace since I'm trying to forget 'Dimensions in Time' exists. They did a load of Big Finish audios and there are plenty of books, but I don't have time for all that. There's all the rest of mediocre 90s sci-fi TV to work through first.
"The task is hopeless" - The Doctor

The Paradise of Death **

A pre-Big Finish, proper audio adventure starring Jon Pertwee, Elizabeth Sladen and Nicholas Courtney reprising their '70s roles, this was probably pretty exciting in 1993 and is still noteworthy today as one of Pertwee's final performances. Though I can take or leave the story, which doesn't feel particularly Who to me with its imaginative landscapes and disturbing rape insinuations. Actually, that did used to happen quite a lot in the series, didn't it?

The cast don't sound noticeably older to me, but the corruption of nostalgia makes it obvious that this isn't a relic of the original Third Doctor era. It uses the '80s Peter Howell theme for a start (why?), there are a few too many knowing references, and the Doctor acts more like his flippant Tom Baker incarnation than sombre Pertwee. They probably couldn't get Tom. He barely showed up for the charity special after all.

At least it doesn't have Daleks in it. I don't know how they resisted.
"Really, Brigadier, I sometimes think you have a very shaky grasp of the Special Theory of Relativity" - The Doctor

Dimensions in Time *

What an absolute piece of shit. This is genuinely one of the worst things I've ever seen on TV, and to make things worse, this terrible, poorly-conceived 30th anniversary special may sadly have been my introduction to the series when it aired in 1993 during Children in Need. The fact that it (supposedly) helped raise more than £100,000 for suffering children annoyingly justifies its existence.

It's very brief at less than 15 minutes across two parts, but still manages to make absolutely no sense whatsoever. Cramming in as many surviving Doctors (Tom Baker is above it, only making a reluctant appearance sitting down next to a microphone) and companions as possible, it also features worthless cameos from various people who I suppose were regulars on EastEnders at the time.

I don't remember it being especially offensive when I was eight years old, but it didn't exactly inspire me to want to see more of this sci-fi legacy during its Wilderness Years. I remember feeling a bit let down by the much-touted 3D, which only really made an impact on the intro. Fan titillation at its weakest and a thoughtless resurrection that mainly serves to demonstrate why the series' cancellation a few years earlier may not have been such a bad thing after all.
"I, I mean we, are difficult to get rid of" - The Doctor

The Ghosts of N-Space ****

They definitely wanted Tom Baker for this Hinchliffian ghost story, which doesn't find much for the Brigadier to do. Never mind, Pertwee gets to invent a couple of things.

It's another story that offers a pseudoscientific explanation for ghosts and uses time travel to good, investigative effect. There's even an entertaining crackpot villain who wants to raise the devil and take over the world or something.

There are some atrocious Italian accents, but that's all part of the charm. The swearing is less charming, but it's all part of the weird "mature" re-branding of the Wilderness Years. It's not like the kids were interested.
"I suppose if you insist, I could call it a multi-vector null-dimensional temporal-spacial psycho probe, but I'd much rather not" - The Doctor

Doctor Who (1996 Pilot) **

There's no chance I'll ever work my way through every episode from 50 years of the longest running sci-fi series ever - even by my standards that would be a colossal waste of time. But I felt this curious serving from 1996 deserved a re-watch since I'm going through failed series pilots and that's precisely what this was, however much the BBC tried to convince it was a 'special,' 'TV movie' or 'treat.' They tried to breathe new life into this old favourite with a few unpopular changes and when it didn't work they went back to the drawing board.

I feared it might be terrible, but from my childhood memory it was just distinctly mediocre, certainly not up to the standard of Daleks' Invasion Earth 2150 AD with Peter Cushing which was the only Doctor Who I was familiar with at the time. The memory stood up - it's not that bad.

It actually starts pretty well, with an orchestrated, CGI revamp of the opening sequence and score that's suitably bombastic, followed by some patronising narration that tries to explain the premise of the series succinctly. Sylvester McCoy's Doctor #7 has a nice cup of tea, the TARDIS lands somewhere, he steps outside and gets instantly gunned down. This ain't your daddy's Doctor Who! seems to be the desperate message.

The rest is mostly poor, with a very American bias (it was co-funded across the pond) that seems strange considering the patriotic London infatuation of the series' eventual revival almost a decade later. The guest characters are basic stereotypes and probably wouldn't have survived if this went to a full series, but as for Paul McGann's take on the Doctor, he's actually very likeable, and the TARDIS looks better than it ever has or would again with its massive Gothic architecture. The stuff with the Master and the snake is just rubbish.

It's a shame we didn't get to see more of Doctor #8, and if a late-90s series had resulted it would certainly have formed a cornerstone of my sci-fi nostalgia alongside other mediocre staples like Sliders and Bugs. But it wasn't meant to be, and this was probably for the best.
"You have to get me out of here before they kill me again" - The Doctor

The Curse of Fatal Death *****

Such a step up from the disappointing Children in Need special of five years previously, this good-natured piss-take from the man who'd end up in control of the resurrected show a decade later is actually very effective as a gateway to the Whoniverse. When I watched it as a teenager, a few years on from the tepid Paul McGann 'movie' (more accurately: poorly received pilot), it certainly piqued my interest. And made me laugh quite a bit.

While the embarrassing 'Dimensions in Time' was cobbled together and executed on a shoestring, this actually looks great. Considering it was for charity, I guess that means the high calibre stars didn't demand appropriate fees for putting in their turns as the Doctor as he burns through lives at a faster rate than even the Russell T. Davies era, though the real stars are Rowan Atkinson as the wry Doctor and Jonathan Pryce as the Master - camp, impotent and always one step and several centuries behind his adversary.

This was Steven Moffat's first TV credit for Doctor Who, but he'd written a short story previously and was apparently an outspoken fan. It really shows in this script that's as respectful to the established conventions of the series as it is flippant in mocking its dafter excesses. In less than 20 minutes, we see the Doctor go up against the Master and the Daleks, learn about regeneration and have our pedestrian concept of time turned on its head in sequences of Time Lord oneupmanship that owe more to Bill & Ted than Doctor Who, but would come back again when Moffat started writing slightly more serious outings for Matt Smith.

You don't need to be a fan to enjoy this one. Far and away the finest TV offering of the Wilderness Years, it highlights the sort of issues that would need to be addressed if the series was to be brought back for a modern audience and sows important seeds even in its irreverence. I love it.
"Say hello to the Sofa of Reasonable Comfort" - The Doctor

Death Comes to Time ***

Why was this made? This impossible-to-reconcile 'finale' for Doctor Who from 2001-2, which completely disregards the Paul McGann incarnation and completely changes the nature of the Doctor and the Time Lords, doesn't seem to serve any purpose beyond attracting nerds to the BBC's new online services, though you're better off listening to the audio version rather than sitting through the repetitive Rupert-style Flash 'animation' that originally accompanied it.

It's not really a bad story, and there's enough impressive vocal talent to prick up comedy fans' ears, including Stephen Fry, Kevin Eldon and John Culshaw restraining himself from doing a Tom Baker impression. None of these elements are really bad - with the possible exception of the Ace sub-plot, because I'm finding Sophie Aldred more annoying all the time - but it's the dubiosity of the thing that puts me off.

The BBC's next big, stupid idea for the franchise they attempted to destroy a second time was to relaunch it as an online series two years later with a moody Richard E. Grant Doctor hanging out with an android version of the Master, but by that time the news had already broken that the TV revival was on the way, so fans could pretend these weird things had never existed. They will always remain as relics of a confusing time for subsequent generations of fans to seek out and get disappointed by all over again.
"Even Time Lords die" - The Doctor

Scream of the Shalka **

This is one of the very strangest entries in the Doctor Who canon - or rather ex-canon, since the abrupt revival of the TV series two years later relegated this one-time Doctor to whatever parallel universe helps you reconcile things.

It isn't very good, and the teasing backstory they give to this new Doctor lacks the intrigue of what Russell T. Davies came up with for the revival. Richard E. Grant's take on the Doctor (his second apocryphal stint in the role after the excellent Comic Relief special) has the usual mix of universe-weary arrogance and occasional wisecracks, but the actor doesn't exactly make this incarnation likeable. It also doesn't help that he looks more like bloody Dracula!

This was a pretty poor excuse for a revival all-round, especially for being based on primitive Flash animation. Even a radio play would have been preferable. The only advantage of the animation is that outlandish creatures like the Shalka can be realised more effectively than in a live action rubber suit or ill-fitting CGI, but again, audio would have done for that. Or a book. Why bother updating the Doctor at all when Paul McGann's incarnation was still proving popular in those mediums?

The Doctor Who universe is no better for the existence of this oddity, and while it may have provided some comfort to hardcore fans in the 40th anniversary year, it probably annoyed more people than it pleased.
"I only come to this planet for the wine and the total eclipses, and I do love a nice old fashioned invasion" - The Doctor

Top 10

#1. The Brain of Morbius (13x17-20)

Going into this blatant Frankenstein riff in an era of classic horror homages, I had no idea it would come out as my all-time favourite. It's probably a fanboy thing, for expanding on the mystique of the Doctor and his people shortly before we'd see Gallifrey in arguably too much detail and that mystique rapidly diminished.

#2. City of Death (17x05-08)

Possibly overrated - I may be doing that right now - but it's so much fun, and certainly the most quotable installment ever. Notably one of the few classic era stories to really explore the possibilities of time travel beyond just going to a place.

#3. Terror of the Zygons (13x01-04)

Postponed from the previous year just to make season 13 that much more difficult to topple (four of its six stories are in this list), this is definitive Doctor Who. Gloomy location filming, unpleasant aliens, inept soldiers, mild racism, paranoia and a hilarious beastie to boot.

#4. The Seeds of Doom (13x21-26)

The only six-parter that didn't feel like it dragged to me, probably because the first two are a completely different story set in an Antarctic base before shifting to provincial Blighty. About as dark and creepy as the series ever was, it's even got Boycie being serious.

#5. Spearhead from Space (7x01-04)

Doctor Who flares into colour with style, traumatising 1970s children with moving mannequins, murdered pets, bloody windscreens and a Jon Pertwee shower scene. I was worried about being Earth-bound with the most foppish of Doctors, but Robert Holmes eased the transition.

#6. Pyramids of Mars (13x09-12)

The definition of romp. There's quite a lot that's stupid about it, from the mild racism to the Crystal Maze denouement, but it's all jolly fun, featuring the most memorable one-time villain and scratching my ancient astronaut itch again. Plus, Sarah Jane in a wedding dress with a rifle - come on. Just me?

#7. The Dæmons (8x21-25)

Doctor Who does Quatermass and the Pit with less cutting social commentary and more rubber gargoyles, exploding helicopters, sinister Morris dancing and sexism. The first of their gothic horrors, which were hardly every original but reliably fun.

#8. Enlightenment (20x17-20)

Peter Davison's final story is fairly unanimously considered his finest, so I'm delighted for a chance to break with tradition - I liked this earlier tale of apathetic gods and impractical space galleons better. Plus, the resolution to one of the best companion arcs.

#9. The Caves of Androzani (21x17-20)

I don't usually like my Doctor Who sombre and serious, but this list has contradicted that a couple of times already, so there's room for 'Androzani.' This story of selfless sacrifice exemplifies what the Fifth Doctor fondness is all about. Unfortunately, there are few other examples to back it up.

#10. The Pirate Planet (16x05-08)

I think this one's generally regarded as a dud, but I still have a lot of love for it. Douglas Adams is his own script editor this time, so expect undiluted, ingenious nonsense. If you prefer something serious, you've got 'Androzani' haven't you?

Top 7 Doctor Who Doctors Who

Average rating (158 stories): 2.94 / 5

William Hartnell (29 stories): 2.58
Patrick Troughton (21 stories): 2.90
Jon Pertwee (24 stories): 3.13
Tom Baker (41 stories): 3.24
Peter Davison (20 stories): 3.10
Colin Baker (11 stories): 2.18
Sylvester McCoy (12 stories): 2.83

Top 26 Doctor Who seasons

Season 13 (4.33 stars)
Season 7 (3.75)
Season 14 (3.67)
Season 12 (3.60)
Season 25 (3.50)
Season 16 (3.33)
Season 20 (3.29)
Season 8 (3.20)
Season 5 (3.14)
Seasons 2, 9 & 10 (3.00)
Seasons 19 & 21 (2.86)
Season 11 (2.80)
Season 26 (2.75)
Seasons 6 & 18 (2.71)
Season 17 (2.67)
Season 1 (2.63)
Season 4 (2.56)
Season 15 (2.50)
Season 22 (2.33)
Season 3 (2.27)
Seasons 23 & 24 (2.25)

No comments:

Post a Comment