Chris Chibnall owes James Goss a thank-you note for giving Doctor Who fans something besides the implications of the Timeless Child to focus on during (yet another) gap year in new installments.
The second installment in the Paul McGann entry of the “Time Lord Victorious” arc features the Daleks (because, of course, we can’t not have the Daleks in there somehow) and builds on the foundation provided by “He Kills Me, He Kills Me Not.” “The Enemy of My Enemy” is a bit more successful and entertaining of a story than the previous installment, though I couldn’t help but feel there was some potential overlooked here. Some of the connections to the larger story come through here — especially the weapon held by the Wrax. There are probably Easter eggs to other installments of this series that I’m either not getting because I haven’t experienced them yet or I wasn’t taking notes as I listened to/read other parts.
McGann is up to his usual standard of excellence here, proving once again that he would have been a great on-screen Doctor if he’d been given the chance. Nicholas Briggs once again gives us an impressive array of Dalek voices and he even manages to make most of them distinctive enough that this listener could tell which Dalek was speaking. I will admit that years of watching classic Who has me expecting Davros to turn up at some point, but I am thinking that’s more and more unlikely.
The story builds to a point and then ends of a cliffhanger. As the middle installment of a trilogy, a lot of what we’re getting here is moving pieces into place for the end game to come. I’m interested enough that I will listen to part three.
For its first six seasons, Doctor Who featured call-backs to its past but hadn’t really started building any significant amount of mythology. That all changed with the introduction of the Time Lords in the last installment of “The War Games” and solidified for the next five years under the leadership of Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks.
The Jon Pertwee years were the time when the show began to establish precedents that would continue not only for the rest of the classic series run but are still being used and built on today. It even extends as far as when the series decided to come out of retirement that Russell T. Davies borrowed heavily from Pertwee’s first four-part serial “Spearhead from Space.”
During the wilderness years, a fellow Whovian and I were discussing what it would be like if the show came back and it was pointed out that a great monster to bring back the show wouldn’t necessarily by the Daleks or the Cybermen but the Autons. The Autons are significant in the series, appearing twice in the original series run, and the sequence of them breaking out of shop windows in episode four is one that is indelibly burned into the minds of the viewing public. But the Autons don’t have the same level of backstory, expectation, and baggage as some of the more popular foes the Doctor has squared off against. Continue reading
What if I told you there was a Doctor Who serial written by the great Robert Holmes in which the presence of the Doctor and his companions wouldn’t alter the outcome of the story one bit?
You’d probably think I was talking about the classic serial, “The Caves of Androzani.”
And you’d be correct.
But I could also be talking about “The Space Pirates,” Holmes’ second offering for the series.
At this point in the Patrick Troughton era, scripts kept falling through and there was a behind-the-scenes scramble to get something on the screens to fill time. And “The Space Pirates” sure feels like it’s doing a lot of filing time over the course of its six episodes.
The story has a pretty dodgy reputation among Doctor Who fans. Part of that is that the single surviving episode features the Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe locked in a room with little or no impact on the story unfolding. Another part of it is that there’s a lack of visual materials to go with the surviving audio, making viewing the telesnap version of this story a bit of a slog at times. Continue reading
For 2021, I’ve decided to take a look back at what many fans consider the best writer Doctor Who has ever produced — Robert Holmes. With the exception of “The Space Pirates,” we have a full run of Holmes’ output in the BBC Archives. Today, I look back at his first offering, “The Krotons.”
Patrick Troughton’s final season as Doctor was marked by a lot of scripts falling through and a scramble to get something, anything onto screens. Out of that chaos came something good — the Doctor Who debut of Robert Holmes.
Sure, “The Krotons” isn’t exactly on the same level as “Spearhead From Space” would be just a season later. And Holmes’s distinctive writing style is a bit rough around the edges. But, this four-part serial is an interesting starting point for Holmes and offers hints of things to come.
Holmes would borrow elements from this serial for multiple other stories as the series went along. The concept of an alien taking the best and brightest from an alien society would be used in “The Trial of a Time Lord” close to two decades later. And he’d also recycle the backstory of the Krotons themselves a bit when we meet the Sontarans in “The Time Warrior” (lone ship from a fleet crashes on an alien world and uses local population to rebuild).
So, while “The Krotons” isn’t necessarily essential for the story itself, it is an essential part of Doctor Who’s history. Continue reading
Thanks to the quirks of KTEH’s (a bastion of Doctor Who in the U.S. back in the day) scheduling of Colin Baker’s first season as the Doctor, I saw season 22 of classic Who a lot during my first decade or so as a fan. That kind of explains why it’s been a hot minute since I dusted off that particular season on either my VHS or DVD collection. It’s probably been at least a decade since I really dabbled in season 22 in a serious way — and boy, did revisiting Philip Martin’s adaptation of his script for “Vengeance on Varos” show that.
Martin takes a page from the master of the Doctor Who adaptation, Terrance Dicks, and gives us essentially the same story we get on-screen. Though to Martin’s credit (and Dicks in the early days before they chained him to a typewriter and he churned out eight novels in a year), he does at least try to make the story feel like it unfolds over a longer duration of time than what we got on-screen. Martin makes it feel like the Doctor, Peri, Jondar, and Arata spend a bit more time wandering around the punishment dome, trying to find a way out and escape. He even extends things out enough so it appears the Doctor has passed away for longer than five-minutes than we see on-screen.
There is an extended sequence where we pull back the curtain and see how the Governor truly lives when he’s not negotiating with Sil or being sprayed with death rays. And don’t forget that part where he has Sil fall into the vat of liquid that he’s constantly being sprayed with on-screen.
But despite all these flourishes, it’s the story of “Varos” that continues to shine through and where the success or failure of this particular story lies. Continue reading
When the BBC began releasing Doctor Who on video in the mid-8o’s, they made the (mistaken) assumption that fans wouldn’t mind a few revisions in the stories. And so it was that the first releases in the range were omnibus versions of the stories, removing the cliffhangers and only featuring the opening and closing credits once per story. The BBC eventually figured out that what fans wanted was each serial as complete as possible, including sitting through the opening and closing credits for each episode of the story.
Possibly the worst victim of the early range of VHS releases when it came to editing was “The Brain of Morbius.” Not only was it released in the omnibus format but the initial release had thirty minutes of the story excised.
I’ll admit that I never purchased the original release of the story on VHS because of these edits. But I can’t help but wonder what the edited version of this story might have looked like. With the BluRay releases of the seventh Doctor’s era including expanded versions that were released on VHS as an extra for the story they’re associated with, I can’t help but wonder if the eventual release of season thirteen won’t include the edited version of “The Brain of Morbius” so I can finally see it. Continue reading
Until five missing episodes miraculously turned up in time for the series’ fiftieth anniversary, the only thing most Doctor Who fans had to judge “The Enemy of the World” on was an orphaned middle-episode that didn’t really highlight the story’s strengths and Ian Marter’s Target adaptation. So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that once we had the complete serial back in the archives and available to view that the collective fan assessment might rise over the last half-dozen or so years.
It’s hard to blame Marter for the failings of this Target novelization. Clocking in at a mere 127 pages, Marter is hard-pressed to compress six episodes. He does try nobly to do so, but in the end, it never quite works. Scenes are dropped and while the outline of the story is still there, it never quite feels as solid as the David Whitacker scripts were on-screen. There are some interesting choices of what to leave out and what to include by Marter over the course of the novel.
But it’s not like Marter hasn’t shown he can compress a large number of episodes into a smaller amount of pages. He will later do it with the Patrick Troughton era serial, “The Invasion.” Of course, having emotionless adversaries at the heart of that one may have helped a bit.
As with all of Marter’s novelizations, there is a darker streak running through this story with all the on-screen deaths being just a bit more gruesome on the printed page.
At least the audio version of this story has Patrick Troughton’s son David performing the story. His interpretations of his father and the other actors in this story are spot-on and well done. I’m just glad the serial is back now so we can compare his take with what the actors did on-screen.
Unless you were watching in 1966, odds are you haven’t seen Doctor Who‘s season four debut story, “The Smugglers.”
Sure, we’ve got a couple of clips thanks to the Australian censors (though why they kept the clips and not the full episodes is something I’d really like an answer to) but there isn’t much out there to experience when it comes to this lost historical serial.
And yet, for some reason, I skipped the Target adaptation of this one when it was released in the late ’80s. Whether it was to save my money for another Target book coming later or that I was weary of Terrance Dicks’ adaptations, I can’t quite recall. But my omission then allowed me to enjoy the audiobook release of this one now as something (almost) new to me.
And I have to admit, I kind of liked it. Unless they somehow recover part of all of it tomorrow, this four-part serial’s biggest claim to fame will be a link to “The Curse of the Black Spot” from the modern series. As a historical, it works fairly well, though it does feel a bit as if the script is borrowing a bit of Ben’s reaction to time traveling for the first time from Stephen’s reactions in “The Time Meddler.”
After barging into the TARDIS, Ben and Polly are sent back in time with the Doctor to a seventeenth century Cornish town under assault by pirates. There’s a bit of chasing back and forth during some of the middle episodes from the pirate ship to the town settings, but overall the story moves along at a crisp pace and works fairly well. Of course, there’s a pirate treasure at the center of all this and apparently, the Doctor is the only one with the necessary clue to try and uncover it.
Read by Anneke Wills who played Polly, this audio adaptation is another solid release from this range. I realize that we’re slowly getting to the end of this range and there are fewer fondly remembered adaptations ahead of us. But having the chance to experience this one, I find it a solid offering from Dicks. It’s not quite on the level of his early work, but it’s not quite the translating the script to the printed page with a few descriptions that we got in the Tom Baker era.
“Jubilee” is probably best known as the inspiration for the instant classic episode, “Dalek.”
And while the two stories share the same starting point and a couple of story beats, there are enough differences to make enjoying both versions of this story a worthwhile experience.
Once again, Big Finish provides evidence that the sixth Doctor’s era could have been a classic if it had better scripts. Colin Baker’s work here is nothing short of superb, especially given that he’s allowed to play two distinct versions of the Doctor over the two-plus hours the story runs.
The Sixth Doctor and Evelyn become trapped in a parallel world — one where the Doctor led a major battle against the Daleks a hundred years before. Now, England is a world superpower and celebrating the anniversary of overthrowing the Daleks. But there are dark secrets hiding not only in an addition to the Tower of London but also the upper level of the Tower itself.
Rob Shearman’s script for “Jubilee” is simply gorgeous. Well, at least it is for three episodes before going a bit sideways in the final installment. (I’m not saying anything here Shearman himself hasn’t admitted in other forums). The idea of a lone Dalek being held prisoner and tortured into talking in here. If you’ve seen “Dalek,” odds are you will suss out the first cliffhanger fairly easily (even if you haven’t and just look at the cover, you will), but that’s part of the point of the story. Shearman toys with our expectations for Dalek stories from the classic era here all the while having bit of fun by subverting those expectations time and again.
The story makes some fascinating commentary on the commercialization of the Daleks (I find it ironic that they bring up that slapping a Dalek on something makes it a best-seller given the sheer amount of Doctor Who merchandise I keep seeing today) as well as really making us look at how close the Daleks we can and sometimes to become. The sharpest barbs resonant through with the President of the British empire (superlatively played by Martin Jarvis). Indeed, you may find that some of the observations and actions of this character have become scarily more pertinent now than they were when this story was originally produced.
And yet, it all goes a bit sideways once we get to episode four. Honestly, the first three episodes set such a high bar that it would be difficult for any conclusion to do it all justice.
How you feel about Stephen Wyatt’s adaptation of his own script for “Paradise Towers” probably depends on how you feel about the televised story. If you liked the broadcast version, you’ll probably enjoy it. If you weren’t a fan, there isn’t much here to really add to what we saw on television screens.
Back before season 24 aired, I met Sylvester McCoy at my local PBS station’s hosting of the Whomobile (a semi packed with props, set pieces, and an opportunity to sit in Bessie). McCoy regaled the audience with stories about his first season, making it sound far better than season 24 turned out to be.
“Paradise Towers” isn’t necessarily a terrible story. It’s one that has some ambition to it, but given the limited budget of the time and that it’s a studio-bound story that features a lot of running up and down corridors, it still ended up disappointing me at the time. The novel is extremely faithful to what we saw on screen, though Wyatt does try to make certain characters a bit more credible on the printed page. Pex, for example, seems to look the part a bit more in the descriptions we’re given in the book than the actor did in the television version. It also helps the Chief Caretaker be a bit more menacing when I’m not constantly taken out of the story by Richard Biers playing the role (though I will admit the audiobook isn’t done any favors by Bonnie Langford doing a fairly good impression of what Biers does on-screen).
All-in-all, this is a solid enough adaptation that ranks in the middle of the range. It’s not terrible, but it’s not great as other Target books featuring the seventh Doctor would be.