Doctor Who – The Two Doctors

Doctor Who Story 141 – The Two Doctors

Written by

Robert Holmes

What’s It About?

The Second Doctor and Jamie are sent by the Time Lords to Space Station Chimera to investigate time experiments. The Doctor is captured because the masterminds behind the experiments need a Time Lord so they can unlock the secrets of TARDIS technology. Meanwhile, the Sixth Doctor develops a sensitivity to his past self’s abduction and realizes that if he is not able to save his past self, his present may be irrevocably changed.

Primitive Creatures Don’t Feel Pain in the Way We Would

Shockeye and The Doctor out on the town.It is always a joy to see Patrick Troughton and Frazer Hines reprise their roles in Doctor Who. For me, however, this story is less about Troughton and Hines’ return and more about Robert Holmes. Yes, he was back a year earlier with “Caves of Androzani,” but “Caves” was somewhat atypical for Holmes. It lacked his humor and witticisms. It was Holmes as dark cynic; “The Two Doctors” is Holmes as biting, witty cynic.

Like “The Sun Makers,” “The Two Doctors” is harsh in its commentary, but instead of focusing on the British tax system, Holmes unleashes his disdain on people who eat meat. Holmes was a vegetarian, and his use of Androgums as a stand-in for carnivores leads to some wonderful dark comedy. The only problem is that by making Androgums a stand-in for a group, a viewer could choose to try other readings instead of the vegetarian reading. In such a case, statements referring to Androgum nature being savage, lesser, debased, and primitive can take a decidedly racist tone. Attempts to modify Cessini to a more civilized existence have certain Imperial overtones. But it is clear that the author’s true intent was to excoriate meat eaters. This is probably the best lens to read “The Two Doctors” through.

Some criticism has been levelled at this story due to the cruelty exhibited in the story: the Doctor delivering a one-liner after killing Shockeye, the death of Oscar, cannibalism. Some of this serves the social commentary, but with Oscar’s death I think the story veers too far toward the grim. Oscar was played as a thoroughly ridiculous character up to this point. He was absurd. His death is filmed as tragic, but I almost wonder if it was meant to be in the absurd, comic vein in which he was written. Indeed at times, as Oscar waxed of Shakespeare, I anticipated his death was being deliberately over-played, melodramatic, his injuries a mere superficial wound and revealed as such with great embarrassment. But no, he died. The bleakness of this moment threatens to distance the viewer from the story.

In spite of this, “The Two Doctors” is a very good story. There are things to be critical about, but the storytelling is quite good and the directing creates effective mood, even when I disagree with the mood chosen.

My Rating



Doctor Who – Caves of Androzani

Doctor Who Story 135 – Caves of Androzani

Written by

Robert Holmes

What’s It About?

The Doctor and Peri materialize on Androzani minor, a planet with an intricate network of caves where the immensely valuable Spectrox is mined. But they soon get trapped in a power struggle between the rebel Sharaz Jek, gunrunners, military soldiers, and corporate interests.

Is This Death?

Sharaz Jek, The Doctor, and PeriWhat makes this story work so well?

Is it Robert Holmes? This is the first Robert Holmes script for Doctor Who since “The Power of Kroll,” an admittedly uninspired story. But some elements of “Kroll” reappear here, namely gunrunners. But “Caves of Androzani” is in a whole other league when compared to “Kroll.” This is a tragedy. Some of the Holmes tropes are there. Sharaz Jek is a play on Phantom of the Opera, referring back to the horror stories which inspired Hinchcliffe and Holmes when they ran Doctor Who. Many of Holmes’s scripts would target sectors of society that Holmes had little patience for: stuffy bureaucrats (The Deadly Assassin), tax codes and tax collectors (The Sun Makers). Here, the target is aimed at corporations who play two sides against one another for profit, immoral economics. And, of course, there is the lava monster. Holmes was from the era when Doctor Who had to have monsters. Excise this monster from the story, and you don’t lose much. But as I watched the story, I began to question how much of this was by Robert Holmes and how much was by Eric Saward. This is a tragic story. It is bleak. Once more, we have no survivors. More than any story so far, the Doctor is virtually useless here. He is in way over his head and the only thing he manages to accomplish is to save Peri’s life. Apart from this, he does not solve the problems in the story. He does not call people to a higher calling or morality. This is another story where everyone kills each other, and the Doctor and companion get away—only this time, the Doctor is killed as well.

But most striking is the lack of humor. Humor is a Robert Holmes staple, and there is none here. Now, it isn’t unheard of for writers to try different things or to occasionally break type, but the lack of humor stands out in this story. It is dark, ominous, and tragic. So I return to my question, what makes this story work so well? Is it Saward’s script editing?

Is it Graeme Harper? Hands down, this is one of the best-directed stories in classic Who, and most-certainly the best of the Davison era, which is quite a statement because Peter Grimwade and Fiona Cumming set the bar pretty high. That Harper was able to surpass them speaks volumes to his talent and to why he was invited to direct for new Who. This is a visceral story. It is an emotional story. The scene where Jek is first unmasked (and the viewer doesn’t see it) is probably the most emotionally and viscerally intense scene in Doctor Who since Vasor threatened to prey upon Barbara in The Keys of Marinus (the subtext in that story was rape but it was never actually stated). Even the power struggle between the gun runners is framed perfectly with the positioning of the actors conveying strength and authority. “Caves of Androzani” is a masterpiece of direction.

Is it Peter Davison? I had never warmed to Davison’s era before, but this time through (my first time through in sequence) I got it. He was always a great Doctor, but he was a different Doctor. He was more down-to-earth, more polite and sweet. He was a human Doctor. And because of that portrayal, this story kills him. This story breaks him. From the moment the Doctor gets involved, he is in a position of weakness and he never recovers. And yet he struggles on in an attempt to save Peri. Even Sharaz Jek helps him in the end, showing his humanity rather than playing the villain completely.

Honestly, no one person is responsible for the success of this story. Everything came together to send Peter Davison off. For me, this was the most emotional regeneration story since The Tenth Planet. I’m rather sad to see him go because for the next couple seasons I will be witnessing more Saward bleakness, but now with a Doctor who isn’t afraid to do the hard things to stay in control. I don’t have a problem with a Machiavellian Doctor, but I’m a little concerned about the darkness of Saward’s vision of the show.

My Rating


Doctor Who – The Power of Kroll Kroll Kroll Kroll Kroll

Doctor Who Story 102 – The Power of Kroll

Who Wrote It

Robert Holmes

What’s It About

In their ongoing search for the Key to Time, the Doctor and Romana arrive on the swamp moon of Delta Magna. In order to find the Key, the must navigate the violent designs of the natives and the colonial prejudices of the refinery workers. But lurking beneath the waters of the swamps is an ancient beast that hungers.

It’s atrociously writ.
Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Kroll R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn! (Source: Wikipedia.)
Ia! Ia! Kroll fhtagn! (Source: Wikipedia.)

It is inevitable that I would think of Cthulhu while watching this story. I have been steadily reading through the works of H.P. Lovecraft for over a year now and any cyclopean, tentacled water creature is going to cause my mind to wander toward cosmic dread. I don’t know that Lovecraft had any influence on this story at all; there seems to be little evidence that Robert Holmes read his stories. The mythos hardly strikes me as stories Holmes would enjoy. The similarities are extremely superficial. But the disappointment over what could have been, a story involving an ancient, cosmic creature with complete indifference to its worshippers, would have been a fascinating story. It also would have been completely contrary to the BBC’s mandate to Graham Williams. The story would have been much too dark—on the level of Image of the Fendahl.

The second area of disappointment I felt while watching this story was how uneven it was. Robert Holmes opened the season with a magnificent story. The characters were fun, the story was intriguing, and it was truly an example of everything Robert Holmes (and by extension, Doctor Who) does so well. Kroll, also by Holmes, lacks everything that The Ribos Operation had. The characters seemed underdeveloped. The pace is uneven. I almost wonder if Robert Holmes even cared.

This is a shame, I think, because the visual effects for Kroll look quite good. No, they aren’t perfect, but Kroll is one of the best-realized monsters of Doctor Who. The monster itself looks magnificent. But the story is half-hearted. The themes lack any significant punch (honestly, they were done better in Colony in Space). Even Philip Madoc is wasted in a secondary role (but he is still excellent). The Power of Kroll doesn’t quite get off the ground, even though it has so much in its favor. Robert Holmes was one of the great writers of classic Doctor Who. Even when his heart wasn’t in it, the stories had interesting elements. Unfortunately, when they are wasted in a story that doesn’t seem to care, watching a Holmes story can be incredibly disappointing.

My Rating


Doctor Who – The Ribos Operation

Doctor Who Story 098 – The Ribos Operation

Who Wrote It?

Robert Holmes

What’s It About?

At the behest of the White Guardian, The Doctor and his new companion, Romana, begin their search for the segments of the Key to Time. Their first stop is Ribos, a feudal planet in the midst of a decades-long Icetime, where two con artists are pulling a one final con.

All right, call me Fred.
The Captain of the Guard, The Graff Vynda-K, and Sholakh
Source: Doctor Who Reviews

I can’t think of any season opening for Doctor Who as fun and well-written as “The Ribos Operation.” Robert Holmes has turned in what must be his most-perfect script; Tom is on fine form; Romana adds a great counter-point to the Doctor; the production looks great. We haven’t had a story as tight as this one since “Horror of Fang Rock.”

Season sixteen is the Key to Time season. Each story advances the overall arc, but each story is still somewhat episodic. The search for the Key to Time provides a reason for the adventures, and it bookends each story. It therefore imposes a structure on the adventures during this season. While I don’t have a problem with story arcs in general (I am a fan of Lost, Fringe, and Babylon 5, after all), I prefer to see a more controlling hand at work. Ideally, I want to see arcs that arise from character decisions and actions (seen in some of the plot points that linked story to story in the first season of Doctor Who), but if a show is going to have a grand mystery, then I want the episodes to seem somewhat relevant to that mystery. “The Ribos Operation” is good in spite of the arc, and if Holmes had written a different McGuffin the story would have worked just as well.

Being a part of the arc, however, does present some interesting thematic material. As Philip Sandifer points out in TARDIS Eruditorum, the Key to Time arc sets up a theme of dualism. This theme is indicated early in the story when the White Guardian coerces the Doctor into the quest. The White Guardian is an unambiguous stand-in for God. He is a force for order, and his opposing element, the Black Guardian, is a force for chaos. This leads to a strong problem, however, for if you developed stats for the Doctor in a role-playing game, his alignment would be chaotic good. Doctor Who has clearly indicated that the Doctor rejected the lawful good of his people in order to pursue his own path. In this regard, the Doctor is a very poor candidate to champion this quest—this Doctor, at least. Although, if the Time Lords are the only beings with the resources to enable them to find the segments, then the Doctor is not such a bad choice: he is more resourceful than his people and he far less likely to be corrupted by power. The Doctor is probably not the best choice to ally with order, but he is probably the safest. Romana, on the other hand, is completely inexperienced in adventuring. She is far more sensible and she understands order and commands. This makes her an ideal pawn for the White Guardian, should he determine the Doctor isn’t following the quest in the proper way.

Ribos is a fascinating planet for me. Its cycle of Icetime and Suntime reminded me of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. The costume, prop, and set designs seemed inspired by pre-Romanov Russia. The Graff Vynda-K is almost Shakespearean in his growing insanity. And at the core of the story are Robert Holmes’s con men. Holmes plays with Graham Williams’s epic and cosmic ideas, but his real heart lies with the Garron and Unstoffe as they attempt to steal from the Graff.

Watching season sixteen is an exciting prospect. The Key to Time is the story that Graham Williams wanted to tell in the previous season but couldn’t due to budgetary problems. Similarly, season seventeen will also suffer from factors beyond Williams’s control (namely, a strike). Thus, the Key to Time season is the only season that fully represents Graham Williams’s vision for Doctor Who. And as it goes, it is off to a great start.

My Rating


Doctor Who – The Sun Makers

Doctor Who Story 095 – The Sun Makers

Who Wrote It?

Robert Holmes

What’s It About?

The Doctor and Leela arrive on Pluto in time to prevent a man from committing suicide. As they try to discern his distress, they discover a dystopian society controlled by The Company, which uses economic oppression to keep humanity subdued.

It’s just a knack. You’ve either got it or you don’t

The Gatherer and the Collector
Source: Tardis Data Core

And this is what you get when Robert Holmes attempts to make a point. Irritated by the British tax system, Holmes penned this thinly-veiled critique (and “thinly-veiled” seems to be overstating it). Holmes portrays The Company as a bureaucratic entity that keeps humanity working to pay taxes, never allowing them to get ahead. And in the end, the Collector is portrayed as a fungus that slithers down a toilet-like seat. Holmes leaves little room for mercy in this story. Subtlety is not part of his agenda.

On the whole, I enjoyed this story. The script, while heavy-handed, is extremely witty; it is full of the types of characters that Robert Holmes excels at. The dialogue between the Doctor and the Collector (and the Doctor and Gatherer Hade) is sharp and sparkling. The greatest fault in the script is the lack of subtlety, and even that can be dismissed as person preference. Unfortunately, the story is let down by the action sequences, which are poorly executed. The sense of danger is severely lacking.

I do, however, appreciate the idea of economic imperialism rather than conquest through war. It is something that is still relevant today. Likewise, some of the critique of mindless bureaucracy is still relevant; how often we still turn over our lives and money to support systems that we don’t understand. And where does that money go? It is a shame that this story, whose themes are still quite relevant, is damaged by areas of poor execution. If not for that, this story would still pack a satirical punch.

My Rating


Doctor Who – The Talons of Weng Chiang

Doctor Who Story 091 – The Talons of Weng Chiang

Written By

Robert Holmes

What’s It About

The Doctor and Leela intend to take in a show while visiting Victorian London, but they become embroiled in an investigation of disappearing women, a Chinese magician, and an ancient Chinese God.

Never trust a man with dirty fingernails

Mr. Sin holds a knife menacingly.
Source: Comic Related

By nature, I am a contrarian. I often take an opposing view, not because I always agree, but because I believe civil dialogue promotes understanding and refines convictions. I have encountered many people who seem to believe things, occasionally quite passionately, but cannot explain why or have a healthy, respectful conversation about their beliefs. Too often, I think we believe out of habit. But if we can be challenged and defend our position, we can grow stronger and more confident in that position. Perhaps we can even change minds. Thus, if you read this review and disagree with something, please consider what you disagree with, why you disagree with it, and give a thoughtful response. Please don’t respond in rage or attack—regardless of your opinion.

On we go, and perhaps we should get the main problem of this story out of the way first: is this story racist? Yeah, probably. But I’m far more interested in looking at why it is racist. Doctor Who has the image of being above such things, and it really galls a lot of people when one of the best-executed stories in the oeuvre has racist undertone. There are two things I want to explore (albeit briefly) in looking at the racism in this story: First, the context; second, the genre.

Context is something that modern consumers of media seem to miss. All texts, whether the written word or moving pictures, cannot escape the world in which they were created, and Doctor Who is as prone to this as others. Yes, over the years Doctor Who has become a type of icon for moral, enlightened liberalism, but it is clear that the show has not always had this flavor. One only has to look back at Tomb of the Cybermen and The Celestial Toymaker to see this. But it is easy to sweep both of those stories under the rug because a) Tomb is in black and white, and most modern viewers probably won’t bother with it, and b) Toymaker is partially lost and it isn’t very good. But Talons is at that unfortunate crossroads of having racist undertones and being very, very good (much like H.P. Lovecraft, although with Lovecraft they aren’t exactly “undertones,” but clearly stated opinion).

The genre of Talons is clearly Victorian fantastic literature (or “gaslight” for short). Robert Holmes perfectly captures this style that he obviously loves. But was Holmes was letting personal ideas slip through or was he just was being true to the genre? Make no mistake, there was quite a bit of anti-Chinese sentiment in gaslight stories, Fu Manchu being a prime example. Holmes probably gave no thought whatsoever to the undertones in Talons. (Is casual, unintentional racism a valid defense?) We only have to look at The Two Doctors and The Sunmakers to see what Holmes did when he wanted to make pointed social/political commentary. He was quite ruthless when he did this, and his writing gives little to no room for argument. No, Holmes’s concern in Talons was writing a Doctor Who story—on short notice, according to some sources—and he chose to imitate a beloved genre; in this he succeeded spectacularly. But by being faithful to the genre, he perpetuated some grievous stereotypes. He produced extremely well-crafted art, and he probably wouldn’t have cared if it the undertones had been pointed out to him (although I have very little to base this assertion on).

And let’s be honest—many fans would say that the Doctor Who is about monsters; the Hinchcliffe/Holmes era certainly is. Monsters are not nuanced; they are black and white. They are an evil to be despised and defeated. It is easy to accept this when we have stories about Daleks, Cybermen, Zygons, or Sontarans. It is not as easy to accept this when the monsters are humans. I enjoy Doctor Who more when it portrays nuanced and sympathetic villains rather than black and white monsters. That is why I love The Silurians so much. It would have been interesting to see Holmes subvert gaslight racism in Talons, but he didn’t. He wrote a story of heroes vs. monsters.

Contextually, Talons belongs in 1970s British television and gaslight fantastic literature; creators of these contexts would have given little thought to the undertones. But we, in 2013, do see the undertones. It is a shame that this nearly-perfect story can offend. But much in art does. As long as we contextualize said art, and make sure we don’t recommend Talons to a viewer who will be hurt by it or form negative impressions from it, then it can still be enjoyed for the work that it is. Ideas in art can change the world, for good or for ill, but we need not fear them if we try to understand them and dialogue about them. And I personally believe contextualizing Talons to a specific genre—warts and all—goes a long way toward undermining its racism. And if Talons truly does bother you (for any reason—it is a fairly gruesome story, which can be argued as anti-Doctor Who in itself) or if you think it will bother you, then please don’t feel you have to watch it just because it is so popular. Art has the power to have a profound effect on us, and we should really understand how art makes us better or worse. We should never blindly consume art.

The Talons of Weng-Chiang is very well crafted, and it obviously provokes discussion and dialogue, as all good art does. The discussion, however, is not what Holmes probably would have intended. But that is what is so great about art: it becomes timeless and lives and grows beyond authorial intent. Thematically, Talons holds everything Hinchcliffe and Holmes tried to do with Doctor Who (create sci-fi horror pastiches), and it did them to perfection. It is a prime example of how to do a six part story. It should be enjoyed for what it is:  a faithful imitation of gaslight literature.

My Rating


Doctor Who – The Deadly Assassin

Doctor Who Story 088 – The Deadly Assassin

The Skeletal Master
Source: IGN

Who Wrote It: Robert Holmes

What’s It About: After having a premonition in which he kills the Time Lord president, The Doctor returns to Gallifrey and discovers The Master has deadly plans for the secret technology at the heart of Time Lord society.

This is a story that I enjoy even though I hate it.

Maybe hate is too strong of a word. I guess I should say that I don’t enjoy what this story does to the Time Lords. Prior to engaging in this project, my knowledge of the Time Lords was derived from The Deadly Assassin and all post-Deadly Assassin stories. The Time Lords were extremely powerful but a bit dull. The stories were not too interesting, The Deadly Assassin being the best of the lot. But when I started watching Doctor Who from the beginning, I discovered Time Lords that were extremely mysterious. Especially after watching The War Games, The Time Lords seemed a force of nature. As much as I hate to admit it, they did seem a bit more “oncoming storm” than grumpy headmaster. For me, the best rule for the Time Lords is “less is more.”

With The Deadly Assassin, Robert Holmes completely redefines the Time Lords and Gallifrey. This isn’t such a great shock. In fact, over the past few years the show has been building toward this. Appearances of Time Lords in the Pertwee era prepared the way for The Deadly Assassin. The Time Lords in The Three Doctors don’t seem too far removed from Robert Holmes portrayal. A story such as this one was going to happen sooner or later, who better to take it on than a world-builder like Holmes?

But at the same time, the magic is gone. We couldn’t avoid the Time Lords forever. It was fun while it lasted. And as good as 70s Doctor Who was (from a budget perspective), it still wasn’t likely to create a Time Lord society that was truly mind-bending or godlike. This obviously wasn’t a goal for Holmes (although, if the portrayal of the Time Lords had occurred for the first time in the Cartmel era, we may have got something truly magical). Robert Holmes took what had been established so far (much of it during the Pertwee years), and he added in a healthy dose of his own love of Victorian adventure stories (The Most Dangerous Game seems to be a major influence on this story). Then throw in a pinch of The Manchurian Candidate, and you have The Deadly Assassin.

It is astounding how much Doctor Who mythology was introduced in this story: the Celestial Intervention Agency, Castellans, the Matrix, The Great Houses, the robes and helmets, Time Lords as stuffy academics and bureaucrats, Borusa, shobogons, the twelve regenerations concept, Rassilon, The Eye of Harmony, The ___ of Rassilon, and many more. With regard to the mythology of the show, The Deadly Assassin is probably the most important story since The War Games (or maybe The Tenth Planet part 4).

As a story itself, The Deadly Assassin is decent and fairly experimental. The concept of a virtual world that is controlled by thought is quite innovative for television sci-fi. It starts as a surreal horror dream and quickly becomes an homage to The Most Dangerous Game, which is fun for what it’s worth, but is unnervingly dark. The story reaches for an epic feel but falls short in the end as part four becomes extremely rushed. But there are some great characters, including Spandrell and Engin (the latest Holmes double-act), Borusa, Chancellor Goth (played wonderfully by Bernard Horsfall), and The Master in a transitional state—with hints of the Delgado Master, but truly a new character. The story works, for the most part. For this reason, it is hard to completely dislike it. I wish it had never been made, but I enjoy it nonetheless.

My Rating: 3.5/5

Doctor Who – The Brain of Morbius

Doctor Who Story 084 – The Brain of Morbius

Solon speaks with The Brain of Morbius
Source: The AV Club. Copyright 1976 by BBC.

Who Wrote It: Robin Bland (well, Robert Holmes)

What’s It About: The Doctor and Sarah arrive on the planet Karn—against their will. The Doctor believes The Time Lords have placed him there to do their bidding once again. But he soon becomes the object of two antagonistic forces: the Sisterhood of Karn, which believes he is a Time Lord agent sent to steal their Elixir of Life, and Solon, a brilliant surgeon whose secret agenda involves the resurrection of a Time Lord war criminal which can only be accomplished if he can claim The Doctor’s head.

On its surface, The Brain of Morbius is a retelling of Frankenstein—owing more to the movie versions rather than Mary Shelley’s classic novel. In this capacity, The Brain of Morbius works magnificently. It gives us the mad scientist and his less-than-intelligent assistant; it gives us a creature stitched together from different bodies (and in Doctor Who fashion, these are different alien bodies); and it even gives us a torch-bearing mob that chases the creature to his death. It is a clever retelling, all things considered.

But deeper in the story is a brilliant tension between gothic horror and morbidly dark comedy. This tension is balance perfectly by Philip Madoc, who played Solon the Victor Frankenstein homage. Solon is devoted to resurrecting Morbius in bodily form, but he is also devoted to his work. Pardon the language, but I really can’t think of a better way to convey how I feel: Despite being a brilliant surgeon, Solon is truly bat-shit insane. And I absolutely love this! It would be easy to see plot holes in this story: Why doesn’t Solon use Condo’s body? Why not use The Doctor’s body instead of the patchwork body Solon has been creating for years? Because the man is insane. Because he genuinely believes this is a good plan. Personally, I love viewing Solon this way. He is a brilliant surgeon, but he is completely and totally cracked. He has spent years piecing together this mongrel body, and he isn’t going to be swayed away from it just because a better specimen has turned up.

On top of all that, Solon has the best lines in the story:

  • “What a magnificent head!”
  • “You chicken brained biological disaster.”
  • “Don’t lie to me, Condo! You’ve been looking for that arm again, haven’t you?”
  • “I’ll see that palsied harridan scream for death!”

Until I can write insults as well as Robert Holmes, I won’t consider myself a successful writer.

In the midst of all the horror and dark comedy, The Brain of Morbius gives us a surprising amount of Time Lord mythology. We learn that the Time Lords rely on The Sisterhood’s elixir from time to time. We learn about yet another evil Time Lord, one who sat on the High Council and attempted to lead the Time Lords in conquest of the galaxy. And in The Doctor’s mental battle with Morbius, we see incarnations of The Doctor which predate the Hartnell incarnation. (Yes, I understand this is a point of contention among fans. This was the original intent, however, and the order of the sequence actually supports this. While I prefer to view the other portraits possible incarnations of Morbius, I cannot deny the intention of writers of this story. Doctor Who is an endless list of earlier concepts being superseded: earlier incarnations of The Doctor; history cannot be written, not one line; Time Lords live forever, barring accidents; Time Lords as godlike beings rather than bureaucrats; and so on.) In some ways, The Brain of Morbius is a foreshadowing of things to come; it is an indication that Hinchcliffe and Holmes are not afraid to play around with Time Lord society where earlier producers and script editors had been cautious how far into Time Lord society we looked.

But enough of that for now. What we have in The Brain of Morbius is a great example of dark comedy and horror homage. This story could have easily been a disaster (and the ending does start to feel rushed and chaotic), but thanks to brilliant acting by the lead and guest actors, as well as excellent set design, this story succeeds.

My Rating: 4/5

Doctor Who – The Ark in Space

Doctor Who Story 076 – The Ark in Space

Noah becomes a Wirrn.
Source: Copyright 1975 by BBC.

Who Wrote It: Robert Holmes

What’s It About: The TARDIS accidentally materializes on the Nerva Space Station which is an ark for the survivors of a solar storm that devastated Earth. They soon discover something is lurking in the halls of the station, and it wants to absorb the human survivors to strengthen its own species.

From the perspective of theme and tone, you probably won’t find a stronger contrast between Robot and The Ark in Space. Where Robot is a fun romp, The Ark in Space is a claustrophobic story with some truly disturbing subtext. Welcome to the Philip Hinchcliffe era.

I know I saw this story as a child. I can distinctly remember wrapping my arm in bubble wrap and pretending I was being attacked. This places The Ark in Space firmly in the realm of formative influences. And it proved no less compelling on this viewing. Similar to Warren from Radio Free Skaro, I tend to judge my enjoyment of Doctor Who based on how distracted I get while watching it (either making lists or surfing the internet). With The Ark in Space, I was riveted from beginning to end. I know in the past I have found the story slow (often due to over-watching it), but this time the story seemed very short (due in part to watching so many six-parters in the Pertwee era, I think).

The only real complaint I have about the story is the underuse of Harry Sullivan. If I understand the behind-the-scenes lore, Harry Sullivan was created to be an action-oriented male figure, someone like Ian Chesterton, who would engage in fights or dangerous situations while The Doctor, who was originally going to be cast older, took a more intellectual approach. But Tom Baker was cast and, since he was young enough to do his own fighting, the action-male character was made redundant. This is a shame. Ian Marter did a great job with the character he was given, and I would have enjoyed seeing a return to a more Hartnell-esque dynamic.

The world-building in The Ark in Space is wonderful, if bleak. We are given a future where Earth has been abandoned (not the first time, however) but vengeful forces are eager to take advantage of a group of survivors while they are at a disadvantage. The Wirrn are a great creation—insects capable of interstellar travel without the aid of technology—and they are creepy because they are cold and unsympathetic. They are parasites, which is even more frightening. The design works well enough for the story, but I would love to see the Wirrn return with a big enough budget to do them justice. That said, the Wirrn may be too dark and gruesome for new Who.

My Rating: 4/5

Doctor Who – The Time Warrior

Doctor Who Story 070 – The Time Warrior

The Time Warrior DVD cover
(Source: Copyright 2012 by BBC.)

Who Wrote It: Robert Holmes

What’s It About: UNIT is called in when scientists are mysteriously vanishing. The Doctor, along with stowaway reporter Sarah Jane Smith, discovers that they are being abducted by a Sontaran who has become stranded in the Middle Ages. In return for help repairing his ship, the Sontaran has made an agreement with a local lord to provide anachronistic weaponry.

I couldn’t help smiling through the entire first episode of this story. Sarah Jane Smith was the companion I had watched when I was young, and it was great to finally see her first story—and in a Robert Holmes story, no less.

After a difficult (for me) season ten, The Time Warrior ushers in a new, and final, season for The Third Doctor. There is a new title sequence, which I really like; there is a new companion, who is not anywhere near as annoying as the previous one. I’m excited to see where this season takes me.

As is typical with a Robert Holmes script, the secondary characters are a lot of fun. I was happy to see Professor Rubeish survive. Irongron was a wonderfully stereotypical, violent Middle Age lord. Linx the Sontaran was a wonderful creation. The dialogue was wonderful. And while the historical details may be inaccurate (Terrance Dicks makes a joke that, when Holmes complained about not knowing anything about the Middle Ages, he advise Holmes to read a children’s book on castle), the story is a lot of fun.

My Rating: 4/5