Time Lord Tees

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28 April 2014

BBC Radio 1 have been in touch to let DWO know about a cool new video they released featuring Arthur Darvill (Rory Williams) singing a parody version of the hit song 'Let It Go' from Frozen.

Watch the video in the player, below

[Source: BBC Radio 1]

27 April 2014

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start... 

Day 482: The Invisible Enemy, Episode Four

Dear diary,

Today’s episode is something of an odd affair… because it seems to be everything that people think Doctor Who is like, and quite unlike anything I’ve grown used to in the series over the last few seasons. As Doctor Who fans, we’ve all encountered those same old jokes about the programme’s ‘classic’ run. The sets wobbled! The Daleks couldn’t get up stairs! The monsters were rubbish! The companions simply stood around and screamed! Ignoring these comments is something you simply learn to do when faced with them, and I think you’ve truly graduated to a certain type of person when you choose to not bother correcting people, but simply smile and nod (while, of course, knowing that they’re completely wrong and quite possibly an idiot).

And yet, everything in this episode seems determined to back up many of the well-worn cliché´s. Leela doesn’t have to stand around screaming, but it’s set in a stereotypical ‘space’ set, the guest cast run around with silly face make-up on, the monster is less-than-impressive, and there’s a few effects that simply don’t work. We’re even back to the old-style TARDIS console room from this story onwards, but it’s not given anything near the space it used to have, and seems to look tatty and cramped already - just a few weeks after it returned to the programme at the start of this story.

I don’t think we’ve had any other single episode which so fulfils the idea of ‘that’s what Doctor Who is like’, and I’m not sure if that’s because this is just a very… typical episode. There’s nothing very surprising or new in here (unlike yesterday’s episode which at least had the good grace to do CSO effects better than usual, or Episode One which really highlighted just how good the model work in the show can be), it’s just a lot of running around, fighting a rubbish monster. You just know that this is the episode people will have tuned in to purely by chance, and then not bothered to return the following week (which can only mean that tomorrow’s episode must be an absolute blinder - it’s typical for something like that to happen!)

I’ve always found it somewhat strange that Doctor Who does develop all these stereotypes of what it’s like, when they’re really not right at all. I’ve mentioned above that people always talk of the ‘screaming’ companions from the old days, but we’ve still not really hit that. Oh, sure, you get it now and then - but it’s always used to great effect. It makes an impact because you’re not used to seeing the Doctor’s friends that scared. I know that by the time we hit Mel it’s likely to have become more prominent, but it’s really not true of any companion from the fourteen years of the show I’ve already watched through.

This idea of ‘stereotypical’ Doctor Who has always been around, though. Watching the ‘Tomorrow’s Times’ feature (a summery of contemporary press reaction to the series) on the DVD for The Face of Evil a few weeks ago, I was surprised by a comment made by one reporter during Romana’s time on the programme:

“No matter what time the stories are set in, or what new girl is chosen to be the Doctor’s accomplice, one thing remains constant. The girls are always half-naked. And they are always being chased.”

It just didn’t ring true to me. Janet Fielding often tells the story that she was made very aware of the fact she was on screen to keep the dads watching, but really only Leela up to this point could fulfil the ‘half-naked’ description. Jo Grant liked to wear her mini-skirts, but still! It feels especially odd coming late in the Tom Baker era, because I’ve never really thought of either incarnation of Romana as being particularly under-dressed.

I suppose what I’m trying to say is that there’s a commonly held perception of what Doctor Who is like. There was a time when it’s what people thought all Doctor Who was like, whereas these days it’s shifted to be what the old series was like, before they had the money, and the computers, and that David Tennant. Often, this perception is completely wrong, or at least only formed from half-truths. Sometimes, though, you get an episode like The Invisible Enemy Episode Four, which just seems to be exactly what outsiders expect the series to be like… and that leaves me a bit cold! 

26 April 2014

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start... 

Day 481: The Invisible Enemy, Episode Three

Dear diary,

I genuinely love it when Doctor Who can still really surprise me. I’ve watched an episode every single day for well over a year now, and I’ve watched as the programme’s style has developed from a police box in a junk yard, via Moonbases and Ice Ages, through the Doctor’s exile on Earth and back out into the stars. I’ve watched as it makes progressive leaps forward with effects work - improving the model shots and monster costumes as they go. But because I’ve got a fairly good overview of the show’s history from even before starting on this journey, there’s various things that I expect to find. I know that Season Fifteen is hit by money troubles, and I know that one of the complaints often levelled against it is that it looks so cheap. I also know from bitter experience through the Pertwee years that CSO effects tend to not be so great on the budget Doctor Who can give to them.

So imagine how much I sit and smile to myself (genuinely, a big, broad smile right across my face, sat alone in a room watching a 30-something-year-old piece of television really do something that leaves me not only a little bit impressed, but actually floored by the effects. I’m talking about the vast use of CSO during this episode to help give a kind of scale to the Doctor’s brain. He and Leela make their way down various neural pathways (I’ll ignore the various science anomalies this causes!) in shots CSO’d onto (presumably) models… and it looks really good. Someone told me recently that I should be weary of the effects in this one - I’ll come to that in a minute - but I’m really impressed by this. Mostly, I’m in awe of the way it works around their hair, as that’s usually a tricky area (Heck, the last story showed that up whenever the Doctor stood in the lamp room in the lighthouse).

Of course, this being Doctor Who, there has to be something along to snap you out of it before you have a chance to get too involved with how good things are looking. There’s several instances in this episode where things don’t quite work out as well as I’d like them to, and coming in an episode that’s been impressing me so much, they tend to stick out more than they otherwise might. There’s obviously the shrimp creature - this is the focus of most warnings about the story - but I think I’ll come to that tomorrow. I can’t really bare to think about it too much right now, and I’ve got a whole 25-or-so minutes in its company to look forward to yet.

For me, the biggest let down is K9’s gun. It should be great - not only does this new companion (not that he is one yet) have that ‘cute robot’ element that became so popular in the late 70s, but he’s got a weapon in his nose. He can team up with the warrior Leela and hold a battle in the corridor of the hospital to give the Doctor more time. It should be impressive when he blasts a chunk out of the wall to give them a barrier to shield themselves with… but you can clearly see where the set is supposed to break away before they’ve even decided what to do with it. Then you’ve got him being possessed by the virus and having to attack his new friend… but his gun completely misses and Leela drops to the floor much too early anyway. It just sort of feels a bit botched, and really takes away from the whole drama for me.

This particular episode isn’t much helped by a fault on the DVD, which causes the end scenes to skip about a little bit - I’d forgotten about this error, and it did leave me a bit confused for a moment while I tried to piece together exactly what had happened. Going back and watching it again didn’t really make it much clearer, though, so maybe it would have been a bit of a shame in any case. So yes - I think The Invisible Enemy is one of those frustrating stories that gets so much very very right, but then an equal amount very, very wrong. The final episode could end up being the decider for me, and with a giant shrimp about to burst out of the cloning chamber, I’m not holding out much hope…

…Actually… While I’m thinking about it. They’ve got a cloning chamber. They’re all worrying that Leela and K9 won’t be able to hold off their attackers for very long. Just clone them! We’ve already got one clone Leela running around inside the Doctor’s skull, so clone another ten of her to fight in the corridor! And assuming you can clone a robot dog, get a whole army of K9’s out there to help defend yourselves, too! I thought it was a bit odd in yesterday’s episode when Marinus claims that there’s no real use in cloning - but even if they do only have a lifespan of ten minutes or so, they’d come in handy as an extra line of defence during this situation, surely?

25 April 2014

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start... 

Day 480: The Invisible Enemy, Episode Two

Dear diary,

This episode has brought me closer to what I’ve always imagined The Invisible Enemy to be like… but it’s not half as bad as I was expecting. The design of the Bi-Al Foundation is just as tacky and rubbish as I was expecting it to be, but that kind of works for it. It suits the setting, and I think the fact that I’m still being pleasantly surprised by the story is helping me to over-look things which I’d normally find off-putting.

And, of course, we’ve finally got the first appearance of K9! It’s funny, looking at this story, thinking that he may have only appeared in this one single tale, and never again. It doesn’t feel right, somehow - possibly because I know what a big part of Doctor Who lore he’s destined to become over the next thirty-odd years. I’ve always found him to be a bit divisive among fandom - you seem to think he’s either one of the best ideas from this period of the programme’s history, or the worst. I don’t have enough knowledge of his appearances over the next few seasons to really give an opinion yet, though, so I’m keen to see how I find his addition to the TARDIS crew.

For now, though, I’m really rather liking him. It seems somewhat fitting that his very first line in the show is ‘Affirmative, Master’, considering it’s the phrase that will come to be most associated with him. It’s also great to see him being paired off with Leela so early on, considering that this particular model of the dog will be departing with he at the end of the season. I wonder if he’s going to be the perfect addition to Leela’s character to see us through the next few stories, watching her evolve before leaving? She’s very much left to her own devices here, with the Doctor spending large chunks of the episode in a self-induced coma, but as ever she’s on fine form. I’m not even going to bother drawing attention to the things I’ve enjoyed from her today - just take it as read that I’ve loved every minute she’s spent on the screen!

As for the story itself… I have to confess that I don’t really know why I’m enjoying it so much. I really just can’t get my head around it! There’s not an awful lot to it (today’s episode essentially consists of the Doctor being taken to hospital, and creating a clone while Leela fights off some standard-issue ‘men with guns’ in the corridor), but I’m really caught up in the events. I think I’m slightly put off by the fact that all this feels simply like build up to the main event: I’ve known for years that this is the story in which the Doctor and his companion get injected into his brain (although I didn’t realise that it was clones of the pair who underwent this process - I’ve spent years wondering how the Doctor was able to be shrub and placed in his own body…), and so everything that’s happened up to now has been almost filler to me.

I’m hoping, now, that following the clones inside the Doctor’s head means that we get yet another change of setting. The fact that Episodes One and Two seem to be set in such vastly different locations has really helped to make the whole story feel a bit more interesting than it really has any right to be, and if we’re switching somewhere new again for Episode Three, then it may help to stop the boredom from setting in. Otherwise, The Invisible Enemy could be in danger of becoming just a generic ‘space’ yarn…

24 April 2014

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start... 

Day 479: The Invisible Enemy, Episode One

Dear diary,

Thing I’ve always thought I’d known about The Invisible Enemy Number One - It’s K9’s debut! Hooray! Obviously, it’s a story in which he’s completely central to the plot.

Thing I’ve always thought I’d known about The Invisible Enemy Number Two - It’s set in a fairly bland-looking white sterile, typically ‘space’ environment for the most part, with an excursion into the Doctor’s brain, just to break things up a bit.

Thing I’ve always thought I’d known about The Invisible Enemy Number Three - It’s not very good, by most accounts.

Based on this first episode alone, I seem to have been wrong on all three of those counts. For a start, K9 doesn’t even turn up in this episode. I assume he’ll be along later on in the story. This does slightly make me worry, mind. Like Jamie or Nyssa, K9 was made a companion after work had begun on the story. It’s not a tale written specifically to introduce him. I worry, though, that since he’s not in at least a quarter of the story, he may turn up, trundle around a bit, then hop aboard the TARDIS all fairly arbitrarily. I’ll hold back on that thought for now, and muse on that some more once he’s actually arrived on the scene.

That’s the only downside to being wrong about this story, though, because what we’re given here in these first 25 minutes is far more interesting than I was expecting. This was one of those stories which I entered into with a slightly bored feeling. I try to keep an open mind when entering into any new story during this marathon, but I’ve spent years hearing that this is… well… not the best story every produced. Plenty of images from the recording leave me with that worry, too, as it seems to be something of a let down in the set-design department - lots of plain, boring, space design, and lacking in the style or charm of something like Nerva.

What we get here is very different - it’s still fairly typical as ‘futuristic’ designs go, but it’s nicely lit and feels quite lived in. There’s something almost Pertwee-esque about the space ship at the beginning, and I’m rather taken with the whole thing. And then we’ve got those model shots.

I’ve learned since watching that this story had a higher budget for the model work than any story before it - and that really shows on screen. From the shots of the spaceship in the asteroid field, to being ensnared by the… whatever-it-is in space, coming in to land, and then watching the ship defend into the moon… Yeah, this is some very impressive work. I’ve been full of praise for Doctor Who’s model work for ages, now, but it’s always lovely when something can come along to really make you sit up and take notice. I said during The Robots of Death that they’d need to start upping their game to keep me noticing these things, and it looks like they’ve really done that!

The other thing that I need to praise during every story is the character of Leela. Are you sick of hearing it yet? I’m sorry, but she’s brilliant! Even here, in her fifth story, she’s still very true to the original concept - and that really impresses me. Watching her learn to write is fun enough, but it’s bringing in that hunter sense, that she simply knows something is wrong, which really works for me. She’s only around for the rest of the season, so you’ll not have to hear me bang on about her for too much longer - she really is the best thing about the programme at the moment, though, and I’m glad that they’re setting her in some really great stories. 

23 April 2014

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start... 

Day 478: Horror of Fang Rock, Episode Four

Dear diary,

There’s something really quite unsettling about just how carefree the Doctor and Leela appear as they make their way back to the TARDIS here. Considering that they’ve just finished an adventure in which everyone else in the story dies. That’s not me being over dramatic, either, everyone dies. All the guest cast. The alien. Even other members of the alien’s race - who only turn up in the last half of this final episode - all get slaughtered. It’s a very bloodthirsty story… and it really works all the better for it. In many ways, this is a hugely brave choice for an opening serial: not just because it’s a fairly downbeat way of introducing the new run, but because we’re supposed to be at the dawn of a new era for Doctor Who, with a new producer who has been specifically asked to tone down the violence. Oh.

All of this is just my way of darting around simply saying again how much I’ve enjoyed this story. It’s not perfect, though I’d struggle to pick out any specific things that I’ve failed to enjoy, and I dare say that one of the biggest strengths and the biggest weaknesses of the tale is just how much it feels like something from the last season. It’s everything that Season Fourteen did well, being done very well, but I’ve come to expect that from the programme now. I want to see something new, and watch the TARDIS start to venture out and tread new ground in the universe.

Mostly, I think I’m just pleased to see that my opinion on the story as a whole has changed since the last time I watched it. That’s one of the funny things that I find with Doctor Who (and I’m hoping other people get this too, and it’s not just be being a little odd!) - there’s so much of it, I sort of lose track sometimes about which ones I like and which ones I don’t. Just recently, I was talking to a friend about one of the Hartnell stories and telling them how I had a strange urge to watch it again because I’d enjoyed it so much the first time around. He then proceeded to point out that - actually - I’d rated that one fairly low, and hadn’t found all that much to love in there.

It’s one of the best things about Doctor Who, too. I genuinely think that I could pop in An Unearthly Child the day after I finish this marathon and do it all again: one episode a day, every singe day, writing down my thoughts and scoring out of ten every time… and you’d end up with different ratings to what I’ve given it in this run though. Part of that will be because I know what to expect, so maybe I’ll be rating fairly (or, conversely, I could be rating harsher!), but some will simply be down to the way I feel on the day and seeing the story with a different frame of mind.

I think that may be why Doctor Who never seems to get old for me. 

23 April 2014

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Simon Guerrier

RRP: £8.99 (CD) / £7.99 (Download)

Release Date: April 2014

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 23rd April 2014

Years after he gave up travelling in the TARDIS, Steven Taylor is the deposed king of a distant world.

From the confines of his cell, he shares his story with a young girl called Sida.

And one story in particular – a visit to a whole world at war, which will mark Steven for life…

* * *
Steven Taylor’s life after leaving The Doctor in The Savages has been explored very little in Doctor Who spin-off media. In this newest release of The Companion Chronicles, we not only get to see what has become of Steven but how a certain adventure in his past helped him to get there.

The War To End All Wars is an interesting story of a damaged society trapped in constant battle and though the twist of what is actually happening is not exactly original it is how it relates to the framing story of the older Steven that gives it more power. 

Things haven’t gone too well for Steven. Now a deposed ruler, he sits in his prison cell with his books pondering over the society that he stayed behind to help many years ago.

This older Steven is much wiser than his younger counterpart and his reflections on power and the use and abuse on it really do make up the heart of this story. 

Simon Guerrier’s script is very good and is given vivid life by the brilliance of Peter Purves. The Companion Chronicles have been a excellent showcase for this very talented actor who has over the course of many stories breathed new life into a character he first played in 1965. The Doctor appears very little in this release so it allows us to see more of Steven when not guided by him.

The main story despite some predictable elements is a cracking little yarn but I found myself being attracted much more to the framing narrative between Steven and his young companion Sida played very well by Alice Haig. As Steven tells us about what happened to him on Comfort, we get little hints from Sida that things are much worse in Steven’s present than they ever were in his past.

There is a new story just beginning as this one closes and knowing that The Companion Chronicles are soon to be at an end this is rather sad. I would certainly like to see where the threads started here would lead to as I am very much interested in hearing about the future of Steven Taylor.

23 April 2014

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Nicholas Briggs

RRP: £10.99 (CD) / £8.99 (Download)

Release Date: April 2014

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 23rd April 2014

The TARDIS lands in the cargo hold of luxury space cruiser the Moray Rose. The crew and passengers are missing. The agents of Inter-Galaxy Insurance are determined to find out what’s happened and the shadowy Interplanetary Police Inspector Efendi is showing a very particular interest.

Caught up in all this, the Doctor and Leela find themselves facing a horde of metal mantis-like aliens. But throughout it all, Leela is haunted by terrible nightmares and the dawning realization that everything she knows about her life is a lie.

* * *
The Master, that dastardly arch nemesis of our favourite Time Lord returns in the latest release of Season Three of The Fourth Doctor Adventures

The Evil One is essentially and unashamedly an elaborate revenge tale. Using the companion as his weapon to kill The Doctor is a believable course of action for The Master, and it develops at a rather cracking pace. Supporting characters are introduced and discarded rather quickly, but the focus always remains on the brain washed Leela hunting The Doctor.

A considerable atmosphere of foreboding is introduced very early on as Leela is plagued by strange dreams, false memories and hallucinations. It pays off in a clever little cliff-hanger that pays homage to Leela’s first television story The Face of Evil. Prior knowledge of that story is not necessarily required to listen to The Evil One, but it certainly makes a lot of the references more enjoyable.

The great revelation of this story is the exploration of some of Leela’s past.

The final scene between The Doctor and Leela is beautifully written and played to perfection by the leads. Tom Baker and Louise Jameson really do cement their Doctor/Companion relationship with this scene. The joy of their reunion since the start of The Fourth Doctor Adventures is watching how gradually the writers are opening up the character’s relationship and here Briggs really expands it with wonderful results.

Geoffrey Beevers is a deliciously evil as The Master, refining his very silky interpretation of the character with each of his Big Finish appearances. His Master is very well suited to Baker’s Doctor, just as Delgado was to Pertwee and Ainley to Davison.

The supporting cast is made up of Gareth Armstrong as Arthley and Blake’s 7's very own Michael Keating as Calvert. Arthley is a thinly sketched character whereas Calvert has much more to do and has some excellent scenes with Tom Baker.

The Evil One is a great little story from Nicholas Briggs whose excellent script and tight direction make this a very enjoyable and surprisingly moving story.

22 April 2014

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start... 

Day 477: Horror of Fang Rock, Episode Three

Dear diary,

The 50 Year Diary Day 477… or ‘How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Fang Rock”…

I don’t know if it’s just be being a Doctor Who fan, but I’m constantly on the edge of my seat in anticipation of disappointment at the moment. Right from the start of this story, I’ve been waiting for it all to go wrong. For the story to come crashing down around me, and to open one of these entries by bemoaning the fact that it had all seemed so promising. Actually, I think I can tell you exactly what the problem is - I discovered that the Hinchcliffe era of Who was my highest-rated on average, so there’s a voice in the back of my mind that tells me everything has to suddenly turn disastrous.

But it’s not happening! Well, not yet, anyway. Once again today, I’ve found myself completely riveted by the events unfolding on Fang Rock, and I almost don’t want to write this entry: I just want to stick on the next episode and see how it all ends. I think the story is helped by the fact that I was expecting a simple runaround. The Doctor and friends are trapped in a lighthouse with a glowing alien blob. Oh no! What we’re actually getting is a tightly-executed lesson in building tension and really hooking in a viewer. We know what the threat in the story is - we’ve had point-of-view shots since the first episode, and we’ve now seen shots of the creature on a few separate occasions - but it still doesn’t feel as though we’re really confronting the monster. Dragging out the tension, and the games being played with the creature, is making this story feel a little unnerving, and claustrophobic - and that’s exactly what Terrance Dicks wants.

All this confined threat is only ramped up by the fact that this is such a bloodthirsty story. We’d lost one of the lighthouse men shortly into the First episode, and now we’ve not only lost Reuben, but discovered that he’s been dead for a while, and it’s a walking corpse we’ve seen wandering around acting strange. It’s not a particularly uncommon theme in this type of literature - a dead person being possessed to continue on in some mission - but what makes me uncomfortable about this particular example is the way the Doctor announces it: finding the man’s body and simply commenting that he’s in a state of rigamortis, and has been dead for some time. I think it’s because it suddenly makes it very real that this man is dead - usually n Doctor Who, we move on too quickly from the dead bodies for things like this to be an issue.

We’ve also lost Lord Palmerdale now, which isn’t a great surprise. The man was too thoroughly vile to live past the end of this story. I’m starting to wonder if any of our characters are going to make it out alive, though. Adelaide is starting to grate on me and become ruder and ruder to the people we care about (in this case, the Doctor, Leela, and VInce), while we’re getting more and more hints about Skinsale’s dark deeds. I can’t decide if I want to know the information that would ruin the man, or if I’d prefer to leave it unsaid. My current guess is that maybe - only maybe - Vince could make it out alive. The legend of the beast says that two of the three keepers died, while the other lost his mind… and Vince is the only one of the trio left alive at this point…

Despite all this darkness, there’s an awful lot of humour to be found in the story still. Palmerdale was a key source of laughs in yesterday’s episode, but much of that is gone for the final minutes of his life here. Instead, it’s Leela who once again lights up the screen for me. I love her slapping Adelaide (I think I may ever have cheered a little…), and her assertion to the Doctor that she’s only a savage being met by his response - ‘come along, savage!’ I think it’s moments like these which may save this story from becoming completely overtaken by the darkness… 

21 April 2014

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start... 

Day 476: Horror of Fang Rock, Episode Two

Dear diary,

Oh, I’m so happy. I approached this episode with so much trepidation. Vague memories of not liking the new guest cast from the ship mixed with very few memories of anything else about this story left me thinking that it was probably about to take a bit of a nosedive in quality. In fact, I’ve laughed my way through all the comedy elements of the tale, while simply enjoying everything else about it.

Let’s start with the quest cast. Lord Palmerdale was the character I had in mind when I was complaining about not really caring for these characters, but he’s actually the best of the bunch. He’s thoroughly slimy and manipulative, but that gives him a certain air of humour that I can’t help but love. Sean Caffrey (in his only Doctor Who role) gives a really rather brilliant performance, and he’s does a nice trade in those ‘Martin Freeman’ style facial expressions, staring round in exasperation when Vince is fawning over Adelaide before him. I can only assume that he’s set to die before the adventure is done - he seems purpose-designed for that.

What’s interesting, in an era where monsters have very much become the forefront of the programme again, is that we’re now half way through this story and we’ve only had a single, very brief look at the threat we’re facing. So far, we’ve got one dead man, and the Doctor running around telling everyone (and us) that we should be on guard, and afraid, but there’s nothing really which makes the terror tangible. It’s best illustrated in the cliffhanger: Instead of something like Terror of the Zygons, where the cliffhanger involves Sarah Jane turning round and screaming while giving us our first clear shot of the monster, here the attack happens off-screen - we hear Reuben scream, the Doctor runs to find him, and we end with a simple ‘what the devil was that?’

It makes the threat so much more real, and I think it’s a testament to the story that I’m so gripped by it in spite of the relative lack of monster. We’re watching a story which excels in ramping up the drama and the tension, and I think it’s likely to really pay off in the next couple of episodes. The only downside is that the one shot of the creature that we do get in this episode is a bit of a let down - the scale is all over the place! For a moment, I thought Leela was looking at a tiny, insect-sized creature on the rail of the lighthouse (and I suddenly wondered why I couldn’t remember it growing by the end of the story - possibly with the more electricity that it absorbs?), but then I realised it must be down on the rocks below. But what size is it meant to be? I vaguely recall it being about the size of a dog, but am I just assuming that now? Hopefully we’ll get some better shots of it once the reveal has been made properly - it’s far more effective when simply seen as a rock pool glowing green when the Doctor turns away from it.

Ah, yes, the Doctor. It’s been a while since I’ve really pointed out just how good Tom Baker is, but it really does need to be done again here. I worried that now we were in his fourth season he may start to tire of there role a bit. I know at some stage he starts to go a bit over the top and just do whatever-the-hell he likes with his performance, but it certainly doesn’t seem to be the case here. In fact, I think Louise Jameson’s style may be rubbing off on him - when he hears the tale of ‘the Beast of Fang Rock’, he stifles a smile at Reuben’s expense. It’s only a tiny action, and it would be easy to miss, but it really adds something to the scene. Jameson’s performance is full of these tiny moments: and it’s what makes her performance one of the best we’ve ever had. She does it today - the way she acts when left alone at the top of the lighthouse, entirely bored by having to operate the foghorn, but then finding ways to enjoy the task.

While I’m at it - that foghorn is one of the best bits of the episode. Right at the start, Reuben makes a point of saying that it must be kept up from now on, every few minutes. As they venture out to explore the rocks and look for survivors from the ship, the horn sounds at regular intervals in the background. I wondered just how long they’d keep it up for before fading it out in favour of simply showing us the drama unfolding downstairs… but they don’t! At regular intervals right the way through the episode, we get blasts of the foghorn to jolt us upright: it came as a shock on most occasions! It’s just another of those little things that really does help add something extra to the story, and I’m glad they went to the trouble of doing it. 

20 April 2014

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start... 

Day 475: The Horror of Fang Rock, Episode One

Dear diary,

You know that feeling you get in the morning of New Year’s Day? You’ve spent the night before seeing out the old year and telling yourself that this is it: brand new year, brand new start. You might make resolutions, you might simply decide to do things differently, but it’s a whole new world. And then, the sun rises. January 1st is simply The Day That Follows December 31st. It’s not a brand new year at all - it’s the same old year with a load of tidying up to do from the night before. I’ve got that same feeling with The Horror of Fang Rock Episode One. I finished yesterday in a mixture of happy and sad feelings towards the end of the Philip Hinchcliffe era. As much as I’d enjoyed it, the time felt right to move on into a new style, before the old one wore thin. And then today’s episode… well, it wouldn’t feel out of place in Seasons Thirteen or Fourteen.

You’ve got a remote, isolated setting. It’s night-time, and there’s plenty of atmosphere (here rolling in on the mysterious fog). The Doctor and Leela have rocked up in the middle of the night and it’s the early Twentieth Century. There’s a feel to this story which I can imagine people calling ‘gothic’ simply for lack of any better term. In short, it feels a bit like a horror movie. This isn’t the bold new start that I was expecting at all. I have a feeling that’s going to come with the next story (in the same way that The Ark in Space is a lot more like Hinchcliffe Who than Robot was), so I’m just going to carry on.

All of this sounds a bit like I’m complaining, when of course I’m not. All these elements, familiar as they may seem, add up to make a truly great opening episode. There’s plenty to hook you in, and I’m captivated by the whole lot of it right from the start. I have seen The Horror of Fang Rock before, but it’s so long ago and so wiped from my memory as to be practically new to me. I’d forgotten, for example, that the dead lighthouse keeper gets up and goes missing (though I now have vague memories of him coming back for a confrontation on the stairs, maybe?). I’d forgotten that Leela takes it upon herself to venture out onto the rocks to investigate, while the Doctor heads upstairs to get his knowledge from the ‘locals’. I’d also forgotten just how good the serial looks.

I’m in danger of becoming horribly repetitive lately, because I seem to be giving a lot of praise to the set design in every story, but it really does need to be brought up again. They do a great job of making the lighthouse feel really cramped, while making the vast open rocks feel just as overbearing and claustrophobic. The lighting and the ‘fog’ all help towards this, of course, but it’s a great way of opening your season. It feels so rich, and real. It’s a shame, then, that it’s let down somewhat by the model ship in the cliffhanger. I don’t know what I was expecting to happen, but the lingering shot of the ship brushing against the rocks led me to think that more was to come of it. After some truly great model work in the last few years, this felt like a bit of a damp squib.

I also worry that the addition of more characters to the story will start to take something away from it for me. I have a vague recollection of not much caring for the guest character in this tale, and I worry that it may end up putting me off. Still, if worst comes to worst, I can at least enjoy this as a great start to the season.


19 April 2014

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start... 

Day 474: The Talons of Weng-Chiang, Episode Six

Dear diary,

There’s an awful lot packed into this final episode, but it doesn’t feel bloated at all. Indeed, there’s just enough to hold the interest right through to the very end, and you come away from the story with a real sense of contentment. It’s possibly the most competent season-ender that we’ve ever had from the programme - it feels (and looks) truly special, and you’re left with the thought that the Doctor and Leela are headed off for adventures new. It’s funny to think that - in the original plan - this could have been Leela’s final story in the programme. I don’t know if the plan was to leave her behind with Professor Litefoot (although that would be fitting, and the idea of him teaching her to become a lady would be great fun), but I’m rather glad they opted for a different route. We’ve only had Louise Jameson in the programme for three stories, but she already feels like part of the furniture. I’m hoping that her strong characterisation and performance continue on into the new season - she’s very quickly becoming one of my favourite companions.

Speaking of which… can I count Jago & Litefoot as companions, too? I suppose that they’re not, in the traditional sense, but thanks to their continued life on audio, they have now experienced a further adventure with the Fourth Doctor, and they’ve even travelled through time and space with the Sixth! No matter what their status, they’ve been truly great value for money throughout this story, and especially so in the last two episodes, when they’ve been brought together. There’s no wonder, watching this, that the BBC considered giving them their own TV spin-off at the time, and I’m not surprised that it’s worked so well for Big Finish on audio. They’ve just recently released the seventh series, with another three already commissioned. See the ‘extra’ section for today’s entry for a bit more on their own adventures.

I’ve really nothing more to add on the subject of The Talons of Weng-Chiang. It’s one of those tricky stories where I’ve simply enjoyed the experience of watching it, and have really very little to comment on. Instead, I’m going to take this opportunity to say farewell to Philip Hinchcliffe, who’s been steering the programme since the Fourth Doctor stepped foot in the TARDIS 75 days ago. For as long as I can remember, people have told me that the Hinchcliffe era of the programme is the strongest that it’s ever been, and I’ve always been sceptical. I love too many other eras, and this isn’t one that I’ve ever really paid that much attention to. I’m surprised to learn, then, that when you take the average ratings of this era into account (including those stories from Season Twelve, which were technically commissioned by Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks) it comes out with an average rating of 7.46 - the highest average rating that any producer has achieved up to now. Indeed, it even blasts the previous winner (Innes Lloyd) out of the water, where he’d averaged a 6.90.

I’m genuinely quite shocked by this. I mean… I know I’ve been enjoying the series of late, but you sort of get used to it just bobbing along at a steady level. You forget how this averages out over time to create a very strong period. And yet, despite this, I don’t think this era is lodged as fir my in my mind as some of the others. Maybe it’s because I’m still deep in the thick of it, and there’s a lot more Tom Baker to come, but nothing really stands out from the crowd here in the way that things do from other eras. There’s few stories from the last three seasons that I’m gagging to go back and watch again, in the way that I am with - say - The War Machines, or The Macra Terror, or Inferno.

It’s been a bold period for the show, and probably the most confident that it’s been since those early Hartnell years when the programme wasn’t afraid to go anywhere and try anything. We’ve veered into more violent and graphic territory than ever before, and we’ve got a Doctor who so completely inhabits the part. I’m really interested to see how my feelings develop as we move forward into the Williams era. From where I stand now, at the end of Season Fourteen, I’m simply expecting it to be ‘cheap’. That’s the only thing that I think I really know about the period to come, and after stories like this one and The Robots of Death, that may come as something of a shock to the system…

Day 474 Extra: *Jago & Litefoot: The Final Act*

The Jago & Litefoot series has never been shy of shaking up the format a little bit. After the first two seasons, in which the pair got themselves involved in a few adventures of their own accord, the third series brought Louise Jameson into the cast as Leela, who arrives back in Victorian London and joins in with their exploits. The Fourth Season sees the introduction of the mysterious Claudius Dark, who isn’t quite what he seems, and then the Fifth Season goes for the biggest shake-up yet – depositing our Valiant Victorians in the middle of the Swinging Sixties.

Just the one box-set – four stories – takes place in the 1960s, but there’s a thread running through those adventures which leads up to The Final Act: a sequel to The Talons of Weng-Chiang. When I first heard the story, it didn’t make a great deal of sense to me. There were enough bits and pieces that I could pick up from simply hearing the story, but a lot was lost on me because I’d never watched this Doctor Who tale. As I’ve made my way through over the last week-or-so, I’ve been growing ever more keen to give this adventure another listen, to see how it fares once I know the story it’s following up from. As soon as I’d written up today’s episode, it was straight to the headphones, and singing along with that fab Jago & Litefoot theme tune…

It took me a moment to get back up to speed with events, as this is really the second half of a two-part tale. Once I was ‘back in the room’, though, I found that I simply couldn’t connect with the tale at all. It tries to act as a logical sequel to Talons - a woman has become obsessed with the thought of bringing back Magnus Greel, and it’s an ambition that her family has had for several generations - but it’s very much a love letter to this earlier story, as opposed to standing on its own right.

Almost every event in the story is a call-back to something from Talons, and mostly to things from this final episode. Obviously, some trappings are bound to crop up again, and things like Mr Sin, the Time Cabinet, and the Key are all expected. But then it’s set in the same ‘dragon temple’ as Talons, which means that we get to see the laser-eyed dragon again, and there’s a sequence in which Mr Sin hides inside and uses it to attack our heroes. Jago and Litefoot get to make their way up the Dumbwaiter again, and they even get to make some of the same jokes and comments about it. They call back to lines from the earlier adventure, with reminders that Leela used to call Greel ‘bent-face’, and mentions of things the Doctor had explained before, and we’re told several times that the Doctor had stamped on the key to smash it into thousands of fragments. 

I think my big issue is that I’m coming to this story mere minutes after watching The Talons of Weng-Chiang for the first time. Heard thirty-something years on, this would probably serve as a lovely nostalgic follow-up to the tale. Still, having finally caught up with the Doctor and Leela’s excursion to Victorian London, I can at least see why this story is so capable of inspiring love letters!

18 April 2014

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start... 

Day 473: The Talons of Weng-Chiang, Episode Five

Dear diary,

And so, five episodes in, I’ve finally reached the moment I’ve been waiting for since the TARDIS first touched down on the streets of Victorian London - Jago and Litefoot, Investigators of Infernal Incidents, are finally together and caught up in an adventure! I’d sort of been dreading this moment as much as I was looking forward to it, to be honest. I so love the characters on audio, and they work so well thirty years later when they’re given time to develop and the room of their own series to shine in, but I worried their appearance in Doctor Who proper may come as something of a disappointment. This fear had been somewhat curtailed by their brilliant moments in the four episodes that have led us here, but now they’re together… well, it’s clear to say that they way they’re written for Big Finish is clearly inspired by the way they’re written for here, in 1977.

There’s something about the pair meeting, and Jago mistaking Litefoot for the butler which is so perfect, I actually had to pause the episode and skip back a minute or so, because I was hooting too loud to hear the rest of the scene play out. I wondered if I’d have missed something in their own series by having not seen their first appearance, but knowing the adventures they’ll go on to share over the years really adds to this first meeting. It’s exactly how you’d want this pair to meet, and were you trying to retroactively create a ‘first meeting’ for them now, I think this would be the kind of thing you’d go for.

It’s telling that much of the episode is given over to the pair so that they can make their own investigations: at times, the Doctor and Leela here feel like they’re guest characters in their own programme. It really works, though, and it’s another testament to how well the guest cast is written here. It also helps to give the story a bit of a pick-me-up at this late stage, and it almost feels as though we’re off on a new adventure, suddenly freed from the trappings of the preceding four episodes.

Although we get appearances from the theatre and Litefoot’s house during this episode, we get to spend a lot of time in a grand new location, complete with a large ornamental dragon in the centre of the room, as if they hadn’t made the point clearly enough that there’s a Chinese influence to this tale. Greel seems to imply that the place is finally finished after quite a lot of work, but I can’t help but wonder… would he not have been more comfortable staying here? He’s spent the last few weeks (at the very least) hiding out in the sewers beneath the Palace Theatre, when across town he’s got a swanky crib of his own! I get that he’s had the builders in, but surely they could have sorted him a little room to stay in while the rest of his ‘palace’ (for want of a better term) was being finished off? It feels a bit odd to suddenly reveal this opulent new home for him, having spent so long hanging around in squalor!

17 April 2014

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start... 

Day 472: The Talons of Weng-Chiang, Episode Four

Dear diary,

The action figures for the classic series seem to have a slightly heavier focus on this mid-1970s period than any of the others. If you want a figure of the K1 Robot, Revenge-era Cybermen, a Genesis Davros, Zygons, pretty much anything from Pyramids of Mars(including Marcus Scarman!), Krynoids, Morbius, The Deadly Assassin Master, Robots from the Sandminer (complete with stickers, so you can give them all different designations), and of course, a twin-pack featuring Magnus Greel and Mr Sin. Greel even comes with a swappable head, so you can have him with mask on or off when you display him on your shelf. And yet, despite the fact that it’s these two characters from this story immortalised in toy form, I’ve always thought of the bad guy here as being Chang.

Watching through the story, he’s clearly not the bad guy – he’s simply a lackey for the real baddie. He comes across as being fairly in control during the first episode, with Mr Sin doing his bidding, and an entire cult of men at his disposal to dispose of bodies. As the story progresses, though, he continues to lose face, becoming a seemingly incompetent ‘hired hand’ to our masked phantom hidden beneath the theatre. And yet, I still didn’t expect to see him killed off by the end of the fourth episode. Maybe it’s because there’s more images of him around than there are of Magnus Greel, meaning that I’ve become more used to Chang than I have this other character, but it does seem unusual that I’ve spent so long not knowing how… disposable Chang is.

I’m excited by it, though! Now that he’s out of the picture, it really feels as though the story could go anywhere and do anything. The last couple of episodes – much as I’ve enjoyed them – have been treading water in some places, with the Doctor, Leela, Jago, and Litefoot running around after Chang. Now, suddenly, the ball has changed courts. Greel has his Time Cabinet. Chang is dead. There’s suddenly everything to play for.

It does mean that I really should address today the potential issue of racism in this story. It was brought up by a friend recently, when they told me they wouldn’t watch this one because of how racist it was for the programme to cast a white-British actor and then make him up to fulfil the role of Chang. Although there’s elements which can be uncomfortable to watch, I’m finding that it’s more often the dialogue than anything else. Strange as it may seem from a more modern perspective, this is simply something that used to happen on television in those days. It’s worth remembering that when The Talons of Weng-Chiang first aired, the BBC still broadcast The Black and White Minstrel Show (and would continue to do so for almost 18 more months).

As we move into the final third of the story I really am excited to see where we’re headed. I only realised today that Jago and Litefoot have yet to actually meet, and now I’m back to being impatient to see it. Add to that wanting to see how the story all pans out, and bids adieu to Philip Hinchcliffe and I’m very excited for the next couple of days… 

16 April 2014

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start... 

Day 471: The Talons of Weng-Chiang, Episode Three

Dear diary,

Oh, ok, this must be what people are talking about when they mention the rat costume in this story. I still maintain that for the most part it’s not actually bad. Oh, sure, it’s very obviously a human-sized rat costume, but shot in some ways, with plenty of shadows and in quick, sharp bursts… you can just about get away with it. But then the chase with the creature goes on that bit too long, and there’s one too many similar shots of the creature scuttling through the tunnels. It doesn’t quite hang together for me. It’s not enough to spoil the story (or even the episode), but it is a shame, all the same. Especially when, earlier in the episode, I was willing to stick up for the rat that little bit more again, when it came to eat some raw meet left out for it - once again a combination of shadows and short shots helped to make the costume look ok.

I think it’s probably hampered somewhat by appearing in a story with such rich production values. Everything in this story feels very real, and I think that’s helped by spending so much time on location. I can’t remember the last story to have such a high split between studio/location work, but this one has to be up there as one of the most in the classic series, I’d wager. Watching the ‘Now and Then’ feature on the DVD today really does hammer home just how much of the story was shot out and about, and just how far afield they went to get all these wonderful locations.

I’ve always throughout, and it’s in evidence watching that special feature, that it must have been somewhat easier to film a story like this - set in Victorian London - back then than it would be now. There’s something about the condition of the buildings, and the whole feel of some areas which has changed in the last thirty years, so that it’s a greater task now to disguise the modern trappings of the location. Take the theatre, for example. I don’t know how accurate to a Victorian theatre it is in this story, but it’s close enough to what I expect it to look like that I can successfully suspend my disbelief.

But then take a look at the more recent shots of the location: it’s all modern and 21st century. I’d go so far as to say that you’d no longer be able to even disguise the backstage areas of that location to use in a story like this. Richard Bignall, who produces the ‘Now and Then’ features, even comments that it was - at the time - one of the few remaining Victorian theatres to contain all the elements they required to realise this script, and I should guess that would be nigh-on impossible to locate these days.

And running around in all these locations is out Leela. Last week, when she first arrived in the series, I was really pleased to find that it was a proper breath of fresh air. Having spent so long with Sarah Jane, I simply wanted something different. Well Leela brings us that in droves, and Louise Jameson is simply one of the best actresses the programme has ever had the honour of associating itself with. I’m finding everything she does as Leela to be wonderful, and much of today’s episode focusses in on her investigation of the events. She’s not afraid to get stuck into the action, jumping through windows, following Chang, freeing another girl and escaping into the sewers. She’s rapidly becoming one of my favourite companions, and I’m really rather pleased about that. 

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