Retro ‘Doctor Who’ Review – Volume 3.5
If you’ve been following my episodic installments reviewing the hefty back catalog of classic Doctor Who you may have noticed that it’s slowed down of late. This is solely due to the fact that the postal service in my corner of the world is powered by molasses. Moving back into the swing of things…
Carnival of Monsters
Having been given full control of his TARDIS as a reward for assisting the Time Lords dealing with Omega in the previous adventure The Doctor and Jo Grant waste no time going for a spin. Expecting to have landed on a distance alien world The Doctor is more than a little miffed to find that they’re on a ship on Earth only fifty years prior to where they left off. Before long they notice something odd (in addition to the sea monster that attacks shortly after their arrival) because everyone on the boat is stuck in a loop, repeating the same actions again and again with no memory of what has gone before. Searching for answers the time travelers find themselves passing through a hatch and through giant circuitry until they find themselves in a marshland being hunted by the giant and deadly Drashigs.
The reality of the situation is even more bizarre than it sounds. A pair of brightly garbed (and this is me being generous) carnies named Vorg and Shirna have arrived on the spectacularly drab planet Inter Minor with the intentional of raising some funds entertaining the immensely humourless locals. Their main exhibit is a miniscope – a portable device that shrinks down life forms and contains them for viewing in a controlled environment, similar to an ant farm, and The Doctor and Jo have managed to land the TARDIS inside it. From here they must find a way to escape and return to their normal size before the killjoy locals destroy the machine, all the while with Drashigs.
This serial has plenty to enjoy. The awful outfits worn by Vorg and Shirna are almost counteracted by the menacing Drashigs, who manage to be damn scary even with the limited special effects available to render them. The story is pretty solid with the mystery of what is going on balanced with some decent dramatic irony as we see what is happening outside of the miniscope, providing context for when the two plot threads connect. As entertaining as it is there is a sense that the potential of the idea is left by the wayside especially when we catch glimpses of Cybermen as being residents in the miniscope but never turning up anywhere else in the episode. End of the day, it’s a collection of episodes with rich visuals and bold ideas.
Frontier in Space
Packaged as part of the Dalek War box set Frontier in Space unusually ends on a cliff hanger that continues into the next serial. Even though they get billed as a twelve part epic the two stories actually have very little overlap. This serial begins with a ship traveling through hyperspace when they have to veer out of the way of a flying blur police box. In order to avoid a collision the TARDIS dematerializes inside the ship only for the passengers to find that they’ve landed at the potential outbreak of intergalactic war. Draconian’s and Human’s have been living under an uneasy alliance for years but both are reporting (and denying) that they’ve been attacking each other’s cargo ships.
There are plenty of hints early one that nothing is what it seems. Jo notices a ship outside of the cargo in which they arrive that changes appearance and they come to the conclusion that someone is causing both humans and Draconian’s to hallucinate and fall under the belief that they’ve been attacking each other. The Doctor and Jo are arrested by the human forces who are under the impression that they’re spies and traitors. They’re left to prove their innocence while finding the culprit.
Nothing like a touch of intergalactic intrigue upon which to base a good Doctor Who serial. Things go back and forth for a while without much happening until the mastermind of the plan reveals himself, which they do about halfway through. Fortunately the villain of the piece is none other than The Master who is without a doubt the most interesting thing about this era of the The Doctor. The easy banter between Pertwee and Delgado is always plenty of fun, and The Master gets up to his usual tricks here: disguise, hypnotism and general suaveness. Everything builds up to a more than satisfactory finale that has an epilogue in which Jo Grant has to resort to calling the Time Lords in order to save an unconscious Doctor.
Planet of the Daleks
The Doctor is in a bad state after being shot by The Master and while he lies unconscious in the TARDIS Jo Grant contacts the Time Lords. They wind up on a jungle planet and when Jo is unable to see outside of the TARDIS due to the plants spraying a thick sap over the windows she heads outside to explore. She happens across a crashed spaceship with a dead pilot and some survivors. Dedicated viewers would be familiar with the Thals from the second Doctor Who serial from the era of the First Doctor who were first encountered on the home world of the Daleks. After Jo tells them about the TARDIS they head into the jungle to find it, leacing Jo to hide herself. The Doctor, meanwhile, has woken up and found himself sealed inside the TARDIS and slowly running out of air. He only escapes when the Thals break him free and discover he is the same Doctor that their ancestors once battled the Daleks alongside.
While Jo makes contact with an invisible member of the native race the Spiridons. The Thals explain that the Spiridons have managed to develop the ability to render themselves invisible and the Daleks have now over-run the planet in their efforts (so far unsuccessful) to replicate the technology. What follows over the course of the six episodes is The Doctor, the Thals and Jo Grant caught in a conflict against the Daleks who greatly outnumber them. They discover that the Dalek’s master plan on this planet is to build an army of thousands of Dalek, who have been kept in suspended animation and are soon to be revived.
For such a landmark episode, marking the 10 year anniversary of the series, there’s little here to break new ground. Instead it’s a pretty standard Dalek based story with The Doctor’s greatest enemy massing a huge, unstoppable force that never actually cuts loose. Not that is isn’t a good serial, it is just that, but it doesn’t feel like anything we haven’t seen before.