Retro ‘Doctor Who’ Reviews – Vol. 4.10
So I had this whacky notion that I could watch and review every single episode of Doctor Who before the 50th episode premiered. Which is in November. The clock is ticking…
The Armageddon Factor
The 16th season of the original Doctor Who run is certainly a stand out. The Key of Time McGuffin use to bridge the episodes of the season together gives them all greater meaning, and the individual episodes are all very good. Writers like Douglas Adams all contribute towards an exceptional collection of serials. With The Armageddon Factor we’ve reached the point where we can find out if the finale ends on a bang.
Arriving on the planet Atrios the travellers find themselves in the middle of a war. The hospital wards have been bombed and the Marshel of Atrios is preparing a counter-strike against their enemies on Zeos. Princess Astra of Astrios wants to bring an end to the conflict and plots with her lover, a doctor in the hospital. When the Marshal suspects a plot he traps Princess Astra and leaves her for their enemies to capture her. It is later revealed that the Marshal is operating under the control of The Shadow, an agent for the Black Guardian.
When The Doctor travels to Zeos he finds the planet deserted. An artificial intelligence computer called Mentalis has been continuing the war against Atrios, with the Black Guardian pulling the strings of both sides in the conflict. The Doctor, K9 and Romana discover a third planet hiding between the two, where a third Time Lord named Drax is working under duress for The Shadow. Although The Shadow’s influence is such that he bring the Princess and K9 under his thrall The Doctor and Romana manage to get the jump on him by creating a time loop.
As the finishing chapter for a long running story this provides a satisfying conclusion. Up until the closing scenes the Key itself only functions as a goal that they all wish to obtain but for the remainder of the six episodes The Shadow and the Marshal provide more than adequate foes for The Doctor and his crew. There are more than a few nail-biting moments, with the most tense being The Doctor crawling through a furnace to rescue K9 from being recycled. Certainly one of the most heart warming moments during Tom Baker’s run.
The serial ends on a twist with the White Guardian revealing himself to be the Black Guardian in disguise, manipulating The Doctor and Romana to obtain the Key of Time for his own devious means. It makes a solid finish to the season that see’s The Doctor relying on his wits…always the best way to watch him work.
Destiny of the Daleks
Certainly an odd beginning to the 17th season, with Romana having chosen to regenerate (as the result of Mary Tamm not renewing her contract). For her new face she’s taken the appearance on Princess Astra and, after a comedic interval, sticks with it.
With The Doctor having added a randomiser to the TARDIS navigation circuit to prevent the Black Guardian from being able to predict their movements they don’t know where they’re going to end up. The planet they land on is a rocky landscape with high levels of radioactivity and ragged looking humanoid natives. What they find is that they are on Skaro, the Dalek homeworld, where the Daleks have returned to search for something under the surface.
The Doctor winds up being taken in by a group of Movellans, greatly advanced androids and enemies of the Daleks, who have arrived to wage war on their foes. Which them is a Starship Engineer named Tyssan who has been used as slave labour in the Dalek mines. What they eventually find is the Dalek creator Davros, buried under the ground and in a state of stasis. The Doctor beats the Daleks to him and takes him hostage before being confronted by his greatest enemy.
Any story featuring the Daleks is going to be a good one. The longest running opponents of the Time Lord bring out the absolute best and worst in our hero, and this story is no exception. Davros and Doctor sparring is always worth a viewing and this script has enough twists and turns to keep the pace up. The appearance of Lalla Ward as the new face of Romana is something of a sudden shift. She doesn’t seem quite as capable of giving the Doctor a taste of his own attitude like Mary Tamm, but she’s great to watch regardless.
City of Death
Upon finding that this particular serial had been out of production we’d considered skipping over it and carrying on with the mission to review every episode before the 50th. On a whim we picked up a copy of ebay, and we’re glad we did because it is an absolutely cracking adventure. It begins the Doctor and Romana being deposited in Paris where they decide to take a holiday. Before long they become embroiled in a mystery that begins with the an art heist and ends at the beginning of time.
It all comes about when the time travellers are visiting the Louvre in order to admire the Mona Lisa when they note Countess Scarlioni. She catches the Doctor’s attention because of the alien bracelet that she’s wearing. These leads them to the Count himself, who is planning on stealing the Mona Lisa and selling it on the black market. The plot thickens when the Doctor discovers that there are six other copies of the painting done by Leonardo Vinci in the foundations of the Count’s home. Travelling back to meet Leonardo, an old friend, the Doctor uncovers the Count’s secret. He’s really an ancient alien and the last of his kind. When trying to escape Earth billions of year earlier his ship exploded and his subconscious was split across different times, meaning that he’s simultaneously living in several different points in Earth’s history.
Using this unique position the Count has over-seen the evolution of mankind. From first creating life on the planet he was pushed the human race further and further forward until they could provide him with the technology to travel back in time and make good his escape. If he manages to succeed in his mission the human race would cease to exist, something the two Time Lords seek to prevent. Along for the ride is Duggan, a private detective who has a penchant for breaking windows and knocking people unconscious, with exacerbates the Doctor and Romana no end.
From the starting point as an art heist to a conspiracy spanning the entirety of human existence it’s a rich and imaginative story. The actors filling out the roles of Duggan, the Count, the Countess and others all add much more to the story. It’s a rare case of the supporting cast being on par with the script. Julian Glover as the Count is especially noteworthy, proving to be an enemy for the Doctor on par with the Master. Kinda strange seeing the villain from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade causing someone else to rapidly age to dust.
This serial is the complete package. A smart, well pace script with an imaginative concept at it’s core. City of Death feels as though it’s more like an episode from the rebooted series in terms of tone, and is all up a fantastic couple of episodes.