Retro ‘Doctor Who’ Reviews – Vol. 7.4


Here we are at the of a looooong journey – the final part of the original series in review. We’re not completely done though, next week will be the movie! Oh, gawd…

ghostlightGhost Light

These days the occasional horror themed episode of Doctor Who is not out of the ordinary with Blink, Hide and The Impossible Planet all being well received. At the time of release this was quite a departure from the norm. The Doctor and Ace find themselves in a rather disconcerting haunted mansion during the late 1800s, but what Ace doesn’t know is that the Doctor brought her here for a reason. This episode marks the beginning of an informal season long arc that explores Ace’s troubled past.

The house if under the control of Josiah Samuel Smith who is ruling the occupants through brainwashing. Among the unusual inhabitants is the daughter of the missing original owners, a calculating night maid, an insane explorer, the Rev. Matthew who is a staunch opponent of evolution and a Neanderthal butler. Josiah is a firm supporter of evolution and works to prove this by turning Matthew into an ape. Further curiosities turn up, such as an inspector in suspended animation and two living husks of people evolving and lurking in the basement.

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Naturally most of the strange events and characters can be traced back to aliens, with a stone spaceship having crashed into the ground thousands of years ago. The spaceship now makes up the cellar of the mansion. The pilot of the ship arrived on Earth to catalogue all life on the planet, and is enraged to find that evolution has rendered his work obsolete and begins turning people to stone to prevent any further change. With the creature only being made of light the Doctor cannot attack him and must rely on his wits to outsmart this foe.

The connection between the house and Ace goes back to her childhood when, as a delinquent she broke into the house. Feeling an evil presence in the building she burned it to the ground but never understood why it caused her to feel so uncomfortable so the Doctor gives he the opportunity to reach a sense of closure.  It’s good having so much time dedicated to the development of a companion since there’s only so much that can be done with the Doctor’s character at this stage. The setting is original and the mystery unfolds well, with the topic of evolution being handled in an interesting manner. The enemy who emerges late in the piece makes for a thought provoking confrontation. At times it feels as though the script is taking on more ideas and characters than necessary, but it wraps up nicely.

curseoffenricdvdThe Curse of Fenric

The Doctor continues to help Ace explore her past, this time by taking her to a British naval outpost during the Second World War. They learn that the base is being used to intercept coded German messages and stockpile nerve gas. A scientist on the base is using the same decoding supercomputer to translate ancient runes found in catacombs beneath the base and find that they warn of the ‘Fenric’.

As a team of covert Soviet troops attempt to infiltrate the base a group of Haemovores (the Doctor Who universe’s answer to vampires) emerge from the ocean and also attack the base. Everyone that gets fed on by the Haemovores then become Haemovores themselves, leading to an increased number of the attackers. Translating an ancient vase unleashing Fenric who begins ordering the Haemovores, who the Doctor tries to delay by challenging them a game of chess.

curse of fenric

Ace, meanwhile, tries to aide on the base workers, Kathleen, and her newborn baby reach safety before the Haemovores can reach them. It is later revealed that the baby is actually Ace’s mother, who she despises for having abandoned her. Ace also learns that she did not arrive in the Iceworld through her own machinations but as a pawn of the Fenric. There’s not a great deal to say about this serial, it doesn’t stand out as especially great or terrible but is just decent. The villains are creepy and the set up is effective, and the character of Ace is more interesting as more is revealed about her. The episode ends with Ace overcoming her fear of water and is able to go some way to understand her mother.

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Survival_uk_dvdSurvival

We finish the initial run of Doctor Who with Ace being returned to her hometown in her original time. Looking to hook up with her old friends she’s shocked to find that a large number of them have disappeared. The only clue is a mysterious black cat that wanders the area that seems to be in some way linked to the people who keep vanishing. They discover they the disappeared people have been transported to another dimension, to a planet occupied by evolved cheetah people. The savage population is rounding up people and using them to hunt for sport. Ace winds up being reunited with her old friends after making the jump herself. Meanwhile the Doctor is teleported as well, where he encounters none other than the Master, who is manipulating the cheetah people.

survival doctorwho

This is a highly entertaining serial and the sub-par effects in creating the cheetah people don’t distract from the strength of the concept. It’s an action packed episode with the Master and the Doctor once again matching wits. Things are further complicated when they learn that those wounded in battle against the cheetah’s will begin changing into cheetahs themselves. In order to return to their home dimension the survivors would have to let one of their own become infected. Before long the Doctor also becomes aware that the planet is on the verge of dying and could break into pieces at any moment.

Survival - Doctor & Master

The concept is well constructed and original (providing that you haven’t already seen Predators) and it leads to some pretty intense action sequences. Ace continues to grow as a character and faces some drastic challenges during this story. The Doctor, when confronted with a conclusive battle against the Master, characteristically turns away from the violence, leaving the Doctor and Ace on a positive note for their final episode.