12 – Earthshock

Along with Planet of Evil, this was one of the very first Doctor Who adventures my dad bought on VHS, and therefore one of the ones most firmly imprinted upon my childhood. This adventure is justifiably the highlight of Peter Davison’s debut season; not only a well told story, but also one that brings back an old foe, and has the ultimate emotional twist.

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18 – Mawdryn Undead

We have covered in other reviews the stories that comprised Doctor Who’s 20th season. Resolved to celebrate the series’ history, producer John Nathan Turner brought back a returning nemesis for each adventure. In the middle of the season was a loosely linked trilogy featuring the Black Guardian, last seen swearing painful death to the Doctor in The Armageddon Factor. This powerful being, the embodiment of darkness, chaos, and destruction, finally succeeded in tracking the Doctor down, and decided to enlist a helper to aid his cause.

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25 – Enlightenment

In Season 20 the Doctor Who production team decided that the Doctor would face off against a returning foe in each adventure, originally intending that the season would conclude with an adventure entitled “The Return” – which was delayed until Season 21 as Resurrection of the Daleks, leaving viewers instead with the lamentable King’s Demons as an unworthy substitute! While the season opened with the return of Omega in Arc of Infinity, and the Mara in Snakedance, the season’s three middle stories were covered by a loose trilogy featuring the Black Guardian, last seen cursing the Fourth Doctor in The Armageddon Factor.

This loose trilogy comes to a close in Englightenment, a spooky and exceedingly clever adventure seemingly set aboard an Edwardian sailing vessel, revealed at the end of episode one to in fact be a sophisticated spaceship, racing through space itself. At the head of the ship are ‘Eternals’ – beings who despite their ageless existence have lived for so long that they rely upon humans for ideas, form, and substance. The prize for their sailing race is therefore the titular ‘Englightment’ – the ability to know all things.

In the midst of all of this, Turlough is haunted by the deal he made with the Black Guardian in Mawdryn Undead – to kill the Doctor. The Doctor meanwhile is suspicious that a fellow racer is resorting to sabotage to ensure that they are successful, a suspicion proven well founded when it is discovered that the malevolent Captain Wrack is in league with the Black Guardian! The story, and indeed the trilogy comes to a thrilling crescendo, as the Doctor and Turlough find themselves at Wrack’s mercy, with Wrack seemingly about to win the race and claim her prize.

Much of what makes this adventure enjoyable stems from the meeting of space-era technology and the classical setting of an Edwardian sailing vessel. It is also a deeply haunting adventure, and the role the Doctor plays to both Tegan and Turlough could have been lifted from a contemporary season of Doctor Who, as Tegan wrestles with the Eternals incapacity to fathom human emotions such as love, and Turlough agonises over freedom, choice, and consequences. All the while, the race between the Eternal’s ships ensures that the plot proceeds at a strong and intriguing pace!

I did not expect to enjoy this adventure as much as I did when I rewatched the VHS adventures at university. But Englightement was a superb and fitting end to the Black Guardian Trilogy, displaying Peter Davison’s Doctor at level only paralleled by his incredible swansong in The Caves of Androzani. Clever without confusing, human without being cheesy, and able to sensitively investigate some of life’s biggest questions, it is a superb piece of television, never mind a superb episode of Doctor Who!

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Englightment can be bought as part of the Black Guardian Trilogy DVD Boxset on Amazon

Next Time: You’re caught in a classic space time paradox! You did it yourselves!

26 – Logopolis

It’s the end. But the moment has been prepared for …

Logopolis is a story I both love and hate all at once. A fitting end to Tom Baker’s seven seasons as the Doctor, I remain unable to watch this story without believing that maybe, just maybe, if I wish hard enough the Doctor won’t die at the end of episode four. But he always does, it’s always heartbreaking, and I am always moved by Baker’s calm implacability as he acknowledges his time has come to a close … and a new season is about to begin.

Tom Baker provided many iconic moments in his time as the Doctor, and it was only fitting that he should be given a truly dramatic sendoff. Having escaped his old nemesis the Master in the previous adventure we find a melancholy and brooding Doctor, possessed of a strong sense of foreboding and deciding that he needs to fix the chameleon circuit on the TARDIS. As he proceeds to source the measurements required to recalibrate the circuit by measuring an earth Police Box, he discovers that the Master has escaped from Traken, and is following every move he makes. More unsettling still, is the presence of a ghostly Watcher, who seems to be just as determined to follow the Doctor.

The story may be entitled Logopolis, but it is not until a good way through episode two that we actually arrive on the titular world. If anything however, this build up makes the climax even tastier, as the Doctor explains to Adric the principle of Block Transfer Computation – creating matter from pure mathematics, and how this ought to restore the chameleon circuit. The Master may make his actions evident throughout the opening two episodes, but it is not until episode three that we see Ainley, channeling the spirit of Roger Delgado, and gloating at his apparent triumph over the Doctor. For ultimately Logopolis is a story of one Timelord chasing another – the Doctor fleeing to Logopolis, hoping to evade the Master, and the Master hiding his TARDIS within the Doctor’s TARDIS so that he can find Logopolis, which he understands to possess a great secret.

The story builds to a dramatic climax, as it is revealed the Logopolitan mathematicians were using their skill for Block Transfer Computation to excise entropy from the universe, and stave off the end of all matter. The Master’s interference brings their project to a halt, and introduces overwhelming entropy that begins to destroy the entire universe. The impending catastrophe forces the Doctor to form an unwilling alliance with his oldest enemy, as they aim to restart the Logopolis programme from a new home on Earth.

Such a dramatic story would be overblown in just about any other context, but as the finale for Tom Baker it is perfection. So grand is the scheme that one easily loses track that this was also the first story to feature Janet Fielding as Tegan, who stumbles into the TARDIS by complete accident. Sarah Sutton also (clumsily) returns in episode 2 after the production team decided to keep Nyssa as a permanent companion, giving a foretaste of the crowded TARDIS that was to undermine Season 19.

The reason they are easily overlooked is entirely valid however – everything is building up to the climax of episode four. Whatever listlessness Baker displayed in the previous two seasons is lost, and he rises marvelously to the occasion of his swansong. To me, his portrayal of a Timelord contemplating regeneration is only bettered by Peter Davison in The Caves of Androzani, as he manages all at once to combine a melancholy foreboding with a stoic acceptance. This anticipation is accentuated through the role of the mysterious “Watcher” – a character all in white who mainly watches from afar, and who is mistaken for “The Master” (Adric) or “A friend of the Doctor” (Nyssa), and is revealed at the very end to be nothing less than the Doctor’s future, unregenerated self.

There is something wonderfully moving about the final five minutes of Logopolis. Baker foils the Master’s plans to hold the universe to ransom, but in so doing falls to his death. As he lies helpless, surrounded by his companions, he sees each of his prior companions from Sarah-Jane to Romana, before smiling, and telling his friends that the moment is prepared for. The music rises to a crescendo, the Watcher merges with the Fourth Doctor, and the bright young face of the Fifth Doctor emerges. I may think that The Caves of Androzani is a better Doctor Who adventure, but Logopolis is nevertheless the best regeneration story.

It was the end. But the moment was prepared for. And it was brilliant.

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To watch Tom Baker’s final adventure as the Doctor, buy it today on the BBC Store!

27 – Castrovalva

Peter Davison’s debut as the Fifth Doctor owes much to Season 18 Script Editor Christopher H. Bidmead’s love of mathematics. When invited to replace the original Season 19 debut story with a new script, Bidmead would revisit certain ideas he had used in Tom Baker’s swan song Logopolis – in particular the concept of recursion, which in that story had manifested itself as a TARDIS within a TARDIS. For Castrovalva, Bidmead would put this concept on steroids.

Peter Davison’s first broadcast adventure was not actually his first recorded adventure – by this stage they had recorded Four to Doomsday, The Visitation, and Kinda. In practice this works extremely well, providing a TARDIS crew already well settled with one another, allowing them to pull off an ambitious regeneration story. Picking up directly from Logopolis (including a rare pre-title sequence film section reprising the regeneration) the TARDIS crew escape from the Pharos Project on earth to find the Doctor highly unstable – the first time in the show’s history it is overtly suggested that a regeneration can go wrong. The Doctor spends most of the adventure trying to find a peaceful space in which to recover while his regeneration completes – initially a room in the TARDIS known as the Zero Room, then latterly a dwelling of simplicity, the titular town of Castrovalva. Behind this story, very much in the theme of recursion, are layers of traps within traps, all set by the Master.

Kindapping and then releasing Adric at the very start of the adventure, the Master impels Adric to send the TARDIS directly into a supernova. In the truest style of the Hooded Claw, the Master then lays a trap within a trap – the town of Castrovalva itself. Leaving information about the fictional town in the TARDIS databanks, the Master uses Adric’s mathematical genius to use a skill revealed in the previous adventure of Logopolis – the capacity to build matter through pure mathematics. Adric constructs the entire town as a trap for the remaining TARDIS crew, and the Master lies in wait (disguised, obviously!) for the right moment to strike.

The more thoughtful reader might conclude with some justification that the entire plot is needlessly complicated – but to write off the story on these grounds would be to miss the enjoyment of the story. In rather the same way that The Edge of Destruction was crucial for building the relationship of the initial TARDIS crew of Season 1, Castrovalva really allows the viewer to get a better flavour for how Nyssa and Tegan would relate to the new Doctor; unfortunately for Adric, he spends most of the episode imprisoned by the Master, perhaps foretelling the rather grim destiny the producers had in mind for him. While the inspiration for the story is undoubtedly mathematical (making this story one of my dad’s favourites) it is not so overtly mathematical that it is impossible for the less mathematically minded (viz. me!) to follow!

Davison himself plays his role superbly – there is a wonderful moment in episode 1 in which he appears to regress to the mannerisms of the First and Second Doctors – very well acted, and an utterly charming nod to the show’s heritage. As debut stories go, Castrovalva is one of the very best, and a very pleasing conclusion to the ‘New Beginnings’ trilogy. Perhaps because it borrows so heavily from themes in Logopolis, it is harder to imagine this story working so well as a standalone adventure. The fact that it nevertheless does, is very much to its credit!

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Want to watch Castrovalva? You can buy it today on BBC Store for £4.99

Special Reviews: New Beginnings

We have reached a special section in my classic episode countdown, as over the next three weeks we will be reviewing three stories that I struggled to place in a clear order, mainly as I have come to regard them as one story in three parts. The three stories come at the end of Season 18, when Tom Baker’s time as the Doctor was coming to a close, and at the very beginning of Season 19 as Peter Davison took on the unenviable role of filling Baker’s shoes. Baker had played the Doctor for seven years, significantly longer than any of the previous actors to play the role (Hartnell and Troughton were in the role for three years; Pertwee for five) and the prospect of a new actor stepping into the role generated a large amount of uncertainty.

New producer John Nathan-Turner therefore decided to adopt a trick first used when Baker replaced Pertwee. In Season 12, the production team used the familiar faces of UNIT for Baker’s debut story, before bringing back the familiar foes of the Sontarans, the Daleks, and the Cybermen.  For the conclusion of Season 18 and the beginning of Season 19, JNT brought back the character of the Master, last seen as Delgado’s Master in Frontier in Space, and as a charred husk in The Deadly Assassin. With Roger Delgado sadly departed after his untimely death in 1973, the decision was taken to cast a Delgado lookalike, Anthony Ainley, and to show the regeneration of the decayed Master into a new, younger Master. A further idea to bring Elisabeth Sladen back to play Sarah Jane Smith for four episodes proved ultimately unsuccessful – Sladen quite sensibly realising she would have played a bit part at best.

Following on from the E-Space Trilogy, the series follows a loose trilogy beginning with The Keeper of Traken, in which the Master returns, followed by Baker’s swansong Logopolis, in which the Doctor falls to death attempting to foil the Master’s latest madcap plan for universal domination. While not initially intended that Ainley would return for Peter Davison’s debut story Castrovalva, it was eventually decided to have the debut of Season 19 follow directly from the conclusion of Season 18, meaning that one is able to watch from Keeper of Traken to Castrovalva as one continuous narrative, even though each story is independent and stands strong in their own right – perhaps reflecting why BBC initially released these stories in a single boxset entitled ‘New Beginnings.’

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I struggled to place these three stories in order. I love them all equally, have come to regard them as one story, and if I could award them joint 26th place, I would have done so. I have nevertheless chosen to bite the bullet and attempt to rank the stories – and over the next three weeks you will get to find out which of the three I have enjoyed the best.

57 – Resurrection of the Daleks

Originally scheduled to be the concluding story of Season 20, a strike by BBC staff resulted in that season ending with the rather less inspiring The King’s Demons, and the intended adventure, originally entitled The Return being pushed back to Season 21. It in the very least ensured that Peter Davison got to face off against the Doctor’s oldest and deadliest enemies …

Owing to a clash with the 1984 Winter Olympics, this story is significant for being recorded as four 25 minute episodes (as per the rest of the season) but released as two 45 minute episodes to work around the Olympic schedule taking the series’ regular timeslot. As with Season 22, it demonstrated that longer episodes did allow for greater character development – it only being a pity that the format was not preserved beyond Season 22.

The story is also significant in providing the first appearance of Terry Molloy as Davros (Michael Wisher originally lined up to return, but unable to make the rescheduled shoot), and the final appearance of Janet Fielding as Tegan. An unrelentingly grim story, it features two concurrent stories between contemporary London, where UNIT are investigating what they think are bombs but are actually chemical weapons, and a space station in the future, where the Daleks have rescued their imprisoned creator Davros. Losing their eternal war against the Movellans (introduced in Destiny of the Daleks) the Daleks seek out their creator to return their cutting edge in battle, and provide an antidote to the chemical weapons (stored on earth) that the Movellans have used against them. Davros however has other plans – intending to create a new race of Daleks loyal to him. As if such a degree of complexity was not enough, it transpires that the Daleks have been duplicating humanity, including the Doctor’s companions Tegan and Turlough, and intend to use a duplicate of the Doctor to travel to Gallifrey to assassinate the High Council of the Timelords.

It all makes for a very good and engaging story, but one that requires several watches to get your head around. There is also no escaping how grim the adventure is, with an incredibly high mortality rate. Perhaps more than anything else, it is Tegan’s departure that marks out this story and provides its significance. I remember strongly resonating with Tegan’s impassioned outburst the first time I watched this story: “It’s stopped being fun Doctor!” A lot of good people end up dead in the story, and it doesn’t feel like many people win as a result – leaving the viewer to identify with the tearful Tegan regretfully concluding that it is time to go. I enjoyed rediscovering the DVD, but can remember why I did not enjoy the VHS – it doesn’t make for cheerful viewing, and is a rather poignant pointer to the quickly approaching end of the Davison era two stories hence …