6 – The Deadly Assassin

Of all the stories in my top ten, I think The Deadly Assassin is the one that will be most surprising. Not because it is in any way a bad story – but it is not necessarily one that is universally acclaimed as a classic. The story however is very important in Doctor Who’s history on two counts; it is the first time we travel to the Doctor’s home world of Gallifrey (not counting the brief scenes in The War Games and The Three Doctors), and it is the first time we see the Master portrayed by an actor other than Roger Delgado.

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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

28 – The Keeper of Traken

The Keeper of Traken is an example of the BBC taking a very good story, and making it even better by incorporating a new element. Unlike The Armageddon Factor, a weak story requiring the narrative of the Key to Time to rescue it, The Keeper of Traken would have worked as a perfectly good story even before series producer John Nathan Turner spotted the opportunity to use the position of the villain to serve a greater narrative need.

We join the story with Tom Baker’s time in the TARDIS drawing to a close. Romana and K9 had left in the previous story, Warriors’ Gate, and the Doctor and Adric had finally managed to escape from e-Space back into n-Space. The TARDIS is then drawn off course by a mysterious entity, an elderly man sat upon a throne, who reveals himself to be the titular Keeper of the Traken Union – a society (as the Doctor puts it) based upon ‘people being terribly nice to each other.’ The position of Keeper enables one individual to become an ordering principle, maintaining peace and order throughout the system, but when an incumbent Keeper dies the time of transition is always difficult. The present Keeper requests the help of the Doctor to meet an unknown evil, which he feels is centred around a calcified statue known as the Melkur.

The Doctor arrives on Traken to find distrust rife among the Five Consuls of Traken, the ruling council who serve the Keeper. Unbeknownst to the Council, one of their number, Kassia, has come under the influence of the Melkur, determined that her husband Tremas should not become the new Keeper. Melkur turns out to be no mere static statue, and has already murdered one man. The Doctor and Adric become the scapegoats for Melkur’s actions, as the Melkur uses Kassia to discredit Tremas and to become Keeper nominate herself. When the old Keeper dies, ‘Melkur’ uses his link with Kassia to become the Keeper himself.

So far, the story follows exactly the original intent of author Johnny Byrne. The story would have centred around Melkur as a malevolent being, and as planned he would have been defeated at the end of episode 4. John Nathan Turner however, spotted an excellent opportunity to use Byrne’s story to resurrect a very old foe indeed. Rather than make the Melkur the calcified body of an alien being, we discover at the end of episode 2 that there is another TARDIS on Traken, and by the end of episode 3 the audience realise, long before the Doctor does, that the Melkur statue is the TARDIS of his old enemy, the Master – superbly realised (in mannerisms, if sadly not in makeup!) by Geoffrey Beevers, who reprises the decayed Master portrayed by Peter Pratt in The Deadly Assassin. At the end of his regeneration cycle and facing impending death, the Master proposes to use the powers of the Keeper to steal the Doctor’s body and regenerate himself.

While the Master is thwarted, as Byrne always intended the villain to be, the story does not end on a happy note. The Doctor and Adric depart, leaving Tremas with his daughter Nyssa to clean up the damage caused to Traken. Nyssa’s character would prove so popular that Turner would bring her back in the following story, Logopolis, providing actress Sarah Sutton with an honour shared by Frazier Hines of staying as a companion for longer than the original story they were scheduled to appear in. For Tremas however … his own name was the most crucial change in the whole script, a fateful foretelling of his destiny. For the eagle-eyed of you will have spotted that ‘Tremas’ is of course an anagram of ‘Master’ … leading to one of the show’s most iconic moments, as the Master exults: “A new body! At last!” And takes over the body of Tremas. With more than a passing resemblance to Roger Delgado, the new Master sets off in pursuit of the Doctor …

The Keeper of Traken is a wonderful story. The sets and costumes are all beautiful, the story clever without being complex, and Beevers’ Master is deliciously malevolent. The characters are superbly realised, and particular credit is due to Anthony Ainley, who had the chance to demonstrate his capacity to play a very good man, before embracing with relish the evilness of the Master. Even Adric, who usually gets a bad press, demonstrates that alongside Nyssa he could have grown and developed in the role – the story being a firm confirmation (alongside Kinda) that the Season 19 TARDIS was very much overcrowded.

While the story very much leads into Logopolis, and is best enjoyed as the first in a trilogy, it is also a superb standalone adventure that manages to pay homage to the series’ history without alienating viewers who (like me!) had not grown up with Delgado’s Master. To me, that is one of the highest compliments you could pay any classic episode of Doctor Who!

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If you wanted to enjoy The Keeper of Traken for the first time, you can watch it for £6.99 on the BBC Store

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.

35 – The Mind of Evil

By 2014 I was tantalisingly close to completing my Doctor Who DVD collection. Notwithstanding the agonising over whether to buy the DVDs with currently missing material (The Moonbase for example) a few stories remained, not least this one. And while it was kept until last, it was certainly one of the best!

First of all, let me share why such an excellent adventure was off the shelves for so long. Not only did the BBC get rid of the original broadcast tapes for the Hartnell and Troughton eras, Jon Pertwee’s era was also badly affected. While his entire era survives, certain of his stories only survived in broadcast quality in black and white – examples including Terror of the Autons, The Daemons, and The Ambassadors of Death. For most, they were able to procure low grade colour versions, which could be combined with the high resolution black and white prints to produce something approximating the original broadcast tape – the Destruction of Time website has a good account of this process.

The Mind of Evil is somewhat unique however, in that no colour footage at all survives of the story. To recover the original colour, the BBC had to use an ingenious process called “Chroma Dot Recovery.” In short – when the BBC converted the original broadcast tapes to black and white film to sell overseas, little dots (the aforementioned chroma dots) were included, indicating what the original colour had been. Using this information, the producers were able (at length and great expense) to recreate the original colour, as they had done for the Ambassadors of Death – a video showing how this process was used for Dad’s Army can be watched here.

So far so good. Except episode one doesn’t have any chroma dots! As Richard Molesworth would explain in Wiped! the dots were due to a mistake in the process of creating the film, and for the first episode the BBC technicians had processed the film properly – leaving no dots! For us in the 21st century, the only way we are now able to enjoy this episode in colour is thanks to the reconstruction team who painstakingly coloured in EVERY SINGLE FRAME of the 25 minute episode. With that in view, the greatest miracle is that they were able to produce the DVD at all!

Once complete and colourised however, the story is far from a disappointment, and is a real highlight of the U.N.I.T. Era of Doctor Who. The Doctor and Jo travel to Stangmoor Prison to watch a ruthless criminal be processed by the ‘Keller Machine’, a device supposedly able to deprive individuals of their most evil impulses. The Doctor suspects all is not well, and he is right to do so – for his old enemy the Master is at work in the background. The machine is in fact an alien creature that targets the worst impulses of those who come into contact with it and imbibes them. The Master proposes using the device to seize control of the prison, then to use the inmates to steal a highly destructive weapon from U.N.I.T (it must be acknowledged that this story is not Captain Yates or Sergeant Benton’s finest hour …)

Convoluted though the plot perhaps is, as ever it is the principle stars that make the story a joy. Delgado and Pertwee shine in every scene, especially where they face one another, and Katy Manning very quickly shakes off the damsel in distress stereotype of Terror of the Autons, being active and assertive. And of course, who can forget the wonderful moment in episode five where the Brigadier infiltrates the prison, dressed in civvies and affecting a Cockney accent …

You may reach the end and ask one pertinent questions: why is the Master trying to start World War 3? Why seize control of the prison in such a convoluted manner? How come Benton and Yates are the only people not murdered by the convicts? To pick on these quibbles however is to rob yourself of the enjoyment of an excellent, gripping, and entertaining drama. It may have been the Pertwee story I waited longest for, but the wait was certainly worth it!

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The Mind of Evil is available to download on the BBC Store for £9.99

Next Time: Set your multi-loop stabiliser for Douglas Adams’ first Doctor Who adventure

50 – The Sea Devils

We have reached the heady echelons of the top 50 in the countdown! Along the way we have already reviewed some superb stories, all worthy of challenging for the top 50. By now, we are getting into some of my best enjoyed stories, and kick off with a classic Jon Pertwee adventure. As regular readers will recall, Roger Delgado’s Master appeared in every story of Season 8 – a decision I am not entirely persuaded was the best, especially for The Claws of Axos and Colony in Space. So it was something of a relief to discover that Delgado did not make his return until the middle of Season 9 – and oh what a return!

After their last encounter in Season 8 finale The Daemons, the Master was sent to a high security prison. We find the Doctor and Jo visiting the Master in prison, to discover that nearby oil rigs have been attacked by a presence unknown. Investing the disturbance, they discover that the Master has hoodwinked the Prison Warden into believing he can prevent an incursion by enemy agents. Meanwhile, the Master has made contact with the titular ‘Sea Devils’ – ocean based cousins of the Silurians from the eponymous episode who bear a distinct resemblance to sea-turtles in humanoid form. His plan is very simple – to escape his imprisonment, and in so doing to help the Sea Devils destroy humankind.

Compared to their later appearance in Warriors of the Deep, the Sea Devils make for a very effective foil – certainly untrustworthy and prepared to be vicious, but also (as with their Silurian cousins) displaying the distinct impression of being an intelligent and civilised race, no worse than humanity in their viciousness. Other guest characters put in a very respectable showing, not least Naval Captain Hart who plays the equivalent role of the Brigadier in this story. A special mention also goes to the submarine crew for their scenes spent kidnapped by the Sea Devils – but especially to the BBC effects’ crew, who mistakenly managed to recreate a British nuclear submarine propeller by sheer co-incidence, and had a call from British intelligence asking where they had received the information from!

But the reason this serial is so high, as with many of Pertwee’s stories, is the personal interaction between Pertwee and Delgado. Whether their sword fight in the episode 2 cliffhanger, or the moment when Pertwee cheerfully informs Delgado “It may interest you to know, that I reversed the polarity of the neutron flow” (“You’ve done what?!“) – every moment they spend jousting on the screen is absolutely wonderful. Couple that to a genuinely good story, and you have vintage and enjoyable Doctor Who. Highly commended!