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!

enlightenment20dvd20cover

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!

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 …

Thinking about TARDIS crews …

The TARDIS hasn’t had a crew for a long time. It has usually had the Doctor plus one companion, but very rarely has it had a crew – by which I mean the Doctor plus at least two companions. Of course, there are two people we can blame for this:

Jon Pertwee, who insisted that he wanted his doctor to be an ‘action’ hero (thus negating the need for an active male companion) and …
Adric, who made the Davison era ‘crowded TARDIS’ experience so miserable that JNT became convinced that Peri was a good step forward (er …)

And yet, I found myself reflecting that some of the episodes I have enjoyed best have been enjoyable principally because of the interaction between the members of the TARDIS crew. And so (tomorrow) I will be facing off the two TARDIS crews that I think are the prime contenders for ‘best TARDIS crew’ – but first I wished to pay tribute to those crews who didn’t make the cut …

We simply cannot know …
Steven and Vicki
Steven and Dodo
Ben and Polly (and Jamie)
Sadly, we just do not know how good these TARDIS crews where (although with Dodo we can begin to make an educated and despairing guess …) I have enjoyed Steven’s performances in every story that has survived featuring him as a main companion (sadly, that’s just The Time Meddler; The Ark and The Gunfighters) and would really enjoy the opportunity to see how he got on with Vicki and Dodo over a longer period. I have a slight suspicion that his three stories with Vicki would far surpass his four stories alongside Dodo.
As I remarked previously in my review of The War Machines, I wish more material of Ben and Polly survived, as they seemed to make for a good team – in the very least alongside William Hartnell’s Doctor. Having now watched The Moonbase DVD release, the jury is out as to whether they made such a good team with Patrick Troughton, especially after Jamie joined the TARDIS crew.
As it is … for these TARDIS crews we simply don’t know …

Please. In the name of Heaven. Stop.
Adric, Nyssa, and Tegan
As the extras feature ‘Crowded TARDIS’ on the Castrovalva DVD points out – this crew was too heavy by one member. In Arc of Infinity we see that Nyssa would have made a great solo companion to the Fifth Doctor. Adric arguably aquits himself quite well in Keeper of Traken, and Tegan was exceptional in Kinda. Which one should have gone? I wouldn’t like to choose, but suffice to say three of them was too many.

Close … but no cigar
Jamie and Zoe
Ian, Barbara and Susan/Vicki
Tegan and Turlough
Firstly (as you have noticed) I am counting Ian and Barbara’s time as one, since Susan and Vicki effectively played the same role in the TARDIS crew. Vicki was probably a more fun companion than Susan, but Susan certainly had more mystery – making them both an even match. Ian and Barbara certainly made for an excellent crew alongside Hartnell’s Doctor – but again there is a sense that they didn’t need a pretty young companion just to get into trouble.
Tegan and Turlough meanwhile are an interesting proposition – right numbers (finally) for the Fifth Doctor, but the chemistry doesn’t quite work. One suspects this is partially because one never quite learns to trust (or love) Turlough, and Tegan’s character was perhaps too abrasive alongside that ambiguous character. Could have worked … not sure it did.
Meanwhile, I have made Jamie and Zoe distinct from Jamie and Victoria. I was struck watching Seasons 5 and 6 that Zoe does make a big difference to the crew – as the Doctor says in The Krotons – “That’s the trouble with Zoe – she’s too smart for her own good.” It made for a jolly crew under Captain Pat … but not quite a happy ship. This is a theme I will revisit in due course …

Which leaves … the contenders

As you have by now deduced, that leaves two contenders – the Season 5 crew of Jamie and Victoria, and the Season 12 crew of Sarah-Jane and Harry. Which one wins? Tune in tomorrow to find out …

(The eagle-eyed will have observed that some ‘crews’ didn’t make the cut. These include Steven and Katarina/Sara; The U.N.I.T family; Romana and Adric; Tegan and Nyssa; Tegan, Nyssa and Turlough; and counting K9 as a crew member. This is principally because the ‘crew’ existed for so short a time that it is hard to count them with the crews above)

76 – The Five Doctors

I really don’t know where to begin in describing this simply extraordinary story. Back in the days of yore the BBC would include other videos for sale on the inside of their VHS covers. From this I learned there was a story with all five doctors (I think in my vibrant youth Six and Seven didn’t count …), the Daleks, the Cybermen, and the Master! I had to get my hands on it! In fact, so desperate was I for the serial that I had a proper huff with my dad when he joked that he hadn’t bought it, when in actual fact he had.

So … I was actually somewhat underwhelmed by the story as a youth. Because my Doctor wasn’t in it! Not really – he got gobbled up in some reused footage from the unfinished serial Shada. And it wasn’t the real first Doctor, Bill Hartnell having sadly passed away several years before. As for the Daleks, the story features exactly one (very easily confused) Dalek, and a host of easily betrayed Cybermen. The young man was not impressed.

The older me however could not help but enjoy the story. Yes they had to account for Tom Baker refusing to show up. Yes Richard Hurndall isn’t quite the same as William Hartnell. But the story is still jolly good fun! It was always going to be a thankless task to try to incorporate that many doctors, companions and foes into one coherent storyline – and the fact is that John Nathan Turner deserves credit for doing a more than respectable job of it. Credit also to Terrance Dicks for introducing an enemy well worth bringing back – the Raston Warrior Robot. Utterly deadly in taking out a troop of Cybermen, it would be a more than worthy adversary to bring into modern Doctor Who.

I would hesitate to recommend the story as an introduction to Doctor Who – compared to his outing in The Three Doctors, Patrick Troughton does not get quite the same space to shine in this story, and the same applies to Jon Pertwee. I also admit that my impression of the First Doctor was rather ruined by Hurndall – the opportunity lost here was to persuade Baker to come back and to find some way of using archive footage of Hartnell. Now that would have been a worthy anniversary story! As it is – I’m thankful for what we have got, and it makes for a very enjoyable hour of television.

81 – Planet of Fire

It’s always been a poorly kept secret that the female companion on Doctor Who was intended to be a bit of a looker, in order to keep elder male viewers interested. This story doesn’t even pretend to treat it as a secret – Nicola Bryant’s first appearance as Peri features her in a bright pink bikini that is so abbreviated it must have had Mary Whitehouse hurrumping into her cup of tea! By his own admission, showrunner John Nathan Turner cast Peri with the view to make Doctor Who more accessible to more mature audiences, and to the American market – and with the same flamboyance of one of his Hawaiian shirts, he proudly unveils Peri as the new companion.

Having acknowledged the one aspect of the story that is impossible to ignore, let’s now remember that it makes a very small part of what is quite a clever overall story. From the moment Turlough stepped into the TARDIS in Mawdryn Undead you’re wondering what his backstory is, and Planet of Fire brings his story to a very pleasing conclusion. Of course, it wouldn’t be Doctor Who unless several different story threads were happening at once. So we have three distinct threads – the Doctor and Turlough picking up a distress call in Lanzarote (this being the next overseas production after Arc of Infinity) where they find an alien artefact, and also Peri – who unfortunately plays damsel in distress from the start by having to be rescued from drowning! Meanwhile a group of colonists on the planet Sarn are troubled by earthquakes – a sign in fact that their planet is breaking up. They are beholden to their high priest who insists faithfulness to their god, Logar. Oh, and just for good measure, Kamelion makes his first appearance since The Kings Demons, spending most of the story in the appearance of the menace controlling him – the Master! It transpires that his miniturising gun hit him by mistake, and he is relying on the restorative powers of Sarn’s volcano to return him to full size and health – only to burn when the flames change and then seemingly vanish to nothing.

If you’re confused, you will get a good idea of the health warning for this story – it is so complicated that you need to watch it twice to get your head around it! When you do however, it is more than satisfying. Davison gives a superb show, making one wish (with no disrespect intended to Colin Baker) that he had given at least another season as the Doctor – his line to Turlough “If you are withholding any information that prevents me from defeating the Master, then our friendship is at an end,” is utterly compelling. Turlough too enjoys a triumphant farewell, rounding off his story, and seeing some form of redemption – not least in being returned to his homeland of Trion, no longer a disgraced criminal. Peri’s debut is sadly less impressive, spending most of it imprisoned by the Master, who is camped up to the maximum by Anthony Ainley. But for all that, it is one of the better stories to grace the 1980s and is thoroughly enjoyable.

82 – Frontios

Frontios is a prime example of the type of stories that might have persuaded Peter Davison to stay for a fourth season as the Doctor. While not spectacular by any means, it is clever, intriguing and well produced, and certainly keeps the viewer engrossed from start to finish. Those who have enjoyed the excellent Series 3 episode Utopia will see evident parallels between the two stories – the Doctor and his companions arrive at the end of the known universe, at a point beyond which the TARDIS is meant to travel. On the planet Frontios, a group of human colonists are fighting to survive, unaware of why their planet is being constantly being bombarded by meteorites. Of course, the Master does not appear in this story, and thus the parallels fall somewhat short!

It turns out that beneath the surface of the planet live a hostile alien race known as the Tractators, possessing several terrifying capabilities, not least manifested when they steal the TARDIS beneath the planet’s surface, seemingly vanished without trace. As cliffhangers go, Davison stating in a would-be-calm voice “The TARDIS has been completely destroyed” has to rank as one that would have left viewers utterly gripped, wondering how he was going to get the TARDIS crew out of this one. In truth, the reason why this story is so effective is because there is so much intrigue and mystery, and the Tractators are not revealed until the denouement. Turlough in particular puts in a sterling performance, with a racial memory of his own people coming under the attack of the Tractators. The race would return in the Big Finish audio The Hallows of Time, a story originally planned for Season 23 – more proof if needed that the BBC were fools not to give Colin Baker a proper second season in 1983!

As with many stories in this section of the review, I really have not got a bad word to say about Frontios. I was very probably too young to appreciate the VHS, but thoroughly enjoyed the DVD and would cheerfully watch it as a standalone four-parter – indeed if you are looking for an entry level to the Davison era, you could do much worse than to start here, with what is a good solid classic Doctor Who story. The only reason is not higher is that we fans wonderfully get to enjoy even more stories that are just as good!