The Caves of Androzani
Episode / January 29, 2016

Aired 8 – 16 March 1984 Simply put, ‘The Caves of Androzani’ is easily among the very best serials in the classic run of Doctor Who, a perfect encapsulation of the Peter Davison era and a perfect farewell for the Fifth Doctor. Legendary writer Robert Holmes returns to the franchise for the first time since ‘The Power of Kroll,’ incorporating several of the same notions from that tale in a more powerful context as corrupt corporations and gunrunners prominently feature while also elevating the ever-increasing brutality surrounding the Doctor to exquisitely tragic levels. Increasing the number of characters and plotlines had been a technique employed throughout the era in order to provide a semblance of more mature serials, but too often the sheer numbers came at the sacrifice of depth and context. Hastily-written and often-changing motivations with actions that proved either inconsequential or redundant plagued many stories, but Holmes manages to effectively provide consistent strings of motivation to all of his characters here, allowing the story to logically flow from one point to the next without any unneeded twists to provide the impetus for continuation. Everything presented is clear and concise- the president wants to preserve his public image, Sharaz…

Castrovalva
Episode / January 29, 2016

Aired on: 4 January – 12 January 1982 Following seven years with the larger-than-life Tom Baker as the charismatic Fourth Doctor, producer John Nathan-Turner and Doctor Who itself turn to Peter Davison to take over the reigns and see in a new era. The casting of Davison is quite a shrewd decision, bringing in an established dramatic actor already known for his compassionate and mischievous tendencies from All Creatures Great and Small. Unsurprisingly, it’s clear from the outset that the Fifth Doctor will be a very different personality than his predecessor as vulnerability, patience, optimism, and diplomacy come to the forefront amid a very crowded TARDIS, helping to completely reinvent the franchise while still remaining true to what has come before. Even with his Doctor in a weakened state as he recovers from post-regeneration trauma, Davison does well in putting his youthful and optimistic mark on the role quickly. Unfortunately, the story itself is a mixed one, full of grand ideas but limited by more than the usual financial and technical shortcomings that can’t quite capture the ambition on display. Perhaps surprisingly given that this is the third of three loosely-linked stories with the Master as the driving force, the…

Logopolis
Episode / January 29, 2016

Aired on: 28 February – 21 March 1981 After a season of adventures fixated on entropy and decay, the inevitable and almost-preordained demise of the Fourth Doctor finally arrives in ‘Logopolis.’ After an immense seven years in the role that ingrained him in the public consciousness as the definitive Doctor, Tom Baker departs with a monumental performance in a story which fittingly sees the entire universe under impending doom alongside his character. Despite the lengthy foreshadowing, ‘Logopolis’ falters in a couple of respects. To begin, the Fourth Doctor’s death sequence is somewhat of a contentious one given how much the season has been building towards it. He sacrifices his life to save the universe, a grand sentiment in any scenario, but having Tom Baker leave by falling off of a satellite seems like a missed opportunity for such a charismatic lead. At the same time, the inclusion of the Watcher as an intrinsic part of the Doctor overseeing the transition is an incredibly intriguing notion, but there’s simply not enough explanation given to why this being is here at this particular regeneration. Even if the Doctor claims that the moment has been prepared for, it’s hard to believe that he…

Spearhead from Space
Episode / January 28, 2016

Aired 3 -24 January 1970 ‘Spearhead from Space’ is unquestionably one of the most important episodes in Doctor Who’s long history, tasked with introducing a new lead and cast and proving that a radically new format confined to modern-day Earth could work. Serving as a second pilot episode of sorts, this serial somehow manages to achieve everything that it sets out to do while remaining incredibly accessible to old and new fans alike. With Doctor Who never really receiving the budget to make alien worlds come to life all that successfully, producer Derrick Sherwin and script editor Terrence Dicks made the decision to have the Time Lords exile the Doctor to Earth after the conclusion to Patrick Troughton’s final The War Games, and the filming employed here certainly pays dividends in showing the comparatively modest but varying splendours of Earth. Of course, the Earth-based setting allows for an exploration of the intrinsic horrors of commonplace items, and ‘Spearhead from Space’ introduces the Autons and employs plastics and mannequins to achieve this to spectacular effect, the image of walking shop dummies being burned into the public consciousness and causing complaints of excessive violence and corruption. The idea of the very layout…

Planet of the Spiders
Episode , Reviews / January 28, 2016

Aired on: 4 May – 8 June 1974 ‘Planet of the Spiders’ brings to a close the Jon Pertwee era, offering a satisfying but far from flawless final adventure for the man who had seen Doctor Who through a major transition in 1970 and dominated screens for five seasons of adventures since. Although his final season has featured fewer UNIT-based stories, ‘Planet of the Spiders’ brings the organization back into the fray to provide a look back at so much of what has made Pertwee’s tenure so successful as well as to provide a heartfelt farewell. In a time before story arcs became commonplace, ‘Planet of the Spiders’ offers plenty of callbacks to previous episodes. Aside from the Brigadier and Benton being back as part of UNIT, Mike Yates returns to satisfactorily atone for earlier traitorous actions in ‘Invasion of the Dinosaurs,’ Jo Grant gets mentioned as she returns the Doctor’s wedding present, and another immense chase scene featuring almost every vehicle imaginable occurs. Perhaps the programme has earned the right to indulge in its lead’s penchant for physicality and love of vehicles, but far too much time is spent with gratuitous action sequences that utlimately do not affect the…

Doom Coalition 1
Audio / January 28, 2016

Doom Coalition 1 represents the next new starting point for the Eight Doctor, following the marvellous conclusion to the Dark Eyes epic. Like Dark Eyes, Doom Coalition will again comprise four four-disc boxsets, and while we have a returning companion in Liv Chenka, the enemies and circumstances are wholly new. ‘The Eleven’ kicks off the saga, set on Gallifrey and introducing us to the titular villain. The idea behind the Eleven is quite straightforward- and one surprisingly not used before- a Time Lord in his eleventh body who retains the personalities of his previous personas. Courtesy of an impressive and passionate cameo from Sylvester McCoy as the Seventh Doctor, we are given the impression right from the start that the Eleven is a very dangerous character, one on par with (or perhaps more dangerous than) the Master, the Daleks, or any of the other dozens of foes the Doctor has battled with in the past. The concept of the Eleven is a masterstroke, but Mark Bonnar really brings those differing personas to life with a nuanced yet ever-contrasting performance. It is through these shifting moments that we really get to gain insight into this fascinating character and learn about the…

The War Games
Episode / January 26, 2016

Aired 19 April – 21 June 1969 As the 1960s came to a close, Doctor Who found itself facing another crisis. Ratings had dropped significantly and Patrick Troughton had decided that his third year in the titular role would be his last. With the concept of a total change in appearance and attitude of the Doctor already established in ‘The Tenth Planet’- not fully fleshed out as the regeneration concept known today- a change in lead actor was certainly a viable solution to part of the issue. To save ratings, however, something more drastic was going to have to change, and the idea of exiling the Doctor to essentially modern-day Earth was established by the end of the Second Doctor’s era. Though ‘The War Games’ is absolutely the end of an era as it is the final episode to be shot in black and white and the final story for Troughton’s Doctor, Frazer Hines’s Jamie, and Wendy Padbury’s Zoe Heriot, it also has to justify the coming changes, and an introduction to the Doctor’s own race, the Time Lords, who put him on trial for his constant meddling in history forms that justification. However, jumping ahead to the introduction and…

UNIT: Extinction
Audio / January 26, 2016

With the release of the UNIT: Extinction boxset, Big Finish boldly enters the world of modern Doctor Who. Featuring both Kate Stewart and Osgood from the current incarnation of UNIT on-screen and pitting them against the classic Autons again bent on world domination, Extinction is a fantastic first venture that constantly ups the stakes and gives us more insight and background into these delightful characters. UNIT on television is not always portrayed as the most competent of organizations, often times giving way to the Doctor or his companion in order to showcase that individual’s strengths. In audio format, though, UNIT is rightfully and unabashedly portrayed as the strong group it is so clearly meant to be, a true last line of defense for an otherwise defenseless Earth. Of course, two members of UNIT alone cannot carry an entire four episodes that quickly build up a truly global threat and so we are necessarily introduced to several new characters. Captain Carter and Colonel Shindi, in particular, are striking additions to the team, and the writing helps give the sense that each and every member of UNIT is as important as the next. Right from the get-go, Extinction moves along at a…

The Power of the Daleks
Episode / January 25, 2016

Aired 5 November – 10 December 1966 Following the unprecedented recasting of the Doctor following William Hartnell’s harrowing departure from the role in ‘The Tenth Planet,’ ‘The Power of the Daleks’ is tasked with introducing and selling Patrick Troughton as the same character audiences have come to know and love. With the concept of regeneration still such a tremendous gamble, the story wisely brings back the Daleks to help ease the transition and to give a sense of familiarity amongst the turmoil. Wisely or not, the new Doctor is particularly unwilling to reveal any crucial information to help sell the concept of regeneration, and even his companions have trouble accepting the transformation despite witnessing it. Their doubt is further enhanced as the Doctor soon does very non-Doctor things such as dancing a jig, playing an instrument, and failing to check safety precautions. Yet after feeling his face and witnessing his old self appear in a reflection, Patrick Troughton quickly assumes command of the role and programme, the writing still trying to determine the personality of this new incarnation while seemingly more confident in giving a younger actor more heroic work to do. It’s clear from the start that the Second…

The Tenth Planet
Episode / January 25, 2016

Aired 8 – 29 October 1966 With the benefit of hindsight, it’s almost impossible to argue that there is a single more important episode in all of Doctor Who’s long history than ‘The Tenth Planet.’ Aside from introducing the Cybermen, the only alien foe to remotely approach the iconic Daleks in terms of popularity and design, it also gives a glimpse into what would become a staple for the foreseeable future of the franchise, the base under siege format. Most importantly of all, though, it introduces the concept of regeneration (or renewal as it was called at the time) as William Hartnell leaves his iconic role behind. As countless interviews and stories since there have revealed, William Hartnell was becoming increasingly ill and affected by arteriosclerosis, having more and more trouble both meeting the physical demands of the show and remembering his lines. A proud man, these faltering abilities also made him more irascible, and with the declining ratings of the programme a factor as well, the decision was made to bring in a new lead. Story editor Gerry Davis reasoned that, since the Doctor is not human, there is no reason that he might not have the ability to…