Planet of Evil
Episode / November 30, 2016

Aired 27 September – 18 October 1975 ‘Planet of Evil’ is the second serial in what is widely regarded as one of the best cumulative seasons that Doctor Who has ever produced. For that very reason, though, it is often overlooked because of the presence of other true classics with more iconic moments. Although ‘Planet of Evil’ may not quite stand up to some of the stories of the time, it absolutely epitomizes Doctor Who as a franchise in general and manages to capture the unique essence of the early Tom Baker era deftly with stunning studio work that brings the horror-laden jungles of Zeta Minor to life beautifully. Director David Maloney is able to instill a constant sense of peril into the jungle scenes even as the focus remains solely on a lone expeditionary team and the strange antimatter creature, and the first half of this serial is powerfully engrossing. That same sense of mystery and tension doesn’t quite transfer to the generic sterility of the spaceship in the latter half, but that is most certainly not down to the direction involved. Indeed, at least part of that may be attributed to the story gradually shifting the focus away…

Tomb Ship
Audio / November 30, 2016

Released May 2014 The TARDIS lands aboard a vast pyramid floating in space, the final resting place of the God-King of the Arrit, an advanced civilization long since extinct. Fretting not only ages-old traps lining the dark corridors, the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa soon find themselves crossing paths with a zealous family of tomb raiders and courting death itself at every corner. Big Finish’s main range has been mired in something of a prolonged slump recently with the occasional great tale interspersed, and ‘Tomb Ship’ is likely not going to be seen as one that sets the precedent for breaking that overall trend, its material doing little to challenge either of its leads and portraying both rather flatly. Still, the main premise is certainly intriguing, the God King protected by genetically-engineered servants and sitting on his throne in funereal robes as he awaits his ship and all of his wealth aboard it to reach the end of its journey to explode and turn him into a God Star. Unfortunately, like ‘Moonflesh’ before it, ‘Tomb Ship’ is a highly visual story where the dialogue and sound design don’t quite bring the visuals to life as well as they could. Another rather…

Terror of the Zygons
Episode / November 30, 2016

Aired 30 August – 20 September 1975 If Tom Baker’s debut story, ‘Robot,’ set out to provide an air of familiarity as the Fourth Doctor tackled a strictly Third Doctor story, ‘Terror of the Zygons’ provides a definite point of departure for the two eras as it plays upon past conventions while injecting the wholly different feel of the Fourth Doctor era that has already become so clear and strong after some experimentation during Baker’s first year. Even with the Third Doctor continually returning to Earth after his exile ended, the Fourth Doctor made it abundantly clear from the outset that he had no interest in doing so, and the tightly-connected stories of Baker’s first year support this new incarnation’s desire to once more travel through space and time. Thus, his frustration at the Brigadier summoning him back to Earth to help with another alien invasion is understandable, and it’s quite interesting to note how the underlying air of friendliness that simmered beneath the Third Doctor’s condescending remarks towards the Brigadier has almost completely vanished. As a new foe, the Zygons make an instant impression, buoyed by superb costuming that captures the organic alien menace perfectly. The last survivors of…

Moonflesh
Audio / November 29, 2016

Released April 2014 Following a mixed Sixth Doctor trilogy to begin 2014, Big Finish turns to the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa for a trilogy of their own, taking a break from the more crowded TARDIS of recent years’ stories. Landing in the private hunting grounds of explorer Nathaniel Whitcock in 1911 Suffolk, the Doctor and Nyssa quickly find themselves pursued by a hungry lioness before coming upon Whitcock and his acquaintances who are undertaking a weekend of shooting, becoming ever more embroiled in the mysterious secrets of the Moonflesh and its reputed ability to call down spirits from another realm. Unfortunately, writer Mark Morris has admitted that this story was hurriedly written, and both the characterization of the supporting cast as well as the explanation and motivation of the alien menace suffer as a result. Every actor involved gives a very strong performance, but they are all restricted by the dimensionless and stereotypical restrictions that the script imposes on their characters, wasting fine outings from the likes of Hugh Fraser, Francesca Hunt, John Banks, and Tim Bentick. They play the aristocratic roles well, but there is nothing even approaching true drama or surprise for anyone involved. The Moonflesh itself is…

Revenge of the Cybermen
Episode / November 29, 2016

Aired 19 April – 10 May 1975 Following a genuine classic with the Daleks in ‘Genesis of the Daleks,’ Doctor Who attempts to reintroduce another iconic menace in the form of the Cybermen. Unfortunately, the fact that it took several years for the concept to come to fruition with a script that featured heavy rewrites hardly makes ‘Revenge of the Cybermen’ the foe’s strongest showcase. ‘Tomb of the Cybermen’ proved that a weakened and dormant Cyberman army can still present an immense threat, but the attempt by ‘Revenge of the Cybermen’ to recapture that sense falls flat as it’s painfully clear that there are just four Cybermen who are hardly the epitome of their race. Robert Holmes revised the script quite a bit, and though he is unquestionably one of the great forces behind the classic series’s success, he writes the Cybermen as far too emotional to mesh with everything that has been portrayed in earlier stories. The Cybermen have always been written at their best as an anonymous force, and the individuality and emotional language on display is far removed from this concept, the title of the serial itself even implying an emotional edge. Perhaps more notable is the…

Scavenger
Audio / November 28, 2016

Released March 2014 ‘Scavenger’ closes out 2014’s main range Sixth Doctor trilogy and possibly the saga of Flip herself, venturing into true science fiction territory more than most Doctor Who stories along the way. As the Doctor and Flip aboard a nearby space station view the Anglo-Indian Salvage 2 device tasked with cleaning up a century’s accumulation of debris from 2071 Earth’s orbit, they quickly become involved in a plot dating back some 500 years that threatens both Flip and millions of citizens on the planet below as Salvage 2 comes across something distinctly non-human in origin. ‘Scavenger’ is a story that highlights both of its leads and is filled with clever ideas and concepts. The Doctor reawakening a dormant alien scavenger satellite as he shows off his technical prowess would be a decent enough premise for many stories, but author William Gallagher more fully rounds out his script by injecting substantial amount of history of both the satellite and Earth to make ‘Scavenger’ an altogether more satisfying tale. Thus, interspersed with the tale of the Scavenger tearing out equipment from anything nearby to incorporate into itself while also clearing the Earth of its inhabitants that it views as junk…

Genesis of the Daleks
Episode / November 28, 2016

Aired 8 March – 12 April 1975 After multiple stories during Jon Pertwee’s tenure that failed to take full advantage of the Daleks and their iconic menace, writer Terry Nation wisely returns to basics with an exploration of the time and circumstances that give rise to the universe’s deadliest and most xenophobic denizens in the aptly-titled ‘Genesis of the Daleks,’ the story that also forever changes the course of future Dalek stories by introducing the Daleks’ nefarious creator, Davros. Indeed, Davros is truly the focal point of this story, the Daleks themselves not coming to the foreground until the final of the six episodes. A wheelchair-bound megalomaniac who still firmly believes in the survival of the fittest, his exacting standards of perfection that earn individuals the right to survive are a heightened form of the intrinsic racism and xenophobia of the Kaled race and, to an extent, all of Skaro’s factions in general. With the Thals and Kaleds caught in a perpetual war that seems to have been going on for centuries, even the mutated beings in the land between the two forces display rather extreme xenophobia as they threaten to kill Sarah simply for being a non-mutant. Ironically, for…

The Brood of Erys
Audio / November 27, 2016

Released February 2014 ‘The Brood of Erys’ begins in a very traditional fashion as the TARDIS receives a mysterious message warning its crew not to venture any further toward a single planet and its moon. His curiosity getting the best of him, the Doctor ignores the warning and lands, only for the TARDIS to be raided by the impish Drachee as Flip gets carried away into an ever-darkening mystery. Writer Andrew Smith manages to create a very memorable setting and grand sense of scale very quickly, but the story quickly switches from one of physical antagonists to one of psychological terrors. While it perhaps comes as little surprise that ‘The Brood of Erys’ once more deals with a conscious and intelligent planetoid, a concept that is becoming more common as time progresses, Smith is at least able to offer a unique take on the premise that sets his story apart from earlier ones as he intertwines a tale of an amnesiac woman with a dark history, the implications of a sentient landmass for its inhabitants, and an intriguing exploration of the mind. The title suggests that children are a significant component to this story, and Smith brings in several different…

The Sontaran Experiment
Episode / November 26, 2016

Aired 22 February – 1 March 1975 ‘The Sontaran Experiment’ sees the return of the titular Sontaran race for the first time since the foe’s debut in ‘The Time Warrior’ as the Doctor and his companions transmat down to anow-healed Earth from Space Station Nerva.’ More notable, though, is that ‘The Sontaran Experiment’ is the first Doctor Who story to be shot entirely on location with no studio sets in what is the first two-part story since the Hartnell era, showcasing the extreme versatility of the programme with little padding. The premise of ‘The Sontaran Experiment’ is simple enough with a single Sontaran, Styre, assessing the strengths of GalSec spacemen in order to determine the best path for a successfull Sontaran invasion of Earth. Yet while the story is, by design, rather straightforward, it achieves a great deal in highlighting the new Doctor as well as the clear direction in which the new behind-the-scenes staff wants to go. Although Sladen and Marter are pushed more to the background as Sarah Jane and Harry, respectively, since there’s no possible way to thoroughly handle all three leads and tell an engaging story in such a limited time, both still give incredibly strong…

Antidote to Oblivion
Audio / November 23, 2016

Released January 2015 With the fiftieth anniversary in the past, Big Finish returns to the stories of the Sixth Doctor and new companion, Flip Jackson, with a story that hearkens back to Colin Baker’s televised era. Writer Philip Martin is responsible for two of the most ambitious stories of the Sixth Doctor era, ‘Vengeance on Varos’ that made such good use of biting satire and ‘Mindwarp’ that marked the franchise’s first true attempt at unreliable narration. In ‘Antidote to Oblivion,’ the Universal Monetary Fund and its famed representative Sil return, proposing very strict austerity measures to bail out a bankrupt future Britain. Unfortunately, Philip Martin doesn’t transfer that same sense of ambition to ‘Antidote to Oblivion,’ recycling several narrative threads from his previous stories while making Earth officials seem like fools for so accepting his plan to reduce the population by some ninety percent without protest or even flinching. That said, Sil still proves to be an immensely engaging creation and arguably the most famous of Colin Baker’s tenure, and Nabil Shaban recaptures his villainous role easily as the greedy money-driven being from Thoros Beta always looks out for himself and profits first and foremost. With the script unevenly channeling…