Battlefield
Episode / May 9, 2017

Aired 6 – 27 September 1989 ‘Battlefield’ opens up what would become Doctor Who’s final season, following in the footsteps of the previous season opener and incorporating a look to the past while further defining the more complex characterization and storylines of the Seventh Doctor. Indeed, the Doctor here is at his most manipulative, a version of him from the future managing to use the current version as a pawn in one of his many grandiose schemes. The Seventh Doctor traveling around the universe to settle old scores and tie up loose ends had been gradually introduced over the previous year, but this is the first time that the Doctor’s personal past, present, and future have crossed paths, lending an extreme depth to the character and adding a degree of certainty to his future when the continuation of the programme was anything but certain. ‘Battlefield’ is actually quite successful with its blending of elements and imagery from different eras of both real-life and the programme’s history even if the production never quite meets its full potential. The notion of Arthurian knights invading modern-day Britain is an enticing concept and certainly helps to anchor the story on a visual level. However,…

The Greatest Show in the Galaxy
Episode / May 8, 2017

Aired 14 December 1988 – 4 January 1989 In an anniversary season that featured the return of the Daleks and Cybermen sandwiched around a piece brutal political commentary, it’s easy to forget that ‘The Greatest Show in the Galaxy’ is the concluding serial and just as important as any of the others, though for wholly different reasons. Instead of playing on nostalgia to cater to the fans, the serial instead wholly directs its focus inwards at what Doctor Who in general had become at the time after years of public pressure had slowly tempered the audacious and surreal imagination originally on display. As Doctor Who continued its fight for its very life as ratings continued to plunge, ‘The Greatest Show in the Galaxy’ is a biting and grim look at the 1980s era in general and the impossible situation it found itself in no matter what changes it made or stunts it employed. Without question, the family comprising the audience of the Psychic Circus that determines which acts survive or perish is the most overt metaphor within the serial, showcasing the struggle and sacrifices made to ensure the BBC’s approval of and continuation with the programme as a viable franchise.…

Knock Knock
Episode / May 8, 2017

Aired 06 May 2017 SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW The latest series of Doctor Who has certainly taken a more deliberate approach with its stories, hearkening back to the classic series as plenty of time has been afforded for the expositions to naturally and fluidly unfold. This has, almost by necessity, meant that the denouements have been somewhat rushed so far, but ‘Knock Knock’ manages to strike a good balance as it boldly delves into the horror genre before delivering a surprisingly emotional ending. Wisely, ‘Knock Knock’ does not knock the stereotypes and tropes that form the basis of traditional horror tales but instead willingly embraces them. A old-fashioned house with a mysterious landlord, a group of students bursting with naivety, and plenty of odd creeks and goings-on are all present, and even the Doctor finds himself a victim of the menacing setting as exits and students begin to vanish. However, the chance escape of the Doctor to the cellar slowly sheds light on the truth behind the house and its long-term occupants, the landlord and the strange wooden being locked in the tower. The shift in tone may be rather jarring as emotion and empathy suddenly overtake horror, but both elements…

Silver Nemesis
Episode / May 6, 2017

Aired 23 November – 7 December 1988 To celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of Doctor Who, producer John Nathan-Turner chose silver as a pervading theme, almost by necessity bringing the infamous Cybermen back to fill that stipulation as the story attempts to continue the darker and more mature stylings of this season’s predecessors. As a comet named Nemesis crashes near Windsor Castle, the Doctor and Ace find themselves in a race against several competing factions to reach it while the question of just who the Doctor is begins to come to the forefront. Unfortunately, ‘Silver Nemesis’ is something of a mess that simply throws too many ideas around as if hoping that some of them will find traction, resulting in a three-part story that seems like it has been haphazardly edited down from four parts. Worse yet, there is startlingly little actual plot to the story besides the quest, but it still comes off as cluttered because of the large supporting cast of Lady Peinforte and Richard, de Flores and the Nazis, and the squadron of Cybermen all in competition against the Doctor and Ace. The truth of Nemesis being a living statue composed of Validium that holds immense destructive capabilities…

The Happiness Patrol
Episode / May 5, 2017

Aired 2 – 16 November 1988 ‘The Happiness Patrol’ has enjoyed a surprisingly strong legacy since its airing, able to overcome the always-present dwindling budget and the often-ropey special effects to deliver a powerful allegory of England in the late 1980s. It’s no secret that new script editor Andrew Cartmel intended to more firmly ground his Doctor Who era by not shying away from political and social issues of the time, but ‘The Happiness Patrol’ calls into question Margaret Thatcher and her policies quite directly, ensuring it remains an enduring symbol of a time not so far past. Sheila Hancock does sublime work as Helen A, and it’s impossible not to see the parallels between Thatcher and her from the very start. Operating within an overtly-fascist regime, Helen A is simultaneously grating and enduring as she casually modifies the Bureau’s protocols to suit her own needs and maintain control over a clearly-oppressed underclass. Of course, as the workers protest for better conditions, Helen A is quick to point out that those same workers have nobody to blame for their situation but themselves, even as she strives to further subdue them while breaking up any formal groups or representation. Indeed, Helen…

Remembrance of the Daleks
Episode / May 4, 2017

Aired 5 -26 October 1988 Sylvester McCoy’s first year as the Seventh Doctor was a rocky one, but one nonetheless brimming with experimentalism as the show tried to rediscover itself on the fly with a new lead and a new mantra that looked forward more than backward. Strangely, although ‘Remembrance of the Daleks’ is very firmly entrenched in the past as the entire serial becomes a reference of sorts to the very first serial, ‘An Unearthly Child,’ and is littered with allusions to other past adventures, it’s clear from the start that Doctor Who has finally found firmer footing once more, taking a much more self-aware and sometimes politically-dissident approach as it presented generally much more intelligent stories. The sort of celebratory and nostalgic sentiments that pervade ‘Remembrance of the Daleks’ can easily be forgiven for a story kicking off the franchise’s twenty-fifth anniversary, especially in a story that so expertly highlights the characterization of both the new Time Lord and new companion in the process. Indeed, this is easily Sylvester McCoy’s finest performance in the role to this point and entrenches his incarnation as a master manipulator with a much darker side than previously seen. At first debating the…

Dragonfire
Episode / May 2, 2017

Aired 23 November – 7 December 1987 Continuing the disparity between concept and execution that has pervaded Sylvester McCoy’s first year in the titular role, ‘Dragonfire’ stands out as a story that seems uncertain of what it wants to be. It’s clear that the writing itself is very much trying to take Doctor Who into a new era unencumbered by the past, but the core plot and its tone along with the production values make it seem as though the tale is attempting to be something akin to a lost Fourth Doctor serial. Nonetheless, the overall execution is an improvement on the preceding serial, and writer Ian Briggs unashamedly shows off his knowledge of science fiction lore as he includes both overt and subtle references to many other franchises. Of course, while the nods to Indiana Jones and Alien are incorporated well enough as the plot drives forward, it’s the introduction of Ace and her seeming ties to The Wizard of Oz that are most pronounced and important. It may be rather under-developed, but the origin of a girl named Dorothy who suddenly finds herself on another world after a time storm whisks her away certainly evokes that classic movie…

Thin Ice
Episode / April 30, 2017

Aired 29 April 2017 SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW Following a pair of solid episodes tasked with establishing the new dynamic between Peter Capaldi’s Doctor and Pearl Mackie’s Bill, ‘Thin Ice’ takes to exploring the moral compasses of the two leads while further refining their relationship in the process. The two are clearly idealists and hope to do the best for everyone they come across, but writer Sarah Dollard is able to poignantly explore the differences in the foundations of those ideals as the story of a monstrous serpent beneath the Thames during the last Frost Fair unfolds. While that setup may make it seem like ‘Thin Ice’ is a cold and calculating dramatic piece, the story is actually quite adept at shifting tones and styles, adding an especially mercurial sense of unpredictability to the Doctor by doing so that pays immense dividends as the truth behind the serpent is revealed. Indeed, the prolonged tongue-in-cheek conversation about Pete, the companion who never was, underscores the camaraderie of the two leads and is certainly a comedic highlight in the fledgling series as normal companion questions about traveling in time are deftly handled. Yet the story quickly strikes at the heart of the Doctor’s…

Delta and the Bannermen
Episode / April 26, 2017

Aired 2 – 16 November 1987 Following the general disappointment and rather overt backlash to what Doctor Who had increasingly become under producer John Nathan-Turner, it’s no surprise that the first year of Sylvester McCoy’s tenure featured rather experimental stories that broke from what had become tradition in order for the programme to find both itself and public acceptance once more. Unfortunately, and even more than with ‘Paradise Towers,’ the actual execution of ‘Delta and the Bannermen’ doesn’t manage to live up to the potential that its central concept presents, resulting in a rather sloppy affair littered with intriguing notions. Indeed, there is something quintessentially British about the fifties pulp stylings and a toll booth traveling in time and space as Nostalgia Tours offers tourists the opportunity to explore a holiday camp in Wales of all places. However, despite the purposeful underlying sense of absurdity, there remains a tremendous disconnect between the tone of the story and what actually occurs, a fact likely due to the troubled scripting process that required several major rewrites. What begins as a rather light-hearted story suddenly features mass murders at the hands of a crazed madman, but there never seems to be any resounding…

Paradise Towers
Episode / April 25, 2017

Aired 5 -26 October 1987 ‘Paradise Towers’ is certainly not a perfect Doctor Who tale by any stretch of the imagination; however, despite its inconsistencies in both tone and pace, it unabashedly represents a fresh breath of experimentalism that suggests the programme is truly ready to embrace a new era after the rather bland introduction of Sylvester McCoy’s Seventh Doctor in ‘Time and the Rani’ that had failed to properly introduce the actual characters of the Doctor or Mel to the audience at home. Even though it’s clear that both the writing staff and McCoy have not yet settled on a definitive characterization for the Seventh Doctor as he shifts between bumbling and hesitant and darker and more contemplative, ‘Paradise Towers’ firmly embraces 1980s cyberpunk culture without holding back, using its more absurd science fiction elements to speak about remarkably relevant social topics without feeling the need to reach the levels of grim despair such attempts did in Colin Baker’s era. Within the confines of the titular towers, urban decay, fascism, gangs, and even cannibalism reign supreme, but the story somehow manages to balance a line between terror and absurdity that never demands that the audience take it completely seriously…