The Pilot
Episode / April 16, 2017

Aired 15 April 2017 After some sixteen months since the airing of the last full series of Doctor Who, ‘The Pilot’ is an apt title for an episode tasked with re-introducing the Doctor and the mystery surrounding the enigmatic Time Lord as well as with introducing new companion Bill Potts played by Pearl Mackie. With the focus squarely on the burgeoning relationship between the Doctor and Bill, one based on Bill’s intrinsically likable inquisitiveness and practical intelligence, ‘The Pilot’ is accordingly not a story that by itself fundamentally alters the long history and mythology of the programme. Indeed, using Bill’s sexuality and the fact that her mother died so long ago simply as character traits rather than prolonged plot points, the story is instead able to focus on quickly rounding out the character with traits rather than with intrigue, highlighted by her willingness to learn by attending the Doctor’s university lectures without even being a student and to ask questions about what others would take for granted. The storyline itself is fairly straightforward as with most companion debut stories, but ‘The Pilot’ does still manage to present a suitably intriguing- if misunderstood- foe. Even if the resolution feels somewhat anticlimactic…

The Two Doctors
Episode / April 12, 2017

Aired 16 February – 2 March 1985 ‘The Two Doctors’ has a mixed reputation and is unabashedly a far departure from the somewhat lighter and more celebratory nature of the previous multi-Doctor tales ‘The Three Doctors’ and ‘The Five Doctors.’ Indeed, writer Robert Holmes’s trademark cynicism fits in perfectly with the more sinister trajectory Doctor Who began taking under producer John Nathan-Turner, though he also manages to impart a more likable edge to the gruff Sixth Doctor as the character’s insults are tempered by a genuine sense of wit and intelligence, firmly establishing him as the genuine Doctor by the end of events while paired with his second incarnation. Anyone with knowledge of the Second Doctor would be forgiven for thinking that ‘The Two Doctors’ would emphasize the character’s more comedic and impish nature that has only become more fondly remembered in the years since his regeneration. And although Patrick Troughton does prove adept at stealing the scene whenever he can instill a bit of comedy into proceedings, the serial as a whole is incredibly dark. Unfortunately, while the Sixth Doctor is purposefully a bit rough around the edges, even if the more violent means by which the writers chose…

The Mark of the Rani
Episode / April 10, 2017

Aired 2 – 9 February 1985 ‘The Mark of the Rani’ is something of an underrated Doctor Who story, light on plot and eventually falling into pantomime territory but also making for an excellent debut for the villainous Time Lady the Rani while also portraying the bombastic and argumentative Sixth Doctor in his most heroic and compassionate light yet. With the inclusion of the Master in a more subservient and subsidiary role as well, ‘The Mark of the Rani’ does sometimes feel like it has a lengthy list of certain things it is trying to achieve and incorporate, but the facetiousness and cheekiness of the script remains a highlight that manages to serve as a beacon of optimism and levity within an ever more dangerous universe. This is a far from perfect characterization for the Sixth Doctor, but ‘The Mark of the Rani’ makes significant strides in toning down the overwhelming brashness and arrogance that has come to define the character in his early stories. He regularly interacts with Peri in a fashion that isn’t completely demeaning even while he revels in taking the opportunity to teach her a lesson, but he also shows remorse at the plight of the…

Attack of the Cybermen
Episode / April 7, 2017

Aired 5 – 12 January 1985 Doctor Who has always been at its best when it maintains an air of accessibility that allows long-time fans and newcomers alike to enjoy the programme in equal measure. However, with John Nathan –Turner as producer, the 1980s serials frequently relied on continuity to varying extent and success to drive their narratives forward. This had been increasingly clear as Peter Davison’s time as the Fifth Doctor progressed, but perhaps no classic serial relied quite so much on the past as ‘Attack of the Cybermen,’ that decision to alienate casual viewers made all the stranger given that home video releases of previous tales were not yet commonplace, that ‘The Tenth Planet’ aired some twenty years earlier, and that several episodes referenced were missing from the video archives at the time. Indeed, ‘Attack of the Cybermen’ seems to exist solely for the most loyal fans. However, its frequent acknowledgement of long-past events, names, and places end up being rather trivial to events as a whole, and the lack of explanation to put this cascade of continuity into context effectively eliminates any chance of a newcomer or even a casual fan from enjoying and fully understanding the…

Planet of Fire
Episode / April 4, 2017

Aired 23 February – 2 March 1984 Writer Peter Grimwade was given an immense task when writing ‘Planet of Fire,’ effectively ushering in a definitive closure of sorts for the Peter Davison era following Tegan’s rather unexpected departure at the end of the preceding serial. Although the second half does devolve into a fairly generic tale, the fact that the script is able to so effectively introduce new companion Peri while also writing out Kamelion, Turlough, and seemingly the Master is a testament to the quality of the writing from the man who had delivered the less-than-stellar ‘Time-Flight’ the year before. While the Fifth Doctor never loses his more optimistic outlook on the universe, it is intriguing to note just how much the events of this third season have taken a toll on him physically and emotionally. The sheer brutality that the universe has thrown at him was, understandably, the reason that Tegan decided to leave so abruptly, and mercifully the ramifications of Tegan’s departure are dealt with in a much more meaningful fashion that previous companions’, Adric’s tragic death included. In some respects it is understandable that the Doctor cannot simply change course without second thought as he has…

Resurrection of the Daleks
Episode / April 4, 2017

Aired 8 – 15 February 1984 Many of Doctor Who’s finest stories have been scripted by its various script editors, perfectly encapsulating the tone and spirit of the specific era while incorporating clever ideas and wonderful characterization. In regards to capturing the spirit and tone of Peter Davison’s final year, Eric Saward’s ‘Resurrection of the Daleks’ is unequivocally a standout success, managing to draw upon the franchise’s long history in its attempts to flesh out a darker and more complex plot starring a moral but fallible lead. Unfortunately, its reliance on spectacle and the past along with its inability to meaningfully navigate its many subplots with rather unhappy characters just as successfully highlights the flaws of the era as much as its positives. Following the unqualified success of ‘Earthshock’ that brought back the Cybermen amidst a bevy of nostalgia, it’s understandable that the same type of approach would be taken with the iconic Daleks. As a direct sequel to ‘Destiny of the Daleks,’ there are many aspects carrying over from that story that work incredibly well, and the fact that the Daleks have lost their war against the Movellans due to a biological weapon against which they have no defense…

Frontios
Episode / March 31, 2017

Aired 26 January – 3 February 1984 Although ‘Frontios’ eventually turns into a rather conventional tale whereupon the Doctor must save a planet from an aggressive alien power, it begins as a restrained but powerful reminder about the ever-darkening path that Doctor Who was beginning to explore during the John Nathan-Turner era. The franchise has never been shy visiting the future and exploring human outposts, but the last vestiges of a human colony struggling to survive in its adopted fascist manner at the end of the universe after receiving no answers to its pleas for help for thirty years is a dramatically darker take than the unbridled optimism for continued survival usually portrayed. Wisely, ‘Frontios’ withholds revealing any sort of alien presence until well into the story’s running time, adding a tense paranoia to the situation by doing so as Captain Revere is cast in a villainous light despite the colonists’ insistence that they must be under attack from otherworldly forces. Indeed, as the colony begins facing more trouble and law and order begin to crumble, ‘Frontios’ is set up to be a deep exploration of the threat that humanity poses to itself in a heightened situation. Even as it…

The Awakening
Episode / March 27, 2017

Aired 19 – 20 January 1984 ‘The Awakening’ is the third and final two-part adventure of the Fifth Doctor era, and like ‘Black Orchid’ and ‘The King’s Demons’ it represents a bit of a reprieve from the darker events of the stories surrounding it. With England of both the seventeenth century and 1984 somehow linked through time, ‘The Awakening’ features a great central concept among a bevy of clever ideas that are limited in execution only by the brevity of the story as a whole. The true star of ‘The Awakening’ is the excellent location filming, the three villages used to create the setting a superb backdrop for the temporal mischief as past and present collide. Whereas the studio confines and budgetary constraints often relied on viewers’ imaginations to help create an immersive alien environment, no such help is needed here as the production crew maximizes its time in familiar surroundings. Indeed, it is that sense of familiarity that pairs so well with the supernatural as a crack in an isolated village’s church threatens to unleash an ancient evil. Aided by some wonderful lighting choices, the concept of the Malus as a nonverbal entity having a war within itself and…

Warriors of the Deep
Episode / March 27, 2017

Aired 5 – 13 January 1984 The Fifth Doctor is an extremely intriguing incarnation, one with a gentlemanly and compassionate demeanour and a shrewd wisdom far beyond what his youthful appearance might suggest. However, whereas other incarnations seemingly had a knack for taking control of any situation with the utmost ease, the Fifth often runs into trouble when he tries to get those in positions of authority to listen to him. Accordingly, revisiting the iconic SIlurians and Sea Devils from the Pertwee era, prehistoric foes in two serials featuring humanity’s inability an unwillingness to seek a peaceful resolution to conflict, is a perfect fit for the version of the Doctor most looking for peace. Despite the inclusion of some clever notions, though, the script’s lack of philosophical depth along with gratuitous violence and budgetary constraints keep ‘Warriors of the Deep’ from delivering its intended moral impact. The seabase set is actually quite impressive for the most part, and its shining sterility manages to mirror the rather impersonal conflict at hand. Similarly, though the costumes for the Silurians Sea Devils are hardly among the best the classic series ever produced, the modest updates from the original designs work quite well and…

The Five Doctors
Episode / March 24, 2017

Aired 23 November 1983 ‘The Five Doctors’ represents the culmination of twenty years of Doctor Who, a feature-length special that does its best to bring the five distinct eras of the franchise together with a cavalcade of guest appearances by friends and foes alike. From the outset, it’s clear that writer Terrance Dicks is not striving to offer a meaningful story that explores the depth of the Doctor as a character or that fundamentally changes the core nature of Doctor Who, but ‘The Five Doctors’ is an unequivocal success when taken simply as a nostalgic celebration that focuses more on spectacle than on story. It’s interesting to note just how much attention is drawn to the questions regarding continuity that allow this adventure to take place, especially as continuity seemed to be pervading the programme more and more at the time. Part of this, naturally, is down to Tom Baker choosing not to reprise his role for the special after so recently departing. While the inclusion of scenes from the unfinished ‘Shada’ do at least allow a cameo of sorts for both Baker and Lalla Ward, it means that some of the resulting pairings of Doctors and companions are a…