The Leisure Hive
Episode / January 30, 2017

Aired 30 August – 20 September 1980 ‘The Leisure Hive’ represents a new beginning of sorts for Doctor Who, marking the beginning of Tom Baker’s final season in the titular role while also introducing John Nathan-Turner as producer. Nathan-Turner would, of course, go on to become the longest-serving producer of the classic series, holding the position through three lead actor changes and until the eventual cancellation in 1989. With a flashy new title sequence, ‘The Leisure Hive’ marks the start of a shift to grander science fiction tales more reliant on continuity, a shift that catered to the fans but perhaps not to the general public and a controversial choice in hindsight. Even if ‘The Leisure Hive’ isn’t quite the epic adventure intended to open Tom Baker’s send-off season and the addition of question marks to the Doctor’s ensemble seems somewhat ill-conceived and farcical, it’s clear that the general sort of campiness that dominated some of recent serials has been diminished so far as the budget would realistically allow. Indeed, there’s a sense that the Doctor knows his end is nearing from the start, and there’s a recurring theme of decay throughout the ups and downs of the season that…

The Horns of Nimon
Episode / January 26, 2017

Aired 22 December 1979 – 12 January 1980 Season seventeen in general is a bit of a mixed one, its stories featuring incredible performances from the leads and plenty of imagination while at the same time requiring a greater suspension of disbelief on the part of the audience to look past budgetary and production constraints and sometimes-naff supporting performances. ‘The Horns of Nimon’ squarely fits into this mould as well, encapsulating the strengths and weaknesses of the time while becoming the de facto season finale with the intended ‘Shada’ left unfinished due to the BBC strike. Actually, the concepts behind the Nimon are quite clever, a race that feeds off of planets and demands human sacrifices providing quite dark and grand visuals as a basis. At the same time, the maze of the Nimon realm as well as the design of the creatures themselves pay tribute to the legend of the Minotaur and are wonderful plot devices, and there are brief moments throughout where the production values elevate beyond obvious studio work to bring these fantastic ideas to life quite well. Of course, the powerhouse pairing of Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor and Lalla Ward’s Romana is again the main selling…

Nightmare of Eden
Episode / January 25, 2017

Aired 24 November – 15 December 1979 Like ‘The Creature from the Pit’ before it, ‘Nightmare of Eden’ has a mixed reputation among fans as it once more asks viewers to accept obvious shortcomings in the script and production as it attempts to get across its very worthy message at a time when drugs and addiction were at the forefront of the public consciousness. Beginning with the core mystery of who is behind the drug operation, ‘Nightmare of Eden’ makes no attempt to divert attention away from the obvious culprit being Tryst, a mad scientist that actor Lewis Fander sadly takes to near-pantomime extremes. The script actually does a good job in explaining the character’s weak motivations and pathetic justifications after an effective actual reveal, but the performance takes away any true emotional punch. Sadly the excise men, Fisk and Costa, fare little better with unfortunate dialogue and equally-pompous performances from Peter Craze and Geoffrey Hinsliff. Of course, some stories suffer from the realization of practical and special effects more than others, and ‘Nightmare of Eden’ certainly has issues on those fronts. The Mandrels, as is so often case, are a fearful menace in concept, and the deadly results of…

The Creature from the Pit
Episode / January 23, 2017

Aired 27 October – 17 November 1979 Depending on the perspective one goes into ‘The Creature from the Pit’ with, this story can either be deemed fairly enjoyable or a horrible disaster. On the one hand, there is an almost fairy tale quality to the forest setting and evil queen figure in Adrasta, and the atmosphere and morals discussed are quite commendable. However, the lack of depth, questionable direction, and ultimate failure to realistically realize the titular Erato are distinct shortcomings that cannot be ignored and keep the tale and its component parts from reaching their full potential. Of course, the constant saving grace no matter how poor an individual episode or story may be at this time is Tom Baker, and he is clearly content reveling in irreverence and adventure-seeking while casting aside the more serious side of the Fourth Doctor so prominent early in his tenure. While there is one dubious scene featuring an attempt at communication with the creature, Baker’s ability to sell these fantastic events as incredibly serious and to jump from frivolity to immense anger instantaneously are a true testament to the actor, and the Doctor’s willingness to give the creature the benefit of the…

City of Death
Episode / January 21, 2017

Aired 29 September – 20 October 1979 Due to a historical quirk where ITV was on strike during the time of its broadcast, ‘City of Death’ is the highest-rated classic Doctor Who serial. Fortunately, with Tom Baker and Douglas Adams at the height of their comedic power and with a tight scrip filled with superb performances and wonderful science fiction concepts, ‘City of Death’ is undoubtedly one of the very best classic Doctor Who serials as well, a testament to the Graham Williams production era that sometimes failed to find a steady tone within its scripts. There are some that feel the story veers too far into comedic territory like many other tales of the time, and while there are a lot of genuinely funny moments from every character, ‘City of Death’ is helped by the fact that only the Doctor is actually playing for comedy at times, though even then it’s more subdued than usual because of the immense threat at hand. Thus, while the Doctor is unafraid of being captured and playing dumb as means of gathering information and always has a quick quip to lessen the tension, everyone else treats the situation with the needed gravity to…

Destiny of the Daleks
Episode / January 18, 2017

Aired 1 – 22 September 1979 ‘Destiny of the Daleks’ is the final season opener under producer Graham Williams tenure, an era marked by somewhat unsteady serials and tone as it tried to rediscover itself after public pressure to curtail the horror of the Philip Hinchcliffe productions while still being afforded only a very modest budget to tell its grand ideas. Playing to Tom Baker’s comedic strength, the serials began shifting to a more comedic tone, a change not universally accepted by fans nor even successfully incorporated by the writers of the time, though one that can work quite well with stories like ‘The Ribos Operation’ and the unfinished ‘Shada’ being standout successes. With the reliable creator of the Daleks themselves, Terry Nation, once more on scripting duty, ‘Destiny of the Daleks’ likewise falls victim to an unsteady tone as the story tries to present Davros and the Daleks as credible menaces while also trying to maintain a lighter undercurrent. Accordingly, the Doctor mocking the Daleks for not being able to handle a flight of stairs while also manically running Davros around corridors when he steals his wheelchair, while humorous, take away from what the story is actually trying to…

The Armageddon Factor
Episode / January 17, 2017

Aired 20 January – 24 February 1979 ‘The Armageddon Factor’ marks the final six episodes of the twenty-six comprising the season-long The Key to Time arc, and unfortunately it confirms fears that the quest for the segments was simply a loose linking device for this season’s individual stories rather than a central component that would pay tremendous dividends or perhaps even radically alter the entire programme’s mythology. Instead, ‘The Armageddon Factor’ is a distinctly mixed affair that suffers from far too much padding and its inability to do something meaningful with the Key to Time. The actual setting for the search for the final segment is fascinating, at least, as the Doctor and Romana find themselves in the middle of a nuclear war between the twin planets of Atrios and Zeos. With the Atrian Marshall bent on continuing aggressive strategies even as his forces are reduced from a lowly six ships to just his own escape vessel, their political leader, Princess Astra, proves willing to sacrifice everything as she tries to negotiate a cease-fire. Even when the Doctor inexplicably finds himself thrust into a position of power, he never takes the situation unduly seriously and is always quick with a…

The Power of Kroll
Episode / January 16, 2017

Aired 23 December 1978 – 13 January 1979 The fifth serial of six in The Key to Time season arc, ‘The Power of Kroll’ is ultimately something of a disappointment, unable to successfully weave together its intriguing notions of religion, racism, and capitalism. Even though it never becomes a chore to watch and certainly still has plenty of enjoyable moments and themes, it’s quite telling that Robert Holmes, himself one of the most successful and prolific writers of the classic series, would leave the franchise for several years following completion of this tale. ‘The Power of Kroll’ initially centres on the conflict between the marsh’s native tribe and the boundless corporate greed of a methane extraction company, both sides amplifying their efforts against each other to include murderous attacks and even genocide. With the legend of the Kroll creating a fanatic death cult and Kroll itself also ending up being the fifth segment of the Key to Time, the giant squid-like creature is quite literally the link between the disparate narratives of the natives and of the Doctor, but these two strands never fully cohere due to the distinct tonal differences involved. On the one hand, the Doctor and Romana…

The Androids of Tara
Episode / January 14, 2017

Aired 25 November – 16 December 1978 Middle portions of lengthy sagas often suffer simply from their positioning in the overall plot, lacking the intrigue of exposition and the satisfaction of resolution and instead relying on characterization and plot developments to keep the audience’s attention to the end. Especially in The Key to Time season where the stories are more or less independent of each other aside from the necessary search for the segments that is often tagged on rather than instrumental to the plot, ‘The Androids of Tara’ is the perfect example of a perfectly decent and enjoyable story in its own right that unfortunately does little to progress the linking narrative. It’s oddly fitting in this era of more escapist fantasy that the Doctor tries to stay out of the quest for the fourth segment until literally forced to join on pain of death, instead opting to send Romana out on her own so that he can enjoy a spot of fishing. As the Doctor and Romana quickly become entangled in the intrigue over a feudal kingdom’s royal succession, battling swords and wits alike, it quickly becomes clear that something more bizarre is going in beneath the surface.…

The Stones of Blood
Episode / January 13, 2017

Aired 28 October – 18 November 1978 ‘The Stones of Blood’ represents the 100th serial of Doctor Who, though there is no sense of occasion or celebration during the course of the four episodes. Instead, the Doctor and Romana tirelessly continue their quest to obtain the next segment of the Key to Time with a meshed space and gothic horror adventure that hearkens back to Tom Baker’s earlier years as the fourth incarnation of the titular Time Lord. Of course, with the remit to tone down the violence following Philip Hinchcliffe’s departure as producer, ‘The Stones of Blood’ finds itself in a bit of a strange position. There still are some startlingly dark moments, the Ogri rock monsters that feed off of blood a suitably dark concept and the scene in which they feed off of two unsuspecting passers-by quite unnerving. However, while Tom Baker has proven to be a master at comedy and timing, the script does sometimes veer into too overtly comedic territory, giving a somewhat unbalanced tone to proceedings that never quite decides what it wants to be. This is perhaps most evident near the end of the story where the Doctor takes part in what amounts…