The Ribos Operation
Episode / January 11, 2017

Aired 2 – 23 September 1978 The Key to Time is an incredibly ambitious concept for its time, six interlinked stories spanning the entire length of the season scorning the incredible success of the standalone adventures that had formed the thriving core of the franchise for so long. With Leela remaining on Gallifrey at the end of the previous season, ‘The Ribos Operation’ and the season as a whole represent director Graham Williams’s and script editor Douglas Adams’s true vision and ambition for the show as the charismatic Mary Tamm is introduced as Romana. Even without focusing too heavily on science fiction elements, writer Robert Holmes manages to create a fully-developed world in limited time. A deposed monarch buying a small planet- people included- is a great concept, and the lighthearted comedy that results as two con men try to steal riches is superb, especially as Tom Baker injects his presence into proceedings. However, the gradual revelation that the Graff is not the sympathetic figure he describes but rather a war criminal with an unspeakable history works incredibly well, adding emotional weight to the story and delivered believably by Paul Seed. Ending with a brutal confrontation in a desolate catacomb…

The Invasion of Time
Episode / January 9, 2017

Aired 4 February – 11 March 1978 Returning to Gallifrey, the Doctor demands to be instated into the position of President of the High Council of Time Lords after inexplicably signing a treaty with enemy aliens. After banishing Leela to the wastelands and disabling the planet’s defence barriers to welcome an invasion, the hidden agendas of both the Doctor and the Vardans come into question as another familiar presence lurks in the shadows. The Fourth Doctor has always managed to carry a bit of a darker persona about him no matter how jocular or frivolous he at times seems, and the first half of ‘The Invasion of Time’ wonderfully exploits this aspect of the character as it seems that he has turned against his own people. Baker excels in bringing out a truly frightening menace as events progress, and the manner in which he scorns his former mentor, Borusa, and verbally abuses his companion, Leela, gives credence to the prospect that he really has forsaken the Time Lords in favour of the Vardans whom he manically and gleefully introduces. Of course, there is a method to his madness, and moments such as his pained look as he must keep his…

Underworld
Episode / January 4, 2017

Aired 7 – 28 January 1978 ‘Underworld’ is one of the most scorned and ultimately forgotten episodes in Doctor Who history, its overuse of the dodgy CSO effect giving several portions of the tale an unconvincing cartoony or quasi-virtual feel. Ultimately, though, at a time when the budget was more constrained even by Doctor Who standards, it’s hard to fault the ambition on display as the production team tries to create vast cavernous settings without the luxury of location shooting. Given the troubled production, though, the biggest downfall of ‘Underworld’ is that it’s ultimately a rather flat affair that does little to inspire excitement or interest. To be fair, there are some enjoyable and clever moments interspersed throughout the tale with some excellent model work in the first episode that ranks among the classic series’s better efforts. The four Minyans’ ability to regenerate as they undertake their eons-long quest for the P7E race banks is also an intriguing plot point that becomes increasingly important as events progress, and its dovetailing with the explanation of the origin of the Time Lords’ policy on non-intervention works very well. With engaging guest performances from Alan Lake and James Maxwell, there is certainly some…

The Sun Makers
Episode / January 3, 2017

Aired 26 November – 17 December 1977 There is an oft-cited vignette that ‘The Sun Makers’ came to fruition after a disagreement between writer Robert Holmes and British Revenue and Customs. While that background brings with it suppositions of the story being about an unfair tax system stacked against the average individual, Holmes avoids going down that expected road and- keeping excessive taxation in mind- instead crafts a story about individuals fighting for decent living conditions under a regime headed by a single-minded accountant where light itself is a prime commodity. Indeed, ‘The Sun Makers’ offers a rather pointed social commentary about the working class’s conditions and sentiments, an uncommon approach in the Fourth Doctor era but a welcome shift nonetheless. However, what makes the story work without feeling overbearing is the sentimentality of the Doctor, here a man who is willing to topple an entire regime for the sake of one person as a representative of the population as a whole. This somewhat romantic notion of the Doctor is only occasionally touched upon, but it expands the character immensely and rounds out what could have easily become an overly cynical piece of satire. It’s quiet profound that the humans…

Image of the Fendahl
Episode / January 3, 2017

Aired 29 October – 19 November 1977 With producer Philip Hinchcliffe having departed and Robert Holmes’s time as Doctor Who script editor coming to a close, so, too, is the propensity for the gothic horror genre that has served the beginning of Tom Baker’s era so well. Although ‘Image of the Fendahl’ is by no means the last story to indulge in that atmosphere and tone, it does offer one last glimpse at what Doctor Who has been in recent years as it sets out to redefine its identity once more. In fact, ‘Image of the Fendahl’ is in somewhat of a unique position, producer Graham Williams superbly channeling his predecessor while also complying with the public and corporate decrees to tone down the violence. So although the atmosphere is as dark and pervasive as ever, there is also an increased focus on humour which Tom Baker has already proven quite adept at handling. Fortunately, though, the script does not succumb to the temptation of creating an overall lighter tone, and the general wit of the Fourth Doctor only serves to accentuate the more serious moments and the danger that the Fendahl poses wonderfully. Indeed, the death count is quite…

We Are the Daleks
Episode / January 2, 2017

Released July 2015 1987 Great Britain is a divided one, the members of the upper class elite seemingly never further separated from those below them. With media mogul Alex Zenos offering an economic miracle that has investors scrambling in support, the Doctor and Mel seek to discover the truth behind Zenos’s partners and just how the phenomenally popular video game Warfleet is involved. The title makes it apparent that the Daleks are the foe of the tale, but they are presented in a rather unique fashion here as they hope to exploit the power of the free market to begin their newest attempt at universal conquest. Indeed, these Daleks are intricately aware of the influence of the Doctor on those around him, a crucial piece of their plan hinging on their enemies becoming too demoralized to continue on once the Doctor is out of the picture. At the same time, the 1980s setting and vibe lends a novel edge to events that makes perfect sense within the confines of the Seventh Doctor era, the smart and serious characterization of both leads providing an intriguing alternative to the more light-hearted versions written and portrayed on television. Sylvester McCoy’s voice absolutely seethes…

The Robots of Death
Episode / January 1, 2017

Aired 29 January – 19 February 1977 ‘The Robots of Death’ is yet another classic story from the early Fourth Doctor years, effortlessly telling the tale of a megalomaniacal scientist while blending genres to explore Isaac Asimov’s famed robotic principles and to create a tense and claustrophobic mystery. As the Doctor and Leela land aboard an isolated sandminer crewed by a few humans and hundreds of robots as they attempt to extract ore from an unnamed desert world, they quickly find themselves entrenched in a series of murders with no logical explanation. This era of the programme has been exceptionally good at layering a semblance of horror just beneath the surface, and ‘The Robots of Death’ follows suit as a discussion amongst crewmembers makes mention of a robotic masseuse who tore off a human’s arm to relieve the soreness. It may be a false tale for all they know, but it showcases an intrinsic fear of the subservient robots that the people of this time have despite rigorous safety protocols and assurances that they are programmed to be completely harmless. It’s a common story thread in any culture with a subservient class, but the raw strength and emotionless nature of…

Horror of Fang Rock
Episode / December 30, 2016

Aired 3 – 24 September 1977 Doctor Who at the time of ‘Horror of Fang Rock’ was seemingly an indomitable force, churning out genuine classics with alarming regularity. After closing out the previous season with the likes of ‘The Robots of Death’ and ‘The Talons of Weng-Chiang,’ the travels of the Fourth Doctor and Leela continue with the story that perhaps best epitomizes the gothic horror that encapsulates the tenure of Philip Hinchcliffe as producer, even as that mantle is taken up by Graham Williams. Actually, the basic premise of ‘Horror of Fang Rock’ is incredibly straightforward, strictly adhering to the trusted template of having the Doctor and his companion arrive in a mysterious location, only to get caught up in otherworldly events that soon threaten all of those around them. With the story confined to a small lighthouse, though, director Paddy Russell is able to create a startling sense of tension and claustrophobia, and the supporting characters are rather more well-rounded than is usual, creating a genuine sense of empathy during the strange goings-on. Tom Baker is, as usual, at his enigmatic and charming best as the Doctor slowly uncovers the alien truth, but ‘Horror of Fang Rock’ also…

The Invisible Enemy
Episode / December 27, 2016

Aired 1 – 22 October 1977 ‘The Invisible Enemy’ reflects the uncertainty of Doctor Who as producer Graham Williams took over the role of producer after prominent declarations from public figures that the show had become far too violent in recent years. As ‘The Invisible Enemy’ attempts to hold on to strands of the horror that had served it so well while also amplifying the innate humour of Tom Baker and his Fourth incarnation of the Doctor, the tonal shifts between episodes and scenes results in a somewhat jarring and ultimately forgettable experience remembered more for the introduction of the robotic K-9 than for the titular Nucleus of the Swarm itself. To be fair, the Nucleus’s ability to possess those around it instantly poses it as a credible threat, although the makeup effects and oft-repeated catchphrase that ‘Contact has been made’ are somewhat less successful in reality. With even the Doctor a victim to its influence, Tom Baker does mesmerizing work while playing the villain, savagely chasing Leela with murderous intent. It’s quite telling that his ultimate resolution is quite cruel and dark as he decides that Leela’s explosive plan is the best course of action in a story that…

The Return of Doctor Mysterio
Episode / December 26, 2016

Aired 25 December 2016 SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW It’s been full calendar year since Doctor Who has aired a new episode, but despite the inherent pressures of any episode and the immensely-popular Christmas slot, in particular, ‘The Return of Doctor Mysterio’ benefits from not having to pick up on a current companion’s plot arc or to set up or handle a regeneration as others have before it. Indeed, with only a fleeting scene where the Doctor is mistaken for Santa and only a couple of quick references to last year’s ‘The Husbands of River Song,’ this is perhaps the least Christmas-themed and the most standalone of the festive specials yet as Steven Moffat crafts a loving homage to American superheroes. The festive holiday period provides the perfect time to experiment with the fundamentally ridiculous nature of the superhero genre, the spirit of the season bringing out the inner child in viewers more than any other time of the year. Quite wisely, though, the focus of the tale is very much on Grant Gordon and his misguided attempts to get nearer to his lifelong crush, reporter Lucy Fletcer, while also making the world a safer place as his Superman-eque alter ego, The…