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 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…

Mawdryn Undead
Episode / March 15, 2017

Aired 1 – 9 February 1983 The early tenure of Peter Davison has proven it is unafraid to tackle time travel in its scripts, with ‘Four to Doomsday,’ ‘Earthshock,’ and ‘Time-Flight’ each featuring the concept in some key fashion. ‘Mawdryn Undead’ takes things one step further with its plot occurring over two time periods occurring out of sync with one another, a fantastic central premise in a story featuring the return of the Black Guardian, the return of the Brigadier, and the introduction of new companion Turlough. The Black Guardian, of course, was introduced at the end of the Key to Time season as an opposing force to the White Guardian, but his plan and motivations here are never fully explained. He overtly states that he views the Doctor’s good as his evil and that he wants the Doctor killed, but it’s unclear what has spurred this hostility to manifest so resolutely now or why, exactly, he has chosen Turlough as his weapon of choice when so many more effective means must be at his disposal throughout the universe. In fact, the Doctor’s casual acceptance of Turlough aboard the ship exemplifies this incarnation’s trusting demeanor, but it also highlights how…

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…

The Green Death
Episode / November 12, 2016

Aired 19 May – 23 June 1973 One of the trademarks of the Jon Pertwee era is its willingness to tackle important and sometimes difficult political and social issues. At least a small part of the reasoning for originally bounding the Third Doctor to Earth was to give him a chance to confront the issues that plague humanity on a daily basis, and that concept fortunately is not forgotten now that the Doctor has regained his ability to travel throughout time and space. Finally giving reason to the occasional references of Metebelis III over the past several stories along the way, the Doctor finds himself at least initially entwined in the battle between corporations and the environment in a story that very much feels like another early attempt at a more grandiose season finale. The core conflict is effectively set up early on in the small Welsh mining town of Llanfairfach, Global Chemicals responsible for the sudden appearance of a toxic green slime and giant maggots as the result of burying the toxic by-product from their highly profitable oil processing system. Led by the business-driven Stevens, the executives involved do at least show flashes of conscientiousness, making them a much…

The Time Monster
Episode / November 7, 2016

Aired 20 May – 24 June 1972 In a series of stories filled with quite memorable villains such as the Daleks, Ice Warriors, and Sea Devils, Doctor Who tries to up the menace in ‘The Time Monster,’ a tale that has an incredible amount going for it on paper but, like ‘The Mutants’ before it, fails to live up to its intriguing premise. The story wastes no action in setting the scene as the Doctor has a nightmarish vision of the Master and links it to Jo’s news of recent volcanic action on the island of Thera. As events shift to the Newton Institute, the Master and the amusingly-acronymed TOM-TIT, Transmission of Matter Through Interstitial Time, experimental machinery take centre stage. This equipment allows for the transportation of matter but with several time-related side effects within its vicinity that include both advancing and reversing the aging process and freezing others in time. Regardless, the equipment brings the Master a powerful crystal from the lost city of Atlantis, giving him control of the powerful time-devouring Kronos as well as the ability to summon others form the past to help him achieve his goals and to protect the Institute from advancing UNIT…

The Sea Devils
Episode / November 2, 2016

Aired 26 February – 1 April 1972 ‘The Sea Devils’ is, in essence, a complementary sequel to ‘Doctor Who and the Silurians,’ arguably the most ambitious and morally complex story of the early Pertwee era. Though the sequel may not attempt to explore the inner emotional and moral turmoil as well as its predecessor, its ambition is every bit as great while at the same time offering a more balanced pace, a greater emphasis on action, and an improved costume design to create another very engaging story. Filmed in collaboration with the Royal Navy, ‘The Sea Devils’ is a classic British adventure story, and the production values are phenomenal, lending a true sense of scope and peril to proceedings. With thrilling boat chases, explosions, and even a nearly-laughable escape by the beguiling Master at the end, ‘The Sea Devils’ is certainly not going to appease those looking for a slower character piece. As the notion of humans cohabitating their planet with another sentient species had already been discussed and proven impossible with the Silurians, writer Malcolm Hulke thankfully does not overindulge in retreading familiar territory with the Sea Devils, instead allowing the threat to unfold naturally while only hinting at…

Day of the Daleks
Episode / November 1, 2016

Aired 1 – 22 January 1972 Considering that ‘Day of the Daleks’ marked the return of Doctor’s most famous foes after a multi-year absence and was their first television appearance in colour, it’s a rather forgotten tale compared to other Pertwee classics, but one that nonetheless is a very important one that finally overtly confronts and tackles the time travel element so dear to the franchise. The Pertwee era, due undoubtedly to the more Earthbound setting, tapped into the social consciousness with allegories to relevant issues more frequently and more directly than any other even as the science fiction elements slowly became more prevalent. The Daleks are, of course, a metaphor for the Nazis, and while the desolation of war had been extensively explored in previous Dalek stories, ‘Day of The Daleks’ presents a new angle for the iconic foes. Possibly because the story was originally written without the Daleks, the story itself is incredibly strong without relying on the Daleks alone to enhance it. Based around the very concept of pacifism as the Sino-Soviet conflict threatens to bring Armageddon, there’s a pervading sense of true international despondency and urgency, the Daleks standing as reminder of a very grim future.…

The Daemons
Episode / October 31, 2016

Aired 22 May – 19 June 1971 Jon Pertwee’s second year in the titular role is undoubtedly less experimental than his first, the stories for the most part very clearly following the template laid out in ‘Terror of the Autons’ and using that template to good effect. ‘The Daemons’ also marks the first attempt at a dramatic season finale that offers a dramatic settlement of what has come before it. Its execution is somewhat reserved as it only underscores the multiple appearances of the Master in this season and features a much bigger foe than any previous story, but it’s an important step nonetheless that adds extra weight to this serial and with refined effects that are still felt and implemented in the modern television series. ‘The Daemons’ expertly blends together a certain New Age philosophy with the much darker culture of the occult, and the satanic foe and imagery around hallowed grounds is employed superbly at a time when The Church of Satan was gaining prominence as an organized religion. Indeed, the Master seems quite acclimated with Earth’s studies and theories of the occult, even offering a spin on one of the the famous occultist Aleister Crowley’s declarations, presenting…

The Claws of Axos
Episode / October 29, 2016

Aired 13 March – 3 April 1971 ‘The Claws of Axos’ has strangely come under criticism in the decades since its broadcast for simply being the epitome of the Pertwee era. While it may not dare to do anything groundbreaking, the story told of aliens landing in Great Britain and offering to resolve all of mankind’s trouble with a mysterious technology that ends up being much too good to be true is still a very intriguing and well-paced one. The strict Earth-based setting for the early Pertwee years does inherently limit the types of stories that can be told without forgetting the science fiction element, but the friendly alien invasion plot achieves everything it sets out to do while pushing the boundaries of practical and special effects of the programme with decidedly mixed results. The colour separation overlay technique has been increasingly employed through the early Pertwee stories, and that trend certainly continues here, giving an almost living comic book feel to the scenes aboard the Axon vessel but unfortunately not creating an overwhelming sense of verisimilitude. The actual Axons themselves come in two forms, the golden humanoid iterations used for negotiations much more visually effective than the trundling rubber-and-cloth…