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…

The King’s Demons
Episode / March 24, 2017

Aired 15 – 16 March 1983 The inclusion of the Master in the celebratory nature of Doctor Who’s twentieth season with its cavalcade of familiar faces was an inevitability following the iconic foe’s recent resurgence during the transition from the Fourth Doctor to the Fifth. Unfortunately, even though ‘The King’s Demons’ was not intended to be the de facto season finale before the anniversary special ‘The Five Doctors’ aired later in the year, it nonetheless marks one of the weaker stories of the Davison era so far. As was the case with the preceding year’s final story ‘Time-Flight,’ itself a less than inspiring story, the Master here seems to be included simply because he is a familiar face rather than because the script has anything new or novel to do with him. It’s fair to say that the character peaked in ‘The Keeper of Trakken,’ but he has since become a generic villain whose motivations are questionable at best. As it is, he is the most instantly recognisable foe of this anniversary season, but structuring the two-part story so that his reveal is the cliffhanger of the first is inherently flawed and really only gives a brief glimpse of the…

Enlightenment
Episode / March 22, 2017

Aired 1 – 9 March 1983 Even early on in Peter Davison’s tenure as the Fifth Doctor, many stories have focused on putting his character in rather helpless situations, chaos and death surrounding him as those in positions of authority simply refuse to listen to and trust him. However, ‘Enlightenment’ takes a completely different approach, allowing the Doctor to truly step into the spotlight and become much more defined in the process. ‘Enlightenment’ is filled with quintessentially British cultural observations and quirky notions, and the Fifth Doctor with his cricket garb is absolutely the best incarnation at exploring the issues of social class as he seamlessly blends in with the upper class elitist sailing officers. Indeed, the Eternals directing the lower-class humans through promises of rations and payment while also being willing to sacrifice the humans’ lives with no threat of damage or death to themselves is incredibly powerful and presented in a very accessible manner. This conflict is so effectively realized partially because the Doctor himself is never put into extreme danger, allowing his more cerebral and gentle demeanor to come to the forefont as he can logically tackle the ethical and social debates presented. Davison makes the most…

Terminus
Episode / March 20, 2017

Aired 15 – 23 February 1983 ‘Terminus’ is unquestionably another serial that succeeds more with its ambition than with its actual execution, a poor guest cast and external production factors plaguing a story filled with genuinely engaging and rather high-concept notions. It marks an intriguing end to Sarah Sutton’s run in the TARDIS in the middle of Turlough’s conflict with the Black Guardian as well, giving Nyssa an admirable send-off that makes the most of her benevolent nature, but ultimately a lack of consistency and depth along with some questionable decisions keep ‘Terminus’ from being what it truly wants to be. Turlough being an agent of the Black Guardian tasked with killing the Doctor is a fascinating premise for a companion, but unfortunately little is done with it here, as was the case in ‘Mawdryn Undead.’ Instead, most of the drama surrounding this fact is boiled down to Tegan and Turlough discussing whether or not they truly trust one another. It is notable that Turlough takes Adric’s room in the TARDIS while stating that he’s through with children, though, and this can quite overtly be seen as the personification of the gradual darker undertones the franchise was starting to employ…

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…