Tag Archives: Doctor Who

The Reign of Terror – Review


I am a completest. I hate incomplete collections.

It might surprise you then to know that I have not watched every available episode of Dr Who. Oh no, in fact, it is that completest attitude that prevents me from watching the incomplete stories. Yes, they’re available on the Doctor Who, Missing in Time collection, but I’ve not watched them.

What this means in a practical way is that, when they “find” a lost episode that completes a story, I have “new” Dr Who to watch! Of course, that means new episodes of classic Dr Who are few and far between.

A year of so ago, they stumbled upon an extremely agreeable formula to me. For the classic second Doctor story, The Invasion, the two missing episodes were recreated using the original sound recording and full animation. It was a brilliant solution and I finally watched the Invasion. Then, things went quiet. There were rumors that it was too expensive and that the disc didn’t sell well enough to justify the cost. Whatever the reason, no subsequent animated recreations were announced – until recently.

Not only was the first Doctor story the Reign of Terror recently released, but the announcements of the release of the first Doctor’s final story, The Tenth Planet and the second Doctor story, The Ice Warriors have recently been made.

The suits have indicated that two animated episodes is the maximum they can afford per DVD release (although, one wonders how animated series like the Simpsons or Family Guy can even exist at that rate.)

If two is the limit per story, we can still hope to see the following stories

First Doctor

  1. The Crusade (2)
  2. Mission to the Unknown (1)

Second Doctor

  1. The Underwater Menace (2)
  2. The Moonbase (2)

It’s not as many as I could hope for, but perhaps they’ll get their costs down and be able to expand to 3 or 4 episodes per story.

The Reign of Terror

Reign of Terror is the eighth Dr Who story, set in a time when the Doctor is still a cantankerous almost anti-hero to Ian’s classical hero. Ian and Barbara are still very much the trapped and largely unwilling passengers aboard the TARDIS, the the show was still firmly trying to “teach” to younger audiences and still willing to produce “historical” episodes.


The Doctor returns Ian and Barbara to 1963 Earth only to discover it’s 18th century France during the (you guessed it) Reign of Terror. They soon run afoul of the revolutionary fervor and are separated (in the case of the Doctor) and sent to prison for beheading (everyone else.)

The story follows three plot lines. Ian makes his own attempts at escape, while Barbara and Susan are rescued on the way to the Guillotine and take up with anti-revolutionary conspirators. Meanwhile, the Doctor impersonates an important official in his efforts to rescue everyone else.

The story concludes with the end of the Reign of Terror and sets the stage for Napoleon’s ascension to ruler of France.


Despite this being six-parts with a lot of “in jail, escape from jail, return to jail” action (or inaction) and having no aliens to battle, I rather surprisingly enjoyed this story. I was particularly pleased with parts of the story where the Doctor was manipulating other people to do his will. The story shows off well the first Doctor’s keen and devious mind.

Ian, and particularly Barbara fared less well and were basically bumped around from one capture situation to the next. Susan basically got sick and was nothing more than a hindrance during the episode. It’s no wonder Carole Ann Ford chose to leave the series first. Her character was wasted in this story.

The Animation

Finally, I would be remiss to fail to mention the animation. The previous animated story, The Invasion, was done by a completely different studio and was perfectly acceptable, if a bit stylized

There’s no good way to put it, this new animation style used in Reign creeps me out. The characters faces spend too much time moving needlessly. The features on the face are too shadowy around their features and most disturbingly, the large glassy, pool-like eyes move back and forth aimlessly like some evil doll.

To say that I’m not a fan of this animation style is an understatement; however, to have the story back once again, I wouldn’t trade it!

Warriors of the Deep – Review

How I ever mentioned how much I love the Silurians?  Have I ever mentioned how incredibly frustrated I am by them every time they come on the screen?  They’re a double-edged sword for me.

The idea that an earlier sentient race evolved on Earth before man is one of Doctor Who’s best-ever concepts for a menace.  How many science fiction movies and books have taken the trope of mankind being launched into the future (or perhaps returning to Earth after abandoning it millennia ago) only to discover that some “lower order” of life has evolved into man’s former niche of dominant sentient being on Earth?

The Silurians take that idea and flip on its head.  What if we were the later usurpers of the sentience throne on Earth?  How would they feel?  How would we feel?

It’s probably right to say that human opinion, given similar circumstances, would be divided.  There would be those that saw it as an opportunity for peaceful coexistence and those that saw it as a battle that could only result in the total annihilation of one species or the other.

I would imagine most people would fall somewhere on the spectrum in between.

This is what I liked originally about the “Doctor Who and the Silurians” (the only televised episode to include the name “Doctor Who” in the story title.)  The Silurians represented us – none wanted peace as their first course of action, but there were those that could be convinced of peace, those dead set on war and those that had their prejudices and could be led into war.

In the original story, the humans reflected the Silurians almost perfectly – it was only the Doctor, the outsider who could see the situation as an opportunity for peace first.

This is why, long and a bit slow that it is, I love “Doctor Who and the Silurians.”

Even the original story; however, frustrates me – mostly because of the gross scientific errors introduced into the Doctor Who timeline.

Later episodes have just squandered the Silurian concept.  Still during Pertwee’s era, the Silurians returned in the form of their underwater cousins, the Sea Devils, this time being egged on by the Master in a tale that used the Silurian backstory only as a shortcut to further the Master’s plan for escape and revenge.

And then the Silurians were left for a long, long time only to finally both return in the 20th anniversary season’s story, “Warriors of the Deep.”

The Story

At some point in the future, mankind remains locked in the Cold War (oops, failed to predict that in 1983.) Now, hidden undersea bases wait to rain down Proton Bomb annihilation on the enemy at any moment.  It is a tense time and the world is on the brink of war.

The Doctor, Tegan and Turlough arrive just in time for (A) enemy agents to sabotage the base and (B) the Silurians and Sea Devils attacking the base with the plan of destroying the human world with a Proton war, leaving the planet devoid of humans and perfectly suited for reptiles.

A typically pedestrian story follows.  The Doctor and crew are captured as spies just when things start to go bad, the Silurians inexorably take the base with lots of tedious scenes of “we can’t stop them” type battles and finally the Doctor, failing the Silurians again and being forced to kill them.

And let’s not even mention the Myrkah, the Doctor Who monster effect that single-handedly raises the reputation of the Pertwee-era “Invasion of the Dinosaurs” out of the mire of the bottom of the worst.

The Disappointment

Of course, I was looking forward to the Silurians’ return (less so the Sea Devils) but this story is so generic that any alien menace could have been substituted – and the story would have had less baggage.

That brings me to the second area of disappointment.  It’s as if the writer of the story knew nothing more about the Silurians and Sea Devils than what they read on the back cover of the Target novelizations.

What’s Good

Disappointed as I am with the story, there is one thing I like:  The set design.

During the later Tom Baker and early Davison eras, set design took on an industrial look.  I thought at the time that it immediately looked dated and, to my now 25 year older eyes, it does; however, once in a while – and I can’t say why – one of the sets looks good.  The sea base sets look functional and believable.

Yep, set design, it’s the best I could come up with.


The Dominators – Review

Back in the summer of 1968, The Doctor was travelling with headstrong 18th century scotsman Jamie McCrimmon and had just been joined by brilliant young mathematician and astrophysicist Zoe Heriot, of the 21st century. This team, with the regenerated ‘cosmic hobo’ Doctor is just about my favourite, so it’s always a pleasure to watch them in action, but this adventure is not one of their best. If you’re a Jamie fan you’ll enjoy the fact that he gets to make a lot of the running in this one, but the Doctor and Zoe are underused and the production show its limitations in both budget and imagination. Continue reading The Dominators – Review

Time-Flight – Review

I suppose Time-Flight isn’t highly regarded by Doctor Who fandom, which surprises me – not because it’s good, but because it isn’t all that terrible.  There are so, so many worse episodes to come.

Reeling from the death of Adric, the Doctor decides a trip to the Great Exhibition will cheer everyone up.  True to form, they arrive at the one place the Doctor has completely failed to arrive at:  modern-day Heathrow Airport.  Tegan is finally home.

Of course, it’s not that simple.  A concord supersonic jet has gone missing and the Doctor knows where its gone. With the somewhat reluctant help of the crew of another concord, the Doctor follows the first back in time to 140 million years ago.  The less said about the Doctor’s comments on the time period, the coming ice age or the possibility of see a brontosaurus the better.

Here a mysterious, deformed conjurer named Kalid has control over a psychic mass of material and uses it to his bidding.  He creates illusions to convince the skyjacked passengers and crew of the concords that they are home and uses them to do his bidding.  He bids them to take the TARDIS.

The Doctor discovers that Kalid is not who he seems and the Doctor must prevent him from harnessing the source of power that has been brought to Earth in a wrecked spaceship.

Like the Sea Devils many years ago you can certainly tell when an outside organization lends its help to Doctor Who.  In this case, British Air seems to be getting a lot of commercial mileage out of this story.  Younger readers may not realize that, in the long-distant past, not only was man capable of going to moon, we could also fly passenger jets across the oceans at supersonic speeds.  Nowadays it seems hard to believe that a flight across the Atlantic could take less time than than security checks and layover.

Despite, or perhaps because of, the the cooperation of British Air, the special effects in this episode are some of the poorest during the Davison era.  The attempts to integrate stock concord shots with prehistoric sets is utterly unconvincing.

The story rambles on a bit and at no time do I ever feel anyone is really in danger.  Kalid, of course, turns out to be the Master who has managed to escape Castrovalva but is stranded with a disabled TARDIS in the Jurassic.  Rather than be menacing, the Master spends his time skulking around in an almost pantomime fashion and occasionally laughing menacingly.  This unfortunately sets the tone for all the future appearances of Anthony Ainley’s Master.

Perhaps the most telling example of this is the lengths the production goes to disguise the reveal of the Master at the end of episode two.  In episode one he is in grotesque makeup and his character is credited not as “Anthony Ainley” but as the anagram “Leon Ny Taiy” but in fact, during much of the episode there was no reason for him to be disguised.  He was disguised even before the Doctor arrived.  When he meets the Doctor, the Doctor is neither impressed with nor willing to surrender his TARDIS to Kalid, despite Kalid’s threats to kill the Doctor’s friends.  When the Master’s identity is revealed, the Doctor immediately surrenders the TARDIS key upon the first threat to the same friends.

In short, the Master was hiding from people who didn’t know him (and were, for that matter, hypnotized to see whatever he wanted) and, his plot was actually diminished by the act of hiding.  It was strictly put on for the audience, and that’s the problem.  When you start writing your episode around gimmicks for the fans, you’re doomed.

With Adric gone, but not completely forgotten, Nyssa got quite a bit more storyline in the episode as did, to a lesser degree, Tegan who bows out of the TARDIS crew at the end of the episode.

No, this episode is not as bad as it is often credited, but it does suffer a number of flaws that keep it in the lower half of the mediocre range.

1/4 Tenth Planet = 2.5th Planet?

I recently re-watched the Patrick Troughton story, the Invasion, which included two animated reconstructions of missing episodes.

As many Doctor Who fans know, the BBC rather mercilessly erased many of the adventures of the first and second Doctor. Fortunately, all stories have surviving audio recordings. When they did the Invasion, a classic Cybermen story, it seemed that perhaps we would at long last be able to enjoy these lost stories in something at least approximating their intended form, but then nothing seemed to come of it.

This past week, the Reign of Terror was released again with two episodes restored. I’m waiting for my copy to arrived next week, but this first Doctor story is a straight historical (no monsters or aliens) and is… Umm. Lets say it’s not at the top of any fan’s list of episodes they want to recover.

The choice of the Invasion made sense. Not only is it one of the most iconic Cybermen stories ever made, it’s also the introduction of UNIT, a staple of the third Doctor’s tenure. The choice of Reign of Terror is mystifying.

We’ve been told the animation is very expensive. If so, surely they should concentrate on highly sought after stories, at least initially.

Here’s the story that, to me, seems like the biggest no-brainer of the bunch: The Tenth Planet. A four-part first Doctor story with only one part missing that not only introduces the Cybermen for the first time, it ends with the Doctor’s first regeneration! That’s a story at the top of fans’ lists!

About a week ago, information began leaking out that another missing classic, The Ice Warriors was going to be released to DVD using telesnaps recreations – that is productions stills displayed on the screen while the soundtrack plays on. This is massively disappointing. Why even bother? Worse, if they release animation of a unwanted and unloved episode, why screw over a classic like the Ice Warriors? It seems perhaps we’re not to expect more animated stories.

And then a wild thing happened, this weekend at the annual Gallifrey 1 convention in Los Angeles, it was announced that Tenth Planet is the next to be animated and restored!

Hurray! But what the hell are they thinking with the Ice Warriors? Lets hope they clear this up sooner rather than later. I’m quite prepared to purchase every animation-restored episode of Doctor Who!

Announcement of restoration of the Tenth Planet.

Edit: 2013-02-18 Here’s the official mention that Ice Warriors is a telesnap reconstruction. Hat tip to Simon for finding that.

Earthshock – Review

or “How To Spring Clean a Crowded TARDIS”

I’ll start my random series of reviews with Earthshock, during Peter Davison’s tenure as the Doctor.

There’s no point in disguising it, I generally despise what happened to Doctor Who under John Nathan-Turner’s stewardship. Despising the JNT regime seems to come in and go out of vogue. I believe I can honestly say I’ve never followed the flavor of the times and have always disliked what happened to Doctor Who.

Undeniably, JNT was a long-time fan of the show and I have no doubts about his intentions or dedication to the show in light of all the crap it was subjected to; however, good intentions do not make up for serious missteps.

JNT intentionally implemented changes in the TARDIS crew. Phasing out the agreeable Doctor/Companion pairing for more fractious Doctor/multiple companions combination that, presumably allowed for more dramatic latitude. The format shows its cracks here, but fortunately, a slight relief is in the offing.

The story opens with the Doctor and the execrable Adric having a fight. Adric, complete waste of flesh that he’s been since he left Alzarius is complaining he’s always being picked on. Fair enough, but he deserves it. He’s decided that, for some half-assed reason he wants to kill the entire TARDIS crew in a dangerous return to e-space. Instead of forcefully putting his foot down (and Adric off the TARDIS at the nearest convenient uninhabited planet) the Doctor goes into an equally childish hissy fit, lands the TARDIS on 26th century Earth and goes for a walk to cool off.

I’m so glad that added dramatic tension to the TARDIS crew, it allows them to have a whole series of other excuses as to why they land at random places in the universe.

In any case, it is here that the story begins. The Doctor is drawn into a mystery concerning underground tunnels, mysterious androids (build for no apparent reason in male and female forms) and a whopping great bomb designed to destroy life on Earth. It’s here that Adric becomes useful momentarily – almost a first since he began his travels with the Doctor. What could it mean? Will Adric finally become a useful member of the crew?

The bomb defused, it would seem the story is over, but no! It is not. The Doctor, his companions and a small military force from the Earth travel into deep space searching for the signal that seemed to control the timer on the bomb.

OK, I’ll take a quick aside to say the bomb was a poorly thought-out contrivance. While I can accept that the Cybermen might be able to send a remote signal to tell the timer to start counting down, I find it difficult to believe that they built a bomb that requires that signal to continue until the bomb explodes. That seems a very poor design.

Aboard a deep space freighter we learn that the Cybermen have an army concealed aboard that were initially destined to be the occupying force to suppress the survivors of the destroyed Earth. Their backup plan, just crash the ship into the Earth. (Wasn’t that the plan that failed in Revenge of the Cybermen?)

It’s onboard the freighter that the crowded TARDIS formula really begins to shine. While the Doctor and Adric in shades of earlier more halcyon days of Doctor Who get falsely accused of causing the mysterious crew disappearances and deaths onboard the freighter, Nyssa demonstrates the ability to stay in the TARDIS and worry, while Tegan demonstrates that overalls are what you need to be “prepared” to fight Cyberman, but actually just spends her time wandering lost around the freighter. This crowded TARDIS formula really puts value on the screen, doesn’t it?

The Cybermen take the Doctor, Tegan and Nyssa back to the TARDIS to escape the impending crash of the freighter, but leave Adric and the remaining ships crew aboard so they can experience the destruction of Earth firsthand. (Once again, isn’t that exactly why their plan was foiled in Revenge of the Cybermen. Have they learned nothing?! Apparently not.)

While the Doctor and the TARDIS crew watch from space, Adric finally uses his badge for mathematical excellence to try to unlike the navigation system and save the Earth. Again, the previously less-than-useless Adric manages enough to save the day, making him, perhaps, finally worthy of traveling in the TARDIS. Alas, he’s blown into a bazillion pieces. Despite his growth as a character during this episode, I cannot stifle a cheer every time I see this episode. Honestly, I couldn’t be happier with this ending unless they also managed to get rid of the (occasionally useful but always abrasively obnoxious) Tegan at the same time.

Despite any logic flaws in the story, Earthshock is one of my favorite Davison-era stories. The Cybermen have been given a complete makeover since their last appearance and are in my favorite form – although, their suits are, perhaps, a bit too baggy. They even seem mildly credible as a fighting force.

Their use of androids made little or no sense, nor did their logic that destroying a conference designed to bring planets together in a battle with the Cybermen and demonstrating their “…superior cyber technology…” would cause the planets to be less inclined to band together and beat the Cybermen.

Davison’s Doctor is mostly ineffectual with flashes of brilliance in this episode, perhaps meant to evoke the second Doctor, but it comes off an ineffectual. Luckily, Nyssa sets the bar of uselessness in this episode and even the fifth Doctor can’t limbo under that bar this time around.

I should point out that when push comes to shove, the Doctor effectively kills the Cybercontroller in a very hands on way. There was a recent controversy in Dinosaurs on a Spaceship that the Doctor wouldn’t deliberately and directly kill someone. That’s nonsense. In this episode, not only did the Doctor kill the Cybercontroller, he did it by taking his gun and shooting him repeatedly at point-blank range while the Cybercontroller was incapacitated and dying of gold poisoning – and I applaud him for doing it, but the arguments about the Doctor not killing are just unfounded.

Crowded TARDIS: 1 down, 1 to go.