Doctor Who – The Trial of a Time Lord – 30 Years Later

It has been over 30 years since Colin Baker’s final series, The Trial of a Time Lord. The unusual format of this season means that, technically, it is one long 14-part story, framed as a trial conducted by the Time Lords to determine if the Doctor has broken the first law of time. Leading the prosecution is the mysterious Valeyard, who is essentially the Doctor’s nemesis throughout this season, and each individually named story is a piece of evidence brought forward by either the prosecution or the defence. At the time this series was allegedly poorly received – according to many of the contemporary reviews, audiences at the time regarded this season as a weak attempt at saving the show from its eventual cancellation. Today, reviewers may have been somewhat kinder to this season, but still regard it with a hint of distaste. However, 30 years later, how does this 14- part serial hold up? And did it save the show from an imminent cancellation in 1986?

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Part 1 – The Mysterious Planet

As far as the opening to a 14-part series goes, The Mysterious Planet is not half bad. Despite many reviewers at the time calling this story ‘boring’, it seems in hindsight that they were wrong, as this story seems to embody everything that is inherently good about a Doctor Who story. For a start, it was written by the late Robert Holmes, one of the legends of the Classic Who era, and his mastery of making every supporting character interesting really shines here. Sabalom Glitz is a great example of this, and he has some great lines that are delivered brilliantly. The mystery that permeates throughout this story is an interesting one, and the Doctor is significantly less of a jerk which definitely helps, it seems that the writers and producers were really trying to pull out all the stops. An example of this is the impressive opening shot, a wide zoom towards the humongous Time Lord space station that is a fantastic use of model shots.

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Part 2 – Mindwarp

This story is dark. Really, really dark. The story is a complex web of intrigue and deception, as the Doctor pretends to work for scientists attempting to use brain transplants to discover the secret of immortality, funded by Sil to save the Mentor leader Kiv from a painful death. But what really makes this story dark is that scene – particularly the Sixth Doctor’s reaction to it, and for those who have not seen this episode, it is well worth a watch just for one of the most memorable cliffhangers in Doctor Who history. As far as the actual episode goes, the characters are well-defined with clear motives, and there are some great performances here – particularly Brian Blessed as the over-the-top but oddly likeable King Yrcanos. The only real criticism of this story is the fact that most of it takes place in very similar-looking dirt tunnels, or the same few laboratory sets, meaning that there isn’t much visual variety aside from the occasional flashy costume. Still, the episode’s story feeds in well with the trial, scenes of which are still strong, and there is some genuine emotional weight to this story, making it perhaps one of the strongest of the season.

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Part 3 – Terror of the Vervoids

Our first proper introduction to Mel as a companion is certainly a strange one – after all, this was before Big Finish came along to refine her character, meaning she does have a few high-pitched and prolonged screams in this episode, usually at the cliffhangers. Oddly enough, at the start of each episode when the repeat of last week’s cliffhanger plays, often her scream is edited out, meaning that if this serial were to be condensed into one long unbroken movie, most of her screams would be omitted. Even so, Terror of the Vervoids does have a few moments that are genuinely creepy – the scenes in the pod growth room are particularly creepy – but overall this story lacks realism, as the audience are somewhat disassociated from this adventure by the fact that it takes place in the Doctor’s future with a companion that has never been before seen. Also, the version of the Doctor who is on trial admits that the footage has been doctored, meaning that anything could essentially happen and it have no real consequence. Speaking of the trial, the framing device becomes increasingly tiresome the episode goes on but there are some good moments. Generally, however, Terror of the Vervoids is a significant step down from the episodes that preceded it, and the worst is yet to come…

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Part 4 – The Ultimate Foe

Originally a two-part story written by Robert Holmes to tie together The Trial of a Time LordThe Ultimate Foe was unfortunately left unfinished by the writer’s death in May 1986. Although Eric Saward was able to finish the script for episode 13 of the season, an argument with then-showrunner John-Nathan Turner over the ending caused Saward to quit, and Turner instead hired writers Pip and Jane Baker to write the final episode. In all honesty, this was a terrible mistake, as although part one of The Ultimate Foe establishes a creepy and sinister side to the Matrix and features the return of Sabalom Glitz, in the end that is all that is good about the story. The undoing of one of the greatest moments in the season coupled with the idea that the Valeyard is a future Doctor make this episode seem like glorified fan-fiction, and although Anthony Ainley’s Master features to stir up trouble, overall the episode seems a lacklustre conclusion to the season. The Valeyard himself is boring and predictable, the method by which he is defeated makes little sense, Mel and the Time Lords in the trial room do very little, and the infamous ending scene serves as a less-than-fitting sendoff to the Sixth Doctor.

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Conclusion

Overall, whilst The Trial of a Time Lord has a strong opening, the quality wanes as the season progresses starting with Terror of the Vervoids, and the finale is disappointing and almost sad in retrospect. What makes this season particularly frustrating is that Big Finish were able to successfully redeem the Sixth Doctor in their audios, yet neither John-Nathan Turner or Eric Saward seemed capable of making Colin Baker appealing to audiences at the time, and the series was forced to undertake some radical changes following this season’s transmission. Still, both The Mysterious Planet and Mindwarp are worth a watch, and whilst Mel’s introduction as a companion is less than remarkable, she does go on to become more bearable during the Seventh Doctor’s tenure. The season is therefore worth a watch, it doesn’t hold up as well as one might like but it is still a significant turning point in the show’s history, and does help to contextualise a lot of the great Big Finish audios featuring the Sixth Doctor, Peri and Mel that were to come.

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Doctor Who – Lost in Time – DVD Review

Due to the unfortunate junkings of video tapes in the BBC archives during the late 1960s and most of the 1970s, there are a significant number of classic Doctor Who episodes from the 1960s that are missing, leaving several serials incomplete. As of now, there are 97 missing episodes, but at the time of the release of the DVD set ‘Lost in Time’ in 2004 there were 108, and since then some of Galaxy 4, The Underwater Menace and The Web of Fear, and all six episodes of The Enemy of the World, have been recovered. What ‘Lost in Time’ provides is a variety of episodes from many of the remaining incomplete serials, including The Wheel In Space, The Evil of the Daleks and The Daleks’ Master Plan. There are also many special features and a detailed documentary on missing episodes and their fragmented remains included in the DVD. But since many of these episodes will likely be all that is left of these episodes unless more miraculous recoveries are made, how do these glimpses into the stories that once were stand as a sequential viewing experience?

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The Crusade

The first set of episodes featured are of the historical episode The Crusade, which is one of the few episodes in this collection to have all of its episodes featured, albeit with parts 2 and 4 as audio tracks. Watching just the episodes alone can be enough to satisfy fans of historicals as there is plenty of intrigue and interesting conflict between the Saracens and the forces of King Richard, but for those who want the full story the audio tracks are there to fill the gaps. Overall The Crusade is a strong entry in the collection and is a treat for fans of Vicky, who was introduced midway through Season 2 as a replacement for Susan, and a great example of the historical episodes that were common in the early years of Doctor Who.

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The Daleks’ Master Plan

The three remaining episodes of The Daleks’ Master Plan give only a brief glimpse into the vastness of this story – at twelve parts long, it is difficult for only episodes 2, 5 and 10 to make an impression of what the entire story was about. However, thanks to the tradition at the time to include roundups of the basics of the plot in each individual episode (to ensure that, had people missed an episode, they could catch up easily) the broad story of this lost 12-part epic can be inferred from the fragments left behind. Clearly, the Daleks are pursuing the Doctor as they attempt to construct their ultimate weapon, the ‘Time Destructor’, and they make use of several allies along the way including the sinister Mavic Chen. The Daleks’ Master Plan also features the Meddling Monk, a Time Lord who had previously appeared in The Time Meddler, and he shines here as a foil for the Doctor’s companions and also for some comic relief in what is otherwise a serious story. Overall, the three surviving episodes of The Daleks’ Master Plan are among the most enjoyable of the episodes included in this collection, particularly since many of the individual parts have their own small self-contained stories in a similar fashion to an episode like The Chase.

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The Celestial Toymaker

Only the final part of The Celestial Toymaker exists, and it is a strange experience. With absolutely no context the viewer is thrown into a seemingly nonsensical story involving Steven and Dodo playing an elaborate dice-rolling Snakes ‘n’ Ladders-type game with a man dressed like Tweedledum, whilst the Doctor (at least, a ghostly floating hand that the Toymaker addresses as the Doctor) balances triangular pyramid blocks in a seemingly random pattern. If that sounds totally insane, that’s because it is, and overall The Celestial Toymaker is one of the weaker entries in this collection. Had more episodes been found, or if there were some kind of recap to give an idea of the story before the episode plays, perhaps this would be a more enjoyable episode.

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The Underwater Menace

The first example of a missing episode in the Second Doctor’s era is included here despite being given its own separate DVD release, and the reason is that the DVD release of The Underwater Menace is notoriously bad, featuring merely a reconstruction of the missing episodes with stills rather than animation in a similar fashion to the only episode remaining missing in The Web of Fear. As such, watching it on this DVD gives several options for viewing – the surviving footage included in the special features (most of which appears to be from censorship archives) and the single remaining episode, part 3. The costume design in this episode is wonderfully strange, and a general idea of the plot can be gleaned quickly even just from this single part. Not included here is the surviving two parts of The Moonbase, with the other two featured in this collection as audio reconstructions. Since the release of the ‘Lost in Time’ collection, The Moonbase has had a separate release on DVD with the missing episodes animated, which may be reviewed on this blog at a later date.

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The Faceless Ones

That fact that only episodes 1 and 3 of the six-part Second Doctor story The Faceless Ones is a terrible shame considering that it is the episode in which Ben and Polly depart the TARDIS. Given the number of episodes featuring them that are missing coupled with their exclusion from the recent Twice Upon a Time one would be forgiven for thinking that the BBC had it in for Ben and Polly, for some reason. Regardless, the two surviving episodes of The Faceless Ones are enjoyable in themselves, with the Chameleons proving to be quite sinister and the acting quality and set design make this a competent story in terms of production value. The Second Doctor, Ben and Polly are all great in the surviving parts, and the monster is interesting and sinister, and that’s the best you can ask for from a set of orphaned episodes.

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The Evil of the Daleks

The Evil of the Daleks is perhaps the most tragic of the lost episodes, particularly since so little of it remains. Only episode 2 and a handful of clips are included in this collection, and since then no more material has been found. This episode features the introduction of Second Doctor companion Victoria, and thankfully episode 2 gives her plenty of screen time. Unfortunately, there isn’t much Dalek action in this story, which is to be expected of such an early episode in the serial. Nonetheless, there are some interesting scenes, and there are surviving clips of the Dalek Emperor that can be viewed in the documentary features included in this collection, which is a nice touch and helps to fill out the lack of remaining full episodes.

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The Abominable Snowmen

The episode that featured the debut of the Yeti, The Abominable Snowmen is another episode in this collection that suffers due to lack of context. There are many plots going on at once, but all that really matters to the viewer of this episode alone is the Doctor being held prisoner by men hunting the Yetis and scenes with the others trying to explore and find the Doctor. Given that only episode 2 of 6 survives, the story is established but decipherable, and there are some great scenes between Jamie and Victoria, but unfortunately there just isn’t enough of The Abominable Snowmen remaining to give a good impression. Since they were recovered in 2013, The Enemy of the World and The Web of Fear will not be included in this article despite being a feature of the collection and their appearance here is superfluous since they have now had separate DVD releases.

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The Wheel in Space

This episode is a particularly significant installment in the Second Doctor’s era, since it features the introduction of companion Zoe Heriot, and also the reappearance of the Cybermen for the third time in the Second Doctor’s era (but not the last). Unfortunately, their voices are nowhere near as cool here as they were in The Tomb of the Cybermen, as it seems the vocoder has less of a presence in the voices of the standard Cybermen. Thankfully, the Cyber-Planner still has voice of the Cyber-Controller from Tomb, and it gets quite a bit of screentime in the two remaining episodes. Speaking of screentime, new companion Zoe gets a lot of attention in these episodes, as well as her growing relationship with Jamie and the Second Doctor, which is fortunate given that two thirds of the episode are missing. Episode 3, the first of the surviving parts, actually depicts Zoe’s first meeting with the Doctor, and the surviving Episode 6 shows how she joins the TARDIS crew, making this episode essential for Zoe fans – this is made better by the fact that both episodes 3 and 6 are made easy to understand and Episode 6 in particular works as almost a standalone story, which makes The Wheel in Space one of the highlights of the collection.

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The Space Pirates

An ambitious story for the era, The Space Pirates uses some great model shots throughout the surviving Episode 2, which is sadly the only episode that still remains in the BBC archives. As this is the last episode on the collection, it is unfortunate that it has to be such a seemingly random installment – like many of the other examples of orphaned episodes, the single surviving part of The Space Pirates does not stand well as its own story, but there are some comedic scenes between the General and the old Spacer that are worth a watch. Overall, very little actually happens in this episode and it does seem a disappointing end to the collection.

Doctor Who – Lost in Time is a fascinating look at what many of the lost episodes were like, and the selection is both diverse and interesting. It is a shame that there are so many single episodes that don’t stand up on their own, but it is to be expected from the random selection of episodes that remain. The bonus features are a delight, with an entire documentary on the history of the missing episodes that includes other surviving clips and interviews with cast members, experts and lost episode discoverers, and overall the collection is well worth picking up.

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How to Fix – Revelation of the Daleks

Welcome to the next article in a series called ‘How to Fix’, in which I will be offering my opinion on how to improve on stories from various entries in different franchises. It must be noted that not all of the films, games or episodes that I will be talking about in this series have to necessarily be ‘broken’ in order to fix them, simply that these articles will offer alternate means of telling the same stories.

Since one of the very first posts on this blog was an opinion piece on how good Remembrance of the Daleks is, it seemed only fitting for me to attempt to write a similar piece on the previous Dalek episode from the 80s, the ‘prequel’ to Remembrance, the Sixth Doctor story Revelation of the Daleks. However, upon re-watching the episode after not having seen it since I was young, a few flaws become immediately apparent, particularly when comparing the story and execution of this episode with other 80s Dalek stories as well as Big Finish releases featuring Daleks. So, without further ado, let’s get right into how to fix Revelation of the Daleks.

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Totally rework the focus of the story

Before getting too far into criticism of Revelation‘s focus, it has to be said that the final product would be perfectly fine – if the show it was an installment of wasn’t called ‘Doctor Who’. Because of all the various colourful characters in the episode, the Doctor himself receives possibly the least screen time. In fact, the Doctor doesn’t even get involved in the main plot of the story until the second part (technically the third part, had Revelation used the standard classic series format) and this creates a strange feeling of disassociation for the audience. Whilst the denizens of Necros and the goings-on of the strangely technicolour funeral parlour are mildly interesting, and the in-depth look at Galactic politics and the activities of scheming assassins even more so, Revelation seems to put what should be the primary focus of any episode of Doctor Who – the Doctor and the companion – on the back seat, behind even the most minor of secondary characters.

Ironically, this creates an even bigger problem for this episode – the fact that the writers seemed obliged to insert scenes of the Doctor and Peri trudging around the exterior of Tranquil Repose makes these scenes seem like distractions from the main story, as if Doomsday had frequently cut to scenes of Canary Wharf janitorial workers, or if Blink had frequent scenes involving the man who owned the video store watching his crime films. Whilst Doctor-lite episodes have worked in the past, Revelation is not wholly committed to the idea, and so the first part ends up as a bit of a jumbled mess. The Doctor and Peri should have far more screen time in order to link the various plot elements together. Talking of which…

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Put more emphasis on the ‘Revelation’

Whilst Resurrection of the Daleks was named almost as a pun, reflecting the fact that the Daleks had not been used in the show for some time beforehand regardless of the fact that there was no ‘resurrection’ of any kind in the episode, Revelation of the Daleks does at least have some kind of ‘revelation’ involved – the idea that Davros has created a whole new faction of Daleks, an idea that would be critical in the setup for Remembrance. Unfortunately, this idea is somewhat buried in amongst the sheer mass of plot elements going on in this story. To briefly summarise, this episode devotes somewhat equal time to at least 3 different subplots – the activities in the funeral home surrounding Jobel and Tasambeker, the mission undertaken by Natasha and Grigory to find her father’s body (now metamorphosed into the Glass Dalek), and Davros’ plan to manipulate Kara and her company into distributing his cannibalised food in the guise of the ‘Great Healer’ with Kara’s subsequent plan to hire Orsini to assassinate Davros.

This is a lot of ongoing plot threads to be contained within one episode, and this isn’t even mentioning the smaller subplots of the Doctor and Peri wandering in the wilderness, the beginning of the Dalek Civil War, or the cringe-inducing broadcasts of the infamous DJ (more on him later). What makes this even worse is that most of these threads seemingly go nowhere – what exactly was the point of Jobel and Tasambeker’s significant screen time when they ultimately both end up dead, having contributed nothing to the main story? Why did Natasha and Grigory get so much focus after finding the Glass Dalek, when this is really all they were needed for in the narrative? Why wasn’t more focus placed on the Kara-Davros-Orsini dynamic, the only major plot thread that actually amounts to anything overall? The episode should have condensed the Jobel and Tasambeker story into the first episode, with the Doctor’s involvement being accelerated so that he meets Natasha by the end of the first act. Also, whilst they are excellent, Davros’ interactions with Kara should have fed into the cliffhangar of the first episode – perhaps have the ‘Great Healer’ persona be a more effective disguise for Davros instead of simply a rubber duplicate of his horribly deformed and instantly recognisable face – so that the reveal of Davros is more of a surprise. This would ultimately lead to the ‘revelation’ of the new faction of Daleks being a more critical plot development rather than simply being buried in the mix.

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Hang the DJ

We all knew this was coming. What on Exxilon were the writers thinking? Well, the character of the DJ was apparently designed to parody 80s DJs at the time, making this entire character tailor-made to lose his effectiveness as time goes on, but the problem of his inclusion runs deeper than this. Ultimately, despite the relatively signifcant amount of precious screen time dedicated to him, the DJ character goes nowhere other than as a means to distract Peri from the main story. Even if one ignores the fact that his entire reason for being in the facility is totally useless (quite literally playing music for the dead) things take a turn for the worst when he uses a ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’ gun to destroy Daleks. If you thought Captain Jack destroying Daleks with a laser designed to get people naked was ridiculous, this is on a whole other level.

Ultimately, it is difficult to reconcile this character without a complete rewrite from the ground up, so the only realistic recommendation is to axe this character completely, and spend the time wasted on him to focus on more important plot points. However, for the half-dozen or so people out there who actually like this character, at the very least he should have two to three scenes maximum, and cut out the idea that Daleks can be destroyed by a gun that fires concentrated Rock ‘n’ Roll. Where did he even get that thing, anyway?

In Conclusion

Overall, Revelation of the Daleks is no masterpiece. Whilst the episode in its current state stands at a respectable 6 or 7 out of 10 according to the majority of fans, the concepts and ideas along with most of the characters and plot developments should have made this story a solid 8 or 9. Unfortunately, bad pacing, lack of clear focus and an abundance of irrelevant or poorly executed subplots drag this story down.  Hopefully this installment of How to Fix can give an idea of what could have been…

So that concludes the latest How to Fix, I hope you enjoyed and if you did be sure to leave a like. Check out the links below for more Doctor Who related content and other installments in the How to Fix series. Thanks for reading!

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Silver Nemesis: A Hidden Classic?

As far as ratings go, reception for 1988’s Silver Nemesis is generally quite poor. The Discontinuity Guide puts this episode down as lacking ‘pace and character involvement’, which could be saying more about the shortcomings of the three-part format than anything else. Regardless, Silver Nemesis does commit the cardinal sin that many post-1960s Cybermen stories are guilty of – including the Cybermen in the story, without doing anything interesting with them. But surely amidst all this negative criticism, there must be something worthwhile to talk about from this story. After all, for better or worse, it will forever remain Doctor Who’s 25th Anniversary episode.

So to begin my analysis of Silver Nemesis, let’s start with the obvious – Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred are fantastic in this episode. The Seventh Doctor is regarded as unpopular, but in reality he is simply overlooked – for those who watch his episodes, a darker, more exciting and more serious side to the Seventh Doctor becomes clear. Once he drops his comic facade, the Seventh Doctor is cunning and devious, but never strays too far from his good nature. In this episode the Seventh Doctor pulls off a daring feat of strategy and manipulation to ensure that neither the Cybermen, the Neo-Nazis, or an insane lady from the past achieve their goals.

Speaking of an insane lady from the past, there is a strange subplot involving a certain Lady Peinforte, who has apparently at some point in the past encountered a Time Lord weapon and managed to bend it to her will (even making it take on her appearance) and has somehow discovered the secrets of alchemical time travel, all whilst being a cavalier from the 1500s. Whilst the character of Peinforte may seem like an odd addition, her presence in the story provides an interesting method by which Cybermen are destroyed – her arrows, which she believes are effective due to being laced with poison, are actually useful for killing Cybermen due to the fact that the tips are made of gold (for some reason.) Ultimately, Peinforte is mostly in the episode for comic relief, and her death is as anticlimactic as her role in the story turns out to be.

The Cybermen in this story are about as effective as they have been throughout the 80s – so make of that what you will. They do prove their effectiveness in combat by annihilating many of the Nazi soldiers, but seeing Cybermen being felled by arrows and tiny rocks of gold flung at them by Ace’s slingshot effectively completes their devaluation as villains that had been in process throughout the decade. After being destroyed by the spears of the Raston Warrior Robot in The Five Doctors it seems that arrows was the next logical step. Nonetheless, the Cybermen do present a threat in the parallels that are drawn between those and the Nazis. Hearing the Cyberleader and the Nazi commander negotiating the division of dominion over Earth in terms of labor camps is chilling.

Ultimately though, having recently read the novelisation of the unmade Season ’27’ episode Illegal Alien, it has to be said that the plot of that book is somewhat superior to this episode. Oddly, both involve Nazis, and one of the reasons why Illegal Alien didn’t make it to Season 26 is due to the fact that there was already a World War 2 episode planned. Silver Nemesis does have some big positives, particularly Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred’s performances as the Seventh Doctor and Ace, who are always a great Doctor/Companion pairing. As with the rest of Season 25, Silver Nemesis is worth a watch for the novelty factor alone.

So there were my thoughts on Silver Nemesis, if you enjoyed be sure to leave a like and you can follow us either here or on Facebook for more content like this. Thanks for reading!

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Doctor Who Book Review – Illegal Alien

Illegal Alien was among the first of the BBC Past Doctor Who Adventures novels which ran from 1997-2005 and actually began life as a potential TV story for Season 26 and later the unmade ‘Season 27’ which would have aired had the BBC not cancelled the show in 1989. Written by Mike Tucker, a visual effects assistant on Classic Who and model unit supervisor for NuWho, and script editor Robert Perry, this book is essentially a direct novelisation of the script for the unmade TV story, and is therefore split into four parts. With the end of each part being equatable to the cliffhangers seen in the TV show, a nice addition.

The book features the Seventh Doctor and Ace facing off against the Cybermen in Britain in World War II, a concept that works really well and can draw off several Nazi-related themes in a similar fashion to the TV story Victory of the Daleks does with the Daleks and Churchill. But for the first few chapters, the book reads almost like a detective story – the first-person narration of detective Cody McBride makes this story read like a Noir in some places, making it even more of a shame that this was never adapted for television.

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The version of the Cybermen that are intended to be represented in this novel is unclear – the original cover depicts a Cybermen from The Wheel in Space, whereas the republished version from The Monster Collection in the 2010s features a Cybus-Industries Cyberman, as seen from 2006’s Rise of the Cybermen. However, the descriptions in the novel as well as the era it was set in would suggest that the Cybermen are a more upgraded version of the kind seen in Silver Nemesis. Interestingly, this book depicts Cybermats, the entire cyber-conversion process and the concept of a critically damaged Cyberman scavenging humans for parts long before NuWho did. If this episode had ever been produced, it would have required a monumental budget.

The setting of the Second World War also allows for some interesting character development for Ace, who encounters Nazis in the flesh having already fostered a growing hatred of them since her best friend from her childhood was murdered by Neo-Nazis, showing a continuation of her character arc from Season 26. Ace also spends the majority of this book separated from the Doctor, and figures out what is going on independently, showing a wealth of character development since Remembrance of the Daleks.

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As previously mentioned, this novel was recently made a part of The Monster Collection series, which also included re-releases of Tenth Doctor novels like String of the Zygons and Prisoner of the Daleks, and reviews of those novels will follow.

Overall, Illegal Alien is a great read with some truly memorable characters and a story that gives us a unique insight into what the unmade ‘Season 27’ would have been like. Undoubtedly, had this story been made, it would have been one of the most ambitious Doctor Who stories to date.

 

How to Fix – Daleks in Manhattan and Evolution of the Daleks

Welcome to the latest article in a series called ‘How to Fix’, in which I will be offering my opinion on how to improve on stories from various entries in different franchises, in this case I will be focusing on a specific New Series Dalek two-parter in a similar fashion to my previous installment. It must be noted that not all of the films, games or episodes that I will be talking about in this series have to necessarily be ‘broken’ in order to fix them, simply that these articles will offer alternate means of telling the same stories.

The divisive Series 3 two-parter Daleks in Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks took some truly great sci-fi concepts and executed them in the style of a B-Movie. The episode is infamous for several reasons – the song-and-dance routine, the strangely phallic face of the Human-Dalek Hybrid, and the premature destruction of three-quarters of the Cult of Skaro. Considering that their last appearance had been in Series 2’s Doomsday, an episode that was not only hard-hitting emotionally but also featured the first instance of individual Daleks escaping at the end, presumably to get revenge on the Doctor at a later date. Overall, Daleks in Manhattan and Evolution of the Daleks had a lot to live up to and, despite its potential, it just didn’t stand up to previous Dalek stories in the revival. So, to begin:

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Do more with the concept of the ‘Cult of Skaro’, and the character of Dalek Sec

By far the most interesting aspect of this two-parter is the individual Daleks themselves, and tragically the episode does little to capitalize on their uniqueness as characters. The concept of having a secret order of specific Daleks that have the adaptability and intelligence to scheme beyond the capacity of an ordinary Dalek is interesting enough, but to have this small number of Daleks used as antagonists throughout multiple seasons is an even more interesting idea. For one, it would eliminate the problem that the early NuWho series’ had with Daleks apparently finding more and more inconceivable ways of surviving the Time War, as having a tiny number of survivors reappear as recurring villains is better than having to come up with a different excuse as to why Daleks are around each series. Unfortunately, Evolution of the Daleks in particular does away with this concept a little too early, killing three out of the four Cult members in their second story.

Admittedly, the character arc for Dalek Sec in this story is spectacular, and the execution is fairly effective as well (apart from the phallic protrusions on the Hybrid’s chin, but the less said about that the better). Having Sec sacrifice himself at the end to save the Doctor illustrates just how far a bit of Human DNA can go in rehabilitating a Dalek, even one as committed to the cause as Sec, and his hybridization and subsequent struggle with gaining human emotions is both an interesting concept for a Dalek story and a great spanner to throw into the works of the hierarchy of the Cult. The problem is that, upon killing Sec, Evolution of the Daleks disposes of Daleks Thay and Jast as well, in a pointless firefight that ultimately solves nothing, when realistically these two Daleks should have escaped with Dalek Caan as their characters had barely been developed when they were unceremoniously killed off.

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Do more with the supporting characters

Although Daleks in Manhattan and Evolution of the Daleks constantly reminds the audience that it is set in New York, with the presence of the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty and Hooverville serving to ground the audience in both the location and the time period, unfortunately the supporting cast of this episode are given strangely little to do in the grand scheme of things. Ultimately, the only real purpose that Martha, Tallulah, Lazlo and Frank serve in the final episode is discovering the the Daleks have attached Dalekanium to the Empire State Building, and this discovery is ultimately pointless as the Doctor fails to remove it in time anyway. Daleks In Manhattan manages to give its supporting cast a little more to do, but overall following the death of Solomon the Doctor assumes all the main narrative roles in this story, which is odd considering usually Dalek stories rely primarily on the companion to figure things out whilst the Doctor strikes up an ideological debate with his foes.

Unfortunately, at the crucial point at which this might have been useful, the Doctor totally fails to engage with the potential of the Dalek Sec Hybrid. It should be noted that, upon the death of the Hybrid, it is truly unclear whether or not the Doctor actually trusted him at all – he does refer to Sec as ‘the cleverest Dalek ever’, but in typical fashion the Tenth Doctor seems to be totally indifferent to the destruction of this opportunity to recreate the Dalek race from the ground up, instead being seemingly more focused on berating the Daleks for their lack of foresight rather than genuinely grieving the reformed Sec.

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Rework the Dalek’s plan so that it makes sense

Clearly whoever scripted this episode had no idea how genetics actually work, or how DNA and life relate to each other in the real world. As many fans will already know, Doctor Who has always been about suspending disbelief for the sake of narrative enjoyment, but in the case of Daleks In Manhattan and Evolution of the Daleks this actually hurts the story as the suspension of disbelief is simply unnecessary. The Daleks would surely have the know-how  to create Human-Dalek hybrids even with primitive technology, but the logic of ’emptying’ human bodies to be ‘filled’ with Dalek DNA is about the stupidest way of presenting this concept. Why not just have the Daleks growing the new Hybrid soldiers in tanks, and requiring the lightning strike to bring them to life? Or, heck, just have the lightning strike be there to power their Emergency Temporal Shift to escape to the future – the Daleks could have just revisited the concept of Robomen and indoctrinated Humans into doing their bidding rather than using the seemingly redundant Pig Slaves.

Overall, most of what makes Daleks In Manhattan and Evolution of the Daleks is the mishandling of the Daleks themselves as the main villain – it would be easy to tweak this story to save the Cult of Skaro storyline whilst still keeping its emotional impact, and circumventing some of the stranger concepts in favor of more familiar Dalek concepts would make this story more popular with Dalek fans.

So those were my thoughts on how to fix Daleks In Manhattan and Evolution of the Daleks. I hope you enjoyed, and if you did then be sure to leave a like and you can follow Sacred Icon either here or on Facebook, and for more content like this have a look at the Read More section down below. Thanks for reading!

 

Doctor Who – Ranking the NuWho companions (2005-2017)

NuWho has been on the air for some time now, and has accumulated quite a sizeable array of companions to its name, spanning several eras. Time to rank them all!

#10 – Rose

Yep, Rose is at the bottom. Those who have read previous articles on my site will know that I am not exactly Rose’s biggest fan, and this is mostly due to her erratic and unpredictable behavior – be it laughing and giggling after having just witnessed someone being brutally murdered in Tooth and Claw, or being a total bitch to Sarah Jane Smith in School Reunion, or having a go at Elton for upsetting her mum in Love and Monsters when she herself basically ruined a year of her mum’s life by disappearing and not bothering to tell her. What is frustrating is that this character gets special treatment in the Russell tenure, with basically the entire arc of the era being based around one character – she even got to come back after being gone for a season and a half. So yes, Rose is right at the bottom for just shoddy character development.

#9 – Clara

In a similar vein to my dislike of Rose, Clara stole the show a bit too much when she finally came along. In fact, even before she came along – Jenna Coleman played two distinct versions of Clara before appearing permanently as the genuine article, and this sparked the retch-inducing ‘impossible girl’ storyline that was essentially a more contrived storyline than the whole Bad Wolf thing. The only reason why Clara ranks higher than Rose is that she became slightly less insufferable during her time with the Twelfth Doctor – although she continued to try and take over the show, even getting her face in the title sequence at the end of Series 8 instead of the Doctor’s – the Twelfth Doctor bounced off her better character-wise, and Clara gained more of a personality in Series 8 and 9 compared to the ‘Impossible Girl’ arc that basically carried her through Series 7. Once her character began to emerge, she is really good in some episodes, and once Moffat had got out of his Cbeebies phase Clara was able to meet the more serious and darker aspects that the show took on leading into Capaldi’s era, even having a particularly fantastic death scene in Face the Raven. Although she gets a copped-out immortal lesbian time-travelling spinoff show at the end of Hell Bent she still has to eventually go back and die, which is a pretty dark concept if you think about it.

#8 – River Song

I can genuinely appreciate what Steven Moffat was trying to do with River – the notion of a fellow time-traveller that is encountered out of order and married to the Doctor is a great idea in theory, but the execution was less than spectacular – because her appearance in Silence in the Library and Forest of the Dead was so good as a standalone idea for an episode, people were almost disappointed when her return was announced just one series later. Overall, although River herself was a strong character played excellently by Alex Kingston who also had great chemistry with Matt Smith, her reveal was ultimately a bit of a let down and although she is the Doctor’s wife it is strange that so much emphasis was placed on revealing her ‘secret identity’ only for it to turn out that she is the daughter of the current companions. Despite all this, her departure in The Husbands of River Song is still a defining moment in the Twelfth Doctor’s characterisation change for Series 10 so River can ultimately be thanked for inadvertently influencing the best series of the revival.

#7 – Mickey

Poor Mickey. The strange thing about this character is that he was a genuinely good person – he cared deeply for Rose, he was loyal to his friends and was pretty brave by the end of the show, yet for some reason that defies explanation the Doctor just really seems to dislike Mickey at first, probably because Russell had it in his head from the beginning that the Doctor would fall in love with Rose, but what reason is given for the Doctor’s disdain for Mickey? All Mickey did was get captured by the Autons and then be understandably shaken when the whole thing was over, and yet Rose totally abandons him. Throughout the series Mickey jumps from our universe to a parallel universe and back again, again a symptom of the writers not really knowing what to do with him, and eventually ends up with Martha in an unfortunate ‘match the spares’ situation of the ilk of Neville Longbottom and Luna Lovegood in the eighth Harry Potter film. Ultimately, Mickey’s best qualities are apparent in Series 2, in which he joins the TARDIS team and spends time fighting Cybermen in a parallel universe, eventually becoming a badass.

#6 – Amy and Rory

Although their era spiraled further and further into the nonsense that was Series 7, Amy and Rory are a standout because their relationship gave the show a whole different dynamic that almost makes every episode seem like a continuation of the same story, just framed differently against the backdrop of traveling through time and space. Amy may be bitchy at times and Rory takes a while to find his feet as a character (similarly to Mickey, in many respects) but once he becomes the Roman he becomes one of the most likeable characters on the show. Their best episodes include Amy’s Choice, The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang, The Impossible Planet/The Day of the Moon, The God Complex, The Doctor’s Wife and A Good Man Goes To War so there is a fairly strong selection there alone, and whilst it could be argued that their combined character was irrecoverably ruined  by the abysmal Asylum of the Daleks they at least got a good send off in Angel’s Take Manhattan.

#5 – Donna

As companions go, Donna is definitely going to be among the best-remembered in years to come, possibly even on the same level as companions like Jo Grant and Sarah Jane Smith, in that they all take a very unique perspective on the companion role. In Donna’s case that is the role of a loudmouth with an attitude but who has a heart of gold and, in many ways, is very like the Doctor in some ways. Considering the recent trend that started with the Eighth Doctor TV Movie in which the Doctor has a more romantic relationship with his companion, Donna was a refreshing change as it was made clear from the start that she and the Doctor had absolutely no romantic feelings for each other. This makes episodes in Donna’s era seem more concise and better trimmed, as time isn’t spent on a half-baked romance story in every single episode like in the Rose era.

#4 – Nardole

An ex-criminal cyborg from the future, Nardole is primarily used for comic relief in his initial appearances but the fantastic Series 10 molds him into a well-defined character in his own right, who was an unexpected fan-favourite at the time, who is expected to return at some point in the future. His great relationship with both Bill and the Twelfth Doctor made his inevitable departure all the more tragic, particularly with the manner in which it was carried out – essentially, he was doomed to protect the Mondasian children from endless waves of ever-adapting Cybermen with no hope of escape, which is a pretty dark way to go. Thankfully, we do eventually learn that Nardole survived for years and was eventually inducted into the Testimony system, so Nardole fans can rest easy.

#3 – Captain Jack

Who doesn’t love Captain Jack? Apart from being the first representation of an LGBT character on-screen, (not counting Ace because, although intended, that aspect of her character was never directly addressed by anyone on-screen), Captain Jack is unique among the majority of other NuWho companions as he does not originate from modern-day London, instead originating from the 51st century. As such he is more clued up on the various alien races and technology. The best thing about Jack’s character is that he bounces really well off basically any other character, and is one of the few characters in Russell’s era that I believe is due a temporary return, as he worked so well with both the Ninth and Tenth Doctors and I see no reason why he couldn’t work really well with the Thirteenth Doctor.

#2 – Martha

If there is another companion from Russell’s era that is deserving of a return, it’s Martha. Despite her time in the TARDIS being somewhat overshadowed by her romantic feelings for the Doctor, these didn’t get in the way of her character development or story involvement half as much as Rose’s romantic backstory with the Doctor did, and Series 3 gives Martha a chance to shine in some fantastic episodes like The Shakespeare Code, Gridlock, Human Nature/Family of Blood, Utopia and Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords, in the latter of which she proves her mettle by saving the world and the Doctor from certain destruction. Her departure, on her own terms, sets her above her contemporaries – particularly Donna and Rose – and her comeback in The Sontaran Stratagem/The Poison Sky allowed Freema Aygeman to return to her original character Adeola Oshodi’s defining trait of being a human controlled by an evil invasion force.

#1 – Bill

The personification of wide-eyed wonder and enthusiasm, Bill is one of the cornerstones of the masterpiece that is Series 10. Her relationship with the Twelfth Doctor was totally unique and hearkened back to the ‘Professor/Student’ relationship that Ace had with the Seventh Doctor, although in Bill’s case this is taken a tad more literally, as the Doctor takes on a tutor role both in the real-world, marking Bill’s assignments and teaching her in classes, and also on their adventures. Bill’s reputation as a companion who flaunts her sexuality is, in my opinion, undeserved – although Bill does mention the fact that she is gay in numerous episodes, often this is in response to things other characters insinuate, and even the seemingly random remark she makes to the Doctor before they part ways in The Doctor Falls about liking girls is obviously because the Twelfth Doctor appears so oblivious that they probably hadn’t even talked about it before. Ultimately, Bill is one of the most likeable companions in NuWho and Pearl Mackie does a fantastic job of bringing the character to life.

So that concludes my list ranking the NuWho companions, 2005-2017. If you enjoyed be sure to leave a like and you can follow us either here or on Facebook for more content like this. Thanks for reading!