Doctor Who – Top Ten New Who Dalek Stories

As one of the most enduring icons of Classic Doctor Who, it was no surprise that the BBC decided to incorporate the Daleks into the modern version of the show as soon as possible, with Series 1 alone featuring them in three episodes including the two-part finale. Since then, the Daleks have appeared in every series of the revival, with varying success – sometimes a Dalek episode is exactly what a series needs to bump up the action and stakes, and other times the Daleks seem to be a drag on episodes that they could otherwise not even featured in. Due to their successes in the 60s, 70s and 80s, showrunners of modern Who assume that the Daleks will always be a big hit, but have the pepperpots enjoyed the same success in the 21st century as they had in the 20th? For this list, the focus will be primarily on how the Daleks themselves are presented in the various episodes in which they appear and how much of a threat they present, but also on other factors in the episodes that contribute (positively or negatively) to the overall quality of the story.

asylum of the daleks

10 – Asylum of the Daleks

At the very bottom of the list is Asylum of the Daleks, which will come as no surprise to any Dalek fans as Asylum is notorious for being one of the biggest let-downs in the history of the show. To those not in the know, the marketing for this episode was really exciting – fans knew from various ‘leaked’ photos (which were actually released as a deliberate ploy by the BBC) that classic Dalek props from a multitude of different eras of the show were all gathered together, and modified to look damaged and dusty, and the title of the episode suggested that this would be a love letter to the Classic series that delved into Dalek psychology and perhaps filled in some gaps in their timeline from the Classic era. Fans were wildly speculating that the Cult of Skaro, the Dalek Emperor, the Special Weapons Dalek or even Davros could feature in this episode, and it generated a lot of hype. This all turned out to be in vain, however, and what is truly baffling is why the production team went to the trouble of gathering together all these genuine classic Daleks (including the Special Weapons Dalek from 1988) just to have them all sit there and do absolutely nothing. Ultimately, the fantastic setup and exciting premise of this episode were wasted on a pointless and unwarranted divorce subplot involving Amy and Rory that is solved like magic in the last five minutes, and an arguably well-executed but similarly unwarranted debut of Jenna Coleman as ‘Oswin’, which was later revealed to be one of Clara’s splinters, and the combination of these two subplots distracted attention entirely from the thing fans wanted most of all at that point – a decent Dalek episode – and what we are left with is a mess of wasted potential that should have either been a two parter or had a complete rewrite from the ground up.

time-of-the-doctor.jpg

9 – The Time of the Doctor

From one myriad of wasted potential to another, The Time of the Doctor serves as the confusing and overstuffed finale to the Eleventh Doctor’s tenure, and it was essentially Steven Moffat trying to bolt together all the answers to all the loose ends that had accumulated throughout Matt Smith’s era into one hour-long special because, apparently, he had originally planned for the Eleventh Doctor to have one more series until Matt Smith announced he was leaving the role. As a result, none of the ideas presented here get any real development and, like Asylum of the Daleks, many great ideas are either watered down to the point where they are forgettable or just go over the audience’s heads. Take Handles’ death for example – the scene is beautifully acted, the score is fantastic, and it is clear that the death of this Cyberman head really does affect the Doctor – but it doesn’t affect the audience, because we only met this character about half an hour beforehand. The Daleks in this episode are actually quite formidable – the episode describes in detail how the Daleks attacked the Church of the Papal Mainframe and slaughtered everyone inside, Humans and Silents alike, but it would have been better if the audience could have actually witnessed this for themselves as it would not only have made the Daleks appear more of a threat but it would also have solidified the idea that the Silents are good guys now (which, the first time I saw this episode, I didn’t even clock onto – that’s how fast-paced and convoluted the plot is). Yet, despite all this, Moffat still found a ten-minute space in the runtime for the Eleventh Doctor to make creepy and perverted sexual advances on Clara by running up to her stark naked and then proceeding to do the same thing to her relatives at Christmas dinner, too. Yes, this was a dark time for Doctor Who.

journeys-end.jpg

8 – The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End

As previously mentioned in How to Fix – The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End, this two-part finale of Series 4 has a fantastic setup but a poor conclusion. In fact, were these two separate episodes, The Stolen Earth would rank much higher whereas Journey’s End would definitely be lower, which gives an idea of how inconsistently the Daleks are presented in this two-parter. The Stolen Earth is a great opener – the Doctor and all of his companions from the previous two years, including Sarah Jane Smith, Captain Jack and the Torchwood team all come together to combat a full-on Dalek invasion of Earth, and it is glorious. Throughout this opening episode the audience is constantly reminded of how much of a threat the Daleks are to human society – we see Dalek Saucers bombing Manhatten, we see Daleks destroying houses to draw out human prisoners, we see Daleks slaughtering Human defences like UNIT HQ and the Master’s battleship Valiant, Davros returns for the first time since Remembrance of the Daleks in 1988, and as icing on the cake, a Dalek finally gets to shoot the Doctor dead. All of this is fantastic, but then Journey’s End comes along to spoil everything. As if by magic, suddenly the Daleks are spinning around, out of control, and all the threat and menace that was built up over the opening part melts away and Russell falls back on the most generic, flimsy ‘prophecy’ plotline ever contrived, and the Daleks are beaten. How difficult would it have been for Russell to let the Daleks win? The Doctor should have saved the Earth and stopped the Reality Bomb but at the cost of failing to destroy the New Dalek Empire, allowing Davros to escape with his new army swearing that he will return, and then we wouldn’t have been faced with…

victory-of-the-daleks.jpg

7 – Victory of the Daleks

In a similar vein to The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End, Victory of the Daleks suffers from having a great opening and general premise, but also having a disappointing final act that essentially ruins the episode by leaving a sour taste in the mouths of the audience. This came in the form of the often-derided Paradigm Daleks, which debuted in this episode as a vain attempt by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss to ‘reboot’ the Daleks for their tenure as showrunner and resident weirdo respectively. To make things perfectly clear (and perhaps in contradiction to my earlier assessment of the Paradigm in my various Custom Figure Collection posts), the design of the Paradigm Daleks isn’t actually all that bad – true, there are some odd design choices, such as the hunched back, the flexi-straw neck and the oversized fenders, but if Asylum of the Daleks did one thing right by Dalek fans, it showed that with a new coat of chrome paint and a few modifications the Paradigm props could be made to look intimidating. Unfortunately for Victory of the Daleks, the Paradigm first appeared with matte paint in a disused matchstick factory that had the lighting of a primary school assembly hall that only served to make the new Daleks look more tacky and laughable than they were already. The real tragedy is that, aside from the Paradigm, Victory is actually a decent Dalek story – the Ironsides look awesome, the World War 2 setting complete with Winston Churchill works really well, and there are some great narrative links to Classic Who stories like The Power of the Daleks. It is a true shame that the first Dalek story in Moffat’s era was so disappointing.

evolution-of-the-daleks.jpg

6 – Daleks in Manhatten/Evolution of the Daleks

Yet another episode on this list with its own article on how it can be fixed, Daleks in Manhatten and Evolution of the Daleks are the kind of Doctor Who episodes that take a lot of hate from certain fans of the show, despite essentially being episodes that are not meant to be taken all that seriously. The problem with this idea is that when using a monster like the Daleks, fans tend to take things more seriously than they should, which has led to this Series 3 two-parter being slammed by Whovians of all creeds for brutally cutting short the reign of the Cult of Skaro, creating a ridiculous and overtly phallic Dalek Hybrid creature, and featuring a musical number in a style designed to accompany a 1920s flapper dance routine. Surprisingly, the results are oddly glorious, with this episode slotting in nicely between a great homage to classic sci-fi B-Movies and an odd nod to sci-fi Noir, whilst also featuring some great Dalek scenes, most notably scenes involving Dalek Sec. Other highlights include the rest of the Cult scheming against Sec, the scene in which Solomon and Dalek Caan converse, the relationship between Tallulah and Lazlo and Martha generally just been cool and reliable, as usual. The final battle between the Daleks and the Hybrids is pretty cool as well, and although you don’t have to be Grand Admiral Thrawn to see the obvious flaws in both sides’ strategies (standing still and firing continuously regardless of how many casualties are inflicted on either side), a genuinely poignant moment is when the Doctor laments the eventual death of Dalek Sec, hailing him as ‘the cleverest Dalek ever’, probably due to his mercilessly roasting of the Cyberleader during their previous encounter.

magicians-apprentice.jpg

5 – The Magician’s Apprentice/The Witch’s Familiar

Opening the divisive Series 9 is the equally divisive The Magician’s Apprentice/The Witch’s Familiar, a two-part episode that receives equal measure of love and hate from various factions of the Doctor Who fanbase. On the one hand, this episode does a much better job of showcasing the relationship between the Doctor and Davros than The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End did, to the extent that many have come to regard this episode as less of a Dalek story and more of a Davros story, as the Daleks themselves feature more as a background power at work rather than the main villain of the story. The scenes with Missy and Clara are all fantastic, and there are a handful of great Dalek scenes – most notably the Supreme Dalek’s ‘Maximum Extermination’ scene. On the other hand, the episode does its best to deliberately mess with the audience, in that it seems for the entire story as though the Doctor had done something terrible to Davros in his youth – perhaps even causing the horrendous injuries he is famous for – and yet this rising source of tension in the plot seems to suddenly deflate at the end, and although the moments between Davros and the Doctor are poignant, some fans saw right through the attempt to tug at the viewer’s heartstrings and labelled this episode a failure. Whilst both sides have good points to make, the justification for ranking this episode so highly comes primarily from the scenes with Missy, finally having Classic props in lighting that allows the audience to see them, and some great dialogue between Davros and the Doctor that are reminiscent of the kind of thing Big Finish have done in audios like Davros.

doomsday.jpg

4 – Doomsday

There are many important factors to consider when revisiting Doomsday now, after over ten years. At the time of airing, this episode shook the nation, and that fact cannot be understated – the hype for this episode was justified, and Rose was given a departure to remember as she is torn away from the Doctor whilst Daleks and Cybermen burn the city of London in an unprecedented all-out war between two of the franchise’s most iconic villains. From the perspective of the Daleks specifically, Doomsday has some fantastic scenes, especially thanks to the introduction of the Cult of Skaro, a group of Daleks with more distinct personalities than the standard drones fans are accustomed to. Stand-outs include the verbal demolition of the Cyberleader conducted by Dalek Sec as war is declared, some short but fast-paced action scenes as they tear up the Cybermen, and a surprisingly deep insight into the mind of a Dalek as the Tenth Doctor breaks down how lonely and painful their existence actually is. Over the years, the impact of Rose’s departure has somewhat lessened, particularly as her status as ‘most important companion’ was slowly transferred to Clara over the course of Moffat’s run, and this is perhaps what has hurt this episode the most – ultimately, Doomsday spends a lot more time focusing on the Doctor and companion than it does the Daleks, which is more justified in this instance than it was in Asylum of the Daleks but no less frustrating in hindsight.

into-the-dalek.jpg

3 – Into the Dalek

Since this was only the second episode to feature the Twelfth Doctor, it was important at this stage that his character be firmly established lest the audience grow confused over what this new Doctor actually stands for. Whilst complaints of an inconsistent characterisation are often thrown against the Twelfth Doctor, Into the Dalek was the episode that firmly established Capaldi as the Doctor, as all the best things about the Twelfth Doctor really shine in this story. He struggles with his morality, he is merciless and rude but also caring and occasionally tender, and ultimately with help from Clara he realises the correct course of action and helps bring out the best outcome of a situation that was rapidly spiraling out of control. The Daleks in this story are fantastic, and the opening scene in particular does wonders to showcase the vast size of the Dalek Empire compared to the tiny and ill-equipped Human resistance. In fact, this is the first Dalek story in a long time to effectively convey the idea of a wider galactic conflict being waged against the Daleks in the future, a plot point that often featured in the Classic Series and Big Finish audios yet has been unfortunately absent from New Who until this point thanks to Russell’s Time War plotline. Whilst the basic premise of the episode requires some suspension of disbelief to go with, once this episode gets going it is almost perfect in its depiction of Dalek morality and philosophy, and it is a shame in hindsight that Capaldi didn’t get more Dalek episodes.

parting-of-the-ways.jpg

2 – Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways

The finale of the Series 1 is perhaps the most exciting depiction of the Daleks waging war in the entire history of televised Doctor Who, as the Dalek Emperor returns from the Time War to enact a 100,000 year plan to destroy the Human race and wage war on the entire Galaxy. The Emperor himself is impressive, and credit must be given to both the artists and designers who worked on the prop and Nicholas Briggs, who provided the Emperor’s fantastic booming voice. The Emperor isn’t the only impressive addition to this episode either, as this is the first time we see a full Dalek Fleet in action on-screen and the scenes of the fleet bombing planet Earth as Lynda watches are particularly horrific. Speaking of Lynda, her untimely death at the hands of the Dalek Attack Squad provided another heavy-hitting moment in this already devastating episode, making this episode undoubtedly one of the darkest and most harrowing of the series, and a great showcase of just how threatening the Daleks are at the height of their power. Interestingly, this episode also takes a unique approach to the Daleks themselves – these are half-Human and have a concept of blasphemy, and view the Emperor as the God of all Daleks – and credit must be given here for a fantastic idea that is well-implemented, as this has a distinct effect on the characterisation of the Emperor himself that turns him from an already menacing Dalek into a full-blown deranged megalomaniac of a villain.

 

day-of-the-doctor.jpg

Honorable Mention – The Day of the Doctor

As a brief aside, it is worth mentioning that the Daleks feature in 2013’s The Day of the Doctor, Doctor Who’s 50th Anniversary special, and for the most part they are very strong in this episode. For the first time we get to see the final day of the Last Great Time War, and although this scene has been criticised for depicting the once-legendary dimension-rending myth-war as simply a generic sci-fi battle with lasers and explosions, it is somewhat understandable as by this point in the War the Time Lords had expended all of their timey-wimey weapons and were simply trying to hold out against what was now an inevitable wave of utter devastation – that is exactly why the War Doctor chooses to end it all with the Galaxy-Eater. The reappearance of Murray Gold’s soundtrack ‘The Dark and Endless Dalek Night’ works fantastically with this scene as we see the Daleks lay waste to Gallifrey’s second city, slaughtering soldiers and commoners alike in the streets. Immediately after this scene, however, the Daleks are reduced to mere fodder and do not feature as prominently in the 50th as many fans would have liked, with the honor of primary monster going to the… Zygons? Why?

dalek.jpg

1 – Dalek

And finally, the number one – Dalek, the initial appearance of the Daleks in NuWho. Whilst the title does spoil the surprise somewhat, Classic Who fans rejoiced at the prospect of the Daleks returning to modern Doctor Who, and this episode certainly lived up to the hype. Robert Shearman, who had previously written for Big Finish audios before penning this episode, largely based the plot of Dalek on his Sixth Doctor audio Jubilee, which dealt with the idea of a single Dalek locked up in a prison only to escape and slaughter its former captors. Dalek has the edge, however, in that it was also written to flatten many previous criticisms of their design – particularly the inclusion of their rotating middle section and the reappearance of their ability to fly which had not been seen on-screen since 1988’s Remembrance of the Daleks, which makes their comeback all the stronger. This episode also features plenty of death, again to showcase the true power that even a single Dalek can unleash, but also features a rare example of Dalek character development – this particular Dalek gains human emotions from Rose, and the scenes between the Dalek and Rose, particularly the Dalek’s final scene, is surprisingly poignant. The scene that makes the episode, however, is the Doctor confronting the Dalek in its cell – arguably one of the greatest Dalek scenes in the history of the show. With compelling characters, a fast-paced story and some great action, Dalek is hands down the best Dalek episode in NuWho.

Read More

Doctor Who – Is Big Finish Canon?

The idea of ‘Canon’ in Doctor Who is a unique one, most notably because of how fans of the show interpret the idea differently to that of other shows. In the conventional sense, a franchise’s ‘Canon’ is the established set of works that are a part of the ‘official’ story or universe of that franchise. Normally franchises headed by a single writer will have a strict set of rules as to what is considered ‘Canon’, examples being the Harry Potter universe and the Lord of the Rings series, which both have installments either written or partially written by other authors, meaning that their ‘Canon’ status is debated among fans. Other franchises have experienced controversial alterations to the established ‘Canon’, either via the introduction of alternate universes as in Transformers or Marvel, or a complete behind-the-scenes upheaval of the timeline, such as what Disney did to Star Wars.

‘Canon’ in Doctor Who, however, has a slightly different twist to it – since the show deals with the concept of time travel, paradoxes, re-writing history and alternate universes on a weekly basis, it is a generally established fact within the Doctor who fan community that, as time can be rewritten, anything and everything written or produced for Doctor Who has the potential to be ‘Canon’ in the sense that they once happened, but were overwritten within the show’s history – examples of this include the original Dalek origin story with the Dals and the infamous ‘Dimensions in Time’ Children in Need Special. This essentially opens the floodgates and renders the concept of ‘Canon’ in Doctor Who obsolete, since even within the televised show itself there have been instances of the events of certain episodes being wiped from the timeline. Even so, the debate over whether productions created by companies that the BBC licences to create Doctor Who media should be considered ‘Canon’, most notably, the Big Finish Audio Series.

Since their inception, the Big Finish Audios have attempted to fill narrative gaps or exploit untapped potential from the Classic Series, and this is one of the biggest draws to the series for Classic Who fans who yearn for more episodes from their favourite Classic Doctors. There are instances of the timelines of specific Doctors relying heavily on the Big Finish audios, such as the Sixth and Eighth Doctors, and without those audios in the ‘Canon’ these Doctors would have incomplete tenures. As Big Finish’s range of audios grows, their influence on the established timeline of Doctor Who grows also – a clear example of this is their release of The Brink of Death, which is the Sixth Doctor’s official regeneration story. The same phenomenon is true of the more recent Big Finish productions related to the revived series, such as the new U.N.I.T. series and the Time War series, and the fact that the BBC has granted Big Finish the rights to the New Series as well as the rights to use the new logo and branding suggests that they have been firmly entrenched in ‘Canon’ status.

Nevertheless, for the many fans who have not experienced the Big Finish audios, they seem more like optional extras than an essential part of the Doctor Who timeline, and it all really boils down to personal experience and opinion. But in many ways, that is what is so great about Doctor Who’s ‘Canon’ – it is entirely personal to one’s experiences with the show and its associated media. Those who grew up reading the Doctor Who books are far more likely to consider them to be as ‘Canon’ as the televised series itself, particularly since many of the Doctor Who books are superb, and yet those who have not read the books can still get full enjoyment out of the show and the audios, and so on. This is indicative of the flexible and accessible nature of Doctor Who as a series – although the sheer mass of televised episodes, audios, books and other associated media can seem daunting, the show can actually be accessed quite easily across its many eras and formats thanks to the diverse range of stand-alone stories.

And finally, should the matter of ‘Canon’ really impact ones enjoyment of a piece of media? After all, the recent decision by Disney to rebrand the Star Wars Expanded Universe as the ‘non-Canon’ Legends series may have caused controversy among the fanbase, but that is only because they loved those stories so much – yet the stories themselves are still there, and can still be enjoyed just as easily whether they are ‘Canon’ or not. In answer to the overall question of whether the Big Finish Audios are canon or not, there is realistically only one answer – yes. The BBC has accepted Big Finish’s continuity with open arms, even giving them the rights to almost all of the characters in the revival including the Tenth Doctor, Rose, Donna, Osgood and the War Doctor, and Big Finish is slowly beginning to influence the main show too – the Eighth Doctor recites all of his Big Finish companions in the 50th Anniversary minisode The Night of the Doctor. But ultimately, the question of ‘Canon’ in Doctor Who is an irrelevant one, particularly given the temporal or ‘timey-wimey’ nature of the show, and Doctor Who fans should simply enjoy the vast array of visual and audio media available to us.

Read More

Doctor Who – Top Ten New Who Cyberman Stories

Following on from the Top Ten Classic Who Cyberman Stories, this list presents the appearances of the Cybermen in the Doctor Who, ordered by the quality of their depiction of the Cybermen themselves – originally designed to be fearsome former humans stripped of all emotions, the Cybermen had experienced significant ‘villain decay’ during their tenure on Classic Who. That being said, did NuWho do any better a job of realising Kit Pedler’s original vision of the Cybermen as a sinister cautionary tale against the advancements of medical technology, or are the NuWho Cybermen merely robotic tin soldiers as they were depicted towards the end of Classic Who?

time-of-the-cybermen.jpg

10 – The Time of the Doctor

For those who recall the appearance of the Cybermen in The Time of the Doctor, you should be commended – this episode is mend-bending in its complex awfulness and there are many who have burnt this special from their minds completely to avoid flashbacks of some of the more cringe-inducing aspects to this story – a naked Matt Smith accosting Jenna Coleman, Tasha Lem implying that her alter is a sex-bed she used with the Doctor once, and all manner of Moffat-isms that will undoubtedly be looked back on by future generations as one of the lowest points in the show’s history. Nonetheless, the Cybermen do feature, in two significant capacities – first in the decapitated Cyber-head which the Doctor christens ‘Handles’, arguably one of the best things about this episode, and a Wooden Cyberman which invades Trenzalore with a flamethrower only for it to burn itself to death. From this we can draw two important conclusions – first, Moffat most think the Cybermen are absolute imbeciles that would arm a wooden soldier with a device that creates fire, and second, the fact that a decapitated Cyberman’s head is the best thing about this episode really tells how bad this episode actually is.

closing-time.jpg

9 – Closing Time

Whilst James Cordon did a surprisingly good job as a one-off central character in Series 5’s The Lodger, Series 6’s Closing Time proves that the law of diminishing return is still going strong as Cordon turns what was already a mediocre script into a genuinely bad episode. What makes this all the worse is the fact that, at this point, the Cybermen hadn’t had their own episode since The Next Doctor, meaning this was essentially a chance to redeem the Cybermen that fell completely flat for numerous reasons. Firstly, the Cybermen themselves barely appear, and whilst there are some creepy scenes in which the Cybermen sneak around the department store at night abducting workers, this seems to completely ignore one of the Cybus Cybermen’s key traits – their loud intimidating stomp. Secondly, far too much attention is placed on the Doctor essentially bumming around (although this criticism could stand against many episodes in the Eleventh Doctor’s tenure) and, in a similar fashion to The Lodger, the villain’s entire plan has to be summed up in about 3 lines of dialogue right at the end since so much time was spent with scenes of James Cordon and Matt Smith doing ‘ordinary bloke stuff’ like playing in a toy shop and snogging in a lift. Lastly, the Cybermen are defeated by ‘the power of love’, the laziest and stupidest plot device ever after ‘and they woke up and it was all a dream’.

a-good-man-goes-to-war.jpg

8 – A Good Man Goes To War

Despite only appearing in one scene, the Cybermen do make somewhat of an impression in this episode – though they are essentially used as fodder for Rory to destroy to make him seem like more of a badass by comparison. This episode does contribute somewhat to the villain decay that the Cybermen experienced throughout the Eleventh Doctor’s era, although this episode is notable in that it features the reappearance of the Cyberman warships, which were briefly seen in The Pandorica Opens although it is not until this episode that we see them as part of a fleet. Other than that, there really isn’t much more to say about this episode as far as the Cybermen are concerned – apart from the fact that their brief cameo in this is far better than the entirety of Closing Time.

nightmare-in-silver.jpg

7 – Nightmare in Silver

Neil Gaiman’s attempt to reboot the Cybermen in Series 7 was met with mixed reception, and it is certainly nowhere near as good as his previous episode, The Doctor’s Wife. Despite this, Nightmare in Silver is probably one of the best episodes of Series 7, alongside Cold War and A Town Called Mercy, and it does do a decent job of presenting the Cybermen as a serious threat, unlike several previous Matt Smith episodes had. The setting used here is particularly creepy, the thought of an entire planet dedicated to an abandoned theme park is an interesting idea, but the focus in this story is all over the place – for a start we have the ludicrous idea to include schoolchildren under Clara’s care in this story, a plot device that goes nowhere and was essentially included to fill time, then we have Porridge and his strange subplot involving Clara, and on top of that we have the soldiers and their conflict with the Doctor over blowing up the planet, all running at the same time. Overall, the best aspect of this episode is the Doctor’s conflict with the Cyber-Planner that is attempting to take over his mind, and Matt Smith has to be given credit for some fantastic acting in these scenes, but the impact of the Cybermen themselves in this episode is mediocre thanks to the inclusion of cartoonish special effects to depict their new abilities.

the-next-doctor.jpg

6 – The Next Doctor

As a Christmas Special, it is no surprise that The Next Doctor does not focus primarily on the Cybermen themselves, despite being marketed at the end of Journey’s End as ‘The Return of the Cybermen’, this episode seems to feature them as a token villain – there are some great scenes with them, particularly the scenes between the Cyberlord and Mercy Hartigan, but ultimately this episode contributes little to their story aside from introducing the Cybershades, which never appear again. By far the best scene in the episode, as far as the Cybermen are concerned, is the scene in which Mercy Hartigan unleashes them onto unsuspecting Victorian Noblemen in the graveyard, and this is probably the last good scene that the Cybus Cybermen get in Doctor Who – even if it does only last about a minute and a half. The Cybershades are a nice addition to this scene too, their guttural cries and bestial stature make them scarier than the standard Cybermen but over the course of the episode they gradually devolve from a fearsome threat to a simple footsoldier for the Cybermen, until they are all inexplicably destroyed at the end in a puff of smoke.

the-pandorica-opens.jpg

5 – The Pandorica Opens

The Cybermen are essentially the primary villain of The Pandorica Opens, which is fitting considering the next part, The Big Bang, primarily features a Dalek. However, The Pandorica Opens does not feature the Cybermen to an extent anywhere near the usual for the villain of a Doctor Who episode – a Cyberman’s head stalks Amy before attacking her and re-attaching itself to its old body in an attempt to assimilate her, which is a great scene in itself, but is basically the Cybermen’s only appearance in this episode aside from the brief scene of the Cyberleader arriving with the other Alliance members. Still, it is probably the strongest Cyberman cameo in the revived series, definitely beating Hell Bent and Face the Raven in terms of action-factor, as well as also being the final appearance of the ‘Cybus’ Cybermen, with all future NuWho Cyberman episodes featuring either Mondasian Cybermen or the strange ‘non-Cybus’ Cybermen who use their basic form but without the trademark Cybus logo. The design of the ‘zombie’ Cyberman is to be commended – arguably the best scene in the episode is Amy’s battle with the spider-like Cyber-head, and the skull popping out as it tries to essentially eat her alive is a gruesome reminder that each Cyberman was once a person, whilst also emphasising the more robotic elements of the Cybus design – the suit can operate even without any organic parts, and it yearns to assimilate a new brain and nervous system.

army-of-ghosts.jpg

4 – Army of Ghosts/Doomsday

The finale of Series 2 starts out as a Cyberman story before the Daleks show up at the end of Army of Ghosts to wipe the floor with them – thus prematurely beginning the inevitable villain decay that the Cybermen would experience in NuWho, just as they had done in Classic Who. Although the scenes in Army of Ghosts and Doomsday with the Cybermen are good, and their plan definitely devious, the Daleks steal the show in this episode and the Cybermen are reduced to merely fodder for the Cult of Skaro to mow down in their dozens. The only really interesting aspect to the Cybermen in this story is that they eventually end up siding with the Doctor and the Human forces, fighting alongside the Preachers and even marching out into the streets to divert fire away from the Humans (intentionally or not). This is in keeping with the fact that the Cybus Cybermen were programmed to believe that upgrading is for the Human’s own good, so it makes sense that they would seek to protect what they regard as good stock. Aside from being verbally demolished by Dalek Sec, the Cyberleader is physically destroyed when Jake and his parallel soldiers storm the Torchwood control room, and we get an idea as to how the Cybermen promote individuals within their ranks – apparently, the choice is made at random, and as soon as one Cyberleader is killed the information from its brain is downloaded into another Cyberman, effectively making the Cyberleader almost like a body-hopping consciousness that can possess any soldier in the Cyber-army. What is a shame is that, with everything that is going on in this episode, absolutely nothing is done with this idea.

rise-of-the-cybermen.jpg

3 – Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel

The debut of the Cybermen in NuWho also introduced a ‘subspecies’ in the Cybus Cybermen – i.e. Cybermen that had been created on Earth in a parallel universe by the Cybus Corporation, the brainchild of John Lumic. This episode is a spiritual remake of the Big Finish Audio Spare Parts, in that they both depict the origin of their respective species of Cybermen, although the stories themselves are quite different. The parallel universe setting allows for some great character moments, particularly when Rose finds out that in this timeline her father is still alive, and also Mickey’s similar realisation with his Nan. What makes this all the more tragic is that, in this parallel world, the Cybermen essentially control the population through their earpods, leading thousands of Londoners to the slaughter including the parallel version of Rose’s mother. Though this is exceptionally bleak, Russell doesn’t quite go as far as Spare Parts did in terms of bleakness, since ultimately the Cyber-revolution is prevented and the main factory destroyed. Of all the factors in this episode, however, by far the best is the character of John Lumic. Essentially the Cyberman’s equivalent to Davros, Lumic is insane and fits the part of merciless businessman perfectly. Following his conversion into the Cyber-Controller, Lumic retains an aspect of his megalomaniac personality and the scenes with him and the Doctor are all excellent.

dark-water.jpg

2 – Dark Water/Death in Heaven

Arguably the first true Cyberman story since The Next Doctor, the Series 8 two-part finale Dark Water and Death in Heaven finally reintroduce the element of body horror to the Cybermen that has, in many ways, been lost since Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel. Through Danny Pink’s death and subsequent conversion by a highly advanced race of Cybermen created by Missy, the audience finally gains an insight into the horrors of Cyber-conversion in a way that is not often seen in televised Doctor Who. The plot is primarily driven by Clara and her grief and desperation after losing Danny, and the horror when she learns of his true fate makes us more sympathetic towards her than perhaps ever before in her tenure on the show – for once she isn’t marching around acting like she owns the show, and that frees up plenty of time for this episode to spend on great scenes with the Doctor, Missy and the Cybermen. There are some nice nods to The Tomb of the Cybermen and The Invasion with the Cyber-Tombs being located inside St. Paul’s Cathedral, and the inside of these new Cybermen have been fantastically designed, as Danny’s partially decayed corpse staring blankly out of the face of a Cyberman has got to be one of the most enduring images of the Series. This episode was controversial at the time of airing as the dark themes of death and the afterlife, coupled with the three words ‘Don’t Cremate Me’ being a driving force behind the episode,  was reportedly more scary for kids than the Cybermen themselves, but in hindsight this merely adds a much-needed boost to the fear factor of both the Master and the Cybermen as the plot involving Cybermen rising from the graves of the recently deceased in a fashion similar to a zombie apocalypse is perhaps one of the most fearsome plot outlines in NuWho’s history, making this one of the Cybermen’s scariest episodes.

cyberwoman.jpg

Honorable Mention – Cyberwoman

For all its faults, the Torchwood episode Cyberwoman has some really gruesome depictions of Cyber-conversion that would never have been seen on the main show – for once blood and gore go hand in hand with the process of Cyber-conversion thanks to the more mature and adult-orientated nature of the spinoff. This is just about the only positive that can be said about this episode, however – its reputation as being an overblown nonsensical waste of potential is deserved – but for its part it does try to bring an element of body horror back to the Cybermen, the likes of which so far had not been seen in NuWho before this episode’s release.

world-enough-and-time.jpg

1 – World Enough and Time/The Doctor Falls

The last thing anyone expected to get in NuWho was the Genesis of the Cybermen story involving the classic Mondasian Cybermen as previously seen in The Tenth Planet, but that’s what we got with the Series 10 finale World Enough and Time and The Doctor Falls. As icing on the cake, this episode goes out of its way to ensure that the Big Finish audio Spare Parts – the Fifth Doctor story which shows the origin of the Cybermen on Mondas – is still canon, by establishing the idea of parallel evolution of the Cybermen, accounting for the Mondasian, Telosian, Cybus and Cyberiad versions all existing at once. This allows Steven Moffat to essentially tell his own version of the Cyberman origin story without interfering with the canon, and his version is far darker and bleaker than Russell’s version from Rise of the Cybermen. The inclusion of the Master as a major contributing factor to the creation of this particular faction of Cybermen is an interesting twist, and the scenes with John Simm and Michelle Gomez show how truly great both performers are at capturing certain aspects of the Master’s personality. What steals the show however is Pearl Mackie as Bill, and her tragic subplot involving Cyber-conversion is perhaps the most harrowing depiction of the process in the history of the show. The editing and direction in this episode is excellent, with Bill switching between her human and Cyberman body depending on the perspective of the scene, which showcases the most fundamental horror of the Cybermen – under the metal and plastic exterior they are, or rather were, simply ordinary people.

Ultimately, it appears as though NuWho’s depiction of the Cybermen is as varied both in content and quality as in Classic Who – there are some great episodes, that portray the Cybermen as horrifically ruined human beings either tragically seduced by the advancements of technology or forced into conversion against their will, and some terrible episodes that present the Cybermen as little more than robots who stomp around as a generic enemy for the Doctor to defeat. Both showrunners so far in NuWho have had a mixed bag of handling the Cybermen, and hopefully Chris Chibnall finds something more interesting to do with them that doesn’t resemble Cyberwoman.

READ MORE

 

 

Doctor Who – The War Games Review

The Second Doctor finale The War Games is now almost 50 years old, and marks several important milestones in Doctor Who’s history – it is the final episode of the Classic era to be broadcast in monochrome, and it is the final episode in the distinguished run of the Second Doctor, played by Patrick Troughton. Unusually for a Classic Doctor Who story, this episode is ten parts long, giving it a total run time of almost 250 minutes, making it quite the epic. But almost 50 years later, how does this climactic finale hold up?

The vast majority of the early parts of this episode can be summed up in three words all too familiar to fans of Classic Who – ‘capture and escape’. This method of storytelling can get somewhat tiresome, but in fairness to this story, the setting and characters vary dramatically throughout the early episodes thanks to the intriguing and fantastically executed central premise – the idea that the TARDIS lands in what seems to be the First World War, that is actually another planet upon which various wars from throughout human history are being played out in the titular ‘War Games’, allowing for some dramatic variations in setting that keep things interesting.

Most of the first 5 episodes revolve around the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe finding their bearings in this strange setup – at first, the episode takes its World War 1 setting very seriously, and it should be noted that the writers and producers took extra time and care to ensure that their depiction of the Great War was both respectful and accurate. This is complicated somewhat as the story progresses, however, and as the truth unfolds the World War 1 setting falls away to make room for depictions of the American Civil War and the War Lords’ headquarters. Speaking of the War Lord, both he and the War Chief are great characters – the dialogue between the Doctor and the War Chief in particular is fascinating, especially given what we know in hindsight about Gallifrey. The War Chief is somewhat of a ‘prototype’ for the character of the Master, who would debut on the show just 2 years later in 1971’s Terror of the Autons, but this does not mean that the War Chief lacks his own distinct personality – his lack of a prior relationship with the Doctor allows him to be manipulated in a way that the Master would never have been.

As usual, Jamie and Zoe are both fantastic in this story, a fact that is made all the more tragic by the fact that this is their final story. The eventual fate of the duo is heartbreaking, but anticipation of this does not overshadow the entire story in the way that, for example, Adric’s death does for an episode like Earthshock. One of the best things about The War Games is how varied it is, and although it is a whopping ten parts long, the format takes full advantage of the unique setting to keep things refreshing every couple of episodes. In a similar fashion to a story like The Trial of a Time Lord, the episode’s unusual length is warranted thanks to a good use of setting and using changes in location to advance the story. Jamie and Zoe do just as much to advance the plot as the Doctor does, and Jamie in particular shows just how much he has learned during his travels with the Doctor in some fantastic scenes, making this episode an essential for fans of these companions.

This story also features the departure of Patrick Troughton as the Second Doctor, and his regeneration is perhaps the strangest of them all. The seemingly omnipotent Time Lords in this story appear far more benevolent than how they are depicted in later media, and the circumstances behind their appearance present a turning point in the Doctor’s character as he finally realises that he has encountered a problem that is beyond his ability to resolve. The War Games does a great job of maintaining tension, and there is a continuous sense that the stakes are high as the Doctor and his companions make their way through Earth’s various wars – in fact, this may be one of the most divisive Doctor Who episodes in terms of engagement – on the one hand, ten parts is definitely too long for any single Doctor Who story, and yet The War Games seems to defy this by effectively breaking the runtime into distinct sections, each with their own individual setting, villains, obstacles and outcome, that all roll together at the end and blend seamlessly onto one long narrative. This episode is similar to Genesis of the Daleks in the sense that on paper it would seem as though the run time is too long, and yet the actual execution subverts expectations for an overlong Doctor Who story and turns it into an epic that maintains the engagement of the audience throughout thanks to clever narrative techniques.

Overall, The War Games is a great watch for so many reasons, and whilst it certainly won’t be everyone’s cup of tea either due to the subject matter, the length or the era from which it originated, for fans of the Second Doctor this is definitely a must-watch, and fans of Classic Who in general should definitely give it a chance. The final episode in particular is heartbreaking but hopeful at the same time, and given the hindsight of knowing that great things are yet to come, the ending is as bittersweet as it is dark and gripping.

Read More

 

 

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?

the-mysterious-planet.jpg

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.

mindwarp.jpg

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.

terror-of-the-vervoids.jpg

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…

the-ultimate-foe.jpg

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.

trial

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.

See More

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?

the-crusade.jpg

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.

the daleks master plan

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.

the-celestial-toymaker.jpg

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.

the-underwater-menace.jpg

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.

the-faceless-ones.jpg

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.

the evil of the daleks

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.

the abominable snowmen

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.

the-wheel-in-space.png

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.

the spare pirates

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.

See More

 

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. Whilst this episode is visually fantastic, and features some great direction by Doctor Who legend Graeme Harper, there are some serious and glaring narrative flaws with this story – and given that writer Eric Saward is due to publish the novelisation of this story for the first time this year, it seems fitting to take a look at some of the narrative missteps in such an important episode in the Dalek chronology. So, without further ado, let’s get right into how to fix Revelation of the Daleks.

revelation-of-the-daleks-davros.jpg

Totally Rework the Focus of the Story

What is perhaps most interesting about Revelation of the Daleks as a Doctor Who story is the lack of focus on the Doctor himself – 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 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. For those who have listened to Big Finish’s Dalek Empire series, which depicts stories of other characters fighting the Daleks without the Doctor, the feel is somewhat similar for the first part of this episode, aside from when the episode cuts back to the Doctor and Peri.

An unfortunate side effect of this is that scenes of the Doctor and Peri trudging around the exterior of Tranquil Repose seem like little more than 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 a bit jumbled. Had the episode been written by someone who was more appreciative of Colin Baker’s Doctor, then ideally the Doctor and Peri should have had far more screen time, and perhaps got involved with the main story a little sooner, in order to link the various plot elements together in a way that the audience will understand. Although the scenes inside Tranquil Repose are well shot and feature some great actors and actresses including Eleanor Bron, Clive Swift and Colin Spaull, the audience is thrown into this strange world without a reliable guide to lead them through the complicated story. However, the scenes featuring the Daleks themselves, particularly the Glass Dalek, are the most chilling of the early scenes. Talking of which…

revelation-of-the-daleks-glass-dalek.jpg

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, the first 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’. However, there are also other sub-subplots, including the Doctor and Peri’s jaunt through the exterior of Necros and 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 isolated Dalek scenes, or the jarring broadcasts of the infamous DJ (more on him later). Ultimately, the episode suffers from the two-part format that was in use at the time – ideally, the story could have condensed Jobel and Tasambeker’s story into the first episode, with the Doctor’s involvement being accelerated so that he meets Natasha by the end of the first part. Also, whilst they are excellent, Davros’ interactions with Kara should have fed into the cliffhangar of the second 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.

revelation of the daleks dj

Hang the DJ

Perhaps the most complicated element to this story, the ridiculous DJ character – who seems so distinctly bizarre and out of place that even characters in the story comment on his borderline anachronistic intrusions into the episode. Played by Alexei Sayle, this character does actually have some intriguing depth to him that is gradually revealed as the story goes on, particularly once he meets Peri. However, for most of the time before that, his scenes are jarring to say the least – although he contributes to the wacky and deranged nature of Tranquil Repose, many viewers now might be put off by the character.

However, he does contribute to some great action scenes in the second episode, with his sonic cannon of “pure Rock’n’Roll” being used to destroy several Daleks in spectacular fashion. We are also given a surprisingly tragic death for this character, who by this point had somewhat redeemed his odd introduction by opening up to Peri as perhaps the only truly sane human in the episode, who just wants to try to connect with Earthern culture after being stuck on Necros for so long.

In Conclusion

Overall, Revelation of the Daleks a troubled 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 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!

How To Fix

More Doctor Who Posts

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!

See More

 

 

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.

illegal-alien-2.jpg

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.

monstercollection.jpg

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:

evolution-of-the-daleks-3.jpg

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.

evolution-of-the-daleks-5.jpg

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.

evolution-of-the-daleks-2.jpg

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!

 

%d bloggers like this: