Halo – SPV3 – CMT’s Re-Masterpiece

As Halo mods go, you can’t get much better than SPV3. Custom Mapping Team, headed by Masterz1337, have created nothing short of a masterpiece with their fantastic re-imagining of Halo: Combat Evolved‘s campaign. Downloadable for free on PC, SPV3 features many interesting surprises for even the most hardened Halo veteran, thanks to remastered graphics, new assets, new weapons and vehicles, and in some cases totally re-imagined levels with new playspaces to explore. As if all that were not enough, the mod also features new enemy types including Brutes, Skirmishers, Sniper Jackals, Honor Guards three different types of Hunters. With so much in this mod, it can be hard to summarise totally in one article, so this may not be the only time this mod features as a topic in the future. For this introduction, the focus will be the new features of this mod that stand out the most when compared with both Halo: Combat Evolved and it’s Anniversary version.

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The Music

One of the first aspects of this mod that jumps out at you is the music. Whilst Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary’s soundtrack mostly stuck to the tunes featured in the original game, SPV3’s soundtrack draws from various other Halo games and many of the remasters are radically different from their original counterparts. Whilst many of the classic musical cues in the levels we remember make a return, the mod adds enough new music to make each level feel like an entirely new experience. Highlights of the soundtrack include Under Cover of Night, Rock Anthem for Saving the World, Halo, Sleeping Grunts, Covenant Dance, Leonidas, Brothers in Arms and In Amber Clad, but each and every track in the game has been painstakingly and quite spectacularly enhanced for this updated Halo campaign.

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The New Levels

The most exciting of the new additions to the campaign in SPV3 is the new levels, as each and every one has had its weapons, objectives, encounters and atmospheres altered or expanded in various ways. The Anti-Gravity sections in The Pillar of Autumn, the Anti-Air Wraith battle in Halo and the Grizzly rampage in Assault on the Control Room are among the most notable stark enhancements to the campaign’s fun factor, and long-time fans of Halo: Combat Evolved who know the game inside out will be met with many wonderful surprises when playing through SPV3’s campaign as the familiar and the unfamiliar collide in a thrilling single player experience. With all ten of the original levels plus an alternate take on The Silent Cartographer featuring in SPV3, there are a vast variety of classic and brand-new enemy encounters to overcome and dozens of tweaks to each and every facet of the original Halo experience.

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The Covenant

In the original version of Halo: Combat Evolved, there were four Covenant races featured – Elites, Grunts, Jackals and Hunters, with some of these having variants such as the Jackal Major, the Stealth Elite and the infamous Zealots. SPV3, on the other hand, has the benefit of hindsight – since Halo: Combat Evolved‘s release, various other Covenant races and variants have been introduced into the franchise such as Jackal Snipers, Elite Honor Guards, Skirmishers and Brutes, and thanks to the power of mods all of these and more are featured in SPV3’s campaign, as well as a vast variety of new Covenant weapons like the Focus Rifle, the Brute Plasma Rifle, the Brute Shot and even Halo 5’s ‘Voi. Also, the CMT have created many of their own totally new Covenant weapons that blend seamlessly into the aesthetic of the game, such as the Shredder (a Brute version of the Needler), the Particle Carbine (like the standard Carbine but battery powered) and the Brute Plasma Pistol (which includes an overcharge that spews fire upon impact). These additions to the Covenant make them more dynamic enemies to fight and the vast variety makes for some challenging encounters with larger groups of enemies that the original Halo: Combat Evolved would have struggled to process.

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The Flood

Another big surprise in SPV3 is just how much the Flood have changed in this mod compared to the original game, as they are now a more dynamic threat than ever before. Each of the five Flood levels have been totally reworked from the ground up – the original identity of levels like The Library, Keyes and The Maw have been retained but the mood and atmosphere have been altered considerably, essentially transforming the latter half of the game into a unique and exhilarating horror experience. Levels that were formerly bogged down by repetitive level design and unimaginative encounters have now been re-imagined into some of the best Halo experiences, and this is made all the more exciting by the wide variety of forms the Flood can take in this mod. In the original game, the Flood came in four basic forms – the tiny Infection Forms, the bloated and explosive Carrier Forms and the two varieties of Combat Form, derived from either Elite or Human host bodies. In SPV3, new additions to the Flood ranks include Jackal Forms that howl and screech as they leap towards the player, Brute Forms that are essentially tankier versions of the standard Combat Forms and, for the first time in a Halo game, ODST Combat Forms that are stronger and more dangerous versions of the standard Human Combat Form. If all this were not enough, CMT went one step further and added Halo 3’s instantaneous infection feature, meaning that any Covenant or Human soldiers that are attacked by an Infection Form will be transformed into a Flood form before your very eyes.

In Conclusion

Those out there who are Halo fans and have not yet given SPV3 a go are strongly advised to download this mod, it has clearly had a lot of time, care and effort put into it to make it fun and fresh for fans of Halo: Combat Evolved and the Halo series in general.

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Doctor Who – Top Ten Classic Who Dalek Stories

As Classic Who’s most iconic and enduring monster, the Daleks appeared many times throughout the 1963-1989 run of Doctor Who following their initial appearance in the show’s second aired episode. Over the many eras of Classic Who, the Daleks usually appeared at least once – and although their creator Terry Nation wrote many of their early episodes eventually other writers stepped in with alternate interpretations of the pepper pots and how they should be used on-screen. This, coupled with the fact that Nation himself toyed with many varying ideas related to the Daleks, means that their episodes vary dramatically in tone, setting and content, and this inevitably leads to varying levels of quality to match.

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Honorable Mention – Destiny of the Daleks

Included here as an honorable mention is Destiny of the Daleks, simply because it cannot hold a candle to any of the other Dalek episodes on this list. Despite being written by Terry Nation and featuring Douglas Adams as the script editor, this episode is an absolute shambles in terms of the show’s lore and the depiction of Davros. The worst moments include scenes in which both the Doctor and Davros refer to the Daleks as robotic creatures, and the Daleks contradicting themselves by first claiming that self-sacrifice is illogical before volunteering themselves for a literal suicide mission. The only real upsides are Romana II, the great dialogue and Tom Baker as the Doctor, but otherwise this episode is hardly worth the time.

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10 – Revelation of the Daleks

As previously discussed in How to Fix – Revelation of the Daleks, the Sixth Doctor’s only televised Dalek episode has its issues, particularly related to acting quality, pacing and story focus – it is still an enjoyable watch in its current state, although it does come across as a missed opportunity. The Doctor and Peri barely feature in this episode – and too much screen time is given to a strange DJ – but by far the highlight of the episode is Davros, and Terry Molloy is great as usual. Davros’ scheme is certainly twisted and insane, but what makes Revelation of the Daleks important to Davros fans is how it links two of the best Davros audios, Davros and The Juggernauts, as in the former we get to hear how Davros lays the foundations for his dreadful plans on Necros and the latter describes what happened to Davros immediately following this story, meaning Revelation forms the middle of a bizarre Sixth Doctor and Davros ‘trilogy’. One of the other highlights of this episode is the Glass Dalek, a monstrous creation by Davros that houses a human who has been mutated into a Dalek in much the same way that the Kaleds were in Genesis of the Daleks, laying the groundwork for Davros’ experimentation on the Dalek physiology that would ultimately culminate in the Imperial Daleks from 1988’s Remembrance of the Daleks. Whilst it is undoubtedly an important milestone in 1980s Dalek lore, Revelation does not stand up to many of the other Dalek stories on this list, particularly due to its odd pacing and tone issues that plagued many mid-1980s Doctor Who stories.

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9 – Death to the the Daleks

This episode features one of the best Classic Dalek designs and colour schemes, with the ‘science division’ Daleks featured in this episode sporting a unique silver-and-black finish that is certainly striking, Unfortunately, as far as Classic Dalek episodes go, that’s about the best thing that can be said about this episode – although the idea of using a power drain to force the Daleks and Humans to work together is an interesting one, Death to the Daleks does little more than this, especially considering the fact that the Daleks get alternate weapons before long. Still, the sequences inside the Exxilon City are interesting, and the Exxilons themselves are an interesting species with tribal chants that give this episode a distinct vibe, making Death to the Daleks an iconic episode even if it is not among the best Classic Who Dalek serials. Interestingly, this story is apparently Nicholas Briggs’ favourite Dalek story, and several Big Finish audios pay homage to it including the Fourth Doctor Adventures story The Exxilons and the Dalek Empire story also entitled Death to the Daleks!. One of three Dalek stories in the Third Doctor’s era (ironic, considering Jon Pertwee himself disliked the Daleks as villains) Death to the Daleks ranks as the weakest, although Jon Pertwee and Elizabeth Sladen’s performances in this story are not to be underestimated, and fans of this Doctor-companion pairing will enjoy Death to the Daleks for that reason alone.

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8 – The Daleks

The debut of the Daleks in Classic Doctor Who, The Daleks is definitely worth a watch but does suffer from issues of pacing, particularly since it is seven episodes long. Whilst this can be forgiven due to the fact that it was only the second ever serial of Doctor Who to air, The Daleks is perhaps best watched with the foreknowledge that it is in many ways a ‘prototype’ for future Dalek episodes – although at the time the creators had no idea the Daleks would become such an enduring recurring villain, many elements of this episode are developed in much more detail in subsequent Dalek stories, and The Daleks does dedicate a lot of its run-time to what is clearly filler. The best example of this is the chasm jumping sequence, in which the episode stops dead as we watch all five or six members of the Human-Thal party jumping over a chasm, taking up the majority of its episode’s run time. Ultimately, being the first Dalek episode and a very early episode in the show’s run, The Daleks is worth watching for historical interest but doesn’t contain as much Dalek action as it perhaps could, although there are many extended scenes in the Dalek control rooms that give the audience a good idea of what the Daleks are really like early on, as they scheme and manipulate the humanoids in the story with sinister mercilessness, with a particularly chilling moment being the line in which the Daleks decide to alter the environment of their planet to kill the Thals rather than adapting to the planet’s radioactivity.

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7 – The Power of the Daleks

Although this episode is entirely lost, thankfully a complete animated recreation was released by the BBC in 2013 with all six episodes restored using the original audio and some of the best animation for a Doctor Who DVD release to date. The episode shows the Daleks at their best – manipulative and ruthless – and their scheme to appear docile in order to siphon power from the human colony is devious. As this was the Second Doctor’s first televised story it set the standard for Dalek stories to come, as many fans view The Power of the Daleks as among the very best Dalek stories, but its length and pacing mean it has not aged as well as other much-loved Dalek episodes. Another slight drawback to this episode for many is the lack of original visuals, and although the animated reconstruction is welcome, many have noted the apparent poor quality of some of the recreated scenes – particularly the initial post-regeneration sequence and basically any other scene where it is not immediately obvious what the original actors were doing in the episode. Regardless, the animated Daleks do look spectacular and hopefully The Power of the Daleks will be the first of many fully-animated lost Dalek episodes.

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6 – Day of the Daleks

Having been recently remastered, Day of the Daleks went from being a somewhat mediocre Dalek story to a classic thanks to updated effects, re-dubbed Dalek voices performed by Nicholas Briggs and even whole new scenes filmed using the original camera equipment. In the original story, the final battle used only three Dalek props – the most that were available at the time – so the effect is lessened. With new Daleks added with CGI, the battle scene has been reinvigorated, and for Classic Who this episode is particularly exciting. With a complex time-travel plot that is similar to, but actually predates, the Terminator series, Day of the Daleks is a great action-packed Third Doctor story that incorporates time travel into the story as a core aspect of its main plot rather than simply a means of reaching Point A from Point B, making it unique among Dalek stories. Since its remaster, this episode has jumped up in quality from a mediocre Dalek serial that was bogged down by budget and production issues to a reinvigorated classic that is actually more like a longer episode of New Who than many other Classic Dalek serials. Living up to the action-adventure themes of the Third Doctor’s era, Day of the Daleks is well worth the time now that the much-needed remaster in the Special Edition has been released.

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5 – Resurrection of the Daleks

Resurrection of the Daleks begins the three-part ‘Dalek Civil War’ arc involving Davros, the Daleks and various factions of in-fighting Daleks that also includes Revelation  and Remembrance, and of the three Resurrection has by far the best depiction of Davros in all his manipulative, scheming glory. Terry Molloy’s debut as the twisted Kaled scientist is a must-watch for Dalek fans, and fans of the Fifth Doctor can rejoice as this episode features many watershed moments for his character, including his deliberation over whether or not to shoot Davros, and the fact that Tegan departs the TARDIS, both situations that test the more human and fallible Fifth Doctor. As far as the Daleks go, however, Resurrection portrays them as being noticeably weaker than previous Dalek stories, with the Movellan War crippling the Dalek Empire and forcing the Daleks to employ humanoid soldiers for assistance in combat situations. This leads to the introduction of Lytton, a fantastic character who appears in this episode and Attack of the Cybermen, and is somewhat of an anti-hero in both episodes.

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4 – The Dalek Invasion of Earth

It was inevitable following the success of The Daleks that the Daleks themselves would return to Doctor Who, and their second appearance, The Dalek Invasion of Earth, has often being said to be their best episode of the Hartnell era, as depicting the Daleks assaulting familiar ground like central London is far more effective and heavy-hitting than having them attack a band of alien hippies in a forest, as in The Daleks. Relying heavily on imagery from the Second World War, an event that was still directly impacting many of the audience at the time, giving this episode a heavy impact at the time that still endures to this day. As if the depressing imagery of a subjugated Earth was not effective enough, The Dalek Invasion of Earth also features the first instance of a companion departure in the show, with Susan staying behind on the war-torn Earth as the TARDIS leaves, with the Doctor promising that one day, he would come back.

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3 – Frontier in Space/Planet of the Daleks

As a pair, Frontier in Space and Planet of the Daleks link together to form one 12-part story involving the Master, the Ogrons and the Daleks attempting to destabilise the relationship between the Human and Draconian civilisations before awakening an army of Daleks, and either episode experienced on their own pales in comparison to watching the entire serial as one continuous story. Because Frontier in Space is just so excellent, featuring the final appearance of Roger Delgado’s Master, and Planet of the Daleks has some fantastic scenes with both Daleks and Thals, the pair of stories combine into an epic space opera revolving around the beginnings of the Galactic War against the Daleks. The only real criticism of this story is the length – although Frontier in Space makes a competent use of its runtime, Planet of the Daleks could have been shorter, and overall twelve parts for the entire double-serial run is just too long.

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2 – Genesis of the Daleks

Arguably Terry Nation’s best contribution to the lore of his own creations, Genesis of the Daleks depicts the creation of the Daleks, centuries before their appearances in The Daleks and subsequent Dalek episodes, as well as being the debut episode of the mad Kaled scientist Davros. Like all the best six-part Classic Who stories, Genesis effectively utilises its run time to deliver a well-paced story with suitable doses of action, suspense, and exciting sequences in each episode. Unlike Planet of the Daleks, there is not a single individual episode of Genesis that feels as though it could have been cut out, and as the plot marches towards the inevitable creation of the Daleks the tension builds until the climax at the end of Part 6. Genesis has been praised for its great characters and dialogue, and there are some fantastic scenes between the Doctor, Sarah and Harry that show how the TARDIS team has bonded throughout the season. The Kaled characters in this story are also fantastic – Nyder, Ronson and, of course, Davros, who makes his debut here played for the first and only time by the legendary Michael Wisher who does a tremendous job as the maniacal scientist. Overall, Genesis is a classic and well-deserved of its status as one of the greatest episodes of Doctor Who. However, there is one other Dalek episode that takes the top spot, and that is…

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1 – Remembrance of the Daleks

…ironically, the final Dalek episode of the Classic series, Remembrance of the Daleks. The Cartmel Masterplan made its debut in this episode, as script editor Andrew Cartmel decided to include more references to the idea of the question behind the Doctor’s identity, and Remembrance of the Daleks is the first in a series of episode that hint at the Doctor’s dark past and his history with the Time Lords and other powerful races. The depiction of the Imperial-Renegade Dalek Civil War as well as the return of Davros and the introduction of the Special Weapons Dalek make this episode an explosive and fitting finale to the Dalek plot arc in the Classic series, as the episode ends with a much darker and more ruthless Seventh Doctor destroying Skaro and wiping out both the Imperial and Renegade Daleks on Earth. If that were not enough, this episode is considered by fans to be the true 25th Anniversary Special (even thought the inferior Silver Nemesis’s broadcast coincided with the actual anniversary date of the 23rd of November) as this episode is littered with continuity references and is based in 1963, in the same place as the First Doctor and Susan parked the TARDIS in the very first episode of the show.

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Halo: The Flood – Book Review

When William C. Dietz was approached by Bungie to write a novelisation of Halo: Combat Evolved, a game that he had never played, he was initially reluctant. However, after going away and playing the game a few times, as well as reading the preliminary novel Halo: The Fall of Reach, he decided to take up the challenge. Following the book’s release, it received mixed reviews from critics – some said that it didn’t deviate enough from the games, some said that Dietz’s presentation of the character of the Chief wasn’t consistent with previous author Eric Nylund’s, and most said that the novel is rather repetitive – often consisting of little more than descriptions of gunfights repeated over and over again. Now that the release of Halo: Combat Evolved is but a distant memory, it is interesting going back and re-reading this novel for two reasons – first, I have not read this book since I was a child, and second, the book isn’t anywhere near as bad as many people have made it out to be.

In fairness, I am a massive fan of Halo, so perhaps the book appeals to me in ways that it would not for a casual reader. Also, there are some issues with the book that gripe me – the presentation of the Covenant, for example, is radically different from how they are presented in Halo 2, but that is hardly the author’s fault. In fact, many of the best parts about this book are actually segments that Dietz fought to have included – initially Bungie didn’t want a Covenant subplot, but Dietz felt (rightly) that it would add more to the narrative. The representation of events going on during Halo: Combat Evolved that the Chief was not present for is also particularly good, and the characters of Major Silva and Lieutenant McKay are particularly well-written. Other highlights of the book include Yayap, who provides some comic relief but is a strong character nonetheless, and the depiction of Captain Keyes and Wallace A. Jenkins’ horrific assimilation by the Flood, the former of which was adapted for one of the Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary terminals.

Arguably the most engaging character is Zuka ‘Zamamee, an Elite who makes it his mission to hunt the Master Chief throughout the majority of the book. Interestingly, this subplot places Zuka in many of the locations that the Chief himself visits throughout the campaign of Halo: Combat Evolved but either too early or too late to actually encounter the Chief himself, save for a few encounters that don’t go well for the Elite – all the while, Zuka is being tailed by his unwilling assistant Yayap, who is perhaps the most developed Grunt character in the entire Halo franchise. There are also several one-shot Covenant characters that appear for only a chapter or two, which Dietz essentially uses as fodder against either the UNSC or the Flood, with varying degrees of effectiveness. An example of how this doesn’t quite work appears quite early in the novel – an Ossoona named Isna ‘Nosolee, who boards the Pillar of Autumn during the opening chapters and boards Captain Keyes’ lifeboat as the Autumn is evacuated, only to be shot in the head by Keyes during the descent. Whilst this is an interesting addition to the novel, it seems to set up a plot point that goes absolutely nowhere, as Keyes and his team are later captured anyway. The reason for this is that Bungie only accepted Dietz’s proposal to have a Covenant subplot in the novel on the condition that he kill every Covenant character that he introduces in the book, so that Bungie would not have to include them in any media that would follow.

This highlights one of the weakest elements of this novel, in that the fact that everyone has to die at the end of the novel – in a similar manner to Halo: Reach, the knowledge that eventually all the characters will die except for the Chief somewhat reduces the tension throughout. Still, that is perhaps this books most prominent weakness aside from an over-dependence on military dialogue and constant action sequences, which in all aren’t particularly bad – the book is a novelisation after all, and to complain that a book that retells the same story as the game doesn’t deviate enough from the story of the game is not a fair criticism.

One of the strongest aspects of this book is the depiction of the Flood, particularly through Private Jenkins and Captain Keyes who undergo the horrors of infection but still retain a glimmer of consciousness despite their ravaged bodies being host to the Parasite. Dietz’s depiction of how the Flood picks apart the memories of their victims is truly harrowing to read, particularly since readers of the previous book Halo: The Fall of Reach will have a particular connection to Keyes as a character that we didn’t really get from Halo: Combat Evolved, with many players finding Keyes’ habit of getting himself captured very frustrating. The finale of the book from the perspective of Major Silva and Private Jenkins is poignant and really shows just how close the Flood were to getting off Installation 04, making the tension of the Chief’s final run all the higher since the stakes are raised from the depiction of these events in the game.

Overall, Halo: The Flood is an effective novelisation, but perhaps not as strong of a narrative as Halo: The Fall of Reach and Halo: First Strike. It is an absolute must-read for Halo fans, particularly those who are intimately familiar with Halo: Combat Evolved, but is probably a stretch too far for non-Halo fans, to whom many of the game’s extended descriptions of weapons, vehicles and locations would mean absolutely nothing. Dietz’s strongest plot threads include the side plots involving Zuka ‘Zamamee and the Flood, with the story of Melissa McKay and Major Silva being an interesting inclusion but ultimately futile. The best way to read this book is by listening to the Halo Soundtrack alongside it, playing the songs that feature in the various levels to give atmosphere to their accompanying chapters, as the book does capture the spirit of the game and that is perhaps the biggest contributing factor to its success.

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Doctor Who – The Five Big Finish Main Range Davros Stories Ranked

Since the first appearance of the Daleks in the Big Finish Monthly Range, it seemed only a matter of time before Davros himself would make an appearance. Terry Molloy, the actor who portrayed Davros in many of his appearances in Classic Doctor Who (specifically the 1980s) later reprised his role in the Big Finish audios, often appearing alongside the Daleks. As fascinating a character as Davros is, fans had definitely had enough of the character by Remembrance of the Daleks as he had appeared in every Dalek story since Genesis of the Daleks at that point, which was a contributing factor to Big Finish leaving Davros out of many of their early Dalek stories. Since Davros has appeared in five of the Monthly Range audios up until now, how do these appearances rank against each other? Is the character of Davros still alive and well, or should he have died on the bridge of his flagship in Remembrance?

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Daleks Among Us

This story features Davros at some point after the events of Remembrance of the Daleks, and yet his presence in this story is nowhere nearly as effectively executed as in Terror Firma, despite actually being set before that audio in Davros’ personal timeline. One of the major problems with this audio is that there are plenty of good ideas, most notably the idea of a colony that was so deeply socially divided by a Dalek invasion that following their liberation they outlaw all mention of the word ‘Dalek’, yet none of the ideas in this audio are developed to their full potential. The story goes through several ‘phases’ before finally settling on the concept of a pureblood Kaled attempting to usurp Davros’ mantle, which is another great idea, but the added storylines of Davros’ attempted rebellion and Elizabeth Klein’s origin story mean that there is never enough focus on each individual plot thread. That being said, Terry Molloy as Davros is definitely the highlight of this audio, as all of the scenes between him and Sylvester McCoy’s Seventh Doctor are fantastic.

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The Curse of Davros

This Davros audio is unique in two ways. Firstly, it takes place partially in a historical setting – namely, the Battle of Waterloo – the Dalek’s latest plan is to swap the minds of Humans and Daleks in order to help Napoleon win against the English, thereby rewriting the course of Human history, and for the most part this element of the story is well executed, with great portrayals for both Napoleon and the Duke of Wellington. The other aspect of this story is a body-swap plot involving Davros and the Sixth Doctor, which allows for some great potential for both Colin Baker and Terry Molloy as both have to pretend to be the other’s character, and the results are magnificent. Colin Baker does a great job of altering his demeanour for this audio to make the idea that he is actually Davros genuinely believable, and Molloy also makes use of his great voice-work to play the Sixth Doctor through the Davros voice, a feat that has to be heard to be believed.

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Terror Firma

The Eighth Doctor faces Davros immediately following his complex Divergent Universe arc that began with Zagreus, and as a result of his recent freedom from the alternate universe he is ecstatic at the thought of returning to a universe of Time. It seems fitting, therefore, that Davros would be waiting to ruin his day, and Terror Firma presents what is perhaps Davros’ most insidious scheme as the insane Kaled scientist uses his new Daleks to conquer the Doctor’s favourite planet – Earth. Davros and the Doctor have some great scenes in this audio, particularly since Davros is also dealing with the invasive ‘Dalek Emperor’ personality that is attempting to take over his mind and body. Ironically, as a result of this Davros proves quite un-Dalek like in this story – he shows true fear at the prospect of becoming a fully-fledged Dalek, and the juxtaposition between his personality and that of the Dalek Emperor helps highlight the most prominent ways in which Davros is nothing like his creations.

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The Juggernauts

Serving as a bridge between Revelation of the Daleks and Remembrance of the Daleks, this audio presents an interesting take on Davros’ character, in that he spends the majority of the story pretending to be a kindhearted scientist called ‘Professor Vaso’ who happens to be one of Mel’s employers on the human colony Lethe. Secretly working for the Daleks, the Sixth Doctor is sent to Lethe to investigate Davros’ actions, although both he and the Daleks actually have ulterior motives. This story is full of twists and turns, and Davros is at his best – scheming and manipulating others from behind the scenes whilst putting on a face of goodwill, in a fashion very reminiscent of Genesis of the Daleks. Speaking of Davros’ schemes, the plot he concocts in this story is delightfully sinister, particularly since he forms such convincing personal relationships with the staff of the Lethe colony – only to secretively kill them off one by one for use in his monstrous ‘Juggernaut’ program.

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Davros

Arguably one of the best Doctor Who audios of all time, Davros is the second in the fantastic ‘villains trilogy’, which aimed to explore and humanise three of the most famous recurring villains in Classic Doctor Who – Omega, Davros and the Master. Of the three, some might argue that Davros is the best (although Master is perhaps the more popular choice of the trilogy) as the story uses the character of Davros but without the inclusion of the Daleks, giving this audio a truly unique setup that it does a great job of utilising. Davros’ history is explored to a degree, eventually paving the way for the more in-depth I, Davros, and the parallels between Davros’ long-dead potential lover Shan and the Dalek historian Lorraine is a fascinating sub-plot.

Clearly, the character of Davros is alive and well (despite appearances) and Terry Molloy does a fantastic job of bringing his vibrant performance to the audio format. Fans in the know will notice that this ranking is essentially the reverse of the release order of audios featuring Davros, but that isn’t simply because of the law of diminishing returns – Davros and The Juggernauts are both so fantastic that few other audios would beat them in any contest, and the others simply fall in behind – every audio featuring Davros is an instant classic.

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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?

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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.

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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’.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 – Halo 4

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.

Given that Halo: Infinite has been teased as a game that returns Halo to its classic art style and fans have welcomed this decision with open arms, it is interesting looking back at Halo 4 and the patchy legacy that this game has left for the franchise in its wake. Upon release Halo 4 was the first mainline Halo game created by 343 industries, the company that took over the Halo franchise from Bungie in 2010 after Bungie decided that they wanted to branch out to other projects. Since they have taken over the franchise, 343i have been a subject of debate among the fanbase, and Halo 4 was the catalyst that started the whole debacle. So, how can it be fixed?

halo 4 didact

The Story should be better explained

Well, the first thing that I will touch upon in this article is Halo 4’s story which, for the most part, is actually really good – unlike the previous two mainline Halo games, Halo 4 opts for a ‘simpler’ story, in that the basic premise is that Master Chief and Cortana crash on a Forerunner planet and Chief has to deal with Cortana going rampant whilst also trying to stop the insane Forerunner from within the planet from destroying the human race. What confused a lot of players at the time is the reliance on expanded media to explain the backstory of many of the game’s side characters and villains, meaning that the Didact’s appearance baffled many players, many of whom had no idea who the Didact was, and those who did believed him to be a benevolent force (as he was depicted in the Halo 3 terminals). The Didact’s backstory is given some explanation in the Halo 4 terminals but this is not where the game developers should have hidden plot-reliant story points, because this defeats the purpose of having the terminals as Easter Eggs. In the original Halo trilogy, players did not have to read the terminals to understand the motivations of the Prophet of Truth or Tartarus of the Gravemind – the terminals told totally separate stories for those interested in the wider universe.

Clearly, the first and foremost thing that needs changing about Halo 4’s story – and indeed the story of many of the 343 industries games – is that the dependence on expanded media like novels, comics and short films has to decrease. It would certainly have improved Halo 4’s story if the full explanation of why everything looks and feels different in Halo 4 than it did in the previous trilogy had been given in the game also, which links to the next major point:

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The Game should feel like a Halo 3 sequel

Although it is easy to forgive 343 industries for trying to make their ‘mark’ on Halo now that the franchise belonged to them, thus distancing themselves from Bungie’s games and forging their own path, Halo 4 should have had much more continuity with Halo 3. For a start, Master Chief, Cortana and even the Forward Unto Dawn all look different at the start of Halo 4 to how they looked at the end of Halo 3, which marks a jarring discontinuity with the art style of the original trilogy. This precedent for sweeping change even affected the Covenant, as now Elites, Grunts and Jackals all look radically different to how they looked before – although the Hunters basically look the same. They are just about the only thing that do though – even the weapons radically change from Halo 3 to Halo 4, and not for the better – who would choose a Storm Rifle over a Plasma Rifle given the chance? Why do the Shotgun and the Scorpion, two iconic staples of the Halo games, now look so utterly different?

The truth is that 343 industries was so eager to ensure that their version Halo looked and felt distinct from the Bungie games that they decided that the best way to create that impression was to change absolutely everything, indiscriminately – something which did not sit well with players. And that is the biggest problem with Halo 4 – it threw a lot of fans off because of its sudden changes, combined with an effort to feel more like Call of Duty, made it seem less like a sequel to Halo 3 and more like a discontinued spinoff. Speaking of feeling like Call of Duty:

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The Multiplayer should have been better maintained

Halo 4’s multiplayer copied a lot from Call of Duty’s multiplayers at the time, particularly in the area of mobility and in-game ‘ordnance’, and with this came the Call of Duty format of bringing out more maps. Whereas earlier Halo games had usually just released one map pack, usually included with later discs (such as Halo 3: Mythic being included with Halo 3: ODST) the Halo games since Halo: Reach had started to release more numerous map packs, spread out across the months following the games release. Halo 4 was the most guilty of this, and the player base for the multiplayer was quickly divided each time map packs that cost money were introduced. Within a year the multiplayer numbers had all but flat-lined.

As the Halo 5: Guardians multiplayer showed, the best way to keep a multiplayer alive is to release regular free updates that add content whilst keeping the player base together. In hindsight it is easy to say that Halo 4 could have used a similar system, but in reality the only reason why Halo 5’s system worked as well as it did was because Microsoft could justify the release of DLC for free because of Halo 5’s controversial microtransactions system (aka the REQ packs) could make up for the costs. If 343 industries had introduced microtransactions into Halo in their first outing, undoubtedly this would have alienated many of the fans and potentially doomed the franchise. Time will tell if Microsoft play their cards right for Halo: Infinite, or if EA-style money-grabbing will send Halo to an early grave.

halo 4 requiem

Halo 4 should have had more

Ultimately, Halo 4 took out more from the Halo franchise than it put back in. Fan favourite weapons and vehicles from the previous games like the Hornet, Falcon, Chopper, Spiker or Grenade Launcher were absent, and although Halo 4 did add the fairly interesting Spartan Ops there was no sign of Firefight, which was a shame given the potential of the new Promethean faction. Given all that had progressed in Bungie’s games since Halo 3, with Halo 3: ODST and Halo: Reach adding and refining new features, it is odd that only a select few like Armour Abilities and Sprint made it over to Halo 4, and yet modes like Firefight which had been refined to near-perfection in Halo: Reach were conspicuously absent.

The absence of Marty O’Donnell as composer was also a massive drawback of Halo 4, as although the new composers created an objectively good soundtrack for Halo 4, it was somewhat lacking in character and didn’t fit with the overall aesthetic of previous soundtracks. True, other Halo soundtracks have radically deviated from the norm – Halo 3: ODST had a different genre entirely and Halo: Reach definitely had its own distinctive sound. But the overall style of Marty O’Donnell permeated throughout, and this is conspicuously absent in Halo 4. In many ways this is an example of a repeating problem with Halo 4 – no matter how much we may try to fix it now, the fact remains that whatever the story of the game was like, the game would have still felt different – the new art style, new composers and new direction definitely shows with Halo 4 to the point where its identity is defined by radical change, and it is up to the fans whether or not this is good or bad.

So that concludes How to Fix – Halo 4. If you enjoyed then be sure to leave a like, and you can follow Sacred Icon here or on Facebook for more content like this.

In the meantime, look down below for more of my Halo-related content!

 

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.

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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…

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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, 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

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