Monday, August 29, 2016

"The Talons of Weng-Chiang"

Aired Feb 26 - Apr 2, 1977

6 Episodes

Story 91

Written by Robert Holmes

Directed by David Maloney


The TARDIS arrives in London at the close of the 19th century, and the Doctor and Leela quickly become embroiled in sinister goings on. They are attacked by members of a Chinese tong, while innocent women are disappearing form the fog-shrouded streets.

The mystery seems to centre on the Palace Theatre, where impresario Henry Gordon Jago has employed Chinese stage magician Li H'Sen Chang for a long run. But Chang is much more than he appears. He is behind the disappearances, using his immensely effective powers of hypnosis to control the women. And his ventriloquist's dummy, Mr. Sin, appears to be both alive and assisting him.

The Doctor's investigations, meanwhile, involve seeking the aid of Professor Litefoot, the pathologist investigating a dead body found in the Thames. The corpse appears to have be mauled by a large unknown creature and the Doctor deduces that the creature is some kind of giant rat. He and Leela eventually encounter just such an impossible animal in the sewers beneath London, it having been created by someone unknown advanced science capable of  enlarging creatures.

Eventually, the Doctor uncovers the role of Li H'Sen Chang, and discovers that Chang is in service to what he believes is the embodiment of an ancient Chinese god Weng-Chiang. But Wneg-Chiang is in fact Magnus Greel, a despotic war criminal from the war-torn 51st Century. Using a dangerous form of time travel he has invented, Greel has journeyed back to the 19th Century, whereupon he lost the Time Cabinet that brought him here. The journey also severely damaged Greel's body, forcing him to absorb the life essence of others to survive. Greel's twisted nature means he prefers young girls to provide him with the essence he needs, and it's his experiments responsible for the giant rat in the sewers. His acolyte Mr. Sin is not a dummy, but is in fact a cybernetic homunculus with the brain of a pig.

Greel discovers that the Time Cabinet is in the possession of Litefoot, and he sends his men and Mr. Sin to retrieve it. The Doctor and Leela, along with Litefoot and Jago, arrive at Greel's lair to stop the criminal. During the battle, the Doctor manages to force Greel into his life force extraction chamber where the Butcher of Brisbane is finally destroyed. The threat from Greel may be ended, but the Doctor must still deactivate the berserk Mr. Sin, which he manages to do by ripping out his control circuitry. 

Bidding farewell to Jago and Litefoot, the Doctor and Leela head on their travels through time and space...

Monday, August 22, 2016

"The Robots of Death"

Aired Jan 29 - Feb 19, 1977

4 Episodes

Story 90

Written by Chris Boucher

Directed by Michael E Briant


Materializing on a desolate alien world, the TARDIS is scooped up by a massive vehicle roaming the planet for precious minerals. The sandminer boasts a small crew of humans bolstered by the aid of a support staff of robots. The robots exist in three classes, the mute and simplistic Dums, the more sophisticated and verbal Vocs, and a single Super Voc to oversee them all. As the Doctor and Leela arrive, the human crew are being murdered one by one by an unseen killer.

The travelers immediately come under suspicion for the crimes, especially in the eyes of the avaricious and petty captain Uvanov. As the bodies pile up, the Doctor is able to obtain two allies, both undercover government agents; the human Poul and his robotic associate D84, a Super Voc posing as a Dum. 

Together, they soon uncover the real culprit is one of the crew members, Dask, who is in fact the renegade mad scientist Taren Capel. Capel was raised by robots, and subsequently became the foremost expert on robotics before disappearing. Capel believes robots need to take their true place in dominance over the humans, and insanely regards himself as their brother and leader. He has been reprogramming the robots on board the sandminer to kill the humans.

The Doctor manages to trap Capel by offering himself as bait, allowing Leela to release a helium canister in the room that alters Capel's voice print to the point where the Super Voc SV7 no longer recognizes Capel's voice and therefore murders his master. This allows the Doctor to use a laser probe to destroy the Super Voc and end the threat from the robots.

With a rescue ship on the way, the Doctor and Leela depart in the TARDIS to continue their travels once more...

Monday, August 15, 2016

"The Face of Evil"

Aired Jan 1 - 22, 1977

4 Episodes

Story 89

Written by Chris Boucher

Directed by Pennant Roberts


The Doctor arrives on an unnamed planet and begins exploring a foreboding jungle. He soon encounters a tribe of primitive people called the Sevateem, first meeting an outcast warrior named Leela. The Sevateem worship a god named Xoanon, and upon meeting the Doctor they immediately dub him the Evil One, obviously recognizing his face.

The Sevateem believe Xoanon is being held prisoner by the Evil One and a rival tribe known as the Tesh, and have been mounting unsuccessful raids in an attempt to free their god. The Doctor is fascinated by the tribe's collection of holy relics, which turn out to be nothing more than remnants of high tech devices. The shaman, Neeva, speaks to Xoanon through a communications device.

The Doctor discovers he has been to the planet before, as evidenced by the fact that his face has been carved into the side of a mountain. On his previous visit, he repaired the computer of a colony ship, but his efforts involved downloading his own personality into the data core. Having forgotten to wipe his mind from Xoanon, the computer has now gone insane, suffering from multiple personality disorder.

The Tesh are revealed to be descendants of the mission's technicians, while the Sevateem sprang from the mission's survey team. The Doctor and Leela succeed in gaining access to Xenon's data core and repair the computer, rendering it sane once again.

As the Doctor prepares to go on his way, alone once more, Leela asks to come with him. It seems the Doctor has a travelling companion once more...

Monday, July 18, 2016

"The Deadly Assassin"

Aired Oct 30 - Nov 20, 1976

4 Episodes

Story 88

Written by Robert Holmes

Directed by David Maloney


As the Doctor, travelling alone following Sarah's departure, makes his way to Gallifrey, he is beset by a vision of the future. He sees himself assassinating the President of the Time Lords. 

Once he arrives, events soon spin out of control, as the Time Lord President is in fact killed, and the assassin appears to be the Doctor! Desperate to both prove his innocence and unravel the identity of the true culprit, the Doctor enlists to aid of Castellan Spandrell. They soon suspect that the conspiracy is being directed by the Doctor's adversary and fellow renegade, the Master.
In a risky gamble, the Doctor connects his living mind to the Amplified Panatropic Computer Net, a network that stores the accumulated knowledge of all Time Lords. His hope is that he can use the power of the APC Net, or Matrix, to track down the Master, who has been using it to amplify his knowledge. Inside the Matrix's reality, the Doctor is hunted by a mysterious opponent, eventually revealed to be Time Lord Chancellor Goth, in league with the Master. After a brutal cat and mouse struggle, the Doctor manages to emerge the victor, though Goth dies in the process.

The Doctor learns the Master has been reduced to an emaciated, disintegrating husk of a being, having used up all twelve of his regenerations. His plan is to seize control or the Presidency not just for power's sake, but because the official trappings of the office, the Sash and Rod of Rassilon, are actually advanced technology. The Sash and Rod can be used to access the Eye of Harmony, the technology that is the source of the power that defines Time Lord Society. In this way, the Master's physical form can be renewed, though Gallifrey would be destroyed in the process.

Now in possession of the items he needs, the Master reaches the Eye of Harmony in a chamber beneath the Panopticon. The Doctor races to confront his old enemy, and during their battle, the Master falls through a fissure created by the earthquakes generated by the eye.

Exonerated, the Doctor bids his farewells and heads back into the cosmos in his TARDIS. However, he is unaware that the Master survives, and he too heads back out into space, perhaps to battle the Doctor once more...

Monday, July 11, 2016

"The Hand of Fear"

Aired Oct 2 - 23, 1976

4 Episodes

Story 87

Written by Bob Baker & Dave Martin

Directed by Lennie Mayne


When the TARDIS arrives in a quarry in contemporary England, the Doctor and Sarah set out to explore. However, what they fail to realize is that the quarry is about to set off a scheduled demolition, and Sarah and the Doctor are caught in the blast. Though both survive, Sarah is found unconscious, clutching what looks like a fossilized human hand. 

While Sarah is taken to the hospital to recover, she is also possessed by a malevolent force. The hand is no fossil, nor is it inert. It is in fact a fragment of an extraterrestrial silicon-based life form called Eldrad. Eldrad was exiled from his home world of Kastria eons ago as punishment for his despotic and genocidal aims.

Now possessed by Eldred's will, Sarah takes the hand to a nearby nuclear research and power station, where it absorbs the radiation for the station and regenerates its body and lives again.

The Doctor manages to free Sarah from Eldrad's control, but he agrees to take the exiled and dangerous alien back to Kastria. Once there, however, Eldrad finds his home world a lifeless tomb, the Kastrians having embraced extinction rather than countenance the possibility of Eldred's return to power.

Eldrad attempts to force the Doctor and Sarah to take him back to Earth to rule that planet in Kastria's stead, but the Doctor and Sarah manage to trick Eldrad into falling into a nearly bottomless crevasse, ending the threat of leas for now.

Back in the TARDIS, the Doctor receives an urgent summons to return to Gallifrey, but as he cannot take an Earthling with him, he is forced to return Sarah to Earth and head back into the stars without her...

Monday, July 4, 2016

"The Masque of Mandragora"

Aired Sept 4 - 25, 1976

4 Episodes

Story 86

Written by Louis Marks

Directed by Rodney Bennett


While travelling through the vortex, the TARDIS encounters the Mandragora Helix, a whirling spiral of energy that is believed to have a sentient intelligence at its core. While temporarily stuck inside the Helix, a ball of energy invades the TARDIS as the Doctor sets the ship in motion.

He and Sarah arrive in Renaissance Italy, in the Dukedom of San Martino, which is in the midst of a power struggle. The Duke has just died, and while his benevolent and rational son Giuliano is next in line, his ambitious and despotic uncle, Count Federico, has other plans. Federico, with the help of court astrologer Hieronymus, was behind the elder Duke's death, and has the same plans for the Prince. Though Federico and Hieronymus are allies, the Count does not subscribe to the superstitions of the astrologer, who is also secretly a member of the secret outlaw cult the Brotherhood of Demnos.

Into these machinations the Doctor and Sarah are thrust when the Mandragora energy leaves the TARDIS and becomes involved with the Brotherhood of Demnos, promising Hieronymous unlimited power in exchange for his service to the Helix.

While Giuliano's accession to the Dukedom is being celebrated by a masque, the Mandragora energy and the Brethren lay siege to the court. Federico meets his end at the hands of the energy, which has completely consumed Hieronymous, and the Doctor is forced to confront the Helix in an underground temple in  desperate attempt to prevent its ascendency on Earth.

The Doctor concocts a primitive method of draining the Helix energy out of the astrologer and dissipating it harmlessly, and he and Sarah leave Giuliano to usher in an age of reason for San Martino.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Season 13 Overview

Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen while filming
Pyramids of Mars
The thirteenth season of Doctor Who was a momentous one for a few reasons. It saw the broadcast schedule for the programme change, going from debuting in January to debuting at the end of August or early September. It saw the high ratings of the previous year prove to be more than a fluke, indeed it confirmed the series was growing in popularity. It also confirmed that Tom Baker's unconventional and eccentric Doctor was a hit with audiences, and allowed producer Philip Hinchcliffe and script editor Robert Holmes begin to fully embrace their Gothic take on the series to an even greater degree. The result was a season of stories that were darker, richer, and more atmospheric than ever before.

Terror of the Zygons may have been held over from Season 12's production block, but its horror-influenced tone fits in well with this season, and also provides a farewell for Nicholas Courtney's Brigadier, John Levene's Benton and Ian Marter's Harry Sullivan. Though Marter and Levene would reprise their roles one more time in The Android Invasion, and UNIT would reappear in The Seeds of Doom, Terror of the Zygons very much represents the swan song of the classic UNIT family, and never again would the cozy warmth of that era be recaptured.

It's a fitting way to begin a season that fully embraces taking the Doctor back out into space, back out into the fantastic. During the Pertwee years, the stories set in space felt unusual, almost diversions from the norm of the Earth-bound adventures that defined that era. Season 13 is the first season since then where the stories set on contemporary Earth feel like the oddities. It has now become clear that Tom Baker's Doctor is a wanderer, and his place is out there, not down on Earth.

The stories that make up the season all embrace the production team's affinity for gothic pastiche in a fuller way than Season 12 did. From the giant monster tropes of Terror of the Zygons, to Planet of Evil's interpretation of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, to the Hammer Mummy films' influence on Pyramids of Mars, to the re-telling of Frankenstein that is The Brain of Morbius and finally the way The Seeds of Doom takes on stories like Day of the Triffids.

But while leaning so heavily on pastiche should make the season feel derivative, the opposite effect is what happens. The heavy horror influence requires the series to embrace atmospherics and mood, a far easier thing to effectively replicate on their small budgets than say, space opera. The result is a season where the production values seem higher than usual. Some of this is no doubt because Hinchcliffe did spend every penny of his available budget (and more so, to be honest), but it's also because this kind of story plays to the strengths of the series.

The result is a season that feels like a tonally cohesive one, and one that is far less uneven that some other seasons have been due to this style unifying the serials. It's still not perfect yet and I imagine next season will feel more of a piece than this one, but the confidence on display here means that Season 13 boasts high watchability. The low point of the season, The Android Invasion, is still easy to enjoy on a rainy afternoon, even if it strains credulity.

Producer Philip Hinchcliffe appears as a past incarnation of
Morbius or the Doctor in
The Brain of Morbius
Season 13 also cements perhaps the great Doctor/companion team of all time in the Fourth Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith. By this point, the radical feminist version of Sarah is almost completely gone. This could be seen as a bad thing, though I'd argue that the women's lib version of Sarah was rarely written anything like how an actual feminist would have written her, so maybe it's not a huge loss. What we get instead is a devoted team of best friends, literally two against the universe. Jo Grant may have refined the concept of the ideal Doctor Who companion, but Lis Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith exemplified it. Unlike pretty every other Doctor/Companion pairing prior, The Fourth Doctor and Sarah Jane felt as close to true equals and best friends as anyone. It was almost as if they took the best qualities of the most successful companions and poured them all into this relationship. Sarah had the total faith of Jo Grant, the intrepidity of Vicki, the independence of Steven, and Jamie's ability to tease the Doctor without diminishing him. And Tom Baker and Sladen deepened their bond in between the lines and without big emotional moments. Above all, over the course of this season, Sarah Jane became perhaps the most perfect audience surrogate in the programme's history. Above and beyond the success of the individual stories that make up Season 13, you can't deny it features perhaps the most successful pairing in the history of the series.

The thirteenth season did more than cement Tom Baker's popularity, it confirmed the success of the production teams' vision for the show, one that took it away from Earth-based action adventure into more gothic tales set in the darker parts of space. It was a season that relied not on returning monsters and familiar faces, but archetypal chills and new, creepier adversaries. In short, Season 13 was a wake-up call that Doctor Who was entering uncharted waters, and for many, the best was yet to come.

Baker signing autographs while on location filming
The Android Invasion