Written by Kevin Clarke
3 episodes, broadcast 23 November - 7 December 1988
Watching Silver Nemesis in the same week as World Enough and Time invites comparisons that are not particularly helpful for the earlier serial, at least when it comes to the Cybermen themselves. In Nemesis the Cybermen are a bit pathetic - they easily get killed off from the slightest bit of gold and then get duped by the Doctor in spectacularly easy fashion which makes you wonder if the Doctor had even meant for it to be quite that easy. In Time they are creepy bordering on terrifying, with exceptionally dark body horror involved in a story about the Cybermen for probably the first ever time - what it did was establish the Cybermen as genuinely disturbing in a way that you never really thought of them before.
I am painfully aware all of this is going to look ridiculous on Saturday when the usual Moffat finale treatment (i.e second episode that makes no sense and retcons everything that made the first bit good) is given, but I think what this shows is that maybe Classic Who was finally exhausted by the end. I'm not exactly famous for being pro-NuWho - in fact most of it is pretty rubbish, but with WEaT they took a gigantic risk. I don't know if it paid off or not because the second episode hasn't aired, but creatively the show felt the most fresh it has in years. Consider the fact that the viewing figures from late-80s Who and contemporary Who are similarly low (ignoring that overnight figures obviously mean far less than they did in the 80s and probably than they did even a few years ago), Modern Who seems to be trying to reinvent itself, even if its only for one episode a season.
All of this, of course, is counter-argued by the Cartmel Masterplan which really begins to show itself in Silver Nemesis. Again, I'm on record as being against that particular development, but they were trying something new and interested - the difference being that everything around it feels rushed and dated. Surely even in the 80s it must have felt pretty bloody cheap - the reason for that is obviously that the BBC didn't give two fucks about Doctor Who by 1988, while in 2017 its still one of the BBC's most valuable properties - even with low viewing figures cancellation is not even a remote possibility.
I'm aware of the irony of someone as anti-NuWho as me (Indeed, I've spent the last ten weeks shitting on the rest of Series 10, and yeah, it was awful, and I'm not going to let one really good episode change that) talk about its surviving a low point better than Classic Who, and its not the only reason Classic Who felt the chop while NuWho certainly won't. But simply put, World Enough and Time was a bold attempt to add to Doctor Who's mythos in a genuinely shocking way, while Silver Nemesis was a flat attempt to add to Doctor Who's mythos in a confusing and oblique way.
My thoughts on the rest of WEaT and The Doctor Falls will be in a separate post after the latter airs. After the whole Heaven Sent fiasco I'm not trusting Moffat to not fuck it up.
Silver Nemesis isn't great. Why they decided to have Nazis show up in a Cyberman story but not a Dalek story is beyond me.
The Happiness Patrol
Written by Graeme Curry
3 episodes, broadcast 2 - 16 November 1988
I feel I've reached the point in Whoathan where I've run out of things to say about stories like this. It was inevitable and depressingly so.
So see if you can make your own judgement:
Its a story about a world where people are killed for being sad by being drowned in strawberries, theres a robot made of sweets and the TARDIS gets painted pink.
I think thats all you need to know.
Remembrance of the Daleks
Written by Ben Aaronovitch
4 episodes, broadcast 5 - 26 October 1988
I'm about to piss off a lot of people.
I should begin with a clarification that I like this story. Like, a lot. Its certainly the best story in a very long while and proof that Doctor Who could still be entertaining. But one of the best stories of all time? Er, no. Sorry.
The main problem is that its Fan Service: The Story. A lot of people like fan service. I can like fan service. But its basically the entire story, which is a problem, given I like smaller, less important things like, story, character and plot focus.
To say Remembrance doesn't have any of these things is obviously wrong - the story isn't bad and the Doctor's characterisation is actually pretty strong for instance, but whenever you're thinking 'Oh, that's actually pretty good,' suddenly you get an awkward fan service moment. The Daleks climbing the stairs? Okay, thats pretty awesome. Davros turning up? Uh, okay, I mean the story didn't really need it but alright. Daleks fighting each other? If you must. That fucking moment with the 'new science fiction series'? Fuck off. The whole thing being set near a school for the sole purpose of referencing An Unearthly Child? Fuck off.
Another annoying thing is the social commentary - its more subtle than New Who Series 10 but that doesn't take a lot. Fascists are bad - thanks Doctor Who, I really couldn't have worked that one out for myself. The parallels between Daleks and fascists have always been painfully obvious and having them team up is really not a great idea because it shows precisely that the Daleks are based off our own human heaviour - thus robbing them of part of their alien nature. This wouldn't be a problem if it was something cool like Daleks teaming up with Nazis (which for the record I genuinely can't believe they haven't done yet), but 'a school headmaster and one of the military guys' does not really count. It distracts. If it was more subtle, or didn't really involve the Daleks at all, I think it would work a lot better.
HOWEVER, there is just as much that is good about Remembrance. The Doctor's characterisation is excellent - this is the first time he's seemed genuinely powerful in a while for instance, and while I'd like it to be put on the record I'm about as against the Cartmel Masterplan as it is possible to be, if you can look past that stuff its a lot of fun.
Most of the characters are pretty decent, the story isn't too bad and the Daleks are pretty cool. Again, I do really like Remembrance of the Daleks, but I very highly doubt it would be a top 20 story for me. It simply lacks the ethics of Genesis of the Daleks, or the nature of The Caves of Androzani, or the fascinating historical exploration of Black Orchid.
Hahaha. Just kidding. Fuck Black Orchid.
Written by Ian Briggs
3 episodes, broadcast 23 November - 7 December 1987
I'll be honest with you - I haven't had this much fun with a bad Doctor Who story since The Underwater Menace.
This is bad, don't get me wrong - but its enjoyably bad in a way the rest of this season definitely is not - the villains are memorably over the top, there are some hilarious scenes (my favourite being the scene where the Doctor starts talking about philosophy with a random guard) and Sylvester McCoy is finally beginning to settle into the role.
This isn't good - this is probably about as far from good as you can get - but I genuinely enjoyed watching a Seventh Doctor story for the first ever time (this being probably the only era in the show's history I haven't watched much of before starting Whoathon) and that has to be worth something.
Getting rid of Mel is also something in its favour. Getting rid of Colin Baker but keeping Bonnie Langford has to be the worst decision in history. And I'm not just talking about Doctor Who.
Delta and the Bannermen
Written by Malcolm Kohll
3 episodes, broadcast 2 - 16 November 1987
At least this one has the advantage of being batshit insane. Its still fucking dreadful though. The storyline is beyond stupid, the characters all fucking annoying, the villain useless and the general setting and plot just bizarre. Plus, Sylvester McCoy simply isn't doing it for me as the Doctor - I'm aware he does improve, but based on these first few stories, he's not setting the screen on fire.
With three out of four stories down, this has been the worst season in the show's history so far. Hopes are not high for the next story.
And we're back to the usual rubbish.
Boring plot, unexplained storylines, crappy attempts at a moral. Even the stuff with Missy at the end is going in a direction I'm not huge on.
Written by Stephen Wyatt
4 episodes, broadcast 5 - 26 October 1987
*breaks down and starts crying profusely*
Time and the Rani
Written by Pip and Jane Baker
4 episodes, broadcast 7 - 28 September 1987
Sylvester McCoy's tenure as the Doctor begins in extremely unimpressive fashion with Time and the Rani. Absurd production design, a stupid plot, annoying characters and boring story progression make this a complete waste of time and energy. If the objective was to make Doctor Who a force again, this couldn't be further from that objective. This was fucking dreadful. This does not bode well for the future.
The Trial of a Time Lord
Written by Robert Holmes, Philip Martin and Pip & Jane Baker
14 episodes, divided into 4 sub-stories, broadcast 6 September - 6 December 1986
Because of the unique nature of The Trial of a Time Lord I decided to incorporate the entire season into one post. The debate on whether this is one story or four will last until the end of time itself, and I'm on the fence on the issue - i.e I don't really bloody care, because it can work fine either way. I will, however, address the four sub-sections individually and then given an overview, as to not annoy anyone.
So here goes
The Mysterious Planet
Written by Robert Holmes
4 episodes, broadcast 6 - 27 September 1986
Of all the Trial sub-stories, I'd say this is the one that least benefits from being part of the Trial narrative. Its inclusion, while vital for the wider story of the season, doesn't really make much sense from the perspective of the trial - it is, unlike Mindwarp, not a particularly great example of the Doctor's meddling, as despite the Valeyard's insistence, I find it difficult to believe the events of The Mysterious Planet would not have happened without the Doctor - Glitz and Dibber's presence seem to be what starts the story off rather than the Doctor and Peri's. Nevertheless, its an interesting idea and that is just enough to push it over, even with some annoying characters and a bit of a wandering story, that is not helped by the constant switching to the courtroom, which works in the other segments, but a bit less in this one. Overall, not bad, but not great.
Written by Philip Martin
4 episodes, broadcast 4 - 25 October 1986
Mindwarp is probably the best of the Trial segments - not flawless but any means, but still the best. Most of this can be boiled down to three reasons:
1) BRIAN BLESSED AS KING YCARNOS!
2) The bleak nature of the Doctor abandoning Peri
3) The ending
Unfortunately, the main crux of the story is the Doctor's apparent transformation into a bad guy who sells out, tortures and abandons Peri - this in itself is not a bad idea, but its never properly explained (The interrogation process at the end of Part Five? The Doctor tricking the mentors?) and thus when he switches sides it lacks punch because we have no idea why he wasn't on that side in the first place.
HOWEVER, the Doctor on the path to victory once more suddenly being taken out of time and space, leading both Peri and YCARNOS! being slaughtered is shocking - perhaps not quite as complexly bleak as The Caves of Androzani but certainly more blunt - seeing the pieces fall into place across the segment as the Doctor tries to reason what is happening is certainly excellent. So this one is pretty good, even if the central pillar of the story goes frustratingly unexplained.
Terror of the Vervoids
Written by Pip & Jane Baker
4 episodes, broadcast 1 - 22 November 1986
The Vervoids look like vaginas. There, I said it. It doesn't make it any less stupid or any less funny, but I said it.
Anyway, the rest of this story. Its ok I guess. The murder mystery is entertaining and does pull a few decent twists, the Vervoids are an interesting concept even if they do look like fannys, and the ending is one that you genuinely don't expect, even if the Doctor was a bit silly to include a clip of him committing genocide. Which brings us onto...
The Ultimate Foe
Written by Robert Holmes and Pip & Jane Baker
2 episodes, broadcast 29 November - 6 December 1986
This is where it all falls apart unfortunately. The first ten minutes of Part Thirtreen are some of the best in the show's history, with Colin Baker providing his best moments in the role, and the reveal of the Valeyard being excellent. Unfortunately, it then falls apart with a ridiculously complex plan, much of the vital action happening offscreen, and some very lame attempts to recreate the Matrix scenes from The Deadly Assassin. The tampering of the evidence that had been experienced throughout the trial is not very well explained - was it the Valeyard or the Master who got into the Matrix, and why was the Master helping the Valeyard if it was the Master, and why...
And the retcon of the ending of Mindwarp is fucking inexcusable.
Its a shame to see Trial end in the way it did given the first three segments were flawed but decent enough. If this was all they were planning to do then its a bit of a shame they had to constrain the first three stories with the Trial narrative. Therefore, Trial is a fascinating experiment with some good stories involved, but ultimately falls flat on a weak conclusion and the question of whether it was indeed necessary to use such a narrative in the first place.
However, what really showed in Trial was that Colin Baker had finally settled into the role - the arsehole tendencies from his first few stories was mainly gone by the end of Season 22, but his best performances in the role came in this season. He clearly had found what he was going for, and it therefore makes what happened after Trial even worse. The fact BBC Controller Michael Grade had a vendetta against the series, not least because he was fucking Baker's ex-wife was the base of the sacking - Baker's treatment by the BBC was nothing short of absolutely disgraceful, and the resurgence his Doctor has had in Big Finish audios can only go a tiny way of making up for it.
Sixth Doctor Retrospective
The fact Colin Baker had only just found his feet when he was sacked is a dreadful shame, as the improvement of his performance is clear. He unfortunately suffered from a pretty low story quality, as even the good stuff wasn't at the absolute top level. He was unfortunately, just very unlucky, and again, the Big Finish audios have proved how much more could be done with his Doctor. Life sometimes isn't fair - but it doesn't mean you can't bemoan that fact.
His best story was Revelation of the Daleks and his worst was The Twin Dilemma. I don't think I'm breaking any hearts when I say that.
The end of the Colin Baker era was probably the point at which the show finally began its terminal decline. The signs had been there for a long time, with the declining story quality and viewing figures not being a new phenomenon to this Doctor, but I think the way the BBC under Grade treated the show and the fallout from Trial sealed the show's fate, even if they managed to delay it for a few years. It was finished at this point - the Doctor Who that would return in 1987 would be very different, as would the Doctor Who that returned in 1996, and in 2005. This was it.
Anyway, I'll be doing a full retrospective of the classic series after Survival, but until then, lets start with Doctor Number 7.
My initial assessment of this story was that it was a good idea that was built up rather well that unfortunately peetered out rather than ended, but was held up by its characters and a far better portrayal of the Ice Warriors than their first appearance in the new series.
Then Alpha Centauri appeared and this is the greatest thing to have happened in quite a few years.
Revelation of the Daleks
Written by Eric Saward
2 double episodes, 23 - 30 March 1985
Revelation of the Daleks is regarded by many people as the best Sixth Doctor story - some even go as far as to call it the only good. I certainly disagree with the latter statement, and the former statement? Yeah that's probably right. The themes, story and direction mean that it triumphs over its pretty weak characters, bad Dalek voices and the fact that the Doctor and Peri spend the entire first episode just walking to where they need to be. Its themes and direction however do put it above any other Sixth Doctor story, which lets be honest, have so far ranged from decent to awful. This is the first I can genuinely call a good story without reservation.
Written by Glen McCoy
2 double episodes, broadcast 9 - 16 March 1985
There was a story called Timelash
It was a bit of a car crash
The special effects are crap
And the characters all need a slap
Trust me, you'll want something to smash
The Two Doctors
Written by Robert Holmes
3 double episodes, broadcast 16 February - 2 March 1985
Bringing back Patrick Troughton was probably the best way to inject some much-needed charm into this season of Doctor Who and The Two Doctors works best when it focuses on him. It works least when it descends into the brutality that this season has become a bit notable for. The stuff in the middle? Actually pretty good. Yeah, this one isn't bad, particularly as Patrick Troughton is so enjoyable to watch and while his dialogue with Colin Baker is unfortunately limited, they still play off each other well. Less good are the rather pathetic Sontarans and the silly makeup on the Androgums, but nothings perfect, eh?
The Mark of the Rani
Written by Pip and Jane Baker
2 double episodes, broadcast 2 - 9 February 1985
The Mark of the Rani is a story with both very good and very bad qualities. On the one hand, the production team seem to have finally found the right level of arseholeness for Colin Baker, the dynamic between the Master and the Rani is excellent, the location work is pretty good and best of all, Baker seems to have found his footing - much earlier on than some other Doctors have. On the other hand, the Doctor is still a twat, the plot doesn't make any sense, a large chunk of what happens in Part One is never explained and the story does wander a bit, never really focusing on one thing. So yeah, this is a frustrating one, as the glimpses of brilliance are clear but it just never gets there. Its not a bad story though - its certainly an improvement over The Twin Dilemma or Attack of the Cybermen for instance. You just get the feeling so much more could be done with this actor and this production.
Vengeance on Varos
Written by Phillip Martin
2 double episodes, broadcast 19 - 26 January 1985
Finally something decent. Vengeance on Varos may be overbloated, oversimplified and overly brutal, but god is it a relief after three hours of the Doctor being a twat. Colin Baker is finally given something to do which involves him not being a twat, and it works. Sil is a great villain and the overall concept works well enough. The best thing about the story though is Arak and Etta, who watch the entire proceedings on the tele without ever meeting any of the other characters. The story would probably have been ever better had the entire thing been from their perspective. Just great.
So yeah, this is a decent one. Not great by any means, but decent.
Separate names with a comma.