The Cosmic Hobo

Thoughts & reviews about the science fiction series Doctor Who.

Archive for the category “fourth doctor”

Serial Review: The Seeds of Doom (Season 13)

“The Seeds of Doom”
Written by Robert Banks Stewart, dir. by Douglas Camfield
Featuring the Doctor, Sarah Jane, and a plant monster thing

Rating: A

A group of scientists in the Arctic region discover a strange seed pod. When folks back in the mainland are informed, they seek out the help of UNIT, who in turn send the Doctor and Sarah Jane to investigate this strange alien life form. At the same time, corrupt operators are trying to sell the rights to the seed, while the scientists become overly violent in protecting their discovery. Meanwhile, the seed seems to burst and take over one of the scientists, turning him into a strange plantlike humanoid. All sorts of shit hitting all sorts of fans.

Six part stories have the inherent problem of having 150% of the time to fill that the usual four parters do. Slow pace is a common complaint of the classic serials, and when you have that much more space to deal with, it is all together too likely that the problem will pop up even more. “The Seeds of Doom” seems to be an exception to this, however, as it is one of the few stories longer than four parts that seems to fly by, much like the similarly named Patrick Troughton serial “The Seeds of Death”.

This serial has Tom Baker playing it very serious, as the script requires. I’ve always said that I think Baker handles comedy much better than he does drama, but he’s damn near awesome here. Both he and Elisabeth Sladen absolutely bring out their A game. There are times when Baker’s version of the Doctor is written as being a complete asshole towards Sarah Jane, but I still like the Doctor overall as a character more as a dramatic role than a comedic one. Although I don’t think Tom handles drama as well as say Sylvester McCoy or Patrick Troughton, I’d still rather watch a serious Doctor than a funny one, and in this particular serial Baker is excellent.

In terms of story, “The Seeds of Doom” has a lot of intrigue. The idea of a sort of symbiotic plant alien landing on Earth and taking over the life forms isn’t all together too original, but it is interesting enough and this story has a great pace that was able to hold my interest better than the average story of the Tom Baker era. I would imagine it would be slightly controversial in that at one point the Doctor pulls back and punches a guy in the face in part three, but being that I really enjoyed the Pertwee era, I like when the Doctor goes for a bit of a rough and tumble. In real life, I’m not a fan of violence as a rule, but somehow I enjoy a good fist fight in my fiction.

To compound the excellent parts of the story, the villain is brilliant. He is sort of a cross between your average conniving Bond villain and Poison Ivy from the Batman comics. He’s a psychotic environmentalist and plant enthusiast who is played picture perfectly by Tony Beckley. There are some thematic similarities between this and “Invasion of the Dinosaurs”, both of which deal with extremist environmentalists. In both instances, the Doctor indicates that he sympathizes with their overall perspective of concern for the environment, but feels that their means are too extreme. It’s a fair point and a good moral for the story, really.

I was jumping for joy when watching “The Robots of Death” a couple weeks ago, but I liked this even more. I basically have nothing at all to criticize about this story, which is definitely a rarity for me. My new favorite Baker serial by far, and at the very least in my top ten favorite Doctor Who stories.

Serial Review: The Brain of Morbius (Season 13)

“The Brain of Morbius”
Written by Robin Bland, dir. by Christopher Barry
Featuring the Doctor, Sarah Jane, and a brain in a jar

Rating: B-

Set design, in many cases, can turn an alright story into a pretty good one. Although watching Doctor Who I have learned to suspend my disbelief, it makes for just an overall more pleasurable viewing experience when the stories have settings that look vaguely realistic. I don’t mind if the explosions and lasers look ridiculous, but I just adore good sets.

“The Brain of Morbius” is sort of a mix between a story about a fanatic religious cult and an obvious inspiration from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein with a bit of Doctor Who lore jammed in for good measure. The cultists in the new series episode “The Fires of Pompeii” were apparently inspired by the soothsayers in this story, and I find them equally irritating in both. That isn’t to say that story isn’t without its merits.

As I alluded to earlier, this story has really good sets. I never felt like I was watching painted posterboard while seeing this serial, and it makes it a much more enjoyable experience. I like the story of Frankenstein, so I didn’t mind seeing its influence here, and I think this story has a lot more good about it than bad.

The best part of the story, especially early on, is Philip Madoc as Solon. He plays the part perfectly, and Elisabeth Sladen is very sharp in the serial as well, despite being relegated to the unfortunate part of constant screamer. It is well known that I’m not a particularly big fan of Tom Baker, and he kind of continues to be the same for me here. He wasn’t distractingly bad and was hardly as charming to me as everyone else seems to think he is.

In the end, this story is a bit too jumbled at times for me to think it is one of the best. That said, I like the ambition in the story and there are enough good parts working together to make “The Brain of Morbius” another firmly above average Season 13 serial.

Serial Review: The Robots of Death (Season 14)

“The Robots of Death”
Written by Chris Boucher, dir. by Michael Briant
Featuring the Doctor, Leela, and robots

Rating: A-

It only took about three minutes of watching “The Robots of Death” to realize that I was watching the Doctor Who interpretation of Isaac Asimov’s robot stories, featuring basically the same laws of robotics as featured in Asimov’s series. Although I like Asimov, I’m not crazy about him, and actually found the story collection I, Robot a bit repetitive and boring. That being said, the concept is great and I was immediately taken by the visual design of these robots. They are entirely badass looking.

Leela, just after joining the TARDIS, arrives with the Doctor on a ship where a string of murders has the TARDIS team become prime suspects due to their strange circumstance of “stowing away” on board the ship. Of course, this doesn’t last particularly long as if the Doctor were to spend the entire serial in the brig he wouldn’t have a chance to set everything straight.

This is not the first time I’ve seen Leela, but the first time I’ve seen this version of the TARDIS control room. I instantly thought “Why did they get rid of this? It is totally badass.” The design of the control room seen early on with the people and robots before shit hits the fan is also very good. The pace is fast by classic Who standards, and basically I was in love with the story by about the twelve minute mark.

Although I’ve previously been a bit negative when it comes to Tom Baker, I was pleased with him here. I find that he often hams it up, but I was never distracted by him in this story. Louise Jameson is quite strong as Leela. She is definitely a character I like, and not just from “Oh boy lookit her outfit!” sort of way. She’s pretty sharp despite her unfortunate history and tough as nails. I’ve always had more of an affinity for female companions who were tough and/or brilliant (Ace, Zoe) and Leela fits in nicely with that bunch.

There are times in “The Robots of Death” when I thought the people on the ship hammed it up a bit, but not so much so that it distracted me from the fact that I was really enjoying the story. I’m always a fan of when Doctor Who gets particularly sci-fi heavy, and this is definitely as pulp science fiction as it gets, complete with its Asimov influence. “City of Death” and “Pyramids of Mars” are often cited as the best of the Fourth Doctor era, but for my money I would pick “The Robots of Death” over either of those. This is easily my favorite of his so far.

Serial Review: Planet of Evil (Season 13)

“Planet of Evil”
Written by Louis Marks, dir. by David Maloney
Featuring the Doctor, Sarah Jane, and Anti-matter

Rating: B-

I know I’m some kind of weirdo for not liking Tom Baker, but that’s just kinda the way it is. And the even stranger thing is, no matter how much I see, he isn’t really growing on me. Unlike Paul McGann, who I am enjoying more and more for each audio I hear, I’m actually liking Tom Baker less and less as every story goes on. That’s not to say he’s getting worse, it’s just that it is becoming more clear that I don’t like him. When I had only seen a few stories, I could tell myself that I just haven’t seen enough yet. I’ve now basically seen two seasons worth of serials, and am still scratching my head as to why everyone likes him so much.

That being said, I like him the best so far in “Planet of Evil.” This isn’t my favorite story of his that I’ve seen, but as far as Tom Baker himself in the role, I think he is strongest here of what I’ve seen. There are actually moments here where he has to be slightly dramatic where I don’t think he’s hamming it up. Everyone knows he does the comedy part well, but he is significantly bad when the scene requires him to be dramatic. The scene in “Genesis of Daleks” when he contemplates whether he has the right to kill all of the Daleks at once before they have a chance to take over the universe is seen by many to be one of the seminal scenes in Classic Who. For me, it’s a wasted opportunity, because I think Baker is pretty shit in that scene.

“Planet of Evil” is most notable for it’s excellent sets, and that is definitely worth mentioning. The jungles here look like they were made on about ten times the budget they actually had. Sure, they re-use them endlessly and run past the same square of jungle a dozen times, but it’s such a good set that it doesn’t bug me. This serial also gets some points on my good side for just being bizarre. I love the really strange moments in this, much like I enjoy the slow motion fight of the minds between the Third Doctor and Omega in “The Three Doctors.”

That being said, I never found myself REALLY into the story; it just doesn’t have enough there to be one of my favorites. Still, with great sets, enough bizarre to keep me amused, and an actually pretty solid Tom Baker, I think in the end, “Planet of Evil” is an above average story. Worth a re-watch down the line.

Serial Review: Robot (Season 12)

“Robot”
Written by Terrance Dicks, dir. by Christopher Barry
Featuring the Doctor, Sarah Jane, Harry, UNIT, and a robot

Rating: B-

Re-visiting “Robot” is an interesting experience, being that it is the very first Doctor Who story I ever saw. I didn’t think much of it at the time, nor did I dislike it. I would say that it deserves some level of credit, though, because it was good enough that I continued on to the next episode. It wasn’t until “The Ark in Space,” though, that I really could see myself being a fan of this show.

I’m not a huge fan Tom Baker as the Doctor in general, but nor do I dislike him. That being said, I think he is a bit more on the irritating side than the amusing one in this. I don’t think he really gets a hang of the role until late in this first season, or perhaps early in his second. His facial expressions are particularly obnoxious here, and the jump rope scene is ridiculous.

I do appreciate the simplicity of this plot, somehow. I always thought it was strange that, with all of the classic villains in Doctor Who, they didn’t start a Doctor off by facing the Daleks or Cybermen or something like that more often. Would seem only natural to put ones best foot forward when trying to introduce a new actor to the role. The team behind the show managed to handle the introductions pretty well early on, though, as I think all of the first four Doctors have solid debut stories that showcase their talents pretty well. I don’t think “Castrovalva” does much for Davison (I know you’ll disagree), or “The Twin Dilemma” for Colin Baker, or “Time and the Rani” for Sylvester McCoy, but this does a pretty good job of providing a solid story and giving the actor a chance to show the audience what his Doctor is all about. The story borrows a lot from other stories, most obviously Asimov’s “I, Robot” and classic stories like “King Kong” and “Frankenstein,” but I think it works well. There’s no harm in wearing ones influences on your sleeve if you do it well.

I think it was great form for new script editor Robert Holmes to commission the departing Terrance Dicks to write the first story of this new era. Dicks does a good job of bringing a different feel to the story than that of his tenure as script editor; there is a decidedly lighter and more adventurous quality to it than I think the overall scope of the Dicks era had. That’s not to malign the five seasons that saw Doctor Who under Dicks’ watch, but only to point out that it is different.

The first time I saw this, I was too busy trying to figure out what everything was about to notice how great Elisabeth Sladen was, or how cool Ian Marter is as Harry Sullivan. There’s a different quality of Sarah Jane’s character here than there seemed to be in the final season of Pertwee’s run, and I think that she becomes the great companion that she was only when this era of the show begins.

In the guest star department, I love Edward Burnham as Kettlewell, an essentially identical character to his early appearance in the absolutely brilliant Patrick Troughton epic “The Invasion.” He is really the perfect absent-minded professor. It is a shame that recurring Doctor Who actors are so consistently typecast within the show, but it is hard to deny Burnham’s quality when it comes to playing this sort of role. Patricia Maynard is also very solid as the slightly fascist-y scientific ne’er-do-well Hilda Winters.

At the start of a very well-written season, “Robot” might not seem like much, but I enjoy it. I like the use of Asimov’s laws of robotics, and I think the story works pretty well. I’m also fond of a good explosion, which this provides as well. It’s kind of strange that new companion Harry Sullivan has very little to do, but a minor quibble in an otherwise pretty damn solid story. It’s not a classic but I enjoy it anyway.

Serial Review: City of Death (Season 17)

“City of Death”
Written by David Fisher, Douglas Adams, and Graham Williams, directed by Michael Hayes
Featuring the Doctor and Romana (II)

Rating: B+

“City of Death” is often cited by fans of the classic series to be among the finest serials in all of Doctor Who. It is the second serial of Tom Baker’s sixth season, and the second to feature Lalla Ward as Romana II. Some would say it is the last gasp of Baker at his best, and certainly the finest of Douglas Adams’ run as script editor of the show.

While on holiday in Paris, the Doctor and Romana accidentally stumble into an intergalactic plot to steal the Mona Lisa from the Louvre. Their first hint that something awry is going on in terms of the greater scheme of things is that the pair experience a couple strange skips in time, in which a few seconds suddenly repeat themselves. It is a jarring experience for the Doctor and Romana, and leads them on their little mission to basically figure out what the hell is going on.

My first impression of the serial is that it was brilliantly shot. The story is set in Paris in the 1970s, and has easily my favorite on-location camera work of any serial I have seen previously. Director Michael Hayes is entirely impressive here; he may have only directed three serials of Doctor Who, but he is certainly a worthwhile name for the quality of work in this serial alone.

As far as it being among the best serials in the classic era, I’m not so sure. It is brilliantly directed, with solid acting and an above average plot, making it at the very least a quite good serial, but the best? I haven’t seen the entirety of classic Who, but there are at least a few serials I can think of off the top of my head that I prefer significantly, notably “The Invasion” and “The Tomb of the Cybermen” from Troughton’s era, as well as “The Silurians” and “Spearhead from Space” from Pertwee’s. That being said, it is certainly my favorite Fourth Doctor story so far. Tom Baker is not my favorite Doctor (far from it), but it is hard to argue with this story’s quality, as well as the strength of his on-screen chemistry with Lalla Ward. Not a top five serial for me, but certainly upper echelon.

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