Reviews

Powerful Failure

May
22

Review of The Power of Kroll (#102)

DVD Release Date: 03 Mar 09
Original Air Date: 23 Dec 1978 - 13 Jan 1979
Doctors/Companions: Four, Romana I
Stars: Tom Baker, Mary Tamm
Preceding Story: The Androids of Tara (Four, Romana I)
Succeeding Story: The Armageddon Factor (Four, Romana I)

It's been my impression that The Key to Time as a whole is generally considered by fandom to be pretty good stuff. However, The Power of Kroll, the penultimate installment, frequently gets brought up in "worst of" conversations (and truth be told, its immediate successor The Armageddon Factor is often not far behind).

So what makes this story so dodgy? It had been long enough since I'd last seen it that my memory was pretty sparse. Vague impressions of a city-sized plant-monster and the religious fanatics who worshipped it were enough to give me pause, but I girded my metaphorical loins and pressed "Play."

Within minutes, it was clear that I'd forgotten a great deal indeed. To begin, there was John Leeson in the flesh. (As his metallic canine persona was marooned in the swamp, I can't help but wonder if his contract required him to appear in a certain number of episodes, and this is how that got fulfilled.) More importantly, there was a "Swampie" butle-ing for the colonizers in the refinery. Oh, and Kroll is meant to be some sort of giant squid, not a plant-monster (I was clearly confusing the creature itself with the vines that would contract during the ritual by which the Doctor, Romana, and gun-runner Rohm-Dutt were to be executed by stretching them on a rack).

Another key fact I'd forgotten, and somehow managed not to notice again until I started Part Four, was that this story was written by Robert Holmes. Holmes is upheld by many fans, especially those of A Certain Age, as one of—if not the—all-time greatest writer for the show. And yet, here we are. Granted, the instant I realized this was one of his scripts, a lot of things started to make more sense; Holmes never shied away from letting his personal worldview take center stage in his scripts.

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Four-gettable

Apr
25

Review of Four to Doomsday (#117)
DVD Release Date: 06 Jan 09
Original Air Date: 18 - 26 Jan 1982
Doctors/Companions: Five, Adric, Nyssa of Traken, Tegan Jovanka
Stars: Peter Davison, Matthew Waterhouse, Sarah Sutton, Janet Fielding
Preceding Story: Castrovalva (Five, Adric, Nyssa, Tegan)
Succeeding Story: Kinda (Five, Adric, Nyssa, Tegan)

When I selected Four to Doomsday (4tD) to appear in my series of stories with bad reputations, I suspect I had given it more bad-credit than it deserves. Perhaps it's because on first viewing I gave the physics of the climactic "Doctor uses a cricket ball to fabulous effect" moment such serious side-eye. Mostly, though, I think 4tD simply flies too far under the radar as a middle-of-the-road installment. It is so unremarkable as to be forgettable.

The Doctor's first attempt to return Tegan to Heathrow Airport so she can finally start her new job goes (predictably) wrong, and the TARDIS crew lands instead on some sort of spaceship. The technology present is advanced enough to delight the Doctor and Nyssa as they explore. The crew soon find three slightly ominous beings in charge of the strange vessel. They introduce themselves as Monarch, Enlightenment, and Persuasion, and inform the Doctor that they are from the now-destroyed planet Urbanka.

Meanwhile, the TARDIS team also find several people who are obviously from Earth, including an ancient Greek philosopher named Bigon, an Australian Aboriginal man named Kurkutji, one Princess Villagra of the Maya, and an imperial Chinese official named Lin Futu. The circumstances surrounding the presence of these people and their subordinates on a ship filled with (unseen) Urbankan refugees are part of the mystery to be solved.

This is the Era of the Crowded TARDIS, with three full-time Companions to juggle, and this script does a surprisingly good job of it. The party gets split in a number of creative twists, and in various combinations. Each Companion has a different reaction to the situation, and we get some serious sparks between Tegan and Adric.

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It's the Pits

Mar
28

Review of The Creature from the Pit (#106)
DVD Release Date: 07 Sep 10
Original Air Date: 22 Oct - 17 Nov 1979
Doctors/Companions: Four, Romana II
Stars: Tom Baker, Lalla Ward
Preceding Story: City of Death (Four, Romana II)
Succeeding Story: Nightmare of Eden (Four, Romana II)

Looking over my spreadsheet of Classic stories I have yet to review, I can see that I've made some progress over the last seven-plus years. However, there are still a couple of Doctors whose runs are, proportionately speaking, underrepresented. So how do I choose which stories from those eras to review in the coming months?

I decided to go with a theme of Bad Reputations.

It was surprisingly easy to make suitable selections. You see, a person naturally gravitates towards the stories she likes when she has a choice of which ones to talk about. After all, if you have to watch something again to refresh your memory, it's no surprise the enjoyable ones rise to the top of the list. This far into the game, then, there are going to be a fair number of clunkers left. And since Verity! podcast last week released their interview with Lalla Ward from last November's LI Who, one of the stories discussed therein—Lalla's first one on set—seemed a perfect place to start.

The Creature from the Pit (TCftP) has a well-deserved reputation. It is, hard as it tries, a hot mess from start to finish. K-9's voice is wrong (David Brierley voiced him for this single season instead of John Leeson); the folks on Chloris, the planet where the story is set, have precious little imagination ("We call it 'the Pit'" and "We call it 'the Creature'" are among the more scintillating lines of dialog...); and the plot ranges from poorly considered to straight up non-sensical. And all that says nothing of the Creature itself.

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Cirque du Docteur

Feb
28

Review of The Greatest Show in the Galaxy (#152)
DVD Release Date: 05 Aug 08
Original Air Date: 14 Dec 1988 - 04 Jan 1989
Doctors/Companions: Seven, Ace
Stars: Sylvester McCoy, Sophie Aldred
Preceding Story: Silver Nemesis (Seven, Ace)
Succeeding Story: Battlefield (Seven, Ace, the Brigadier)

Usually in mid- to late February, I post a recap of my entire Gally experience for the year, complete with photos. This year I didn't have much in the way of shareable pictures, though, and I didn't want to let February slip away without including a monthly review.

It seemed appropriate, therefore, that I compromise by giving a nod to Gallifrey One 2018 by reviewing a serial that was relevant to the con. Since many of the cast and crew of The Greatest Show in the Galaxy (TGSitG) were guests at Gally this year (including Sylvester McCoy [Seventh Doctor], Sophie Aldred [Ace], Jessica Martin [Mags], Dee Sadler [Flowerchild], Adrew Cartmel [script editor], Stephen Wyatt [writer], and Mark Ayers [composer]), it seemed a perfect choice.

I don't actually remember when I last watched TGSitG, but it has definitely been a number of years—enough so that my perspective on the setting seems to have changed significantly. I am fortunate to live in an area that has a circus school, and I've seen the students there perform some amazing feats over the last several years (including my own kids), so something that stuck out like a sore thumb this time around that I seem to have glossed over before is the nature of the "circus skills" the members of the Psychic Circus possess.

Bellboy tells Ace at one point that all the circus members had their own specialities, and that his was creating and repairing the robots that play such a prominent role (they are most of the background performers—clowns who tumble and ride unicycles). Flowerchild's "skill" was creating kites. What the hell sort of circus has robots and kites? A psychic one, I guess, but it threw me for a loop when it was stated outright that those were the things that allowed those folks to become an integral part of the circus.

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Twice the Emotions

Dec
30

Review of Twice Upon a Time
Warning: This review contains episode-specific spoilers and wild speculation about future episodes.

I am at such a weird crossroads of emotions, I hardly know where to begin. Capaldi's Twelfth Doctor has become my all-time favorite (just edging out the Eighth—sorry, Paul! I still love you!), so watching his regeneration story was even more bittersweet than usual. On the other hand, I'm eager to see Whittaker take the reins. Add in the other ups and downs along the way, and I'm just a mess.

As is often the case at the end of a modern Doctor's tenure, Twelve's last hurrah was full of looking back as much (if not more) than forward. We knew going in that he'd be sharing the spotlight with his first (sort of) incarnation, and I was okay with that. I was also okay—more than okay!—with Bill Potts making a return.

I'll be honest, though; it wasn't a whole long time after the release of the trailer that revealed Bill's return that I started thinking about how it might be possible. I never came anywhere close to being right (par for the course, with a Moffat episode), but I had enough difficulty concocting my own hypothesis that the Doctor's suspicions (and later, opinions) about her presence echoed mine. As a result, it was difficult for me to be as delighted by having Bill back as I wanted to be.

I was also oddly ambivalent about having the First Doctor on board. I had quite enjoyed An Adventure in Space and Time, so was rather looking forward to David Bradley's rendition. However, I didn't get quite the vibe from him that I have come to associate with One; some of that was obviously down to the writing.

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