Setting the Standard


Review of The Five Doctors (#129)
DVD Release Date: 05 Aug 08
Original Air Date: 25 Nov 1983
Doctors/Companions: Five, One, Two, Three, Four (cameo), Tegan, Turlough, Susan, the Brigadier, Sarah Jane, Romana II (cameo)
Stars: Peter Davison, Richard Hurndall, Patrick Troughton, Jon Pertwee, (Tom Baker), Janet Fielding, Mark Strickson, Carole Ann Ford, Nicholas Courtney, Elisabeth Sladen, (Lalla Ward)
Preceding Story: The King's Demons (Five, Tegan, Turlough, Kamelion)
Succeeding Story: Warriors of the Deep (Five, Tegan, Turlough)

With tomorrow's anniversary of the show's beginnings, I felt now would be an appropriate time to look back at a different celebration of its history. Though this year we mark fifty-four years since the show's inception, 1983 was merely twenty, and the Powers That Beeb decided they couldn't let such a large, round number go unnoticed.

Here in the post-fiftieth-anniversary era, we think of that celebration as having pulled out all the stops, but really, it was The Five Doctors that set the standard. And while, like Moffat, JNT didn't get everyone he wanted to participate, he nonetheless pulled together a remarkable cast, including—in a way—all five incarnations of the Doctor who had appeared up to that point.

While First Doctor William Hartnell had (just barely) managed perform a part in the tenth anniversary story The Three Doctors, he was already eight years dead by the time this next milestone rolled around. Rather than exclude his Doctor entirely, though, JNT simply recast Richard Hurndall in the role, much like David Bradley has taken over the same in the modern era. But much like Eccleston for the fiftieth, Tom Baker could not be convinced to reprise his own Fourth Doctor (reportedly because he thought it was too soon).

Undeterred, JNT simply used footage from the unaired story Shada (new release pending in January '18—watch this space for a review), and trapped Four and Companion Romana II in the time vortex, preventing them from joining the others in the adventure proper, without excluding them outright.


No Need to Gild the Orchid


Review of Black Orchid (#120)
DVD Release Date: 05 Aug 08
Original Air Date: 01 - 02 Mar 1982
Doctor/Companion: Five, Tegan Jovanka, Nyssa, Adric
Stars: Peter Davison, Janet Fielding, Sarah Sutton, Matthew Waterhouse
Preceding Story: The Visitation (Five, Tegan, Nyssa, Adric)
Succeeding Story: Earthshock (Five, Tegan, Nyssa, Adric)

It's time to throw a little love the Fifth Doctor's way, as he is currently the most under-represented (percentage-wise) in my reviews. And, since I was short on time, why not start with a nice, quick two-parter?

Besides its length, the other advantage of delving into Black Orchid is the fact that it is a "pure historical," one in which there are no science-fictional plot elements (aside from our heroes' presence outside their own time, and the brief use of the TARDIS to hop between locations). It is, in fact, the first pure historical since the Second Doctor's second outing in The Highlanders (more than fifteen years prior), and the last to be broadcast on TV to date.

However, some have suggested that new showrunner Chris Chibnall might bring back the pure historical (an idea I wholeheartedly support). Reviewing how such a story can work—and work well—is thus a fine exercise.

Our story begins when the TARDIS brings her crew back to Earth in June of 1925, where strange things are afoot at the Cranleigh family manor. As has often happened, the TARDIS crew walk in at just the right time for a case of mistaken identity to take hold, though this time there's a twist—not only is the Doctor taken to be the anticipated replacement cricketer, but Nyssa is the spitting image of Charles Cranleigh's fiancée Ann.


Genesis of the Cybermen


Review of Spare Parts (#34)
Big Finish Release Date: Jul 2002
Doctor/Companion: Five and Nyssa
Stars: Peter Davison and Sarah Sutton
Preceding Story: Neverland (Eight, Charley)
Succeeding Story: ...Ish (Six, Peri)

Years ago when I first became aware of Big Finish and had conversations about which releases were "best," Spare Parts came up again and again. It's thus been on my "to listen" list for ages, though for one reason or another didn't make it into the rotation until now.

Having now heard it, I completely understand why Spare Parts was recommended so highly. It has its pros and cons, as any of the audio adventures do, but what makes it so appealing is the way it adds to the larger tapestry of the Whoniverse—it's the story of how the people of Mondas became the Cybermen, well before the Doctor first encountered those iconic antagonists in his First incarnation in The Tenth Planet.

Any good Cybermen story needs some body horror, and we get it here, though it's not immediate; after all, we need to get to know characters besides the Doctor and Nyssa so that we can be properly appalled when horrible things happen to them. This slow burn adds to the tension as the TARDIS crew struggles with the implications of their actions on the future they know and what they believe, hope, or wish could be changed.


Miracle in the Desert


Review of The Eye of the Scorpion (#24)
Big Finish Release Date: Sep 2001
Doctor/Companion: Five and Peri
Stars: Peter Davison and Nicola Bryant
Preceding Story: Project: Twilight (Six, Evelyn)
Succeeding Story: Colditz (Seven, Ace)

Big Finish has achieved something I didn't think was possible: they made an entire story in which I didn't cringe at/actively dislike Peri. In fact, I was into Part Three before I realized that's what was happening. I guess y'all can officially add me to the list of folks who (at this moment) think she was better paired with the Fifth Doctor than the Sixth.

Aside from that amazing feat, The Eye of the Scorpion is in itself an enjoyable adventure. While in flight, the TARDIS inexplicably changes course. Upon review, it appears the Doctor is responsible, but he has no idea when or how he might have done so.

Soon they land in Egypt, circa 1400 BCE. In typical Doctor form, they accidentally ingratiate themselves with the yet-to-be-crowned Pharaoh, a young woman named Erimem (Caroline Morris). But the Doctor knows the names of all the Pharaohs—especially the female ones, who were few and far between—and hers is not a one he recognizes.

As is so often the case when the Doctor appears, there's political unrest in the land. An opposing army threatens the borders of Thebes and someone tries to assassinate Erimem, claiming he follows "the true Pharaoh," thus planting the seed of doubt among her people. Throw in an alien being at work behind the scenes and you have a classic pseudo-historical.


Thrown for a Loup


Review of Loups-Garoux (#20)
Big Finish Release Date: May 2001
Doctor/Companion: Five and Turlough
Stars: Peter Davison and Mark Strickson
Preceding Story: Minuet in Hell (Eight, Charley, the Brigadier)
Succeeding Story: Dust Breeding (Seven, Ace)

It's not often that Doctor Who tackles widely familiar fantastical creatures (e.g., vampires), but when it does, it doesn't shy from calling out the popular mythos. That's part of why Loups-Garoux works as well as it does.

For me, it was my tabletop RPG background that clued me in, but those who know French will also have a good idea what they're in for the first time they look at the title of this adventure. In that sense, there was nothing surprising in the story. For the most part, it rolled out about as I expected: the Doctor and Turlough find themselves embroiled in a crisis among a group of werewolves in and around Rio de Janeiro in 2080.

While the Doctor identifies the werewolves' condition with a quasi-scientific name, and not everything they do matches with legend, there's no doubt that these are the traditional werewolves we expect from literature. They are pack animals whose behavior is strongly influenced by the lupine side of their nature, silver harms them, and they are long-lived. For fans of werewolf stories, then, this audio adventure is a win.



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