Four

Out Like Apathy

Dec
21

Review of The Leisure Hive (#109)
DVD Release Date: 07 Jun 05 (Out of Print)
Original Air Date: 30 Aug - 20 Sep 1980
Doctor/Companion: Four, Romana II, K-9
Stars: Tom Baker, Lalla Ward, John Leeson
Preceding Story: The Horns of Nimon (Four, Romana I, K-9)
Succeeding Story: Meglos (Four, Romana II)

It's the beginning of the end for the Fourth Doctor, as he takes one final victory lap around the universe before handing over the keys of the TARDIS to a younger, blonder version of himself. By this point the Four/Romana II team functions like a well-serviced TARDIS, comfortable with each others' foibles and confident in each others' roles in the partnership as much as their own.

As usual, I find Romana's quiet competence to be one of the highlights of the story. The Doctor is mostly watchable as well, since Baker has yet to decide he's So Done With the role, though the spring is certainly gone from his step. The guest cast also performs well—only as campy as the script requires.

The script, though... Well, it could be worse. In fact, I remembered it as being worse before I re-watched it for this review. But it's certainly not a shining star in the oeuvre, either. Remembering that this is the season opener makes the director's choice of spending nearly a full minute on an establishing shot panning across an Earth beach scene (Brighton) feel even more questionable; why would you think that would entice your audience to stick around for more?

Poor K-9 doesn't stick around for long, either. Romana tosses a ball toward the shore in a moment of frustration, causing the hapless metal hound to chase after it to the point of self-destruction. Having thus gotten an unfavored character out of the way, the writer uses Romana's dissatisfaction with their vacation spot as the impetus for sending our heroes off to the leisure planet Argolis—now without the randomizer fitted into the TARDIS's guidance system for the first time since Romana's regeneration.

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Beginning of the End

Nov
23

Review of Destiny of the Daleks (#104)
DVD Release Date: 04 Mar 08
Original Air Date: 01 - 22 Sep 1979
Doctor/Companion: Four, Romana II
Stars: Tom Baker, Lalla Ward
Preceding Story: The Armageddon Factor (Four, Romana I, K-9)
Succeeding Story: City of Death (Four, Romana II)

By the time Season 17 rolled around in late 1979, Tom Baker had been in the role of the Doctor for nearly five years and was beginning his sixth and penultimate season. His Companion Romana, having been shunted back into the more traditional "either scream or listen attentively as the Doctor talks" role from the "intellectual equal and foil to the Doctor" originally advertised, lost her appeal for actress Mary Tamm. The production team apparently felt there was still plenty of story left in the character, though, as they decided to make use of the fact that Romana is a Time Lord (or Time Lady, depending on who is speaking and when) to allow her to stay on with a different actress in the role.

Thus we open the season with one of the most famous scenes in Lalla Ward's on-screen stint as Romana (usually referred to as Romana II, to distinguish her from Tamm's depiction, Romana I): her regeneration. Contrary to the way we have always seen the Doctor regenerate—only under duress/when his current body gives up, and with no choice in the outcome—Romana has apparently decided to regenerate for kicks and grins, trying on new bodies much as the Doctor tried out harlequin or Viking outfits. Thus the writers lampshade the fact that yes, we just saw Lalla Ward as a different character at the end of last season; she's Romana now.

For the time being, Baker still appears to enjoy the role, perhaps not least because the adventure involves not only the Daleks but also Davros, a character introduced to the canon during his first season (in a story that's now widely considered among the best ever). It certainly also had to help that he and his new costar were attracted to each other (Baker and Ward were famously involved, though their actual marriage lasted only sixteen months); going to work every day with your honey has to put an extra spring in your step (at least until one or both of you start finding the scripts regrettable...).

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Operation Brain Candy

Oct
26

Review of The Ribos Operation (#98)
DVD Release Date: 03 Mar 09
Original Air Date: 02 - 23 Sep 1978
Doctor/Companion: Four, Romana I
Stars: Tom Baker, Mary Tamm
Preceding Story: The Invasion of Time (Four, Leela)
Succeeding Story: The Pirate Planet (Four, Romana I)

Of all of Tom Baker's season openers, I think The Ribos Operation has to be my favorite (though Terror of the Zygons is strong, too). There are any number of details that contribute to my affection for this particular story, and I'll try to outline some of them below, but it probably doesn't hurt that it's the first installment of a series-long arc—the first ever.

Having cut my Whovian teeth on the modern era, a full series story arc seemed natural to me in my early fandom days. I knew when I started watching pre-Hiatus/Classic Who that the traditional style was serialized one-offs, so it's not that I found that format unusual or off-putting. However, when I got to Season 16 (also collectively known as The Key to Time), the familiarity of a longer arc felt comfortable and made it easy for me to settle in for the long haul.

The early minutes of the first episode are thus necessarily spent setting up the whole season. We are introduced to the White Guardian, who takes the Doctor and his TARDIS out of time and charges him with recovering the six segments of the Key to Time in order to restore order to the universe. We also meet the new "assistant" with whom said Guardian has saddled the Doctor: Romanadvoratrelundar. This young (though mature, at "nearly 140") Time Lady is quickly established as the intellectual equal (if not superior) of the Doctor, having graduated with a "triple first" from the Time Lord Academy (and looking down her nose at the Doctor for "scraping through with 51% at the second attempt").

In contrast, the Doctor's vastly more extensive experience proves to give him the advantage over his rather naïve new Companion. While she can analyze a situation based on surface evidence, he knows how to sniff out duplicity and when to trust his gut. Unfortunately, this sets the stage for Romana to be something of a dupe, but her overall charm and poise keep her from falling completely into "bumbling sidekick" territory.

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An Air of Casual Horror

Sep
28

Review of Horror of Fang Rock (#92)
DVD Release Date: 04 May 10
Original Air Date: 03 - 24 Sep 1977
Doctor/Companion: Four, Leela
Stars: Tom Baker, Louise Jameson
Preceding Story: The Talons of Weng-Chiang (Four, Leela)
Succeeding Story: The Invisible Enemy (Four, Leela, K-9)

By the opening of his fourth season (Season 15), Tom Baker was well entrenched in his role as the Doctor. The Fourth Doctor's first two Companions (Sarah Jane Smith and Harry Sullivan) had left him nearly one and two years before, respectively (The Hand of Fear, Sarah Jane's final story, aired in October 1976; Harry left the TARDIS at the end of Terror of the Zygons in September 1975), and for the second half of Season 14 he had been traveling with his latest Companion Leela.

One could thus reasonably expect Horror of Fang Rock to be rather standard fare—par for the course, as it were. In some ways it is (it's got some quintessential Who-y elements), but it others it is superior (especially compared to the rest of the season, which has several unfortunately weak stories). I have not watched Fang Rock as often as many other serials, and I was pleasantly surprised at how much more enjoyable I found it than I'd remembered.

Of particular note was the relationship between the Doctor and Leela. It is commonly known that Baker was rather nasty to his co-star Louise Jameson while they were working together (though they have since smoothed things over, and I've heard Jameson herself say that they are great friends now); however, whatever was going on behind the scenes doesn't appear to have bled over onto the screen (at least not in a way that is out of character). Granted, there is still tension between the Doctor and Leela about her being a "savage," but it has become somewhat more of an old saw or inside joke between them. The characters obviously respect and depend on each other as well as caring about each other a great deal.

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The Beauty Beneath the Masque

Aug
24

Review of The Masque of Mandragora (#85)
DVD Release Date: 04 May 10
Original Air Date: 04 - 25 Sep 1976
Doctor/Companion: Four, Sarah Jane Smith
Stars: Tom Baker, Elisabeth Sladen
Preceding Story: The Seeds of Doom (Four, Sarah Jane)
Succeeding Story: The Hand of Fear (Four, Sarah Jane)

Last month I started my new series of reviews of Tom Baker's season openers with his inaugural adventure Robot. His second season started with Terror of the Zygons, but as mentioned last month, I've already reviewed it. Therefore, I'm moving on to the Fourth Doctor's third season, which begins with The Masque of Mandragora.

By this point, Lis Sladen had been in the role of Sarah Jane Smith (SJS) for three years, and Baker had been portraying the Doctor for two. They are so wonderfully comfortable with both their own characters and each other, they make for fabulous, cozy watching.

It was also the third and final season of the Hinchcliffe-Holmes era, so often touted as the "golden age" of Doctor Who. Sladen would leave at the end of the following story and the second half of the season would see Baker unwillingly paired with another Companion (it's well known that he was rather horrible to Louise Jameson during her time as Leela, though by all accounts they are fast friends now). As Season 14 opens, though, Baker is clearly at the height of his powers and happy as a clam.

The story opens with SJS and the Doctor wandering the halls of the TARDIS, apparently just for kicks. They happen across a secondary control room, wood-paneled and covered with dust after long disuse. (It was used as the primary for most stories in the following year-and-a-bit.) From here they discover they are being drawn to a strange place by the Mandragora Helix before escaping and ending up in 15th-century Italy.

Helix energy (alternatively "Mandragora energy"—they don't seem to have been overly concerned with consistency there) has hitched a ride in the TARDIS, and now adds to the political havoc in process in the principality of San Martino, in which the Doctor and SJS find themselves (surprise!) embroiled.

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