The Beauty Beneath the Masque


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.


Changing of the Guard


Review of Robot (#75)
DVD Release Date: 14 Aug 07 (Out of Print)
Original Air Date: 28 Dec 1974 - 18 Jan 1975
Doctor/Companion: Four, Sarah Jane Smith, Harry Sullivan
Stars: Tom Baker, Elisabeth Sladen, Ian Marter
Preceding Story: Planet of the Spiders (Three, Sarah Jane)
Succeeding Story: The Ark in Space (Four, Sarah Jane, Harry)

Having completed an overview of Cybermen stories in the last few months, I felt it was time to switch to another theme. The question, of course, was what theme to pursue? By percentage of (extant) stories, the Fourth Doctor is still my least-reviewed incarnation. Therefore I thought something focusing on his tenure would be appropriate.

I had two ideas of how to cover Four's time in the TARDIS: deep or broad. I could delve into one particular season (The Key to Time, which was the first season-long story arc) or I could find a way to choose stories distributed across the entire seven-year run.

Eventually I settled on the latter, with the idea that the first story of each season would provide a simple selection criterion. Four of those seven season openers have never been reviewed either directly or with Nu-/Retro-Views. Two (Robot and The Ribos Operation) were the subject of a Retro-View several years ago (Nov 2012 and Apr 2013, respectively), so are due another look-in. The final story in question (Terror of the Zygons) has already been reviewed in full when the DVD came out in Oct 2013. Further, the story that immediately preceded it, Revenge of the Cybermen, was reviewed just three months ago as part of my Cyber-series. Therefore, I've decided to skip that period (end of Season 12/beginning of Season 13) in my retrospective.

So we're kicking it off with T. Baker's first ever on-screen adventure Robot. Because Baker is able to jump in with both metaphorical feet and make the role his own right from the get-go (his famous quote that "I was the Doctor and the Doctor was me" seems to have been true nearly immediately), it's easy to forget that this story was written before Baker had been cast. Occasionally there is a line that sounds ever so slightly "off" for the person we know this Doctor would become, but for the most part it's as if he has sprung from the head of Zeus Terrance Dicks fully formed.


All That Is Gold Doesn't Glitter


Review of Revenge of the Cybermen (#79)
DVD Release Date: 02 Nov 10
Original Air Date: 19 Apr - 10 May 1975
Doctor/Companion: Four, Sarah Jane Smith, Harry Sullivan
Stars: Tom Baker, Elisabeth Sladen, Ian Marter
Preceding Story: Genesis of the Daleks (Four, Sarah Jane, Harry)
Succeeding Story: Terror of the Zygons (Four, Sarah Jane, Harry)

Continuing my exploration of Cybermen stories featuring Doctors who have been under-represented in my reviews over the years, this month I consider the Fourth Doctor's only encounter with these iconic enemies in Revenge of the Cybermen.

Aside from being the first time in nearly six and a half years that the Cybermen had appeared on screen (and the last time for another seven), Revenge had the dubious honor of falling between what became two of the most highly regarded stories of the pre-Hiatus (and some would say any) era: Genesis of the Daleks and Terror of the Zygons. How, then, does a mild-mannered serial make its mark on the world? With a fabulous TARDIS team and a plot that has just enough twists to keep it interesting, of course.

The story opens—as every story in T. Baker's first season—following directly on from the end of the prior one. The Doctor, Sarah Jane, and Harry are all gripping the Time Ring, hoping to land back on Space Station Nerva where they began. Although they arrive intact, the TARDIS has not yet made the temporal adjustment to meet them. Obviously, they decide to look around while they wait.

To their dismay, they find dead bodies scattered everywhere. It turns out that Nerva Beacon, as it is currently known, has been under quarantine the last few months, as all but three crew members and one civilian (an exographer, there to study the asteroid the beacon is orbiting) have succumbed to a mysterious plague. However, what's really behind all the deaths is even more sinister.


Let Zygons Be Zygons


Review of Terror of the Zygons (#80)
DVD Release Date: 07 Oct 13
Original Air Date: 30 Aug - 20 Sep 1975
Doctor/Companion: Four, Sarah Jane Smith, Harry Sullivan
Stars: Tom Baker, Elisabeth Sladen, Ian Marter
Preceding Story: Revenge of the Cybermen (Four, Sarah Jane, Harry)
Succeeding Story: Planet of Evil (Four, Sarah Jane)

(Why yes, I have been waiting years to use that obvious, overdone title. Why do you ask?)

With all the recent hullabaloo surrounding the recovery of The Enemy of the World and The Web of Fear, October's otherwise noteworthy DVD release kind of got lost in the shuffle. Terror of the Zygons is widely regarded as one of the best stories of the pre-Hiatus era, yet for whatever reason (rumor has it, it's because someone was being pissy to someone else who'd mentioned it was his favorite), it got shunted to the end of the release schedule.

Since I started my fandom well into the age of the DVD, I've never purchased a VHS copy of any Who story. Therefore, Zygons has the distinction of being the absolute last Fourth Doctor story (as well as the last complete story of the entire show) I ever saw—on this release. Hell, I even saw Shada before Zygons; that should give you an idea how overdue having this DVD out feels to me.

Needless to say, I'd heard a lot of hype. That always makes me nervous: will it live up to all these high expectations? As a jaded forty-something, will the magic still be there? Luckily, this time I had some real experts to help me test those waters.


Retro-View #12: Melancholy Moment


Logopolis (Story #115, 1981)
Viewed 03 Jun 2013

Doctor/Companion: Four, Adric, Nyssa, Tegan Jovanka
Stars: Tom Baker, Matthew Waterhouse, Sarah Sutton, Janet Fielding
Preceding Story: The Keeper of Traken (Four, Adric, Nyssa)
Succeeding Story: Castrovalva (Five, Adric, Nyssa, Tegan)

    It seems to me that by the time Logopolis rolled around, Tom Baker was more than ready to leave his role as the Doctor. He just seemed tired, pensive, and like he simply wasn't having very much fun any more. Luckily, it fits well with the story, and doesn't translate into any sort of loss of quality.

    G is immediately intrigued by the way the police box and (Master's) TARDIS merge, and in on alert when Tegan and Auntie Vanessa pull up next to it with their flat. "Ooh dear. And they're by the box." Then when the Doctor's TARDIS turns them all into dimensionally transcendental matryoshka dolls, she catches onto the danger right away. "This is serious. It's like he's ingested poison by materializing that guy in there." She proceeds to make an analogy with holding mirrors up to each other to make an infinite regression, well before the possibility is mentioned on screen. G's all over it.

    The Watcher has her fooled, though. She reads it as all first-time viewers are meant to: a slightly creepy threat. I can't help but think of it as the precursor to Ten's departure, though in this case it's only the Doctor, rather than the whole audience as well, who anticipates what's to come. We both enjoy this particular conceit, though. When the Doctor tells Adric that "nothing like this has ever happened before," G declares that "that's the fun part."

    She's enjoying the character interactions, too. She's still loving Adric (that will make things interesting in another couple of sessions), and can't help giggle (nor can I) at the looks the Doctor and Adric give each other when Tegan finally stumbles back into the control room.



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