Four

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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Changing of the Guard

Jul
27

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.

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All That Is Gold Doesn't Glitter

Apr
27

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.

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