Six

A Series of Unfortunate Events

Sep
27

Review of The Ultimate Foe (#143d)
DVD Release Date: 10 Oct 08
Original Air Date: 29 Nov - 06 Dec 1986
Doctor/Companion: Six, Melanie "Mel" Bush
Stars: Colin Baker, Bonnie Langford
Preceding Story: Terror of the Vervoids (Six, Mel)
Succeeding Story: Time and the Rani (Seven, Mel)

The final (one might even say "ultimate") story of the Sixth Doctor's tenure was riddled with unfortunate circumstances. Perhaps most blatantly, writer Robert Holmes—widely considered one of the best of the Classic era, and the one who penned Episodes 1-4 of The Trial of a Time Lord (TToaTL)—took ill and died before completing Episode 13, forcing Script Editor Eric Saward to finish it off.

Making matters worse, BBC executives still weren't seeing eye-to-eye with the Doctor Who team. The show had been put "on hiatus" between Season 22 and TToaTL (Season 23), and things were not really looking up despite the renewal. With producer John Nathan-Turner (JNT) also at odds with his script editor, it's amazing anything ended up on screen at all.

Saward had agreed to write Episode 14 as well as finishing its predecessor, but things with JNT deteriorated enough that Saward eventually walked out, leaving JNT to do Saward's script editing job while Pip and Jane Baker, who had written Episodes 9-12, stepped in to complete the season. No matter how many notes a writer leaves, no other writer can produce something that looks just like what the original creator had in their head. And to be blunt, Pip and Jane Baker are no Robert Holmes. The resulting episode is uninspiring at best.

When one adds in all this context regarding the production to the retrospective knowledge that Colin Baker would be forced out of the lead role before the next season, the overall effect while watching The Ultimate Foe is like of standing outside Pompeii with the TARDIS on Volcano Day. One feels pity for the poor souls trapped in this hopeless situation, knowing just how it ends and that you can do nothing to save them—and that doesn't make it any prettier to watch.

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The Confusion of a Time Line

Aug
23

Review of Terror of the Vervoids (#143c)
DVD Release Date: 10 Oct 08
Original Air Date: 01 - 22 Nov 1986
Doctor/Companion: Six, Melanie "Mel" Bush
Stars: Colin Baker, Bonnie Langford
Preceding Story: Mindwarp (Six, Peri)
Succeeding Story: The Ultimate Foe (Six, Mel)

Let me begin by acknowledging what a ridiculously suggestive (nigh pornographic) creature design this serial has. Wowzers. How that got past the censors/BBC high muckety-mucks/whoever screens this stuff, I'll never understand. And now that that's out of the way, we can talk about the rest of it.

While Terror of the Vervoids has never ranked high in my personal preference list of Doctor Who stories, it does have one particularly intriguing aspect that sets it apart from most other pre-Hiatus serials: it's wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey.

Sadly this aspect isn't pervasive; it only shows up when we cut back to the courtroom for the scenes that remind us the Doctor is on trial for his life. In order to find evidence to defend himself, though, the Doctor has had to dip into his own future, as recorded by the Matrix. Thus we get a bigger hiccup in his timeline than usual, which has an interesting and slightly maddening side effect: we never get a formal introduction to his next Companion.

We join the Doctor and Mel with their travels already in progress. There's a distinct sense of familiarity between them that comes of a prolonged association with each other. In one way, I'm delighted by the cheekiness of this writing decision. We have just learned (along with the Doctor, because (a) his memory's messed up and (b) he got pulled out of time before the events reputedly happened) that his previous Companion Peri has died due to his actions/inaction. Normally we'd expect an adventure where he meets a new friend and invites (in this case) her to travel with him.

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Stomachturn

Mar
22

Review of Mindwarp (#143b)
DVD Release Date: 10 Oct 08
Original Air Date: 04 - 25 Oct 1986
Doctor/Companion: Six, Perpugilliam "Peri" Brown
Stars: Colin Baker, Nicola Bryant
Preceding Story: The Mysterious Planet (Six, Peri)
Succeeding Story: Terror of the Vervoids (Six, Mel)

I will admit, dear readers, that I cringed at the thought of needing to rewatch Mindwarp for this review. Parts Five through Eight of The Trial of a Time Lord (TToaTL) have always ranked high in my personal list of regrettable Doctor Who stories, and I'm afraid nothing changed this time around.

There are a few things that stand out in my memory about Mindwarp, no matter how long it's been since my last viewing: the way Peri gets so thoroughly screwed over; Brian Blessed's sheer, scenery-chewing volume; and the return of Sil, perhaps my most hated antagonist ever. None of these key traits serve to recommend the adventure, nor are they improved on repeated viewing.

While I've never particularly cared for Peri, no one deserves the shitty treatment—especially in a farewell appearance—that she gets here*. Even before the Doctor goes off the deep end (and he does, though neither we nor the Doctor himself, as evidenced by his reactions back in the courtroom on Gallifrey, really know why), he is truly horrible to his Companion. The prime example ties into another of my dislikes about Mindwarp: Sil.

Given the way Sil made my skin crawl (and not in a "love to hate" way) in his first appearance, I—like poor Peri—have no desire to be anywhere near him, even narratively. When she discovers Sil is on Thoros Beta with them, and that it is in fact his home planet (a detail the Doctor neglected to mention), she tells the Doctor outright that she wants to leave. Sil tortured her the last time they met, and she has been understandably traumatized by the experience.

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A Mysterious Plan

Jan
25

Review of The Mysterious Planet (#143a)
DVD Release Date: 10 Oct 08
Original Air Date: 06 - 27 Sep 1986
Doctor/Companion: Six, Perpugilliam "Peri" Brown
Stars: Colin Baker, Nicola Bryant
Preceding Story: Revelation of the Daleks (Six, Peri)
Succeeding Story: Mindwarp (Six, Peri)

Today I start a new review series, with an arc I've long avoided here. The Trial of a Time Lord (ToaTL) is, depending on who you ask, either a season-long, fourteen-part story or four, two- or four-part stories connected into a season arc. It comprises approximately half of the Sixth Doctors televised tenure in the role, and thus looms larger in my mental landscape than perhaps it should.

So because my reviews over the years have been particularly shy of Sixth Doctor adventures (at least the televised ones), I decided I'd finally tackle ToaTL for the first part of 2017 (with a Dalek breakaway—see what I did there?—for Power in February) before Series Ten begins.

As we begin this season, then, we see the TARDIS being pulled into a large structure in space, and the Doctor steps out—alone—into a darkened hallway. The room he enters is also darkened until, with some vaguely ominous words, someone eventually identified as "the Valeyard"—the person who is to become his major adversary over the coming episodes—reveals that they are in a Time Lord courtroom.

The Doctor is the subject of a hearing to determine whether or not he is truly guilty of "conduct unbecoming of a Time Lord." As part of his protest, the Doctor claims he can't be put on trial because he's Lord President of Gallifrey (Oh, Doctor... You sound unpleasantly like the new POTUS...), but is told that as a result of his neglect for his duties, he's been deposed.

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Attack of the Mediocre

Mar
23

Review of Attack of the Cybermen (#138)
DVD Release Date: 07 Jul 09 (Out of Print)
Original Air Date: 05 - 12 Jan 1985
Doctor/Companion: Six, Peri Brown
Stars: Colin Baker, Nicola Bryant
Preceding Story: The Twin Dilemma (Six, Peri)
Succeeding Story: Vengeance on Varos (Six, Peri)

After I posted my last review, which was for the Peter Davison audio adventure Spare Parts, one of my regular readers pointed out that I haven't reviewed all of the televised adventures, and suggested I consider doing more. Given that my focus has generally been on the more-readily-agreed-to-be-canonical TV run, I thought that was a great idea—especially since it also makes it easier to come up with something to post about.

So I went and made a list of the DVD reviews I've already done, and the stories covered on in Nu-Views and Retro-Views, and proceeded to make a convoluted spreadsheet. I decided I should begin with ones I've never touched on at all, and try to even out the proportionality of reviews to available serials across all the pre-Hiatus/Classic Doctors.

Colin Baker turned out to be most slighted in this sense, in that only two of his eleven serials (counting the Trial of a Time Lord as four serials) have been reviewed, and one of those was a Nu-View. That means 82% of C. Baker's run is untouched (T. Baker is at 62%, Davison 60%, McCoy 50%, Troughton 50% (of existing serials), Hartnell 47% (existing), and Pertwee 33%). I seemed obvious, then to start with Ol' Sixie. But which serial?

It didn't take long for me to pick one, and several to come after. Having just witnessed the ultimate beginning of the Cybermen last month, and realizing that three more Doctors also had unreviewed Cybermen stories, I settled on a theme. First up, then, is Six's encounter in Attack of the Cybermen.

One of the advantages of reviewing less familiar stories (I'd only seen this one a couple times before) is that I can still be a "new" fan to a certain degree. Because I didn't grow up watching Doctor Who, I still come to it from the perspective of one who believes post-Hiatus/NuWho is just as much "proper Doctor Who" as the pre-Hiatus/Classic stuff. And since I couldn't remember off the top of my head what the story was about—even when looking at the DVD cover art—I didn't have many pre-conceptions, despite it not being entirely new to me.

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