This story looks great on paper – Concorde, Heathrow, prehistoric Earth, the Master, Adric-death!angst, UNIT references and the (apparent) shock departure of Tegan at the end. It's the season finale, and clearly designed with great ambitions in mind. And indeed, for most of the first episode I was really excited.
As the story developed, though, it all seemed to fall rather flat. On discovering that the mysterious chanting Kalid was in fact the Master, my reaction, far from being "OMG he's the frickin' Master!, was more along the lines of "Oh, is that all". And the extensive use of bubble-bath, plasticine and dry ice for the special effects did not impress – although I was amused at the point when the obviously-green-screened Heathrow airport turned out to be a literal in-story illusion. Very clever. :-)
One line of the Doctor's needs noting: "I've always found domination such an unattractive prospect." (So now we know!). And I would like to record my appreciation for the extreme pilotiness of the guy they cast as the Concorde pilot. I would gladly get into an aeroplane flown by him, even if the only training he'd ever had was from RADA rather than the RAF. Otherwise, though, that is all I have to say about this story.
Fifth Doctor: Resurrection of the Daleks
This is one I've seen before, although I'm not quite sure whether it was as a child or later on. I suspect the former, because my memories of it are very selective. I remembered the scenes set amongst the abandoned warehouses on Earth quite vividly, but had absolutely no recollection whatsoever of anything to do with the prison ship, the Dalek ship or Davros himself. I think that's actually quite telling in terms of what Who is trying to do, since whenever it was that I did see this, my imagination was clearly far more successfully engaged by a setting which was familiar, yet normally out of bounds and therefore mysterious, than it was by their attempt to create an entirely alien environment.
Obviously budgetary restrictions have always meant that alien worlds in Doctor Who have tended to be rather a) sterile and b) finite, and it's quite common for the production team to handle this by restricting the alien 'setting' entirely to the interior of one space-ship. But it usually fails to excite - and one of the real strengths of New Who that bigger budgets and better CGI effects have allowed them to leave this almost entirely behind. The only new stories I can think of where the only alien environment seen is the inside of a space vessel are The Long Game etc. with Satellite 5 (itself quite a large and varied set) and 42 with the space station - but even in both of those cases you get good looks at the Earth and the sun above which they are hanging as well.
Anyway, back to Resurrection. I was impressed to note the ethnic diversity of the staff of the prison ship, and better still the fact that the black guy amongst them, far from being the first to die, instead got to blow up two Daleks and repulse their attack on the ship in a prolonged and heroic fashion. There, it seems, Old Who still has rather an edge over some of the New Who stories. The story also passes the Bechdel test very easily thanks to a number of conversations between Tegan and the female medic who is looking after her.
In fact, this story is strong on characterisation generally – not only for Tegan, but also for the Doctor. We see several examples here of him expressing or acting on a very violent hatred of the Daleks: letting off a round of bullets into a Dalek creature slithering around the warehouse, marching off intending to kill Davros, and then actually releasing a virus which will destroy the Daleks. The shooting scene in particular is harrowing and effective without being over-played at all, and helps to make the later acts seem more plausible – especially for those who might not have seen Destiny four seasons earlier or Genesis another four before that. There’s a genuine sense of the Doctor being pushed to his limits, and I think it makes him into a more intriguing and complex character than the moral smugness of 'a man who never would'.
Tegan herself also gets an unusually complex and harrowing story-line, in the same departing-companion tradition as Jo’s The Green Death, Sarah Jane’s Hand of Fear or Adric’s Earthshock. Her anguished 'NO!' when she sees an innocent Thames-side vagrant being gunned down mercilessly by the Daleks' duplicant slaves seemed far more effective than Martha’s wailing at the death of her Hath friend in The Doctor’s Daughter. Again, this is largely because it wasn’t over-egged with lingering close-ups and soaring music – it was just one of many small moments which add up to a really rough time for Tegan in this story, including witnessing all three examples of the Doctor’s violent hatred for the Daleks which I mentioned above.
Cumulatively, they make her departure at the end seem entirely plausible and right for her character, and really create a sense that she has grown during her time with the Doctor. As indeed has he, as her departure prompts him to think about his own reasons for leaving Gallifrey in the first place, and even makes him look back over his behaviour towards the Daleks and suggest that he must mend his ways. Although I’ve not seen all of this season yet, I certainly got the sense from this story of a movement towards the closure of the Fifth Doctor’s character arc and the events of The Caves of Androzani.
Davros, meanwhile comes across as rather melodramatic by comparison with his chilling presence in Genesis - but I suppose that by the time this story he takes place he has spent several centuries buried underground on Skaro and then 90 years frozen but conscious aboard the prison ship, so I guess it is at least understandable that he might have gone a bit crazed in the meantime. I also felt that he rather lost something by needing a solution in a green dropper to make people obey him, again especially by comparison with the scenario in Genesis where he has persuaded people in full command of their wills to collaborate in his hideous purpose. But some better characterisation does emerge for him too during his confrontation with the Doctor, when he tries to convince the Doctor that he is going to make the Daleks into a force for good.
On the whole, then, pretty strong stuff, though more for its characterisation and its interesting London location footage than for its alien space-ships and the reappearance of Davros. I wonder if there is ever any pay-off from the Supreme Dalek’s statement towards the end of the story that he has placed duplicant slaves in key positions on Earth? Or maybe that’s just one of the many loose ends that we can now imagine as having been tied up during the Time War?
Fifth Doctor: Arc of Infinity
This seemed a bit like Time Flight in terms of looking good on paper (Amsterdam! Omega! Michael Gough as a Timelord! Unexpected Colin Baker!) but falling flat in reality. Once again, part of the reason for this is uninspired special effects – particularly the Ergon costume. And, once again, some credit is due for being self-referential about it, as when the Doctor refers to the Ergon as “one of Omega’s less successful attempts at psycho-synthesis.”
There are things which make it stronger than Time Flight, such as the actually-quite-touching scenes in which Omega, having taken human form, wanders in a half-daze around Amsterdam and pauses for a while, fascinated by a fairground organ and the crowd of people watching it. The parallel story-lines on Gallifrey and in Amsterdam are nicely handled, and it’s a neat touch to run a story featuring both Timelords and the main villain from The Three Doctors at the beginning of a season which will end back on Gallifrey with The Five Doctors. But the script overall is rather dull, the plot seems to bimble around a lot without actually going anywhere, and if the visit to Amsterdam was an attempt to recreate the success of City of Death, unfortunately both the cinematography and the score fail dismally at capturing the character of the city in the way the previous story had.
Probably the best thing about it, really, is the strange coincidence of it featuring a future Doctor as a guest character. I found myself wondering whether anyone had written fanfic around the idea that Commander Maxil actually is Six in disguise, and that although he appears at face value to be a jobsworth thug busy generally obstructing Five, he is actually somehow secretly helping him behind the scenes without Five ever knowing who he really is. Rule 34 says they have – as long as it features hot, slashy scenes between the two of them as well.
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