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Fifth Doctor: Time Flight
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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( 17 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 22nd, 2008 05:38 pm (UTC)
I was enjoying this piece until the last sentence AND NOW I NEED TO SCRUB MY BRAIN CLEAN!

Edited at 2008-12-22 05:38 pm (UTC)
Dec. 22nd, 2008 06:04 pm (UTC)
Yuk-yuk-yuk-yuk-yuk! My work here is done... ;-)
Dec. 22nd, 2008 05:51 pm (UTC)
Great reviews - I really need to go back and have a good long reengagement with the 5th Doctor's era.

Dec. 22nd, 2008 06:10 pm (UTC)
Glad you enjoyed! Although two of the three stories I've written up here are rather forgettable in themselves, I've been watching some other good ones (e.g. Black Orchid), and I'm rather getting to like old Fivey all told.
Dec. 22nd, 2008 06:18 pm (UTC)
I think the *theory* of Peter Davison is better than a random selection of episodes might in practice suggest. The "old man trapped in a young man's body", the most human one (in terms both of compassion AND fallibility), the Cassandra-like Doctor who tries to save lives and is invariably thwarted because people are too stupid to listen, the first Doctor to lose a companion and actually care, who can't stop losing what he loves, culminating with the best ever regeneration story in Caves, where he will give everything he has to finally save JUST ONE life... as you say of more than one of the stories you review above, it's all so good on paper!
Dec. 23rd, 2008 03:37 pm (UTC)
Yes, I think that's a very apt summary of the situation. My personal opinion is that the Tenth Doctor era is now taking all that good-on-paper theory and making it (pretty damn) good in practice, too - but I know not everyone agrees!
Dec. 23rd, 2008 03:54 pm (UTC)
Hmm, yeah, Time Crash did make one wonder how much the preoccupations of the Tennant era are a direct crib from Davison ("you were MY Doctor"). I have to say I preferred the Eccleston blueprint of a post-traumatic time-genocide survivor, because it seemed original: Tennant is much more a collection of steals from the past, including the New Adventures. But done well, as you say.

I guess the big innovation of Tennant is that he's the first sexy-relationships-with-all-the-ladies Doctor. I sometimes feel he's turned into Morpheus out of Neil Gaiman's Sandman, which is a trend that could well continue if as I suspect Gaiman is going to be writing for the show in 2010.
Dec. 22nd, 2008 06:33 pm (UTC)
Ooh, I love your theory about Maxil being Six in disguise :D But then again, I'm a sucker for anything disguise-related (I'm not obsessed with my uni research, oh no! :P).

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'.

Most definitely - I thought it was fantastic characterisation of Five, particularly as so many people view him as just a 'nice' Doctor, with no other aspects to his character. It's also interesting to watch him in his next story, 'Planet of Fire', wherein he's still affected by Tegan's departure, and the 'fate' of another character in that story has an added effect on him and perhaps has made him realise that violence is really not the answer. If you look at 'Caves' (best story ever), you can really see that aspect to his character, and it's just fantastic.
Dec. 22nd, 2008 08:26 pm (UTC)
Yes, I'm quite annoyed that I'm not getting the chance to see his final season in broadcast order. I am seeing just enough of it (Warriors of the Deep, Resurrection and Caves so far) to get intriguing glimpses of some interesting developments, but not enough to really appreciate the details of how they are revealed. And I think I will definitely re-watch Caves when I have finally managed to see all Five's stories, as I suspect that my opinion of it will have changed quite a lot since I last watched it.
(Deleted comment)
Dec. 22nd, 2008 08:20 pm (UTC)
Hehe, I can well believe it. But I find that I am mainly thinking now of the delicious possibility of that being true of Romana and Princess Astra from The Armageddon Factor, too. ;-)
Dec. 22nd, 2008 07:10 pm (UTC)
Time Flight: Doesn't get so much off the ground as buried head first into it.

Arc of Infinity: Dull script with some wonderful character moments, such as Omega actually enjoying himself and Tegan showing that stubborn determination, but the plot is rather obvious if you know Omega from The Three Doctors. Except the Timelords are quite happy to stitch up the Doctor because it's a cheap band-aid solution. I wonder how the hell they came up with a non-interference policy when they think in terms of the easiest solution every time.

Maxil/6th Doctor: I think that there are more than a few fanfics somewhere that have those ideas as the plots. However, the unnamed commander in The Five Doctors was originally planned to be another regeneration of Maxil (from the commentaries). And it certainly isnt the only example of an actor being recast as the new incarnation of a Timelord.

Resurrection: Oh, for Dr Who's highest single body count (until the new series). The characterisation starts to show the Doctor as a racist. He's quite happy to kill Daleks (even going so far as to shoot the mutant himself) but he can't shoot Davros, the creator of the Daleks, who is infinately worse than them. He's damned the Daleks to their fate as killing machines. But the Doctor cant kill him. The only visible reason for this is that Davros looks humanoid. Even Davros himself refers to death as being more merciful than the punishment that he was recieving.

Davros himself is watered down by having a device to control others, but to me this enhances the character. It proves that if he cant pursuade someone to join him, he'll convert them by force. An enemy who can control you is far more terrifying than one who only has the power to kill you. Although the whole argument that the Daleks will be a force for good is still a load of tosh.

The Duplicates are already tied up in that one story. Because of the escapees, the actions of Stine, and the Doctor himself declaring that the duplicates are unstable. I think it is safe enough to assume that without regular copies being made by the Daleks, they will simply become unstable and be removed from their various positions of power.

That's my tuppence :)
Dec. 22nd, 2008 08:30 pm (UTC)
The characterisation starts to show the Doctor as a racist.

Interestingly, not for the first time - he's also rather the same as regards the Ice Warriors in Monster of Peladon. It takes Jo to challenge him on this.

And good point about the duplicates - I'd forgotten the comments about their instability. So I guess they will just break down and either die or be treated as people with mental illnesses.
Dec. 23rd, 2008 04:35 pm (UTC)
To save me having to go and watch it again (as i'm attempting the evil DWM quiz about the 2008 series), can you remember if the Supreme Dalek refers to duplicates of himself being around?
Dec. 23rd, 2008 05:34 pm (UTC)
No, I don't think so - I'm pretty sure he's just referring to duplicate humans being placed in key positions in Earth society.
Dec. 23rd, 2008 05:48 pm (UTC)
I must just be misremembering then, but neither h0pal0ng nor myself could remember. :)
Dec. 23rd, 2008 03:57 pm (UTC)
Davros had humanity, well, Kaledity, in him once. You can't really say the same about his creations. (Though maybe Evil of the Daleks proves that even Daleks are redeemable, if you give them the right drugs.)
Dec. 23rd, 2008 04:53 pm (UTC)
Davros has no humanity in the television series, the Daleks are his creation and his means of immortality, and his single purpose is the establishment of his own will upon the universe. Everything is merely a stepping stone towards his goal of total domination.

Anything that he does which appears good (such as save part of the universe from starvation in Revelation) is merely a bonus to make money for his schemes.

As for Evil of the Daleks, the Daleks are a genetically engineered race, and if they could consider the possiblity of adapting the Human Factor, they would (such is the idea of Dalek Sec, who is engineered to think like the enemy, in Daleks In Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks). But remember, it is the Doctor who introduces the Human Factor into the test Daleks, and the whole point of the Daleks experiment is to introduce the Dalek Factor into humans.

Besides, why isnt the Doctor prepared to risk his life to redeem the entire Dalek Race by introducing them all to the Human Factor? Again, it shows more racism from the Doctor, as he'd rather let the entire race die than be redeemed. After all, it's because of him that the Human Factor Daleks actually escape and spread the Human Factor.

So the Doctor (at least in the old series) is certainly still biased against the Daleks but not against Davros.
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