Friday, January 29, 2010
Those who say that the classic series contained far less emotion and sentimentalism than the new series of Doctor Who can look at Episode One of Time-Flight as their Exhibit A. The apparent shock of Adric's death the week before isn't even enough to warrant the episode starting out with. And when Adric's death is finally dealt with in the opening TARDIS scene, it's over and dealt with within two minutes, and The Doctor takes everyone off to the Crystal Palace in 1851 to help "cheer them up", as if England has just been knocked out of the preliminary round at the World Cup.
Why bother showing the vulnerability of life with The Doctor if you're not going to show the consequences of it? "(Adric) wouldn't want us to mourn unnecessarily", says The Doctor. It would help if you mourned just a little bit. Watching The Doctor argue with Tegan about going back in time to save him, it seems like he's more concerned about the inconvenience than he is the moral and time travel-related implications. It's important for The Doctor, and the story, to not dwell on past history, but the requiem for Adric could have been handled much better.
As for the episode itself, it actually starts out tremendously well. It seems like a semi-sequel to The Faceless Ones, with disappearing aircraft, undermanned flight control centers, and the Concorde taking center stage. It's exciting to watch classic series Doctor Who stories take place in busy, modern settings like Heathrow Airport. It almost validates its existence, in way, to see that the show is big enough to mingle with the public. It's taken for granted these days with Cardiff city council shutting down any and every road to accommodate the production team, but back in the early 1980s, it was a rare thing indeed.
Once Nyssa screams near the end of this episode, though, it almost echoes what the viewer is doing at the same time. In an instant, we are transported from the tarmac at Heathrow next to a Concorde to an extremely cheap looking set doubling for prehistoric Earth. And it only goes downhill from here...
Posted by Steven at 3:34 PM
Thursday, January 28, 2010
Adric has been mocked and derided ever since...well, ever, really. It's become come so commonplace to make fun of Adric that it has become as boring and tired a cliche as jokes about wobbly sets and Daleks that can't go upstairs. Sure, Adric isn't the all-time best companion out there, but he is by no means the worst companion, and Matthew Waterhouse's performances in the role have shown a marked improvement since the beginning of Season 19.
Had Adric simply faded away, remained behind on a planet, or fled back to E-Space (as was briefly, and bizarrely, focused upon and then dropped in the first two episodes of Earthshock), he probably would have faded into obscurity. That he is given just about the best exit any companion could hope for raises his stock up considerably. As a kid, I loved Adric, as I imagine other children my age did at the time. He's often called a boy genius, the Doctor Who universe's answer to Wesley Crusher. But, really, Adric was anything but a genius. Only in his final episodes did he finally get to use the mathematical skills for which he was renowned for (he had a badge, you know). Up until now, Adric's played the traditional companion role even more so than Nyssa or Tegan - asking The Doctor questions and getting into trouble.
Adric's death is legitimately sad (please don't point out Matthew Waterhouse's cautious keyboard typing in his final moments) because, even though he's done his best to save everyone, he fails, and is left to die alone, clutching his rope belt once worn by his brother Varsh. All his life, even while on the TARDIS, Adric has been the outsider, disliked and derided by others, so what better than to hold the one thing that actually celebrated being an outsider? In a brilliant act of underplaying the foreshadowing, Adric isn't even given any significant goodbye scenes until he shakes The Doctor's hand in Episode Four. His last scene in the TARDIS is an unremarkable scene in Episode Two. Nyssa, who he seemed to get along with best out of anyone on the TARDIS, barely speaks to him in this story - not because the two weren't getting along, but just through the circumstances of the day. You never know when the last time you see someone will be. That the relatively close and effective pairing of Adric and Nyssa ends so unceremoniously is unrelenting in its tragedy.
Tragedy is the watchword of Earthshock. The whole venture is a tragic failure for The Doctor. He loses a companion and a friend, and the Cybermen are merely dispersed as opposed to being destroyed, ready to dust themselves off and try again. And thanks to the artful way this story is constructed by Eric Saward and Peter Grimwade, you never really think that it's going to go off the rails until the final moments. I mean, how can The Doctor fail? He has never failed before, right? The silent credits after Adric's death are almost necessary to show that this is unlike any Doctor Who story. If the theme music came crashing in at that moment, you could conceivably think that Adric's death was a cliffhanger, and The Doctor will be rushing back in time to save him next week.
But Earthshock isn't like any other Who story. It shows with devastating finality that The Doctor can be as vulnerable as any of us. It is the most impressive re-imagining of an enemy ever seen in the classic series, and would only be equaled by the first appearance of a Dalek in 2005's Dalek. It is also the end of an innocent time in Doctor Who. Earthshock's success was built on gun battles, horror, and death. This approach would be tried on several other occasions in the next few years, never with the success that Earthshock attained, and each time with grimmer results. Earthshock is the intersection of the fantastical and the gritty sides of Doctor Who, and is fundamentally and artistically brilliant.
In which, two episodes after their shining return to Doctor Who, the Cybermen are finally unveiled properly as the marauding, unstoppable force that terrified many a child in the 1960s. The new design for the 1980s is impressive, and it's no wonder they kept the same look, with minimal alterations, for future appearances. The only niggles I have with the costumes are how thin they look, especially compared to the silly, puffy 1980s moon boots all the Cybermen wear.
The best moment in this episode is the moment when The Doctor sees the Cybermen on the viewscreen on the bridge on the freighter. The moment builds up in a lovely way, as the instruments on the bridge show that something is stirring in the hold, intercut with shots of Cybermen bursting out of silos and marching down corridors, accompanied by Malcolm Clarke's superb score. The theme that Clarke created for the Cybermen is breathtaking, and it only finally manifests itself completely in the moment that The Doctor sees the Cybermen marching towards him. Cue the extreme closeup on Peter Davison as he hoarsely whispers one word: "Cybermen".
Notice how Davison's Doctor first reacts to the Cybermen. He's afraid. He is totally afraid. The look on his face at that moment instantly conveys the impression that The Doctor, despite not even knowing the full details of what the Cybermen are planning, is scared to death of them. He never reacts that way to any other enemy, no matter how powerful they are, again in this series. Daleks? Reluctant acceptance. The Master? Benign indifference. The shock appearance of the Cybermen in the cliffhanger to Episode One embedded the silver giants in the heads of fans everywhere. It's The Doctor's reaction to them that made the fans worry about them.
Posted by Steven at 2:55 PM
What sets apart Earthshock from pretty much every other classic series Doctor Who story ever made is the pace of events, or rather, the apparent pace of events. On the whole, just about as much, if not even less, has happened by the end of Episode Two than in any other four-part story. The Cybermen are still in hiding (a pre-requisite in Cybermen stories, it seems), having apparently only just killed their first two victims, and The Doctor has only just arrived on the freighter.
But it's the sheer number of quick little scenes, cut together and directed with expert precision by Peter Grimwade, that makes it seem like this story just hums along. Look at the sequence where The Doctor diffuses the Cyberbomb in the caves. There are three separate scenes that are occurring during this sequence - one in the cave with The Doctor and Adric, one in the freighter where the Cybermen are watching the countdown, and a third in the TARDIS with Nyssa and the others observing The Doctor's progress. There are about 40-50 different cuts between the three sequences during that whole sequence, and it is exhilarating to watch.
Such a thing is commonplace in today's production of Doctor Who, or in television production in general. But these scenes in Earthshock were shot in the same conditions as every other 1980s story had to contend with, and in the space of five or six days in the studio. Each time we cut back to a scene, even thought the dialogue between the characters picks up from where they were in the last scene, the camera has changed position, different shots have had to be lined up, and so on. That Peter Grimwade managed to squeeze in every one of these shots, yet actually make them look good, as well as getting top notch performances out of the cast (despite being not at all popular with them because of his methods), is an extraordinary achievement and one that often gets overlooked. Grimwade was a great talent, one of a handful of people who wrote and directed for Doctor Who (as well as his years spent as a production assistant), and a person who we lost far too soon.
Posted by Steven at 2:15 PM
As fresh a change in style and direction as the John Nathan-Turner era has been in the nearly two seasons since he took over the reins of Doctor Who, with Episode One of Earthshock, you can tell that this story might just be the best thing that JNT ever directly engineered in his time Doctor Who.
That's not to say that the remaining seven years of his time as producer were worse than Earthshock, but Earthshock was made when JNT was still hungry to make changes for the better, and in a time when the words "cancellation", "hiatus", "firing", and "just one more year" hadn't worn his will down to a bloody nub. Episode One of Earthshock contains so much that is brilliant - a tense, rapid script from Eric Saward (who was about to become the series' next, and penultimate, script editor), some brilliant set design for the caves (complemented by some superb moody lighting), and some terrifying androids whose shapeless ambiguity and lethal powers made them some of the most effective enemies seen in the series.
But despite accumulating the right people for the rights (including director Peter Grimwade, about whom more later), JNT's greatest success was to block any publicity of the return of the Cybermen after seven years to ensure their surprise appearance at the end of Episode One. This is the same JNT who had a penchant for casting light entertainment stars (including one, Beryl Reid, in this story), especially as his era went along, to try and bolster Doctor Who in the public eye. Turning down the Radio Times cover for this story was the key moment in JNT's era. Little did he know at the time that he would only have one more opportunity to have Doctor Who grace the cover, and such an honour was no certainty even in the wildly popular Tom Baker era.
The shock appearance of the newly redesigned Cybermen at the end of Episode One is a moment that Doctor Who fans who saw it at the time still remember today. Very rarely is there a definite shared experience in Doctor Who in its long history, but a country of twelve-year-olds can tell you where they were and what they did when the Cybermen returned. Doctor Who, to borrow a phrase from another popular TV show in the UK at around the same time, had their "Who Shot JR" moment. In eschewing any publicity, Doctor Who gained more positive publicity than it ever could have hoped to gain, making Episode One of Earthshock one of the landmark moments in Doctor Who history.
Posted by Steven at 1:21 PM
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
I mentioned in the last entry that Black Orchid was the first pure historical in 15 years, but there is one major difference between this story and the historicals of the Hartnell and Troughton eras. In the early days, keeping the TARDIS secret was of prime importance for The Doctor and his companions. In Black Orchid, The Doctor not only tells others about his ship, he uses it's existence as his alibi.
To further help clear his name, The Doctor does the unthinkable and invites the entire local constabulary into taking a ride with him. The TARDIS is, once again, being knocked down a peg. It is no longer a mystical machine that only the very few people, personally selected by The Doctor, were allowed to transgress its dimensions, but merely another vessel in the Doctor Who universe, used to taxi people from location to location. Even its alien properties no longer succeed in impressing: all Constable Cummings can be bothered to utter is "Strike me pink!", before carrying on with his report to Sir Robert Muir.
In fact, everyone involved in this story seems to accept The Doctor's otherworldly talents with remarkable ease. My best guess is that such a well-to-do family as the Cranleighs would never be seen to be bemused or impressed by anything that they hadn't done themselves. To drop their collective jaw ever so slightly when witnessing the TARDIS dematerializing would be to admit failure to their peers.
Apart from the murders that The Doctor seems to keep stumbling on, it's actually good to see the companions have some fun for the first time in a while. Nyssa proves herself to be not quite the stick in the mud that she often appears to be, Tegan is adept at dancing and seems to have a thing for older men, and Adric even gets in on the fun by gorging himself at the buffet table instead of trying to dance. Black Orchid is the last chance for everyone to enjoy themselves before the good times come to a shocking end in the episodes to come...
Posted by Steven at 12:19 AM
Two-part stories are such an odd beast. In my childhood, it usually meant there would be a bonus omnibus episode of Doctor Who airing after the regular four-part omnibus episode on a Saturday night. Today, one might incorrectly compare the two-parters of yesteryear with the single, 45-minute episodes of the new series, but no new series episode would contain such scenes as the cricket sequence from Black Orchid.
What makes Black Orchid, the first two-part story since 1975, all the more odd is the fact that it's also the first "purely historical" story since The Highlanders finished its run in early 1967. (I use the term "purely historical" in quotes for reasons that I'll explain in Episode Two...). There have been many detractors of Black Orchid, not least of all the main cast in the commentary on the DVD release of the story. Personally, judging from Episode one, I think it's a nice bit of 1920s whimsy.
There's some neat sequences of The Doctor being brilliant and cricket (the whole thing is made worthwhile solely to see Peter Davison legitimately bowl someone out on camera), and it's nice to see the BBC's penchant for period drama extends to the 1920s, as the sets and costumes are uniformly brilliant.
Posted by Steven at 12:02 AM
Monday, January 25, 2010
I always feel a bit sorry for the two other, non-speaking, Terileptils, who seem to be yes men to the their leader (the Terileptils are one of those races that don't have names for each other), and are rather timid creatures themselves, unable to use firearms and rubbish in a fight.
Witness the climactic fight in Episode Four where one of them tries to attack Richard Mace, who is holding a loaded gun, but fails miserably. Mace then swings round, takes aim at the poor, pathetic creature, and fires on the helpless fellow. If the Terileptil could have spoken, he would have been saying "Sorry! Sorry! Sorry!" in the seconds before Mace killed him at point blank range. Richard Mace, you have no soul.
The Visitation works reasonably well, although this is based mostly on the novelty its historical setting (this story being the first historical since 1977's Horror of Fang Rock). However, there is a distinct lack of characters throughout all four episodes. Apart from the odd villager, and the family at the beginning of Episode One who meet their end after their opening scene, there are only two major speaking roles in this story - Richard Mace and the Terileptil leader. The lack of characters leads to a lack of dramatic subplots, with only the comparatively trivial exploits of the various companions serving to break up the main plot. Witness the drawn out business of Nyssa creating the sonic booster to deal with the android. It not only gives Nyssa something to do for most of episodes 2-4, but it shoehorns a long, almost superfluous subplot into the action when it didn't necessarily need it.
The Visitation is an enjoyable enough watch, though, and features some great Ealing film footage in Episode Four. Not the last we'd hear from one Eric Saward, either...
Posted by Steven at 11:33 PM
The Terileptils are a mild step forward in terms of how alien races are realized in Doctor Who because of the preliminary use of animatronics. As far as I can tell, these technical advances amounted to just about an occasional lip curl and brow furrow, but it's a start.
The actual jaw movement of the beast, though, appears to be performed by the actor inside the costume, Michael Melia. Unfortunately, while Melia does a fine job with providing the voice of the Terileptil leader, you can hear his voice get muffled by the headpiece of the costume. If some effects could have been used to treat Melia's voice, the problem wouldn't have been as noticeable. Without them, though, it just sounds like a man in a costume, defeating all which the new animatronics rig was striving to achieve.
The most notable incident that occurs in this episode, though, is, of course, the destruction of The Doctor's sonic screwdriver. The last holdover of the invulnerable, pre-JNT days (omnipotent robot dogs and intelligent companions having preceded it), the classic series, surprisingly, stuck to its guns until the bitter end by taking away The Doctor's most trustworthy tool. It's fitting, though, that after the Terileptil leader destroys the screwdriver, The Doctor is trapped in his cell for the remainder of this episode and well into Episode Four.
John Nathan-Turner saw the sonic screwdriver as an easy out for The Doctor, a catch-all solution to get out of any problem that writers for the series tended to abuse. But The Doctor rarely, if ever, "saved the day" using the sonic screwdriver. The only thing it consistently did was open doors, thus extricating The Doctor from something as mundane as a prison cell or locked room, thus allowing him to rejoin the action. Without the screwdriver, The Doctor wasn't only kept out of the action, he was kept out of danger. The destruction of the sonic screwdriver began an irregular pattern of keeping the hero of the show from being able to fully participate in the action, a move that could be quite injurious to the format of the programme.
Posted by Steven at 11:12 PM
One of my favourite Peter Davison sequences ever occurs in this episode. It's when he, Nyssa, and Richard Mace are trapped in the crashed Terileptil spacecraft, being pursued by, as The Doctor calls him, the friendly neighbourhood axeman. Davison's energy when he's bouncing around the capsule, picking locks with arrows, and rushing out the door again is just infectious. After the escape hatch explodes, Davison quick pokes his head up and announces "Let's go!" - brilliant stuff!
I never really noticed before, so early in Davison's reign as The Doctor, at how physical a Doctor he is. Jon Pertwee may still be the king of action, but even then, it was in short bursts. Davison's Doctor always seems to be running, even when he's standing still. It's an exhilarating performance that is such a breath of fresh air after years of scholarly, aged Doctors. I perhaps never noticed how sprightly Davison was until we had David Tennant's performance to compare it to.
Another delightful performance in this story comes from Michael Robbins as Richard Mace, who plays another de facto companion The Doctor, following on from Bigon and Todd (do you think the writers on this new series of Who had the same confidence in the regular companions as JNT had?) . Robbins is helped by some delicious lines written for him by Eric Saward, who probably had more fun writing Mace (something he had done previously in a non-Who setting) than he did anyone else in this story. Saward seems to be channeling his inner Robert Holmes with some of his choices of words and dialogue, proving that, like his penchant for arguments aboard the TARDIS, Saward's admiration for Holmes was also evident in the early stages.
Posted by Steven at 5:27 PM
Writer Eric Saward makes his Doctor Who debut with The Visitation, and already some of the hallmarks of what was to come in Doctor Who for the next few years are visible. First up: conflict within the TARDIS.
The very first TARDIS scene picks up midway through an argument between The Doctor and Adric, with The Doctor admonishing the lad for his hijacking of the TSS machine during the previous adventure (this was another reference to the most recent adventure that producer John Nathan-Turner loved to put in to each story at the time to better link each story together). Once Adric goes off for a sulk, it's time for Tegan to have her turn, and it's her spat with the Doctor which drives everyone out of the TARDIS and into the story proper.
Two arguments in two minutes does not an harmonious TARDIS crew make, and yet Saward seemed to think that such things made for interesting television. At least here, the differences don't last long and the characters' relationships don't hold back the story, but it's amazing to see what will become a problem in the future for the show have its roots so early. At least Adric breaks the stereotype by being the one to sprain his ankle (and unconvincingly, at that) as opposed to the female companions always begin the ones taking the hit.
Posted by Steven at 5:26 PM
Saturday, January 23, 2010
The only (repeat: only) thing that lets Kinda down is that which will befall much of 1980s Doctor Who - production values. As good a job as Peter Grimwade does in this story, many of his efforts are wasted by some seriously disappointing scenery, lighting and effects. The grey studio floor is glaringly apparent in numerous scenes set in the jungle, inadequately covered up by a smattering of leaves. The lighting for the jungle sets never once lead you to believe that there is a sun of some kind in the sky, and the giant papier mache snake that's meant to be the physical manifestation of the Mara is just embarrassing.
It's a real shame that there are so many who write off Kinda on the basis of the visuals, but they really are poor in some scenes. That such a deep and layered story could be paired with such an uninspiring corporeal realization borders on ironic. But the many, many strengths of Kinda eventually outweighs its one drawback.
Perhaps chief among these strengths is the relationship between The Doctor and Todd. Todd appears older than The Doctor, and, thus, is much more of a match than any of the three young regular companions. Peter Davison and Nerys Hughes have a remarkable chemistry together, and their relationship almost foreshadows a similar one between the Tenth Doctor and Donna in 26 years time. It's almost gut wrenching to watch the two part at the end of this story. The slight sorrow in Todd's voice as she offers her hand to The Doctor in farewell is as close to a romance involving the programme's main character since The Aztecs, and probably even more so. Todd joins a list of great pseudo-companions seen during the history of the series, and it is a real shame that we are robbed of more scenes between the two.
Kinda is one of the glittering gems in John Nathan-Turner's era as producer of Doctor Who. It expands and challenges the mind of the viewer perhaps in ways that the series has never done before or since.
Posted by Steven at 12:56 AM
All this talk of great acting performances in Kinda is meaningless unless I mention Simon Rouse's astonishing Hindle. Playing a deranged man well past the verge of a nervous breakdown while exhibiting rambunctious, childish behaviour could have been an invitation to seriously camp it up and overplay every single scene. However, Rouse's portrayal of Hindle is utterly, deadly serious, and the result is a truly frightening. Hindle is one of the most believable madmen ever seen in Doctor Who, and, as the closest thing to a humanoid villain in this story (Aris is nowhere near as threatening as the Mara that inhabits him), surely one of the more effective antagonists the series has ever produced.
By dispensing with Nyssa for the bulk of this story, one would think it would leave room for more scenes of The Doctor conversing with Tegan and Adric. But this isn't the case at all. Tegan, after transferring the Mara to Aris, falls asleep for most of this episode and the next; her part in the story is almost concluded by the half way point. Adric's role is as an informal mole to what the crazed Hindle and his new mental subordinate Sanders are up to, namely the destruction of the dome.
This leaves The Doctor companion-less, and so forms a tremendous bond with Todd in this episode as the scientist becomes the de facto companion for the rest of this story. Both The Doctor and Todd are present when the Box of Jhana is opened early in this episode. The effects of a similar experience with the Box have already driven Sanders mad, but Todd is unaffected by it. As Panna, the wise woman, later says, only women can handle the opening of the box without losing their minds. The Doctor only survived the experience because, in Panna's mind, he must be an idiot. We, of course, know that The Doctor is no idiot. He immediately understands that the Box of Jhana allows people to experience the world through the eyes of the Kinda. A regular male mind would try and decipher what the experience was about, resulting in madness. An idiot, on the other hand, would simply accept what was happening as he would anything else that he encounters in his day to day life.
Both a genius and an idiot accept that which they think is normal and devote no more thought to it than necessary. The similarities between the two are few, yet many. It's yet another fascinating concept that Kinda explores while managing to tell a cracking good story.
Posted by Steven at 12:37 AM
The further scenes set within Tegan's mind in this episode are thoroughly compelling, are a technical masterpiece, and acted with such confidence by Jeffrey Stewart as Dukkha and, especially, Janet Fielding as Tegan. One gets the impression that this story was written with Fielding's talents in mind; it's tough to imagine her skills remaining dormant until the rehearsals for this story, nor obvious to those who were making Doctor Who until it came time to write Kinda.
Of course, it could be that Christopher Bailey's script is so meticulously well written and so superbly brought to life by director Peter Grimwade that any actor could find inspiration in the work. Richard Todd as Sanders is ideally cast as the stoic leader of the expedition, but turns in an equally strong performance after Sanders opens the Box of Jhana, leaving him with a childlike mentality. And, no, I'm not crediting Todd's performance to Matthew Waterhouse's infamous behind-the-scenes coaching of the long-time movie and TV veteran.
Although, speaking of Waterhouse, it must honestly be said that he is actually rather good in this story. In fact, ever since the Season 19 production block started, Waterhouse has shown a great improvement from his shaky start during Season 18. I actually quite enjoyed his performance in Castrovalva (broadcast before Kinda, but made directly after it), and the theme of Adric siding with the enemy is done better in Four To Doomsday that you almost believe that he's doing the same with Hindle in Kinda, until Adric lets us (but not Hindle) in on the ruse shortly afterward.
It's become a national sport to bash Adric/Matthew Waterhouse (one in the same to some people), but, apart from some admittedly poor scenes in his early days, he's nowhere near as bad or annoying as he's often made out to be. You know Kinda is a special kind of story when I'm starting to praise Matthew Waterhouse...
Posted by Steven at 12:07 AM
Friday, January 22, 2010
From the open moments of Kinda, you can immediately tell that about the only person happy with a four-person TARDIS crew is producer John Nathan-Turner. Writer Terence Dudley chose to deal with the overcrowded TARDIS by sticking Tegan with The Doctor for most of her scenes before locking her up in the TARDIS for the second half of his story Four To Doomsday. In Kinda, Christopher Bailey (or was it Kate Bush?) is more blatant with his solution, as Nyssa, who mysteriously fainted at the end of the previous week's adventure, is prescribed 48 hours of deep sleep in the TARDIS while the remaining three explore Deva Loka.
The writing out of Nyssa is almost an unintentional throwback to the early days of the programme when one of the regulars was written out of two episodes so that the actor portraying him or her could take a well deserved holiday. While the move is not at all subtle in reducing the number of characters to write for, the resulting effect is agreeable. The remaining three regulars get a greater chunk of the action, and all three grasp the opportunity with both hands.
The scenes set in the strange world of Tegan's dreaming mind are stunning. It doesn't hurt that those scenes are a collective dramatic and surreal tour de force, directed to near perfection by Peter Grimwade. When a dreaming Tegan walks past the caravan to witness the old couple playing chess, Grimwade uses the exact same camera move as he did in the opening scene of the episode where Tegan walks past the TARDIS to see Adric and Nyssa playing chess themselves. The way the old couple is smug and dismissive towards Tegan is a reflection of how the young Australian feels she is treated by her two younger alien friends.
By this logic, the domineering and manipulative Dukkha (a brilliant sneering performance by Jeffrey Stewart) can only be Tegan's subconscious impression of The Doctor. If so, does Tegan really see The Doctor as someone who bullies her into his way of thinking? Dukkha's refusal to release Tegan from her dream can be seen as The Doctor's inability to return Tegan home, a running theme during Tegan's early stories. Whether or not this was the original intention, Kinda is a story which can be seen and interpreted on many levels without affecting the outcome of the story as a whole. Brilliant start to the story.
Posted by Steven at 11:37 PM
Sure, the CSO looks quite poor, and the science is probably completely inaccurate, but is there any more heroic a scene in Doctor Who than the space walk sequence in Episode Four? The sequence is often cited as a particularly memorable moment on clip shows, and with good cause, as it is just a fun scene - plain and simple. Even Roger Limb, whose music would get worse before it got better during his time on Doctor Who, provides a very strong and jaunty score.
Really, Four To Doomsday is just like the space walk scene in that the story, as a whole, is just plain fun. It's a wonderful space romp that is far too often overlooked, and contains strong pair of performances from Philip Locke as Bigon (who you just want to cheer for because he's so noble and helpful) and, especially, Stratford Johns as Monarch, who sounds so natural and so infuriatingly charming that you almost understand why Adric was so keen to stand by his side as he did his best to rid the people of Earth of "flesh time". Further kudos must also go to Paul Shelley as Persuasion (or "Percy", as The Doctor calls him, which is delightful).
But the highlight of the episode, and possibly the whole story? Look how distinctly bothered Annie Lambert as Enlightenment is when she's watching the Greco-Roman wrestling exhibition taking place in the Recreational Hall. Seeing Lambert squirm in her seat is just about the sexiest moment in 1980s Doctor Who.
Posted by Steven at 10:55 PM
Thursday, January 21, 2010
There have been many companions in Doctor Who over the years, but very rarely, if ever, have they ever had a physical argument that wound up with one of them being unconscious. But this is exactly what happens in Episode Three when Tegan throws Adric aside after the two have a blazing row.
Adric's decision to side with Monarch is the major catalyst of this argument starting, but blame must also be put on Tegan, who is in such a frenzy over the prospect of Monarch's invasion of Earth that she's as irrational as any companion seen in the series. Before her argument with Adric, Tegan had an equally volatile spat with The Doctor, who, despite the centuries of experience in situations involving megalomaniacs, is unable to convince his bossy Australian friend that he might be the more qualified of the two to handle their current dilemma.
To have one companion so shockingly at odds with the rest of her crew mates is an inevitability of having three companions in the TARDIS. In order to create some sort of drama for all three of them, one companion has to become at odds with the rest of the team, because it is too difficult to create tension in three or four separate storylines. In this story, Tegan is more or less left on her own, either locked up in her quarters, or stuck in the TARDIS foolishly trying to pilot it back to Earth. In other scenes, she merely tags along with The Doctor, offering little apart from a staggering ability to speak the same language of a 20,000-year-old Australian Aborigine, and showing equally great skill as a sketch artist.
Look at how The Doctor reacts to Adric telling him that Tegan has taken the TARDIS for a joyride - he's not worried or angry, he's annoyed, like a parent to a 15-year-old who's just taken the keys to the family Buick. This is another inevitability of the current Doctor/companions matchup, especially when The Doctor looks so young. If a Doctor who looks to be in his late 20s is the authority figure, then how young do the companions have to be in order to create a believable visual age gap between Doctor and companions? Answer: teenagers, or at least the behavioural capabilities of teenagers. Four To Doomsday is a delightful story, but at its heart is a production team that doesn't yet know how to deal with the youngest looking Doctor in the programme's long history.
Posted by Steven at 11:07 PM
I hope I'm not being repetitive by mentioning Tony Burrough's sets again, but they really are the star of this story for me. Even more rooms on the Urbankan ship are seen in this episode, including the Flora Room, the Recreational Room, and the very spartan quarters that Bigon once inhabited, but a room to which The Doctor and co. are assigned.
These sets are just as impressive as the ones seen in Episode One. The walls are exquisitely detailed, and have clearly been influenced by the designs seen in the corridors of the Death Star in Star Wars. That's not an insult towards Burrough, either, because to replicate the look of Star Wars on the budget of Doctor Who is a definite sign of skill. Another strong quality of the sets is the fact that most of them are two levels high, often punctuated by a staircase and a balcony. This not only allows for a greater variety of movement for the characters, but it also enhances the scale of each room. Even Monarch's throne room, although one of the only ones that exist on one level, seems grandiose because of the monolithic wall in behind the three chairs that Monarch and his two minions sit in for the bulk of the story.
Another impressive, yet simple, visual aspect of this story is the realization of the monopticans, those mobile CCTV orbs that follow The Doctor and gang around, much to the annoyance of Adric. Sometimes they're CSO'd onto the action, sometimes they're simply propped up on an invisible pole in the background, and, in the case of the one in The Doctor's quarters, it's hanging on unseen strings so the Doctor can slap his hat on it to stop it from spying on his actions. Simple, yet effective, the success of the monopticans are symbolic of the subtle visual brilliance that Four To Doomsday exudes in waves.
Posted by Steven at 10:22 PM
Four To Doomsday almost seems like it wants to be the Fifth Doctor's era's answer to The Ark in Space, as both stories are set entirely on a space vessel/station that contain some of the last surviving humans, and both exclusively feature the TARDIS crew exploring said vessel/station in the opening minutes. (And judging by how far off The Doctor was from getting Tegan to Heathrow Airport, someone must have given that Helmic regulator a mighty twist once again).
While the magic and awe of Ark is almost completely absent in Doomsday (to be fair, both stories were going for vastly different moods), visually, both stories are equal. Tony Burrough's sets for the Urbankan spaceship are simply stunning in their scale, and some of the strongest spaceship sets the series have ever seen. Nicknamed "jigsaw sets", Burrough designed the elements of the sets to be able to fit into different combinations in order to produce different rooms. Every time there's a scene change, we're still looking at the same three or four walls. We just don't realize it.
One of the first scenes shot in Peter Davison's run as The Doctor were some of the first scenes shown in this episode, namely The Doctor's solo exploration of the laboratory. Even in that first scene, you can already tell the direction Davison's Doctor will take. He examines the equipment in Monarch's lab with the excitement of a teenager, yet admires it as something that he had once seen five hundred years previously. Davison completely embodies the notion of a old man in a young man's body (as opposed to Patrick Troughton, who, it could be said, was almost the exact opposite). It is utterly fascinating to see, for the first time, a young man in the role. We easily take this approach for granted these days, but back in 1982, the concept of a young Doctor was almost completely alien to viewer and producer alike.
Posted by Steven at 8:50 PM
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
It was an interesting decision to produce the debut Fifth Doctor story fourth in production order. It's not as if Peter Davison wasn't a skilled enough actor to be able to portray a new Doctor in his first story, despite the almost total lack of direction given to him by his superiors in the Doctor Who production office. (It fell upon a small child talking to Davison on a chat show in 1981 to suggest that Davison should play his new Doctor "like Tristan, but brave".)
Looking ahead, Davison's performances over his first four stories don't signify any drastic learning curve in regards to his character (with the possible exception of some scenes in Four To Doomsday), but if Davison finding his feet led to him giving the performance he does in Castrovalva, then all the better for it. Some of my favourite little Davison moments occur in this story, particularly the moment where he heroically bellows "We've got to find out what's causing the occlusion. Follow me!", before immediately collapsing on his bed and uttering, in slight panic, "Please find the zero cabinet."
Castrovalva provided a few of these scenes for The Doctor to stretch his wings a bit and show the range of the character, but not as many as would be expected for a regeneration story. However, this is the first story that deals with, and in fact devotes an entire story to, the various problems that can occur with regeneration, something that every subsequent regeneration story would deal with, to lesser or greater effect.
Above all, though, Castrovalva, amidst all the hangover of math-happy plot contrivances from writer Christopher H. Bidmead that he couldn't cram into Logopolis, is particularly memorable story, mostly for what was in it as opposed to what it was about.
Posted by Steven at 3:33 PM
As disguises for The Master go, the Portreeve really must be considered one of the most successful. With Anthony Ainley just barely managing to conceal his normal dulcet tones, and a convincing makeup and costume job, coupled with the wise decision of limiting Ainley's closeups, it's not too much of a stretch, upon first viewing, to believe that this mysterious head of the village is what he appears to be.
It's also, as we will see during the course of the 1980s, just about the only time that a disguise for The Master is actually justified by the story. The world that The Master has created, too, is worthy of praise. The sets and costumes for Castrovalva have a lovely, Renaissance feel about them, and the use of many staircases leading down into the square is not only important to the plot, but it also gives the sets a feeling of grandeur. Fiona Cumming, making her directorial debut on Doctor Who, also uses a crane camera to its best advantage during some of these scenes.
Now, just what the deal is with the silly hat party that the four lead males of Castrovalva are attending, I'm not too sure...
Posted by Steven at 2:35 PM
Only twice has Doctor Who attempted to explore the vastness of the dimensions inside the TARDIS - once in The Invasion of Time, and again in Castrovalva. The latter was the more successful of the attempts, as instead of abandoned hospital corridors doubling as the various hallways inside the ship, in Castrovalva, these scenes are shot in the studio with actual sets - roundels and all.
And at this rate, one better enjoy the TARDIS while we still can, because Christopher H. Bidmead must really hate it. After forcing The Doctor to jettison Romana's room in order to get out of a tricky situation in Logopolis, in Castrovalva, The Doctor calculates that the only way to drop enough ballast to escape the hydrogen inrush is to drop a whopping 25% of the infrastructure. What's going to be left of the ship?
Only towards the very end of this episode are more characters introduced into the story (albeit briefly) as the TARDIS finally lands on Castrovalva. To have only five characters carry the entire first half of a story in the 1980s television environment is a bold move, but it's been an entertaining one, and has actually justified what will soon become a superfluous number of companions.
Posted by Steven at 1:01 PM
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Watching Doctor Who in the 1980s in North America was a different beast than it was in the UK. As I've mentioned previously, instead of watching one or two half hour episodes a week, we got to watch an entire story, one night a week (Saturday, 11:00 PM, for me), followed by another one the week after, and so on. Often, a two-part story would air the same night as the preceding four-parter, so we would get TWO stories on some nights.
For kids growing up in the UK, there was a three-year period when they were most heavily involved in watching the show, and which ever actor that was in the part during that time was "their Doctor". Once Tom Baker (for many a child, the only Doctor they ever knew) left at the end of Season 18 in March 1981, the British public had a (then) staggering nine month wait until the next season and the debut of Doctor number five, Peter Davison. It would be almost easy for a young child to forget who Tom Baker was by the time January 1982 rolled around.
For me, though, Tom Baker was "my Doctor" for about 40 weeks. Peter Davison became "my Doctor" the very next week after I was stymied by the events of Logopolis. Davison really never stood a chance in that week leading up to his debut in Castrovalva, in my eyes. Even after the regeneration was recapped before the opening credits, I was still hoping/expecting Tom Baker to return, booting out this new, blonde guy like a nasty cough.
But then, as the early parts of this episode played out, and I (and the audience) began to warm to this new Doctor, I gradually started to forget about about the Doctor that came before him. Unlike any debut Doctor story since The Power of the Daleks, this newly regenerated Doctor has one of the key, central roles in the action from almost immediately after his regeneration. I find this was essential to get the public to forget about Tom Baker. Scenes with Davison mimicking his previous selves are all fine and dandy and help to cement the fact that he is still the same man as he always was, it's Davison's little quirks that really bring life to his Doctor - unravelling his old scarf, mimicking cricket poses in the mirror, cruising around the TARDIS in an electric wheelchair, and so on.
Whatever Davison did in the opening episode, he had me hooked. He had done the utter impossible - he made me forget my sorrow of losing the only Doctor I ever knew, and I embraced this new, young, energetic Doctor as, unequivocally, "my Doctor". I'm a fan of every incarnation of The Doctor, but if I had to pick one who stands about above all the rest, to me, it's Peter Davison. And it's Peter Davison for a lot of reasons, but Part One of Castrovalva is one of them.
Posted by Steven at 3:09 PM
Monday, January 18, 2010
Episode Four of Logopolis still, to this day, remains the most shocking and tragic piece of television I have ever seen upon first viewing. You must understand that I was twelve years old at the time and I had no idea what regeneration was or that there were different Doctors other than Tom Baker.
Even when The Doctor was forced to venture outside onto the frame of the radio telescope to try and disconnect the cable (for whatever reason, I still have no real idea. The Doctor said that he had to disconnect the cable, and so I believed him), I still thought he would save the day and live to tell about. But, my word, when that cable ripped open, and The Doctor was left there, literally hanging by a thread, his life beginning to flash before his eyes, I was in utter disbelief. Even when he inevitably fell, and I saw his body lying prostrate on the ground, I still believed that The Doctor could get up, dust himself off, and carry on with his adventures. He was The Doctor. It's what he had always done.
But he didn't. I watched with complete amazement as the Watcher (who was The Doctor all the time, so says an overdubbed Nyssa, admission that the explanation in the four episodes leading up to this was nowhere near as clear as it should have been) dissolved into the Doctor that I knew, becoming an entirely new person wearing The Doctor's old clothing. I was mortified. Who was this doppelganger, sitting up and looking bemused at the whole scene as the credits crashed in?
As those credits rolled, my horror was slowly being replaced by intrigue. Just when I thought I had seen it all in Doctor Who, just when I thought it could no longer surprise me, it went and did something like this. I was still under the impression, though, that The Doctor would change back next week....
As I watch Tom Baker lying there at the end, saying his last, oft quoted line, I'm reminded at how remarkably young he looked, by comparison, when he was sitting up after regenerating from Jon Pertwee's Doctor at the beginning of Robot. Seven years is a hell of a long time in Doctor Who, and it's understandable to think that Tom Baker was the only Doctor that an entire generation of Doctor Who fans knew. Even during the course of this year long trek of watching every episode, in order, I can scarcely remember any episodes that didn't feature Tom Baker as The Doctor.
Baker's time as The Doctor, due to its length, is easily the most varied of any Doctor's era before or after. It's also one of the most successful periods in Doctor Who's long history. At the end of each Doctor's era, I usually look back and select my top picks for best, worst, and favourite stories. But how can I pick just one story for each category from an era that featured so many great stories? So I'm cheating a bit with this one - I'll pick two best and favourite stories, but only one worst story, because to pick on two stories would just be cruel. Here we go:
The Tom Baker Era:
Best Stories : The Seeds of Doom/Horror of Fang Rock
Worst Story : The Android Invasion
Favourite Stories : The Talons of Weng-Chiang/The Sun Makers
And now, Peter Davison...
Worst Story : The Android Invasion
Favourite Stories : The Talons of Weng-Chiang/The Sun Makers
And now, Peter Davison...
Posted by Steven at 11:18 PM
Amid all the mathematical bluster that threatens to seriously bog down Logopolis, the little character moments drag it out of the muck. Just such a moment occurs in this episode when The Doctor is trapped inside a shrunken TARDIS, crumpled on the floor, a defeated man, relying entirely on help from the outside; help that may never come.
In his dark moments, he starts quoting Huxley, and then sums up his current situation: "I'm an ignorant old Doctor, and I've made a mistake". It's a rare admission from this Fourth Doctor, who has always been a tower of power, always in control of his situation, but a Doctor's whose rare moments of insecurity make him such an endearing character. This scene in Logopolis reminds of his lamenting his advancing age in Pyramids of Mars, or his admission of his tragic mistake in Horror of Fang Rock.
This is a Doctor approaching the end of his days, as evidenced by the increased appearances of the Watcher. We'll find out for certain who the mysterious figure in white is in Episode Four, but for now he appears almost as a portent of doom, the grim reaper without a scythe.
Plot points about Charged Vacuum Emboitments and Block Transfer Computation are becoming less and less important (and yet more confusing at the same time). For a generation of Doctor Who fans, of which I was one, the unthinkable was about to happen.
Posted by Steven at 10:31 PM
Sunday, January 17, 2010
In which all semblance of normality and exciting storytelling is thrown out the window in favour of an all-out attack of Bidmeadism, a terrible disease that leaves the afflicted with an inflated sense of self worth amid a flurry of mathematical technobabble.
Christopher Hamilton Bidmead has received more than his fair share of criticism as the years have gone on, and it's been through his own making (check out the extras on the E-Space Trilogy DVD box set to see proof of that), but I am actually of the belief that the main reason Season 18 holds together so well is because of the efforts of Bidmead's talents as a script editor. For the first time ever, a season of Doctor Who was crafted to form a cohesive set of serials as opposed to a loose collection of stand alone stories, and it was all because of Bidmead. He wanted to create a loose arc throughout the whole of the season, but could only manage convincing producer John Nathan-Turner into accepting small arcs like the E-Space trilogy. The whole season was coming together nicely, with all the threads and hints coming together in the final story of the season, Logopolis. It only seemed right that the man who had been responsible for the season up to this point should write the finale.
However, Episode Two is filled with both silliness and boredom. One giant, ludicrous, out of character decision by The Doctor anchors the episode, where he thinks that he can materialize the TARDIS underwater and open the door in order to flush out The Master. Ridiculous! Before and after the build-up and eventual let down, we get to see Tegan running around and around the interior of the TARDIS with increasing panic and frustration. After a few minutes of watching that, I could see how she felt.
The planet of Logopolis is the ultimate manifestation of Bidmead's desire to bring some hard science into Doctor Who. The problem is, no one is as interested in plodding, mathematical process as Bidmead is. You can tell through the dialogue that Bidmead was having the time of his life writing this (look how much time is devoted to the explanation of Block Transfer Computation during this story), but it sure ain't as fun to listen to.
Boring, plodding, and dull, Episode Two seems to be in a different universe than a much superior Episode One.
Posted by Steven at 11:39 PM
Episode One of Tom Baker's final story starts with an unprecedented feeling of doom. It's not just the death of a poor policeman in the opening scene (policemen have never fared well in Doctor Who). It could partly be because of Paddy Kingsland's melancholic score, too. That first scene struck me as a child watching this for the first time, not being even remotely aware that I would be witnessing the end of the only Doctor I ever knew at the time.
Tom Baker's performance is also gives this episode that down feeling. He's never looked more tired than in this episode, wandering around the TARDIS, complaining about the entropy that's engulfed the TARDIS, but really complaining about the effect the advancing years have had on his Doctor. His line "Sometimes I think I need to run a tighter ship" could just as easily have been written by John Nathan-Turner, who has been hoping and planning for a story like this since he took over as producer at the beginning of Season 18. Not that he disagreed intensely with Tom Baker as The Doctor. It's just that Baker wasn't his Doctor.
What really gives this episode an "end of the world" feeling, though, is that certain events happen that have never happened to The Doctor before (or if they have, the circumstances haven't been this drastic). TARDISes materializing inside other TARDISes is something that's happened before in The Time Monster, but because of The Doctor's reaction to it here, it seems much more dangerous. But it's the first appearance of who we'll find out to be the Watcher that, as a 12-year-old, made me scared for the first time ever in my young life as a Doctor Who fan. The Doctor didn't know who this strange, white being was, standing across the road, and when The Doctor didn't know, I didn't know. And what's more scary to a 12-year-old than the unknown?
A brilliant, gloomy start to the end (which, of course, has been prepared for).
Posted by Steven at 9:11 PM
Friday, January 15, 2010
The Master's return to Doctor Who after five years (although, really eight years, as I'll explain in a minute) is hampered by many factors. Not only is this not The Master we knew from the classic run of stories that Roger Delgado appeared in during the Pertwee era, it's an imitation of the shadow of that Master that appeared in The Deadly Assassin. And whereas Peter Pratt wore a full face mask in Assassin, in The Keeper of Traken, a new actor, Geoffrey Beevers, is wearing makeup (with teeth painted on his lips - very weird).
Even though it's supposed to be the same Master, they actually look quite different. It also doesn't help that The Doctor doesn't react to The Master's unveiling near the end of Part Four with any great sense of occasion. When I first saw this story as a kid, I had no knowledge of the Delgado Master, but if I had, I would have considered him a mild inconvenience for The Doctor, based on Tom Baker's reaction.
But, much like the Pratt Master, Geoffrey Beevers's Master is being handled here merely as a steward to the throne, keeping the seat warm until the REAL Master, inhabiting the body of Tremas, appears on the scene to take over the mantle. When The Master does take over Tremas's body, for some reason, the body he is now inhabiting changes considerably. His hair is short and dark, his beard is different, even his clothes are completely changed. Is this part of the Keeper's powers that The Master was still possessing in order to take over another body?
More likely, it was the first overt reference to the programme's long history that John Nathan-Turner brought into his fresh, new vision of Doctor Who in the 1980s. Nathan-Turner wasn't interested in bringing back The Master as a character, he was interested in bringing back the very same Master as played by Roger Delgado, with the only drawback being the obvious fact that Delgado was no longer alive to play the part. In forcing Anthony Ainley to do a pastiche on the original Master character, it did a massive disservice to Delgado, Ainley, and the entire premise and integrity of Doctor Who.
The Doctor has always changed his appearance with each regeneration, so why not The Master? Because, in the eyes of JNT, those fans of the show who remembered Delgado's appearances ten years prior (i.e., not you, children and other new viewers to the show) wouldn't recognize The Master unless he looked like he did when we first saw him. JNT probably thought he was appeasing, even delighting, the true fans of the series when he made this move, because he was doing it to please who he thought was the standard representative of the diehard Doctor Who fan - unofficial series continuity adviser Ian Levine. The thing is, very few Who fans had the recall of the old days like Levine did, so Anthony Ainley playing a new regeneration of the Master who looked different than his predecessor would have been just as effective, if not more so, than Delgado 2.0.
As much as I like Anthony Ainley's performance as The Master, I wish he was encouraged to play his own version of The Master. In making this new Master so much like the old one, John Nathan-Turner took the first step down the long, slippery slope of appeasing to Doctor Who fandom.
Posted by Steven at 2:49 PM
See, here we go now - Nyssa packing heat in the form on an "ion bonder", a device which works much like a stun gun, wasting fosters left and right. Considering she made this device on her own, and that she is a deadly shot with it, leads me to believe that Nyssa is actually a secret member of the Traken Rifle Association, and that if Tremas were to find out, he'd be beside himself (which he just very well may be by the end of this story).
This Nyssa I could become a fan of. Not that we need a gun toting teenaged girl in a fairy skirt on Doctor Who (I can hear the frantic nattering of computer keyboards as scores of fanfic writers work on expanding that premise as I type this), but these scenes with Nyssa at least give her some sort of spark, something which was all but absent in Episode Two.
I have to laugh at Proctor Neman, though, truly an inept character. On his agenda this story is: get bribed, get bribed again, but turn it down, get knocked out by a teenager armed with an ion bonder, attempt to kill The Doctor, only to get knocked out with the same ion bonder, knocked out a third time (this time by headbutt), then eventually, and mercifully, killed by a possessed Tremas. And The Mas...er...Melkur had the good mind to promote him to official servant (wearing the red choker, like Kassia before him. What was he thinking? No wonder his plan to become Keeper never worked...
Posted by Steven at 1:49 PM
The Doctor and Adric meet Nyssa in this episode, and the groundwork is laid for another (last minute) addition to the TARDIS crew. Usually, when a new companion is introduced into the series, that companion's initial scenes outline the course which his or her character will take over the next few stories, and serve as a bit of a showcase.
If Nyssa's first few scenes are any indication of what's to come, then please leave her on Traken. This is no slight at all against Sarah Sutton, I would like to stress, but Nyssa is the very epitome of a posh, privileged genius who has obviously been to private school on Traken. She also talks like a polite android, making scenes between her and Adric immensely stale and rife with Bidmeadian pseudo-science. In fact, Nyssa initially comes across as a female version of Adric, only better acted and slightly less awkward.
Oddly, though, the Adric-Nyssa team brings out each of their better qualities. Adric doesn't seem half as annoying as he did when he was nipping at Romana's elbows, cloying for attention. In fact, Adric, with his modicum of other-worldly experience, takes on a Doctor role to Nyssa's companion as the pair of them handle the more scientific aspects of the plot while The Doctor and Tremas (the more interesting double act in this story) handle the basic, more interesting stuff.
On to Episode Three. I think this Melkur fellow is more than he seems, by the way.
Posted by Steven at 1:29 PM
Thursday, January 14, 2010
The Keeper of Traken starts off in a bizarre fashion, devoting the entire first half of the episode to a prologue to introduce everyone to the characters and the situation on Traken before The Doctor lands there. The circumstances are exceptional as the Keeper is specifically seeking out The Doctor's help and so must brief him on his mission.
It's a convenient way of getting past all the exposition and introductory dialogue from all the members of the Traken council, however, it still seems a somewhat heavyhanded way of dispensing with the necessary information. The scenes that The Keeper shows The Doctor and Adric are blunt and to the point, and thus terribly unnatural, like much of the dialogue in this episode (as well as the beards. As an aside, Tony Gallichan from the Flashing Blade Podcast is right - Season 18 is the Year of the Beard. Every male character (and possibly even the female Tharil) seems to be sporting a beard in this season. Even The Doctor gets in on the act in The Leisure Hive!).
It's not that this episode is bad, by any means, it just seems slightly stilted, as if we're watching a dress rehearsal of a lesser known Shakespeare comedy.