Timestamp: Fifth Series Summary

Doctor Who: Fifth Series Summary

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I am of two minds with this series/season. Before I get there, I do realize that I’ve been using the terms series and season interchangeably. The TARDIS wiki that I use as the reference for Timestamps tends to call the classic years by season and the new years by series. Most BBC shows I’ve watched tended to use series regardless of production year, so I tend to use series more frequently. I may eventually settle on a standard, but I think it’s pretty clear what I’m talking about within the confines of Timestamps, especially since I hyperlink frequently.

On to Series Five…

Starting with the negative, the entire group of stories was in the “base under siege” style. From what I understand, this was a move to save money and time, especially since the show was constantly under the threat of cancellation. This set was also mostly reconstructions, and none of the stories were known to have survived the BBC’s tape purges until the 1990s when The Tomb of the Cybermen was unearthed. Between the repetitive storylines and the visuals of the reconstructions, it was difficult to be motivated to watch. I did, however, try to be fair by judging each story on its own merits rather than judging it against the feel of the series overall.

On a tangent, I do need to revisit The Enemy of the World and The Web of Fear at some point in the future since they have been recently discovered.

On the positive, this was one of the strongest set of performances in the show so far. The scores reflect that, with Fury from the Deep taking the low end with a middle of the line rating. When compared against the Second Doctor’s serials in the fourth series, it’s also a strong improvement. This series received the top average of any series so far.

The top score don’t necessarily mean that I like the Second Doctor more, though. Hartnell’s Doctor was very strong even when his stories were not, and in his curmudgeonly yet caring grandfatherly portrayal, he brought to the show what was needed to get it moving. Troughton’s Doctor has been a different take that keeps the undercurrent of grumpiness with a whimsy and childlike outlook that makes the lead character relatable in what was historically a children’s show. The First Doctor made audiences identify with the companions as they explored time and space, and the Second Doctor (so far) makes audiences identify with the team as a whole. Whether it was intentional or accidental, it is a beautiful formula that I have enjoyed watching develop.

I’m looking forward to watching it continue to grow as the sixth series starts, and I’m also looking forward to saying goodbye to the reconstructions as Timestamps enters the homestretch of the Second Doctor’s adventures.

 

The Tomb of the Cybermen – 5
The Abominable Snowmen – 4
The Ice Warriors – 4
The Enemy of the World – 5
The Web of Fear – 4
Fury from the Deep – 3
The Wheel in Space – 4

Series Five Average Rating: 4.1/5

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Dominators

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

Timestamp #43: The Wheel in Space

Doctor Who: The Wheel in Space
(6 episodes, s05e34-e41, 1968)

Timestamp 043 The Wheel in Space

 

The Wheel in Space is still the basic “base under siege” story that was typical of the fifth series, but this one feels more unique.  First, the crew of the titular space station doesn’t believe in the Cyberman threat until it actually shows itself. Second, the antagonists partially control the escape route (the TARDIS is stranded on the rocket with the Cybermen) and are a bit more menacing in this story, finally bringing the boys in aluminum foil suits back to nearly the same threat level that they displayed in The Tenth Planet. There’s also the added twist of the impending meteor shower which adds dramatic pressure to the plot and prevents the protagonists from taking too much time or waiting for the enemy to make a move.

We also see a considerable amount of hand waving combined with smoke and mirrors in this serial. Classic Who fans complain about how the recent era (the “New Who” era) of the show treats the iconic sonic screwdriver like a magic wand – and the show runners even make fun of it themselves, as seen in the 50th anniversary special Day of the Doctor – but the “time vector generator” is a much more egregious example of a magic MacGuffin and overall problem solver. It acts as an improvised gun to destroy the robot on the rocket (wait, doesn’t the Doctor abhor using guns?), produces radio interference to signal the space station and save Jamie and the Doctor, supercharges the station’s X-ray laser to destroy the Cyberman spaceship, and controls the entire “bigger on the inside” element of the TARDIS itself. It’s less iconic than the sonic, and stretches the entire joke of the Second Doctor’s skill at pulling the right tool for the job from his pockets to a non-humorous extreme. That little metal bar feels overly convenient and considerably lazy scriptwise, and I kind of hope that we never see it again.

Okay, enough with that.

The motivations of the station crew are believable, and that helped sell me on this serial. They want to destroy the rocket because its erratic flight poses a collision danger to the station. They’re also skeptical of the Doctor and Jamie because the travelers are conspicuously unable to fit in with the current time, and act suspiciously at every move. even right down to the genesis of the Doctor’s long-term alias, John Smith. It’s also fascinating to see how the crew relates to Zoe, an astrophysicist relegated to librarian, which (ironically) is a role that the station couldn’t operate without. She feels underappreciated and completely enthralled with the mystery of the Doctor, so she joins the team as the new companion. She’s definitely quite smart and innocent, but somewhat shy and introverted, and I’m eager to see how she manages with the Doctor and Jamie.

Other positives on this serial include the TARDIS defense mechanism driven by Powerpoint slides of serene temptations, the decorations in the Cyberman control center that are giant lava lamps, and a callback to the infamous fluid link that keeps the TARDIS grounded after a power overload vaporizes the link’s mercury supply.

One minor downside was the Cybermen marching through space. That was rather silly.

This was a really good serial, but the convenience of the time vector generator really soured it for me. I settled on a 3.5 out of 5, but, as always, I’m looking forward and working with whole numbers.

 

Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”

 

UP NEXT – Fifth Series Summary

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

 

 

Timestamp #42: Fury from the Deep

Doctor Who: Fury from the Deep
(6 episodes, s05e29-e34, 1968)

Timestamp 042 Fury from the Deep

 

The TARDIS arrives in the middle of the ocean, and thankfully it floats. Of course, any danger of drowning in a time machine is casually tossed aside by the Doctor endangering his companions by smearing anomalous sea foam in their faces. How reckless, since that foam is the precursor to the titular fury from the deep.

The pumping station, which moves gas from the platforms in the ocean to the mainland is experiencing both a spy problem and a flow problem. The flow just messes with monthly efficiency ratings and causes the station’s supervisor, Robson, to act like a petulant child. The spy lets an invasive seaweed-and-foam entity into the base to – yawn – take over the base and eventually – yawn – the world.

I tried to judge this serial based on its own merits rather than against the problems of the entire fifth series. They’ve been enjoyable, but this season’s theme of defending the base under siege combined with longer serial formats that could have been seriously slimmed down is getting really hard to ignore. This story was an okay break from the alien of the week formula, but it’s still clichéd.

On the upside, we get a chance for Victoria to directly save the day before taking her leave of the TARDIS. She finally breaks the tradition of companions getting terrible send-offs with Victoria having a strong role in the story and getting a family and home in the end. On the downside, where did all of this concern about Victoria feeling unsafe come from? Before now, she hasn’t voiced much of this concern aside from her incessant screaming.

Other positives include the first use of the sonic screwdriver, actually using the TARDIS and its resources in the middle of a serial, and the excellent use of two of the creepiest looking men I’ve ever seen for the station’s killer spies.

A major drawback was Robson. I seriously wanted to feed him to the seaweed-foam-monster and leave him there. He’s a terrible supervisor.

This story was decent enough, but the real high point (and low point) was saying goodbye to Victoria. I wasn’t happy with her sudden change of heart in this story, but I am happy with her final resolution. I’m also ready to be done with the base siege story format.

 

Rating: 3/5 – “Reverse the polarity of the neutron flow.”

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Wheel in Space

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.