Timestamp: Twenty-Fifth Series Summary

 Doctor Who: Twenty-Fifth Series Summary

 

A stunning jump as we race toward the classic finish.

The Seventh Doctor’s second outing was a major step up, which was an important move for the show’s silver anniversary. It has also made me really love Sylvester McCoy’s wit and humor. Remembrance of the Daleks was a great start, and while Silver Nemesis was effectively Remembrance Redux, it was still fun. Even the average stories kept me entertained, and there didn’t seem to be a stinker in the bunch.

The John Nathan-Turner problems remain, and they’re likely to stick around for McCoy’s senior season, but at least the actors and stories were able to enlighten and entertain, overcoming the production.

Overall, this season ends up in a five-way tie for fifth place, joining the ranks of the Seventh, Tenth, Thirteenth, and Fourteenth seasons. The Third and Fourth Doctors are good company to be in.

 

Remembrance of the Daleks – 5
The Happiness Patrol – 3
Silver Nemesis – 4
The Greatest Show in the Galaxy –  3

Series Twenty-Five Average Rating: 3.8/5

 

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Battlefield

 

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.

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Timestamp #155: The Greatest Show in the Galaxy

Doctor Who: The Greatest Show in the Galaxy
(4 episodes, s25e11-e14, 1988-1989)

 

It’s an awfully meta moment in the late 1980s: The Greatest Show in the Galaxy gets rhythm, and we “ain’t seen nothing yet.”

On the TARDIS, the Doctor is trying to learn how to juggle while Ace (clad in the Fourth Doctor‘s pre-burgundy scarf) looks for her rucksack and Nitro-9. An automated probe materializes in the console room and delivers junk mail: an advertisement for the psychic circus. The Doctor wants to go and the advertising drone goads Ace (who is obviously scared of something) into joining him.

Something sinister is afoot at the circus: Two performers (Flowerchild and Bellboy) are on the run from a clown in a hearse. A rude sandwich eating biker named Nord and our heroes join the mix as well, and the Doctor and Ace are warned away from the circus by a roadside saleswoman. Flowerbell and Bellboy split up, and Flowerbell ends up at an abandoned bus and killed by the robotic conductor. Bellboy is found by the clowns are returned to the circus.

Nord turns down the Doctor’s request to join him, and the travelers are nearly run down by the clown on the road. They encounter Captain Cook and Mags, two more intergalactic travelers questing for the circus, and join them for tea. Ace and Mags find a buried robot, which comes to life and attacks the party, but is defeated by Ace. They carry on to the bus and are attacked by the conductor robot. The Doctor defeats the robot and parts company with the other travelers, disgusted by the captain’s cowardice.

A new player joins the mix: A well-dressed young man on a bicycle.

Nord, Captain Cook and Mags, and the Doctor and Ace arrive at the circus. Mags witnesses Bellboy being punished for his treachery, but her screams are electronically silenced by the ringmaster. Ace can still hear the screams and is hesitant about entering the tent, but the Doctor presses on. Ace’s fear is revealed: She suffers from coulrophobia, the fear of clowns. Based on the ticket-taker’s reaction to the clowns, Ace’s fear may be well-founded.

The Doctor and Ace find a seat in the darkened attraction, which isn’t hard since the place is nearly deserted: The only other party is a family of parents and a single child. The Doctor tries to engage them in small talk, but they’re almost robotic. The show starts with nearly the same rap as before, but one change is that the Ringmaster selects the Doctor to join as a volunteer performer. The Doctor rushes forward in glee and Ace gets trapped by clowns, and the lead clown is intrigued by Flowerbell’s earring, which Ace found at the bus. Ace runs and is pursued by this insane clown posse.

The Doctor is reunited with Captain Cook, Mags, and Nord, but soon realizes that this is a trap and he’s fallen right into it. Captain Cook tricks Nord into performing next. Meanwhile, Ace sneaks back into the circus tent and eavesdrops on the fortune teller and ringmaster talk about the state of the circus. She is given away by the chirping of drone kites and runs from the clowns, encountering a captive Bellboy. It’s revealed that Bellboy built the robotic clowns and only he can repair them. Ace is soon captured again and imprisoned in the clown repair facility.

Nord goes on stage and his performances are judged by the family. When he fails, he is disintegrated, an act that is witnessed by Mags and the Doctor. As the BMX rider, Whizz Kid, is selected to join the captives, the Doctor and Mags escape and find a series of catacombs to explore. They find a deep pit with a large eye (the same eye on the kite drones) at the bottom, but they are captured by the clowns and Captain Cook. Mags notices a symbol that resembles the phases of the moon, and the her reaction provides a distraction for the Doctor to escape.

When the clowns in the repair trailer attack, Ace defends herself until they stop and collapse. Bellboy emerges from the shadows and, noting the earring, learns of Flowerchild’s fate. He tells Ace that Flowerchild made the kites, something of beauty perverted into something sinister, and gives Ace the controller for the robot she defeated earlier. Elsewhere, the Doctor continues to unravel the mystery behind the circus and frees Ace and Bellboy from the trailer. We also discover that Deadbeat, the street sweeper, was once someone named Kingpin.

The clowns return Captain Cook and Mags to their cage, and Captain Cook snaps at Whizz Kid’s admiration of his exploits. He soon turns about and exploits the kid, moving him up in the queue to save the explorer’s own skin. The kid is soon killed for his failure, and the captain is a truly despicable man.

The Doctor, Ace, and Kingpin set out for the pit while Bellboy stays behind the distract the chief clown. Meanwhile, the fortune teller communicates with the eye through her crystal ball, telling it that more will come to feed it and they’ll keep everyone away from the bus. At the pit, the Doctor’s party uncovers the same link. The Doctor sends Ace and Kingpin to investigate the bus while he distracts the circus in the ring. The Doctor suggests that he, the captain, and Mags work together to upset the balance of the game, and Mags coerces the captain into agreeing.

Once in the room, Captain Cook turns the tables by ordering the crew to shine “moonlight” on Mags. The woman transforms into a werewolf, weirdly explaining her reaction to the moon symbols earlier. After a brief show by Cook, during which the Doctor discovers that the audience members are avatars of the eye in the pit, Mags turns on the captain and kills him. Mags and the Doctor are removed from the ring, but as the family demands more entertainment, the ringmaster and fortune teller are forced to perform. They fail and are consumed.

Ace and Kingpin search the bus, not knowing that the clowns have repaired the conductor. Ace tries to open a lockbox and is ambushed by the robot. During the scuffle, the box is broken open and Kingpin finds the rest of his eye pendant inside. His mind restored, he helps Ace defeat the conductor. Together, they head back to the Doctor.

Mags runs off to meet Ace and Kingpin as the Doctor confronts the eye in a psychedelic sequence. He ends up back in the ring, but now it is an ancient arena. The Doctor greets the family as the Gods of Ragnarok, a force he has fought for some time, and the trio demand more entertainment from their captive. The Doctor runs through a series of conjuring tricks to distract them.

Ace, Kingpin, and Mags end up the massive robot and use it to defeat the clowns. They return to the pit as the Doctor continues his performance, pursued by a reanimated Captain Cook. Cook steals the medallion and Ace knocks it into the pit, forcing it to materialize at the Doctor’s feet. The Doctor uses it to deflect attacks from the gods and destroy the arena around them. The Doctor doffs his hat in salute and returns to the circus, calmly strolling out of the tent as it explodes behind him.

He reunites with Ace, leaving Kingpin and Mags to start a new entertainment venture. He politely declines the offer to join them, citing the adventures that ahead. Besides, in a clever plot twist, he finds circuses to be rather sinister.

 

It was a decent adventure, and while the Doctor’s feelings about circuses are awfully convenient, I did enjoy watching Ace confront her fears to save the day. The werewolf subplot was kind of crazy, as was the Gods of Ragnarok twist, but they both did away with the treacherous Captain Cook. That guy was one of the first characters in this franchise that I have actively despised in a long time.

 

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

 

 

UP NEXT – Twenty-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 #154: Silver Nemesis

Doctor Who: Silver Nemesis
(3 episodes, s25e08-e10, 1988)

 

We open in South America, 22 November 1988, on a scene of Nazis trying to kill parrots with arrows. A similar scene plays out in 1638 Windsor, England – though without the Nazis, naturally – as a woman tries to kill a pigeon with a bow and arrow. She retreats to a dark room where a mathematician is working on a calculation while the woman prepares poison-tipped arrows. Back in 1988, the Nazi addresses a room of soldiers, heralding the birth of the Fourth Reich before retrieving a silver bow and leaving on a plane.

In Windsor, the mathematician informs the woman – Lady Peinforte – that according to the calculation, the Nemesis comet will return to Earth and land in the spot where it originated on 23 November 1988.

It seems that the Nazis and Lady Peinforte are on a collision course.

The Doctor and Ace are relaxing to the smooth sounds of Courtney Pine when the Doctor’s alarm goes off, but he can’t remember why. The performance ends, Ace gets an autograph, and the pair is ambushed by snipers.  The travelers escape by diving into the river. Later on, they dry out on the riverbank while the Doctor ponders the alarm, knowing that it means a planet somewhere is about to be destroyed. Moments later, the Doctor finds out that the planet in question is Earth. He remembers that he set the alarm in 1638, and they travel in the TARDIS to Windsor Castle’s basement in search of the silver bow.

Lady Peinforte and her assistant use magic fueled by the mathematician’s blood to travel through time, landing in the present day as the Nemesis crash lands on Earth. The Nazis and Lady Peinforte converge on the crash site, but the Nazis decide to bide their time until the site cools down. At the site, Lady Peinforte watches as the police radios stop working and a mysterious gas chokes the officers.

In the castle’s basement, the Doctor and Ace find an empty case and a prophecy: The bow originally disappeared in 1788, and unless it is kept in its case, the rest of the statue to which it belongs will return and destroy the world. The Doctor and Ace travel to 1638 and Lady Peinforte’s cottage and start to unravel her mystery. The Lady originally sculpted the statue, depicting herself, out of a silver metal that fell to Earth near her home. The travel forward again to Windsor Castle and join a tour group before sneaking away into the royal apartments and encountering Queen Elizabeth II. They are apprehended and escape, finding a painting of Ace that has happened yet for them, and eventually end up in the TARDIS.

The Nazis, Lady Peinforte, and the travelers all converge on the crash site. They are joined by a mysterious spacecraft that reveals a group of Cybermen. The Cybermen recognize the Doctor as the three aggressor parties open fire on each other and our heroes take refuge in the crash site. The Doctor and Ace steal the silver bow and escape, leaving the silver arrow in Lady Peinforte’s hands and the Nemesis statue unguarded.

The Doctor and Ace travel back to 1638 where the mathematician’s corpse has disappeared and the chess pieces have moved. The Doctor burns a note and they leave. As they return to present day, he explains to Ace that the validium metal was created on ancient Gallifrey by Omega and Rassilon as a form of ultimate defense. Some of it escaped from Gallifrey and landed on Earth, which the Doctor returned to space. They use the bow to track the other pieces.

They find the Cybermen and jam their transmissions with Ace’s jazz tape. They later find a pair of muggers who were defeated and strung up by Lady Peinforte. The Lady herself takes her assistant Richard to his own grave, and then into the castle where the Cybermen hold the statue, which is apparently her own grave. The Cybermen engage the Lady and Richard at the tomb as the Doctor and Ace destroy the Cybermen ship. The Nazis find the Cybermen and strike a deal, but they don’t understand that the Cybermen will kill them anyway.

The Doctor and Ace discuss the cyclical nature of the Nemesis comet and how each time it comes around, bad things happen in Earth’s history: In 1913, the First World War was about the erupt; in 1938, Hitler annexed Austria; and in 1963, President Kennedy was assassinated. The double their efforts to scan for a Cybermen fleet in space and they find it.

The Nazis arrive at the tomb and drive Lady Peinforte away through Richard’s cowardice, leaving the Nazis with the arrow and statue. The Nazis try to doublecross the Cybermen, but one of the Nazis betrays his leader (De Flores) and they are captured for processing. Meanwhile, the Doctor and Ace arrive at the tomb as the tape ends, presenting the bow to the Nemesis statue as the Cybermen re-establish contact with their fleet. The Doctor and Ace run with the bow, forcing the statue to follow them.

They travel back to 1638 and the Doctor makes another move on the chess board. Ace asks who originally brought the metal to Earth and what is really going on, but the Doctor remains silent as they leave for the hangar where the comet is stored. The Nemesis statue arrives and the Doctor gives it the bow. Soon enough, the Cybermen arrive and Ace battles them with a slingshot and gold coins from 1638.

The Nazis break free from their processing, revealing it to be a ruse the entire time. Meanwhile, Lady Peinforte and Richard hitch a ride with an American woman to Windsor. The woman descends from the 17th century Remington family, whom Peinforte refers to as thieves and swindlers. In fact, Dorothea Remington was killed by poison.

As Ace singlehandedly decimates the Cyberman army, the Doctor loads the statue back into the comet and sets the rocket’s course to the cyber fleet. At one point, Ace is trapped by three Cybermen and only one shot left, but she ends up forcing them to shoot each other. The Doctor talks with the statue, removing the bow and avoiding its questions about mission and purpose. The Doctor and Ace defeat the remaining Cybermen, but De Flores arrives and takes the bow. He is upset that the Nemesis will not speak to him, but he meets his end as the Cyber Leader guns him down.

Lady Peinforte arrives and faces off with the Doctor and the Cyber Leader, and Peinforte asks Ace a question: “Doctor who?” Who is the Doctor and where does he come from. The Doctor relents and passes the bow to the Cyber Leader, defusing Lady Peinforte’s attempts to reveal the Doctor’s secrets with the Cybermen’s apathy regarding them. All the Cybermen want is to transform Earth into Mondas. The bow ends up in the comet with the statue and the Doctor launches it, but not before Lady Peinforte hurls herself into the capsule with the Nemesis.

The comet races toward the fleet and destroys it, confounding the Cyber Leader and leaving an opening for Richard to stab the remaining Cyberman with the last arrow. Ace and the Doctor return Richard to 1638 where Ace figures out the Doctor’s gambit: He originally placed the statue into orbit to lure out the Cybermen and destroy them. As they listen to an impromptu concert, Ace asks the Doctor about his past, but the Doctor puts a finger to his lips and listens to the music instead.

 

Overall, this was a fun 25th anniversary adventure with a lot of moving parts. I’m glad they made the callback to Remembrance of the Daleks to keep continuity rolling. I am intrigued by this “Cartmel Masterplan” idea that mystifies and deepens the Doctor, but I’m cautious and hoping that it doesn’t make the Doctor menacing. Not knowing everything about the Doctor is good, but making him have a dark agenda (potentially one of wiping out his enemies rather than simply defeating them) won’t work for me.

 

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

 

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Greatest Show in the Galaxy

 

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 #153: The Happiness Patrol

Doctor Who: The Happiness Patrol
(3 episodes, s25e05-e07, 1988)

 

“Happiness is nothing unless it exists side by side with sadness.”

A woman walks down a melancholy corridor and is approached by a man who offers to help with her suffering. He invites her to a secret place where people share their sadness, but when she accepts his offer he reveals himself: Silas P of the Happiness Patrol, Undercover Division. As the “killjoy” is arrested, the Doctor and Ace arrive in the TARDIS, musing about the invasion of the dinosaurs, unimpressed with the “lift music” and artificial happiness filtering through the city.

Silas P is awarded for his stellar work, but his superior is also suspicious about his ambition. Elsewhere, our travelers explore the city and encounter Trevor Sigma, a man thoroughly unimpressed by the Doctor’s college nickname of Theta Sigma. Ace wanders off and finds a bench riddled with bullet holes, prompting the Doctor to get them arrested. They find members of the Happiness Patrol painting the TARDIS pink, and are apprehended for lack of identification. The Doctor is taken away as a spy while Ace is forced to audition for the Patrol.

The Doctor and Ace find a killjoy named Harold V, a terrible joke writer formerly known as Harold F (minion to colony leader Helen A, the superior from before). Their guard warns the Doctor that while this place isn’t a prison, he would be killed if he crosses the perimeter line. I simply love the sight gag here as the Doctor guides his foot away from the line with his umbrella.

Helen A rules a society where sadness is outlawed. Under her rule, any emotion other than happiness (even in clothing) is punished by the Kandy Man, an unseen party who experiments on the captives. As an example, a killjoy is executed by being enclosed in a metal pipe and drown in strawberry-flavored fondant. As Ace and the Doctor plot an escape, planning to take Harold with them, Helen kills her former servant by remote fatal electric shock. They locate a go-kart, disarm the bomb that would have prevented their escape, and use it to (slowly and comedically) drive away. Ace is re-captured, providing a chance for the Doctor to escape.

Ace meets Susan Q, a secretly depressed member of the Patrol. After a heart-to-heart discussion, Susan gives Ace the key to their room, allowing her to escape. Unfortunately, she is captured again soon. On the streets, the Doctor encounters an undercover Silas, but a blues player named Earl Sigma – the appellation “Sigma” means visitor – helps the Time Lord to escape. Unfortunately, the Patrol finds Silas in his dark garb and executes him accordingly. The Doctor and Earl infiltrate the Kandy Man’s lair, but they too are captured.

Ace is marched by gunpoint back to her audition while the Doctor and Earl are strapped down for torture. The Doctor appeals to the Kandy Man’s insecurities, learns about his methods of executions, and traps him in a sticky puddle of lemonade. The Doctor and Earl escape with a quip into the pipelines and encounter a gang of creatures. These creatures, driven underground by human settlers, lead the duo to safety and Trevor Sigma. Earl splits off on his own as Trevor and the Doctor visit Helen. The Doctor learns all about Helen’s population control measures and confronts her.

Ace is reunited with Susan after the Patrol discovers her duplicity. Susan is taken away for execution and one of the pipeline creatures frees Ace. Helen releases her dog-creature Fifi into the pipeline to deal with the annoyance, but Ace subdues the threat with a can of Nitro-9. They then travel through the pipes to Susan’s execution.

The Doctor reunites with Earl and learns of a protest and the snipers that have them pinned down. The Doctor confronts the snipers and disarms them with their own morality. He then returns to the kitchens to deal with the Kandy Man, unsticking the being from the floor in exchange for a flow diversion that saves Susan’s life. The Doctor then resticks the Kandy Man and escapes.

Helen puts Ace back on track for Patrol auditions, and the Doctor is drawn to the show by posters in the streets. The Doctor asks Earl to bring the protestors as a citizen comes to mark another audition poster with “RIP.” It seems that the penalty for failing the audition is death. The Doctor retires to a set of stairs in the Forum with Trevor Sigma (before the auditor leaves the planet) to discuss a list of disappearances under Helen’s rule.

Helen sends a freshly healed Fifi into the pipes to chase the people who live there. Back at the stairs, Ace and the Patrol arrive and the Doctor defeats the Patrol with happiness and joviality among the protestors. The Doctor, Ace, and Susan take the Patrol’s security vehicle, leaving the Patrol to fight among themselves, and enter the pipes to deal with Fifi. The Doctor rallies the pipe-dwellers and lures Fifi with Earl’s harmonica, using the howls and music to stop Fifi with a crystalized sugar collapse.

Helen orders the Kandy Man to find the Doctor, but the odd being reports that the Doctor and Ace have just arrived. Together, they force the Kandy Man into the pipes as Susan and Earl start destroying loudspeakers across the city. The pipe-dwellers infiltrate the kitchen and flood the pipes with fondant, destroying the Kandy Man.

Watching her empire topple, Helen packs a bag and prepares to flee the planet. Unfortunately for her, her shuttle is stolen by her husband Joseph and the Kandy Man’s former assistant Gilbert. Helen tries to escape into the city, but the Doctor confronts her. All Helen wanted was for her people to be happy… for her society to be happy. The Doctor challenges her, explaining that happiness and sadness are two sides of the same coin and must live side-by-side for the health of society. Helen starts to storm off but sees Fifi’s corpse on the bus bench where the whole adventure began. There, she breaks down in tears.

With Earl and Susan in charge, Ace and the Doctor board the freshly repainted TARDIS and depart, knowing that now happiness will truly prevail.

 

First, we have a fun adventure with good acting from our heroes and a pastiche of villainous tropes from the bad guys. The Kandy Man is, well, something else.

But, let’s carve away the candy coating veneer.

Setting aside the commentary against Margaret Thatcher and her politics – there are a plethora of reviews that discuss this parallel – this is a decent discussion about governments and seats of power trying to quell dissent and unrest. All too often, we see leaders (world, community, religious, etc) trying to head off complaints about social justice by claiming to the public that everything is fine and pressuring protestors into silence.

The lesson we learn here from the Doctor is that happiness is important, but it’s not free. The price is strife through conflict and every emotion that goes with it. Happiness isn’t a guarantee, but rather something we all must work for.

 

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

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Silver Nemesis

 

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 #152: Remembrance of the Daleks

Doctor Who: Remembrance of the Daleks
(4 episodes, s25e01-e04, 1988)

 

Returning to where it all began.

The opening teaser reveals a large and foreboding spacecraft approaches Earth. Meanwhile, on the planet’s surface, students arrive for classes at Coal Hill School while the Doctor and Ace discuss the anachronisms in Ace’s clothing, boombox, and a nearby van. Ace goes in search of food while the Doctor investigates the motor vehicle (and a strange little girl). The Doctor meets Professor Rachel Jensen, the van’s monitor, and Ace meets up along with Sergeant Mike Smith as the whole group rushes to the local junkyard.

I. M. Foreman’s junkyard, to be precise, at 76 Totter’s Lane.

Group Captain Gilmore shows Jensen and the Doctor to a corpse. The Doctor determines that soldier died after being shot by an energy ray, and he tracks the source to a nearby shed. Gilmore’s hand-picked troops arrive and take up positions. The soldiers engage as the hostile opens fire, but their bullets are no match against an armored Renegade Dalek.

The Doctor is (once again) disgusted by the military mindset while Ace marvels over their explosive firepower. The Doctor uses Ace’s supply of Nitro-9 (on a ten-second fuse) to destroy the Dalek. The military team (including Allison Williams, Professor Jensen’s assistant) investigate the remains while Ace and the Doctor borrow the van for a brief tutorial on the history of the Daleks. The Doctor believes that they are on Earth at this point not to conquer but to acquire the Hand of Omega.

Back at headquarters for the Intrusion Countermeasures Group (presumably the predecessor to UNIT), Gilmore meets with Mr. Ratcliffe while Jensen (the group’s scientific advisor, which makes her the Doctor’s predecessor) confers with Williams. Ratcliffe’s team takes possession of (read: kill the guards and steal) the Dalek’s remains and move it somewhere safe. That “somewhere safe” is exactly where Davros (or someone who looks like him, because Davros leads the Imperials, not the Renegades, right?) is hiding out.

Back at Coal Hill School, the Doctor and Ace investigate and meet the very strange headmaster. In a chemistry classroom (which looks a lot like the Third Doctor‘s lab at UNIT) they find evidence of a spacecraft landing. Ace questions if people would notice and the Doctor reminds her that no one paid attention to the “Yeti in the Underground” or the “Zygon gambit with the Loch Ness Monster.”

This classroom is the same classroom where Ian and Barbara started things with Susan. Note the book on the French Revolution. These two stories must have just barely missed each other.

The Doctor and Ace continue their investigation, eventually ending up in the cellar. They find a transmat device and sabotage it just as a Dalek is materializing. (The effect is pretty neat since we get to see the biological creature first before the shell arrives.) The pair is immediately ambushed by an Imperial Dalek (which can climb stairs!) and Headmaster Parson (who is working with the Imperial Daleks!). The Dalek recognizes the Doctor and nearly exterminates him, but Ace saves him after knocking out Parson.

Does this mean that the Imperial-Renegade Dalek War is coming to a head?

The Doctor and Ace find an army truck outside with anti-tank rockets, and after (fraudulently) signing for the artillery they return inside to destroy the transmat. Instead, they encounter a Dalek and destroy it, then encounter Gilmore’s unit. Ace stays with the Jensen’s team while the Doctor leaves to deal with his past, finding advice at the local deli.

The next morning, the Doctor visits a funeral parlor and inspects a large casket. The funeral director calls “the governor” and reports the Doctor’s arrival, noting that he was expecting an older man with white hair. The Doctor orders the casket to follow him, and it does so by levitating and floating through the building. The Doctor leads the coffin to a local graveyard where his first incarnation has prepared a grave to hide the device. Mike Smith follows the Doctor to the graveyard, and Parson follows Smith before attacking the sergeant and demanding the location of the Renegade Dalek base. Smith defeats Parson, watches the Doctor bury the coffin, and then escorts the Doctor back to the team. The team (sans Ace) return to headquarters and prepare for battle. Ratcliffe and his mysterious Dalek overseer prepare as well. A frustrated Ace defies the Doctor and returns to Coal Hill to find the Imperial Daleks swarming the cellar.

I love how Ace is rejecting some of the more backward philosophies of the era: The sexism (“Back at six. Have dinner ready.”) and the racism (“No coloureds.”) hold no value for her. Also, what a fascinating Easter egg with the premiere of An Unearthly Child inside the Doctor Who universe.

The Doctor and his team return to Coal Hill where Ace (using a supercharged bat) is on the run from the Imperial Daleks. They find her cornered by three Daleks and save her with a combination of plastic explosives and a stunning device based on the Doctor’s adventure on Spiridon. While the soldiers storm the school, the Doctor and the scientists investigate the Imperial remains, noting that the Imperials have continued to evolve. They then head to the cellar and destroy the transmat.

While the team retires to the deli for lunch, Ratcliffe visits the graveyard and find the casket under a less-than-stealthy headstone marked with a lowercase omega (ω). When Ratcliffe meddles with the site, the Imperial Daleks in orbit detect the power signature and report it to the Emperor (who is looking rather goofy with a giant spherical head). Shortly afterward, the creepy girl from Coal Hill skips into the cemetery and watches Ratcliffe’s men unearth the casket.

Ratcliffe returns the casket to his hideout and notifies his agent, who turns out to be Sergeant Smith. After his men move the Hand of Omega into position, the Renegade Daleks execute Ratcliffe’s team, and his overseer reveals himself… or rather herself since she is the creepy girl, better known as the Battle Computer.

Nice!

Meanwhile, the Doctor tells Ace the story of Omega, the advent of time travel and Time Lord society, and the stellar manipulator called the Hand of Omega. With it, the Daleks can harness the power of the Time Lords, and the Doctor wants them to have it to avoid mass casualties, but he didn’t count on there being two factions competing for it. They leave the school and go to Ratcliffe’s yard where the Doctor confers with the Hand. They find the Battle Computer’s chair and the Doctor explains that the Daleks use the chair to harness a child’s creativity as an advantage in war. The Doctor disables the Time Controller and leaves a calling card, forcing the Renegade Daleks to pursue as they run through the streets of Shoreditch. The Doctor is gambling that the Imperial Daleks will destroy the Renegades in their search for the Hand of Omega.

The chase leads them back to Coal Hill, but a slip of the tongue reveals Smith’s role as a double agent. The soldiers engage the Renegades as the Imperials descend on the school. The Imperials engage the Renegades as the Doctor plots a little piracy and Ace confronts Smith. The sergeant is taken into custody shortly afterward, but he manages to escape and return to Ratcliffe’s side. As the fight intensifies, the Imperials deploy a Special Weapons Dalek which wipes out several Renegades in one shot.

The Doctor storms the shuttlecraft, disables the Dalek pilot, and studies the computer to find Skaro. He then repairs the transmat before heading back to Ratcliffe’s yard.

Across town, the Imperials storm the yard, providing the humans a chance to steal the Time Controller. Ratcliffe dies as the little girl channels her inner Emperor Palpatine and zaps him with hand lightning, but Smith carries on. The Imperials seize the Hand of Omega and return it to their shuttle, and Ace follows Smith and the Time Controller. The Battle Computer skips away without a care in the world.

Ace tracks Smith back to his home, but the sergeant gets the upper hand by gunpoint. Soon enough, the little girl arrives, zaps Smith, and confronts Ace.

The Imperials return to their mothership and the Doctor uses the transmat to make contact. After a lofty declaration of his credentials – that explains where the new Doctors get that particular trait – he gets the reveal we’ve all been waiting for: The bubble-headed Emperor Dalek is really Davros. After some imperial speechifying and beautiful verbal jabs from the Doctor, Davros activates the Hand of Omega. But there is a wrinkle in the plan as the Doctor has sabotaged the device to destroy Skaro, the feedback of which destroys the mothership. The Hand returns to Gallifrey and Davros escapes in a lifeboat.

The Doctor finds and confronts the Dalek Supreme. The logic of being defeated overloads the Dalek and its destruction kills the Battle Computer in the little girl’s head. The girl is traumatized but alive, and the planet is safe once again.

 

We have come a long, long way since Genesis of the Daleks. The Fourth Doctor asked if he had the right to destroy an entire race before they enacted their genocidal agenda across the universe, and here the Seventh Doctor tricks the same race into destroying themselves. I don’t know where the line is… has the Sixth Doctor’s darkness changed the Doctor overall, or since the Daleks pulled the trigger on the altered weapon, does the Doctor not share responsibility for the potential genocide?

Even the Doctor recognizes that he can’t call this act inherently good.

In terms of internal chronology, I wonder if the sabotage of the Hand was performed by the First or Seventh Doctor. It makes more sense that the Seventh did it, but I could see a case for the First Doctor setting things in motion. This also marks the end of the Imperial-Renegade Dalek War, and the Doctor has directly ended the Renegade line by working the Dalek Supreme into self-destruction. Again, a darkness rears its head in this incarnation of the Doctor.

External to the chronology, I love the nods to the franchise and its twenty-fifth anniversary. This was a fun and exciting way to kick off the celebration.

 


Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Happiness Patrol

 

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: Twenty-Fourth Series Summary

 Doctor Who: Twenty-Fourth Series Summary

 

The numbers say average but the emotion says confidence.

The Seventh Doctor’s opening frame was on par with the Sixth Doctor’s closing set. On the five-point scale, it was square in the middle and tied for second-to-last with the Trail of a Time Lord. But there’s some added complexity in the execution and how it resonated with me overall, something that hasn’t happened since the end of the Third Doctor’s run.

Taking a quick trip back in time, the Third Doctor’s Summary presented me with a wrinkle in my scoring system: Jon Pertwee’s run was consistently some of my favorite work in the franchise, but on a character level I was (and still am) more keen on Patrick Troughton’s interpretation of the Doctor. There’s something similar here where Time and the Rani made me really care about the Doctor again, to the point that I was (unbeknownst to me) actually grinning ear-to-ear at Sylvester McCoy’s performance.

In fact, the Seventh Doctor has been a beacon of hope during this introductory season, and I’m hoping that it carries this show forward through the remaining two classic seasons.

McCoy’s Doctor shares a lot of the same qualities from Troughton’s Doctor, mixing disarming tomfoolery with a darker analytical nature. It’s something that we haven’t really seen since the Fourth Doctor‘s era, and it’s refreshing to see back in the mix. The problems, of course, remain from recent John Nathan-Turner-era productions, including high body counts and average (or lower) stories to fill space rather than enlighten and entertain.

I’m actually a little sad that McCoy’s spark came so late in the game.

 

Time and the Rani – 3
Paradise Towers – 2
Delta and the Bannerman – 4
Dragonfire –  3

Series Twenty-Four Average Rating: 3.0/5

 

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Remembrance of the Daleks

 

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 #151: Dragonfire

Doctor Who: Dragonfire
(3 episodes, s24e12-e14, 1987)

 

Iceworld: A vacation spot where cliffhangers are literal but dragons are not.

We get our introduction to this planetary freezer section through fog machines, plastic icicles, and frost burns. A group of conscripted men is being processed as foot soldiers for the villain Kane and his reign of terror. One of the men attacks a guard and shoots his way into the facility’s restricted zone. He stumbles, drops his weapon in a vat of liquid nitrogen, and dies at the hands of Kane. Quite literally, in fact, since one touch from the man can kill.

On the TARDIS, the Doctor and Mel approach the colony. They arrive at what could double as the local Costco – anyone who is familiar with that particular warehouse store understands the giant refrigerated rooms where you pay for the “pleasure” of freezing while hunting for good produce, milk, and eggs – and visit a diner where they find Sabalom Glitz. It’s a given that Glitz owes Kane money, but he gambled away his money and ends up with his ship impounded. A waitress named Ace (who uses her pseudonym as an exclamation of pleasure) tells Mel and Glitz of a dragon in the passages beneath Iceworld, and Mel puts the pieces together: The Doctor wanted to stop here to see the dragon.

Ace volunteers to tag along since she’s tired of her job. She calls the Doctor “Professor,” which the Time Lord doesn’t seem to mind. It’s endearing. So is her strong character.

Ace mentions the dragon’s treasure, which piques Glitz’s interest since he has a map that he won in the card game where he lost his shirt. Said card game was fixed by Kane to force Glitz to find the treasure so Kane could steal it. Glitz is old-fashioned (read: sexist) and won’t allow women on the journey, so Mel remains with Ace. The ladies are soon ejected from the diner – Ace gets fired for pouring a milkshake on a rude customer who totally deserved what she got – and retire to Ace’s quarters. Ace shares her story: She’s a student from Earth who was swept up in a time storm and deposited on Iceworld. The women gather up Ace’s homemade explosives and help dislodge an ice jam on the docks.

One of Kane’s lieutenants, Officer Belazs, asks Kane for Glitz’s ship. Kane denies her desire to leave and orders the ship destroyed. When Kane goes into a brief hibernation to recharge, she reverses the order without his knowledge before being dispatched to the ice jam disturbance. When she arrives, she arrests Mel and Ace. Kane takes a liking to Ace and offers her a place in his army, but she and Mel escape into the caverns instead. They encounter the dragon and Mel screams.

Goodness does she… you know.

The Doctor and Glitz explore the caverns and get separated. The Doctor, for reasons better left as an exercise for the blooper reels, climbs over a handrail and slowly slips toward his doom while dangling from his umbrella. Glitz saves the Doctor from death, but not from our eternal laughter at this literal cliffhanger, perhaps one of the worst in Doctor Who history.

The ladies discover that the dragon is not a real dragon since it shoots lasers from its eyes. They find the cliffhangering cliff and use a ladder in Ace’s bag of holding to follow the Doctor’s umbrella as a clue. Meanwhile, Kane dispatches his new soldiers – essentially ice zombies at this point – to deal with Glitz; the conscripted men from the opening are Glitz’s former crewmen whom he sold for seventeen crowns apiece. Belazs also overhears Glitz’s plan to hijack his own ship, a plan that the Doctor reluctantly supports. Glitz gets into the cockpit, but he’s ambushed by Belazs. The Doctor and Glitz learn her backstory and turn the tables, but the Doctor expresses remorse for her situation. They continue their quest.

In Kane’s restricted area, the sculptor who was working on an ice statue finishes his work and is rewarded with death. No one will be allowed to look upon the artwork for it’s supposedly too magnificent for the universe to behold. We, as viewers, are left to assume that it is significant to his backstory. (Spoiler: It is.) When Kane retreats to his chamber to cool off, Belazs and Officer Kracauer attempt to assassinate him and gain their freedom. The plot fails, although it does destroy the statue, and Kane kills both of the traitors in anger.

The Doctor and Glitz encounter the dragon, but it spares them after the Doctor stops Glitz from killing it. Elsewhere, Mel and Ace encounter the ice zombies, escaping after a brief battle while Ace wisely stops Mel from screaming. They bond over a cup of camp coffee and we find out that Ace’s real name is Dorothy, a name of which she’s not fond. They later reunite with the Doctor and Glitz and are saved from one of the zombified crewmen by the dragon. The creature trusts them and leads the explorers into a side cavern and shows them a holographic record. Kane is half of the Kane-Xana criminal organization that was headquartered on Proamon. When security forces found them, Xana – see above, re: ice sculpture – killed herself and Kane was exiled to the permanently frozen world. The Doctor deduces that the dragon, or rather the power source within the mechanical creature, is the treasure. Thanks to the tracker his musings are no secret to Kane, who plans to use the dragonfire crystal to leave the colony and his frozen prison.

The Doctor and the dragon research Proamon while Mel, Ace, and Glitz wait in the control cavern. Two of Kane’s officers ambush the dragon and eventually kill it, but when they attempt to remove the head they are killed by an energy discharge. In the upper levels, Kane dispatches his troops to drive everyone toward Glitz’s ship, the Nosferatu. Once everyone (save a little girl and her mother) are aboard, Kane destroys the ship.

We get it. He’s evil.

The Doctor, Mel, and Ace return to the TARDIS to consult the star charts. Ace goes to her quarters and is captured by Kane while the Doctor and Mel go after the dragon. They find the head and retrieve the crystal, but Kane demands an exchange for Ace. When Mel, Glitz, and the Doctor arrive, Kane confirms that the dragon was his jailer and that he has been on the colony for millennia. The Doctor surrenders the crystal and Kane uses it to power the hidden stardrive in the colony. Unfortunately for Kane, the Doctor confirms that Proamon is long dead after its star went supernova. Distraught, Kane opens a viewport and commits suicide by sunlight, Raiders of the Lost Ark-style.

With the threat over, Glitz takes command of the colony ship and Mel decides to stay in an effort to keep the rogue out of trouble. In her final act on the TARDIS, Mel puts in a good word for Ace. The Doctor offers her a space on the TARDIS and she accepts.

 

Kane’s motivations make little sense here. Sure, he wants to escape and exact revenge on his jailors, but his suicide doesn’t ring true. Sure, he’s a psychopath, but he was a careful and meticulous planner. Unless personal vengeance was so important to him, I would have thought that he’d scratch Proamon off the list with the supernova and go off to conquer another planet without his rap sheet hanging over his head. This plot glitch aside, I really liked him as a villain, even as a Doctor Who knockoff of Mr. Freeze.

Another part that doesn’t make a lot of sense is Mel’s final decision. So, yes, she and Glitz worked together in The Ultimate Foe, but Mel has expressed displeasure at every turn with the scoundrel’s actions, ranging from sexism and selling his crew into slavery all the way up to his illegal activities. I’d say that Glitz is a knockoff of Han Solo, but Solo was far more developed. The Leia/Han dynamic doesn’t work here and I don’t think Mel is strong enough to change Glitz, particularly since he now owns a portable freezer section with only two shoppers.

I won’t miss Mel much. From her timey-wimey intro in Terror of the Vervoids to this departure, she’s been a decent enough companion but, by far, nowhere near the best. A lot of that has to do with her role as a personality foil for the Doctor rather than as an assistant/companion. She was smart and strong-willed, but just not a great fit for the position.

I also won’t miss the dramatic screaming. Because – and this might be the last time that I can make this joke – goodness, can she scream.

So, with all of that heaped on this story, why did I actually like it?

First, we have Ace, who seems like she might be a pretty fun companion once she settles in. I do hope that the “Ace!” exclamation dies off soon because that’s going to get tiresome, but I’m looking forward to what she brings to the table.

Second, Sylvester McCoy continues to sell me with his portrayal of the Doctor. He has a latent darkness lurking behind his goofy exterior, reminding me of the Second and Fourth Doctors quite often.

Third, this story brought Doctor Who right back to its roots with tight shots, minimal bailing-wire-and-chewing-gum sets, and actors selling even the zaniest and loosest of plots with unwavering confidence. That point alone, hearkening back to the low-budget stageplay-style days of the black and white serials, deserves some credit.

 

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

 

 

UP NEXT – Twenty-Fourth 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.