So I’ve never actually seen Phantom of the Opera but I expect if you threw in a dash of Jack the Ripper, ‘Oriental’ racism, and an enemy from another time this would fit the bill.
This is a six-part serial that could have been compressed to 4. Briefly, real British actor John Bennet puts on yellowface to portray evil “Chinee” (to quote the local copper) actor Li H’san Chang, a hypnotist with an animated ventriloquist dummy (that we later learn is part pig). They both serve a Chinese god Weng-Chiang who of course isn’t actually a Chinese god but a despot from the future. The Doctor refers to him as the Butcher of Brisbane so I guess he’s a (white) Australian?
Anyway this is a series of Leela having good ideas and actions that either end with her inconceivably failing to stab someone in the back after successfully sneaking up on them, or simply being told by men to not get involved because it’s too dangerous for a woman (even the Doctor, who knows she’s a capable warrior).
There are several actual Asian actors, though they all play opium-addicted thugs. Racism aside, the intrigue and characters are mostly enjoyable, although the time despot chews almost as much scenery as Jeremy Irons in the Dungeons and Dragons movie.
The writing includes lines like “In my country we have saying: Man who goes too quickly may step in bear trap” and “On my oath, you wouldn’t want that served with onions. Never seen anything like it in all my puff. Oh, make an ‘orse sick, that would.”
Gosh I wonder who the bad guys are in this series? Robots of Death has not one but two persons of colour, who sadly are killed by ep 2 (of four episodes). Everyone, including the robots, has a futuro-baroque fashion sense, which is both incongruous and kind of refreshing to see something different. The robots don’t have a ‘robot voice’ but they do have robo-vision, when we see their victims through their eyes kind of like Predator. And of course when they go evil, it initiates the evil red glowing eye effect, as per their programming, I’m sure. The Doctor comes up with an ingenious plan to take out the robot controller, as well he should. Not too bad, overall, even though automatonophobia is misnamed as robophobia.
I thought this was going to be one where the Doctor had visited the planet before and created a terrible legacy, like violating the Prime Directive, which interfered with the natural development of the local society, but it turns out that the computer that they worship like a god is only partly the Doctor’s fault. And he references the past trip to the planet but they should have made this a revisit to a planet we’ve seen before. Anyway, it’s a fairly decent plot and this is the introduction of the companion Leela, of which I am a fan. I liked this one.
Is this the first episode without a companion? At first I was excited but by the third (of four) episode my attention waned. I think this is the first time we visit Gallifrey the home of the Time Lords, and no surprise they’re all narrow-minded, stuffy white geriatrics. The Doctor is framed for murdering the president of the Time Lords (what?) by The Master, who looks like a ghoul from Fallout because he’s past his 12th regeneration or some such sillyness. There’s a deadly game of cat and mouse inside a psychic matrix where the danger of death may or may not be real. The climax is reduced to eyeroll-inducing fisticuffs.
“The Hand of Fear” should have been called “Eldrad Must Live!” and includes a non-white actor for a change, though not in a significant role. In which the Doctor calls a pod of whales a school, tells a peon to go collect an obviously dangerous artifact and pays the price for it, and has an oops moment with an actor’s bosom. Looks like it was filmed in a milk plant but it was an actual nuclear power plant. Companion Sarah is dressed like a toddler and spends most of the time screaming and being a liability, hailing back to the early season companions. This was her last episode before coming back in a 2006 Tennant episode. I enjoyed that the Doctor worked to save the villain, even though it would obviously turn on him. A few clever and enjoyable turns.
Back to a 4 episode story. An energy thingy uses the TARDIS to bring it and our heroes to 15th century England for some Shakespearian noble intrigue and an evil cult (not the good kind of cult) with prophecies and ‘magic’. The resolution is pretty lackluster and again the Doctor gloats over a pile of corpses. I liked the previous one better.
Not to be confused with the Seeds of Death episode from some years prior.
All the usual Who tropes, this one in particular has so many old white men it’s hard to keep track of them (at least the psychopathic killer had a goatee). 6 episodes means longer than most stories from this season (13), and there’s an excessive amount of quips in the denouement. Just like Ark in Space was Alien 4 years before Alien, this was The Thing 6 years before The Thing (but 23 years after The Thing From Another World)
Android Invasion was not too bad. A lot of the old “is this the real you or a doppelganger” moments. I wouldn’t put it on the essentials list though, especially since the Kraal aliens introduced in this ep never turned up in another TV episode.
The mummies are robots! A classic classic with a great portrayal of the British archaeologist possessed/reanimated by an alien Osiran god, sarcophagus space/time tunnels, a puzzle dungeon, and a regular guy named Dr. Warlock. Good stuff. Essential Who viewing.