Overdue Who Review: City of Death

Season 17, 1979, 4 parts, Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker)

On Earth, 400 million years ago, an alien (Jagaroth) ship explodes. In modern day (1979) Paris, the Doctor and Romana experience time echoes because a nearby a scientist is working on a time machine for Count Scarlioni. After meeting with a punch-happy Inspector Duggan who is investigating art thieves, the Time Lords meet and confront Scarlioni, who reveals he is Scaroth, the only survivor of the exploding ship, and he intends to go back in time and prevent the accident that destroyed his race.

The Doctor discovers six Mona Lisa paintings in Scarlioni’s possession, so he travels back in time to visit his old friend Leonardo Da Vinci, but instead encounters Scaroth from that time period. Scaroth has commissioned Da Vinci to create multiple paintings to finance his time travel machine. In the climax, the Time Lords face off against Scaroth 400 MYA and Duggan punches him in the face, allowing the ship to explode and start the development of life on Earth.

Not a bad episode, though this episode spends a lot of time watching the Time Lords running back and forth on the streets of Paris, impeding the drama. The scientist really overdoes whatever accent he’s trying to pull off. I recognized Scarlioni as Donovan from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, known to some as Julian Glover, and a nice surprise cameo by John Cleese, which I just spoiled

Next up: The Creature from the Pit

Overdue Who Review: Destiny of the Daleks

Season 17, 1979, 4 parts, Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker)

Romana regenerates, despite being in perfect health, and she chooses various forms before settling on a doppelganger of Princess Astra (see previous episode). The TARDIS lands on Skaro, home of the daleks, but untold years since last we saw them, and their battle computer is in a stalemate with the battle computer of the robotic Movellans. The daleks last hope is to drill down to find and excavate the body of Davros, creator of the Daleks, who was believed to be dead. Naturally the daleks are using humans as slave labor. The Doctor and Roman run about and get separated multiple times, and The Doctor blinds a dalek by throwing his hat on its ocular extender. Meanhile the Movellans are likewise made inert by removing a very obvious and exposed item from their belt, which causes them to do a weird falling down dance.

Not a particularly fun or interesting episode, sadly. The only remarkable aspect is the interesting look of the Movellans, who are cast largely by non-white actors.

Next: City of Death

Overdue Who Review: The Armageddon Factor

Season 16, 1979, 6 parts, Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker)

The Doctor and Romana land on the planet Atrios and meet Princess Astra, her lover Merak, and The Marshall, the latter of which is war-mad about defeating neighboring planet Zeos in their ages-long war. Secretly Zeos is run by an AI, which is secretly run by a guy in a skull mask (The Shadow – he hates light) who also is secretly advising the Marshall through a black mirror. The Shadow is an agent of the Black Guardian and is hunting for the sixth segment to the Key to Time, which (spoiler) is Princess Astra. K9 is captured by The Shadow and reprogrammed, while Astra is likewise corrupted and transforms herself into the puzzle segment. The Shadow gains entry to the TARDIS while The Doctor is miniaturized by friendly Time Lord Drax (found in the bowels of The Shadow’s space base). The Shadow puts the Time Key together and starts monologuing so The Doctor returns to size, grabs the macguffin and our heroes get away.

The Doctor practically turns to the camera and says the name of the episode out loud, which is always fun. This is the final chapter in the Key of Time story arc which spans the entire 16th season. Overall, a disappointing climax to a fun season. This could easily have been 4 episodes, there’s a lot of chaff in the first 3. It only gets interesting when K9 becomes a servant of The Shadow and The Doctor bumps into Drax. Given how overpowered K9 is as an ally, he should be more of a threat to The Doctor, but he’s defeated easily and stupidly. Also it occurs to me that K9’s eyes are always red, so how can we tell when he’s good or evil? In a rare twist Romana upstages The Doctor when she clues him into the fact that the White Guardian is the evil Black Guardian because he’s unwilling to restore Astra to human form. This leads to the question, was there ever a White Guardian, or was it the Black one all this time?

Maybe we’ll find out in the next episode: Destiny of the Daleks

Overdue Who Review: The Power of Kroll

Season 16, 1978-1979, 4 parts, Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker)

All the tropes of classic Doctor Who are here – a corporation looking to exploit resources which disturbs an otherwise peaceful monster, in turn worshipped by the local savages who are controlled by a zealous high priest. The only thing missing is the myopic scientist over-invested in his work.

I can’t get over Neil McCarthy’s face – he’s the actor who plays the head company man Thawn. He also played Calibos in the 1981 Clash of the Titan and was in the movie Zulu! I feel for the actors and crew having to film on location in a marsh, and Wikipedia tells me the green dye used on the ‘swampies’ (what a name) wouldn’t come off for some time after production ended. All in all not a terrible episode, but pretty par for the course.

Next: The Armageddon Factor

Overdue Who Review: The Androids of Tara

Season 16, 1978, 4 episodes

Fourth story in the Key of Time series. The Doctor and Romana split up immediately and Romana is captured by the evil Count Grendel, who is using android duplicates to try to seize the throne. The Doctor and K9 have to rescue Romana twice, culminating in a sword duel. Also the princess is a doppelganger of Romana for an unexplained reason. 

A fairly basic plot with low stakes, which could have been improved with tighter writing and directing. Apparently this is a take on The Prisoner of Zenda, which I have not read. Baker and Tamm have a good time. Not what I would call an essential episode by any stretch, but there’s horses and regal garb so there’s that.

Next up: The Power of Kroll

Overdue Who Review: The Stones of Blood

Season 16, 1978, 4 episodes

Third story in the Key to Time story arc. It’s back to Earth as the plunger of destination or whatever it’s called takes Romana and the Doctor to modern day Cornwall, England, where there’s an eeeevil sect of druids who worship standing stones that are actually silicon-based, blood-drinking, alien Ogri. The Doctor and the elderly and irascible professor Emilia Rumford learn that her partner Vivien Fay is secretly a silver space criminal, with a prison ship hidden in hyperspace. On the ship, the Doctor inadvertently releases ‘justice machines’ that put him on trial.

A nice gothic style mystery with an ingenious concept that sadly does not stick the landing, due to the jarring twist in tone from monster mystery to courtroom drama with twinkling light barristers. But, the old lady is fun (even with her odd line delivery) and there’s an important message about wearing sensible shoes on adventures. 

Next up: The Androids of Tara

Overdue Who Review: The Pirate Planet

Season 16, 1978, 4 episodes… Second story in the Key to Time story arc.

If you’re wondering about Tom’s lip it’s because he was bitten by a Jack Russell terrier.

The Doctor and Time Lady Romana arrive on the planet Calufrax and are surprised to find the docile society placated by the prosperity gifted by the bombastic, murder-hungry Captain. Turns out the planet is not Calufrax, but a shell planet Zanak enveloping Calufrax, destroying the latter in a planet-wide mining process. After that’s done, the Captain would move on to ‘process’ planet Earth, were it not for the Doctor and help from the psychic Mentiads.

Some really interesting ideas here, and it’s written by Douglas Adams! He even uses his catchphrase “I’ll never be cruel to a [insert noun] again!” The bombastic Captain is 110% ridiculous with his assassin robot laser parrot. There are some interesting twists and I was hoping for a clever ending but it all just winds up with technobabble nonsense that is a very unsatisfying ending to a story with a lot of potential.

Next up: The Stones of Blood

Overdue Who Review: The Ribos Operation

1978, first story of season 16 (4 parts)

In which I learn the British pronounce catacombs ‘catacoombs.’

This story introduces the new companion Romana, a recently graduated Time Lord, and the White Guardian, who sends the Doctor on a season long quest to find the 6 hidden segments of the Key to Time, which are disguised as other objects. In this case the key segment is disguised as a hunk of the rare and powerful element jethrik in a museum on the planet Ribos. The Doctor, K9 and Romana have to compete with a pair of other thieves who are likewise trying to break into the museum. The lead thief, Garron is also trying to swindle an exiled tyrant to buy the planet itself. It all leads to a deadly game of cat and mouse in the catacombs with a fanged lizard-like monster and a melodramatic witch.

The characters in this story are great across the board, including the doom-yelling witch and an elderly hobo who was a would-be scientist exiled for heresy. Quite a fun watch for the acting and dialogue.

Next up: The Pirate Planet

Overdue Who Review: The Invasion of Time

1978, The last story of season 15 (6 episodes)

Shimmering, mind-reading, non-corporeal aliens are too powerful for the Time Lords to thwart, so The Doctor has to trick everyone by becoming Time Lord President and de-activating the forcefield that protects Gallifrey. Only then will the mysterious Vardans reveal their true form – white dudes in jumpsuits. The Doctor institutes a ‘time lock’ which nullifies the Vardans in some hand-wavey fashion, but the lack of forcefield allows the warlike Sontarans to invade Gallifrey, with the full force of maybe four or five of them. The Doctor leads them on a merry chase through the bowels of the TARDIS and then shoots them with a space gun.

Overall a pretty embarrassing story that’s tough to slog through, punctuated with a few gags from Tom Baker.

The last story with Leela, I will miss her feisty penchant for knifing people.

Next up: the much better Ribos Operation

Overdue Who Review: Underworld

Season 15, 1978 (4 parts)

“The Quest is the Quest”

Leela and K9 materialize with the doctor on a Minyan ship questing to find a DIFFERENT Minyan ship carrying their ‘race bank’ to populate a new homeworld. They find it at the center of a planet where as usual society has developed into a slave class and a ruler class, plus the supercomputer ruling them all. A very boring story with jarring chroma key/blue screen of the various characters running through the ‘underworld’ of caves.

The best part of this story is the pacifier guns which make angry people docile and dopey for a while.

Next: The Invasion of Time