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

Overdue Who Review: The Sun Makers

Season 15, 1977, 4 episodes.

An evil corporation on Pluto has a stranglehold on the economy and freedoms of mankind. But The Doctor, Leela and K-9 foment rebellion! Surprise, the creep in charge is an alien!

This is a less gonzo episode than the past few and that’s welcome. It’s perfectly serviceable and apart from K-9’s errant laser beam there’s not much groanworthy special effects. The characters are standard but fun, especially the smug tax collector who reminds me of a greedy pompous Fred Willard who really loves his job. Apparently the writer of this episode really had a grudge with taxation.

You’d think an episode called the Sun Makers would have more focus on the artificial suns around Pluto. But really it seems just a way to justify the typical English grey skies when the characters are outdoors.

Next up: Underworld

Overdue Who Review: Image of the Fendahl

Season 15, 1977, 4 parts.

Some unethical scientists do some kind of sciencey-scan on an unusual, possibly alien, skull. This ‘activates’ the skull which slowly transforms the lady scientist into a gold, gorgon-like woman and summons beasties reminiscent of H.P. Lovecraft’s From Beyond…I think so that it can manifest into it’s previous gestalt form and do some bad things to the universe. Luckily, old local Mrs. Tyler is a disciple of the ‘old religion’ AKA witchcraft and knows some tricks, and she teams up with our heroes.

This is one that probably could have been done in 2 episodes, especially considering The Doctor and Leela don’t do much until the climax. As usual it’s a mix of occult and space/time gobbledygook. The most mad of the mad doctors has a bad accent but the other doctors are less hammy. Overall, another germ of an interesting concept, left out so long that it becomes stale, and tentatively kicked down the hall a bit.

Next up: The Sun Makers

Overdue Who Review: The Invisible Enemy

Season 15, 1977 (4 parts)

Here’s a weird one – a virus that transmits through eye lightning gives people a silver fuzz on their face and hands and they become mind-controlled by the viral “nucleus” which looks like a prawn. Even the Doctor becomes infected but Leela is immune because she’s all instinct, whereas the virus needs intelligence. Seems like a backhanded compliment to me.

At a space hospital, we are introduced to K-9 the robot dog and the Doctor and Leela are cloned, and their clones shrink down Fantastic Voyage style to take care of the prawn monster inside the original Doctor. But the prawn uses the same size-changing technology to embiggen itself and now the invisible enemy is very very visible. And makes bad decisions. The professor is a fun character. The story starts out strong but kind of fizzles out. Clever use of some cool-looking visors to hide infection and the Doctor’s ridiculously long scarf is used as a tether in this episode.

Next up: Image of the Fendahl

Overdue Who Review: The Power or the Daleks

“When I say ‘run,’ run like a rabbit…”

4th season; 1966; six 1/2 hour episodes.

Partway through the season, the Doctor regenerates for the very first time, and we enter the Patrick Troughton era. This is an exemplary Who episode, even though the original films were lost and this story was reconstructed in 2016 using the original audio and animation (re-finessed in 2020, which is actually the year that the story is set).

An Earth colony on the planet Vulcan is terrorized by Daleks after an overzealous scientist reanimates them from an inert space capsule. The scientist sounds like a muppet performed by Terry Jones. The new Doctor seems a bit queer (not gay but acting erratically) and emotionally distant from his companions, and the story gets intensely dark by episode 6.

The animation is quite limited, you can hear a lot of action happening in the audio, especially during the climax, but it is not reflected in the animation. This limitation of the human characters is actually offset by doing away with the limits of the daleks on a practical set. Instead of having the few dalek models moving about with cardboard cutout of a dalek crowd behind them, it’s like these guys were designed to be made into 3-D models and replicated in this environment. So that at least works better than the original!

One of my favourite episodes!

Overdue Who Review: Horror At Fang Rock

Season 15, 1977

In which I learned about the Schermuly pistol rocket apparatus (see below).

Horror At Fang Rock is probably the Who episode I’ve seen the most times, and therefor have the most memories of, with the possible exception of “Unearthly Child.” It’s also one of the most suited to a Call of Cthulhu RPG adventure – a few people in a lighthouse are victimized by an alien blob that is trying to call its fleet of spaceships to decimate the planet.

Interesting and well portrayed cast of characters, but don’t get too attached to anyone. e. Includes the folksy old-timer who believes in sea monsters, who, to the actors credit, becomes the monster, after a fashion. Castaways include sleazy stock broker reminiscent of Carter Burke in Aliens, and the high-strung secretary who provides more than enough screaming and fainting spells until her inevitable demise.

Leela does some fine companioning in this episode, unlike previous eps her ideas and actions are not pooh-poohed by the Doctor and all the men. She’s in control and in her element, fighting monsters. This is also the episode where her eyes change colour, because actor Louise Jameson was tired of wearing brown contact lenses for the character, so they wrote a bit into the script where she was blinded, but when she recovered her eyes became blue. Why they would care what colour her eyes were when the character was introduced is beyond me.

All in all a fun, spooky bottle episode that could serve as a great introduction to Doctor Who for folks who like period horror.

Next up: The Invisible Enemy

Overdue Who Review: Talons of Weng-Chiang

Final episode of Season 14, 1977

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.”

Next up: The Horror At Fang Rock

Overdue Who Review: Robots of Death

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.

Next up: The Talons of Weng-Chiang (oh lordy)