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)

Overdue Who Review: Face of Evil

Season 14, 4th story, January 1977.

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.

Next up: The Robots of Death

Overdue Who Review: Deadly Assassin

Season 14, Serial #3, 1976

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.

Also there’s a panopticon, which is pretty cool.

Next up: Face of Evil

Overdue Who Review: Hand of Fear

Season 14 ep 2 1976, Fourth Doctor

“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.

Next up: The Deadly Assassin

Overdue Who Review: Masque of Mandragora

Season 14 ep 1. Fourth Doctor

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.

Next up: The Hand of Fear

Overdue Who Review: Seeds of Doom

Season 13, ep 23, February 1976. Fourth Doctor

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)

Next episode – season 14 The Masque of Mandragora