Exit Jon Pertwee, enter Elisabeth Sladen: Doctor Who, Season Eleven (#SFWApro)

Following Jo Grant’s departure in S10, the opening arc of S11 introduces an even more popular companion, Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen). An investigative journalist, she uses her virologist aunt’s credentials to sneak inside UNIT in THE TIME WARRIOR. After butting heads with the Brigadier and the Doctor, she slips inside the TARDIS as the Doctor investigates the mysterious disappearance of multiple scientists. The trail leads him and Sarah to medieval times, where a Sontaran, Linx, is using them to prepare his ship to return to the stars. It’s a good debut for the Sontarans and for Sarah, who shows no shortage of courage under trying circumstances (producer Barry Letts says in the special features that she won the part by playing scared and brave at the same time). “A straight line is the shortest distance between two points but it’s far from the most interesting.”

The Doctor and Sarah return to London only to find it ravaged by THE INVASION OF THE DINOSAURS (all rights to image remain with current holder), a very good serial reminiscent of some British SF films of the era in its shots of abandoned London. Something is ripping through time to send the dinosaurs rampaging through the city but what? It turns out that a radical scientific group is planning Operation Golden Age, a chance to rewind time to the dinosaur age, send chosen volunteers to occupy the dawn age and do history right next time — which of course, requires erasing all the history we already have. Good, and particularly nice use of Mike Yates, who’s on the revolutionary side after seeing what big business is doing to pollute the Earth in last season’s The Green Death. “It’s a triceratops! Look Brigadier, try and keep it occupied while I’m finishing this off, will you?”

Unfortunately things become a lot less interesting with DEATH TO THE DALEKS. The Doctor and Sarah arrive on the planet Exxilon along with a Dalek scouting party and a human ship seeking a rare mineral that can cure a pandemic. Unfortunately the isolationist Exxilons have a beacon in their fortress that deactivates all electronic devices (the Daleks can move but they can’t zap people) forcing humans and Daleks into an alliance despite the Doctor’s warnings. Unfortunately it all feels rather listless, badly structured and uninspired — and like Colony in Space, it’s annoying that the alien race, though not genuinely evil, obligingly dies off at the end. “Inside each of those shells is a bubbling lump of hate.”

While I found the Curse of Peladon serial a fun costume drama, THE MONSTER OF PELADON is much less fun. Once again the beleaguered government of Peladon is coping with recalcitrant miners; once again the monstrous Aggedor stalks the mines; and lots of running through tunnels to pad things out. The Ice Warriors in their last appearance until the new series of Who, add some spark, but not enough. “You forget, Doctor, I am your judge.”

THE PLANET OF THE SPIDERS was Jon Pertwee’s final serial, reminiscent of The Daemons in its parapsychology. It turns out Mike Yates has been getting his head together in a retreat run by Buddhist monks, only he’s discovered some of the retreaters are up to No Good. Sure enough by tapping the mental powers the monks have taught them, some of the apprentices have contacted the spiders of Metebelis, who plan to use the humans to provide a gateway to invade Earth. I like this better than a lot of people, but it definitely isn’t first rate. However I do give it extra points for giving Mike Yates a character arc, something you don’t see much in the show’s supporting cast. And of course we have the final scene in which the Third Doctor morphs into the Fourth … “While I admire your optimism in the face of the inevitable, will you please shut up?”

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