Doctor Who, Season Twenty: The Return of Just About Everyone!

I liked Peter Davison’s first season of DOCTOR WHO but the second season as the Fifth Doctor topped it.

In the opening serial, Arc of Infinity, Adric is dead, Tegan has apparently quit as companion so it’s the Doctor and Nyssa alone in the TARDIS. As she starts to instruct him in all the repairs the ship needs, the Time Lords bring the Doctor whom and put him on trial, part of a scheme by a mystery villain. Meanwhile, Tegan goes looking for her brother who’s encountered something awful while visiting Amsterdam. Why yes, these plot threads do tie together — and behind them is Omega, the villain from The Three Doctors. The story ends, of course, with Omega defeated and Tegan back on board, but it’s fun getting there. Future Doctor Colin Baker has a supporting role as a Gallifreyan guard. “Think of me as a friend … who holds your continued existence in the palm of his hand.”

In Snakedance, the Doctor once again battles the Mara from the previous season’s Kinda. Once again the Mara take possession of Tegan (who gives an excellent Evil Tegan performance) as part of a scheme to obtain a mystical McGuffin that will let them materialize physically. It’s a good episode though the script reduces Nyssa to an exposition excuse. “What matters isn’t what you saw but that you saw anything at all.”

Mawdryn Undead introduces Mark Strickson as Turlough, an apparent schoolboy who’s actually an alien trapped on Earth (we don’t get any explanation how this came about — the Doctor and the women don’t even evince much curiosity). As he and the Brigadier (Nicholas Courtney, making the first of several return appearances) become involved with an alien scientist the Black Guardian (Valentine Dyall) congratulates Turlough on becoming the agent he will use to destroy the Doctor (avenging his defeat in the Key of Time arc) — or else. Turlough is the same kind of unreliable companion the show tried with Adric but Strickson’s a better actor. In thirty years of soldiering I have never seen as much destructive power as demonstrated here, by the British schoolboy.”

In Terminus the TARDIS lands on a space leper colony, nominally a research station for treating Lazar’s Disease but in practice just a way for futuristic Big Pharma to extract money for isolating the contagious victims while doing as little as possible for them. It’s a weaker story but it has its moments; alas, we also lose Nyssa, as she stays behind on Terminus at the end to help research a curse. It was the last time in the classic series we’d have three Companions, unless you count Kamellion (keep reading). “Charm, the way I use it, is to disagree agreeably.”

Enlightenment forces Turlough to finally pick a side. The TARDIS is caught up in a spaceship race between Eternals, cosmically powerful but bored beings who feed off human emotion. In the chaos of the race, the Black Guardian figures Turlough can finally dispatch the Doctor — but of course, it’s not really that easy. Another good entry, shelving the Black Guardian’s threat for a long time. “You are a Time Lord? Can so small a domain as time have lords?”

The King’s Demons was a two-part wrap-up in which the Doctor arrives at the court of King John of England (the script emphasizes he’s not as black a villain as popular history paints him) to find things going very off from history — which turns out to be because the Master’s out to destabilize it as part of his newest plan. This introduced Kamellion, a shape-shifting robot, as a new Companion, but technical problems in operating him meant he’d be sidelined for the next year (hence his absence from The Five Doctors below). This story isn’t bad but it’s definitely minor. “John — he’s the one who lost things in the Wash?”

And then, between this and the next season, we got The Five Doctors. It’s an event that will never be matched given that Pertwee, Troughton, Courtney and Liz Sladen (Sarah Jane) have all passed on; while the show used Richard Hurdnall to fill in for the late William Hartnell I don’t see much point in replacing that many people.

The story: a mysterious force plucks the five Doctors out of time and brings them to the Death Zone on Gallifrey, though the Fourth Doctor and second Romana end up trapped in a time vortex instead; both declined to appear in the special so we got a brief appearance from what was then the unfinished serial Shada.The Death Zone is the Time Lords’ dark secret: long before they learned to travel in time, they found a way to pull other creatures out of time and drop them in the Death Zone pitting the universe’s deadliest creatures against each other for sport. Now someone’s dropped the Doctors and assorted companions — Susan, Sarah Jane, the Brigadier, Tegan and Turlough (a couple more companions appear briefly) — into this battlefield; if any of them die, the Doctor gets retroactively wiped out. Horrified, the Time Lords offer the Master a fresh cycle of regenerations if he’ll rescue the Doctor; he agrees, though the Doctors understandably don’t trust him when he appears (it’s Anthony Ainsley’s best performance as the Master to date). Then there’s the question of who’s behind this plot and what, exactly, they’re plotting to achieve.

That was a wonderful one to watch.

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