It’s a weird feeling to realize that my Doctor Who rewatch is now closer to the end of the classic run than the beginning. Season 21 has a lot of good stuff going on but we say goodbye to the Fifth Doctor, Turlough and Tegan; the new TARDIS team is disappointing by comparision.The first serial, WARRIORS OF THE DEEP has the TARDIS materialize on an underwater base two centuries from now (well, from when “now” was the 1980s). Earth is divided in a tense cold war between two superpowers, something the Silurians and the Sea Devils — working together onscreen for the first time — plan to exploit to eliminate the hairless apes they resent for stealing “their” planet. Can the Doctor stop a nuclear war? Can he, perhaps, make peace between the Silurians and humans? While the effort to broker peace is a common theme in Sea Devils/Silurians stories, this handles the themes of coexistence and mistrust very well. “Why do humans insist on thinking a futile gesture is a noble one?”
The two-part THE AWAKENING is weaker. This time they land in a small village where Tegan’s uncle lives, only to discover the traditional re-enactment of a local Roundhead/Cavalier battle is getting uncomfortably realistic. It’s reminiscent of countless stories about sinister goings on in small British villages, including the Pertwee serial The Daemons. It doesn’t succeed because the evil entity behind everything, the Malus, fails on every level. “I shouldn’t worry about it — as local magistrate, I shall find myself completely innocent.”
FRONTIOS, by contrast, takes a familiar premise — a beleaguered, struggling space colony — and injects it with life. Mysterious meteor strikes on Frontios, colonists getting sucked into the Earth — what’s behind it? And why is Turlough freaking out about it so much? Familiar stuff but well-executed, even if the alien Tractators look too much like Tenniel’s Mock Turtle in Alice in Wonderland. “If anyone asks whether I made any material difference to this planet’s welfare, tell them I came and went like a summer breeze.”
Like Warriors of the Deep, RESURRECTION OF THE DALEKS is a grim one involving an imprisoned Davros, a struggle for control of the Dalek race and the Doctor deciding not to go soft on destroying them as he did in Genesis of the Daleks. It’s grim enough that Tegan decides she can’t deal any more and walks out; it also introduces Lytton, an alien mercenary working with the Daleks, memorably played by Maurice Collborne (he’ll return in S22). I don’t like the Daleks using brainwashed human infiltrators — it feels off-brand for them — and given the reveal about the Movellans from Destiny of the Daleks here (they beat the Daleks) it’s all the more surprising they never returned, even if I didn’t care for them much. “I am hard to kill, Lytton. You should have realized that.”
Mark Strickson’s Turlough bows out and Nicola Bryant’s Peri Brown debuts in PLANET OF FIRE, a lackluster serial despite the presence of Peter Wyngarde and Barbara Shelley as colonists on the eponymous world, now collapsed into superstition with no knowledge of their origins; one member of the production teram quipped that the serial only existed so they could shoot at the beachfront vacation site Lanzarote.
This brings back the Anthony Ainsley’s Master for his final performance — Ainsley’s contract was expiring — though he would, in fact, return — and writes out Kamelion, returning for the first time since The King’s Demons despite having been on the TARDIS the whole time. Bryant is tremendous eye candy but her American accent as Peri is very inconsistent; worse, after someone as strong-minded as Tegan she’s kind of wimpy. One interesting trivia note, producer John Nathan-Turner insists the Master’s “How can you do this to your—” statement would have ended with “brother” if it hadn’t been cut off. “I deplore such unsophisticated coercion but your cooperation is necessary.”
Peter Davison fortunately gets a much better swan song in THE CAVES OF ANDROZANI. Efforts by a colonizer planet to crush an independence movement on Androzani are complicated by everyone on every side having a hidden agenda and by the scheming android master Sharaz Jek (Christopher Gable). A masked scarface who becomes obsessed with Peri, Jek is a blatant Phantom of the Opera knockoff but Gable plays him with such intensity I don’t care. I’m also amused by the climax in which the Doctor dies and regenerates while obtaining milk from a subterranean queen bat to save Peri’s life; as my friend Ross says, the milking happens off-stage so apparently we can take it for granted Time Lords know how to milk bats. A great farewell for Davison. “You sound like a prattling jackanapes — but your eyes tell a different story.”Colin Baker had a much less successful debut in THE TWIN DILEMMA, a dull story about aliens capturing young genius siblings and exploiting them for some tedious evil scheme (you can see how invested I was). It would be mediocre as Davison but Baker is incredibly unpleasant here; while the new Doctor is usually a little off, they’re not usually arrogant, bullying or selfish as Baker turns out. Peri is too ineffective for a good foil, too — Tegan would have held her own and told him where to get off. Baker’s clearly written to contrast with Davison — not so gentle or nice — but he comes across like Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor amped up to 11, and it doesn’t work. While he’s probably the least popular of the classic Doctors, I don’t remember him being this awful so hopefully he’ll improve later. We’ll see. “I don’t want gallons of blood to be spilt, especially mine.”
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2 responses to “New companions, new Doctor: Doctor Who Season 21”
Took me a good long while to get used to Colin Baker. But then, Peter Davison was, and always will be, my favorite Doctor.
After rewatching so much of the old series I’m not sure I have a favorite any more.
Things pick up a lot for Colin Baker with Vengeance on Varos.