Tag Archives: Doctor Who

New Screen Rant column: 18 things you didn’t know about the Daleks (#SFWApro)

As my new Screen Rant column explains:

Daleks can climb stairs!

An appearance in Looney Tunes: Back in Action almost kept the Daleks from appearing in the new Doctor Who series.

There’s actually a Christmas song about Daleks.

And more quirky trivia from the nastiest of TV’s aliens. Go read right now or — “Ex-ter-min-ate!”

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Goodbye Jo, Goodbye Jackanapes: Doctor Who, Season Ten (#SFWApro)

As I don’t have enough material for a book-review post this week, how about Doctor Who? Season Ten was noteworthy for writing out Jo Grant and for losing the Master (afterRoger Delgado died in a car accident, nobody wanted to replace such a fan favorite right away).

The season kicks off in high style with The Three Doctors (all rights to image remain with current holder) in which the renegade Time Lord Omega threatens all time and space; when the Third Doctor fails to stop him, the Time Lords send in the Second and the First (though Hartnell’s health issues left him only an image on the TARDIS monitor). This was an outstanding one, though slightly undercut by the low budget — Omega’s monster servants look like they’re spackled with gumdrops. Noteworthy also in that ends with the Doctor regaining his freedom to travel the time stream. “If I exist only by my will, then my will is to destroy!”

In Carnival of Monsters, the TARDIS’ first test flight appears to land the Doctor and Jo on a cruise ship in 1937, only it seems time is repeating over and over … because the ship is actually trapped in a time-space viewer an alien huckster is using to entertain another planet. Oh, and the monsters from some of the other time-space snapshots are breaking out … This gets a bit too crowded — the issue of the aliens overthrowing their despotic leader gets very short shrift — but it’s not bad. “They’ve no sense of responsibility. Give them a hygiene chamber and they store fossil fuel in it.”

In trying to return from that adventure, the TARDIS materializes on a space freighter plying THE FRONTIER IN SPACE. That doesn’t go well as Earth is convinced the alien Draconians are preying upon Earth shipping; the Draconians, conversely, are convinced Earth is responsible. Hmm, could someone be setting the two sides against each other? This starts stiffly with the guest cast clench-jawed in intensity, but it picks up as it goes along. And I really like that Jo gets some great moments, such as blocking the Master’s hypnosis (not easily done). This included the Master, the Ogrons (their last appearance — surprisingly the new series has yet to revive them) and the Daleks; the ending sets up a battle between the Master and the Daleks but Delgado’s death nixed that (as the ending is primarily a segue into Planet of the Daleks it’s a little awkward anyway. “Allow me to congratulate you—you have the most closed mind I have ever encountered.”

PLANET OF THE DALEKS comes off as a remake of the series’ second serial, The Daleks: once again the Doctor and the Thals (the other inhabitants of Skaro) join forces to attack a Dalek citadel (where several thousand Dalek warriors are in suspended animation waiting for reactivation). Of course by this point there were lots of fans who’d never seen the original (I hadn’t) — but by the same token, I wouldn’t have gotten any kick out of the return of the Thals (“Who?”). This does have a great turn by Katy Manning, as Jo’s virtually a solo act for half the first episode. “Earth doesn’t exist — it’s a name out of old legends.”

Last and least we have THE GREEN DEATH, in which Jo gets involved in a protest against a polluting corporation, then discovers (along with the Doctor) that its pollution is breeding Giant Killer Maggots, oh plus there’s an evil computer in charge plotting to take over the world. The elements are there for a good one, but they never pull together — while the idea the maggots result from the computer’s neglect rather than intentional evil is interesting, it never gelled (it’s like The War Machines just happened to be rolling through London at the same time as the Doctor fought WOTAN). Add in heavy-handed ecological preachment (even though I’m sympathetic to the sentiments) and Jo become much more dimwitted so the Professor (whom she goes off with) can demonstrate his braininess makes him worthy to claim her affections from the Doctor. However I do highly recommend Global Conspiracy, a short mockumentary in which a reporter tries digging up the incredible truth of what exactly happened during the serial (or is it just an urban legend, like “stories of lizards in vests attacking seamen?”). It’s pitch-perfect, and hysterical. “A shame we didn’t arrange for an orchestra to play a symphony at my ascension.”

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Doctor Who, Season Nine: Back out in space and time (#SFWApro)

Jon Pertwee’s third season was a season of changes. After using the Master in every serial the previous season, the producers decide to cut back so his appearances would be a welcome surprise. They were also tired with using the UNIT format in every story, so they found ways to get the Doctor and Jo Grant back into space and time without untethering the Doctor completely from Earth.

doctorwho_dayofthedaleksDAY OF THE DALEKS, for instance, has time travelers from the future attacking a peace conference in the belief one of the diplomats is plotting to launch a nuclear war. However that war gave the Daleks control of future Earth so they’re coming back to see everything plays out the way it’s supposed to. There’s time travel in this one, but only using the future travelers’ tech, not the TARDIS. It’s a good story, though hamstrung slightly by only having access to three Daleks. The serial introduces the Dalek’s orc-like hench-aliens, the Ogrons, but they didn’t take: one more serial next season (IIRC) and they were gone (all rights to image with current owner).

THE CURSE OF PELADON has the Time Lords once again pluck the TARDIS into space so that the Doctor and Jo can intervene on the planet Peladon, as the forward-thinking monarch and his reactionary ministers lock horns over whether they should join the Earth federation and enter the modern world. This is a rather old-fashioned costume drama in many ways (even though it was inspired by debates over Britain joining the European Union, known back then as the Common Market), but it’s fun, and makes good use of the Ice Warriors. However unlike the previous season’s Colony in Space it’s hard to see any reason the Time Lords should care enough about Peladon to deploy the Doctor.

THE SEA DEVILS are kin to last season’s Silurians who like their brethren are disgruntled to wake up and find evolved apes have taken over their planet. The Doctor hopes that this time he can broker a peaceful solution, but the Master is just as determined to unleash the Sea Devils on humanity. This could have been great, but at six episodes it feels padded, included a protracted fencing scene between the Master (Roger Delgado was a skilled fencer) and the Doctor (because every high-security prison has fencing foils on the wall).

Then the Time Lords once again use the Doctor as an errand boy in THE MUTANTS, sending him to a planet where the oppressive Earth colonial regime is struggling against granting the natives independence — and what about the strange mutations among the inhabitants? This is too stock, with way too many familiar tropes, to work for me.

THE TIME MONSTER plays like an unsuccessful knockoff of last season’s The Daemons. This time the Master wants to destroy Earth by trapping the cosmic entity Kronos, a time-devouring chronovore. This turns out to require a time trip back to ancient Atlantis, with the Doctor following along to stop him (the TARDIS is up and running again) so we get a lot of Lost Continent sword-and-sandal adventure along with the SF. Although Roger Delgado is in fine form as the Master, overall this is pretty mediocre, particularly the visuals for Kronos (looking something like an acrobat in a white costume and floppy sleeves).

Overall this was inferior to the previous season, but still enjoyable—of course, I’m a diehard fan so YMMV. Haven’t started Season Ten yet, but I’ll return to the topic when I do.

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BBC TV: The Doctor’s Ninth Season and Sherlock goes Victorian (#SFWApro)

doctor-who-season-9-jenna-coleman

So I finished the ninth 21st century season of Doctor Who (all rights to image remain with current holder) and I found it a very mixed bag. Among the good:

•The return of Missy (Michelle Gomez), the Master’s new identity (we also see another timelord switching genders on regenerating—I wonder if they’re setting us up for a woman to replace Capaldi?).

•I love Clara (Jenna Coleman).

•The two part Zygon episode is great. And I don’t think of the Zygons as really having greatness in them (they’re definitely a second-string adversary). And I love seeing Osgood (Ingrid Oliver) again after her supposed death at Missy’s hands.

•The Dalek/Missy/Davros story kicking off the season, “The Magician’s Apprentice,” was good.

Now the less satisfactory part:

•Part two of the opener, “The Witch’s Familiar,” didn’t work at all. We get a lot of background on the Daleks but it’s all just set up for the ending twist and I found it forced.

•”Sleep No More” is a found footage episode that doesn’t work at all. The concept of monsters formed from eye mucus would have been great if the episode worked … but it didn’t.

•The final two-parter, “Heaven Sent” and “Hell Bent,” includes a spectacular solo episode by Peter Capaldi, but the story left me flat. It didn’t help that we have the return of Gallifrey just hand-waved as nothing worth discussion. However I will say the final fate of Clara and the immortal Me (Maisie Williams) is probably the best write-out for a companion in the reboot series.

Looking at it overall, we have more pluses than minuses, which I’d forgotten after watching the disappointing ending.

I also got around to watching SHERLOCK: The Abominable Bride which is what the Beeb offers to tide us over until the fourth season. In this TV movie, Sherlock starts imagining himself and Watson as Victorian detectives investigating the case of a dead bride who somehow rose from the dead to kill, and kill again (this is loosely inspired by one of Watson’s untold tales, “Ricoletti of the Clubfoot and his Abominable Wife”). This was fun, though while they crack a lot of jokes about the classic series, I notice they don’t bat an eye at Sherlock wearing a deerstalker (he only wears one occasionally in the illustrations for Doyle, and never in London). A fun diversion.

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Non-time travel movies, some time-travel TV (#SFWApro)

As THE DARK CRYSTAL (1982) is a favorite of LeAnn’s, I suggested catching a showing when they ran it at the Carolina Theatre. This was Jim Henson’s first non-Muppet movie, and a startling accomplishment at the time for being an all-puppet film with no humans. Now, of course, the designs don’t look as startling, and I don’t find it as imaginative as I do Labyrinth, but the story of a gelfling trying to restore balance to the world by repairing the eponymous giant gem is a good fantasy film and the visuals still look pretty neat. “Writing is words that stay.”

Akira Kurasowa’s NO REGRETS FOR OUR YOUTH (1946) traces the story of a young woman and her radical lover from his early days as a college protester through some undefined anti-military activism (I’m guessing his agenda would have been obvious to the Japanese audience, but to me it’s as unclear as My Son John‘s evil plans). This starts off slow (I think Kurosawa could have skipped a lot of the early years) but improves once the woman pairs off with her boyfriend. “I’m sewing you a kimono you may never get to wear.”

I haven’t rewatched SLIDERS for my time-travel book (even though I do include alternate history), because I remember it well. However I did feel it worth catching the first episode, just to confirm my memory of the fine details was accurate—and no, it wasn’t. Mostly reminds me of how uneven the show was, with clever bits (a world where JFK is apparently married to Marilyn Monroe) and clunky bits (I always found Rembrandt Brown’s comic relief more painful than comic). So I’m cool with not watching more.

p8158511_b_v8_aaK9 was a 2009 Doctor Who spinoff in which a scientist pulls the “little tin dog” out of time while attempting to reach his lost family. And then it turns out more and nastier things start coming through … Not as fun as Sarah Jane Adventures but watchable (and more time-travel centric, too). This is what consumed most of my viewing time this week as I realized it qualified and started watching.

I haven’t quite decided if STAR TREK: Deep Space Nine qualifies or not: the space station is floating near a wormhole occupied by timebending aliens who keep getting involved in events, but that aspect isn’t as big a part of the show as I remember it (most of the time travel stories are standard time glitches such as could happen in any Trek show). However, I do think I’ll include a section on the “Mirror Universe” stories that start with Star Trek: Mirror, Mirror then figured into several DS9 episodes, then came ENTERPRISE‘s “In a Mirror Darkly,” showing the early days of the Empire (unlike the other stories, this one is set entirely in the Mirror Universe, even changing the credits to match).

All rights to image with current holder.

 

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TV I haven’t watched all of (#SFWApro)

A busy week for watching time-travel television, not to mention some series I had to settle for just researching. And in several cases, I only watched a couple of episodes—the anime DORAEMON (1973), for example, doesn’t have any sort of big arc or grand design, just a flexible kids-TV concept. The impoverished descendants of pre-teen Nobita send a robot back to help him succeed in life (because then they’ll be better off) but the best they can afford is Doraemon, a talking cat-bot with an amazing arsenal of gimmicks to get Nobita out of trouble (like the Dandelion Fluff Comb: your hair puffs up like dandelion seeds and you float gently through the air instead of falling). I can see why it’s hooked kids for 30-plus years, but I’m way outside the target range.

MV5BMTkyMDQ0NDY1M15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwOTU1Njk3MQ@@._V1_SX640_SY720_EUREKA (2006-12) gets into the book for a plotline in which several cast members traveling back in time leads to major changes in the status quo: nerdy Fargo now runs the town of geniuses in which the series is set; Jo’s boyfriend loathes her; Allison’s autistic son is now normal; Henry is married. And they can’t explain why any of this is weird because if word gets out, they’ll be subject to serious military sanctions … I can probably put this in the appendix (it doesn’t massively affect the plot after the first few subsequent episodes) but it had enough of an effect perhaps I won’t. In any case, this was a fun one to rewatch (rights to image reside with current holder). “I’ll call my paper ‘Beam Me up Scotty’—unless I go for a title that’s more recent and more serious.”

DOCTOR WHO: Day of the Daleks kicked off Jon Pertwee’s third season (as Hulu’s no longer streaming these, I’m back to watching and reviewing intermittently rather than season by season), bringing back the Daleks for the first time since their destruction in Evil Of the Daleks. A series of assassination attempts on a prominent diplomat trace back to a Dalek-ruled future Earth, but coming from the resistance (which believes the man is responsible for the devastating war that left us vulnerable to invasion) rather than the Daleks. This has some good use of time paradoxes (though one, the Doctor and Jo showing up to meet themselves, isn’t resolved) and introduces the Blinovitch Limitation Effect (a rule of time travel that says you can’t go back and undo your own actions). However it looks too much like a low-budget version of Dalek Invasion of Earth: only three Daleks and the future sets are either cellars or open fields. “Every choice we make changes the history of the world.”

I’m a huge fan of INUYASHA but given my current time constraints I was quite bummed to learn of a sequel series, INUYASHA: The Final Act, because I’d have to add that in. Surprise! I already saw it but misremembered it as part of the main series (but rewatching the last episode cleared some misperceptions of how it finished). The story of a time-traveling schoolgirl, a permanently grouchy dog-demon and their oddball companions is one of my favorites, and if time had permitted I’d have been happy to rewatch the whole thing. Inuyasha—sit! “The sound of your voice has only given Kagome false hope.”

ATLANTIS (2013-15) by contrast is a clunking adventure in which a man stumbles through a dimensional gate into ancient Atlantis, where he has the usual sword-and-sandal adventures with an occasional touch of magic. There’s nothing in this I haven’t seen done better countless times. “How could a city exist under the ocean?”

BEING ERICA (2009-11), by contrast, was charming enough under other circumstances I’d have enjoyed watching it. The protagonist believes her miserable no-boyfriend, no-career, no-parental approval life is the result of all her bad choices; her enigmatic therapist gives her the chance to go back in time and change them (though like Roark on Fantasy Island, the lesson learned is usually what Erica needs, not what she wants).  Online research indicates that while Erica has a lot of experiences, I can get a reasonably good sketch of the show with the couple of episodes I found online. Extra points for making fun of the butterfly-effect theory (“Is it possible that your alcohol consumption, while important to you, does not affect the world?”) “There are many mistakes, but listening to your inner voice isn’t one of them.”

SIR ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE’S THE LOST WORLD (1999-2002)is a series I’m familiar with but I rewatched the final two episodes just to refresh my memory. This story of Professor Challenger and his crew trapped on a plateau that includes not only Doyle’s dinosaurs but time warps and jungle girls isn’t A-list but I’d certainly have been back if the cliffhanger (everyone trapped in a different time zone facing a different peril) had been followed by another season. “It’s not reincarnation at all—it’s my body!”

More in the next post.

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Doctor Who: Enter the Jackanapes (#SFWApro)

latestTime to review Jon Pertwee’s second season as the Third Doctor (the next season may take a while, as it requires Netflixing DVDs instead of streaming).

This is a landmark season for introducing The Master in Terror of the Autons. Roger Delgado’s  (top center in the image—all rights to which reside with current holder) arrogant, icy, sneering performance as the rogue Time Lord established the character as one of the great adversaries (I don’t think the current series has ever brought him to the same level). The same serial also brought us Katy Manning as Jo Grant, a perky companion whose character keeps rising above the ninny we keep being told she is (not a huge rise, but I think it’s there).

Terror was also ultra-controversial when it was broadcast. As part of his alliance with the Autons (returning from the previous season) the Master takes over a plastics factory (among his other talents, he’s a hypnotist of considerable power) and manufacture plastic bodies for the aliens that include artificial flowers, children’s toys, plastic-covered chairs and policemen. The deaths were too violent! The show would make kids scared of cops! Showing everyday objects as monsters would scare kids about everything! These battles would continue through the 1970s, but as an adult, I think it’s an excellent serial.

Mind of Evil has the Master siphoning off evil from convicts to control them, and to feed an alien mind-parasite. It’s a very lively one but almost too stuffed, like two threats (the parasite and the Master’s convict slaves) squeezed into one. The Brigadier does get some good scenes—in fact this season really establishes that he’s a capable soldier, not just a stuffy commander. Overall, Mind is excellent.

The Claws of Axos has kindly aliens land in England to share their advanced technology; hmm, is it possible they have a hidden agenda? The Master has another alliance going here, but in a nice twist it’s gone sour and he turns up as a captive of the Axos. This one’s watchable, but doesn’t stand out.

When the Master heads into space looking for a lost super-weapon, the Time Lords reactivate the TARDIS just enough to send the Doctor and Jo to The Colony in Space. Here they find a struggling Earth colony threatened by the agents of a corrupt mining firm that intends to boot them off-world and loot the planet’s mineral wealth (and yes, the Master turns up too). On the one hand, this has some really good performances; on the other, it’s a very talky show. And on the third hand, the planet’s native population conveniently blows itself up, leaving everything free for the colonists, and that left a very sour taste.

The season-ending serial, The Daemons has been acclaimed as one of the very best, and one of the worst. It combines the then-trendy of view of the occult as some sort of parapsychological phenomena with the “Gods from Outer Space” concept: an apparently supernatural manifestation in a small English village is the result of the Master awakening Azal, an alien Daemon who arranged human evolution as a science experiment (and as in Jack Kirby’s Eternals at Marvel a couple of years later, it will be very bad if the experiment fails). This works well overall and has one of the Brigadier’s classic lines when ordering an attack (“Chap with wings—five rounds, rapid.”), but the effects are painfully clunky and the resolution is weak (I’d remembered it differently). However I did like that the local white witch is portrayed as the most sensible person among the guest cast (for more discussion of writing witches, see this old post).

Overall, a solid season.

 

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Good time travel (and other) tales (#SFWApro)

NOTHING (2003) is an oddball fantasy film in which two loser Dioscuri facing the loss of their home somehow wish reality away, leaving their house stuck in a white void which could turn out to be their heaven if they don’t kill each other first. Not for the book, but surprisingly entertaining—David Thewliss plays one half of what’s essentially a two-man show. “Do you suppose videogame characters want to be on hold in that moment for eternity?”

SLF_keyartIN SEARCH OF THE LOST FUTURE for about two-thirds of its 12-episode run kind of bored me, as a story about Japanese high schoolers and their comic misadventures really isn’t my cup of tea. However after one student suffers a car accident that plunges her into a coma it sets up a series of desperate time trips to fix things. Not an A-list anime from my perspective but the last third is certainly powerful (all rights to image with current holder). “I stood against the chains of fate, which connected time!’

DOCTOR WHO: Last Christmas was the 2014 Christmas special, in which Santa Claus reunites the Doctor and Clara to fight against menacing mind-parasites—but when alien invaders can manipulate your perceptions, is anything what it seems? A fun one. “You have a horror movie called Alien? That’s so offensive—no wonder everyone’s always invading you.”

APP (2013) has a young Dutch girl finding Malware of Doom on her phone with the usual Killer Computer propensity for eliminating her friends when they get in the way of its agenda. Formulaic, but competent enough to enjoy, though a couple of kills are too implausible. “This was never supposed to be about you.”

ELECTRIC BOOGALOO: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films (2014) is an excellent documentary about how the top dogs in 20th century Israeli cinema also became the kings of exploitation films for a decade or three, whether via violent actioners or borderline porn (“After I left the scene, that’s when all the fucking started.”). Golan and Globus are certainly familiar types in film history (as are the stories of marketing movies before making them or racing to put a movie into the theaters ahead of the competition), though unlike many exploitation-cinema kings, the duo had serious pretensions to the big leagues (so along with the Death Wish films, their output includes films by Francisco Zefferelli and John Cassavetes). The documentary argues their efforts were doomed by everything from Hollywood snobbery for Crass Jewish Outsiders to bad financial judgment (so that even when films proved profitable, they’d just overspend by that much more). Well worth catching. “DEATH WISH 3 through 5 are related by family, but they’re the part of the family we don’t talk about.”

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Third Doctor, First Season (#SFWApro)

Unlike the first and second Doctors, there’s so much Third Doctor streaming I figured I’d just review it season by season, rather than by serial (though I decided that after I’d already watched Jon Pertwee’s first story, Spearhead from Space).

silurians-cd1The remaining serials from Pertwee’s first season:

Doctor Who and the Silurians.  Mysterious malfunctions at an experimental research station reveal the reptilian Silurian are tapping the power plant for their own use. They went into suspended animation millenia ago, and are none too happy that these pink-skinned apes have taken over their planet. Can the Doctor broker a peace? (all rights to image with current holder).

•Ambassadors of Death. The astronauts from Britain’s first Mars mission have been rescued from space … except when the capsule returns, there’s no-one inside. The astronauts are popping up all over London, killing with a radioactive touch—what’s behind it all?

Inferno. While watchdogging an attempt to tap geothermal power from the Earth’s crust, the Doctor taps the system to jump-start the TARDIS. He materializes in a fascist alt.timeline where the same project is going on, the Brigadier and Shaw are part of the oppressive government, and the project is having all the bad effects the Doctor predicted. Can he get home? And will it be in time to stop the same catastrophe?

While I liked Troughton better on rewatching, I like Pertwee a little less. In him, the Doctor’s disrespect for authority seems more snide and less irreverent. I’m already two stories into his second season though, and he’s growing on me. As I mentioned discussing Spearhead, his stories are very much in the line of other British screen SF—Ambassadors of Death is particularly reminiscent of Quatermass. On the downside, that does give the season a formulaic quality when watched so rapidly: there’s always an arrogant head of research who insists everything is running fine and who the hell is this Dr. John Smith to start criticizing him anyway?

The Siurians tries a little too hard to wag its finger at warmongers. Ambassadors of Death is a good little thriller and Inferno is nicely apocalyptic, though the monstrous Primords are really poor monsters.

Season Two will be along in due course.

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TV, both time travel and not (#SFWApro)

First the Not: The second season of Witches of East End wrapped up on a cliffhanger including pregnancy, death, witch hunters, body-swapping and Wendy (Madchen Amick) waking up in hell, literally. That’s annoying given the show won’t be coming back, but it was a fun ride until then as the Beaumont witches cope with new refugees from their homeland, good-hearted Dash reveals a Dark Side and Freya finally figures who she really loves. I find myself wondering why Charmed succeeded when this and Witches of Eastwick (the TV series version) didn’t, but the TV landscape has changed so much, I’m not sure there are lessons to draw. “I flunked high school English because of Edgar Allen Poe and you’re telling me I was in love with him?”

TRU CALLING also only lasted two seasons (I thought I’d reviewed Season One already—I guess as Two was only six episodes I held off, because I can’t find a post). Eliza Dushku plays Tru Davies whose calling, like Sam Beckett, is to put right what once went wrong: corpses ask her for help and the day rewinds, giving her 24 hours to prevent their death. This was well done, and took an interesting swerve second half of the first season, when they introduce Jason Priestley as Jack, a player on the other side whose mission is to make sure people die as they’re destined to. The second season has both adversaries adapting to this new status quo and developing allies; while it ends unfinished, it isn’t a cliffhanger, so there’s that.

DOCTOR WHO: Spearhead from Space was the first story of the Jon Pertwee era. Very reminiscent of British space-invasion stories of the time (Island of the Burning Doomed, The Terrornauts), it has UNIT investigating a series of strange meteorites as a possible alien invasion when the Doctor—unable to use his TARDIS and stuck with a new face—shows up on Earth as part of his new life as a Time Lord exile. As Companion, he gets Liz Shaw (Caroline Johns), a brilliant scientist (despite her doctorate, she goes by “Miss Smith” throughout).Interesting to see immediately after The War Games and good in its own right. “They altered the dematerialization codes.”

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