Doctor Who Project: Nightmare of Eden


Always do what you’re best at.

Nothing says Doctor Who quite like monsters running rampant on a spaceship, and Bob Baker’s “Nightmare of Eden” (Story Production Code 5K) delivers a passable, if somewhat overwrought, story where alien beasts drive the narrative forward as the main source of danger in the story while also being victims of the real villains of the piece: drug smugglers. The true nightmare from the planet Eden comes in the form of Vraxoin, a drug so addictive and lethargy-inducing that the only planet known to supply it was incinerated.

Economy Class to Azure

Baker, writing his first solo effort without his usual partner Dave Martin, revels in creating elaborate settings for his stories by means of a few choice details, and when he succeeds, as in “The Armageddon Factor” and “The Sontaran Experiment,” the world feels real without needing to be completely sketched out. Starting proceedings on the interstellar cruise liner Empress, with shots of passengers packed into economy-class seating and wearing protective garb, helps establish the story’s setting; the package tours and entitled tourists of the year 2116 could as easily have been on a chartered 747 to the Canary Islands as on a warp-drive flight to the planet Azure. A collision between the Empress and a small survey craft in the wrong orbit around Azure results in the two ships being dimensionally stuck, with the smaller craft engulfed by the larger when the liner came out of warp.

Smushed Spaceships

The Doctor and Romana arrive on the scene with no explanation and dive straight into attempting to separate the two craft, pretending initially to be agents of Galactic Salvage & Insurance. They soon meet a scientist, Tryst (Lewis Fiander), whose over-the-top German accent and square-framed glasses immediately cast him as suspect. Tryst has been collecting samples of all the flora and fauna in the galaxy using a Continuous Event Transmuter (CET), which dematerializes whole areas of planets and transfers them to laser crystals for storage, an undertaking the Doctor finds both fascinating and horrifying—mostly the latter. The primitive (to the Doctor) technology interacts poorly with the dimensional instability caused by the collision of the two ships, allowing passage into—and out of—the captured milieux.

Gateway to Eden

Between the need to free the ships from their trans-dimensional embrace, the revelation of Vraxoin being present on the Empress, and an unknown assailant who knocks out the Doctor, Baker and director Alan Bromley deliver one of the finest monster reveals in years, even better than Scarlioni’s unveiling in “City of Death,” because it comes as an actual surprise. Though signposted by a crewman who dies with claw marks on his face and neck, the sudden appearance of a large, scaly, green-eyed alien from a hole in the wall cut by K-9 nevertheless delivers as much shock as Doctor Who has provided in ages.
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Doctor Who Project: The Creature from the Pit


We call it the pit.

In seasons past, one would have expected David Fisher’s “The Creature from the Pit” (Story Production Code 5G) to provide exactly what the title promises: a beastie in an underground labyrinth posing a deadly threat. Season Seventeen, under producer Graham Williams and script editor Douglas Adams, continues to subvert expectations, with the featured creature instead being a well-spoken interplanetary ambassador on a thwarted trade mission, albeit an envoy some two hundred feet in length, covered in a sickly green membrane, festooned with unfortunate appendages, and given to crushing people inadvertently.

Intergalactic plenipotentiary and giant blob, at your disposal

Deadpan humor abounds in this story, which sees the Doctor and Romana landing on the planet Chloris—a verdant jungle world, in case the Nation-esque planet name didn’t give it away—after homing in on a distress beacon being sent out by what appears to be a giant egg shell. Unbeknownst to our time travellers, however, they have landed in the “Place of Death,” so named because anyone found there is put to death by the servants of Lady Adrasta (Myra Frances), the most powerful person on the planet thanks to her monopoly on metal. The Doctor’s curiosity about the shell leads Adrasta’s lady-in-waiting, Madam Karela (Eileen Way), to spare the Doctor and Romana, so that Adrasta can question them.

Madam Karela and the Fourth Doctor

No sooner do they head off for Adrasta’s palace than a group of bandits waylays them, intent on stealing as much metal as possible, kidnapping Romana in the process. The bandits’ scruffy appearance, particularly in comparison to Adrasta’s sharply attired guards, serves to highlight her power and wealth and the poverty of the rest of the planet, but the social commentary disappears as soon as the bandits begin to speak. They come across as greedy bumpkins, driven solely by their desire for metal of any kind; their predations stem not from penury but from avarice. While their behavior does emphasize the scarcity of metal on Chloris, the comedic presentation drains them of any degree of menace or threat, a danger sapped even further when Romana just sternly orders them to let her go, which they do, with a little help from K-9.

Romana and K-9 face off against a scruff bunch of bandits

Comedic moments in Doctor Who work best when they provide a counterpoint to the drama and the action, when they stem from the events on screen rather than being the whole purpose of a scene. The earnest yet literal-minded detective Duggan from “City of Death,” for instance, and the glib con-man Garron in “The Ribos Operation,” lighten the mood because they are juxtaposed against more serious events rather than attempting to be humorous in and of themselves. “The Creature from the Pit” feels like everyone wants in on the funny business, from veteran director Christopher Barry through to the deposed court astrologer Organon (Geoffrey Bayldon), who survived being thrown in the dreaded pit after displeasing Adrasta. When the Doctor meets Organon, after he jumps in the pit himself to escape from Adrasta’s clutches, the two exchange such a wildfire patter of witticisms and bon mots that one almost doesn’t notice the green pulsating creature stuffing itself through a doorway, trying to reach them…
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Doctor Who Project: City of Death


Is no one interested in history?

For all the fantastical planets and places Doctor Who has presented on screen, its location shooting has tended, for obvious financial and logistical reasons, to center within a day’s coach drive of Television Centre, making David Agnew’s “City of Death” (Story Production Code 5H) all the more striking for its quite exotic setting: Paris. Rather than dress up a London street as the City of Lights, the production team skipped over the Channel, providing some of the best location shots in the series to date. Normally, scenes of the Doctor and companion running around would be dismissed as filler, but here, the pleasant dissonance of seeing Tom Baker scampering down the middle of the Champs-Élysées, scarf flying, with nonplussed Parisian pedestrians paying him no mind, yields ample justification for the narrative interludes. No alien planet could provide such a backdrop.

Average Parisian traffic

Pleasantly, the story on offer lives up to the grandeur of the location. The pseudonymous duo of producer Graham Williams and former script editor Anthony Read delivers a smart tale that makes time travel integral not only to the outcome but also to the intermediate complications in which the Fourth Doctor and Romana find themselves embroiled. Just as their prior story together, “The Invasion of Time,” delved deeply (if at times awkwardly) into Gallifreyan history, adding to the series’ lore while simultaneously mining it for plot beats, Williams and Read here use the full measure of the series’ core conceit of time travel, having the Doctor travel through time within the story—itself a rarity—only to discover the Doctor’s urbane foe, Count Scarlioni (Julian Glover), got to Renaissance Florence first. Or did he?

Count Scarlioni, I presume?

That Scarlioni, first encountered in Paris in 1979 funding experiments and plotting grand larceny, is somehow linked to Scaroth, a green tentacled, one-eyed creature known as a Jagaroth seen in the opening scene of the first of the story’s four episodes, is obvious from the beginning; their names alone give it away. It’s the nature of the linkage that drives the intrigue and interest, with the audience learning the details slowly along with the Doctor. Indeed, there’s so much going on by the end of the first episode—time slips, thugs in Parisian bistros, an artist drawing Romana with a broken clock for a face, a plot to steal the Mona Lisa, wild experiments with chickens, and a gung-ho gumshoe—that it comes as a mild shock when Scarlioni rips off his human face to reveal the Jagaroth beneath.

Behold the Jagaroth

More curious still, however, is why an alien might need to steal the Mona Lisa from the Louvre when he already has six of them walled up in a long-undisturbed cellar in his Parisian château…
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Doctor Who Project: Destiny of the Daleks


It’s what’s on the inside that matters.

During Doctor Who‘s first dozen seasons, the Daleks appeared with tedious inevitability, losing some their power to frighten and amaze each time they trundled onto the screen in increasingly bumbling fashion. And then, after 1975’s “Genesis of the Daleks,” arguably the finest Dalek story since, well, “The Daleks,” they just…vanished. These iconic antagonists would not reappear until five years later, with Season Seventeen’s opening story, Terry Nation’s “Destiny of the Daleks” (Story Production Code 5J). Though the title gives away the surprise, as it tends to with Dalek stories, “Destiny of the Daleks” nevertheless builds on the strong foundations of the prior story. Terry Nation returns his beloved pepperpots to the top rank of Doctor Who villains by making sure they don’t play too large a role in the proceedings, setting them against formidable foes and bringing back their creator in a tightly-plotted story that demonstrates both Nation’s growth as a writer and the benefits of letting the Daleks lie fallow for a time.

A quick jaunt to Skaro

Still on the run from the Black Guardian, the Fourth Doctor and a newly regenerated Romana (Lalla Ward) trigger the TARIDS randomizer circuit to arrive at an unknown place and time. Random, that is, in the way a loaded pair of dice is random, for they arrive on a deserted, radioactive planet that the Doctor vaguely recalls from prior visits: Skaro. Nevertheless, Nation neatly avoids confirming the Doctor’s—and the audience’s—suspicions until the end of the first of four episodes, only announcing the planet’s infamous name seconds before a column of Daleks smashes through a barrier, pinning Romana against a wall with their sucker arms in a knowing recreation of their initial introduction, when Barbara suffered the same fate. The Daleks do certainly know how to make an entrance.

Shades of Barbara's introduction to the Daleks

But even with the Daleks revealed, Nation continues to layer on narrative mysteries, through both extensive world building and deliberate obfuscation. Another group makes an appearance, the Movellans, a multi-cultural platoon of humanoids dressed in white leotards and silver braided wigs, ostensibly keeping tabs on the Daleks. Typically in Doctor Who, the audience has knowledge that the Doctor lacks, a technique that drives tension as we watch the Doctor and companions figure out the plot complications. The Doctor’s trademark cleverness comes through more strongly in this structure, as his logical (and illogical) thought process becomes part of the story. Here, though, Nation gives the Doctor moments of awareness that he keeps to himself, both in his supposition about what the Daleks dig for on Skaro and, more significantly, his realization of Movellans’ secret. This structural decision shifts the story’s focus from the Doctor onto the Daleks and Movellans, a vintage Terry Nation approach when it comes to prioritizing his own creations.

Meet the Movellans

In retrospect, all the clues are there from the moment the Doctor enters the Movellans’ diamond-shaped spaceship, but one is overwhelmed by the visual impressiveness of both the ship’s interior and the costume design of the Movellans themselves, which owes far more to the 1970s than the 3070s. Indeed, the most striking aspect of the Movellans’ presentation comes from the refreshing casting, with an even split of male and female actors, most of whom are actors of color. For a series where the number of speaking parts by non-white actors can still, some seventeen seasons in, be counted on two hands, it’s a noticeable decision. So once can be forgiven for not immediately recognizing these disco-fied, idealized humanoids as robots themselves. As far as Dalek enemies go, they’re no Mechanoids, that’s for sure…
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Doctor Who Project: The Armageddon Factor


Remember me to Gallifrey.

Season-ending stories bring with them an inherent weight, allowing the production team to make a statement of intent, to add a flourish to their body of work, to set the tone for the season to come. Season Sixteen ratchets up the pressure on the final story, with dynamic duo Bob Baker and Dave Martin’s “The Armageddon Factor” (Story Production Code 5F) also serving as the finale of the six part Key to Time arc. Given that Baker and Martin’s last two outings provided a dismally conceived retelling of Jason and the Argonauts and an overwrought tale of shrunken clones injected into the Doctor’s brain to fight a feisty shrimp, one might hesitate granting such an important assignment to them. Thankfully, we get the Baker and Martin of “The Mutants” and “The Claws of Axos,” writers with a proven ability to quickly sketch cultures and settings without getting in the way of the action. The resulting six episode story on offer, while not entirely satisfying, nevertheless pays off the Key to Time arc in sufficient style to have made the exercise worthwhile, if not ultimately necessary.

The Fourth Doctor and Romana

Unlike the first five stories in the arc, “The Armageddon Factor” keeps the search for the sixth segment of the Key to Time in the foreground. Everything in the story serves the eventual resolution of the arc. Indeed, the sixth segment even has a speaking role, with Princess Astra (Lalla Ward) being the embodiment of the segment itself. The slow revelation of her dual role as princess and perspex chunk drives the tale on an emotional level and, neatly, brings the entire arc to a close.

Lalla Ward as Princess Astra

As the story begins, Astra’s planet, Atrios, wages a long nuclear war with its twin planet, Zeos, and initially the Doctor and Romana, drawn to Atrios by the tracker, seem caught up in a simple tale of a warlike Marshal, determined to smite his foes, pitted against a pacifistic princess and her lover trying to end the conflict. Baker and Martin use the growing mania of the Marshal (John Woodvine) to tease the real story, of a shadowy figure pulling the strings from behind a mirror. It’s a slow drip of tension and narrative development, with the Doctor, Romana, and even K-9 alternately in danger and saved thanks to this sinister force, known as the Shadow (William Squire), who needs the Doctor alive, at least for the time being.

John Woodvine as the Marshal

Most six part stories wind up split into disparate halves, and “The Armageddon Factor” is no exception, but here the halves find a seamless bridge, with the events of the first half having significant impact on the events of the second half. Almost literally, as the last ten seconds of the third episode cliffhanger repeat over and over (and over) throughout the next three episodes, trapped in a time loop…
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Doctor Who Project: The Power of Kroll


Was it absolutely necessary to land in a quagmire?

When a Doctor Who story from the 1970s involves tentacles, it’s a safe bet that Robert Holmes wrote it. His second entry in Season Sixteen’s Key to Time arc, “The Power of Kroll” (Story Production Code 5E), involves the largest squiggly appendages in the series to date, belonging to Kroll itself, a giant squid made gargantuan through the transmutative powers of the fifth segment of the Key to Time.

Behold the Mighty Kroll!

But it wouldn’t be a Robert Holmes story without some commentary on social, economic and/or class divisions as well, and this story centers around the exploitation of the People of the Lakes, a small band of descendants of the indigenous green-skinned humanoid inhabitants of the planet Delta Magna who were resettled on a moon by colonists from Earth thousands of years ago. With the discovery of huge pockets of methane gas on the moon, though, a corporation has set up a pilot methane catalyzing refinery to produce massive amounts of compressed protein, needed to feed the masses on Delta Magna. If successful, the subsequent swath of refineries will wind up displacing the People of the Lakes—demeaningly labelled “swampies” by the humans—yet again.

The People of the Lakes

The Doctor and Romana arrive on the unnamed third moon of Delta Magna in search of the fifth segment of the Key to Time, which registers as a diffuse presence on the scanner, as though it were all around. A case of mistaken identity sees the crew of the refinery attack the Doctor, whom they mistake for the scruffy, broad-hatted Rohm-Dutt (Glyn Owen), a gun-runner delivering weapons to the People of the Lakes. While the People of the Lakes think that the Sons of Earth, a group on Delta Magna sympathetic to their cause, have supplied the worn-out rifles, in actuality the leader of the refinery, Thawn (Neil McCarthy) has hired Rohm-Dutt to supply useless arms to the “swampies” to encourage a futile uprising that will allow them to be wiped out in the name of self-defense.

The scoundrel Rohm-Dutt, a captured Romana, and one of the People of the Lakes

The plan would have worked, except for the minor issue of the refinery drilling operations awakening the slumbering Kroll, whose metabolic functions during its long hibernation caused the methane build-up so valuable to the humans. Originally one of many giant squids transplanted from Delta Magna along with the original People of the Lakes, Kroll ate a high priest—and along with him the People’s holy relic, the fifth segment of the Key to Time in disguise—centuries ago and grew to enormous dimensions, almost a mile across, as a result. It attacks the People of the Lakes as they wait in ambush for the humans, chomping one of their number as a post-slumber snack.

Their leader, Ranquin (John Abineri), decides Kroll’s malevolence stems from the presence of the “dryfoots,” the Doctor and Romana, who have mocked Kroll’s power via Romana’s droll anthropological observations about their ritual practices. Ranquin orders our time travellers, along with Rohm-Dutt, whose treachery has been discovered, executed via the seventh holy ritual of the Great Book, the longest-lasting and worst of them all: spine stretching via contracting creeper vines. And how does the Doctor manage to escape? He sings…
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