Doctor Who Project: The Visitation


So much for my friendly aliens.

Even though Eric Saward’s “The Visitation” (Story Production Code 5X) is the second story filmed in the Season Nineteen production block, the character development of the Fifth Doctor and his companions keenly reflects the story’s place as Peter Davison’s fourth televised outing. Typically this tight adherence to the subtle growth of the Doctor’s personality and his relationship with his companions would need to be added in by the production team, but here the snarls and smiles and subtle asides feel organic, integral to the four episodes of this story as well as to the overall trajectory of the Fifth Doctor as a whole, leaving little wonder why Saward would soon take on the script editor role for the series. Though current editor Anthony Root and producer John Nathan-Turner doubtless tinkered with the final script, “The Visitation” demonstrates how a keen familiarity with the overall vision of the series and its often convoluted continuity can take a decent story and elevate it into something even better.

The Fifth Doctor and Companions at Heathrow, 1666

Part of the strength of “The Visitation” comes from a commitment to the “through narrative,” the connecting bits of dialogue that refer to, and indeed build upon, events that took place in prior stories. While not quite as explicit as a formal “arc” as with Season Sixteen’s “Key to Time” stories, this through narrative rewards consistent viewers, albeit at the cost of confusing more casual audience members who might not know why Tegan is still disturbed by thoughts of the Mara or why the Doctor is constantly trying to get back to Heathrow Airport on a very particular day in 1981. Rather than being lore callbacks of a kind to delight people with encyclopedic knowledge of Doctor Who, as prevalently found in Seasons Seventeen and Eighteen, these connecting threads instead ground viewers in these particular characters, providing depth and familiarity as well as a sense that the Doctor’s adventures are interconnected.

The Terileptil's Android

The Doctor does manage to get back to Heathrow as “The Visitation” begins, though in 1666 rather than 1981, a slight error in calculation that puts the him, Tegan, Nyssa, and Adric in the vicinity of a manor house that was the scene of a break-in of interstellar proportions. Saward and returning director Peter Moffatt reveal the “monster” in the first five minutes of the first episode, rather than employing the more common first cliffhanger revelation, bursting a brightly colored android (Peter van Dissel) through a drawing room door, where it is met by a fusillade of bullets from the soon-to-be-doomed householders. It’s a clever bit of misdirection, as the real foes of the story, the reptilian Terileptils, appear only midway through the second episode.

A fugitive Terileptil

Fugitives from the justice of their own ruthless kind, the three Terileptils, survivors of a prison ship that exploded in Earth’s atmosphere, plan to rid the planet of its pesky human populace by releasing rats infected with an amplified, bioengineered version of the plague already ravaging Europe at the time. One Terileptil in particular (Michael Melia) remains behind at the manor house perfecting the plague, using villagers, subdued by the same prisoner control bracelets that recently held him and his fellow convicts in check, as a workforce. As far as Doctor Who villain motivations and plans for conquering Earth, it’s pretty run-of-the-mill, but the joy of this story comes not so much from the spectacle of a scaly green alien thundering about in high dudgeon as from the juxtaposition of high tech in a low tech environment that Doctor Who depicts better than any other show, embodied in the person of a jocular thespian (and, yes, occasional highwayman), Richard Mace (Michael Robbins), who all but steals the stage…
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Doctor Who Project: Kinda


There is great danger in dreaming alone.

Given that Doctor Who has never shied away from the allegorical and mythological, it’s surprising how long it took before the show based a story so directly on the notion of Paradise, in particular the Garden of Eden myth. Newcomer Christopher Bailey’s “Kinda” (Series Production Code 5Y) doesn’t take long to stake out the specifics, with forbidden apples being tossed around and snakes slithering about the otherwise idyllic garden planet Deva Loka, home to the mute, telepathic Kinda; a dome full of pseudo-British colonial occupiers straight out of Livingston and Stanley (with a bit of Joseph Conrad added for good measure); and a malevolent entity known as a Mara, lurking in the Great Dreaming.

The Mara (Jeffrey Stewart) confronts Tegan (Janet Fielding)

There’s quite a bit to unpack in this four episode story, so much that Sarah Sutton’s Nyssa is all but excised from “Kinda,” appearing in only the very first and last scenes as she recovers from the sudden malady that afflicted her at the end of “Four to Doomsday.” Between an overstuffed plot (which nevertheless contains quite a bit of filler) and a very strong guest cast, including Richard Todd and Nerys Hughes, there’s simply no room for three companions, a problem that will continue to plague the Fifth Doctor’s run for some time to come.

Sanders (Richard Todd), Todd (Nerys Hughes), andHindle (Simon Rouse)

With the Doctor and companions starting the story already on Deva Loka, for unexplained reasons, focus shifts to the inhabitants of the dome. The colonizing team, from an unnamed homeworld (though ostensibly Earth or one of its offshoots), has been losing team members on the planet they call S14, a troubling occurrence given that the native Kinda (pronounced ken-dah) show no hostile intention, even though the colonists are holding two Kinda as hostages. The last colonist to disappear left behind his Total Survival Suit (TSS), an armed and armored exoskeleton that an inquisitive Adric manages to activate. It herds him and the Doctor back to the dome as prisoners, where strait-laced mission commander Sanders (Richard Todd), inquisitive scientist Todd (Nerys Hughes), and paranoid security officer Hindle (Simon Rouse) nervously attempt to understand their puzzling appearance on the planet.

Tegan adrift in the Place of Great Dreaming

Adric’s misadventure leads to Tegan being left behind in the Place of Great Dreaming, a clearing dominated by massive crystal wind chimes that induce a hypnotic sleep. She falls prey to the somnolent song and finds herself in a dark void, eerily lit from jarring angles and with heavy shadows over her features. After encounters with other lost souls (possibly the missing colonizers?), she confronts a trickster figure (Jeffrey Stewart) who torments her with duplicates of herself, forcing Tegan to question her identity, her uniqueness, her very existence. Janet Fielding displays a deft and wide range of emotions in these scenes, certainly far beyond anything given to Tegan in her three prior stories. Slowly being driven mad, she agrees to allow the trickster to take over her physical being in order to escape the nightmare. As they grasp hands, a snake slides from his arm to hers. Subtle? No. Effective? Surprisingly so…
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Doctor Who Project: Four to Doomsday


Here we have a lively intelligence.

While viewers initially encounter the Fifth Doctor in “Castrovalva,” Peter Davison’s personal debut with the character comes in Terence Dudley’s “Four to Doomsday” (Series Production Code 5W), the first of his stories to be filmed. The Doctor we see in “Castrovalva” remains amorphous, changing, suffering as he is from a difficult regeneration caused by the Master’s mediocre machinations. Only his predilection for cricket comes through strongly in his opening story. It’s here, as the Doctor and companions find themselves not in Heathrow’s Terminal Three but aboard a spaceship slowly traveling to Earth, that the Fifth Doctor finally begins unveiling his characteristics, his temperament, and his manner.

The Fifth Doctor and Companions survey the Urbankan spaceship

For the youngest of the actors to inhabit the role thus far, Davison plays the role of the Fifth Doctor far more paternalistically, more didactically, than his predecessors. To be sure, his Doctor shows ample reserves of humility and kindness, and Davison imbues the part with a willingness to be fallible, a quite refreshing corrective for a character so often granted amazing powers as the plot requires. Yet there’s a surprising firmness in his attitude when the situation becomes serious, shifting from the jocular and familiar to the demanding, and slightly demeaning, at the drop of a celery stick. Over the course of this four episode story, he calls Adric a “young idiot” and accuses him of “sloppy thinking”; tells Tegan to shut up and has no patience whatsoever for her understandable concern about being held captive by evil robot space frogs; and leaves Nyssa to be captured, drugged, and almost converted into an android in order to advance his plans. Prior Doctors have been peremptory, cavalier, and even a bit huffy, but Davison’s Doctor acts as though the companions really are “children,” as he calls them. He’ll turn the TARDIS around and go home if behavior doesn’t improve, you better believe it. Absent Davison’s undeniably charming mien, these rougher edges would be quite jarring indeed.

Enlightenment (Annie Lambert), Monarch (Stratford Johns), and Persuasion (Paul Shelley)

About those evil robot space frogs: Dudley, who previously directed “Meglos,” puts our protagonists aboard a colony ship bound for Earth, helmed by Monarch (Stratford Johns), Enlightenment (Annie Lambert), and Persuasion (Paul Shelley), all of whom are initially encountered in the amphibian forms of their native Urbanka, a now-dead planet located far away from Earth by the Doctor’s reckoning. Broadly humanoid, with amphibian features and mottled green skin, the Urbankans claim to have three billion of their people on the ship, heading for Earth to colonize it. But the only other people the Doctor and companions have seen are humans taken from Earth over several thousand years: Bigon, of Athens (Philip Locke); Lin Futu, of China (Burt Kwouk); Kurkutji, of Australia (Illario Bisi Pedro); and Villagra, of the Maya (Nadia Hammer).

Kurkutji (Illario Bisi Pedro), Bigon (Philip Locke), Villagra (Nadia Hammer), and Lin Futu (Burt Kwouk)

Over some extended exposition involving separating the Doctor and Tegan from Adric and Nyssa, our time travellers come to realize that Bigon and his fellow exiles from Earth are not immortal, despite having been taken from Earth centuries prior. They, like the billions of Urbankan colonists themselves, are stored on computer chips inside robot bodies—androids, though Monarch, who perfected the technology and leads the Urbankans, prefers the phrase “fully integrated personalities with a racial memory.” And of course, Bigon reveals his android nature to the Doctor and a horrified Tegan in that most typical of manners, the mandatory peeling off of the face…
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Doctor Who: The Gathering?


The core trait of Doctor Who is its malleability, its ability to change actors, emotional tones, and even genres from story to story, all the while remaining at heart the same show. Wild West, Ancient Rome, Skaro, or London through the ages; rational scientist, court jester, curmudgeonly soul; history, romance, action, farce: it’s all still Doctor Who. So it’s no surprise that the BBC has occasionally allowed everyone’s favorite time traveller to be “mashed up” with other pop culture phenomena, as in the exceedingly strange comic crossover featuring Matt Smith as the Eleventh Doctor and Patrick Stewart as Star Trek‘s Captain Picard facing off against the Cybermen and the Borg…

The most recent collaboration featuring the Doctor comes from Wizards of the Coast, who just announced a limited series of cards featuring the Doctor (in all manner of regeneration), companions, settings, and foes for their long-running collectible card game, Magic: The Gathering.

Artwork by Alexander Gering/WotC

Due out in 2023 to correspond with the series’ 60th anniversary celebrations, the cards will be available in a variety of formats: Commander Decks, special booster packs, and limited edition, print-on-demand Secret Lair boxes. My assumption is that the cards will not be usable for play in the most common M:TG game setting, known as “Standard,” which is a moving grouping of cards from the last several sets released, but instead will be legal in the more expansive Commander and Modern formats.

Artwork by Greg Staples/WotC

Even though I’ve long-since stopped playing Magic, the cards themselves should be quite attractive. The art on Magic cards takes up roughly half of the card itself, and WotC spares very little expense on the artwork. Just judging from the few samples already released, I have little doubt these sets will be in serious demand by fans and collectors of Magic and Doctor Who alike.

And yes, it’s almost certain that there will be a card titled “Exterminate!” featuring the Daleks…

(Obligatory Legal Note: This post is unofficial Fan Content permitted under the Fan Content Policy. Not approved/endorsed by Wizards. Images used are property of Wizards of the Coast. ©Wizards of the Coast LLC.)

Doctor Who Project: Castrovalva


Well, I suppose I’ll get used to it in time.

Post-regeneration stories carry the extra burden of introducing the new Doctor, setting the stage for the adventures to come. But in casting Peter Davison as the Fifth Doctor, Doctor Who did not need to introduce the actor, as Davison was already an established and contemporary television star, with the tantalizing potential of drawing new viewers familiar with his other roles. Some of those parts were still ongoing at the time of his appointment, however, leading to the decision to push the start of Season Nineteen and Davison’s first story, “Castrovalva” (Story Production Code 5Z) out to January, 1982, a full ten months after the end of “Logopolis” (as opposed to the more typical seven to eight month hiatuses). Written by former script editor Christopher H. Bidmead, “Castrovalva” stands as a direct sequel to his “Logopolis” and relies on the audience remembering the details of that story, partly solved by recapping events in a rare pre-credits bumper scene demonstrating Tom Baker’s transformation into Peter Davison.

The Watcher melds with the Doctor

Not reprised, however, is the role of the Master in the Fourth Doctor’s demise, nor the excessive reliance on the “block transfer computations” at the heart of “Logopolis.” Producer John Nathan-Turner, aided here by script editor Eric Saward, doesn’t see that as a problem, though. The Master (Anthony Ainley) is as over-the-top a villain as ever seen in the series, his motivations reduced to rage-fueled vengeance and his bilious speeches capped off with peels of uproarious laughter. Pantomime scoundrels have greater nuance. As for the “block transfer computation” capable of manipulating space and time, and somewhat crucial to the entirety of this story, it’s presented as a given, a set of sums maths wizard Adric (Matthew Waterhouse) can do in his sleep. Nathan-Turner’s approach, one he developed in Season Eighteen with Bidmead, is to elide any concerns about the coherence or consistency of technobabble and other plot contrivances; if it serves the story, it serves its purpose, a refreshing (if not always satisfying) change from the tortured logic occasionally deployed to explain away how reversing the polarity will save the day. Here, it just works, leaving more time for storytelling. Or, in this case, running. Lots and lots of running.

Four to Out of Here

After escaping the guards at the Pharos Project, Tegan (Janet Fielding) and Nyssa (Sarah Sutton) drag the barely conscious Doctor into the TARDIS, but the Master captures Adric in the process. By means of block transfer computation, which is now shorthand for making things appear out of nothing, the Master forces Adric to project an image of himself into the TARDIS to send the Doctor, Tegan, and Nyssa on a one-way trip to the Big Bang. It’s telling that at first, Adric’s stilted manner can be easily written off as him being his default snotty self, such that no one notices him acting strangely.

Unravelling the Fourth Doctor's threads

He’s certainly not the only one who seems a bit off, as the Fifth Doctor’s regeneration does not proceed smoothly. The Master’s presence causes too much complication, preventing the necessary re-connections from taking place in the Doctor’s jumbled mind. Adric finds him literally (and, of course, metaphorically) unravelling the Fourth Doctor’s trademark scarf, which he uses to trace a long and winding course through the depths of the TARDIS; much of the first episode is spent watching people get lost in unmarked TARDIS hallways looking for the Zero Room, an isolation chamber that will calm the Doctor’s brain enough to allow him to finish regenerating.

Adric in the Master's Web

Frequent cutaways to the Master gloating about the Doctor’s impending doom, with Adric trussed up behind a skein of cables shouting his defiance, leave viewers quite certain as to the force causing the TARDIS to hurtle back through time and space, but it’s hard to take any of it seriously. Though Ainley turns in a bravura performance in “Castrovalva”—when he’s not playing the Master, as will be seen—the script does him, and the character, no favors; likewise Waterhouse, whose screeching as Adric diminishes any pathos his predicament might have deserved. Indeed, the story lacks so much tension that a leisurely detour into that now-mandatory regeneration feature, wardrobe selection, feels right at home. The Fifth Doctor, deep in the throes of a regeneration gone wrong, finds his new overcoat already laid out, by someone or something (the TARDIS itself, perhaps?). After some tentative toots on the Second Doctor’s recorder, he picks up a nearby cricket bat and finds it just right. A brief pop into a cricket-themed side room to change and he’s ready for a long innings…
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Doctor Who Project: Tom Baker Retrospective


In the eyes of the world, Tom Baker is Doctor Who. And also the Doctor, there being a difference between the two, at least most of the time.

That Fourth Doctor smile

Despite Tom Baker’s final story airing over forty years ago, and despite the cultural reach of the new series since 2005, pop culture still references Doctor Who through the lens of the Fourth Doctor: the long, variegated scarf, the floppy hat, the curly hair and broad smile. More than that, though, Tom Baker’s presentation of the Doctor hews closest to the stereotypical understanding of the enigmatic Time Lord. He’s quick with a quip, slow to anger but ready with intensity, all-knowing but a bit fuzzy on the details, indefatigable when confronted with impossible odds, and given to action over excessive reflection. A hero, in other words, not just for our time, but for all time.

Tom Baker as Meglos-Doctor

Doubtless, much of this persistent identification of the Doctor with Tom Baker comes from his incredible tenure as the Fourth Doctor, a run of forty-two stories, spanning 178 episodes, if one includes the un-broadcast “Shada,” as one should. (William Hartnell, the next longest tenured Doctor, featured in 134 episodes as lead actor.) Baker’s tales stretch from December 28, 1974, the opening episode of “Robot” in Season Twelve, through to March 21, 1981, the final episode of “Logopolis” to end Season Eighteen, well over six years in the role.

Tom Baker as the Fourth Doctor in Logopolis

But longevity alone cannot account for just how entirely Tom Baker made the part of the Doctor his own, particularly on the heels of Jon Pertwee’s Third Doctor, who was no slouch in terms of personality and strong characterization. Much has been made of the star’s temperamental insistence, towards the end of his time on the series, that the scripts provide more scope for humor, spontaneity, and levity—centered, naturally, around the Doctor—but the entire tone of the Fourth Doctor’s run points in that direction from the very beginning. Producer Barry Letts and script editor Robert Holmes had to know what they had in Tom Baker right away, as evidenced by the sequence in “Robot” where the newly-regenerated Doctor tries on multiple outfits, including a harlequin costume. Shades of things to come…

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