Doctor Who Project: Planet of Fire

Sure isn’t Greek.

Intent on cleaning up all loose narrative strands before Peter Davison’s imminent departure from the title role, producer John Nathan-Turner and script editor Eric Saward bring in veteran Doctor Who hand Peter Grimwade to sweep out the TARDIS cupboards in “Planet of Fire” (Story Production Code 6Q), getting rid of two companions (sort of) and introducing a new one for the forthcoming Sixth Doctor. As the originator of alien teenager Turlough (Mark Strickson), Grimwade takes the opportunity to send the intergalactic scoundrel off in style over the course of the four episode story, finally filling in his oft-teased background and even giving him a first name. Also leaving is the robot everyone forgets, including the crew of the TARDIS: Kamelion.

Kamelion, unsteadily standing

First (and last) appearing in “The King’s Demons” some six stories and nearly a year earlier, the shapeshifting android from the planet Xeriphas never once merits a mention in the interim, even when the blue box blows up in “Frontios,” ostensibly scattering the silver savant into atoms. As though making up for lost time, Kamelion returns to the screen with a literal shout, caterwauling horrendously from its room in the TARDIS while simultaneously taking over the controls, sending our time travelers to contemporary Earth (again), this time the port town of Órzola, in the north of Lanzarote in the Canary Islands, conveniently the destination for Doctor Who‘s now-annual foreign location shoot.

Mark Strickson and Peter Davison as Turlough and the Fifth Doctor, taking a beach break

The brief layover serves two purposes for Grimwade and the production team, bringing on board not just Perpugilliam Brown (Nicola Bryant)—Peri to her friends—but also a convenient stand-in for Kamelion. (The humanoid robot prop, intricate and blinking as it is, suffers from the minor fault of not being able to move and indeed scarcely being able to stand.) Peri, a headstrong American college student in her late teens or early twenties, has accompanied her archeologist step-father, Howard Foster (Dallas Adams), on a diving expedition to ancient wrecks, one such dive unearthing a curious metal cylinder bearing overlapped triangles. The cylinder emits a distress call when brought from the deep, and while Grimwade remains fuzzy on the details, the suggestion is that Kamelion homes in on the signal. On arrival, the Fifth Doctor and Turlough go looking for it, a perfect excuse to take a bit of a beach excursion—one with much nicer weather than the Doctor’s last trip to the seashore.

The Misos Triangle

Before they can triangulate the position of the signal, Peri steals the cylinder from Howard’s boat, where he abandoned her to prevent her from taking an impulsive trip to Morocco with some new English friends. Jumping overboard with the device, hoping to sell it to fund her travels, she tries to swim to shore but misjudges the strength of the current. Turlough swims out to rescue her in a scene that drags on far too long, as though they needed to justify the expense of hiring the boat and putting a camera crew in the water in the first place—though one also suspects an attempt to attract “lads and dads” via Nicola Bryant in a swimsuit. Rather than tend to her on the beach, he takes Peri into the TARDIS to recover. Woozy from her ordeal, Peri lapses into a dreamlike state, thinking of Howard’s poor treatment of her; the strong emotions pass into Kamelion, transforming the android into a replica of the archeologist, one with the ability to walk upright.

Howard Foster (Dallas Adams) and Peri (Nicola Bryant) in the TARDIS

When Turlough finds the cylinder amongst Peri’s belongings, he immediately knows, and fears, what it is: a Trion distress beacon. Grimwade begins to neatly unveil the mystery behind Turlough’s origins here, slowly parting with his secrets. After the Doctor discovers the beacon and plugs it into the TARDIS console, it shorts out; Kamelion takes over once more and sends them all to another unknown destination before popping out of a back room, pretending to be Howard Foster, who “accidentally” wandered into the unlocked police box parked carelessly on an Órzola jetty. The Doctor and Turlough leave “Howard” and Peri behind in the TARDIS to investigate where, and why, they have landed, just in time for the first episode cliffhanger, as Kamelion changes again, from archeologist to antagonist…

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Doctor Who Project: The Five Doctors

Splendid fellows, all of you.

For a series about time travel, Doctor Who focuses on its own past almost as much as the historical past. From Season Eighteen on, under producer John Nathan-Turner and script editor Eric Saward, continuity references, those canonical recollections of various events and dramatis personae, have come to predominate, sometimes to the detriment of the storylines and befuddling more casual viewers who can’t tell an Omega from an Ogron. When faced with a marquee event such as the twentieth anniversary of Doctor Who, then, the danger is that the self-referential aspects will predominate, overwhelming the plot with a long string of cameos and call-backs. Thankfully, veteran Doctor Who hand Terrance Dicks provides “The Five Doctors” (Story Production Code 6K) with a script that neatly balances reverential appreciation of the series’ long tenure with a genuinely well-paced story that creates just as many memorable moments as it summons up from the show’s history.

Janet Fielding, Mark Strickson, and Peter Davison as Tegan, Turlough, and the Fifth Doctor

Airing as a single ninety-minute episode on November 25, 1983, two days past the actual twentieth anniversary of the initial episode of “An Unearthly Child” first appearing on screens throughout the UK, “The Five Doctors” brings all five of the Doctor’s incarnations together in a story that plays to their individual strengths while still respecting the primacy of the current inhabitant of the role, Peter Davison. Well, sort of all five, with Richard Hundall standing in as the First Doctor for William Hartnell, who died some eight years earlier in 1975, and Tom Baker being represented solely through clips from “Shada,” which remained uncompleted and unaired due to industrial action at the end of Season Seventeen. Baker withdrew from active participation after originally agreeing to appear, but as much as it would have been nice to see that curly mop of hair back in action as the Fourth Doctor, his absence gives more room for Hundall, Patrick Troughton, and Jon Pertwee to strut their stuff upon the crowded stage.

Jon Pertwee, Patrick Troughton, and Richard Hundall as the Third, Second, and First Doctors

Dicks’ story breaks very little new ground, being ultimately a rehash of “Arc of Infinity,” with its focus on Gallifreyan politics, and, curiously, the much maligned “Time-Flight” and “Death to the Daleks” in the exploration of an ancient—and lethally guarded—sanctum by the Doctor(s) and companions. His structuring of the story, though, contrives to keep the first three Doctors separate, each having been kidnapped, along with a companion, by a “time scoop” and deposited into a different part of the subtly-named Death Zone on Gallifrey, home of the long-abandoned Game of Rassilon that saw “lesser” beings forced to fight to the death. The Fourth Doctor and Romana (Lalla Ward), meanwhile, are plucked from punting the River Cam and trapped in the Vortex by a failed time scoop, the better to sideline them for the entirety of the story.

Tom Baker and Lalla Ward as the Fourth Doctor and Romana, trapped in a broken time scoop

The Fifth Doctor painfully suffers the loss of each of his prior selves as they are removed from the time stream, and as he slips in and out of consciousness, he sets the TARDIS to find them. The blue box takes him, Tegan (Janet Fielding), and Turlough (Mark Strickson) to “nowhere, in no time,” in the latter’s words, a fine description of the Death Zone, which itself is a foggy plain of rocks, dominated by the Dark Tower, host to the Tomb of Rassilon. The scene, replete with the Third Doctor’s beloved Bessie driving down dusty slate-lined roads, very much calls to mind the antimatter world from the tenth anniversary story, “The Three Doctors,” and in truth, could any celebration of twenty years of Doctor Who fail to feature a quarry?…

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Doctor Who Project: The King’s Demons

Arise, Sir Doctor.

The TARDIS, according to the founding mythology of Doctor Who, was to be a vehicle with which to teach history; the Doctor, two schoolteachers, and a precocious teenage student were to travel in time to various historical settings, educating and exciting viewers in equal measure. The Daleks aside, the first several seasons bear out that emphasis, but eventually the “historical” became a rarely used device, as monsters and mayhem came to predominate. Why have mad Nero fiddling when you can have the Dalek emperor exploding? Under producer John Nathan-Turner, the historical begins to make something of a comeback during Peter Davison’s run as the Fifth Doctor, exemplified by Terence Dudley’s “The King’s Demons” (Story Production Code 6J) a two-episode story that serves as an A-level refresher course in British history, focusing as it does on a day in the life of King John (Gerald Flood).

Gerald Flood as King John

Materializing suddenly during a joust between King John’s champion, Sir Gilles, and Hugh (Christopher Villiers) the impetuous son of Ranulf Fitzwilliam (Frank Windsor), the TARDIS causes horses to rear and peasants to fear, but the King greets this “blue engine” with surprising equanimity, welcoming the Doctor, Tegan, and Turlough as his “demons” and providing them seats beside him to witness the resumption of the trial by combat. The French knight with the dodgy accent and even more dodgy facial makeup vanquishes his young foe, and only the Doctor’s pleas to the king spare Hugh’s life, after which everyone returns to Ranulf’s castle for a feast in honor of his highness.

Mark Strickson, Peter Davison, and Janet Fielding as Turlough, the Fifth Doctor, and Tegan

Director Tony Virgo and the production staff raid the BBC’s costume and props stocks, creating an effective medieval atmosphere, with lingering shots of feasting tables piled high with roast beast, extended lute jam sessions, and panoramas of castle walls and crenelations. With only two episodes to work with, though, this scene-setting takes time perhaps better served by plot development—except that, to a real extent, the setting is the narrative, to a degree not seen since, well, “The Crusade” some eighteen years prior. The date of the story plays a significant role: March 4, 1215, the day King John took the Crusader’s oath and three months before he agreed to Magna Carta.

The Fifth Doctor and Tegan enjoying a light medieval feast

The Doctor, then, knows that King John should be in London on this day, not antagonizing a rural lord’s household for more money and men for the Crusades. Tegan doesn’t seem moved, even though she knows the basic story of King John’s life, but her seeming indifference points out just how beholden this story is on a thorough understanding of King John, specifically his reputation as something of a villain, who, along with his brothers, Henry II and Richard I, was scurrilously claimed to have been beholden to devils and demons. Contemporary viewers were expected to fill in the gaps in the narrative here and realize the significance of King John offering a seat at his table to those he himself calls “demons,” though Dudley, ostensibly with the aid of script editor Eric Saward, make sure to sketch in a few details for those not steeped in Angevin lore.

Sir Gilles, aka the Master, aka Anthony Ainley

Quite quickly, given the short runtime of this story, the Doctor figures out that this king seems off somehow, with the arrival of Ranulf’s cousin, Geoffrey (Michael J. Jackson) from London where he just took the Crusader’s oath with King John confirming that an impostor stalks Fitzwilliam castle. After a duel of honor with Sir Gilles, in which the Doctor displays quite effective swordsmanship, the French knight is revealed to be, yes, Anthony Ainley in thick makeup, to absolutely no one’s surprise. The Master’s real revelation comes later, when the Doctor discovers the truth behind bad King John…

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Doctor Who Project: Time-Flight

I’ve never heard such an extravagant explanation.

Never let it be said that Doctor Who skimps on season ending stories. For “Time-Flight” (Story Production Code 6C), Peter Grimwade’s Season Nineteen finale, the BBC combines the best of British science fiction with the best of British (fine, Anglo-French) engineering by filming in and around the Concorde. John Nathan-Turner even manages to get permission for Grimwade to put British Airways’ very expensive and prestigious airplane in jeopardy, with not one but two separate supersonic transports disappearing on approach to Heathrow. Try getting a major carrier to allow its livery in even the most benign piece of fiction nowadays.

Two time-trapped Concordes

In keeping with producer Nathan-Turner and script editor Eric Saward’s devotion to continuity, we find the Doctor, Tegan, and Nyssa still in shock over Adric’s demise, with the Doctor adamant that he cannot revisit his own history to undo the young Alzarian’s death. As a peace offering, the Doctor offers to cheer everyone up with a quick visit to the Crystal Palace in 1851 for the Great Exhibition, as one does, only to find the TARDIS on a collision course with another object in time and space. After an emergency materialzation, the TARDIS appears over a runway at Heathrow in the present day (so, roughly 1982) before the Doctor “parks” the blue box in an observation overlook in Terminal One, which of course attracts some slight attention. The Doctor pops out to get a paper to check the cricket scores before being confronted by the authorities as a crestfallen Nyssa and Tegan look on.

The TARDIS in Terminal One, Heathrow

Unlike the Doctor’s last impromptu visit to an airport, “The Faceless Ones,” the Fifth Doctor now has bureaucratic contacts of his own to call upon, and he shamelessly name drops UNIT and Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, a pleasant call-back to a once-important feature of the series and and also a very convenient means of involving the Doctor in the disappearance of Concorde. Indeed, absent Whitehall’s imprimatur, Grimwade would have needed to put the Doctor through a convoluted series of hoops—well, more convoluted, at any rate—in order to have him, Nyssa, Tegan, and the TARDIS as passengers on another Concorde flying the same descent approach as the missing plane into Heathrow, just to test a theory.

Cramped Concorde Cockpit, with Peter Davison as the Fifth Doctor, Richard Easton as Captain Stapley, Keith Drinkel as Flight Engineer Scobie, and Michael Cashman as First Officer Bilton

Which is not to say that Grimwade and director Ron Jones don’t take their sweet time making anything actually happen in this four episode story. Having gained access to Heathrow and Concorde, the BBC take full advantage. Several scenes occur in the cramped cockpit, with the flight crew of the second jet (Richard Easton as Captain Stapley, Keith Drinkel as Flight Engineer Scobie, and Michael Cashman as First Officer Bilton) occupying nearly as much screen time as the Doctor and companions, calling out checklists and repeating radio instructions, while the plane itself, on a side tarmac on a snowy London day, features in plenty of glamour shots as our time travellers climb the long stairs to the entry.

Concorde Glamour Shot

Sure enough, the second Concorde disappears off the radar scope just like the first one, confirming the Doctor’s suspicion that a “time warp” exists over the approach path to Heathrow. But despite the TARDIS registering a temporal displacement some one hundred and forty million years into the past, Stapley lands the Concorde right back at Heathrow, parking where they started. (British Airways wasn’t going to actually move the plane for Doctor Who.) Or so it seems.

Michael Cashman as First Officer Bilton, Richard Easton as Captain Stapley, Keith Drinkel as Flight Engineer Scobie, and Sarah Sutton as Nyssa

The Doctor feels something is wrong, and once everyone disembarks down a ladder that miraculously appears next to the airplane, Nyssa pierces the illusory veil. All around, nothing but rocks, as befits the Earth over a hundred million years prior, and, curiously, a wrecked spaceship and a lone stone building, quite out of place indeed. They have been tricked by a hallucination powerful enough to have momentarily affected even the Doctor, caused by a most unlikely foe…

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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: Logopolis

Still, the future lies this way.

Season Eighteen of Doctor Who can be compared to renovating an inhabited house, as producer John Nathan-Turner, aided by script editor Christopher H. Bidmead, measures the windows, selects new carpeting, and pulls out the plumbing while the family already living there tries to get on with daily life. It is, charitably, an uneven season, with constant change from episode to episode, not all of it successful. But for the season finale—and Tom Baker’s final story—Bidmead delivers a striking tale, at once a meditative mood piece and a cracking bit of tense action: “Logopolis” (Story Production Code 5V) delivers on the promise of positive change in the series while providing Baker and the Fourth Doctor with a satisfying conclusion to over six years of adventures through time and space.

Adric (Matthew Waterhouse) and the Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker) in a decaying room deep in the TARDIS

The story starts in quotidian fashion, with the Doctor wanting to finally fix the wonky Chameleon Circuit on the TARDIS, allowing it to change shape into something other than a police box. He calls up the never-before-seen Chameleon Circuit panel, which pops out of the central console, to demonstrate what the TARDIS would look like as a pyramid. There’s a real sense of Bidmead wanting to add to the lore of the TARDIS, particularly with his introduction of the Cloister Bell, a staple plot device in years to come, which sounds its warning peals as the Doctor and Adric are talking in an old part of the ship overgrown with vines.

Janet Fielding as Tegan Jovanka and Dolore Whiteman as Aunt Vanessa

In order to repair the Chameleon Circuit, the Doctor first needs exactingly precise dimensions of the object the TARDIS is stuck externally representing, which necessitates a trip to Earth. Bidmead and director Peter Grimwade, a long-time Doctor Who crew member, go out on location to place a police box (or two) near a motorway leading to “London Airport,” a road along which Australian flight attendant Tegan Jovanka (Janet Fielding) and her Aunt Vanessa (Dolore Whiteman) are driving before a flat tire stops them. It’s no ordinary police box that Tegan enters looking for help, though, as another TARDIS has already materialized around the box that was there.

A Police Box in a Police Box, with Adric on top

Rather than jump right into action and excitement, Bidmead slowly unspools the tension, spending the majority of the first of four episodes ruminating on the nature of the TARDIS, of the complications of dimensionality and recursive loops. When the Doctor’s TARDIS arrives at the very same police box, it lands “around” the other TARDIS, which itself landed around the real police box. After several minutes spent watching the Doctor and Adric measuring the police box and discussing the “block transfer computations” needed to reprogram the Chameleon Circuit—a type of mathematics so advanced it can only be done by the living computers of Logopolis—they venture inside the police box and find another TARDIS with a police box inside it, and on and on, a paradox caused by one TARDIS being inside another. The Doctor fears they are trapped in an infinite regression, but finally they pop out back on the motorway, where three police officers have some questions about an abandoned car with two dolls in the front seat…

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