Your Mom is a Review Blog

(22 comments)

Castrovalva: The back half is marvelous, but the front half is mispaced as the show tries to grapple with its strange new airing schedule. This marks the beginning of “post-regeneration stories are about the absence of the Doctor through post-regeneration confusion” trope, which was largely disastrous. Ainley’s Master becomes a joke as of this story. Still, there are lovely bits shining through the overall lack of working, and it’s impressive for the strained circumstances of its creation. 7/10

Four to Doomsday: One of the most jarring drops in quality ever - after the Bidmead era so convincingly provided a new style for Doctor Who, this suddenly becomes tedious, predictable, and no fun. Bidmead drained the humor of the Williams era and replaced it with wonder. This drains the wonder and replaces it with boredom. Absolutely dreadful. 2/10

Kinda: Like Warrior’s Gate and Logopolis, a story that delights in showing off new frontiers in what Doctor Who can do. This time it’s done with a slick confidence and focus that Davison’s first season otherwise completely lacks. The only complaint is the giant snake, and really, this is Doctor Who. 10/10

The Visitation: Not as bad as it could be, and its reputation isn’t helped by knowledge of what’s to come from Saward. This is basically harmless. Derivative and a dumb runaround, yes, but that happens. The biggest problem is the decision to only have one supporting character - a disastrous structural decision that should have been fixed in editing. Why they’d then hire this writer as the editor is a mystery, but that’s not this story’s fault as such. 4/10

Black Orchid: Novel, but plagued by the fundamental structural difficulties of a two-parter aired over two days and the fact that Terrance Dudley is not actually a very good writer. Was much better when it was called The Unicorn and the Wasp and written by Gareth Roberts. 5/10

Earthshock: At the root of it, the problem is that Doctor Who is not actually very good at doing big action films. Still, it has its moments - the Cybermen reveal is lovely, as is Beryl Reid. The death of Adric is completely mishandled on screen, the plot doesn’t quite hang together, and, again, the show that just screwed up a giant snake should maybe be a little more hesitant about a massive action set piece. As good as “Doctor Who does space marines” can be, which isn’t actually very. 6/10

Time-Flight: Horrible and unwatchable, except for the fleeting moments where it’s suddenly charming and terribly clever. Somewhere in here was a brilliant story, and every once in a while you can see it trying to get out from under… um… this. As all-time lows of Doctor Who go, this is one of the more watchable ones. 3/10


The Arc of Infinity: This is how we decide to begin the big 20th anniversary; with a story only Ian Levine could love. Gallifrey is treated as familiar and known, the plot twists are contrived and either insane or predictable, and the whole thing depends on us remembering a villain that hasn’t been mentioned in a decade. The pacing is shot, the ending doesn’t work, and even if you do happen to both know The Three Doctors and not know the twist here it’s fairly lame. Crap like this is why the series was cancelled. 1/10

Snakedance: Rob Shearman considers this his outright favorite Doctor Who story. I am not about to argue with Rob Shearman. Intelligent, well-acted, full of clever ideas. There are probably flaws to identify, but really, why would you nitpick something this fun? 10/10

Mawdryn Undead: It drags in bits, and the Black Guardian is borderline intolerable, but this has so many clever ideas and makes such a good show of them. It introduces timey-wimey without any of the ostentation that Moffat uses (and I’m not even a Moffat critic), uses the Brigadier well, and has a fantastic non-villain. This is one of the good ones. 9/10

Terminus: It’s a complete mess, of course, but under the surface is a script by the guy who brought us Warrior’s Gate, and it’s just as brilliant. It’s a pity, really, that Saward took a good thing and ruined it, and Mary Ridge ruined it further. I want to like this story a lot. I don’t, but I can be reminded of the version in my head that I do love while watching it, and some days that does well enough. 4/10

Enlightenment: There’s some logic that fails to recognize this as one of the pinnacles of the classic series, little yet one of the pinnacles of the 1980s. I do not understand this logic. This is self-evidently what Doctor Who is for - an idea only it could do. Every detail of this is marvelous. Even in the years where I was burnt out on Doctor Who and not terribly invested in it, I liked rewatching Enlightenment. The basic image here is one of my favorites in the series. 10/10

The King’s Demons: Well. That was pointless rubbish. Once again Dudley demonstrates why the cliffhanger is the worst thing ever to happen to two-parters, as part one takes ages to reveal the point and part two rushes through everything. This is a lovely premise, and deserved to actually be done seriously. Instead… this. 2/10

The Five Doctors: It doesn’t shoot to be good so much as fun. It manages this despite a wealth of obvious problems. This is not a model for how to do an anniversary story, but it also manages not to squander its goodwill. It would never work in the modern day, and that’s probably a good thing, but given how staggeringly the Davison era can fail when it fails the fact that it achieves basic entertainment value is a good thing, and in an age without home copies of things the nostalgia runaround was a sound idea. These days there’s nothing in it where it wouldn’t be more fun to watch the real thing on DVD. But all of this is desperately querellous. It’s not good television, but it didn’t have to be. (Whereas the 50th, I fear, does have to be.) 5/10

Warriors of the Deep: Correctly investigated for being unfit for transmission. There’s a school of thought that says this could have worked with better effects, but there’s a school of thought that thinks climate change isn’t real too, so really, who cares about that? Absolutely nothing about this story comes even remotely close to working. A misconceived disaster, and yet another example of John Nathan-Turner having no sense that maybe you should avoid putting a complete piece of crap out as a season premiere (See also the premieres of Seasons 18, 20, 22, 24, and 26.) All that can be said is that at least with Season 21 he avoids putting the worst story out as a season premiere. Instead he saves the worst story for an even more important slot. Oh dear. 1/10

The Awakening: Surprisingly good, actually - it understands how to do a two episode story, has some compelling images, and moves along at a nice clip without overstaying its welcome. And who doesn’t love a good evil stone face. Probably the overlooked classic of the Peter Davison era. 7/10

Frontios: There’s a slight but significant mismatch in tone between the writing and directing, but the tension elevates the story as often as it hobbles it. Bidmead is always welcome, and his trademark interests mesh fascinatingly with a darker and more militaristic tone characteristic of the Saward era. The sort of thing you’re glad Doctor Who did. 8/10

Resurrection of the Daleks: A waste of Daleks, Davison, Tegan, and, really, everything else. High on the success of Earthshock (which wasn’t actually good at being an action story) Saward goes back to the well and gets Doctor Who being bad at action movies again, only now with incoherent plotting. Redeemed only by the spectacularly if inadvertently pervy scene of the foam exploding out of Davros. 3/10

Planet of Fire: It wobbles around pointlessly a lot and has some poorly thought through ideas, but most of those poorly thought through ideas can be described as “trying to do all of these things in one story.” For what it is, it works. What it is, however, is a very, very dumb idea. 4/10

The Caves of Androzani: Is there much to say here? It’s brilliant. It demonstrates how vitally important good writers are to the series. It demonstrates how vitally important good actors are to the series. It demonstrates how vitally important good directors are to the series. And it makes it crushingly, brutally, awfully apparent how rarely the Davison era actually had all three. Many stories in the Davison era got good ratings because it’s easy to overlook one weak aspect of a strong story. This needs no apologies. It’s just good. 10/10


Comments

Ewa Woowa 4 years, 2 months ago

Oh hurrah!
This isn't another Torchwood post...
What a relief.

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Spacewarp 4 years, 2 months ago

Timeflight. Hmmm..."Horrible and Unwatchable"...and yet "one of the more watchable ones."

Only in Doctor Who can we enjoy such paradoxes.

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Ross 4 years, 2 months ago

I've been trying to sort out why I remember this era fondly, given that I don't particularly disagree with any of the analysis here.

I think it comes down to the fact that by this point, if not sooner, Doctor Who became not a show of good stories, but a show of good moments sprinkled through otherwise not especially good stories (Even Kinda, which I know is very good, I mostly recall getting sort of glazed over and losing track of the story toward the end and during the Adric-y bits). With the exception of maybe Warriors of the Deep and The Awakening, every serial, even the really naff ones, have some really fantastic *individual scenes*. The Castrovalvans trying to locate things on a map. The Doctor space-walking with a cricket ball. The bits where the inside of the TARDIS intrudes into the outside world in Terminus and Frontios. The evil stone face in THe Awakening (So good that I remember it even though I can remember nothing else about this story including that it's not the same story as 'The Visitation')

--
The childhood memory of Arc of Infinity that stays with me is that I remember being much more convinced by the problem than by the solution. I was convinced that they were well and truly hosed and that Omega manifesting on earth absolutely could not result in anything other than the absolute annihilation of the entire universe via antimatter explosion. So when this goes on to not happen, largely because the Doctor shoots him with a ridiculous toy gun, so that he just falls in the water and bubbles a bit, it felt bizarre and wrong and cheap. (For all I know, this doesn't map to anything real in the story, and is just the result of me being a small child and it being very late at night when I first watched this. I had a similar experience with an adaptation of Alice in Wonderland - there's a scene where Telly Savalas (as the cat) sings a little song about how Alice will never be able to escape Wonderland and can't ever go home. It felt wrong that in the end she just kind of... does.)

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Assad K 4 years, 2 months ago

I probably wouldn't be so rough on Black Orchid... I did enjoy it, it was short, and it didn't feel the need to throw an alien into the ring.

Warriors of the Deep would certainly have worked better with a dingy seabase, not unlike the station they made for Resurrection of the Daleks. Worked better, mind.. not actually 'worked.'

Kinda, Snakedance, Enlightenment.. oh yes.

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Dave 4 years, 2 months ago

I know somebody has been running stats on these ratings. I'd actually really love to see the standard deviation for each era, as I have a suspicion this is one of the highest.

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David Jones 4 years, 2 months ago

It seems that the Davison stories get really good marks or really bad marks. The one story that really shocked me as a kid/teen was Resurrection. The Policemen with guns, shooting people, in London, was quite hard hitting at the time. I'm not sure why it isn't very loved by fans.
Admittedly there was a lot of dross in this era, but PD's charm managed to salvage something from most of them. I even quite like The Visitation.

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David Anderson 4 years, 2 months ago

I am trying to play predict Philip's scores. Earthshock is a couple of points higher than I expected as are Black Orchid and Mawdryn Undead (but only a couple of points). And I think I was expecting one of Kinda or Caves to be a 9. (Peter Davison has more 10s than the Hinchcliffe era absolutely and proportionately.)

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Philip Sandifer 4 years, 2 months ago

Which gets at something that was discussed during the era, which is that I was terribly hard on an era that I list as my favorite. Having done the scores, I see why - it may be shockingly uneven, but it has a ludicrously high rate of extremely good stories.

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Triturus 4 years, 2 months ago

Resurrection has been on my virgin tv package recently, so it's about the only Davison story I've rewatched since original broadcast apart from Earthshock.

I was amazed at how unremittingly grim Resurrection was. Pretty much everyone and everything gets mindwiped, shot, gassed, blown up, pushed out of a window or facemelted. Nobody smiles unless they're about to kill someone. If the modern series did an episode like this it would be post-watershed.

But I don't recall being that bothered by it when I was 12. And didn't it win the best story of the season poll in DWM?

Maybe kids are just more bloodthirsty and less bothered about the ethics of fake policemen shooting beachcombers in cold blood. I remember enjoying Resurrection, but I can't recall a single thing about Kinda and the only things I can remember about Enlightenment are the shot of the sailing ships and Black Guardian denouement.

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Daibhid C 4 years, 2 months ago

There's a beautiful bit at the start of the Discworld novel Hogfather about how removing blood from the old stories is done for the comfort of " people who had to read them to children rather than the children themselves (who, on the whole, are quite keen on blood provided it's being shed by the deserving*).

"* That is to say, those who deserve to shed blood. Or possibly not. You never quite know with some kids."

(Personally, I was an extremely squeamish kid, and it's amazing I watched Doctor Who at all...)

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Daibhid C 4 years, 2 months ago

Both those statements have qualifiers. " As all-time lows of Doctor Who go" this one has "fleeting moments where it’s suddenly charming and terribly clever". Other all-time lows don't.

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JJ Gauthier 4 years, 2 months ago

STATS

SEASON 19: 5.3/10
SEASON 20: 5.9/10
SEASON 21: 5.5/10

OVERALL: 5.6/10

In comparison, Hartnell averaged 5.6/10, Troughton 6.9/10 (+/- Eggs/Miles Clancy), Pertwee 6.0/10, and Tom Baker 6.3/10.

However, Davison racked up four 10s across 20 stories. Hartnell got 2/30, Troughton 3/21, Pertwee 2/24, and Tom Baker 5/42. Add in the 9 from Mawdren, and you have a Davison masterpiece once every four stories, which does a lot to balance out the duds.

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Philip Sandifer 4 years, 2 months ago

Out of curiosity, could you split the Baker scores the way I will be for books - at the gap between Talons and Fang Rock?

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JJ Gauthier 4 years, 2 months ago

I'll do you one better:

Season 12: 6.2/10
Season 13: 6.5/10
Season 14: 7.0/10

Hincliffe average: 6.6/10

Season 15: 4.8/10
Season 16: 6.7/10
Season 17: 5.4/10 (5.8/10 including Shada)

Williams: 5.6/10
Williams including Shada: 5.8/10

Bidmead: 7.1/10

Williams & Bidmead combined: 6.1/10 (6.2 with Shada)

I don't remember why I didn't do Pertwee & Baker when you put them out. The really interesting one was Pertwee, who was making perfectly good season scores (6.8, 6.0, 6.6, 7.0) until the last one, which got an atrocious 3.8/10.

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encyclops 4 years, 2 months ago

Wow, this is...there's really not much for me to argue with here. I'm at a loss. ;)

...well, okay: try as I might I can't love "Mawdryn" more than a 7, and I think part of it may be that the decaying David Collings is just kind of icky. I know! But yeah. Also, for me "Time-Flight" is at most a 2, "Arc of Infinity" is a 2 for a few little moments (Nyssa holding the High Council at gunpoint, Omega regarding a child wistfully, Colin Baker), "Black Orchid" is at least a 6 (I like "Unicorn," but I think I like this better), and most importantly, "Four to Doomsday" is very solidly a 6 and maybe a little better. I adored it as a kid and I can still enjoy it today. I'm not entirely sure I could rationally defend it, but I wish I could.

And all the love for "Kinda," "Snakedance," and "Enlightenment" makes me happy, happy, and happy. The Baker era's better as a whole, but for me only "City of Death" trumps this trio of highlights in the classic series.

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encyclops 4 years, 2 months ago

Doctor Who became not a show of good stories, but a show of good moments sprinkled through otherwise not especially good stories

This is how I felt about almost all of the new series for quite a while. I'm in the midst of a rewatch (just watched "Planet of the Ood") and I'm mellowing toward it and seeing its virtues, but I still find that the things I love most about it aren't the stories themselves but all the things that go into putting them onscreen.

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Cdog Zilla 4 years, 2 months ago

If I had to pick one of the <5s to go to the mat for, it might be "Terminus," but that's largely because it's one of the few stories I owned on VHS, and I watched it a lot when I had only my small collection to lean on when there weren't a lot of options.

If there's a >5 that I'd have not blinked if scored 2 or more points lower, it's "Frontios." That one frustrated me so much ... mostly because it was always so close to being great, but never got there. That malarkey about Turlough's 'race memory' and everyone's baffling indifference to the apparent destruction of the TARDIS completely took me out of the story.

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elvwood 4 years, 2 months ago

Some great lines here - I like this review blog.

Though I can say that the Tegan Tales duo is still very watchable...so long as you do it with the commentary turned on. I've actually seen Arc more often with the commentary than without! Though my favourite comment is from Time-Flight: "holy crapola!" No guesses who said that. ;)

Oh, and Warriors of the Deep is my son's favourite Davison story, so I feel I should defend it to the extent that it is not unenjoyable for everyone. My position's closer to Assad K's (and on Black Orchid as well, actually).

Anyway, my favourite of your review blog entries so far!

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Ewa Woowa 4 years, 2 months ago

I find this all fascinating (And it’s certainly more fun than moving on to the next Torchwood post!)

So, Pertwee’s era – once you excise the final season (Warrior, Dinosaurs, Daleks, Peladon, Spiders) – is the high point of the show (well, tied along with the Hinchcliffe era)...

I know this isn’t actually a surprise that the high point of DrWho is 70-77, but I’m fascinated that the numbers support this (well, support mrPhil’s view)...

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JJ Gauthier 4 years, 2 months ago

Actually, the two highest seasons so far are Troughton's part of Season 4 and Bidmead's Season 19, both at 7.1. Meanwhile, Season 6 is somewhere around that area, depending on how you count Space Pirates. (If you call it a 6, the season comes in at 7.0) So, actually, the highlights for Phil are 1967-69 when it's not doing gratuitous bases under siege and 1981.

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Jesse 4 years, 2 months ago

Of the four 10/10s, which is the best in show?

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Toby Brown 4 years, 2 months ago

I've always thought that Black Orchid should be watched as essentially it being a lazy, quiet Sunday afternoon for the TARDIS crew, so of course there's a cricket match, a nice party and a bit of an Agatha Christie mystery going on. That the mystery, plot, characters, everything really, is a bit naff is fine, because the point is just to enjoy being in the Doctor's company while he has some fun.
For the same reason, I've never understood the comparisons to Unicorn and the Wasp since its closest relative is very obviously the Lodger (except there's very little, if anything, naff in the Lodger, and there's so much more to enjoy about the Doctor).

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