Less the heroes of our stories than the villains of some other bastard’s

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Elizabeth Sandifer

Elizabeth Sandifer created Eruditorum Press. She’s not really sure why she did that, and she apologizes for the inconvenience. She currently writes Last War in Albion, a history of the magical war between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. She used to write TARDIS Eruditorum, a history of Britain told through the lens of a ropey sci-fi series. She also wrote Neoreaction a Basilisk, writes comics these days, and has ADHD so will probably just randomly write some other shit sooner or later. Support Elizabeth on Patreon.


  1. Exploding Eye
    February 27, 2012 @ 1:21 am

    The end of episode 1, with Tegan's drawings coming to life (what a talented lass she is – she speaks ancient Aboriginal languages and is a professional-level artist), was another of those incredibly evocative reveals, like the big reveal in Enlightenment, and had a big effect on me as a child.

    Different from a fairytale magic idea of drawings coming to life that one might expect to see in children's fiction, it's more like Philip K Dick in execution.

    Incidentally, I agree with the notion that Adric would have been more fun as a Turlough-style villain.


  2. John Callaghan
    February 27, 2012 @ 3:08 am

    I appreciate the gentleness and strangeness of Four To Doomsday. The first three stories of this series are the kind of Who I like – oddness and surreality, with philosophy and whimsical humour.


  3. Lee Mansfield
    February 27, 2012 @ 4:13 am

    Forgive me if I missed an earlier entry but I haven't noticed much discussion of the Fifth Doctor's choice of costume yet. The Edwardian (or rather faux Edwardian I gather?) cricketing outfit felt very apt and natural a transition to me at the time. I recall that there was a surge of interest in English heritage stylings – Laura Ashley began a resurgence and period costume tv and film started to feed on this Conservative inspired 'conservatism' – wasn't Brideshead Revisited made for tv around this time? I could imagine the fifth Doctor striding through that serial and no one batting an eyelid. It was almost Platonic/Archetypal 'Britishness' distilled and put into the nation's drinking water. I felt that this fresh fair haired young heroic Doctor had leapt from the pages of an old Boy's Own adventure annual with his cricket bat and ball and innocent sense of 'fair play' instead of a sword or a gun. I also recall vaguely linking David Bowie's preppy fair haired 'Let's Dance' persona of that time – especially merged with his character he played in 'Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence' – with the same zeitgeist. And of course in Four To Doomsday (and especially later in Brideshead…I mean Black Orchid) his cricketing silhouette was brought to the fore. I remember professional cricketer Mike Gatting talking about how much he loved the fact that the Doctor was now overtly a cricket hero too and he would video all the episodes transmitted while he was on tour with England at the time. I guess there is a shadow side to this superficial aspect of the Doctor too. I am troubled now looking back at the alignment with Conservatism or perhaps Conservative tinged inspiration. Could a case be made simiular to Pertwee's Doctor that the fifth is a rejuvenated younger fresher third Doctor – comfortable with Establishment trappings and class? Davison's Doctor was perhaps the least 'working class' of all in many ways bringing an idealised 'sportsman on the fields of Eton' vibe? But at the time, as a teenager in love with the series, I just thought he was great.


  4. Lee Mansfield
    February 27, 2012 @ 4:37 am

    Another wonderful conceit of the fifth Doctor was the subtle 'unreality' of his celery stick. He initially takes it from the totally fictional Castrovalva and bizarrely it remains on his lapel long after the 'world' has ceased to exist! And then we see him change it for another 'unreal' stick on Captain Wrack's Eternal vessel – sailing ship in space – in Enlightenment. Again it remains long after everything else vanishes from existence! It would certainly explain its perpetual freshness!


  5. Spacewarp
    February 27, 2012 @ 4:51 am

    Ah yes, January 1982!

    In London I will be starting my first full-time job in just under 3 months. Considering the UK unemployment trend, this will make me a very lucky person indeed. I will end up working for the GLC (Greater London Council), in a building called "County Hall" which is (still) situated directly across the River Thames from the Houses of Parliament. My ultimate boss – "Red" Ken Livingstone, the leader of the GLC – is already one of Margaret Thatcher's most hated enemies, and by summer of 1982 he will have placed a huge billboard on top of County Hall, facing Parliament, and advertising the current number of London's Unemployed (around 300,000, which by an incredible coincidence equals about 10% of Britain's unemployed – approx 3 million).

    Ken will change this every month, all the while chuckling as Thatcher fumes impotently at him. However she will have the last laugh as the Local Government Act of 1985 will result in the GLC's abolition in 1986, and the loss of Ken's job!

    Ultimately though Ken will rise again as the Mayor of London, while Thatcher will be ousted by her own party.

    In some ways their relationship could be seen as mirroring that of the 5th Doctor and the Master…


  6. Alex Wilcock
    February 27, 2012 @ 5:14 am

    I know Ken's a cackling stereotype with (then) improbable facial hair and increasingly lunatic plans (and, today, revealed as defining himself as "a company" – y'know, like Mitt Romney says, they're people too – in order to dodge paying most of his taxes on his £3000000 earnings; at least the Master wasn't a hypocrite)…

    But the only thing I can see Mrs Thatcher having in common with the fifth Doctor is being blonde, so you're being too kind to her – I don't like her, either.

    Or was that not what you meant?


  7. Matthew Blanchette
    February 27, 2012 @ 6:04 am

    I'm going out on a limb to say this, but… Paradise Towers IS correctly reviled. Attack of the Cybermen has some stuff going for it, actually.


  8. Elizabeth Sandifer
    February 27, 2012 @ 7:06 am

    That is not the position I'll be taking, certainly. 🙂

    The rough claim of the Paradise Towers post, when we get there, will be "yes, this has a huge number of problems, but it's so clearly a step in the right direction for the series that to complain about them seems churlish." Taken as a movie cast adrift from its context it's fairly dire. But I think it's one of the most dramatic single step improvements in the history of the series – as massive a step forward as Remembrance a few stories later or The Ark in Space. It's just that the show was so wretched at the end of Season 23 that it required two giant steps forward – Paradise Towers and Remembrance of the Daleks – to get to good again.


  9. Alex Wilcock
    February 27, 2012 @ 7:10 am

    I’d tilt the other way from your saying it’s a shame no-one has any strong feelings about this story – at the time, I remember disliking it quite a bit, and though I’ve mellowed a little over the years, I still think it’s very poor. For me, it’s far less interesting than any of the previous season (even Meglos), and possibly than the one before that. Or, come to think of it, the one before that, either. And although it probably did Davison good to record another story than his debut first, I reckon this still does him a lot of damage even second: I’m with you that Adric is suddenly a gullible sexist wanker; Tegan hysterical (surely her worst story); I’m afraid I have to criticise Nyssa, too, as an insufferable know-it-all (if she became an android, how could they tell?); and, worse than any of these, given very little to work with, the Doctor is quite bland in a very bland story. Most of Peter’s stories and most of his performances aren’t bland at all, so I can’t but wonder if it’s this treading water (or vacuum) that settled most people into thinking “Bland!” about him and his era. Bizarrely, this even makes it two stories in a row where all the guest characters except the villain are in an existential crisis about the extent to which they really exist, yet the first was so dreamlike and intelligent (as will be those bits of the next story) and this one’s a load of old clichés.

    I know you say it’s old-fashioned, but it seems a giant step backwards in terms of storytelling, atmosphere, dialogue, characterisation, even design (not bad, quite functional, but not exciting) – compare on any of those levels the ‘first episode exploration story’ of your ‘second story’ picks, and I’d far rather watch The Daleks or The Ark In Space, each of which had only the regular cast to propel them; this would have been even more dreary with no-one other than that bunch. As far as later ‘second stories’ go, incidentally, to me Paradise Towers is brilliant, so either Matthew Blanchette or I are going to disagree with you in a few seasons’ time. You’ll cope.

    Let’s see… What I can say that’s positive? I enjoy Monarch stealing the show with his constant curt commands to the monitors, as if he’s the director, and his “Ah, conformity. There is no other freedom” being clearly the mark of a villain. I’m distant enough from the first cliffhanger now to think it’s quite eerie, even if at the time my reaction was a ‘so what?’ that amplified the feeling of blandness, thanks to early DWM spoilers. Persuasion and Enlightenment get good points later, too – one for a villain who doesn’t faff about, and his “You may keep the pencil,” the other a camp Dynasty in space dismissal of the Doctor, followed by the hilarious moment in which the director tries to cover up Adric breast-fondling her to death. I quite like the edges of religious fanaticism, and the odd sense that in some ways this should be a story more about the Cybermen than Earthshock is. And the Monopticons are quite cool.

    Mainly, though, I think the story is dull and the script terrible (never mind the science). Pass the sodium chloride, vicar!


  10. Alex Wilcock
    February 27, 2012 @ 7:12 am

    Just to pick a few random absurdities: Why give a long, complex name to your own home galaxy? Or, indeed, bother to name a galaxy when yours must be the same as Earth’s, as you can’t even travel at light speed and you were moving many times more slowly in the past? Why did Monarch shuttle back and forth instead of just conquering Earth when there was no-one about with missiles and things? Does he just like the shops? The endless going on about the Master and Rassilon sounds like there was a ten-minute gap in the script filled by a reading from Jean-Marc L’Officier. Bigon and the Doctor plan committing genocide on three billion Urbankans, even if most of them are ‘only the lower classes’, which even when I first watched this aged ten seemed very wrong. The Doctor also tries to get hold of all the weapons, and even before then makes a gourmand’s kiss gesture to a laser gun. Then there’s the utterly dreadful last episode, about which I’ll only raise the rather unfocused ‘climax’ in medium shot in the middle of a disco in which the poison, enough to destroy all humanity and reduce you to the size of a grain of salt with just a trillionth of a gram, works – but not nearly as much as we’ve been told – on Monarch, and his outfit, but not on the Doctor or anyone else when they’re just five feet away, despite surely rather more than a trillionth of a gram being flung into the air as the vial explodes. I usually love the music in this season, too, and even that’s pretty terrible here.

    As far as the companions go, a wiser man than me’s suggested when we watched it one time that it ought to be Nyssa who falls for Monarch, not Adric. He was the free-thinker who turned against the wise old starship-rulers with religious myths; she was the fairy princess from a culture that overruled everyone’s emotions for their own good (so wouldn’t have any problem with “slaves”). Wouldn’t she say, ‘This is wonderful – it could be just like Traken’? Though Lin Futu putting Nyssa into the white-lit cubicle and announcing ‘five minutes’ seems very much like he’s stuck her in the microwave, which always makes me laugh. And how come Nyssa can be ‘emptied’ so quickly? Basically, after one session with your psychiatrist, they can remake you wholesale? Though, I suppose: ‘Supercilious… Father…! Telebiogenesis… Done.’ OK, fair enough. Then there’s Monarch’s plan boiling down to ‘With his looks, intelligence and charisma, no-one could charm the people of Earth more stunningly than Adric.’ Is Monarch JNT?

    It may say something about how dreary the script is that this is the only one of Terence Dudley’s stories that even he couldn’t be bothered novelising – instead, Terrance Dicks turns in a functional but uninspiring book peppered with contemptuous asides for the script, which can at least be funny if you’re in the right mood. All four of these, for example, are from different scenes, suggesting Terrance thought Terence was really poor:

    “Chuckling at his own awful joke, the Doctor waved a hand at his companions.”

    “Monarch treated the feeble joke with the contempt it deserved.”

    “Either the Mandarin failed to understand the Doctor’s joke, or he was polite enough to ignore it.”

    “Bigon went on with his appalling story…”

    I can’t help thinking that Terrance doesn’t think much of Peter’s charisma, either, by the way he describes him not as compelling, or passionate, or burning-eyed, but as po-faced and going on a bit…

    “The Doctor knew he had to reach Adric not only through his reason, but by displacing the influence of Monarch’s personality with his own.
    “The Doctor talked long and earnestly, recalling all that had happened since they had arrived on Monarch’s ship.”

    And as I’ve just done that too, now I’ll stop.


  11. Jesse
    February 27, 2012 @ 7:32 am

    This comment has been removed by the author.


  12. Jesse
    February 27, 2012 @ 7:34 am

    I agree. I remember being home from college, aimlessly channel-surfing and unable to sleep, when I stumbled on a Doctor Who marathon on the local PBS station. I had given up on the program a few years earlier, but I had some friends who liked the McCoy years, and I doubtfully thought I might give it a try. This combination of insomnia, low expectations, and morbid curiosity allowed me to sit through all of Time and the Rani, a serial that convinced me I had been right to leave this crap behind.

    The station showed Paradise Towers right afterwards, and I decided to keep watching until I was ready to sleep. And suddenly my attitude changed. "Holy crap!" I said to myself. "They're doing High Rise!" Yes, there were problems (poor production values, uneven writing, Mel), but the differences between it and the previous story were stark and encouraging. I kept watching the marathon, and then, back at school, my McCoy-fan friends showed me the rest of the Cartmel era. I was duly impressed.


  13. C.
    February 27, 2012 @ 8:19 am

    "The endless going on about the Master and Rassilon sounds like there was a ten-minute gap in the script filled by a reading from Jean-Marc L’Officier."

    this caused an honest to god LOL. I don't recall where we are in terms of Who's internal politics, but is this the beginning of Ian Levine's "continuity" script edits?


  14. BerserkRL
    February 27, 2012 @ 9:41 am

    Thatcher vs. Red Ken — oh man, for me that's more like Daleks vs. Cybermen.


  15. WGPJosh
    February 27, 2012 @ 10:30 am

    Wow, Adric can't help but be a broken sexist mess, can he? His very creation is mired in unfortunate implications and then even after both Tom Baker and Lalla Ward have left he gets turned into a misogynistic prick by Terrance Dudley.

    NO. BAD. I promised not to scream about Adric again until "Earthshock"!

    Agree with all the points here and have very little to add, I'm afraid. Though I am casting my support behind "Paradise Towers", looking ahead, if for no other reason than Judy Cornwell is in it and she's hilarious and awesome.


  16. Matthew Blanchette
    February 27, 2012 @ 12:09 pm

    Terence Dudley really was one of the worst writers of the Davison era to ever get invited back — the other was Johnny Byrne.

    They were only invited back because they were chummy with JNT, not because of any great writing quality, and it shows — Byrne's only good with dramatic overhauls from Bidmead, but as Dudley never wrote for Season 18, we'll never know if Bidmead could've polished his scripts to the level of The Keeper of Traken.

    Chris Chibnall and Matthew Graham are their modern equivalents, I suspect.


  17. William Whyte
    February 27, 2012 @ 12:59 pm

    Yes, this. For all the misfires in Paradise Towers, it's the series learning how to have fun again. Both in front of and behind the camera, if Andrew Cartmel's cast party account is to be believed. And it has the first dialogue since the Graham Williams era that consistently feels like dialogue, not like an essay.


  18. William Whyte
    February 27, 2012 @ 1:12 pm

    The first and second episode endings share a common Davison flaw, which is that they mistake a high-concept reveal for an actual increase in drama. This maybe works in retrospect — I haven't watched the whole series since first transmission so I wouldn't know — but certainly at the time my feeling was "You can change your shape? Well, this is a science fiction show." "You're an android? Well, this is a science fiction show." This was partly me, aged 13, getting harder and harder to impress, but I think it's also true that the story doesn't work as hard as it should in getting you invested in the pre-reveal reality.

    The worst offender is, of course, episode 1 of Enlightenment. That reveal would be a bit ehh anyway, but the story pushes so hard on the SOMETHING WEIRD IS HAPPENING pedal that it would have been a stronger twist if they actually were at sea. (And that seagull was the Master in disguise!)


  19. William Whyte
    February 27, 2012 @ 1:22 pm

    I like when you do these sympathetic readings of minor stories. I feel like I learn a lot more than when we agree about classics.

    One other point. When there's a discussion of fashion and Tegan draws Enlightenment and Persuasion it's a genuinely new thing for the show: a "let me tell you about us young people" moment that isn't entirely generic or embarrassing. It felt at the time that Tegan might be what we now know was Rose — someone who actually has a real life and might make the show contemporary in a good way. Certainly, when I watched the episode first time round (and after the intermission that was Castrovalva), that scene was the one that struck me as "oh, so this is what they're going to do with the show now".

    Then they didn't. Instead, they made everyone annoying. But I suppose everyone in real life knows a lot of annoying people, so that was contemporary too.


  20. Iain Coleman
    February 27, 2012 @ 1:41 pm

    The central dramatic flaw is that the regular characters are not put into direct peril until half way through episode three. The style may seem like something of a throwback to the Hartnell years, but at least then they were savvy enough to someone wave a sink plunger at a shrieking companion by the end of the first episode.

    Instead, we have an attempt at interpersonal drama between the regulars. It doesn't really work – but, to be fair, it works less badly here than most of the times they try to do it later. The best scene in this respect is the one where Tegan ends up knocking Adric to the floor. Not just because we all like to see Adric get a smack, but because they are having a real argument about things that really matter to them, and it has real consequences. Most of the rest of the time with these characters the "conflict" is just bickering, the dramatic equivalent of pedalling really hard on an exercise bike.


  21. James Kettle
    February 27, 2012 @ 2:43 pm

    Ken's been acting like virtually any other freelance? Who spotted that scoop? Is Andrew Gilligan still getting work?

    Wonderful post, Philip. I'm on tenterhooks as to whether it's the phenomenally mixed bag that is Attack Of The Cybermen or the overlooked quasi-classic of Paradise Towers that you're referring to though…


  22. Alan
    February 27, 2012 @ 3:14 pm

    What gets me about Adric is that the misogyny just comes out of nowhere! He never had a problem with Romana nor Nyssa before this episode. In fact, in Keeper of Traken he seemed genuinely respectful of Nyssa's intellect and seemed genuinely delighted to see her in Logopolis. I actually thought we would be seeing a "young puppy love" storyline in this season. Instead, somebody flipped a switch in Adric's head and he joined the He-man Woman Hater's Club.

    What might have worked (or at least been more interesting) is if Adric had simply been an intellectual elitist. He was an Elite (whatever that means) on Alzarius and from what little we know about that world, it was a weird techno-agrarian society ruled by a trio of absolute but benevolent dictators. If he'd been contemptuous of Tegan because she was the only one in the Tardis not from an advanced culture, it would at least have been plausible. And honestly, the woman was dense enough not to grasp the fact that if you have a time machine, then by definition, you can't be late for your crappy air hostess job. If Adric thought she was representative of Earth culture, I'm not sure I'd blame him for thinking humans would be better off under the Monarch.

    In retrospect, I am also struck by the conscious effort to include ethnic diversity in the series. There were more dark-skinned extras running around in one episode of Four to Doomsday than in the entire previous 18 years of the show! And as a 14-year-old Reaganite (I got better), I was quite shocked when the Doctor matter-of-factly told Kato, er, Lin Futu that China was the most powerful nation in the world.

    Which raises a final question: To what extent do any of you see the casting of Burt Kwouk and Stratford Johns as "stunt-casting" which foreshadows the later inclusion of people like Richard Todd, Beryl Reid and Rula Lenska.


  23. Wm Keith
    February 27, 2012 @ 11:33 pm

    Please don't presage the exercise bike. It's coming soon enough.


  24. Wm Keith
    February 28, 2012 @ 12:01 am

    I love the extremely flawed diamond that is "Paradise Towers" (a Pink Panther amongst flawed gems).

    But "Attack of the Cybermen" must have had something going for it – part 2 was the first episode I'd seen for several years (week-night commitments prevented me from seeing half of the Davison episodes, and within a couple of weeks I'd pretty much given up on watching Doctor Who). Enough going for it that I tuned in next week for "Vengeance on Varos". Perhaps I gave "Attack" the benefit of the doubt as being (apparently) Colin Baker's first story.


  25. Iain Coleman
    February 28, 2012 @ 1:39 am

    That's not "stunt casting", that's just casting the best actors you can get for the roles.

    Stunt casting is when people are cast because of name recognition / celebrity rather than their acting track record. To be fair to JNT, most of the time this worked well: Nicholas Parson is excellent in Fenric, Hale and Pace are perfectly fine in Survival, and even Ken Dodd works in context in Delta.

    The only real failure of "stunt casting" is Bonnie Langford – not because she was incapable of giving a good performance, but because the character concept doesn't seem to be much more than "Bonnie Langford!" and her direction doesn't seem to amount to anything beyond "be Bonnie Langford!".


  26. BerserkRL
    February 28, 2012 @ 4:46 am

    It's too late for a pop-between-realities entry on this (the one on Star Trek's already been done), but I wonder to what extent the 1968 episode "Assignment: Earth" was either influenced by or an influence on Doctor Who. There's a time-travel/saving-the-timeline plot, obviously; but in particular the team of mysterious traveller Gary Seven, alien shapeshifter Isis, and bubbly earthling Roberta Lincoln feels like a typical TARDIS crew.


  27. Iain Coleman
    February 28, 2012 @ 5:19 am

    I do like your suggestion that Adric should have been portrayed more as an intellectual snob than as a sexist. It's a more natural way for him to behave like a bit of a dick, and gives rise to more interesting character dynamics, both in terms of the Adric-Nyssa-Tegan love triangle and Adric's continuing attempts to impress Daddy, sorry, the Doctor.


  28. The Lord of Ábrocen Landmearca
    February 29, 2012 @ 6:01 am

    @Jesse I've never been able to make it more than ten, fifteen minutes into Time and the Rani. I think it is bad. I think it is really, hideously, uncomedically, unrepentantly bad. I can totally see why you'd want to give up after seeing it.


  29. Anton B
    February 29, 2012 @ 8:39 am

    I think you're right. It's a base under siege/proto -Unit story. How aware of Doctor Who were the production team on Star Trek? Incidently I've always though Gary Seven was a cool character with the coolest name.


  30. littlemaths
    October 26, 2012 @ 5:58 pm

    "John Nathan-Turner’s nostalgia-steeped nightmare briefs"

    That's one hell of an image, Philip.


  31. orfeo
    August 28, 2016 @ 7:43 am

    Hmm. There were some genuinely interesting ideas in this one at first. But the writing of Adric is awful and then the entire thing really falls apart in the last episode.

    I think that the key problem is that the ideas are just that: ideas, in a very abstract philosophical form. And there’s only so much time one can have characters standing around talking about ideas before the average TV audience gets restless. It’s when this story starts attempting action that it goes downhill.


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