The King’s Demons is an odd little two parter which had the misfortune of ending a season by mistake and features the Master’s machinations as he tries to scupper the Magna Carta. Yeah, I know. Even the Doctor calls it “small time villainy”. We get all the Master’s greatest hits on this, his rubbish disguise, an anagram for a name, lovely Ainley chuckles and his phallic TCE, and a decent cast being all “forsooth” and “hey nonny nonny”. Gerald Flood mugs it up wonderfully as King John and Kamelion, and the little ditty he sings has stuck in my head for all these years!
The main cast are functionary as usual, and Davison as always seems to walk through even bad dialogue effortlessly. With Tegan and Turlough, though, we have too of the most pointless, unpleasant companions of all time, and one wonders why the Doctor put up with their shiftiness and moaning.
Not a bad episode, just a bit pointless.
Extra wise we have a commentary with Peter Davison, Eric Saward and Isla Blair, and it’s a pleasant enough listen, with what you’d expect. Peter being ironic, Eric bemoaning production and saying “it’s not my fault” and Isla going “oh, I forgot that”. Again, nothing wrong with any of that.
There’s a decent wee documentary about the Magna Carta too, which is one of those things which helps Doctor Who fans think they know about everything. Which we do, of course.
Finally, there’s a potted history of the Companion-who-sat-in-a-cupboard, Kamelion, with everyone going “it’s not my fault!” reminicent of the recent Creature from the Pit extra on Erato. Good stuff though.
Planet of Fire
Planet of Fire is as close as you get to a follow-up of The King’s Demons and is Turlough’s exit story (hurrah!) and Peri’s entrance (fnar!). Set in Lanzarote and Sarn, or Lanzarote, it’s a tale of, well, em… how to describe it… sort of… ah! Loads of people standing around talking, mostly. It looks lush. Oh, and the Master get’s shrunk, the schmuck, and uses Kamelion to rescue himself, to the point where the Doctor (to an audible cheer) turns the dreary robot into an action figure. The direction by Fiona Cumming and the locations give it quite a modern air, and the Doctor out of his cricket uniform helps with that, but there’s very little substance to it. Nicola Bryant is very pretty as Peri, but her voice grates and her dialogue is shocking, and other guest stars, including a very cool Peter Wyngarde are all clearly thinking “jolly to Lanzarote, and paid, shut yir face and do the job”. It’s all a bit flat.
Commentary on this is the joyous reunion of the naughty schoolboys Strickson and Davison, and indeed there are many derring dos as they snigger their way through a lively commentary. Nicola chips in too with some new girl observations and Fiona Cumming makes four with some technical observations and the odd anecdote.
Three very competent vignettes on the making of, including sending Cumming and designer Malcolm Thornton back to Lanzarote helps with a before/after comparison give the impression that this episode should have been a lot better than it actually turned out being, and a poignant mini feature on Anthony Ainley completes the haul for this DVD.
There is also an odd remix version of the serial with a Special Edition, given the dolby/CGI/Widescreen polish similar to Enlightment beforehand, but it all seems a bit pointless. Like that previous story, it wasn’t, visually, that ropey to begin with.
The Dominators followed in July and again the cry, as one falls to ones knees is “Why????” Why is this released and Terror of the Zygons isn’t, for instance? It’s an awful, flat story of the Dominators taking charge of a planet of pacifists. I know, big men, eh? Don’t see them taking on Skaro anytime soon! With their dodgy turtle uniforms and even dodgier Quarks – what were they thinking? – the story does actually feature some decent, thought out design, some not bad location work (albeit another quarry) and, of course, fine, fine performances from the governor, Patrick Troughton and his ever reliable sidekick, our very own Frazer Hines. What would this era have been without them? Wendy Padbury makes three, in typical Zoe stylee, but there is a distinct feeling that this era had run its course. Pity really.
A bonkers making of where the blame-game reaches new heights, a decent “what the papers said” era-specific look and an affectionate but honest commentary from stalwart Hines and Padbury along with a couple of guest stars and the make up designer.
Revenge of the Cybermen/Silver Nemesis
Now, these two adventures are probably the nadir of Cyberstories, so it makes sense to lump them together in one “I don’t have to buy it, you can’t make me” DVD boxset.
Starting with Revenge of the Cybermen, a story where the remnants of the Cyber Race attack the legendary (!) planet of gold, Voga, in an attempt to destroy it once and for all is actually not as bad as you remember. Maybe I’m looking at it through five-year-old-tinted specs, but I’m really pleased this is now available to complete my Tom Baker’s debut season collection. There is much to like in this episode. The leads – Ian Marter, Elisabeth Sladen and Tom Baker – are universally brilliant, and the sets, a rehash of Ark In Space‘s Nerva Beacon (not the last time this was done! The New Series makes a habit of it, with the biggest parallel being Satellite Five/The Games Station) and Wookey Hole (fnar #2) are great. Lighting too, is, mostly, well done, especially on Voga. Of course, the Cybermen are awful, although classically designed, and it doesn’t help that in the extras director Michael Bryant says – and I promise you he says this – “In Cyberland, there are many types of Cybermen, with many types of accents.” – showing that, despite his technical skills with CSO and gadgets he really should have done his research. Cybermat’s too, get a make over, and not for the better, and the Vogan masks are either brilliant or awful. Dialogue for the most part is Brian Blessed-shouted at each other, too, but the crew of the Beacon are calm and cool for the most part and manage to get away with it. You can see the clash between Gerry Davis recycling of plot and Robert Holmes dragging it into the 70s. I have a soft spot for this story though.
A commentary featuring Lis Sladen, Philip Hinchcliffe and the legendary David Collings is a polite but honest interpretation of events, which Lis being uncharacteristically critical of herself, and Hinchcliffe being honest in his frustration of the episodes execution. Collings too makes some funny but rather more “there’s me!” observations.
Documentary wise, there’s a couple of little nuggets, with Michael E Bryant off on a ghost tale (not the only one to do that, as Lis Sladen recounts the tale of the missing scenes in the commentary), Hinchcliffe again bemoaning the production and an absolutely wonderful little location report in which a reporter looking for “Doctor Who” finds a spectacular Tom Baker in full flow. Was he acting? Is he really just like the Doctor? It brought to mind just how much Matt Smith is as his character too.
On the other hand, Silver Nemesis IS as bad as you remember. I spoke to Andrew Cartmel recently about this (two part interview coming soon!), and, as he does in the commentary, he bemoans the things which don’t work in the story as much as the things that do. Plus side, well, Sylv and Sophie are very Sylv and Sophie and if you like the Seventh Doctor and Ace, you’ll like them as always. The rest – well, the plot first – Neo Nazis, Jacobean Satan worshippers, Cybermen and the Doctor and Ace all go looking for the Nemesis, an ancient Time Lord weapon – is just about it. In the end, of course, the Doctor out foxes everyone, and everyone dies, except one guy, who decides he’s a thoroughly decent chap. That’s about it. It’s very “bitty”. There’s lots of pointless parts in it though. Lots of walking around, the occasional confrontation, and then walking around again. Geography doesn’t work either, it makes no sense, and there are a couple of pointless, and in one case quite cringing cameos with a lookalike queen and Broadway star Dolores Grey (nope, I hadn’t heard of her then either, but don’t worry, neither had Andrew Cartmel!). All in all, a bit confusing, a bit pointless and a bit of a waste. Cybermen look awful, no one is trying to act, and the story starts no where and heads up a culdesac.
The writer, Kevin Clarke clearly had no clue what Doctor Who was (again, see my up coming interview with Andrew Cartmel), and as such is adamant in the Doctor is supposed to be God! He says as much in conspiratorial tones in the Making of doc, which again takes all the usual suspects and asks them to be as honest as possible about the serial. Which they are, to be fair. Sylvester, Sophie, Kevin, Andrew and director Chris Clough along with Gerard Murphy, who’s like a big eager-to-please labrador, all appear to give their opinion, and do so again, sans Murphy in a lively commentary in which Clough shouts louder than anyone else.
Another little doc featured discusses the blackmarket currency of Doctor Who on video through the early years of the VCR, and is interesting, for many, many reason.