Monday, September 21, 2009

TV Review: Doctor Who, Season 15

Continuing through the Tom Baker years; also see season 12, 13 and 14 review posts.

The Horror Of Fang Rock: A nice, atmospheric story. The foggy lighthouse is a great claustrophobic setting for a monster story, and the writers give us more than just anonymous monster fodder with the supporting characters. Sadly, things run out of steam by the end, when the so-far invisible monster is revealed to be a florescent jello mold that is dispatched with a small mortar, and a scout ship that is blown up with a lighthouse light filtered through a diamond. I'm guessing the Sontarans didn't have much problem with them in their off-screen war. So, three parts good to one part bad - call it three stars.

The Invisible Enemy: Unfortunately, the enemy didn't stay invisible. It's a pretty weak story - yet another alien mental takeover, which we've seen many times before during the Baker years, but without any of the depth of earlier efforts like Masque of Mandragora or Pyramids of Mars. And we also hit up against the limits of the production staff. This was a pretty ambitious story, with two space bases, a spaceship, an asteroid field and the interior of the Doctor's brain to be realized, and there are more misses than hits. And the Swarm Nucleus that acts as the main baddy here - oof. Starts out as a trash bag with a claw, ends up as a midget dressed up as a giant prawn. And even the characterizations don't work - Leela in particular takes a giant step backwards, written here as a savage idiot. Only the introduction of K-9 is worth mentioning, and he's better seen in later stories anyway. One star.

Image Of The Fendahl: Another Gothic story, with the first two episodes in particular upping the "creepy" factor quite satisfactorily. Things drop off a bit in the back half, as the enemy changes from being a spooky skull to some only moderately effective snake creatures (the special effects again are a mixed bag at best), and the menace posed by the snakes isn't really demonstrated very well - what exactly are they going to do again? And in the end, the Doctor just blows them up - not his most subtle solution. But still, there's a lot of relatively shocking stuff here - the Doctor helping a character to commit suicide (!) high on the list - and the overall mood of the story makes up for a lot of shortcomings. But what's up with Leela's changed hair and costume (which immediately change back at the end)? Hmmm. Three middling stars.

The Sun Makers: Starts off as a broad satire on the English tax system (in the form of an alien corporation that has "taken over" humanity). Tom Baker had, of course, frequently brought a breezy, jokey quality to his take on The Doctor. The first two episodes of this serial are no different, but combined with the overall satirical tone, it for the first time really served as a large detriment to the show in my opinion. He just wasn't taking things seriously enough, and too much finally became too much. Things settle down a bit in the back half, where the storyline turns into the standard "capture-escape-capture-escape" pattern, but the damage was done by that point. And I wonder if the Doctor would find anybody left alive if he went back after say, five years; after overthrowing the corporate leaders, the workers apparently decided to hang out up on the roof and work on their tans! I'm not sure this lot is capable of running their own planet. Oh well. Not much to recommend here; one star.

Underworld: The story of the Argonauts recast as a scifi adventure. Things get off to a pretty good start, and for a change the effects work is actually pretty good (both with the ship being "buried" in the nebula and most of the bluescreen shots in the underground caves). Sadly, the scripting again lets us down, as it devolves into another "destroy the evil computer" storyline. Lots of things end up poorly explained at best. It's not a horrible story, but nothing special either. Three stars.

The Invasion Of Time: Well, another chance for an epic storyline that falls quite short. The decision to join the story "in the middle" (or at least, leaving the Doctor's motivations somewhat mysterious until later on in the story) is a good one, even though we know the Doctor hasn't really switched over to "the dark side". And trips to Gallifrey are usually interesting. But there's lots of other problems here - Leela being essentially shut off to the side for a good chunk of time, the seemingly omnipotent technology of K-9 solving all problems remotely, the relatively easy defeat of the Sontarans once they make their appearance, Leela's sudden and inexplicable decision to stay behind, and worst of all, the endless tramping through the TARDIS hallways in the last two episodes. Really a wasted opportunity here - two stars.

Wow, looking back - I didn't really get much from this set of stories, did I? I don't know if the scripts really took a downturn here, or if I'm just getting burned out running through all of these seasons in a row. Well, now that the fall TV shows and football season are starting up, I'll probably take these at a slower pace for a while anyway. Next season - the Doctor gets a new companion, and a new season-long mission....

No comments: