Wednesday, November 4, 2009

TV Review: Doctor Who, Season 16

Following from seasons 12, 13, 14 and 15, Tom Baker reaches the Key To Time season. All stories here concern the Doctor's quest for the six segments of the titular key, along with new Time Lady companion Romana. And how are the episodes? Well...

The Ribos Operation - This is a nice little episode. Although the overall "save the entire universe" arc is introduced, the specific story here isn't saving the universe, or a planet, or even a city. It's just the Doctor and Romana trying to extract a segment while a pair of con men attempt to fleece a warlord out of some money. It helps a lot that the supporting characters - the con men, the soldiers, even the local "soothsayer" - are all well-written, engaging characters. A few dodgy moments with a man-in-suit-type monster aside, this is otherwise a good start to the season. Four stars.

The Pirate Planet - The first contribution to Doctor Who from "Hitchhiker's" author Douglas Adams, this one is perhaps predictably over-the-top. The pirate affectations are amusing at first, but quickly wear out their welcome. Beyond that, there's not much left to recommend. Two stars.

The Stones Of Blood - This one starts out as yet another of those evil cult stories that pop up at least once a season, and it's not much of an improvement (except for the great character of Professor Amelia Rumford). However, half way through it switches over to a parody trial held in hyperspace. I found it an interesting change that helped out the overall story. Again, the monster effects don't work out (how would they show walking stones, anyway?). Three stars.

The Androids Of Tara - A step backwards here, as the Doctor and Romana get involved in a medieval-type power struggle which really doesn't have anything to do with the overall Key to Time arc. It's a lot of mistaken identity and body doubles, and while Tom Baker seems to be having a good time, and there's a fairly charismatic villain, the whole thing seems to be a bit lightweight compared to the larger storyline. Nothing actively wrong, just not what the series needed right here. Three stars.

The Power Of Kroll - This one really didn't appeal to me much. Not too many of these characters are particularly bright; there's a group of evil corporate types led by a clear maniac battling a separate group of primitive natives following a vaguely-defined religion based on the creature Kroll who seems to be as likely to kill off its followers as its enemies. Meantime, we get the Doctor and Romana slogging back-and-forth across swamplands (which also results in K-9 sitting this one out), getting captured by one side or the other. At least the blue-screening in of the titular creature is done better than the Loch Ness Monster from a couple of seasons back. Two stars.

The Armageddon Factor - This one starts out almost as cartoonishly as The Pirate Planet, but once the Black Guardian's minion, the Shadow, is introduced, things look up. Here's a villain that seems to be up to the Doctor's level, recognizing his enemy's faults and capitalizing on them. There's a lot of balls in the air during the middle section here, what with a collapsing time loop, hostages, brainwashed allies, and a bumbling Time Lord assistant, but somehow everything manages to hang together. A good ending to an overall successful season. Three stars.

So the overall season-long arc turns out to be a pretty good idea here, even if the writers did forget about it at times. It's not the best Tom Baker season, but it's pretty solid. Next season: a new Romana, and a season with some great highs and deep lows.

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