Season 21: the worst series of Doctor Who ever made starts here. It will have its moment of brilliance very soon, but it will be fleeting and then it’s downhill all the way, and the problems have little to do with a lack of time or money. You could make this on a movie schedule and budget and it would still be a disappointing piece of work, because it’s morally bankrupt.
Something changed with the perceived success of Earthshock, coming so close to the anniversary year. Suddenly the right way to do Doctor Who seemed to be to bring back some old monsters. This continued with Omega, the Black Guardian, the Silurians, the Daleks, the Sontarans, and would have culminated in the unmade original version of the 23rd Season, with Autons, Ice Warriors and even the Celestial Toymaker. There is nothing wrong with bringing back successful monsters, as long as there is a good reason for it and something interesting is done with them. In fact, the ratio of old to new monsters in the early 80s is not so very different to the late 2000s. But Warriors of the Deep shows us how not to do it. The problem is not so much with the Sea Devils here, who were little more than the monster of the week in their original appearance, lacking any individual character traits. What really goes wrong is the return of the Silurians, who actually had some moral ambiguity to them the first time round, as Icthar recalls:
You forget. Twice we offered the hand of friendship to these ape-descended primitives, and twice we were treacherously attacked, our people slaughtered. It will not happen again.
And this is one of the moments the Doctor collapses as a character, because he has no answer to that, and yet it’s nonsense. As a survivor from Doctor Who and the Silurians (who has inexplicably rewired his head gun into a Dalek-style voice light), Icthar has to have been one of the warmongering Silurians, and he must know that. The only dissenting voices within their ranks were killed off, and then the others set about trying to commit genocide, twice. So Warriors of the Deep plunders the past, and looks back on it through a distorted lens. The Silurians this time round are simply monsters who want to kill everybody, the Sea Devils are their muscle, and yet the Doctor throws out a line at the end as if he has been taking part in Pertwee’s story rather than his own:
There should have been another way.
Yes, there should have been, and it might have started with the Doctor not deciding to overload the base’s reactor to cause a distraction, attacking a guard and then blithely apologising, and getting himself nearly drowned as a reward. And then this great hero says this:
I sometimes wonder why I like the people of this miserable planet so much. The Silurians and Sea Devils are noble races. They have skills and talents you pathetic humans can only dream about.
Yes, they’re very noble, these monsters who have arrived with one, unshakeable belief that they have to wipe out every human in existence. And here in a nutshell is the big problem with the story: the script. All the problems hail from the writing: Johnny Byrne’s vision for this story as something like Alien, with dark corridors and a giant distorted version of a Sea Devil lurking in the darkness (if you write that kind of stuff for Doctor Who in the early 80s, you’re pretty much guaranteed to get a brightly lit base and a pantomime horse); a story about cold war tensions, with every hint of politics removed from it for fear of being taken off air while an election was going on. Faced with such material, everyone dropped the ball here, and it’s rare to get a Doctor Who story where literally every single person involved does a bad job. Eric Saward took a bad script and made it worse. JNT apparently insisted on some of the worst aspects of what appeared on screen. Davison got chucked into freezing cold water. The director was like a dog with his tail being wagged for him, overruled on every creative decision that mattered, and taking on board Ingrid Pitt’s karate attack idea on the Myrka, which should have been dismissed with hysterical laughter. And the actors almost visibly give up on trying to do anything good with this whole sorry mess. With Classic Who, the visuals are largely unimportant. We can forgive the Skarasen in Terror of the Zygons, and the kirby wires in The Tomb of the Cybermen, because those stories are brilliant. To take a more relevant example, we don’t need to let the dinosaur in Doctor Who and the Silurians spoil our enjoyment. We can view these things as a product of their times. But when a story has nothing to offer in the way of interesting ideas, or even one single, solitary, likeable character, it is hard to see past the wobbly-headed Sea Devils and the Myrka, lurching around with its paint still wet, the puppeteers inside getting dizzy with the fumes.
But the single, most disappointing thing about Warriors of the Deep? When you get to the end of it, you haven’t even seen the worst story of the season. Unbelievably, there was some more downhill to be found. RP
The view from across the pond:
You’ve got to love Doctor Who monsters that take their names from what humans call them. Luckily Sea Devils and Silurians have been around for a while and probably got used to calling each other by their English names, rather than use their own language. Very thoughtful of them. The reality is that the TARDIS must be translating for the listener, working not unlike a censor on TV when a vulgarity is replaced with a less offensive phrase. Like in Die Hard II with “Yippee Ki-yay Mister Falcon.” (Yes, that is for real!)
The truth is, I liked this story despite its weaknesses. And there is at least one big weakness! The Myrka is utterly awful and probably one of the worst attempts at a monster in all of Doctor Who history. What compounds it is that the creature was supposed to be somewhat akin to the xenomorph of Alien skulking about the base adding terror to the story. Instead it truly comes off like a college prank. To make matters worse, when Solow thinks she can fight it, it’s high pantomime. Her fist… movements, for want of anything else to call them… look like someone trying to tease a particularly large and perturbed cat. When she adds to the train wreck we are watching by trying to karate kick the hulking behemoth only to get electrocuted to death, the viewer isn’t sure if they should laugh out loud or cringe that this was intended to be taken seriously!
As terrible as all of that is, I thought the Silurians looked fantastic for the time, having won a make-over for their loss against the humans last time. Granted, they’ve put on weight, but some species carry their weight better than others, so who cares? Their unmoving mouths might have been a bit weird too but I found the eyes so reptilian, I had to love them. The Sea Devils also look great, wearing armor now instead of fishnet shawls. Probably a bit more challenging to swim in, what with the added weight and all that, but hey, muscles count for a lot underwater. The base, while it might have been aiming for creepy, ends up with a bright futuristic feel that I liked a lot. Think: 2009 Star Trek Enterprise sans lens flares.
But like the two earlier stories, the Doctor is determined to broker a peace between humans and the two reptilian species. And again, I can’t help but ask what makes him feel this is a possibility? Even with Icthar present, it’s one Silurian and one Time Lord against all of the humans, Sea Devils and Silurians who want to wipe one another out. Despite that, it almost looks like he could succeed. But the Doctor is not really looking at things logically. Not to mention, the Silurians are supposedly down to three members remaining; the rest are gone. When Icthar dies, there’s no reason to think the Sea Devils or the humans would honor any pact made. On the other hand, there are so few of them, why would it matter to either species if they are allowed to live? It’s tantamount to being worried about Ahab’s White Whale – the likelihood of encountering it is pretty remote.
And like each of the former stories with those two races, the Doctor loses. Not just one side is wiped out, but everyone is dead by the end. And all he can say is a very sad and memorable “There should have been another way”. A final bookend for the original series use of these once noble creatures and it leaves us wanting for something happier.
I’ll end with one question. The Doctor likes to say “When I say run, run… RUN!” He says it in this story, which is why I bring it up now. I want to know why he has to prelude that. For instance, if he just said “RUN!” would his companions all stand there drooling and say “wait, you didn’t prep us? We can’t just break into a run!”? Or would it be more surprising to the villain and you don’t want to run the risk of giving the bad guy a stroke? “Oh, no! I didn’t see that coming! Heart… failing…” By first telling the companions he’s about to announce “run”, he’s also giving the villain a chance to prep. Thoughtful, but impractical.
Maybe it’s like writing a blog; you don’t want to end too abruptly. So when I stay stop writing, stop writing…
Stop writing! ML
Read next in the Junkyard… The Awakening
Rog, completely agreed with everything you said, and I know I saw this one for the first time after a very long absence in my youth so almost anything they did was going to be seen through rose tinted glasses. BUT… the only thing we can assume in the fiction of it all is that somewhere between Troughton (450) to Baker (750ish) 300 years have gone by. We may not have context for the age of this Doctor but assuming many years have elapsed between Pertwee and Davison, the 5th Doctor may simply be suffering the guilt of failing both races in the past. His “noble race” categorization is probably colored by his memory which is simply no longer the case. He wants peace because once upon a time, peace was an option and he’s holding onto that memory.
And memory plays a lot in how you view a thing. For instance, my memory of this story is positive probably because it came from a very happy time in my life when I rediscovered Doctor Who and not because it’s a good story since the reality is, as you point out, nearly everything is wrong with it!
Memory! You got to love it.
What were we talking about?
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“but assuming many years have elapsed between Pertwee and Davison, the 5th Doctor may simply be suffering the guilt of failing both races in the past. His “noble race” categorization is probably colored by his memory which is simply no longer the case. He wants peace because once upon a time, peace was an option and he’s holding onto that memory”
I have heard this defence many times, and I have huge problems with it for the following reasons.
1. I struggle to buy that the Doctor is at the same time as being utterly calloused over the humans massacred (who he could’ve saved at any time), overwrought with guilt over the Silurians.
2. If the Doctor has spent this long dwelling on the guilty of that past failure, we would like to think in that time he’d thought up the perfect strategy or solution to ensure peace, or at least a convincing one. In this he has nothing (something’s wrong with your anti-war story if Donald Trump would be more competent at resolving its dilemma than your presented hero), and just acts in a way that ultimately ensures the terrible final last resort is the only possibility (ironically had he used the gas earlier, he could’ve potentially used the threat of it as a deterrent to force the reptiles to retreat).
3. If he still feels so guilty over the Silurians, how do we explain him being so perfectly chummy with the Brigadier only an episode before.
4. Given that the warmongering younger Silurians were as much an obstacle to peace in the Pertwee story as the Brigadier was, why would the Fifth Doctor feel so invested in preserving or flattering the kind of warmongering Silurians who originally killed their own peace-loving leader, and have now led an army of Sea Devils to their potential deaths? I don’t think it’s guilt the Fifth Doctor is motivated by so much as just plain misanthropy and perverse power worship.
5. The biggest problem with that argument that the Doctor has long harbored this guilt over the Silurians is that it means having to believe that in every Pertwee and Tom Baker story since then, every time the Doctor saved the Earth from invasion, a little part of him must have been secretly contemplating letting the invasion happen and letting humanity perish out of spite for what was done to the Silurians. I would hate to have to think that of the Doctor in all those stories, and yet Warriors of the Deep leaves me almost no choice but to have to.
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Hi Thomas. Welcome to the blog! Thanks very much for your comment, and I have to say I agree with every word of it. A very well-reasoned argument, thanks. RP
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Thomas, welcome! Thanks for the detailed reply. I love it. And let me state for the record, I don’t agree with the outcome. I think the outcome is poorly written. The writer backed himself into a corner and couldn’t come up with another solution. (I just listened to an incredible Big Finish story that I felt had a similar resolution: backed into a corner; no option. But I’m offering him the benefit of the doubt as a flawed character in a flawed story.
Also, some time ago I chose to part with a cat because I was getting divorced. I don’t think about it much because, thankfully, in my life, I don’t have many regrets, but that does eat at me. I intentionally do not focus on it often because it breaks my heart. So I live my life without it on my mind. But sometimes, something comes up (like this) that makes me think about it. I think if I make it 300 years, it won’t be high in my memory. My point is simply, I don’t think the Doctor would necessarily be thinking about it that often. It’s only that the reminder of it comes when he encounters them again. As for the friendliness with the Brig, again, same thing, it wasn’t until he is forced to remember that an episode later that his heart aches over the loss.
As for the humans on the seabase, maybe he just didn’t like them enough to go out of his way for them. I mean, one tries to Karate kick Godzilla… These are obvious Darwin Award winners.
PS: LOVE #2…
Thanks and welcome. Hope to hear more from you.
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Hi, thanks for the warm welcome from you both 🙂
That is certainly true about the outcome and Johnny Byrne writing himself into a corner. But I think it was made worse by Eric Saward’s revisions (which included the Doctor’s aforementioned misanthropic rant, and Preston and Vorshak being killed at the end) that just fussed and tampered over an already unimaginative resolution, to the point it was no longer something even well-crafted but just a contrived and nasty mess.
I understand wanting to see this as simply the Doctor being the flawed hero here, but I really don’t think the writing was sophisticated or nuanced enough to even be that. I think what we ended up with was the Doctor as a preachy cipher with nothing to his character beyond exaggerated sentimental pacifism, surrounded by a pointless violent bloodbath that utterly exposes the limitations of such a protagonist.
I don’t think there was any real humanity to the writing of the Doctor here. It was all just exaggerated imitation of what they assume the Third Doctor was like, to the point he becomes a ridiculous saint. Determined to do what his predecessor did, but there’s no heart to it. No real motivation why other than imitation.
And that’s again why the Doctor can not give a damn about the human collateral throughout, but suddenly get tearful over the Silurians at the end.
What you say about how grief can seem to have faded but then suddenly creep back up on you years later, is true. I think the problem is, whilst the Silurians and Sea Devils are back, and in a way that you’re right, could potentially mean a huge emotional shift for the Doctor who’d had to give up both races for dead, only to now learn there was a second chance…. the problem is, it’s hard to see any point in which the Silurians’ actions actually ever could remind him of why he was ever endeared to their cause in the first place. On the contrary, if he’s having a moment of guilt and grief, the story is filled throughout with reprehensible moments on the Silurians’ part that should ordinarily force him to snap out of it and get realistic that these are not the noble beings he remembers. The fact he doesn’t, again I think indicates we’re not dealing with a believable or nuanced character here.
I agree the Doctor didn’t seem to like the humans very much, and certainly not enough to want to bother saving them. What sits unpleasantly with me about that is that at least one of them (Preston in the chemical store) ends up taking a bullet for him, all the same.
Be nice to know which Big Finish story you meant. I’ve always felt personally that the best example on audio of Warriors ‘done right’ would either be The Elite, or The Architects of History, or possibly even Dalek Empire III.
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Thomas, gotta say: loving the dialog!
In reverse, I was listening to The Nowhere Place for which parts one and two blew me away. I started my drive to work and was suddenly there but I had no memory of the drive. But by part 4, it was like they created something too big to be resolved in a short time. So it just ends. Disappointing considering how strong I found the beginning two parts.
Re: the Doctor, we’re going to have to pull two elements apart. The Character is who I think we are all following, but at this point, we have to pull the Writer out of the character. The writing is weak and it’s not a great story. My fondness for it comes from having it back in my life at a time I thought it was long gone when I was in my teens. But what this means is that the writer created a story that is now part of the Doctor’s “history”. So what’s the prognosis?
He’s an idiot who held onto unsubstantiated beliefs and a misguided sense of ownership to creatures that were willing to kill simply because he could not negotiate a peace between humans and Silurians 300 years earlier? I’d say that’s our best take away on him for this story. Otherwise, we can mentally do what Star Wars fans are doing with The Last Jedi and say “this never happened” because we don’t like it. We can’t deny that this is part of his “story” but the writers can learn to be more attentive to the motivations of their characters. I’ll tell you this, if we are going to ignore a story or season, Series 9 gets my vote. In June I have to tackle writing about Hell Bent and try not to go on for a novel… You talk about a flawed character? Davison was a walk in the park by comparison to that ending!
I think your argument is extraordinarily well made and I do agree with the points you’re making. The only problem is that we’re bleeding the writer into the character as if that can undo the weak story. I do think that final moment is very memorable and it does demonstrate that this Doctor fails more than any Doctor up until this point. I’d even argue that this one story (maybe single-handedly) is what gave Davison’s Doctor the reputation for being “vulnerable”. What you have to ask yourself is why his companions would stick around after this story since they narrowly avoid death and they see literally everyone else die around him!
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Luckily I’ll be here too in June to give Hell Bent the praise it deserves 😉 RP
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My listening to The Nowhere Place was different to yours in that I heard it in one go on my walkman during a late night walk on the coast, so the eerie atmosphere maintained enough of my good will to the end, though I must admit I never fully found the resolution convincing or to entirely add up. I think you’re right that Briggs did write himself into a corner there. In hindsight it feels like it would’ve worked better as part of Colin’s ‘swansong’ The Last Adventure box set and had more room to breathe and develop, to build to a strong conclusion.
In terms of how I found it morally, I really do feel the Doctor had little choice here, and that the erasure and replacement of potential Earth-bound species after species had to stop.
In regards the show as a companion of our years, I suppose I’m coming at the 80’s from a position of some sheltering. The only stories I remember seeing and mattering to me from that era when I was 11, were The Five Doctors and Remembrance of the Daleks. And looking back, I really do get the sense they’re the exception to the rule in actually getting the balance right and making sure the family and kids are as much involved in the adventure as the older die-hard fans.
I have to admit, had I seen Warriors at that young age, it would’ve given me all the wrong, unhealthiest messages about how to handle life, deal with bullies, appreciate life’s sanctity, or the plight of the underdog. If I’d seen it as a teenager or after a long absence, I think it would’ve made me write off the show, stop being a fan altogether and wonder why I ever had been one.
Infact I *did* have that reaction when I finally discovered Resurrection of the Daleks at age 15, and was just horrified. And I think my instinct was to just dismiss it as bad fan-service.
I suppose that’s the problem with making the show too much for ‘the fans’, because there’ll always be a chance the response will be ‘well if that’s what being a fan means then count me out’.
That’s not to say I wouldn’t have tuned into the revival to see if they might get it right this time but I think I would come away feeling no incentive to make excuses for it. As I see it, Warriors is not one of those stories that endears itself to what we remembered as the heart of the show.
In terms of what to do in terms of how to head-canon it…. it really is one of the few stories I can think of that actually could’ve been infinitely *improved* by being part of the Trial season (more on that later) with the worst elements of his character easily dismissed as fabrications by the Valeyard.
Failing that, maybe I’ve no choice but to accept maybe this was what the Sixth Doctor in Twin Dilemma was talking about when he said his predecessor’s sentimentality had him on the verge of being neurotic, and his incarnation was the over-correction of that.
I must say I did come away from The Last Jedi feeling that Star Wars had just had its time a long while ago, and maybe the original trilogy was all we ever needed.
Warriors engenders the same feeling in me regarding the classic era. That this was almost a zombified version of a once good show, being kept on past its time or inspiration. I keep hitting the brick wall of feeling that given the eventual revival of the show, would it have been so bad had the Wilderness years come early so that we could skip everything post-The Five Doctors and jump right to Rose?
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I will admit though there is one possible way of just about rationalizing the Fifth Doctor’s thought-process. That this is soon after the Master caused so much devastation in Logopolis, to him and his new friends, and to whole worlds. And I think maybe this means the Doctor can’t admit the Master’s won in other ways. It was after all the Master who helped ruin a chance for Sea Devil-human peaceful co-existence back in 1972. It might be that in Warriors, the Doctor can’t admit that chance for peace is ruined forever by the Master, and develops a death wish about proving peace can work.
In terms of the final moment, I think the Doctor has suffered worse failures with far more repercussions, or where far more of an emotional connection is forged (and not forced) between the viewer and the Doctor at his defeat. Inferno, Genesis, Logopolis, Earthshock.
The significant difference with Warriors is that it’s the one time he’s honestly seemed pathological about ensuring his failure. And that to me is far more of a problem because as far as I’m concerned, if you do that to the main character, you simply don’t have a show. You’re absolutely right that it wouldn’t make sense anymore why Tegan and Turlough would continue to trust their lives in him.
The problem I have with the iconic nature of the ending is that it’s so lazily self-justifying. The only reason we have this scene with everyone dead at the end, is because the Doctor refused to act until it was too late. But the only reason the Doctor refused to act until it was too late was so we could have this scene.
Likewise I always felt there was a better version of Warriors’ closing line at the end of 1963’s The Daleks, spoken by Ganatus after the final fight.
I think there was a sense of the Fifth Doctor being talked of as the more vulnerable one by JNT as early as 1982. I certainly think Castrovalva and Earthshock played on this aspect. So too did The Five Doctors with him more than all Doctors being the one who is most in need of his other selves to help him regain strength. Most talk of this as a memorable development in that it added to the suspense of whether the Doctor might genuinely win or lose. With those other examples I can see that. But with Warriors I think it actively pushes the certainty too much the other way to make defeat seem inevitable and leaves you thinking ‘what’s the point even rooting for him at all anymore’?
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As for Series 9/Hell Bent…
I must say it surprises me how the show lost my interest during Capaldi’s run. I’ve never been without some niggles with some of the revived series’ excesses, shall we say, but for the most part I still remained emotionally invested in the show. I still wanted to see what was coming next. And honestly I came to the end of Matt Smith’s run with a really good feeling about where the show was going, and had high hopes for Capaldi. But sadly it didn’t last, and as we got into Capaldi’s run, I felt my investment in the character and the mythology of the show corroding away very quickly. Moffat just seemed to be tampering with it whenever he felt like it.
With Series 9, I had issues from the start with The Magician’s Apprentice/The Witch’s Familiar. The Doctor going into self-imposed exile had become a groansome cliche by this point. But the moment that made me maddest was when the Doctor failed to see through Missy’s lies and was nearly manipulated into killing Clara. It just seemed such a needlessly nasty development that didn’t even need to happen in the plot.
When it comes to Hell Bent, there’s a part of me that could see myself to liking the idea of the Doctor gone rogue, gambling with the universe to save a companion, and winning. I get the sense that on paper, this was meant to be redoing the Trial of a Time Lord finale. Maybe taking a leaf from John Binns’ suggestion in one fanzine review of having Colin’s Doctor make an alliance with the Daleks, to blackmail Gallifrey and thus force the Time Lords to undo the devastation of Earth and help him save Peri.
Only somehow it wasn’t exciting. The stakes just seemed to become quickly hollow for me.
Moffat always seems to want to make a big deal about rebooting the show’s universe, for the sake of establishing a clean slate (The Big Bang, Wedding of River Song, Time of the Doctor). And I get the sense this was him almost trying to redo the Doctor’s origin story with this kind of symbolic prequel to An Unearthly Child, where the Doctor steals a Tardis and runs away all over again. But for me it just left a bit of a nasty aftertaste. For me, there was no sense of justice done, or the previous episodes’ sufferings redressed. Gallifrey remained the rotten apple it was, and the Doctor just happily leaves it as such.
In any case though, I’d be interested to see what you both come up with for it 🙂
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Friday 8th June: a date for your diary. That’s Hell Bent day in the Junkyard 🙂
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Wow, Thomas… incredibly well stated!
You said a LOT, so I’ll try to highlight a couple things in order of quickest to more detailed.
I loved Mawdryn, but it was the first Davison story I ever saw and that was when I first discovered there were other Doctors too, so it was a revelation for me.
Star Wars lost me with the prequels. Although I go to each movie, none have brought me to the level of fandom I had as a kid or what still exists for Trek, Who or Babylon 5. I tolerate SW and enjoy it as pulp SF. Fluff. I don’t criticize it much because I don’t care enough.
Your death wish theory about the Master’s “victory” actually does have a sense of plausibility to it. I like it. I can actually get behind that thinking if only to, as you say, head-canon it.
Hell Bent is a nasty piece of garbage and the mere fact that Moffat didn’t look at source material speaks volumes. We’ve had entire scenes where the Doctor talks about Regeneration as a form of death… unless he’s the cause of it, at which point it becomes “man flu”. God, when Moffat sucks, he sucks hard! (When he’s on form, he’s outstanding though, so maybe I can quote B5’s Zathras when I say, “at least there is symmetry!”)
Trial of a Time Lord was a massive missed opportunity. This was a chance to go back and show clips from the past, and even retcon some of the issues. I really want to put together a new trial using all the court scenes but replacing the “evidence” with clips from the past. Warriors could feature prominently. We could have cleared up issues and reworked things that the fans didn’t like into tampered evidence creating a very meta experience for the viewers. Were we watching tampered evidence all the time? I know, how would that help new fans? Thing is, it could have. You introduce things of interest as well as change blunders. There’s a new Doctor Who commercial out for Twitch which is quite funny and shows tons of fantastic scenes and I believe it will catch a new audience.
And when people are involved, they tend to have a vested interest in a thing. By being allowed to be involved, they’re going to be more interested in where it goes. So if fans were able to submit ideas or even if the BBC looked at what people complained about from the past, Trial could have been made into something truly new and special.
Roger and I have been talking about “phase two” of our blog and we will be looking at seasons as a whole eventually. When we do, I’ll blast season 9 with everything I’ve got. I know some fans may stand there like Luke in The Last Jedi, but I still intend to unleash hell on that one flawed spot in Doctor Who’s history. (I say “one”, but it was one WHOLE season!)
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“I loved Mawdryn, but it was the first Davison story I ever saw and that was when I first discovered there were other Doctors too, so it was a revelation for me.”
I understand why fans like it and I can see ways in which it’s quite groundbreaking, but for me I just found many of my problems with the era represented in it. Particularly Davison being kind of ineffectual and not proactive. And it just struck me as yet more of the general colourless dourness of Season 20.
“Star Wars lost me with the prequels.”
For me there were moments in Revenge of the Sith that kind of made the whole prequel seem worth it, and got me invested in the Star Wars mythos again. It seemed the only one of the prequel films that I felt had a story that needed telling. I don’t know if it would quite hold up with me if I watched it now.
I must say I loved Rogue One. That one’s a keeper for me.
The first few times I saw The Force Awakens I enjoyed it and thought it was quite a ride. But I must say, watching it again after The Last Jedi, I couldn’t really invest in it. It all sudden;y felt a lot more pointless and meaningless.
“We’ve had entire scenes where the Doctor talks about Regeneration as a form of death… unless he’s the cause of it, at which point it becomes “man flu””
What’s worse is the General was quite a sympathetic character in Day of the Doctor, being the one who understood Gallifrey was guilty of quite a sorry conduct in the war that he feared the Moment would not judge too kindly.
Plus, the Doctor had already saved Clara, so I couldn’t put it down to the urgency of the situation. Even at best, if you accept the ‘man-flu’ interpretation, it’s still the Doctor behaving in a spirit of utter thuggery.
“God, when Moffat sucks, he sucks hard! (When he’s on form, he’s outstanding though, so maybe I can quote B5’s Zathras when I say, “at least there is symmetry!””
The problem with Moffat is if you give him too much free reign, he will quickly become indulgent and make a mess of things.
When he had a single or two part episode slot a season under Russell, he generally seemed to know how to be more economic in his writing and a bit more wise and careful in how he used his more limited tools. If he was going to do a big special effects set-piece, there had to be a reason for it that was integral to the plot, or at least its themes.
Back then he couldn’t just recreate Nazi Germany for no reason other than to show off how cool River is for 45 minutes.
Even in Silence in the Library, whilst it hints a lot about the Doctor and River’s future, it was written to work perfectly as a satisfying standalone, with it in mind that this might end up being River’s only onscreen appearance.
Series 6 however seemed to become all about her to the point where it took over the show and the more we learned about her, the less interesting she seemed to become.
Even the return of Gallifrey seemed to be a case in point. Moffat now had the power to depict the Time War and even rewrite its outcome so that Gallifrey would be saved. Many fans were glad to have it back, but I’m not so sure they’d feel the same way if they knew it would lead to Hell Bent.
I also think he’s been trying too hard to make the show like his own Sherlock and like James Bond (specifically Licence to Kill, where Bond goes on a vengeance mission for the sake of his newly-wed friends who’ve been hit by tragedy- see A Good Man Goes To War), hence a lot more emphasis on the Doctor being an unfeeling cad sometimes, and having to contend with all manner of femme fatales and dishonest women plotting against him.
“Trial of a Time Lord was a massive missed opportunity”
Indeed. For its first episode it felt like it was Robert Holmes getting the show back to some of the more mind-expanding ideas in Ark in Space and The Deadly Assassin. I think BBC management however kept interfering and the tone of the piece suffered, resulting in a much more vanilla season, if you don’t count the horrible fate of Peri. I also didn’t help of course that we had the tragic passing of Holmes before he could finish the season’s finale.
“This was a chance to go back and show clips from the past, and even retcon some of the issues. I really want to put together a new trial using all the court scenes but replacing the “evidence” with clips from the past. Warriors could feature prominently. We could have cleared up issues and reworked things that the fans didn’t like into tampered evidence creating a very meta experience for the viewers. Were we watching tampered evidence all the time? I know, how would that help new fans? Thing is, it could have. You introduce things of interest as well as change blunders.”
Well it certainly wouldn’t have been out of keeping with how The Five Doctors, Attack of the Cybermen, Timelash and The Two Doctors saw the show gesturing to the idea of intersecting timelines where past and present Doctors converged at the same destination, new past Doctor stories could be inferred, or even in the case of Attack, the current Doctor could find himself landing in an immediate prequel to a Hartnell story.
“And when people are involved, they tend to have a vested interest in a thing. By being allowed to be involved, they’re going to be more interested in where it goes.”
That actually would kind of suit the zeitgeist of the time, when kids were reading Choose Your Own Adventure books and Fighting Fantasy roleplay groups were just starting.
It could certainly potentially involve the audience in the show in a way that very little of that era did. There seemed to be so much in the way of bringing back old continuity, but for me it didn’t seem to commemorate the show’s years and longevity, as just put years on it.
Likewise for all its controversial takes on the Doctor’s character, it’s very rare we felt with him in any of it, or privy to his thoughts or dilemmas. We just felt like passive voyeurs watching his unpleasant experiences and sometimes his unpleasant actions.
At least not until Remembrance of the Daleks came along.
“Roger and I have been talking about “phase two” of our blog and we will be looking at seasons as a whole eventually. When we do, I’ll blast season 9 with everything I’ve got.”
I hope you’ll dish out similar treatment to Season 21 (Caves excepted).
Mulling it over, it strikes me that regardless of a fan might feel about Series 9, it’s very true that were the season removed or erased in its entirety it wouldn’t leave much of a footprint behind. We could just skip from Last Christmas to Husbands of River Song. Maybe amend the former to end with older Clara’s goodbye being genuine rather than a dream. But Missy’s survival would require little explanation. Or infact we could assume Dark Water’s Missy is actually the *future* version of Series 10’s Missy (or at least would be her future version, before both the Masters ended up erasing each other in the Series 10 finale).
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Virtually everyone would say “Caves excepted” as you do, but I don’t “except” it. 18th June for that one!
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When Dr. Who in regard to its varied portraits of humanity, certainly in the debuts for both the Silurians and Sea Devils, reaffirms how shades of gray can be more predominating in TV drama than black-and-white, it makes the Doctor’s ambivalence towards humanity the most understandable reason why Earth can be his favorite planet. Because it can remind him enough of his obviously similar relationship with his own world and people. This may have been symbolized in Hell Bent when the Doctor finally finds Gallifrey but on the worst of terms because of Rassilon, even after how rewardingly the Doctor defied the time laws (which was particularly rewarding after the failed example in The Waters Of Mars) to save Gallifrey. It has been the same with Earth where one of two stories can have fairly happy endings only to have a story that doesn’t end so happily. And then there’s the reverse as shown with the back-to-black-and-white basics for The Awakening right after Warriors Of The Deep. The ambivalence may be addictive as TV drama quite reputably can be. But shades of gray continue to serve in reminding us how realistically even the Doctor shows both his brighter and darker sides, with his attitude towards humanity being no exception.
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Warriors Of The Deep can be quite likened to The Waters Of Mars as a needlessly depressing Dr. Who story. When we look at Dr. Who’s original encounter with the Silurians, Star Trek’s A Private Little War and The Twilight Zone’s Time Enough At Last, we can understand well enough that sad SF stories have their messages as did several classics from Othello to Deliverance. But fans can draw the line when they see Maddox being quite heinously made to strangle Karina and Adelaide putting a bullet in her own head, given the suicidal-depression issues of the times and certainly in the new light of 13 Reasons Why. The main point of this one was to bring back familiar monsters who were most helpfully popular for Dr. Who during the 70s. Fans can imagine the same tragedy happening all over again which is certainly affirmed when both Tegan and Turlough, despite their attempts to revive the Silurians, shoot Ichtar dead on the floor as if disarming him, even after the fatal shooting of Vorshak, wasn’t enough.
I remember feeling that Nilson’s and Solow’s demises were too simple and easy. I will leave it at that. But I for one can appreciate Warriors Of The Deep for a good reason, it’s the reminder that the modern Dr. Who’s more flamboyant science fantasy can reasonably mellow out the darkness that overwhelmed the classic series, even if The Waters Of Mars was a specific exception. That made the modern Dr. Who work in the reverse to TV continuations for Star Trek after the classic Trek. X-Files: S11 had a penultimate episode that easily reminded fans of how misappropriated horror has become and for X-Files, shockingly enough, that’s saying something. Maybe it’s how desperate shows can get when it comes to viewing expectations. For me it’s always a reminder that the best contribution by Dr. Who’s revitalization for SF television is making SF fans view the genre more thoughtfully.
Thank you for your reviews.
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“Fans can imagine the same tragedy happening all over again which is certainly affirmed when both Tegan and Turlough, despite their attempts to revive the Silurians, shoot Ichtar dead on the floor as if disarming him, even after the fatal shooting of Vorshak, wasn’t enough”
I’d say that was down to their stark realization and (over-)correction of the fact that revivjng him had been a mistake, and that it clearly was no longer possible to reason with or restrain someone who had become that much of a killing machine with that much of a death wish.
I don’t know what Saward was trying to say with that moment (in the original script, the Doctor didn’t try to revive the Silurians, and so Vorshak and Preston survived). It was just plain tasteless and nasty. It’d be like rewriting Hamlet so that the tragic hero manages to survive at the end, only to then have him do something so irredeemable it destroys any sympathy we had and leaves us wishing he had stayed dead.
“I for one can appreciate Warriors Of The Deep for a good reason, it’s the reminder that the modern Dr. Who’s more flamboyant science fantasy can reasonably mellow out the darkness that overwhelmed the classic series”
I think the more flamboyant science fantasy can work to a point, if done only so often. It’s not a direction I’m so keen on but I think usually what made it work for the first few seasons of New Who (or at least not break the stakes too much) was the fact it took place under the shadow of the unseen Time War. The event where the Doctor lost and couldn’t save his world, and which has forever since defined his determination to save Earth from the same fate, and try to save everyone he can. It meant that we knew the Doctor was dreading the worst outcome and that made us invest emotionally in his succeeding.
I think Warriors of the Deep was where the darkness overwhelmed the show for a specific reason, which was that they’d just plain forgot how to make the Doctor work as a hero in this dangerous universe anymore.
It used to be that there was a suspense to the fact the Doctor was up against deadly forces in a universe with unforgiving rules, and he dared to challenge them without a weapon in his hand (best examples would be Genesis of the Daleks, Planet of Evil, The Five Doctors). This raised the stakes and the mystery of how he was going to overcome the enemy. What trick did he have up his sleeve, It indicated the Doctor had a decisive wisdom that could show him the way to win without guns, and gave us reverence for him.
It also meant that there remained ongoing evils and injustices out there that we were invested in hoping he would come to right, eventually.
In Warriors of the Deep we wait for that and nothing happens. He’s got nothing. There is no reverence for his abilities. He’s shown as a complete failure. I dare say even reframed as the kind of hero who could only have been succeeding in stories prior because he’s apparently always been like a broken clock that managed to be right twice a day. And when you do that to the hero, you simply don’t have a show anymore.
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Do you feel this was the turning point where the show began to go south? Or do you feel it recovered?
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Erm.. I think it perhaps started to go a bit off-track with the belated return of the Master at the end of Tom Baker’s time. I imagine it was quite an event at the time, but I think it was where the show began to become reliant too much on its own past, to start to eat its own tail and leave the casual viewer behind…. and made all the more annoying when we got to Time-Flight and realized the makers just didn’t know what to do with the character but persisted to keep him around all the same in a way that really the show had coped perfectly fine without for much of Tom’s time.
So I’d say Time-Flight was where it started to go south, and the makers began to lose sight of where the show was going. Some of Season 20 for me was needlessly grim and depressing, Arc of Infinity, Mawdryn Undead, Terminus, and I really felt it was starting to kill and eat into the excitement and spirit of the show. If I was watching at the time, I’m not even sure The Five Doctors would’ve been enough to kiss it all better.
Enlightenment was fantastic but I couldn’t help feel it belonged to a better season. Ditto for Snakedance.
I think all these things would’ve still been survivable however, and a change of production team after The Five Doctors could’ve bridged the show over to a needed course-correction.
I tend to see Warriors as the final nail in the coffin. Almost an accidental admission and concession of everything Michael Grade said about the show being a waste of money and time. I don’t know if I could say the show recovered because anything after rock bottom looks like an improvement. I think there was certainly an over-correction with the Sixth Doctor, but that just seemed to cause its own problems and unsettling moments.
I think maybe Remembrance of the Daleks was a return to form and really did feel like the show’s birthscream at escaping from that quagmire event horizon of the Sawardian black hole, but at the same time a part of me prefers to see it as a redeeming final word rather than the beginning of everything else.
There were parts of Eccleston where I felt that was the case too. That this really was a Doctor whose motivations made sense again, reacting to his body-count soaked past, and really, legitimately wanted to save as many people as he could. By the time we got to Matt Smith I really did feel the universe was in safe hands again with him, and that maybe it was all worth it to get to here.
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I don’t think there’s any one culprit as such, but I would point to Earthshock if I had to choose one. Because from that point onwards in the mind of Eric Saward the way to make successful Doctor Who was to bring back old monsters and write something gritty. Normally the times when Doctor Who has been failing it has been because the family audience remit has been forgotten. RP
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Hmm… I do actually really like Earthshock, but I wouldn’t disagree that it perhaps set a bad precedent. Which is unfortunate because it very much was a one-trick story, lightning caught in a bottle, and was rather unrepeatable. And frankly the attempts of Warriors and Resurrection to try and repeat its formula were just downright unpleasant.
I think why Earthshock worked was because I think Eric Saward still had a lot more enthusiasm for writing the show when he did it, seemed to have a blast, and that does translate to screen. But also because Peter Grimwade worked his magic as director. It’s a slick, almost life-affirming action adventure where its imitators are miserable, leering and grotty.
Had it just been a one-off, it probably wouldn’t have done much damage. Infact on the contrary I think it got the most encouraging audience appreciation figures of the Davison era. And at a time when Terry Nation had moved to America and it seemed possible Destiny of the Daleks might be the last we’d see of the Daleks, it perhaps made sense with Earthshock, to build the Cybermen up as the show’s surrogate main heavies from now on, and I’d say very nearly succeeded.
I’d also add that I do think it kind of belatedly justified the contrived Tardis cast swelling of Season 18-19, by making it almost seem like these companions have been brought together by fate to each play a part to save Earth in its darkest hour.
Where it falls down of course is it’s a poor model for how these showdowns should go. What made the Doctor’s previous face-offs with the Daleks or Cybermen work was that there was a sense only the Doctor had the wits to really defeat them. In Earthshock, the Doctor could be replaced with any other action hero. The only time the Doctor really uses his smarts is when disarming the bomb. The rest of the story places the emphasis on seeking superior firepower rather than superior knowledge.
And that might be the problem. Saward seems to think the Doctor is useless without a gun, and that seems to define the problem with the era ahead.
And of course the Cybermen kind of became drowned out as heavies by the need to dig up other heavies from the past to the point it got too crowded for them, and Attack of the Cybermen was such a poor follow-up for them.
I don’t know if I’d blame Eric for the continuity fixation. From what I know, Eric was not that keen on the continuity direction and it was actually JNT who was pushing for that (no doubt with some encouragement and prodding from Ian Levine). I think JNT became overwhelmed by the limelight and enthusiasm of the convention scene, and it just became standard for him to announce the next season’s returning foes to rapturous applause. It became an end in itself.
Eric himself, I believe was not keen on using the Master, and infact I think he wanted the character killed off in Time-Flight, but JNT wouldn’t agree to it. Likewise I think he was vocally unhappy about the idea of bringing back the Sea Devils and doing again something that had already been done (although apparently the similarities with Earthshock were not a coincidence, as Johnny Byrne did ask him if it was alright to use Earthshock as his model for the story), and at one point lost his temper and asked “are we making this for the fans or the public?”. And I suspect he would’ve felt the same way about the Black Guardian’s return.
I think he did enjoy writing the Cybermen though. That seemed to be where his enthusiasm lay, and maybe Levine gave him a few pointers for Attack to do something with their past lore.
I’m not sure he was so keen on the Daleks. I think the only reason he was tasked with them was because eventually (after JNT actually met Terry Nation overseas at a convention) Nation’s agreement to allow them the Dalek copyright still gave him the right of veto if there were things in the script he didn’t like and wanted amended. Which is where it seemed useful to have the always on hand script-editor to write the Dalek stories in a way that would facilitate Nation’s quibbles during the script development process.
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You hit the nail on the head about Earthshock. It’s a great story, but the problem was how Doctor Who afterwards tried to repeat the trick and did so in the most superficial way possible. Plus, the best thing about Earthshock is not the Cybermen, but the androids in the caves – those scenes are gloriously creepy.
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Thank you, Thomas, for your very thoughtful points. It makes me reflect further on how Chibnall, during Moffat’s era, could most dramatically rectify both Warriors Of The Deep and Moffat’s troubling era with his own well-written return for the Silurians. So this gave me enough confidence in how he can balance it out for his reign over Dr. Who.
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