Top of the Docs: Season 16

This feature will go back to Tuesdays next year, but as we wind down, this is getting bumped to Thursday.  Things will go back to “normal” soon enough…

This is the season of the Key to Time, and the introduction of Romana.  It should be big: a season spanning quest.  This is the sort of idea that was so far ahead of its time! Russell T. Davies would use the idea for multiple seasons of his era of Doctor Who.  But somehow, something went wrong for me.  It’s not that they are bad stories but it’s repeated ideas from everywhere else in the series; “business as usual”, as it were. Let’s see…

season 16

The Ribos Operation

RP: 8 – One of the best from Robert Holmes, who does interesting and not particularly obvious things with all the characters, including the White Guardian.  The monster feels like a failure of an afterthought though, with Holmes only really interested in characterisation.

ML: 6 – The concept is interesting, and the introduction of Romana is fun but the story is weak.  The best part is the characters.  The comedy is fun too but overall just slightly better than average.

The Pirate Planet

RP: 8 – Douglas Adams wrote one of the best ever scripts for Doctor Who, a fascinating descent from comedy into horror.  It’s a pity nobody apart from Tom Baker understood what Adams was doing with the script, least of all Bruce Purchase.

ML: 8 – I’ll give it the extra points because it’s got Adams genius all over it.  Often quite funny with laugh out loud moments, I have to give this one a good mark.

The Stones of Blood

RP: 9 – Everybody prefers the scary episodes, but where the story ends up going is actually the best aspect of the whole thing, showing how brilliantly Doctor Who can transition between two completely different genres, even within a single story.

ML: 6 – I love the setting and the way the episode switches midway to a courtroom drama, of sorts, but the Key to Time has no bearing on the episode to speak of, the monsters are ridiculous, and the main villain isn’t frightening.

The Androids of Tara

RP: 8 – David Fisher’s original idea for this would have been so much better, but budgetary restraints rear their ugly head again.  What remains of his idea is still a huge amount of fun.

ML: 5 – Been there, done that.  Rinse.  Repeat.  The biggest problem is that this season is supposed to be different, yet the Doctor goes to random places to look for a bauble.  Normally he just goes to random places to look around.  The addition of the Key adds nothing and the story feels like a repeat.

The Power of Kroll

RP: 6 – The problem with Robert Holmes is that this is what you get when his heart isn’t in it.  Much, much better than its reputation though, and at least he follows through intelligently with the theme of racism following on from capitalism following on from colonialism, and writes both societies as collections of individuals.

ML: 8 – I know there are things about this one that are utterly idiotic, like Kroll being enormous but living in meter deep water or the Doctor turning into an opera singer on helium, but I love the setting and the Cthulhu-esque monster.  Plus, did I mentioned, the Doctor puts a drink in his pocket?

The Armageddeon Factor

RP: 9 – A great story that shoots for epic and manages it, which is more than can be said for most of Doctor Who’s attempts at that.  The Shadow is a creepy idea, executed well.  It’s silly to condemn this based on the last few minutes, which leave things open to some fascinating interpretations anyway.  The Doctor was never going to meekly play the role he had been forced into, and he doesn’t.

ML: 8 – It’s nearly impossible to rate this one.  Elements are marvelous like the Shadow, Drax and a time looped Marshall (Fire!) but other elements are so redundant that Star Trek beat Doctor Who to the punch line decades earlier with A Taste of Armageddon.  Plus the final segment being a living being just has to be accepted because any attempt at rationalizing that falls flat on its face.  I’m being slightly more generous than I want to be but I do recognize the potential here.

It’s not that the stories aren’t good, but they started with this incredible premise of an awesome quest.  And then it was just business as usual.  Again.  Am I repeating myself?  ML

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