Review #13 – Galaxy 4

Galaxy 4

7My first review based upon Target Novels, orphaned episodes, and soundtracks/reconstructions. However much I love his era I have to admit it, a couple of William Hartnell’s stories are slow and drag on a bit; but I wouldn’t say Galaxy 4 is one of them. The plot could possibly have been a little more developed and being made in 1965, the production isn’t amazing; but this story has some of the best morals I’ve ever seen in a Doctor Who story. For that, it’s very commendable.

The main lesson we take away from this story is ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’. As cliché as you may expect it to be, the writer, William Emms, incorporates it into the story quite subtly using it as a plot twist rather than a primary school school rules talk.

 The beauty of Galaxy 4 (and I realise it is the whole point of the story) is how Maaga, leader of the Drahvins, initially appears beautiful and under attack, despite how evil and spiteful she gets later in the story. Then there are the Rills; ugly, smelly monsters that you’d expect to be the bad guys, especially as they have robot slaves with guns, yet they turn out to be wise and peace-loving with nothing but wisdom and friendship to offer. It’s a nice twist on the traditional ‘damsel in distress, save me from the monsters’ kind of story.

The cliffhanger for the recently recovered third episode, ‘Airlock’, is pretty scary and certainly left me rather horrified and on the edge of my seat. Seeing Steven slump against the sides of the airlock as Maaga teased him from the safety of her spaceship was brutal and is almost like an early version of that cliffhanger from The Deadly Assassin. One of my other favourite bits from the recently recovered episode is when Vicki wrestles with a Drahvin to steal her gun. Vicki and Steven are rather underrated companions in my opinion and made quite a team together with the First Doctor.

While it’s not the best story ever made, I don’t see what’s so wrong with it. It’s often rated fairly low in the polls, and even slumped in the recent Doctor Who Magazine Poll despite a recovered episode. It’s even quite dark in places if you think about it, the whole Drahvin society is centred around unethical actions. The production isn’t amazing though, I get that, but I believe that the story has a strong enough plot to make it enjoyable. Although, let’s be honest, anything with Old Bill is enjoyable (oh, and an exploding planet is actually pretty cool)!

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Review #12 – The Crimson Horror

The Crimson Horror

8What I love most about this story is its ability to shock. A lot of Series 7 part 2 felt a bit spoilt, but not this one. The Crimson Horror was the first new story in a long time that made my eyes uncontrollably widen in shock. What I also love about this story is how simple it is for a Matt Smith episode. A lot of 11’s era had story arcing running throughout but this one was pretty standalone which I liked. It was also quite horrific too…

In the introduction above, I mentioned the story made my eyes widen for the first time in a while. The bit where Mrs Gillyflower revealed who Mr Sweet was was so unexpected. It was nice not to have the monster pre-spoilt in trailers and promotional photos beforehand. The trouble with Series 7, both parts 1 and 2, was that because only a small number of episodes were being showed at one time, it was hard to make trailers without ruining some scary bits and spoilers. However, they did well with The Crimson Horror and should aim to promote episodes more like they did for this one in the future.

The venom was actually quite scary and gruesome. It’s not the scariest thing ever from Doctor Who but seeing the people being slowly lowered into thick red gloop was pretty horrific and terrifying; especially when we see the Doctor being dunked. The red bodies floating in the canal were also quite creepy and reminiscent of The Talons of Weng-Chiang (one of my favourite stories ever).

While a lot of people don’t like the fact the bad guy Sontarans and Silurians have been turned into good guys, I think it kind of works. I’m not too fond of the idea and perhaps wish they’d used new species’ for Vastra and Strax, but the humour is actually quite funny and they’re better creations than River Song! Some of the jokes in this episode were just to cheesy for me, like Thomas Thomas, but I always find Strax’s interactions with the other characters rather funny and just accept the fact it’s not within my powers to change what species he is.

Dame Diana Rigg plays a wonderful villain. When you consider how she used to run around in sexy jumpsuits in ‘The Avengers’ and once got married to James Bond, it’s quite funny seeing her as an evil old woman. “The wrong hands” was a brilliant line! Also, it’s nice knowing that Rachel Stirling, who plays Mrs Gillyflower’s daughter, Ada, is Dame Diana Rigg’s daughter in real life and that they chose Doctor Who to be the first show they star in together. I love the scene where Ada confronts her mother with “YOU HAG!” and starts beating her up with her white cane.

All in all, this Victorian horror hits the sweet spot. It has a very Phillip Hinchcliffe/Tom Baker gothic feel to it and it’s definitely one of Mark Gatiss’ best scripts yet (bar The Unquiet Dead in my opinion). The way the story starts off halfway through the Doctor’s investigation was something quite new and it was an enjoyable change that I’d welcome again. Strax was still quite funny without being cheesy and the way the sonic screwdriver keeps getting proven to have no use is great to see! I’m not sure if Mark Gatiss shares my view on getting rid of the sonic screwdriver, but if he does, then I hope he plans to write it out soon…

Review #10 – The Lazarus Experiment

The Lazarus Experiment7You may see it as an unusual choice but The Lazarus Experiment is one of my favourite stories of Series 3. I find it unfair that it’s often marked down for it’s perhaps not-so-good use of CGI when the story itself is actually quite frightening. This story also demonstrates just how good Martha is as a companion as well as bringing out more of the darker side of the 10th Doctor. I personally am also quite afraid of heights, so the Cathedral scenes really left my palms sweaty…

First of all I want to talk about the 10th Doctor and Martha. After the annoying, soppy romance of the 10th Doctor and Rose; it’s nice to have a grown up, intelligent relationship that’s backed up my sterling performances from David Tennant and Freema Agyeman. Also, when we watch it back after four years of the sonic screwdriver saving the day, it’s great to see the Doctor using science and simple but at-least-they’re-understandable solutions. It’s great to see how independent Martha is too and how she is capable of saving the day both by herself and also alongside the Doctor. More on that in future Series 3 reviews.

The Lazarus Experiment is actually quite scary. The cracks of Lazarus’ bones when he’s in the process of mutating, the way he drains people dry with a horrifying squelch, the Cathedral scenes where Martha is hanging on for her life; all of these things (and more) kept me on the edge of my seat. When Martha is holding on desperately to the ledge, the way the Doctor’s organ playing gets faster and louder and higher in pitch is rather clever because it’s makes the audience at home believe Martha is so close to slipping; and that’s scares us.

In this story, we see Mark Gatiss switching from an off-screen role to an on-screen role. Up to this point, he’d only written for the show, however now, he has quite a big acting role. He gives a menacing performance that’s makes Professor Lazarus creepy from the beginning; a good Doctor Who villain. Tish, Martha’s sister, is also a nice touch to the story. It’s great to have a member of a companion’s family that trusts the Doctor from the start. So she didn’t really do much to defeat Lazarus, but if she hadn’t been there, Martha would’ve fallen to her death!

Before I finish, I do have to mention the fact that the special effects of Lazarus made the monster look a bit unrealistic. When you stop believing though, the magic goes and, it wasn’t a terrible monster, just not what we’re used to in an age of Hollywood effects etc. When you look back on Classic Doctor Who, Inferno is a cracking story, one of the best, and yet the Primords were made up poorly with cheap make up; but that shouldn’t matter. Both stories scare me in different ways regardless of the effects and, if you are going to sit there and criticise them for these reasons, then I have no time for you. 

Review #9 – Black Orchid

Black Orchid


7Unfairly criticised for its lack of monsters, Black Orchid may not be one of the best episodes ever, but I can’t help but love it. It’s great to see the TARDIS team having a great time for once (especially this bunch considering the amount of turmoil they’ve been through over the past series and a bit). It’s particularly nice to see Tegan having a good time too. Sure she was a gobby Australian for a few stories, but here we really start to see her change into the Tegan we all know and love today. Oh, and the Doctor plays cricket!

This story is often put down amongst fans for having no serious threat or sci-fi elements. It’s almost like they’ve forgotten the brilliant historicals we used to get during the First and Second Doctors’ eras; Marco Polo, The Aztecs, The Massacre, the list goes on. So why is it they don’t like it during the Fifth Doctor’s era? Thing is, when it was first broadcast, it had been 15 years since the audience had seen a historical episode and it probably seemed a bit of a let down after all the aliens. However, even now, when we can mix and match the eras to watch 1st Doctor historicals alongside 5th Doctor historicals, Black Orchid is still unfairly put aside, which I don’t get. It’s such a refreshing change amidst the death and destruction surrounding it and it never fails to bring a smile to my face.

The trouble with four crew members taking part in a small two-parter is that they don’t all get a major part to play; but all them will make you smile in some shape, way or form. Adric, though pretty useless in this story, has a great time at the buffet table. Tegan, who also doesn’t really do a lot for the story, finally lightens up and does a nice solo on the dancefloor. Nyssa, who discovers she has an uncanny lookalike named Ann, casues mischief by dressing up in the same fancy dress costume as her Earth counterpart. Finally, The Doctor shows us why he wears his cricket whites with a sterling performance on the cricket pitch.

While it’s a nice change to have a nicer story for once, the trouble is that it’s hard to write a menacing cliffhanger. While it’s quite scary for a guy dressed up as a Doctor to go around killing people, we can’t exactly be on the edge of our seats when the credits roll in because we don’t even know if it’s Nyssa or Ann laying unconscious on the floor. One thing’s for sure though, if you ever fancy a Doctor Who story to cheer you up or make you smile, I reckon Black Orchid is the one for you (even if the end/resolution is a little sad).

Review #8 – Turn Left

Turn Left9I nearly gave this story a ten out of ten. If it were to be released as a target novel, it would be one of the best because the script and the plot were so new and different; and they really worked. Unfortunately, as much as I fancy Billie Piper, Rose’s return was as exciting as a damp squib (not squid as I used to think it was). However, this story does show just how good Catherine Tate was as the awesome Donna Noble; and Jacqueline King and Bernard Cribbins get a chance to shine too…

A world without the Doctor was going to be chaotic and dangerous, however the dark, bleak, and depressing world that Russell T. Davies imagined was not what I expected from him and I was seriously impressed. It’s a very hard-hitting story that captures the imagination in a way that the show never really has before. It’s almost like we’ve been taking the Doctor and his companions for granted for so long that we never reflect on the past episode and think “what would’ve happened if the Doctor hadn’t been there?”. One of Davies’ best ideas, for sure.

Now, onto the matter of Billie Piper and her rather different portrayal of Rose. The brief reappearances of Rose Tyler throughout Series 4, particularly the ones in Partners in Crime and Midnight, sent shivers down my spine and a thousand thoughts rushing through my head. However, when we started watching her in full swing, it was almost like watching a different character. During the one/two years between Series 2 and Series 4, Billie Piper began playing posher parts for different TV shows and, when she got back, was so used to this that she’d almost ‘forgotten’ how to play Rose Tyler. She’s not a bad actress but, for the reasons above, Turn Left was a bit like the 80’s era where better stories were dampened by guest cast. I guess I liked it when she used Time Lord words though and, by the end of the story, it was starting to feel like Piper had begun to find her ‘inner Rose’ again. However, her weaker performance did mean that the three main characters of the story were given a chance to shine.

Catherine Tate’s portrayal of Donna Noble is one of my favourites throughout the entire 50 years of Doctor Who. When they announced she was returning, I was a bit of a sheep and arrogant and thought she’d be a bit dull. Now, I feel so dumb and stupid because when I watched Series 4, I was blown away at how much I loved Donna Noble. This story in particular, opposite a weak Rose Tyler, really sets in stone the fact that Donna is one of the best, and most human companions, we’ve ever had on the show. She was a character many could relate to very well because she was as human and normal as they come. Both Jacqueline King and Bernard Cribbins also outshone Billie Piper in this story as Sylvia Noble and Wilfred Mott, and all three really made us believe just how devastating this new world is.

While this story got darker and more depressing as the story goes on, towards the start there were some more comical moments, especially the office scene where Donna is fired. Quotes like “BEATRICE!” and “Well isn’t that wizard?!” made me laugh out loud more than I should have, but when I consider all the different emotions I felt while watching this story, it makes me love it more and more.

All in all, this is a fantastic script with great direction (Graeme Harper is just too good for words) and production (Phil Collinson) behind the scenes. The rollercoaster ride this story takes you on, getting darker and darker as it goes on, is quite unique for Doctor Who, but nonetheless fantastically breathtaking. Billie Piper’s performance is one of her weakest here (she does drastically improve for the 50th however) and while her reasons are understandable, it doesn’t make it any less of a shame. Catherine Tate however gives one of the best companion performance ever, and the scene where she runs off after the labour camp truck is heartbreaking. Such a good story, and again, it’s a real shame that it’s like watching a completely different Rose Tyler, but I wouldn’t have given it such a high score if it were so terrible; and it’s always nice to see two companions working together to save the day. Oh, and the protest for new series Target novellisations start here!

Review #7 – Revelation of the Daleks

Revelation of the Daleks

10After thinking I wouldn’t like the 6th Doctor, I’ve come to love him and his relationship with Peri, as well as his stories; especially this one. I expected it to be good, but not this good. Dark, gruesome, scary, tense; it had all the ingredients for a good Doctor Who horror story and they came together perfectly. It was also slightly camp in places which seemed to make the story even more menacing when we discover the truth of Tranquil Repose.

Where to start with this story, I don’t really know, but in the words of Maria “Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start” (I hope you sung that).  The TARDIS landing in the snow with the Doctor and Peri wearing blue is a fairly iconic image, and a beautifully filmed scene it is too. The hand coming out of the water to grab Peri’s sandwich throws us straight into the scary stuff and the thrashing around in the water just afterwards made me jump.

I very much like the cliffhanger for part one, the editing is superb. First, chaotic scenes of the Doctor and Peri rushing around, quickly cutting between the two; then, the end credits abruptly cutting the scene from out of nowhere to snap us back into reality where we realise our eyes, or jaw, are wide open.

For me, my favourite of the guest cast was Jenny Tomasin as Tasambeker. She plays her so hopelessly and confused, disillusioned and unsure as to what she really wants. Her last scene with Jobel before running off is shocking and very emotional and I really felt sorry for the character come the end of the story; nobody was nice to her yet she was nice to everyone else.

Unlike the story from my last review, New Earth, I believe the camper elements of the stories work well with the darker elements of the story to make the hideous truths more menacing. We are deceived into thinking Tranquil Repose is a mad, weird and slightly silly place, so the truth seems even further than the lies laid down for us, making the revelations of Davros and the Daleks even more disturbing than they already are.

The glass Dalek is one of the scariest monsters ever of Doctor Who. The way it switches between human emotion and Dalek emotion is extremely frightening and when Natasha does what she does, you can’t even imagine being in that position. The Daleks are just as menacing as ever but, in my opinion, Davros outshines them in this one.

In conclusion, if you hadn’t worked it out yet, I love this story. It’s without a doubt my favourite of the Dalek ‘R Trilogy’ (Resurrection, Revelation and Remembrance) and definitely one of the best stories of all time. Anyone who underrates this story just because of Colin Baker is arrogant and petty minded and should learn to appreciate how good this story and its guest cast are in a time where guest-casting wasn’t always that brilliant.

Review #6 – New Earth

New Earth

6

Our first trip to another planet since the series restarted in 2005 was good, but it could have been a lot better. Sometimes, dark and camp can work together really well to produce something ever more menacing (check out review #7), however for me, this story had too much Cassandra and, while she was good in The End of the World, she ‘undarkened’ what could’ve been a decent dark story.

Firstly, I’ll begin by talking about New Earth as a planet. Like practically every other planet in Doctor Who, I love New Earth and imagine it as very clean and futuristic (ignoring what we’ll later see in Gridlock). I also love the hospital as a creepy setting because I’ve often felt a little creeped out in hospitals, so straight away I was fearing over what might be going on behind the scenes. The Cat Nuns are a pretty cool idea too.

Keeping with the positives, the scenes in which all the pods burst open and the unsettling and horrifying diseased patients are let loose like zombies, I could feel my palms starting to sweat. I also like the reappearance of the Face of Boe, especially when you consider the fact he didn’t have a big part to play in The End of the World. His few lines of script and vanishing act at the end made me even more intrigued into who this mysterious character is, and what is his big secret that he can only tell the Doctor when he’s dying?

For the parts of the episode I’ve talked about in the last two paragraphs, I would give this story an 8/10. However, the story is let down majorly by Lady Cassandra and her servant, Chip. I don’t think they needed to be there at all this time around and their over-the-top ways of doing things ruined some of the dark and terrifying scenes. The switching of her consciousness between characters wasn’t exactly pleasant to watch and her servant could be pretty annoying too. Saying this, I did like seeing her in human form at the end, before she was spiteful and villainous; that was a nice touch.

This story was only David Tennant’s second and he certainly already feels like the Doctor. However, it’s also the story where Billie Piper’s betrayal of Rose begins to get a bit annoying (which is a shame considering how much she developed the character over the course of the first series). I’ll probably write more on that in a future article.

All in all, this story was scary, I give it that. It was however, as I’ve mentioned, unbearably camp in places, and ruined some of the darker scenes that could’ve been gruesome, behind the sofa material. It’s not a terrible story, because elements of this story are great, however, it gets a bit lost when you consider how good the stories are around it are.