TV Review: Classic Who Season 12 (Spoilers!)

Many of you might be wondering why I am not giving my review yet of Nu Who’s Series 10, which, as of the moment, has just had its series finale. I’m actually holding out on it, and the Character Guides for Nardole (Matt Lucas), Twelfth Doctor (Peter Capaldi), and Bill Potts (Pearl Mackie) until after the Christmas Special airs, as I usually include the Christmas specials within a series review. Also, as I want to give Steven Moffat’s and Peter Capaldi’s final series justice, I am going to rewatch the entire series again just before the Christmas special so that I can have more time to appreciate some of the episodes that I might not have liked at first during my first viewing, and to pick up on all the little things that I didn’t notice the first time round. (Also, it’s because I’m not yet ready to let my second favorite Nu Who Doctor go). So, while we wait for that to happen, let’s start delving into Classic Who with the Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker), and his very first season at the helm of the TARDIS.

As I mentioned in a previous post, Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor is the very first Classic Doctor I started watching. Well, technically, I started watching Classic Who with “The Five Doctors”, then upon the advice of a friend, began watching the “essential” Fourth Doctor episodes, including the Key to Time story arc, and then stopped for quite some time. So, this time around, I decided to watch all the Baker episodes from the very beginning.

For those who are going into Classic Who for the very first time though, please have in mind that since is done in a serial format, meaning there are around four or sometimes even six twenty six minute episodes. So expect that the pacing isn’t as fast as Nu Who (this means that there is a lot of running, and climbing up quarries involved). Also, since the show was operating on a tight budget, don’t expect too much from the effects, but try to appreciate how they were actually able to make convincing aliens and alien worlds, most of the time.

Season 12 was, I think, a transition season. This season not only had a new Doctor, but a new producer and script editor as well in Philip Hinchcliffe and Robert Holmes, respectively. However, I do believe that Hinchcliffe and Holmes found more of their stride and their particular brand of “Doctor Who” starting from Season 13. Aside from this, the stories weren’t all Earth based anymore, and UNIT only showed up in the very first episode of the season, “Robot”.

This was the world’s first introduction to Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor- a very bohemian alien who didn’t take orders from anyone in authority, and went around in a brown fedora hat atop his mass of brown curls, a multi colored really long knitted scarf, eyes that sometimes just got bigger on their own, a booming voice, and teeth that he would flash whenever he would smile. He was quirky and ancient, and offered Jelly Babies to others sometimes.

He was joined in the TARDIS by journalist Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen), who had been a companion to the Third Doctor (Jon Pertwee), and a UNIT Lieutenant- Surgeon named Harry Sullivan (Ian Marter).

Acting wise, I think that Sladen, Marter and Baker were really good; and although “Genesis of the Daleks” wasn’t a quintessential Fourth Doctor episode as it was just a great “Doctor Who” story, Baker was in fine form here.

Sladen and Marter were also good, but I think that even though there were some gems of lines that can be taken from them from all the serials in the season, their characterization wasn’t really that great with this season.

Each of the stories in the season were stand-alone stories, with the stories from “The Ark in Space” all the way to “Revenge of the Cybermen”, had Space Station Nerva as its main connective thread.

Overall, even with being prepared regarding the pacing, I wasn’t so fond of this season, and the real stand out here was “Genesis of the Daleks”, followed by “The Ark in Space”.

If you are a Whovian who wants to get the important highlights of this particular series, watch “Robot” (Fourth Doctor’s first ever episode), “The Ark in Space” (Harry’s first trip in the TARDIS, and a good story), and “Genesis of the Daleks” (I think the title speaks for itself).

However, if you are pressed for time and want to get the most out of your time, just watch “The Ark in Space” and “Genesis of the Daleks”.

Now, before we move on, you know the drill, spoilers abound beyond this point!

warning-spoilers-final

The first serial of Season 12, the four part “Robot”, is quite notable as the show transitioned Doctors, as well as production staff. The Third Doctor (Jon Pertwee) is seen here regenerating into the Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker), and is also the last episode which producer Barry Letts produced before his successor, Philip Hinchcliffe, and script editor Robert Holmes took over. It was also the debut of Harry as one of the Fourth Doctor’s companions. It also marked the end of the UNIT era, as the Doctor, in the end, takes off with Sarah Jane, Harry, and leaves UNIT and Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courntey) in order to travel through time and space once again.

This serial was written by Terrance Dicks, and was directed by Christopher Barry.

This story wasn’t the best of stories, but it was still a pretty solid one, and a good way for the Fourth Doctor to be introduced to the world, especially as it already showcased how different this Doctor was going to be from the Third Doctor. I also love the fact that Sarah Jane made use of her journalistic skills here, and she was snarky and awesome all throughout.

“The Ark In Space” is notable not only because it was Harry’s first ever trip on board the TARDIS, but it was the first episode in which Baker was really and truly able to settle into his character as the Fourth Doctor. Also, this truly marked the start of the Hinchcliffe-Holmes era, and this is a good introduction to the next few seasons which were very much marked by the fact that they drew on Hammer Horror and gothic horror as an influence. This episode was less gothic horror than that, but I do believe that this is there version of Ridley Scott’s “Alien”, in a way that only “Doctor Who” can.

Space Station Nerva becomes a lynchpin for the entire season; and based on their very tight budget, the space station and the Wirrn were actually quite impressive. I also love the fact that they decided to use green painted bubble wrap whenever someone would begin to transform into the Wirnn. Of course, it doesn’t work today, but back then, it did.

Aside from Harry being clumsy, Sarah Jane’s one liners against Harry, and the Doctor declaring why he loves humanity, I loved how this episode was clearly a discussion on just that- the indomitable nature of the human spirit and will.

This story was written by Holmes, and was directed by Rodney Bennett, who also directed the next serial, the two part “The Sontaran Experiment”.

I am very glad that “The Sontaran Experiment” was just a two parter. I am not very fond of this story, and even thought Kevin Lindsay’s performance of Styre was good, I was not prepared to see this version of the Sontarans after seeing them in Nu Who. Also, there was a lot of climbing in and out of ditches here.

However, I did think that Marter’s, Baker’s, and Sladen’s performances here were top notch.

This one was written by Bob Baker and Dave Martin.

Now, here comes the episode that every Whovian worth their salt has seen. “Genesis of the Daleks”, a wonderful “Doctor Who” story written by Terry Nation and directed by David Maloney, basically tells the story of the origin of the Daleks, and how Davros, who was wonderfully portrayed by Michael Wisher, created them.

This is not only just a wonderful piece of mythology that talks about some of the greatest villains in the show, but it is brilliantly written and directed, and the acting is great all throughout.

This episode also showed me why Davros is definitely one of the biggest villains in the Whoniverse, as he is not only a single minded genius, but is always four steps ahead.

The most iconic scenes here include that ethical debate the Doctor and Davros have with each other, and the moment in which the Doctor debates whether or not he has the right to wipe out the Daleks. This is such a great and monumental “Doctor Who” episode, so much so that I could just talk on and on about how great this episode was, but then we’d never be able to finish this post.

“Revenge of the Cybermen” was the last serial of the season, and to be honest, I would have preferred if they rounded out the season with “Terror of the Zygons” instead of this one.

This story was written by Gerry Davis and was directed by Michael E. Briant. However, I did discover that Hinchcliffe and Holmes had problems with Davis’ script, and had to tweak them a lot. Aside from this, the filming also  ran into some trouble while they were filming at the Wookey Hole Caves.

I guess I was hoping to be impressed and terrified by the Cybermen as they are on of my favorite villains based on Nu Who, and because the Daleks in “Genesis of the Daleks” lived up to the Nu Who standard of them being terrifying, so their appearance here was underwhelming. I didn’t like their design here, but I did like the fact that they had a clear hierarchy that could be visually distinguished. (The Cyber Leader had black around its head).

I also found the whole debate of staying safe versus taking a risk in the name of progress to be interesting, but aside from that, I just felt that there was a lot of going around in caves. And the masks of the Vogans were too theatrical for me.

With regards to performances and characterizations, I had no problem with Baker or how the Fourth Doctor was written.

I felt that Sladen was great, and did the best that she could every time, but I also felt that she was also inconsistently written throughout this season, and that culminated in “Revenge of the Cybermen”, in which she stated that “thinking of all that” made her head hurt. I felt that was out of character for her, because I knew that Sarah Jane, even though she doesn’t truly understand would either ask the right questions, or try to process it even if she doesn’t get it.

I really love Harry Sullivan. He may be a “ham-fisted idiot” and an “imbecile”, but despite all of that, he is genuinely a good man at heart, which makes it difficult for anyone to hate him. However, I did feel that the writers didn’t know what to do with him, especially as his character was conceived when they weren’t sure whether or not Baker could do the action parts if need be. Harry will always have a place in my heart, and I think that Marter was great in the role, which makes me feel sad that he didn’t really have as much recurring appearances in Classic Who, or during the rest of Baker’s long tenure as the Doctor.

In the end, this was an interesting season, and as a transition season, things could have turned out a lot worse than it did. Also, it gave us great performances,  and some great stories. Not a bad way at all to start things out for a new Doctor, and a new producer and script writer.

 

 

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