TV Review: Classic Who Season 13 (Spoilers!)

Season 12 of Classic “Doctor Who”, as I mentioned in an earlier post, a season that marked a period of transition from the Third Doctor’s (Jon Pertwee) producer and script editor to the new team that consisted of producer Philip Hinchcliffe and Robert Holmes. In Season 12, one could already start to see what kind of flavor Hinchcliffe and Holmes would bring to “Doctor Who”, especially with the serial “The Ark in Space”. However,it was in Season 13 and 14 where their gothic horror or Hammer Horror influences truly shone, and gave the show a very interesting new tone.

This season ran from August 30, 1975 to March 6, 1976; and consisted of twenty six episodes and six serials. This season is notable, aside from the Hinchcliffe and Holmes gothic horror influence, for being the season that saw the Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker) truly severing his earthly ties with UNIT so that he could freely travel the stars. Also, it was a good rest from UNIT, as the Third Doctor’s adventures were all UNIT based ones.

I have a particular fondness for Season 13, as it has several Holmes classics such as”Pyramids of Mars”, “The Brain of Morbius”, and “The Seeds of Doom” (which for me is a sleeper hit and classic). This also saw the glory days of Sarah Jane Smith’s (Elisabeth Sladen) with the Doctor, just as Series 4 of Nu Who was for the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant), and Series 9 was for the Twelfth Doctor (Peter Capaldi) and Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman).

Baker was acting at the top of his game, and the stories, I think, catered well to his version of the Doctor. Also, at this point, as a viewer, you still haven’t tired of his version of the Doctor yet, so every quirky and unexpected thing he does is still tolerable. One has to remember that Baker served as the Doctor on screen for around seven years, so at a certain point during his long tenure as the Doctor, some might get tired of him as the seasons go on. However, as this is his second season, which encompasses his first two years of being the Doctor, things are still fresh and good.

Sladen also was great in this season, and I know that she made a very conscious effort to try to make Sarah Jane not your typical “damsel in distress”, which is seen every time she says “Doctor, I can’t….!”. This was seen the most in “Pyramids of Mars”, which is Sarah Jane at her her peak and at her very best.

Marter also did great as Harry Sullivan, giving a consistent performance all throughout his tenure as a companion. Once again, he really wasn’t really given that much to do, as I do believe that the writers really had no idea what to do with him, and which, honestly, is a crying shame.

For those who have a little bit more time on their hands when they are going through their Classic Who watch, the only serial I believe you should skip is “The Android Invasion”, as it wasn’t that great of a story, and there isn’t much you’ll be missing.

For those who don’t have that much time and want to get to the essentials, “Pyramids of Mars” and “The Brain of Morbius” are classic episodes you shouldn’t miss. Then, if you have a little more time, watch “Planet of Evil” and “The Seeds of Doom”.

Now, before we move on, you know the drill…..

warning-spoilers-final

This season kicked off with “Terror of the Zygons” which was written by Robert Stewart Banks, and was directed by Douglas Camfield.

This episode is noted for being the second to the last time we’ll be having a UNIT based story, and as the episode that marked the departure of Harry. In articles I have read, everyone loved Marter and Harry, and they were sad to see him go, and I believe that Hinchcliffe himself has also said that letting Marter go was a mistake. However, as much as I did want to see more of Harry, it was obvious that the writers had no idea what to do with him, so they wrote him out by having him decline the Doctor’s invitation to bring him to London via the TARDIS.

Aside from that, there’s much to love about this episode. This was the very first time that the Zygons ever appeared on the show, and despite the fact that the actor’s lips and skin can be seen from behind the mask, they were pretty well designed. I can see now why they wanted to bring the Zygons back for the 50th Anniversary Special and in Nu Who’s Series 9.

Also, who cannot say no to seeing Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney) in a kilt?

Everyone’s acting was great, especially Marter when he was playing his cloned self and was eerily stalking Sarah Jane.

The only gripe I have about this episode is that it kind of does show that this was meant to be part of Season 12, and I would have rather that it would have been because of Harry’s departure and because “Revenge of the Cybermen” wasn’t as impressive as it wanted to be.

We cannot talk about this episode without mentioning the fake cyborg Loch Ness, whose visual effects were really atrocious, but it’s so bad that it becomes so good. Also, I felt that the pacing for this story was way better than “Revenge of the Cybermen”.

“Planet of Evil” really allowed them to go all Hammer Horror/gothic horror, with the foggy sets of the jungle, the anti-matter creature and it being a cautionary fable with tones of “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”.

This, actually was truly the first of the Hinchcliffe-Holmes era, as “Robot” until “Terror of the Zygons” still had a guiding hand from his predecessor, Barry Letts.

The sets of the forest were just gorgeous, and the set of the inside of the starship was truly impressive. Also, the pacing,writing, and the cliff hangers that ended each episode were just great.

Again, Sladen and Baker were truly top notch here, as their dynamic really works best when it’s just Sarah Jane and the Fourth Doctor.

However, I think that Ewen Solon as Vishinsky and Prentis Hancock as Salamar were miscast, but I could see that Solon was doing his very best.

This serial was written by Louis Marks and was directed by David Maloney.

“Pyramids of Mars” is definitely a classic and essential episode that every Whovian should watch. It is an adventure-mystery story with mummies, a wonderfully evil Egyptian deity, more time travel, and Sarah Jane and the Doctor at the height of their powers, which Sladen and Baker delivering some of their best performances yet.

It is obvious that Sladen really worked with the director to make Sarah Jane more on equal footing with the Doctor, so we got a gun toting Sarah Jane in a beautiful Victorian white dress who was genuinely enjoying herself, while being snarky, and without losing sight of the stakes that are at hand.

Likewise, the Doctor was enjoying himself immensely in this serial, and once again, managed to be the smartest person in the room.

The story itself is very well paced, and you did care about the secondary characters even if they had little screen time.

I did think that the episode started to drag a little bit when they were in the pyramid on Mars, but it didn’t detract anything from the serial.

Also, Gabriel Woolf’s voice acting for Sutekh was amazing, because he managed to give such inflections to his voice that made you believe that he was a deity who considered humans as his “play thing”.

Interestingly enough, Holmes had to rework the original script as the original was deemed to be “unworkable”, and you get a classic like this. This was directed by Paddy Russell.

“The Android Invasion”, which was written by Terry Nation, and was directed by Barry Letts, wasn’t that much of a strong entry in the series, especially as it is in the middle of two classic stories. The premise was interesting, but I think that the execution could have been a lot better, which makes it kind of sad that this was the last story we’d be seeing UNIT, Harry, and Sgt. Benton (John Levene) for the time being.

“The Brain of Morbius” was another wonderfully gothic horror offering, with foggy and rainy sets, a creepy house with a mad scientist bent on creating life, an evil Time Lord, and the Sisterhood of Karn.

If “Planet of Evil” riffed off on “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”, and “Pyramids of Mars” was a homage to “The Mummy”, this one was a direct homage to “Frankenstein”.

This one had great acting, especially from the two main women from the Sisterhood of Karn, Philip Madoc’s mad scientist Solon, Colin Fay’s bumbling servant Condo, and Michael Spiece who did the voice work for the evil Time Lord Morbius whose brain is the only thing that is left of him.

The story and plot machinations here were complicated and intricate, and wonderfully well done, especially as the story’s original script by Terrance Dicks was retooled and reworked a lot by Holmes. This serial was directed by Christopher Barry.

I guess the only gripe in this serial is that Sarah Jane once again said “Doctor, I can’t…!” but I can let it pass because Sladen did her best to act blind throughout most of the serial.

Finally, we have “The Seeds of Doom”, which was written by Robert Banks Stewart and was directed by Douglas Camfield. This one, although it is a six parter, is a definite sleeper hit. It was part disaster movie, part thriller, and part cautionary tale all in one go.

UNIT was also featured here, but there was no Brigadier, Benton or Harry, and the Doctor didn’t really have much of an opinion of them here.

All props should be given to Banks Stewart and Camfield for making this serial one with very good pacing, and it actually had me at the edge of my seat, and getting very invested in the characters to the point that I got really, really annoyed at Harrison Chase (Tony Beckley), one of the human antagonists.

Baker’s performance was also really something else here, especially when he was shouting in frustration due to the desperate situation they were in. Sladen was also in top form here with Sarah Jane taking initiative just as she usually does.

Michael Barrington was great as Sir Colin Theckeray to the point that I did want him to go on a trip with them on the TARDIS, and Sylvia Coleridge’s Amelia Ducat was unexpectedly amazing as well.

The stop motion effects for the Krynoid itself were also pretty good for that time period, to the point that I am rather impressed by it.

The music was great as well, and while watching it, I realized that in a way, that this was “The Happening” decades earlier.

Sarah Jane and the Doctor, and in that respect, Sladen and Baker, were impressive in this season. Their acting was great, Sarah Jane had more character development, and their chemistry with each other was just off the charts. It is no wonder that modern companions are modeled after Sarah Jane. Also, no other companion-Doctor pair rivals the type of  chemistry these two have, except for Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) and the Tenth Doctor.

Baker was also more settled in as the Doctor and played it perfectly, with great performances all throughout.

Aside from having a wealth of good stories (aside from “The Android Invasion”), this was a great season with brilliant performances, which, I think, worked because the stories truly reflected the Hinchcliffe-Holmes vision for the show.

What was your favorite Season 13 serial and what was your favorite performance within the season? What did you think of Harry’s departure? What did you think of Sarah Jane and the Doctor without Harry? Let me know what you think in the comments below!

Next up will be the very first Character Guide for my Classic Who watch with Ian Marter’s Harry Sullivan!

 

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