TV Review: Classic Who Season 14 (Spoilers!)

Seasons 13 and 14 were definitely very different in tone from the rest of the other Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker) seasons due to the fact that producer Philip Hinchcliffe and script editor Robert Holmes made the show a little bit more darker, by adding some gothic horror elements to it. At the time, some welcomed the idea, while others thought that some parts, for that day and age were too dark, especially as “Doctor Who” is a family show. However, I consider Seasons 13 and 14 to be great seasons with great stories, and a tone that I felt was refreshing. At this point, we have talked about Season 13, so now, it’s time to delve into another really strong season of the Fourth Doctor’s, Season 14.

Season 14 consisted of six stories, twenty-six twenty five minute episodes, and ran from September 4, 1976 to April 2, 1977. Aside from the Fourth Doctor, this season also featured Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen) and Leela (Louise Jameson) as the Doctor’s companions. This season also  saw the debut of the secondary wool paneled TARDIS console (no more round things on the walls), and featured an episode in which the Doctor didn’t have any companion at all. It also introduced two secondary characters, Henry Gordon Jago (Christopher Benjamin)  and Professor George Litefoot (Trevor Baxter), who went on to have their own spin-off series in audio format thanks to Big Finish.

All of this  seasons stories were all consistently strong, with interesting characters, themes, settings and premises.

And now, you know the drill. Beyond this point, there will be spoilers!

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This season is, aside from being a great and solid season, the season in which Sladen’s Sarah Jane Smith left the TARDIS and we were given a new companion in Louise Jameson’s Leela. We were also given “The Deadly Assassin”, which not only saw the return of The Master, but it was also the very first story without featuring a companion, as Baker had insisted that he could carry the show all by himself. As much as Baker does command the screen, I think that the producers agreed with the audience that having one offs like that once in a while is fine, but not for an entire season. Also, if that plan had pushed through, we would have never have gotten Leela, a companion that I am rather fond of.

Let’s take a look first at Sladen’s last two adventures in the TARDIS with her beloved Fourth Doctor.

“The Masque of Mandragora” was written by Louis Marks directed by Rodney Bennett. For this story, they really made good use of all the location shoots they were able to do, and this story also featured the second TARDIS console. Aside from Sarah Jane getting hypnotized again, and the not so convincing acting of Gareth Armstrong as Duke Giuliano, this was a fun adventure for the Doctor. It also somehow reminds one of “The Masque of the Red Death”, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this was in homage of that, especially as Seasons 13 and 14 were the peak of the Hinchcliffe-Holmes era.

Another reason why this was a good adventure for the Doctor is it allowed him to come up with elaborate plans which he executed deftly, and he was definitely the smartest in the room. And when his plans go just the way he wants it to go, he always has that smile, which is a mixture of pleasant surprise and arrogance.

“The Hand of Fear”, Sladne’s last outing with the Fourth Doctor, was written  by Bob Baker and Dave Martin, and was directed  by Lennie Mayne.

I loved the character design  for the Kastrians, and I really loved Judith Parrish’s performance as the female version of Eldrad. However, once she regenerated into her male form, the character became too hammy for me.

Baker and Martin wrote an interesting story, which definitely reminds one of the Third Doctor (Jon Pertwee) era, what with the base under siege story in a nuclear plant on Earth.

However, what I did love about this one is that it organically played up the fact that ever since “Pyramids of Mars”, Sarah Jane has been a little bit more flippant and now regards the universe just as the Fourth Doctor does- a big sandbox to play in. This can be seen in the fact that she ignores the Doctor’s orders to stay put, and teases him after being hypnotized again by the Doctor. I believe that this was a very good point for her to leave, because if not, she would end up like Series 2 Rose Tyler (Billie Piper),  who became smug and arrogant the more her attitude shifted to something like this.

However, re-watching “School Reunion” right after this definitely gave me “the feels”. When I first watched that episode years ago, I knew that something special was happening with that reunion, but seeing Sarah Jane with Four, and everything they went through, and how he left her in Aberdeen before he left for Gallifrey, just makes it even more emotional.

“The Deadly Assassin”, the very first story to feature no companion at all, was written  by Robert Holmes, and was directed by  David Maloney. This one was a landmark episode as audiences were able to experience Gallifrey itself, and its culture, with its stuffy politicians, rules and robes. It also introduced concepts such as The Matrix, the fact that there is a limit to regenerations; and it featured the Eye of Harmony and the Sash of Rassilon.

It also reintroduced The Master (Peter Pratt), who, as he was at the end of his regenerations, hoped to end his rivalry with the Doctor and try to gain more regenerations  in one blow.

Baker was truly in top form here, as the entire serial relied on his performance. Also, for some reason, all the scenes in the Matrix seemed to have higher stakes than in Nu Who with episodes like that such as the alternate reality in “Amy’s Choice”.

Also,  Holmes was able to make this story a satire on politics and politicians during that particular time.

The Fourth Doctor then met his new companion, Leela, in “The Face of Evil”, which was written  by Chris Boucher, and was directed by  Pennant Roberts.

I loved this serial, because, aside from Leela, it presented us with a lot of topics to think and discuss about.

First off, there’s the fact that the audience is, for the first time (I think), seeing the adverse effects of having had the Doctor’s help. Most of the time, he helps to change things for the better, but sometimes, he unknowingly makes mistakes that end up having adverse effects on the people that are left behind in his wake. This topic is something that is picked up again by Ashildr/Lady Me (Maisie Williams) in Series 9.

Secondly, there’s the fact that the super computer Xonoan with a split personality disorder (one of which is the Doctor’s own darker personality), is pitting two tribes of people against each other as an exercise in eugenics.

Thirdly, the Hinchcliffe-Holmes seasons do have an underlying current about broken or fallen gods or rulers; and how the system can sometimes fail us. This is what makes characters like David Garfield’s Neeva so interesting.

“The Robots of Death”, Leela’s very first adventure, was written by Chris Boucher, and was directed by Michael E. Briant.

This story was an excellent merging of science fiction and the mystery stories of Agatha Christie, which, honestly, kept me guessing until the end about who exactly the culprit was.

The only thing here that doesn’t hold up well to this day is the fact the robot’s boots were obviously lined with tin foil. I honestly wouldn’t call the fact that these robots are very human-like a gripe, because it makes it even more scary.

Finally, the entire season is ended by the six part “The Talons of Weng-Chiang”, which was writtenby Robert Holmes and was directed by David Maloney. This serial was also Hinchcliffe’s last hurrah as the show’s producer due to criticism that the show had become too dark for children to watch.

Despite the blatant racism, which, I think worked only because of the Victorian setting, and the giant rat, which by today’s standards is very unconvincing, this story is definitely one of the classic stories in the pantheon of “Doctor Who”, and definitely a must watch for any Whovian.

Aside from introducing the world to Professor George Litefoot (Trevor Baxter) and Henry Gordon Jago (Christopher Benjamin), two Watson like characters who ended up having a very successful Big Finish series that is still going strong until today; this was a great gothic horror story with the Doctor serving as Sherlock Holmes.

The characters were great, the story was solid, the villains were great and creepy, and Dudley Simpson’s atmospheric music made it the classic that it is.

Honestly, when I watched it for the second time, I was clapping my hands with glee, as I loved every moment of  it.

Acting wise, Sladen was in top form here, and I’m glad that she went out while the character was at the peak of its popularity. This made her departure even more sad, and made her reunion with the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) even more special  in “School Reunion”.

Jameson is brilliant as Leela, as she was able to balance her character’s physicality with the fact that she is very naiive about the world, and that she is sometimes quite childlike. I love her relationship  with the Doctor, as it is more of a student or ward like Eliza Doolittle from “My Fair Lady”, while being his bodyguard at the same time. However, the writers never forget that Leela is a woman, and despite the skimpy tribal outfit, I love how, when, in “Weng-Chiang”, she asks how a dress looks on her, she becomes, for a second, a little bit shy and feminine.

Baker was truly in fine form in this season, with him running about, figuring things out, and managing to trick the villains at times and being the smartest person in the room.

Season 14 was definitely a high point in the Hinchcliffe-Holmes era, and a season that produced consistently good serials one after the other, while churning out classics such as “The Deadly Assassin” and “The Talons of Weng-Chiang”.

Truly, it’s a shame that the gothic horror and Hammer Horror influenced “Doctor Who” will end at this point, but at least it went out with a definite bang.

Next up, I’ll be doing my first ever review of a Big Finish audio drama, with the first series of “Jago & Litefoot”!

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