TV Review: Classic Who Season 15 (Spoilers!)

At this point, we have now come past the half way mark of the Fourth Doctor’s era (Tom Baker), and are standing at the beginnings of a new era in the history of “Doctor Who”.

Seasons 12 to 14, and more specifically, seasons 13 and 14, was the Hinchcliffe-Holmes  era, where they took the show in a darker and more adult direction by tapping into Hammer Horror films for a more gothic horror take on the show. This direction was seen in the set designs, the ambient music and sound effects, and “Doctor Who” episodes now dubbed as classics that paid homage to the likes of Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein”, and Hammer Horror films.

However, this darker tone did not sit quite well with everyone, and in particular, a housewife named Mary Whitehouse, who complained that a particular scene in “The Deadly Assassin” was too violent and disturbing for children. Because of this, the Hinchcliffe-Holmes era ended, and Graham Williams was given the job of producing a show that had less budget than before, and was given the task to turn the violence down a notch and to dial up the comedy. He also had to face the fact that Baker himself was beginning to be more of a loose canon at this point, and his behavior, which is pretty well documented now, behind the scenes wasn’t that great.

Because of this, Season 15 was very much as season of transition and building up what the Williams era would be. This is also probably why I had a hard time going through this particular season. The stories and their tone were very inconsistent, even though it had a few good ones in it. Also, this was coming off the immensely popular Hinchcliffe-Holmes era, so maybe the abrupt shift in tone was also very jarring for me, as I loved the gothic horror that that era had. However, I do believe that the true start of the Williams era began with “The Invisible Enemy” as “Horror of Fang Rock” was very much in the vein of Hinchcliffe and Holmes.

Inconsistencies and transitions aside, this season not only had Leela (Louise Jameson) as the Doctor’s companion, but this season also introduced a companion that would remain to be a fan favorite until today- K-9 (voiced by John Leeson).

Jameson, Baker and Leeson worked great as a TARDIS team, even though Baker himself wasn’t fond of working with the K-9 prop during filming. (This was pretty apparent, though, in the way that the Doctor acted towards K-9 during this season).

Jameson has been magical at portraying Leela from day one, from her physicality, to the way she holds her own against Baker on screen. My only gripe with Leela is that she was written very inconsistently throughout the season, and that her white outfit, although it was more comfortable for Jameson, was a little bit too skimpy for me, even for a “warrior” girl.

Baker was at the height of his powers here, especially during “The Invasion of Time”.

All in all, this wasn’t my favorite season, but perhaps, again, this can be explained by all the external factors that I mentioned earlier, from changing producers all the way to problems on set.

Now, before we move on to the season proper, you know the drill!

warning-spoilers-final

The season kicked off with “The Horror of Fang Rock”, which was written by Terrance Dicks, and was directed by Paddy Russell.

I consider this episode to still be within the Hinchcliffe-Holmes era, as the entire premise and setting of the story was very much in the vein of a gothic horror thriller.

This is definitely a gem of an episode, and one of the essential Fourth Doctor episodes that everyone has to watch, as it had a strong story and great performances all around the table. I guess the only gripe anyone would have would be the the Rutan itself, as it took a little bit too long for the green plastic bag to go up the stairs, and as the effects didn’t make it look as threatening as I thought it would be.

However, there are some wonderful performances by the cast, Baker, and of course, by Jameson herself. I just loved the fact that she was placed in a situation where an actual proper English lady would be her foil, and that she ended up slapping that said lady when she cried out loud one too many times.

Bob Baker’s and Dave Martin’s “The Invisible Enemy”, which was directed by Derrick Goodwin, was part base under siege story, and partly an homage to “The Fantastic Voyage”. Although I can praise Baker’s and Jameson’s acting;  the courage that they had to create sets for a hospital based in an asteroid and the Doctor’s brain, and to create better effects for a flying spaceship; I think that this story was let down by an interesting premise falling flat on the effects for the nucleus of the virus swarm both inside and outside of the Doctor’s brain. (I mean, come on, it looked like a giant round raisin with eyes and a claw inside his brain, and an over sized shrimp outside of it).

I loved how the virus didn’t target Leela as she was more “instinct and intuition” than raw intelligence, and I loved the fact that Leela was bothered by the fact that she couldn’t fight it one on one.

Although this serial wasn’t that great, although it had good ideas, this serial saw the introduction of K-9, which sort of makes it better.

“The Image of the Fendahl” which was written by Chris Boucher and directed by George Spenton-Foster, was a welcome palate cleanser to the horrible shrimp/raisin virus of the previous serial.

This was a good gothic horror installment with great acting from everyone involved. I loved how the mystery slowly built up, and how the reveal of the actual bad guy within that team of scientists working inside that eerie mansion was handled. Sure it was campy, but it still had me guessing as to who it was.

I also loved the fact that they  used superstitions, such as throwing salt over your shoulder to ward off bad luck, and gave it an actual explanation here.

I also thought that the design of the Fendahl core was pretty amazing.

Robert Holmes’ “The Sun Makers”, which was directed by Pennant Roberts, was Holmes’ way of tackling the issue of taxes, more specifically because at that point in time, he had some beef with the British Revenue and Customs.

The story actually has a really good premise, what with the poor folk having to pay exorbitant amounts of money to the “Company”, without really knowing what this company is.

Needless to say, the oppressed end up rising in rebellion, thanks to Leela and the Doctor, but it starts falling off the rails when these people suddenly become really good rebels, and go as far as to actually throwing the Gatherer (one of their tax collectors) off the roof, and mobbing a guard to his death.

The end result of this episode was that it was inconsistent, but had a very interesting premise, and made good use of both Baker and Jameson, who were both at the height of their powers here.

“Underworld” was written by Bob Baker and Dave Martin, and was directed by Norman Stewart.

Baker and Jameson did well in this episode, which did have an interesting premise, but I think that the execution, experimentation with CSO for special effects, and the fact that there was just too many things going on here, did it a disservice. Also, we were faced with another artificial intelligence gone wrong, just like in “Face of Evil”, but I believe that that story pulled it off better.

The entire season ended with the six-part “The Invasion of Time”which was written by David Agnew (Graham Williams and Anthony Read) and was directed by Gerald Blake.

Jameson was unfortunately being pushed aside during the entire serial, and even though her working relationship with Baker was better at this point as compared to Season 14, it didn’t really seem to be working out here as the Doctor didn’t really treat Leela that well here, and he barely looked at her or showed much affection to her unlike the previous episodes. Although, it also might be the case that Baker was pretty much preoccupied with what the Doctor was going through in this serial. Regardless, Jameson really held her own in this episode, and my other gripe is that she wasn’t really given a proper send off, as I really didn’t see much chemistry with her and Commander Andred (Chris Tranchell). This is also why I am very keen on listening to her Big Finish work with Baker, and the Big Finish “Gallifrey” series, so that I can can catch up on what happened to Leela after her adventures with the Doctor.

Baker, however, was even more at the peak of his acting powers here. Until now, that laugh he gave when the Vaardans appeared still gives me chills down the spine, as you end up wondering whether he had actually given in or not to them. His eccentricity was dialed up to eleven, and he really fooled me the first time I watched this serial.

However, during my second watch, I did find some plot-holes, and I found that even though I did like them wandering around inside the TARDIS which kind of looked like a hospital here, those scenes were a little bit too long for my taste.

However, I do understand why this would make for a good season ender- the Doctor possibly gone dark, and two major threats to Gallifrey sound very similar to Nu Who season finales wherein the Doctor has to stop one or two major threats from conquering the Earth….again.

This season was both highly inconsistent and hit or miss, not only with the episodes but with the characterization of Leela as well. However, Jameson and Baker were truly at the height of their powers here, and Leeson’s K-9 was a welcome addition to the TARDIS team, although the first K-9 was a little bit clunky and really noisy at times.

Did you like Season 15? What did you like and what didn’t you like about this season? What did you think of Baker’s and Jameson’s performances? How did you like K-9? What did you think of Leela’s send off? Let me know what you think in the comments below!

 

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