TV Review: Classic Who Season 18 (Spoilers!)

To be honest, I never thought that I would be able to reach this point. We have now reached the seventh and final season of Tom Baker as the Fourth Doctor, and the very first season of John Nathan-Turner’s tenure as the show’s show runner.

Of course, with a new show runner in charge, there was bound to be a lot of changes, from the costumes to the tone of the show. In any case, coupled with the overall theme of the sense of decay and endings, truly marked the end of an era.

One of the biggest changes to the show was the fact that they decided to scrap the lighthearted “college humor” that marked the Graham Williams and Douglas Adams era, and replaced it with more science fiction technobabble so that it could return to being more of a “hard” science fiction show.  This also meant that fan favorite K-9, which was very much a Williams thing, also had to be scrapped as well.

Another big change was the costume. Gone was brown coat and multi-colored scarf. Instead, he donned a red coat, with a red and blue scarf, which actually, oddly enough, added to the seemingly darker tone of the entire season. Also, this time around, they gave him a white polo shirt with red question marks on both sides of his collar.

Also, the title sequence changed. Gone were the blues and silver, and in came in the star field with a dancier more synthesized theme tune, which makes sense as this was done in the ’80s.

I really didn’t warm up to John Nathan-Turner as a show runner in this season though, as I felt that it lost the wit, humor and the spark that Adams had injected into the show. Aside from this, it was also clear to see that Baker himself was wearing a little bit thin in the role already. So, by the time the end came, it was sad to see the Fourth Doctor go, but in a way, the audience was very much ready for a new Doctor to come in.

Alright, from here on out, you know the drill, there will be spoilers!

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The first serial of this season “The Leisure Hive”, which was written by David Fisher, and was directed by Lovett Pickford.

This serial, although its opening shot was pretty awesome, was the one that not only got rid of K-9 by making him fall into the sea after Romana II (Lalla Ward) got annoyed at him, but also introduced all the other changes that Nathan-Turner wanted, from the costume all the way to making it more hard science fiction than the previous serials of the show.

It must also be noted that I think that Russell T. Davies got some his ideas for the Slitheen from this episode as it did feature an alien hiding inside a human skin suit.

The premise of this serial was actually pretty interesting, and quite cinematic in story and in the way it was shot. Unfortunately, I did have to pause watching this serial half way through due to all the synth music that I wasn’t accustomed to yet.

With the Doctor becoming old here, you can almost feel that it wasn’t just the Fourth Doctor that was getting old, but Tom Baker getting old in the role as well.

“Meglos”, which was written by John Flanagan and Andrew McCulloch and directed by Andrew McCulloch is the one that almost everybody will probably remember as that episode with the talking alien cactus.

The premise was as weird as it gets for “Doctor Who”, but we Whovians are no stranger to these kinds of things. This one had a much better and less overwhelming synth score, and I liked the fact that it gave Baker an opportunity to portray two versions of himself- the Doctor and an evil version of the Doctor.

“Full Circle” was surprisingly good and well paced for a story that was written by a seventeen year old boy. So, despite the obvious rubber suits of the Marshmen, and Adric (Matthew Waterhouse) being annoying in his very first appearance, it was a story that I did enjoy very much.

I also liked the fact that this episode dealt heavily about colonialism, with a very interesting surprise twist at the end. I also liked how this story gave a little bit more depth to Romana and how she felt about travelling with the Doctor, as she made it clear that she was having too much fun travelling to go back home to stuffy old Gallifrey.

Terrance Dicks’ and Peter Moffet’s “State of Decay”, however, despite the horrible CGI bats and big bats, was just a JOY to watch. I think because it ended up being a celebration of all the different eras of Baker’s tenure- the horror elements from the Hinchcliffe-Holmes era, the wit of the Williams and Douglas era, and the science fiction elements steeped heavily in Time Lord lore of that particular era. Adric wasn’t as annoying in this episode, and Baker’s and Ward’s chemistry went back to the wonderful chemistry that they had with each other during “City of Death”.

I personally loved the story, and the synth organ music really added to how ominous everything was.

“Warrior’s Gate” admittedly had an interesting and impressive set, although it wasn’t my favorite episode, it isn’t my favorite companion departure episode either. However, despite all of that, I think that this was the most logical way to write both Romana II and K-9 out of the picture, while still keeping the characters open to be used in the future if any writer or show runner wished to revisit their characters.

Aside from the interesting set design, I did love the fact that it was very much hard science fiction and dealt with a lot of heavy topics, from entropy to colonialism, and that I got confused in the way only a really good Who story can. However, I did feel that the pacing did drag a little in this one, as compared to the previous two serials.

This serial was written by Stephen Gallagher, and was directed by Paul Joyce and Graeme Harper.

“Keeper of Traken”, which was written by Johnny Byrne and directed by John Black was, in my opinion, a milestone episode.

This was the first episode after Romana II and K-9 left, an episode which introduced future companion Nyssa (Sarah Sutton), and it heralded the return of the Master.

I loved the build up to the reveal that it was the Master who was manipulating things, as they expertly gave us just enough hints every episode until the big reveal, which, of course, made me want to continue watching it. In fact, for a split second, I thought that they were dealing with the Black Guardian as that really hadn’t been truly resolved yet. I also like the fact that the Master decided to use Tremas’ (Anthony Ainley) body, as we could see the change from the scientist to the Master right away, not just physically, but psychologically as well.

I really liked how fully realized the world of Traken was, and I liked how well Nyssa, Adric and the Doctor worked together. My only issue with the serial is that at a certain point, Sheila Ruskin’s Kassia became a little bit too theatrical and over the top in her performance.

And finally, there’s “Logopolis”, the final episode of the Fourth Doctor. This one was written by Christopher Bidmead and was directed by Peter Grimwade.

Honestly, I couldn’t believe that I had finally reached this point, and was a little bit nervous about this episode, especially as I knew that the Fourth Doctor was going to regenerate at the end of the episode. I did tear up a little as the Fourth Doctor saw flashes of his greatest villains and of all his companions, but started smiling as soon as I saw Peter Davison’s Fifth Doctor.

This was a very hard science fiction episode, and the first full episode that had Ainley’s Master in it. I thought that Logopolis itself and the discussion on entropy was pretty interesting, and Adric was great here as he had the right balance of initiative and cheekiness, which compliment the Fourth Doctor’s unpredictable nature a lot. Sure, he was more mellow during this season, but I do believe that Adric worked well with the Fourth Doctor because the Fourth Doctor was able to firmly keep him in line when push came to shove.

This episode also saw the return of Nyssa, and introduced Janet Fielding’s Tegan Jovanka. I didn’t initially warm up to Tegan as quickly as I did with Nyssa because she spent most of the serial complaining and worrying like a mother hen. However, I give Tegan a pass for her first few episodes as I’m pretty sure that Fielding would get used to portraying her as the episodes go along.

The presence of the Watcher really made the entire serial seem more ominous, and the culmination of everything, especially as the entire season did have an overwhelming sense of doom and gloom all throughout it, as if it was self-aware that an era was truly ending.

In the end, Season 18 was a season of a lot of change, and a season long farewell to one of the most iconic Doctors of the show- the Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker), accompanied by new and old friends alike.

Did you like Season 18? Which of the Fourth Doctor’s companions in this season did you like the most? What do you think of Adric, Nyssa, and Tegan? What do you think of John Nathan-Turner’s style of running “Doctor Who”? Let me know what you think in the comments below!

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