TV Review: Classic Who Season 17 (Spoilers!)

After having a season whose serials were all loosely connected to each other through the search of the artifact known as the Key to Time, it was time for the Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker), to start going on random adventures again in time and space, and who better to help him out in that than a script editor named Douglas Adams.

Together, Baker and Adams were a formidable force of nature, upping the ante on fun adventures, high concept science fiction, and dialogue that was smart and witty. This was also the season in which two of the best known “Doctor Who” episodes reside- the wonderful masterpiece that is “City of Death”, and the the Holy Grail for Whovians, “Shada”, the unaired and uncompleted serial.

Of course, the Fourth Doctor is never without his companions, and this time, he was joined by Lalla Ward’s Romana II, and David Briely as the new voice of K-9.

Ward, aside from portraying the iconic Time Lady both in the show and in the subsequent Big Finish Productions’ Audio Dramas and books, is also known for being Baker’s ex-wife. Yes, the two did end up getting married to each other while filming, which surprised many on set as the two apparently would fight a lot, but they also ended up dissolving that union pretty quickly.

In fact, when you watch the episodes from both this season and the next season, you can truly pinpoint the days in which Baker was enamored by Ward, and you can also see the times when they had difficulties working with each other.

Nevertheless, I did have a hard time warming up to Ward’s more bossy and matriarchal version of Romana,  and I also had a hard time warming up to Briely as K-9.

The serials, even though they were smart and witty, were a little bit hit and miss for me. It had good concepts and premises, but sometimes, I felt that that it wasn’t executed that well. However, that may also be because the bar for the best of this season was set quite high with “City of Death” and “Shada”.

It’s not surprising that my favorite episodes in this season are “City of Death” and “Shada”, as they were quintessential Douglas Adams “Doctor Who”, and were  just really great “Doctor Who” stories as a whole. However, I’m not going to delve into “Shada” yet, as I believe that that serial, with its many adaptations and attempts to recreate the entire thing, deserves its own post.

All in all, Season 17 wasn’t as good as Season 13 or 14, but had interesting concepts, and it was the height of Adams in “Doctor Who”.

Now, you know the drill,  from this point beyond, there will be spoilers!

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As I mentioned earlier, I did have a hard time warming to Ward as Romana, most probably because Romana I regenerated so quickly and effortlessly. Also, Mary Tamm wasn’t really given a proper exit, unlike all of the Doctor’s companions.

However, and I think that this was due to Ward’s and Baker’s on and off again relationship with each other, the moments where I really did love Romana II was  when their chemistry with each other was just off the charts, just like in “City of Death”, and when she wasn’t being too bossy towards the Doctor. However, knowing that she will one day become President of the Time Lords made me appreciate her bossiness, especially in “Horns of Nimon”. That episode clearly gave us a taste of why THIS Romana can handle being Lady President over Romana I.

Also, Romana II’s wardrobe was just gorgeous.

It took me quite a while for me to get used to Briely as K-9 because it was so different, and it didn’t make any sense at all for me to change voice actors all of a sudden, especially when everyone was already used to hearing John Leeson’s voice instead.

Alright, now let’s talk about the serials that were in this season.

“Destiny of the Daleks” was written by Terry Nation and was directed by Ken Grieve. As it is a Nation script, it wasn’t a surprise that he would do something with the Daleks and Davros.

Interestingly enough, the dialogue that introduces Romana II to the audience was good, and I loved how they built up the tension in the first episode by using more ambient sound instead of using Dudley Simpsons’ usual orchestrations. The wittiness in the script is pure Douglas Adams, which no other Doctor but the Fourth Doctor can pull of, and it is something that Baker pulls off extremely well. Also, this episode also introduced us to the Movellans.

My biggest gripe about this episode was how Nation, of all people, made the Daleks seem a little bit scary by making them ROBOTS instead of having a Dalek mutant inside of its casing. I also didn’t like how they just resurrected Davros so easily, and I wasn’t so fond of David Goodson as Davros.

“City of Death”, which was directed by Michael Hayes, has now become a favorite of mine, to the point that I actually went and bought the official novelization of the serial.

This is a gem of a story with intriguing characters, and with Baker and Ward just having the time of their lives in Paris. Yes, they actually shot the episode in Paris, making it the very first “Doctor Who” serial that was shot outside of London.

It had great music; a great story written by Douglas Adams, Graham Williams and David Fisher; a great cast; and solid performances from Baker and Ward, as their chemistry here rivals that of the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) and Rose Tyler (Billie Piper). Aside from that, watching this, and seeing the fun that everyone was having in this episode truly makes it one of the best in the Baker era. This was also peak Douglas Adams. Also, I would like to think that Steven Moffat might have gotten the idea for how different Clara Oswald’s (Jenna Coleman) could exist in different time periods and in different versions of herself thanks to Count Scarlioni (Julian Glover).

After watching Romana II and the Fourth Doctor work so well with each other makes “Creature of the Pit” a little bit jarring, as this was one of the first ones that Ward ever filmed, which meant that her portrayal of Romana wasn’t as nuanced as “Destiny of the Daleks” and “City of Death”. This was also the first time that we heard Briely voice K-9, making the experience very jarring indeed.

The intergalactic politics was actually pretty interesting, but I thought that they could have removed the sub-plot with the bandits, who reminded me of the ogres in “Fraggle Rock”, and that Erato wasn’t really well designed.

It also seemed as if the writers themselves also didn’t know how to write for Ward’s Romana as some of the lines did sound like Romana I lines.

However, it did have witty dialogue, especially in the exchanges that the Doctor had with the Seer.

This serial was written by David Fisher and was directed by Christopher Barry.

“Nightmare from Eden”, which was written by Bob Baker (only) and directed by Alan Bromly, stood out from the rest of the crowd for two specific reasons. It was the first time that Bob Baker wrote a “Doctor Who” serial without his long time co-writer David Martin, and it was the first time that “Doctor Who” actually wasn’t subtle about what it wanted to talk about- drugs and drug smuggling. (I was also surprised that I actually LIKED something that Bob Baker wrote).

Both Baker and Ward knocked their performances out of the park, and I did like the concepts that they had here, such as an electric zoo that was “bigger on the inside”. I also liked the fact that I warmed to Ward at was alright with her being the bossy mother friend that almost every one of us has in our own circle of friends.

I also loved the fact that the Doctor and Romana are almost always on the same page as each other, and that despite all that, she still can take the initiative in certain situations. I also loved how Baker’s Doctor played “the pied piper” to the Mandrels that were literally made out of the illegal substance being pertained to in the episode.

“The Horns of Nimon”, which was written by Anthony Read and was directed by Kenny McBain, was much better than “Creature of the Pit”. It was here, as I mentioned earlier, that I began to appreciate Ward’s version of the character, and it was also here in which I saw how she could become Lady President. The way that Romana II becomes furious at others is definitely a sight to see, and is definitely something she will need if she wants to keep the stubborn Time Lords in line. I also loved how she wrinkled her nose in fond annoyance at the Doctor in the very last scene of the serial. I also liked the Greek mythology aspect of the Nimons,  and I did like how everything was a cautionary tale on why you should always be careful of the easy way out, because it usually ends up biting you back in the end.

As a whole, I enjoyed the combination of Lalla Ward, Tom Baker, and Douglas Adams, and I’m also glad that if there was a season to go out on, producer Graeme Williams picked a good one to go out on.

How did you like Season 17? What were your favorite episodes and scenes and least favorite episodes and scenes of the season? How did you like the Adams-Baker or Baker-Ward combo? What did you think of Lalla Ward’s Romana II? Let me know what you think in the comments below!

 

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