Part One of Our Two Part Review!

Season 22 was the first full season for the underrated Sixth Doctor Colin Baker, who had been introduced in Season 21’s final serial The Twin Dilemma. Said serial is largely maligned, mainly due to The Sixth Doctor’s erratic behaviour, especially towards Peri (Nicola Bryant) and a mediocre storyline. 

Thankfully, Season 22 improves on this considerably, providing a range of inventive stories that often get characterised mainly as being “ultra-violent”, despite sporting some great social commentary, returning classic monsters and even the return of an iconic Doctor and companion pairing. It also saw the series return to its Saturday afternoon slot, this time sporting 45 minute episodes – a decision replicated when Doctor Who was revived in 2005. 

Attack of the Cybermen

Attack of the Cybermen almost feels like the true first story for Six, showcasing a ploy which features many throwbacks to previous elements of Who history, going as far back as An Unearthly Child with the presence of Totter’s Lane. 

There’s also a reappearance for Telos and the Cyber Controller, both last seen way back in 1967s The Tomb of the Cybermen, Cybermen stalking the sewers of London and the return of Lytton, a double-agent who appeared in the previous season’s Resurrection of the Daleks, a similarly violent story featuring an iconic Who monster. There’s also the attempt by the Cybermen to avert the destruction of Mondas, as seen in their very first appearance The Tenth Planet, by diverting Halley’s Comet to destroy Earth instead. 

Attack was written by Paula Moore, who in actuality was script-editor Eric Saward getting around union rules regarding commissioning his own story by using the name of a friend, Paula Woosley and changing the surname. There is also some debate as to the extent of Who super fan and unofficial continuity advisor Ian Levine’s role in crafting the storyline though Saward insists in the Cold War documentary on the disc that the contribution was minimal. 

Attack is a very enjoyable piece of 80s Who though the second episode admittedly gets a bit muddled and the first is a bit slow at times –  this is redeemed however by the chemistry between Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant, great guest performances by Maurice Colbourne, Brian Glover, Terry Molloy in a rare non-Davros performance and returning faces in David Banks (Cyber Leader) and Michael Kilgariff. (Cyber Controller). We also get a new alien race in the Cryons, the original inhabitants of Telos – an ethereal and fragile all-female race who help the Doctor and ally Lytton to take down the Cybermen.

Notably the level of violence seen in Attack sets a precedent for the rest of Season 22, with brutal scenes like The Doctor shanking a Cyberman with a sonic lance, Lytton’s hands being crushed and the Doctor taking down the Cyber Controller with his own gun. I personally love the more violent streak seen here though it is a point of contention for some. 

Overall, Attack of the Cybermen is a very solid Cyberman story, even if it does lean a bit heavily on continuity, feels a bit slow in the first part and sports a sometimes overbearing musical score.

4/5

Vengeance on Varos

The concept of torture and executions being broadcast as entertainment for the viewing public hasn’t lost its edge in the 21st century, especially with the advent of the internet and shock videos. 

Vengeance on Varos takes place on the titular planet, a dystopian planet wherein those who refuse the tyrannical and corrupt rule of the Governor (Martin Jarvis) are sent to be tortured at the Punishment Dome for the entertainment of a viewing public in the name of profit.

The governor must push mandatory voting on the people of Varos and face the consequences if their decisions aren’t approved, making for a reluctant and slightly sympathetic character who eventually helps the Doctor and Peri. To make matters worse the villainous slug-like Sil (Nabil Shaban) plots to extort the governor for valuable mining resources.

Varos was penned by writer Philip Martin, known for his work on the 1970s series Gangsters, and he brings some great characters to the fray, especially Sil who would reappear during the Trial of a Timelord “Mindwarp” segment.

Varos notably also features a pre-fame Jason Connery (son of the late legend Sir Sean Connery) as Jondar, a rebel leader who finds himself as a victim of torture. Ron Jones’ direction brings Martins’ concepts to life well despite some repetitive corridor sets and a silly looking security buggy.

Varos is unflinching in its themes which makes it one of the darkest Doctor Who stories perhaps in the series’ entire run, especially due to notorious scenes like the Doctor pushing an attacker into an acid bath in self-defence, or the cliffhanger to episode one which sees the Doctor seemingly perish via a hallucination of an arid desert with the camera cutting out after zooming in on his lifeless face. 

The happenings of the story being viewed by a couple desensitised to the violence is a great narrative decision and the inclusion of Sil makes for one of the all-time best Doctor Who villain performances thanks to Nabil Shaban, enduring in a recent spin-off film Sil and the Devil Seeds of Andor, once again penned by Philip Martin before his death in 2020.

This is one of the stories I highly recommend for those who want a taster of the Colin Baker era of Who, though it does have the issue of The Doctor and Peri not making it to Varos for over half of episode one – a side effect of the 45 minute episode format but not one that hinders the story too much.

4/5

The Mark of the Rani 

The Mark of the Rani sees the first story this season to take on a more historical setting, taking place during the 19th century in the mining village of Killingworth in North East England. The Doctor and Peri are diverted here and end up tracking down a time distortion signal to a nearby town wherein miners are acting insane and causing chaos for the locals and the mining machinery.

These goings on are the result of experiments by the fiendish Rani (Kate O Mara), an exiled Time Lord working alongside The Doctor’s long time nemesis The Master (a returning Anthony Ainley). The duo are working to undo the damage caused by the Rani’s tinkering on her home planet of Miasmia Goria, where the inhabitants are left unable to sleep, leading to the harvesting of brain fluids from the miners and locals to send back home.

Meanwhile, the Master is trying once again to alter the course of Earth history by trying to gather the finest minds of the time period to speed up the industrial revolution to turn Earth into a powerhouse. One such great mind is George Stephenson (Gawn Grainger), known as the Father of Railways who ends up saving the Doctor following a thrilling cliffhanger wherein he’s helplessly strapped to a mine cart headed toward a pit. 

This story marks the writing debut of husband and wife duo Pip and Jane Baker,  who would go on to pen two further stories during the 80s. Jonathan Gibb’ musical score here is also moody and atmospheric and the on-location shooting at Blists Hill Victorian Town adds to the authenticity of the time period, especially thanks to director Sarah Helling’s efforts to make the town feel lived in with lots of extras.

Though perhaps easy to overlook amongst the better known Sixth Doctor storylines The Mark of the Rani is a solid outing perhaps let down a bit by the over the top villagers and scenery chewing going on by The Rani and The Master plus the bizarre concept of a person being transformed into a tree – a horrifying concept that ultimately ends up looking very silly in the way it’s executed on-screen.

3.5/5

The Two Doctors

As the title suggests, this is a multi-Doctor story and the final one in the classic era. The story begins with The Second Doctor (Patrick Troughton) and Jamie (Frazer Hines) being sent on a mission by the Time Lords (continuity wise it is debated just when this story is meant to take place in the Second Doctor’s era) to visit a research facility where they must warn an old friend and brilliant mind Dastari (Laurence Payne) to stop others scientists progressing with time travel experiments, due to the risk it poses to the time-space continuum.

This results in the duo getting caught in a trap as Sontaran warriors invade the base, having been assisted by Chessene (Jacqueline Pearce) an augmented Androgum (a local race who serve the scientists) and her servant Shockeye (John Stratton) a gourmet who is more concerned with cultivating Jamie for food than conquest.

The Sixth Doctor and Peri also get drawn to the facility as Six feels his past self in danger and resolves to speak to Dastari as well. They find the station abandoned and are threatened by the rogue AI security, eventually finding Jamie who had snuck into the ventilation system to avoid getting caught. 

Meanwhile, the story switches to Chessene and the Sontarans setting up base in a Spanish Hacienda in Seville. The reason why the story ended up being set here was that the initial location of New Orleans proposed to veteran writer Robert Holmes fell through due to funding issues. Whilst the setting is very nice it does feel a bit gratuitous to the overall plot.

The Doctor’s symbiotic nuclei, which is the key to stable time travel, is the aim of their experimenting, with the Sontaran’s wanting time travel for their war efforts against the Rutans (their long-time enemies). The Sontarans here are perhaps a bit too tall and the masks restrictive but their portrayal is an improvement on their previous last-minute appearance in The Invasion of Time. Their dialogue is quite nice too, especially owing to being Holmes’ own creation. 

The other alien race introduced in the story, the Androgums, are very much an embodiment of Holmes’ vegetarian views and are fairly nicely realised. A plot by Chessene sees the Second Doctor temporarily turned into an Androgum, allowing Troughton to have great fun and exercise his acting abilities as an addled Doctor.

The Two Doctors is another notably violent story from the season, especially on the part of Shockeye who brutally murders a hapless actor and moth enthusiast called Oscar (James Saxon) who alongside their friend Anita (Carmen Gómez) assist with locating the Second Doctor, following a dispute at his restaurant. 

The Sixth Doctor, in turn, ends up using Oscar’s cyanide covered moth net to smother him to death in a final confrontation outside the hacienda. The rest of the violence can be seen as a direct result of the pro-vegan themes established by Holmes due to Shockeye’s brutal treatment of those he deems worthy of a meal.

Though perhaps a bit overlong at three 45 minute episodes, I’ve always been fond of The Two Doctors, especially thanks to the return of Troughton and Hines. The new and returning alien races are fairly solid and the Spanish setting, though feeling solely there for a crew holiday, lends an exotic flare thanks to the effective on-location shooting by Peter Moffat. The plot has a lot of double-crossing come the final act and once again whilst you could argue that the violence is a bit excessive it also lends to giving the villains a real sense of threat.

4/5

Timelash

Timelash has a reputation for being one of the weakest stories in the entirety of Doctor Who’s classic run. With such a poor reputation I was perhaps surprised to find that the story isn’t quite as bad as said standing suggests, though it’s not without its problems.

As a studio-bound outing for the season the sterile looking sets offer a mixed result, as do the special effects and some performances, notably the sing-song blue Androids that serve the Borad. It is ironic though that in one of the cheapest looking serials of 80s Who that The aforementioned villainous Borad (Robert Ashby) is one of the best looking designs of the era.

The premise of Timelash sees the planet Karfel being controlled by its mutated leader The Borad, who plots to start a war and manipulates the councillors to do his bidding. Anyone who rebels ends up being thrown into the titular Timelash, a time corridor and one of the weakest special effects ever seen in Doctor Who (think a lot of Christmas tinsel and plastic looking crystals as the Doctor explores its interior.) 

The presence of actors Denis Carey and Paul Darrow does elevate the proceedings a bit, as does the idea of bringing in HG Wells (David Chandler) into the plot after a victim of the Timelash ends up in his home and time in the 1800s. It’s a shame however that the story itself drags, with production issues resulting in an overlong part one and under-running part two that had to be fixed with extra scenes. The Tardis scenes here are also especially tedious and Peri is served especially poorly in the story. 

The throwback to an unseen visit to Karfel by the Third Doctor is a nice nod as far as premises go but Timelash is otherwise a mixed bag, though compared to other notably disliked stories like Time Flight this does have its strengths upon revisiting for this review.

3/5

Revelation of the Daleks 

Widely considered to be the best Sixth Doctor Story, Revelation features a brilliant and dark narrative, full of black humour and morbid themes. The Doctor and Peri visit the planet Necros for the funeral of his old friend and acclaimed Agronomist Arthur Stengos (Alec Linstead). Along the way they are ambushed by a mutated man (Ken Barker, though the role was apparently offered to Sir Laurence Olivier) who informs the duo that he was experimented on by The Great Healer.

Stengos is being laid to rest at Tranquil Repose, a high-tech funeral home that has been commandeered by creator of the Daleks Davros (Terry Molloy) who is masquerading as the “Great Healer” to use the dead for a new Dalek army. Necros is also facing a famine, leading Davros to also use the dead as a food source (leading to the immortal “consumer resistance” line when he is confronted by the Doctor.) 

Elsewhere, Natasha (Bridget Lynch-Blosse) the daughter of Stengos and her partner Grigory (Stephen Flynn) break into Tranquil Repose in an attempt to recover Stengos’ body only to discover his mutated body within a glass Dalek casing – an experimental form of metamorphosis as mentioned previously.

Davros himself spends much of the story as a disembodied head and is very much playing everyone around him to get at those he deems meddlesome. One much individual is Mr. Jobel (Clive Swift) the slimy Chief Embalmer whose overly-attached assistant Tasambeker (Jenny Tomasin) is used to get him out of the picture with deadly results. The Daleks get a nice makeover here being mainly white and gold, a design that stood out nicely after many years of the nondescript grey colour scheme. 

His business partner for food grade on Necros, Kara (Eleanor Bron), is intent on cutting Davros out of the equation and thus hires an expert assassin Orcini (William Gaunt) and his partner Bostock (John Ogwen). The duo are very reminiscent of a Robert Holmes double-act and are a casting highlight for the story.

Despite this being another story this season where The Doctor and Peri only get to the main plot around the midpoint Revelation is a superb story with a lot going on within its narrative. This is Saward at his best, and even Alexei Sayle’s DJ (a Disk Jockey who transmits music to those lying in suspended animation), a more divisive character, plays into the dark humour that characterises Revelation as one of Doctor Who’s’ most unique serials. Graeme Harper’s sublime direction and Roger Limb’s chilling score only elevate the proceedings even higher.

5/5

Overall:

Best Story: Revelation of the Daleks 

Worst Story: Timelash 

Must see: The Two Doctors, Revelation of the Daleks

Check out Part Two of the review, which features a rundown of the packaging, special features and audio/visual details as well as a final review score.

By HW Reynolds

Images courtesy of the BBC

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