Thursday, April 30, 2015
Doctor Who – Thirteen Reasons To Watch #WhoOnHorror
The Horror Channel goes back to the very beginning of Doctor Who today as it starts showing forty-seven stories across the following months, beginning with the very first. So here are my idiosyncratic picks for the thirteen best stories showing (or just watch the lot, obviously). Horror’s now on both Freesat and Freeview, so everyone can watch it.
Liberal Democrats: activate your TV recording devices of choice and bookmark this article as number 337 of things to catch up with post-election.
Active members of other parties: sit down, put your feet up, watch Doctor Who and argue with my tendentious choices online!
If you’ve never watched Doctor Who before – just pick one, and watch one. This selection suggests which ones I most enjoy watching, but if you need something to tell you who is this Doctor anyway, here’s one I prepared earlier.
The Horror Channel has been broadcasting Doctor Who since last Easter under the banner #WhoOnHorror – initially a selection of stories from the first seven Doctors, they’ve been a ratings hit and so bought the rights to show more. It’s on every weekday in a double bill at around 10am, 2.40pm and 7.50pm, in more or less the original story order, with random movie-format stories (that is, with the cliffhangers and credits taken out) at the weekend. This is the first time their whole cycle of Doctor Who stories has started up again since the Horror Channel arrived on Freeview, so why not begin at the beginning?
The Thirteen Best of #WhoOnHorror
These are my choices. No doubt every other fan will disagree, so why not champion your own? You can point out (and I usually do) that every story has its faults – but I’m looking at what excites me this time. And why choose thirteen? Well, it is the Horror Channel…
1 – The Deadly Assassin
Tom Baker versus the Master and all the Time Lords in the greatest Doctor Who story of them all. It’s got Gothic horror, political satire, film noir, a major reimagining of the Time Lords (and the Master)… And just when you think you know what’s going on, it changes completely into gritty surrealism.
Reasons to watch: the Part One cliffhanger (you keep being told it’s coming, but still the series’ best WTF moment); it enters the Matrix (20+ years before The Matrix); one of the most bitter face-offs between the Doctor and the Master; it’s constantly inventive; it looks amazing (even if Horror’s print is a bit grubby and cuts a bit. If you enjoy it, buy the DVD).
My (surprisingly short) review here.
A brilliant scene here for the Master.
2 – The Curse of Fenric
Sylvester McCoy versus Evil From the Dawn of Time and vampires from the future. A multi-layered story intermixes the World War Two, Norse mythology, Dracula and a touch of The Arabian Nights, and contrasts the 1940s and the 1980s.
Reasons to watch: a brilliant villain; what really repels vampires; the Part Three cliffhanger twist and many other twists and turns; another one fizzing with ideas.
A brilliant scene here under water.
A brilliant line and a bit of a subtext here.
A brilliant scene here where the Parsons’ in trouble.
Yes, it has quite a few brilliant scenes. And keep that last page open, as several more I’ve written about there are coming up…
3 – The Talons of Weng-Chiang
Tom Baker versus good taste. ‘Doctor Who in the inner city: gangs, guns, stabbings and drugs’. But all in the Victorian era, so there were fewer complaints despite even more to offend everyone. From murders in the fog to a night at the theatre, it revels in Victorian cliché – and is probably the most utterly entertaining Doctor Who story of all (Russell T Davies: “It’s the best dialogue ever written”).
Reasons to watch: it looks like perfect horror, but is horribly funny throughout; the Doctor does Sherlock; the Doctor’s friend Leela takes no s**t; a double-act so brilliant they now have their own long-running series, Jago and Litefoot; one whole episode a brilliant conjuring trick.
A brilliant scene here with a comedy of manners.
4 – An Unearthly Child
William Hartnell – the Doctor – versus stupid humans for the very first time. Two teachers investigate a strange old man’s granddaughter… Their lives, and ours, are never the same again, as they fall into the TARDIS and into history. A brilliant beginning that starts off the series’ anti-authoritarian bent by showing how little teachers know – but at least they know slightly more than Stone Age tribespeople…
Reasons to watch: the first episode might just be the greatest piece of television ever; a fantastic introduction to the TARDIS; the Doctor as an hilarious git with brilliant facets; “Have you ever thought what it’s like to be wanderers in the fourth dimension? Have you? To be exiles…?”
My review here (made of many one-liners).
A brilliant scene here where the Doctor invents Columbo.
And it’s on tonight!
5 – Genesis of the Daleks
Tom Baker versus Davros, the Daleks and history. A superbly filmed and scored war story. Perhaps the Doctor’s sharpest moral dilemma is whether to destroy the Daleks at their birth, but this is essentially the story of Davros, a fascist with depth and intelligence, who engineers his own destruction.
Reasons to watch: a completely compelling villain; the Daleks shot like tanks, as they should be; doubt as essential, and certainty essentially fascist; the big confrontation between the Doctor and Davros might be the most electric in the whole series.
My review here of the politics of the story (and of the CD).
My mini-review in the context of the stories it was first broadcast with and how they all fit together here.
A brilliant scene here where the Daleks exterminate for the first time.
6 – The Mind Robber
Patrick Troughton versus some very weird s**t indeed. Funny, silly, literary, intelligent… Our heroes find themselves first in a void where they get a massive shock, then marooned in a Land of Fiction.
Reasons to watch: the shocking Part One cliffhanger; the Doctor’s playfulness turning into steely determination; Jamie losing face; Zoe going all The Avengers (UK) against someone who might be from The Avengers (US).
7 – The Androids of Tara
Tom Baker versus the wicked Count Grendel. Imagine a Doctor Who summer holiday, with fabulous frocks, fishing and fencing with electric swords, where the big, serious quest is dealt with in a five-minute joke. Add Peter Jeffrey as a moustache-twirlingly wicked Count, a bargained-down bribe and a dash of sex, then sit back and enjoy.
Reasons to watch: it’s just about the least ‘horror’ Doctor Who gets; it’s sheer fun; it finishes with a proper duel. “Next time, I shall not be so lenient!”
A brilliantly ‘romantic’ scene or two here that should put you off weddings (we had it at ours).
8 – The Caves of Androzani
Peter Davison versus death (and versus big business, gun-runners, the army, poison, the phantom of the opera…). A cynical desert war, noirishly twisted love and revenge drama: an extraordinary mixture of the Fifth Doctor’s competing ‘arthouse’ and ‘macho’ styles, with a terrific script, dazzling direction, rattlesnake-eerie music and compelling actors.
Reasons to watch: pride comes before a fall in a fabulously nasty Part Three scene; brilliant debut for a director so good he did a lot of the 2000s stories too; an explosive regeneration before they were fashionable.
A brilliantly long-suffering moment here.
9 – Logopolis
Tom Baker versus the Master and the end of everything. A small-scale story of the TARDIS itself becoming perilous turns into portents of doom and the unravelling of the entire Universe – before the threat telescopes back in to the Doctor himself.
Reasons to watch: making the familiar sinister; a gorgeous, funeral music score; the Doctor’s most hearts-rending regeneration.
A brilliant scene here for the Master.
10 – The Dæmons
Jon Pertwee versus the Master, a great big Dæmon and the English village; science versus magic. If ever there was a Doctor Who story you’d expect to see on the Horror Channel, this is it. It’s not quite Dennis Wheatley or The Wicker Man, but it does have a Satanic vicar – in truth, the MASTER – and evil Morris dancing.
Reasons to watch: the victim of the Part Three cliffhanger; the perfect locations; the Brigadier and the rest of UNIT getting out and about; the pub. “Five rounds rapid!”
My in-depth review of the novelisation and how it compares here.
11 – The Ark in Space
Tom Baker versus Alien. This is much less comfy Doctor Who horror, out in pitiless space where the last humans are being devoured by giant insects – or possessed by them.
Reasons to watch: it was the first Doctor Who I saw all the way through, and it worked on me – it gave me nightmares; the Doctor’s friends Sarah Jane Smith and Harry Sullivan are wonderful; a huge influence on both Ridley Scott and Doctor Who’s 2005 relaunch.
My mini-review in the context of the stories it was first broadcast with and how they all fit together here.
A brilliant scene here after the end of the world.
12 – The Two Doctors
Colin Baker versus the Sontarans. And versus aliens who live to eat everyone in sight. With guest star Patrick Troughton being turned into one of them… Appallingly funny black humour. Like some of the other #WhoOnHorror, this was originally in forty-five-minute episodes, so Horror’s split it into their own twenty-five-minute episodes. Thrill at aliens attempting to order dinner before the music screams in!
Reasons to watch: the Sixth Doctor at his most charming and wistful; the Second Doctor at his most disturbing; Sontaran ships on the march to a great musical march.
A brilliant scene here in which the Doctor is interested in everything.
13 – Planet of Evil
Tom Baker versus a terrible scientific mistake at the edge of the Universe. More deep-space horror, more body horror and possession, a seriously convincing and icky alien world.
Reasons to watch: the series’ most alien planet; a Part Three cliffhanger that gave me the most recurring nightmares.
And here is what I think of that brilliant cliffhanger.
The Rest of #WhoOnHorror
As far as I’m concerned, they’ve made an excellent set of choices. The current forty-seven Horror Channel Doctor Who stories include twenty-three that I’d give nine or ten out of ten to – which is as dead-on half as makes no difference – and just six I’d score lower than five out of ten (which I suspect may have been chosen for their famous monsters rather than their quality). I won’t go into detail about the remaining thirty-four stories, but if you’re interested, here’s one line on each, from the completely brilliant to the, er, not completely brilliant, in roughly descending order of enthusiasm…
- Doctor Who and the Silurians – Jon Pertwee versus ignorance and racial hatred. The first appearance of Madame Vastra’s Earthlien race, an apocalyptic disease plot and a tragic ending. My review here, and in its message that green scaly rubber people are people too, one of the stories that made me a Liberal.
- The Keeper of Traken – Tom Baker versus an eerie walking statue. A fairy-tale love story turned Faustian pact, it’s like a film noir Shakespeare, with the underlying Liberal message of just how very wrong things go if you make everyone’s decisions for them. My review here, and a brilliant scene here for the villain (spoilers).
- The Daleks – William Hartnell versus the Daleks, for their very first time. The series’ first monsters, a dead planet after a war, and a wonderfully gittish Doctor starting to discover his morals. My review here (made of many one-liners), and, here, the most important cliffhanger the series has ever had.
- The Brain of Morbius – Tom Baker versus an obsessive scientist and a Time Lord war criminal. Another story perfect for Horror: it’s Doctor Who Does Frankenstein. A brilliant scene here (just how many Doctors are there?).
- Snakedance – Peter Davison versus a snake-demon from the Dark Places of the Inside, the rather better sequel. A busy world looks forward to its biggest festival, but some party poopers claim everyone’s forgotten its true meaning. It’s true, but no-one’s happy when they find out what it is. Snakemas treats include future sit-com stars, memorably scary images and the Demonic Antiques Roadshow.
- The Robots of Death – Tom Baker versus, well, mechanical people who are killing the non-mechanical people. But at whose behest? A futuristic murder mystery where robots are the weapon, not the real murderers, gorgeously designed and featuring a particularly memorable ‘explanation’ of the TARDIS for the Doctor’s sceptical, skin-clad companion Leela.
- Carnival of Monsters – Jon Pertwee versus great screaming dragons, UKIPpers, and television. The TARDIS lands on a cargo ship crossing the Indian Ocean in 1926… Or does it? My in-depth review here of the novelisation and how it compares, and though it’s mostly very funny, there’s also a brilliant cliffhanger with those alien dragons.
- The Ribos Operation – Tom Baker versus an ex-warrior-emperor who’s one very big jewel short of a crown. Hustle on a marvellously imagined world with its own Galileo. My review here, plus a brilliant scene here where the Doctor doesn’t like being sent on a mission from god, and another here with a brilliant con-artist double-act.
- The Pirate Planet – Tom Baker versus a cyborg pirate captain. Douglas Adams’ first script for the series, fizzing with ideas, as funny as you’d expect, but with brilliant and deadly serious twists. Follows on from The Ribos Operation and with even more blatantly gay characters (wait until you get to the third from this season…).
- Kinda – Peter Davison versus a snake-demon from the Dark Places of the Inside, the first time. Fantastic scenes inside the Doctor’s friend Tegan’s head. My review here.
- City of Death – Tom Baker versus Scaroth, last of the Jagaroth, who both as a tentacle-faced alien and as urbane but subtly green Julian Glover is a fabulous villain. Great filming in Paris, beautiful music, much of the script from Douglas Adams, the Mona Lisa and even a cameo from John Cleese. A brilliant opening scene here, plus another very witty moment here.
- The Three Doctors – Jon Pertwee versus Patrick Troughton, mainly, and against legendary Time Lord Omega. The series’ tenth anniversary special, with guest appearances from William Hartnell and a titanic but ultimately tragic villain.
- The Masque of Mandragora – Tom Baker versus the Mandragora Helix, and science versus magic in a very big way. Gothic horror in Renaissance Italy, dastardly villains and a terrible fate for one of them (or is it both?) in the Part Three cliffhanger. My full review here, and a brilliant scene here where the Doctor takes down astrology.
- Remembrance of the Daleks – Sylvester McCoy versus the Daleks. Revisiting 1963 with more politics and much, much bigger explosions (though I have problems with the ending on both counts). My short review here, and several brilliant scenes: a shock in one cliffhanger here, though less so today; a miscalculation in another here; and a thrilling battle here, but where you’re rooting for neither side.
- The Green Death – Jon Pertwee versus big maggots and big business. With a fabulously gay evil computer and a strong environmental message. And it builds on the Doctor’s friend Jo Grant’s story which began in…
- Terror of the Autons – Jon Pertwee versus the Master, for the very first time. And the Autons, for the second. Don’t even think of hiding behind the sofa, and never trust a daffodil! My in-depth review here of the novelisation and how it compares, and a brilliant scene here for the Master.
- Horror of Fang Rock – Tom Baker versus the tentacular Rutans. A claustrophobic thriller where an alien killer stalks victims in an Edwardian lighthouse. I don’t care that other fans seem to like him – the Tory MP deserves it, and I say why in my review here (as well as revealing a bit of sexual gossip about the characters).
- Inferno – Jon Pertwee versus fascists and the end of the world. With a thrilling diversion in which the Brigadier is more blinkered than ever before. At times almost unbearably tense, though it goes off the boil towards the end. My review here, and one for the book here.
- Frontios – Peter Davison versus gravity. Surviving humans are in trouble on a barren new world – but where’s the trouble really coming from? A brilliant scene from after the end of the Earth here.
- Planet of the Spiders – Jon Pertwee versus the final enemy. Great spiders, especially in the big confrontation, great moments for Sarah Jane Smith, a compellingly embittered minor villain, and try to ignore the villagers. My review here, and my favourite brilliant Third Doctor scene here.
- The Greatest Show in the Galaxy – Sylvester McCoy versus the Gods of Ragnarok (or the TV audience). If you don’t like clowns, look away now. Eerie, strange and often very bitchy. The greatest scene here.
- The Sontaran Experiment – Tom Baker versus the Sontarans. The shortest of Horror’s picks, this one’s just two twenty-five minute episodes. A brilliantly creepy first episode on a blasted Earth and a slightly rushed second one, though with a great villain, for my money still narrowly the best Sontaran. Best watched after The Ark In Space. My mini-review here in the context of the stories it was first broadcast with and how they all fit together, and a brilliant scene here from after the end of the world.
- The Time Warrior – Jon Pertwee versus the Sontarans. An influential adventure in history with aliens, taking the p**s out of Robin Hood, guest-starring Dot Cotton and introducing Sarah Jane Smith, who’s fab from the off. My review here, and a brilliant Sarah Jane moment here.
- The Stones of Blood – Tom Baker versus the Cailleach. An ancient Celtic goddess whose modern-day followers still sacrifice to her and her mobile menhirs? A Lesbian of Evil living quietly in a cottage with a scientific but slightly unaware Lesbian of Good (like the Guardians, but only Evil has a crow on her head)? Or an alien criminal with a massive passion for Clarins?
- The Sun Makers – Tom Baker versus big business and big government. Tax satire and revolution featuring Doctor Who’s most iconic silhouettes: the bloke in the scarf, the woman in the leather bikini, and the tin dog. A brilliant scene here.
- The Sea Devils – Jon Pertwee versus the Master and the Sea Devils. Thrilling sea-based adventure with the Navy, a prison that should’ve failed its inspections and a dumbed-down sequel to Doctor Who and the Silurians.
- Attack of the Cybermen – Colin Baker versus the Cybermen. The Sixth Doctor striding around London is a joy to watch. Horror’s home-made Part Three cliffhanger comes at the end of the three best scenes in it and is very nearly where I’d have put it. And it’s a sequel to…
- Resurrection of the Daleks – Peter Davison versus Davros and the Daleks. A grim tale of mercenaries, death and Docklands, much of this looks terrific and it has a great score. On the downside, after a gripping first episode the plot falls apart, and the Doctor is unable to answer Davros’ moral arguments. Horror’s exciting Part One cliffhanger is, again, just a few seconds later than I’d have put it, and has the Doctor rushing to give a Dalek a cuddle (but not in a Katy Manning way).
- The Android Invasion – Tom Baker versus the Kraals and their androids. Like The Sontaran Experiment, this has a title which rather gives it away. The Part Two cliffhanger is still awesome, and it’s lots of fun, despite making remarkably little sense. My loving but critical review here.
- The Mark of the Rani – Colin Baker versus the Rani, who’s Kate O’Mara and rather fabulous. And versus the Master, who isn’t, and isn’t. The Sixth Doctor is at ease and is constantly diverting, there’s lovely location filming in the Eighteenth Century, and dialogue that needs to be heard to be believed. No, actually, you still won’t believe it.
- The Seeds of Death – Patrick Troughton versus the Ice Warriors. A fabulous chase with a still more fabulous line at the end, a great if sadly prescient central idea about space travel, a great villain… But also a bit saggy, and I don’t just mean everyone in the future wearing their nappies outside their trousers.
- Silver Nemesis – Sylvester McCoy versus the Cybermen, the Nazis and a sorceress. The sorceress is fabulous, the Nazis are a bit of a mistake and the Cybermen surprisingly vulnerable. Best watch Remembrance of the Daleks, which is a) the same and b) very much better.
- Planet of the Daleks – Jon Pertwee versus the Daleks. Have you seen The Daleks? This is like that, and other ’60s Dalek stories, but in crayon. Bright, colourful, crude and sometimes quite exciting, but you probably don’t want to put it on display. The moment where the Daleks work out who the tall stranger who’s been causing trouble is and brick themselves is worth the money, though.
- Death to the Daleks – Jon Pertwee versus the Daleks. All Doctor Who is brilliant. But some of it’s more brilliant than other bits. Even the music here is unspeakable. And yet even this most tired of Dalek stories has much to enjoy in it: ancient alien cultures falling to dust; Sarah Jane Smith; and the religious maniacs determined to wipe out their non-conformist naturist cousins. So, yes, I still watch and love this one, too. I am doomed.
The Next of #WhoOnHorror?
First thirty stories… Then forty-seven… Which Doctor Who adventures will the Horror Channel choose next? In the sure and certain knowledge that they won’t read and follow my advice, I’m tempted to say – just buy the rest of the Tom Baker stories and show the lot in order, you’ve got half of them already! But in the spirit of diversity I used for my top picks, here are a further thirteen that I reckon the Horror Channel should consider next. Or that you should, if you’ve got hooked and are looking for a DVD.
- The Rescue – William Hartnell versus the hideous Koquillion. Because it’s very short (two episodes, about the length of one modern episode) but is still a cracking story and displays many more facets of the First Doctor than his first appearances do – stern, kindly, vulnerable, intelligent, embarrassed, and often funny here, too. A brilliant scene here.
- The War Games – Patrick Troughton versus war. Which, by contrast, is very long, but keeps building its revelations throughout. It plays around with history and introduces the Time Lords as the biggest villains of the lot, too. My short review here.
- The Mind of Evil – Jon Pertwee versus the Master, who’s at both his most Bond-villain and his most slashtastic here (just watch his deepest fear, and his open concern). Jo Grant gets to be kick-ass, there’s lots of UNIT army action, and as it’s recently been restored to full colour, isn’t it time someone got to show it on TV again?
- Robot – Tom Baker versus fascists and a Robot. This was the Fourth Doctor’s first story – and mine. Three-year-old me’s first episode was part-way into this, and if the whole of the last forty years are anything to go by, it worked. My mini-review here in the context of the stories it was first broadcast with and how they all fit together, and here, the brilliant scene it closes with.
- Image of the Fendahl – Tom Baker versus the Fendahl. An embodiment of death from his own mythology, this is a Time Lord ghost story and probably the story it’s most surprising Horror haven’t snapped up yet, as it’s really their sort of thing. Mine, too. My review / snarky answer to a much-asked question here, and a brilliantly scary first cliffhanger here.
- The Power of Kroll – Tom Baker versus a really, really giant squid (and big business again). Horror have shown the first four stories in The Key To Time (The Ribos Operation, The Pirate Planet, The Stones of Blood and The Androids of Tara), and though admittedly this is a bit of a dip after those, it’s still rather fun.
- The Armageddon Factor – Tom Baker versus war and the Black Guardian. And this story closes The Key To Time story arc, so come on, Horror, show us the ending. I rather like the actual ending to this, which is very Doctor-ish, and the sinister early parts, though the middle is rather saggy.
- Full Circle – Tom Baker versus… Well, we’re meant to think scary Marshmen and big spiders, but versus ignorance, really. A fiercely intelligent evolutionary fable where elders decide everything by revealed truth, only for the Doctor to ask all the awkward questions and take a moral stand, and it looks great, too. A brilliant scene here.
- State of Decay – Tom Baker versus vampires. Another one that seems like it should have ‘Deliver to Horror Channel’ marked all over it. This and the stories either side form a looser arc lost in E-Space, but as both Full Circle and Warriors’ Gate are brilliant, that shouldn’t discourage Horror from showing them.
- Warriors’ Gate – Tom Baker versus weird s**t and slavery. Brilliantly weird visuals, haunting music, a strong story of exploitation and cyclical history, a Part Three cliffhanger that’s one of the series’ very best what-we-call-now-timey-wimey-I’m-so-sorry moments… Go for it.
- Castrovalva – Peter Davison versus the Master. The Fifth Doctor versus the Master became almost as much A Thing as the Third, and this gorgeously designed and scored story even forms the end of a loose trilogy with The Keeper of Traken and Logopolis.
- Vengeance on Varos – Colin Baker versus the slimy Sil, television, the voters, and big business. With an outstanding villain, this is usually described as satirising reality TV like Big Brother years before it existed, but right now I’m thinking The Governor is a dead ringer for Nick Clegg: blamed for not doing the impossible. A brilliantly meta cliffhanger here.
- Ghost Light – Sylvester McCoy versus Victorian Values. Psychopathic would-be businessmen, science-hating zealots, destroying angels and all, but it’s the Doctor versus his friend Ace that causes him the most trouble. A brilliantly intricate script, a claustrophobic Victorian house, bats in the belfry and husks in the cellar. Horror with a heart, a brain and a bowl of soup.
There were six stories that I was so tempted by I would probably have picked most of them – The Aztecs, The Tomb of the Cybermen, Spearhead from Space, Pyramids of Mars, Earthshock and Revelation of the Daleks – but they’re occasionally shown on another channel, so I suspect the rights may not be available. Obviously, I thought of lots of others, too. The Time Meddler, a first-again outing for The Enemy of the World (though I bet the budget wouldn’t stretch to animating the one missing bit of The Web of Fear), Terror of the Zygons, The Hand of Fear, The Face of Evil – oh, just the whole of Tom, again – Survival, The Trial of a Time Lord… But that way madness lies. Particularly with the last one.
But the fresh thirteen above would be a good start, eh, Horror Channel? Go on.