Tuesday, February 12, 2008


The Time Meddler

…In which someone styling himself a Christian cleric devises a warped scheme to pick favourites and plunge England into a different century. But don’t worry – this villain’s rewriting of history is less demented than the Archbishop of Canterbury’s plan to turn the clock back, and you’ll find last week’s Doctor Who DVD release infinitely more entertaining than watching Rowan Williams. Set in 1066 (when the Church had a monopoly on reading and writing rather than just an Archbishop pretending they do), the centre of the story is a fabulous face-off between two Carry On stars, William Hartnell and Peter Butterworth. Oh, and skip to the end of this for a much less detailed set of previews of more of this year’s Doctor Who DVDs!
“So that’s it! You’re a time meddler – no wonder you wanted to get rid of me! …You know as well as I do the golden rule of space and time travelling. Never, never interfere with the course of history.”
“And who says so? Doctor, it’s more fun my way!”
The Doctor’s certain the TARDIS has landed in Northumbria sometime around the Eleventh Century – so how has someone been able to mislay a Twentieth-Century wristwatch, and why does the monks’ chant drifting down from the local monastery alter speed like a recording? This is the first story with perhaps Doctor Who’s most distinctive idea, of someone or something anachronistic, advanced and usually alien on the loose somewhen in Earth’s history. It’s a great example of the sort of wit, invention and setting that the series practises right up to the new series today, though on just a tad higher budget – and just as in two of the high points of last year’s series of Doctor Who, a watch is unexpectedly important to the Doctor’s discovery that he’s not alone (but more on watches down below).

Last week, rather than watching this exciting new DVD from 1965, I was watching the DVD of a much more stodgy old story from 1985. Yes, the DVD release schedules feel like time travel, too. In both this and The Mark of the Rani, the actors playing the Doctor are superbly watchable – Billy Hartnell and Colin Baker – and the scenery’s an awful lot better in 1985 than the odd tree stuck round a studio in 1965. But how come the later story’s the one that feels so slow? To say nothing of its both nonsensical and hackneyed plot, the terrible dialogue and that the audience laughs with the Monk in 1965, but laughs at the Master in the 1985 story where all the mystery’s gone by half-way into Part One. So don’t let this far superior tale from 1965 and 1066 being black and white put you off.

As usual, the story’s been beautifully restored for DVD (complete with a feature about how they did it), though the patchiness of the old print is particularly noticeable in the final episode. Good news: it’s cheaper than usual. Bad news: because there are fewer extras than usual. Good news: there are still quite a few extras anyway. In addition to the usual photo gallery and informative text notes to play throughout the story, there’s a commentary with companion Peter Purves, script editor and terribly nice man Donald Tosh, designer Barry Newbery and producer and TV legend Verity Lambert, recorded just weeks before she died. There’s a small obituary and a photo gallery for her – let’s hope for a proper retrospective when they get more time to put one together, as production on this disc was already finished last November. The other standout feature is Stripped For Action – The First Doctor, looking at the comic strips based on the series’ early days, with their wacky plots, the Doctor’s different grandchildren and his recurring foes the villainous, vaguely cone-shaped, robotic, er… Trods. Daleks being a bit expensive to license. It’s an appropriate extra, as the Monk returned three times – once on TV, once in a novel and once in a comic strip (the latter really wasn’t very good, but you can buy it in a ‘Complete Fifth Doctor’ graphic novel and it’s well worth picking up for the fantastic title story The Tides of Time). Let’s hope they do more of these for the other Doctors, and commission documentaries about the books, too…

The Plot, With Spoilers – Skip to the Next Bit If You Don’t Want to Know Who Wins the Battle of Hastings

Watching The Time Meddler in 2008, it’s almost impossible not to look at it as an ‘important’ story introducing so many plot elements that would grow within the series from that point on. But I’m fairly sure that for viewers at the time, another change was much more important. From the series’ beginning in 1963, the Doctor had been accompanied by two teachers, Ian and Barbara, along with a teenager – and although his granddaughter Susan (apparently aged sixteenish) had left, she was instantly replaced by near-photocopy orphan Vicki. Well, at the end of the previous story, Ian and Barbara went back home to dear old Blighty and their claim to being the ‘parents’ in the TARDIS family was never replaced. If ever there was a debate about whether the Doctor was the lead character, with The Time Meddler it was definitely over and viewers knew that anyone else could come and go. How would the series carry on?

About four years ago, Richard and I watched the whole of William Hartnell’s time as the Doctor in order (with appropriate replacements for the bits the BBC chucked away). I’ve always found The Chase, the story before this one, a bit rubbish. It is, but after following the continuing story through I found myself tearful at the end because Ian and Barbara were leaving – and never tell me they didn’t marry and live happily ever after. By contrast, I’d loved The Time Meddler since I first saw it, and I wondered if now I’d be put off it by missing Mr Chesterton and Miss Wright. Then I started watching this story and found that I’m a fickle thing, much as the audiences at the time might have been (with another twenty-four years of the series’ original run to follow). This one is great fun from the start.

The Time Meddler has a marvellous first episode, doing exactly what it needed to – provide a particularly intriguing mystery, and show that the Doctor and the series can get on just fine with just young Vicki and sceptical space pilot Steven for company. And the dialogue between them is great, the Doctor being both off-balance and off the leash now the junior lead talks back rather than being the ‘straight man’, giving us all a treat as they fling put-downs at each other. When the series first began in 1963 and when it returned in 2005, the first episodes were taken up with introducing ordinary people to the Doctor’s life and astonishing them with the TARDIS – because those people, Ian and Barbara and then Rose, were exploring what this show was all about on behalf of the viewer. This time, as with last year’s Smith and Jones that brought Martha on board, there’s a new companion but most viewers already know what to expect, so the introductions are much briefer and played much more for laughs. If you thought the Doctor was cheeky to mouth “bigger on the inside than on the outside” behind Martha last year, wait ’til you see him exasperatedly point out to Steven such features in the TARDIS as:
“That is the dematerialising control, and that over yonder is the horizontal hold; up there is the scanner, those are the doors, that is a chair with a panda on it… Sheer poetry, dear boy. Now please stop bothering me!”
Like Martha, Steven refuses to believe the TARDIS travels in time. As the Doctor was rather less able to steer it back then, rather than popping about to do tricks he merely argues waspishly with his new companion that, as they’re in the Eleventh Century, perhaps he should stop being sarky and notice. Picking up a Viking helmet with horns – you know, like they never wore, but forgive the historical inaccuracy for the gag – he waves it at his sceptical stowaway, exclaiming:
“What do you think it is? A space helmet for a cow?”
The story’s a great showpiece for Billy’s magnificent Doctor, given the chance to be gentle with Vicki and Edith; much cleverer in finding out the date than later Doctors’ “What year is it” clodhopping; acerbic with Steven; and by turns amusing and authoritative with the Monk. He really dominates this story, despite spending a week of it on holiday! The entertaining script really comes to life, though, in the many confrontations between the Doctor and his counterpart the Monk. Every time they appear on screen together, the quality rockets.

Both William Hartnell and Peter Butterworth are actors with great screen presence, each able to play both comedy and drama with aplomb and switch between them with ease as they and their characters fight to get one up on each other. You can see why one was the first Carry On star and the other went on to star in several future Carry On films. The Doctor’s companions aren’t bad, either; Peter Purves (Stephen) later found greater fame in Blue Peter, while Maureen O’Brien (Vicki) went on to more acting fame and also writes a successful series of detective novels. She was signing DVDs of The Time Meddler at Tenth Planet last Saturday, and if you want future DVD speculation, she didn’t give anything away – though don’t put your bets on The Space Museum coming out this year. Of all the pictures from other stories she was given to sign, that was the one that rang no bells at all (“Everyone had big sideburns or strange eyebrows?” She shakes her head. “You started a revolution among teenagers in black pullies?” “Did I? I’m glad to hear it,” and so on). But anyway, the Monk…

This story wrong-foots the viewers more than any other since the first story, An Unearthly Child, going somewhere quite unexpected just as they’d got used to the idea of the ‘adventures in history’ and the ‘science fiction’ stories being completely separate. The rules change here, as the future gets mixed into the past to produce several ‘What the hell is going on?’ moments of the sort best summed up for the novel of the later story Carnival of Monsters:
“The Doctor and Jo land on a cargo ship crossing the Indian Ocean in the year 1926.
“Or so they think.”
When we first see the Monk, he’s a mysterious figure watching from a clifftop as the TARDIS appears (there’s a marvellous shot of it from above), and not only does he seem to recognise it, but he appears to be wearing a ring just like the Doctor’s (something that was occasionally significant in the early days, but which was soon dropped). Clues build around him as more and more anachronistic details are revealed, and he shows his capabilities as he traps the Doctor. When Vicki and Stephen investigate the Doctor’s disappearance, they discover the Monk’s mysterious plans regarding the Vikings (with help from that hoary old ‘one fatal mistake’ slip)… And then, in the cliffhanger to the penultimate episode, suddenly they and the audience find that the Doctor’s Ship is no longer the only TARDIS in the Universe. It’s a stunning moment, recently reworked to similar shock effect when the lonely Doctor of the new series was suddenly revealed to be not alone.

When I was little, I didn’t know a lot about this story. I’d read that it had the Monk in it, who was ‘A Renegade Time Lord’ and therefore ‘Very Important’, but not played by Roger Delgado and so not as impressive as the Master (unless you take Cadfael as proof of the unlikely theory that the Monk and the Master are one and the same). But fan lists long before I ever got to see the story labelled it the first ‘psuedo-historical’ story, the first with ‘another Time Lord’ (aside from Susan, and still not named as such), the first ‘indication that time can be changed’, the first time what the word ‘TARDIS’ means is changed (it’s changed back again, these days, but the tiny alteration lasted a quarter of a century) and even, according to some po-faced people that didn’t like The Romans, the first ‘comedy story that works’. The last may tip you off that, unlike Last of the Time Lords, this story has a refreshing lack of self-importance. It’s the end of the second season of Doctor Who, but it feels like a fresh start rather than a ‘season finale’ – though the closing fadeout, with Billy’s voice-over and the TARDIS crew’s faces across a starfield, is sheer magic. Though with such innovation and revelation you’d expect an over-hyped, climactic end-of-season cliffhanger, instead it just gets on with telling a jolly story and taking the mickey, and I’m very glad. First the very funny novelisation came along in the ’80s, then I saw a repeat in 1992, and I realised that it’s terrific. Not epic, not awesome, not immense, but a great little story, with huge entertainment value.

These days I sit back and enjoy just how good these characters are, and all the twists and turns of the Monk’s plan. Is he helping the Viking raiding party, and betraying the friendly Saxon villagers? In which case, what’s that atomic cannon doing pointed at the Viking fleet he’s signalling towards land? Yes, he’s one of the Doctor’s people, but rather than just occasionally helping people out from moral conviction he has grand schemes to rework the whole of history because, ooh, it seems like a good idea at the time! He boasts of building Stonehenge with anti-gravitational lifts and he’s made multi-century investments for the compound interest (though the banks would surely switch him to a worse rate), while his ‘to do’ list is a scream. And here, he plans to obliterate the Viking fleet in order that King Harold’s Saxon army will be fresh, uninjured and ready to win the Battle of Hastings (JRR Tolkien might approve).

The details beyond the two main characters are worth watching, too. There are lashings of post-modern wit long before it was fashionable – whether it’s the way About Time 1 notes how everything works in the way TV does twenty years before Moonlighting was ‘ground-breaking’, that the Doctor’s missing for the second episode and the cliffhanger is that – shock – he isn’t there, or the way that most of the ‘technology’ the Monk has is from the ’60s things, just as Russell T Davies these days deliberately makes a series from ‘now’ appealing to and joking with the contemporary audience. And, like writer Dennis Spooner’s previous scripts, the humour is leavened by alarmingly grim elements like the villagers’ hard lives, the threat of the Vikings and, shockingly, the implied rape of a character we’ve got quite fond of, taken deadly seriously (for all those people who said Billy was just for the kiddies, and that sex was invented in the New Adventures, the repeat of this story was the most shocking sexual reference in Doctor Who in 1992). The depth and deftness aren’t just in the script and the performances, either, but in some inspired direction and impressive design that belie the story’s wafer-thin budget – you can believe the dirty Saxon huts, there’s one of the series’ better forests not filmed outside, and there are touches like filming actors from below against scudding clouds that make it much less plain the clifftop is in the studio. It’s not perfect, but nothing is; some of the scenes with the minor characters are a little dull, and the Vikings aren’t exactly sparkling. Their fight scenes are a bit feeble, too, but you can’t have everything.

This is a super little example of what makes Doctor Who Doctor Who – I’ve always loved the uniquely Who-ish historical anachronisms of aliens or time meddlers, a type of story that could almost be the backbone of the series. Right from this prototype through Pyramids of Mars and The Curse of Fenric to Tooth and Claw and Human Nature, there are great tales to be found when the Doctor travels back to a well-known period of Earth’s history, meets both exactly the sort of people we’d expect him to and some outer space people we really wouldn’t, and everything collides. If anyone’s come up with a better idea of the perfect basis for Doctor Who story, I haven’t heard it.

Watch Out!

Today is the 77th anniversary of the première of Tod Browning’s Dracula, one of the great Universal horror movies and making an instant star of Bela Lugosi for his charismatic performance. This morning, I trudged out to the doctor – not the Doctor – after some of the latest dreary things wrong with me started to alarm Richard when I spent Saturday keeling over (thanks for driving me to Maureen O’Brien and back, love!), and found that there’s a two-week wait to see the phlebotomist for some tests. In 1931, they were keener to take blood…

While I was out, I nipped into the local supermarket and – among other bits of more necessary shopping – got myself a dinky half-price remote-control Dalek to cheer myself up with. Some readers familiar with more of Doctor Who’s second season than just The Time Meddler may understand (though the cashier didn’t) why I laughed on hearing that it all came to £21.64. On Saturday, though, I picked up a new Doctor Who toy at Tenth Planet that somehow particularly appealed to me, though; ‘the Doctor’s Fob Watch’. I know, it doesn’t sound like the top thing for kids, does it? But after the significance of the Monk’s dropped watch in The Time Meddler, you might remember how important and unfortunate a fob watch was to ‘John Smith’ in last year’s fantastic Human Nature. Well, now you can get one of your very own, with its rather lovely design (albeit in plastic), lights and squeakily played David Tennant quotes. It keeps terrible time, though. And it doesn’t even have the excuse that it’s on Malcassairo time. Here it is modelled by our Moomin, Billy:

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To tell the truth, though, there’s something else that’s not quite as thrilling as it could be about the watch. Because, exciting though it is to have the nice Doctor speaking to me from it, what I’d really like them to bring out – and I suspect quite a lot of people will agree – is not the Doctor’s fob watch, but the Master’s. Because, though Human Nature was undoubtedly the most marvellous of all last year’s Doctor Who stories, the climax of Utopia as kindly Professor Yana opens his watch and becomes the Master was the most gripping quarter-hour of the year’s telly. So please, Character Options, next time let us press the button and hear Derek Jacobi:
“It’s time travel! They say there was time travel back in the old days… I never believed… But what would I know? Stupid old man! Never could keep time. Always late, always lost – even this thing never worked…”

“Time and time and time again…”

“Oh, it’s – it’s only an old relic. Like me. I was found with it, an orphan in the storm…”

“Does it matter…?”
Or the Doctor and his friends:
“That’s a TARDIS…”

“TARDIS… The time vortex…”

“Regeneration… Regeneration…”
Or a wicked chuckle from Anthony Ainley, then Derek Jacobi being much more sinister and evil Roger Delgado:
“The drums, the drums, the drums, the never-ending drumbeat – open me, you human fool, open the light and summon me and receive my majesty!”

“Destroy him! …Then you will give your power to me.”

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A Quick Peek At Forthcoming 2008 DVDs

The Time Meddler’s not the only Doctor Who DVD out this year – expect nearly a dozen releases – but since I rarely get round to doing these reviews, here are some quick previews of the stories coming up in the first half of the year. Oh, and the Beneath the Surface box that came out in January…

Beneath the Surface

Now, here’s a mix. These three stories, which Richard, our friend Stephen and I all think of as ‘Under the Sea’ after Homer Simpson’s song, all feature different ethnic groups of the same species, intelligent reptiles (misnamed ‘Silurians’) that lived on Earth before humanity evolved and went into hibernation to escape a global catastrophe – but though the stories all try to make the same sort of moral point with each group that wakes up millions of years later and comes into conflict with the human race, they do it in a textbook example of diminishing returns. The first story in the box is absolutely terrific and the series’ moral centre, despite iffy science; the second often looks great and is dumbed-down fun, but makes a horrible mess of the ending; the last is pretty much a horrible mess all the way through…

Doctor Who and the Silurians

This story has a lot to answer for… Reading its message that green scaly rubber people are people too turned me into a Liberal. It’s worth picking up the book, originally titled Doctor Who and the Cave Monsters, though it’s a lot easier today to get the talking book version on CD – it’s one of the finest Doctor Who novelisations ever written, with characterisation greatly expanded from the TV version into very much a story in its own right, though Caroline John isn’t as impressive a reader as she is playing the Doctor’s companion Liz Shaw on TV (her ‘Scottish accent’ has to be heard to be believed, but look out for her husband’s fantastic reading of another outstanding novelisation of the time, Doctor Who and the Doomsday Weapon). As far as the 1970 TV version starring Jon Pertwee as the Doctor goes, there’s a lot to treasure, despite a really naff T-Rex – a great guest role for Fulton McKay, some riveting dialogue as people (green and pink) divide into different sides about how to deal with the other species, and of course one of the series’ most memorable final scenes. Along the way, there’s a jaw-dropping documentary-style disaster in London, too. Really impressive extra: a documentary on the politics of the time and how it affected Doctor Who. Really, er, different extra: the earliest story to have its complete score presented as a separate music-only track, a feature which I love, always, and only slightly less when this one’s the attack of the killer kazoos. Probably the best of the stories so far announced for DVD release this year.

The Sea Devils

More Pertwee from a couple of years later, though I first saw it – like The Time Meddler – as part of a repeat season in 1992. This one, too, has a rare ‘early’ music-only score, and though I’m quite fond of it, it’s pretty notorious. The version released on CD has sleeve notes describing it as “uncompromising,” and if ever you notice an incidental score, you’ll notice this one. The story? Well, the Silurians’ cousins the Sea Devils are scarier but dumber and far less characterised, despite their rising from the sea giving a brilliant cliffhanger (one that inspired several more later in the series). The Doctor is increasingly unlikeable, if more flamboyantly dressed, and here faces off against Roger Delgado’s original Master, who’s in prison and claiming to be a reformed character. I suspect it’s not much of a giveaway to suggest he may be fibbing (watch out for a fabulous scene involving The Clangers that was remade with John Simm’s Master and more modern equivalents last year). On the down side, despite being slightly shorter than the previous story it feels much more flabby, it has the series’ crudest caricature of a politician, and the ending… Well, without spoiling it, it turns the morality of the previous story on its head, and that’s just wrong.

Warriors of the Deep

Bright lights; Cold War machismo; eyeshadow and morality applied with a trowel… It’s 1984, Peter Davison is the Doctor, and this is a story where very little goes right. The monsters fall apart – literally, in places – the cast are wooden, the script is clichéd and the Doctor’s stuck in a moral quagmire where the writer thinks agonising about it is the same as justifying it (even the much-praised final line is almost word-for-word from the final episode of The Daleks, twenty years earlier). On the good side, the Doctor’s companion Turlough is fun when screwed up to a pitch of twitchiness, the sets are impressive despite unmerciful lighting and the music-only score on this one is rather good… Probably the weakest of the stories so far announced for DVD release this year (though K9 runs it close).

The Five Doctors (25th Anniversary Edition)

Some series would have their 20th-Anniversary parties off-air. Doctor Who televised it, a story crammed with old friends – including Doctors Peter Davison, Jon Pertwee, Patrick Troughton, a bit of Tom Baker and someone pretending to be the late William Hartnell – and old enemies. It’s fun, but dumb, with as good a script as you could expect when asked to mix in so many ingredients, though significantly more plodding direction than you might have expected. This DVD is an all bells-and-whistles set, the 25th Anniversary Edition of the 20th Anniversary story, and includes both the original version and the 1990s ‘Special Edition’ (the only version previously released on DVD, though without any extras) with what are now much more dated special effects than those which were originally transmitted; will there be new new effects to cover up the old new effects? [R: NO! Ed] The best moments are probably Peter Davison’s emotionally affecting performance early on, underscored by evocative music, before the vivid cartoons of his other selves turn up – and the lovely pre-credits clip of William Hartnell, which is unfortunately more stylish than all the rest of it.

Sadly, despite all the extras that will be crammed onto this two-disc set (and probably due to shameless breakage of copyright), what’s by far the most exciting version of the story won’t be on the DVD – you can, however, enjoy both Part One and Part Two of it on YouTube. Do. It’s a work of genius, for fans of the old and the new series alike.

The Invasion of Time

Tom Baker as the Doctor, Louise Jameson in leather bikini as Leela and the tin dog – probably the best-remembered of all the line-ups from the original series, and all good characters, but rather starved of good stories together. The Doctor returns to Gallifrey and turns into a mad dictator over the Time Lords – you may, readers, suspect it’s acting, or indeed overacting – where there’s a striking mix of fabulous and wooden characters, exciting and very dull monsters, exciting twists and long stretches that seem to be made up as they go along. A lot of it’s very entertaining and there’s a great surprise appearance by the same monsters who’ll be making a surprise appearance in this year’s Doctor Who on TV (for once, last year I correctly predicted this would be out, and that there’ll be a box set of these same surprise monsters’ previous appearances, also now due this year). A lot of it’s one of the most inept ‘political thrillers’ you’ve ever seen, it treats intelligent, independent-minded Leela dreadfully, and it has perhaps the most thoroughly wrong ending of any Doctor Who story (yes, worse than The Sea Devils), both morally and in requiring the viewer to remember details of a very much better story shown a year and a half earlier. One to watch in parts, then…

Black Orchid

Peter Davison’s Doctor travels to 1926 for a comedy of manners crossed with Jane Eyre, all set at a country house. It’s short, it’s rather diverting and it has some marvellous frocks, but there’s not a lot of substance to it and it’s hardly up to Agatha Christie’s standards. Though it has one of the Doctor’s most widely ridiculed moments – ‘proving’ he’s not a murderer by saying, ‘Look at my TARDIS!’ – there is a strange sort of thematic sense to it; this story is all about masks and keeping up appearances, from the masked ball to the tragedy underneath, and the Doctor’s point is that he’s the only person telling the truth and so, literally, an innocent. Or it might just be very silly.

The Brain of Morbius

Tom Baker’s Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith, 1976, and the first Doctor Who I ever saw in colour (aren’t hospitals marvellous?). And what colour! Mainly rich red, appropriately for the series’ most Hammer-toned Frankenstein pastiche, with more ‘unsuitable material for children’ than in almost any other Who story (naturally, I loved it). It gets away with the brains and the blood by being simply so funny. The dialogue is fabulous, Philip Madoc enjoying every word as an outstanding villain, and there’s some of the most stunning ‘architecture’ ever seen in the series for the interior of his castle (the ‘outside’ shots are less convincing, though). Of all those I know are still to come this year, this is the story I’m most looking forward to on DVD, and there are three things in particular to look out for: the way it turns the Frankenstein story that everyone else had done upside-down, by having the ‘creature’ in control from the start; the way it turns the ‘Hitler returns’ story that everyone else had done upside-down, by making Morbius the ex-dictator of the Time Lords and so making the Doctor not the standard ‘dashing British agent preventing them from rising again’, but a horrified ‘German’ stuck with the responsibility; and an enthralling climax as the Doctor and Morbius fight a mental duel to spine-tingling music (which, sadly, won’t be available on a separate track).

The Invisible Enemy and K9 and Company Box

At some point in the year, there’s going to be a K9-themed twin pack featuring what are in effect his first and last stories from the series’ original run – the story that introduced him, and a one-off spin-off pilot for a series that, unlike Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures, never got any further. On the basis of what we got, though, that was a bit of a relief – it’s not a patch on the two new spin-off series, let alone Doctor Who itself, and even The Invisible Enemy’s very patchy. Personally, I’d have gone for a three-pack of stories and bunged in another K9 tale that was more entertaining (Nightmare of Eden, say), but – as I said last year – if you want a box set that shows off K9 at his best, hunt down a copy of the brilliant Key to Time

The Invisible Enemy

Tom Baker as the Doctor, Louise Jameson in leather bikini as Leela and the tin dog – probably the best-remembered of all the line-ups from the original series, and all good characters, but rather starved of good stories together. It’s still true. A new producer had just taken over in 1977, and broke the bank on this one – some of it looks great, but with inflation and the writers’ ambitions both spiralling out of control, some of it looks downright terrible. The first episode is intense, with abrasive music, a mysterious catch-phrase and oppressive horror, but it goes rapidly downhill: mistakes include an outer-space hospital with a Level ‘4X’, which makes you think they couldn’t give one; an unintentionally funny giant prawn; and one of the two Doctor Who scripts that always spring to mind as riddled with such plot and scientific ineptitude you wonder if anyone had read it (points for guessing the other). K9’s not the only change to the leads, though – playing in effect a double role, here’s where Tom Baker starts a very different and more comedic performance, but also where free-thinking, intelligent Leela is hideously dumbed down to nothing but a savage in a skimpy outfit… Still, these days, contamination by superbugs in hospital is very topical.

K9 and Company – A Girl’s Best Friend

From the opening sequence of perky pop over Sarah Jane jogging and K9 sat on a stone wall, you suspect this is going to be funny without meaning to be. Unfortunately, a lot of it’s just very dreary. Sarah is good as the lead, despite the title “Girl” rather doing down a successful career woman in her thirties and her having much less to work with from the script than in today’s smashing Sarah Jane Adventures, but this is fatally flawed. It can’t decide if it wants to be cosily ’50s Miss-by-a-mile Marple-style village mysteries, modern woman Avengers, transatlantic Hart to Hart, outright Wicker Man horror or something with a cute robot for the children. So it manages to be none of them. K9’s role is so minimal he could largely be replaced by a gun and a tape recorder, while the ‘clues’ to the double-murder-mystery (without any murders) seemed ridiculously clumsy even when I was ten. Still, the music always makes me chuckle.

Enjoy all of these, and whichever you buy, remember to pop your DVD into the player and hit play on each feature straight away, because – on past form – the menus always give away the key bits of the plot that I’ve tried not to.

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