Friday, May 20, 2016

Whovian Chatter: The Tom Baker Years Seasons Fourteen and Fifteen

Ghost here, thanks for joining.

I'm going to be examining Doctor Who... every single episode.  I'm going to take you on a journey through the 50+ years worth of this show, showcasing the good and the bad along the way.  For each episode I'm going to give you a very brief rundown of the plot, how good/bad the story is, and anything interesting about the episode.  Basically I'll just talk about whatever comes to mind for each of them.  These will be a more in-depth overview of the series as a whole so you can see which stories or episodes (if any) you want to check out for yourself.  Today I'm going to be talking about

The Fourth Doctor
Tom Baker
Seasons Fourteen and Fifteen

Season Fourteen ran from September 4, 1976 to April 2, 1977.  It contained twenty six episodes across six stories.  The Golden Era of Classic Doctor Who continued despite the mid-season departure of the Doctor's best friend, Sarah Jane.  It was during this season that Tom Baker really started into his alcohol fueled pride and difficulty to work with.  He was convinced that the Doctor didn't need a companion and so the show runners gave him one story without a companion.  When this was deemed a failure as the Doctor needed someone to talk to, Tom Baker said that the next companion should be a talking cabbage; he wasn't joking either.  Fortunately we ended up getting Leela, a savage warrior from the future!  They start a sort of Eliza Doolittle and Professor Higgins relationship that really worked well and continued making the show great into the next season.  This season also has a TARDIS console room that is all wooden.  Sadly it only lasts for this season because storage in between this and next season warped the panels but this is a good look for the TARDIS.

Season Fifteen ran from September 3, 1977 to March 11, 1978.  It contained twenty six episodes across six stories.  Season Fifteen saw the departure of Philip Hinchcliffe as the producer and Graham Williams taking over.  Robert Holmes was also replaced as script editor mid-season.  As per usual when a new producer was taking over the show, the stamp of the old producer was still on for the first few stories, and you can the subtle shift here.  Although the show still had Tom Baker as the Doctor and Leela as the companion, you could definitely see a slip in quality towards the end of the season.  It's not that the Williams era was bad, it just fewer and fewer truly great stories.  The show just couldn't keep up with the quality of the previous three seasons partially due to budgetary constraints but we'll get to that in a later segment.

Season Fourteen

Story 86
The Masque of Mandragora

The first story of season fourteen is The Masque of Mandragora and it's four episodes long.  The Doctor is showing Sarah Jane around the TARDIS and finds the secondary console room.  While there they see a living energy within the Time Vortex known as the Mandragora Helix.  The Helix attacks the TARDIS and a portion of it hops on board unknown to the Doctor.  The TARDIS then lands in 15th century Italy where Sarah Jane is kidnapped by the Brotherhood of Demnos to be used as a sacrifice.  The Doctor attempts to save her but is stopped by the royal guards and witnesses the Helix kill a guard.  The Doctor attempts to convince the nobles of the danger the Helix can bring but it falls on deaf ears.  Eventually the Doctor escapes and frees Sarah Jane as the Helix approaches the Brotherhood and offers them power in exchange for their servitude.  The Doctor fears that the Mandragora Helix could rule Earth under a new religion as this was the time period between the Dark Ages and Rennaisance.  The Doctor, Sarah Jane, and a noble named Gulianno attempt to stop the Brotherhood before they gain power.

This is a fairly decent story with some interesting ideas.  I didn't mention it in the plot portion, but the leader of the Brotherhood is a seer for the Duke whose been working with another man to make his predictions come true; namely that anyone who is predicted to die will be poisoned that day.  It's also interesting to see the main problem of the story being accidentally caused by the Doctor.  It's a pretty standard episode.  Check it out if it sounds interesting to you.

Story 87
The Hand of Fear

The next story is The Hand of Fear and it's four episodes long.  This is Sarah Jane's last story as a full companion.  When the Doctor and Sarah Jane land the TARDIS in a quarry that's about to explode, the avalanche uncovers a stone hand that the unconscious Sarah Jane can't let go of.  The hand possesses Sarah and causes her to enter a nuclear facility so that the hand can absorb the radiation and be reborn.  The hand is an alien named Eldrad who's ship crashed on earth millennia ago.  Edrad convinces the Doctor to take her back to her home planet.  However upon reaching the planet they find it barren and full of booby traps.  Eldrad is seemingly destroyed by one of the traps but he emerges later in his true masculine form being fully regenerated.  However, the Doctor and Eldrad discover a prerecorded message from Eldrad's people.  It turns out that Eldrad was an evil tyrant who was sent away from the planet.  His race all accepted extinction and destroyed their race banks in case Eldrad were to ever return.  Eldrad decides to make a new empire on Earth but the Doctor trips him into a bottomless abyss.  The Doctor and Sarah Jane re-enter the TARDIS when the Doctor receives a summons to Gallifrey and he cannot take Sarah.  The Doctor leaves Sarah Jane on earth and ventures to Gallifrey.

This is a bit of a weird one, but still very good.  It's not that often that we see an alien creature just looking to revive itself and get back home.  True, the alien still turned out to be a villain, but for the majority of this story we don't know that.  It was also interesting to see Eldrad's first form being female because of the imprinting of Sarah Jane.  It's too bad his normal form isn't exactly that exciting; then again how inventive can you really get with rock creatures?  Also notable is Sarah Jane's outfit which Elisabeth Sladen cursed until the day of her death.  This was Sarah Jane's last normal adventure with the Doctor.  Luckily we will see her once more in the classic series and a few more times in the new series as well!

Story 88
The Deadly Assassin

The next story is The Deadly Assassin and it's four episodes long.  The Doctor returns to Gallifrey because of a strange summons where he foresees the President of Gallifrey being assassinated.  The President plans to retire and Chancellor Goth is expected to take the nomination.  He goes undercover and attempts to stop the assassin but is captured and blamed for the President's death.  While under interrogation, the Doctor tells that he has been framed, and in order to prolong his sentencing to find evidence, the Doctor puts in his name for the ballot of President.  Due to Gallifreyan law, he cannot be executed during this time, so the Doctor goes about looking for clues.  Eventually, he discovers a time lord guard having been shrunken in size; the calling card of The Master.  Since we last saw him, the Master has had a failed regeneration and he is basically a walking rotting corpse now.  The Doctor realizes that it was the Master who sent him the vision from inside the Matrix (an electronic neural network...basically JUST like the Keanu Reeves movie.)  The Doctor goes in to the Matrix to stop the master and finds that the assassin is actually Chancellor Goth working with the Master.  The Master tries to overload the Matrix but a friendly time lord helps the Doctor out; Goth is not so lucky.  The Master's plan is to obtain all of the presidential items in order to open up the Eye of Harmony and destroy Gallifrey along with countless other planets.  The Doctor stops the Master, but the Master escapes in his TARDIS.

This one is a unique story in Doctor Who and it's considered one of the greatest stories of the classic show.  It's basically a giant re-telling of The Manchurian Candidate...which is honestly fine with me.  This story brought us back The Master after many years of his absence.  It was great to see the character again although it wasn't pleasing to look on his actual face.  This story also introduced the Matrix which will be instrumental in a later Colin Baker season and be mentioned a few times in the new show.  This is the only classic Doctor Who story which doesn't feature a companion.  Since the majority of the segments taking place in the Matrix have almost no dialogue, this experimental story was considered a failure at the time.  It was generally not received very well, yet now it's considered one of the absolute best.  Definitely check this one out!

Story 89
The Face of Evil

The next story is The Face of Evil and it's four episodes long.  The Doctor, now on his own, lands the TARDIS on a jungle planet where he meets a Sevateem warrior named Leela; she was exiled from her people for profaning against their god Xoanon.  She claims the Doctor to be "The Evil One" who is holding their god captive.  The Doctor is taken to her people and he realizes that their god is speaking to them through Earth technology.  Eventually the Doctor sees his own face on the side of a mountain but has no idea why.  The Doctor and Leela find their way to the Tesh (another group of people worshiping Xoanon) and finally the Doctor remembers.  The Sevateem and Tesh are descendants of an Earth Colony where a computer was malfunctioning.  The Survey Team and the Technicians were separated when the Doctor repaired the machine but forgot to remove his personality imprint from the computer; this gave the computer a split personality.  It's up to the Doctor to fully repair the machine once more before Xoanon uses it's mind control on the people to kill each other.

This is a weird one and honestly the weakest of the season.  One interesting and weird thing about this is the fact that this is the Doctor correcting a previous mistake that we never actually got to see him perform.  It's also creepy to see the computer displaying Tom Baker's voice shouting "Who Am I?" but a small child's voice coming out.  The only real important thing about this story is Leela's arrival on the TARDIS.  Leela is definitely a savage warrior and doesn't have time for many of the niceties of society.  She'll cut your throat as soon as look at you if necessary.  She and the Doctor have an excellent dynamic.  If you want to see Leela's first story then check it out, if not then feel free to skip this one.

Story 90
The Robots of Death

The next story is The Robots of Death and it's four episodes long.  The TARDIS lands on a sand mining ship in the future and within seconds a man is killed.  The Doctor and Leela are suspected to be the murderers and are locked away.  However when another murder happens, a man named Poul and a robot named D84 believe their story and free them to investigate the multiple murders.  Poul and D84 are undercover agents from the mining company to investigate rumors of a robot revolution being instigated by a man named Taren Capel who was raised by robots.  The Doctor eventually finds evidence that Capel is on board and modifying the existing robot's programming to kill humans.  It's up to the four of them to stop Capel's scheme at any cost.

This story is decent at best.  It's got some neat ideas going on with D84 being self-controlled and eventually sacrificing his life for the better of the human crew.  Past that, there's not really a whole lot to praise or criticize it's just a decent story.  Although, for the story to be called "Robots of Death" I think it took just a bit too long for everyone to figure out what was going on.  If you think "I, Robot" done in the 70's sounds good then check it out.

Story 91
The Talons of Weng-Chiang

The last story of the season is The Talons of Weng-Chiang and it's six episodes long.  Leela wishes to study the customs of her ancestors, so the Doctor takes her to Victorian London to see Li H'sen Chang at the theatre.  While there, they witness a group of Chinese men who have murdered another man.  A nearby policeman scares most off but one Chinese man, the Doctor, and Leela are taken in for questioning about the body.  Chang is summoned to act as interpreter but he is actually the group's leader and slips the man a capsule which causes the man to die immediately.  The Doctor meets with Professor Litefoot who is performing the autopsies notices that the first man is husband to a woman who has gone missing in the lastest spree of missing women.  The Doctor, however, notices a mark on the Chinese man as the mark of the Tong of the Black Scorpion; a group who worship the ancient god Weng-Chiang.  Chang, as it turns out, is working for Magnus Greel, a villain from the 51st century who used a time cabinet to escape his own destruction and has been masquerading as the god Weng-Chaing.  Due to the time cabinet messing with his DNA, Greel must use the life force of women to remain alive.  Eventually the Doctor finds Greel's lair and with the help of Leela, Professor Litefoot and a man named Jago, they attempt to stop Greel once and for all.

This is another absolute classic.  There were a lot of points that I couldn't really talk about in the plot unless I wanted to speak forever about it.  My favorite part of this whole story is when Litefoot and Leela are eating dinner together.  He has all kinds of foods so Leela being Leela just picks up the meat and eats with her hands.  Litefoot trying not to embarrass his guest does the same.  Comedy of manners at it's finest!  It was also neat to see Deep Roy (the man who was all of the oompa loompas Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory) playing a role in this story as the evil Mr. Sin.  There's much more comedy and excitement than I could even begin to describe here.  You definitely need to check this one out!

Season Fifteen

Story 92
Horror of Fang Rock

The first story of season fifteen is Horror of Fang Rock and it's four episodes long.  The TARDIS lands in Edwardian England on the island of Fang Rock where they notice the lighthouse isn't functioning.  The Doctor and Leela investigate only to find a dead body and that the electrics have been going in and out.  The two workers still alive mention that a shining light has landed in the ocean nearby.  Due to the power failure, a ship crashed onto the island and the four survivors are brought on board.  Unfortunately more and more people are being murdered by a green glowing alien and one of the lighthouse crew, Reuben has reacted poorly to the shock.  More people keep dying as the Doctor discovers Reuben's body; the alien can transform its shape.  It turns out that the alien is a Rutan, a green blob whose race is the enemy of the Sontarans.  They are losing the war against the Sontarans and plan on using Earth as a new base and eliminating humans from it.  The Doctor and Leela stop the Rutan but only after it has murdered every other person on the island.  As the Rutan mothership approaches, the Doctor rigs the lighthouse with diamonds to create a heated laser and destroy the ship.

This is a very bleak and very good story.  Doctor Who in general has a higher death count than many television shows, but it's not very often that every single character other than the Doctor and his companion die.  The mystery and atmosphere of this story is fantastic.  Originally this was just supposed to be some random alien, but writer Terrance Dicks remembered Pertwee's The Time Warrior and decided to make the villain a Rutan.  This is the only time we've seen a Rutan and I really wish they would come back to the new show.  Check this story out!

Story 93
The Invisible Enemy

The next story is The Invisible Enemy and it's four episodes long.  Humans have been colonizing space at a rapid pace and several of them have come into contact with a virus that takes over their bodies and are using Titan Base as a breeding ground for the virus.  The station manager sends out an SOS which the Doctor picks up.  Unfortunately the Doctor also contracts the virus and is chosen to house the nucleus of the storm due to his abilities as a Time Lord.  Without any options left, The TARDIS heads to a hospital with the Doctor, Leela, and unknown to them, an infected man.  The infected man begins spreading the virus to the hospital staff as Professor Marius examines the Doctor.  The only course of action is to create clones of the Doctor and Leela (which can only live for 10 minutes) and shrink them down to travel through the Doctor's brain and destroy the nucleus.  While they do this, the real Leela and Marius' robot dog, K-9 defend the room from the infected.  Unfortunately the Nucleus is intelligent and uses the plan against them and escapes the Doctor's mind to be enlarged by reversing the shrink ray.  The Doctor, now clean of the infection and knowing a cure for it, follows the Nucleus and the infected to Titan Base to stop them for good.

This one is very different.  It ultimately becomes The Fantastic Voyage done to 70's Doctor Who...something they would later revisit with the Twelfth Doctor story Into the Dalek.  Basically if you've seen any show or movie about shrinking people down inside a body then you've seen this.  The most important thing to come from this story is the introduction of K-9 who joins the TARDIS at the end.  He's the companion that a lot of people either really enjoy or really hate.  Sometimes he's used very well but other times he's a bit annoying.

Story 94
Image of the Fendahl

The next story is Image of the Fendahl and it's four episodes long.  Four scientists have discovered an ancient skull and are running scans on it.  These scans activate the skull and cause a creature to briefly appear and completely suck the life force out of anything nearby.  The time scanning tech catches the eye of the Doctor who investigates.  Eventually the skull has chosen the female scientist to become the new host of the Fendahleen and commands her to set the scanner to be permanently on.  The possessed scientist then begins sucking the life force out of some and converting others into large worm-like creatures.  If the Fendahl gains twelve followers it can summon an insurmountable amount of power and destroy the planet.  The Doctor discovers the Fendahleen are fatally allergic to salt and kill two of the twelve causing the circle to be unfinished.  The Doctor rigs the scanning machine to explode and cause the skull to go dormant once again.  The explosion caused a chain reaction which destroyed all of the transformed Fendahleen and the Doctor leaves to toss the skull into a supernova.

This one is... just OK.  I said in the introduction that this season started a bit of a minor slip in quality and this is the story that I first really noticed it in.  I'm not sure if it was the script or just the general idea but the majority of this story left me just sort of watching but not absorbing much of what was going on.  It just sort of exists.  There are a few good scenes here and there but mostly this one is forgettable.

Story 95
The Sun Makers

The next story is The Sun Makers and it's four episodes long.  With the Earth being uninhabited (think around the time of the Ark in Space) there is a large colony living on Pluto who are being taxed beyond their ability.  When the TARDIS lands on Pluto, the Doctor and Leela stop a man from committing suicide because of the taxation.  Listening to his story, the Doctor decides to investigate "The Company" as he seeks out people who are living underground who oppose the Company and it's leader, the Collector.  It turns out that the Collector is actually a strange seaweed-like alien in human form.  Eventually with the help of the underground movement starting a rebellion, the Doctor sabotages the Company to go bankrupt and traps the Collector inside his life support system.  With Pluto free from The Company, the Doctor and Leela head back to the TARDIS.

This one is a bit of an oddity for much of Doctor Who.  While many of Classic Doctor Who stories involve planetary destruction, invasion, or protecting a nation, this one is just the Doctor having compassion because the living conditions are terrible.  That's something you don't see too incredibly often with this show.  Though I don't talk about writers too often, this is yet another good script by Robert Holmes.  Holmes was one of the best writers for the show.  Even things that aren't exactly exciting like this one are written so well that you end up liking it anyway.  Holmes tended to write about things that were pissing him off at the time and apparently this time it was paying taxes.  I wouldn't say this is an absolute classic episode but I enjoyed it.  Check it out if it seems interesting to you.

Story 96

The next story is Underworld and it's four episodes long.  The Time Lords started their policy of non-interference because of their involvement with the Minyans of the planet Minyos.  The Minyans worshiped them as gods but eventually used the advanced technology and weaponry against the Time Lords and blew up the planet.  Two ships escaped the destruction.  One of them had the race bank of the Minyans and the other was trying to find the race bank and return everyone to the new Minyos II.  Several millenia have passed since then and the Doctor, Leela, and K-9 land on the second ship which is closing in on the first.  They find that the first ship had attracted rocks and became a planet.  Inside, the descendants of the original crew are working as slaves under the two robot Seers and the super computer the Oracle.  Eventually the slaves are freed and the race bank is rescued so that the Minyans can return to Minyos II.

This may sound interesting but... it's not.  There are some really good ideas with this plotline but for some reason it falls completely flat.  This is another one that I had to look up what it was even about.  Why?  Well to be perfectly honest, I've tried to watch this story three times and all three times I've fallen asleep.  It's not like it was late night or I had been watching a ton of them in the same day either; it was just so slow that it put me to sleep.  Give this one a pass.

Story 97
The Invasion of Time

The last story of Season Fifteen is The Invasion of Time and it's six episodes long.  The Doctor returns again on Gallifrey to claim the office of President as the last election was only between himself and the now deceased Chancellor Goth.  The Time Lords are outraged but can't really do anything about it.  The Doctor is acting very strangely though and begins making demands that his chamber be completely lead lined and is just generally being demanding and rude.  The Doctor is after all of the artifacts of Rassilon which would give him ultimate power within the Time Lords.  The Time Lords remind him that outsiders are not permitted in Gallifrey and so he banishes Leela to the outskirts.  It seems that the Doctor is working with an alien race known as the Vardans and assisting them with invading Gallifrey.  The Doctor takes Time Lord Borusa to his chamber, which is now lead lined and will prevent mind reading, and explains that he is working with the Vardans so that they will fully manifest their physical form.  Once the Vardans show who they really are he can trap their planet in a time loop and save Gallifrey.  Leela meets with some other outsiders and they form a resistance group to get back into Gallifrey to help the Doctor with whatever is going on.  Eventually the Doctor lowers Gallifrey's sheilds to allow the Vardans in and identifies them.  The Doctor sends the Vardans back and traps their planet in an infinite time loop.  Unfortunately, this seems to have been a ploy by the Sontarans to gain access to Gallifrey as they beam in immediately after.  Using the lost Key of Rassilon, the Doctor and a few Time Lords enter his TARDIS to create a forbidden dematerialization gun powered by the key.  This Demat gun will erase the target from time itself.  The Sontarans aided by a wormy Time Lord gain access to the TARDIS and chase the Doctor through the labyrinth inside.  Leela's forces join up and destroy all but the commander who is struck by the demat circuit right as he was about to explode the Eye or Harmony.  The demat gun removes the Sontaran commander from time but also destroys itself and wipes the Doctor's memory of the whole incident.  The Doctor goes to leave Gallifrey but Leela has chosen to stay behind with a time lord she had fallen in love with.  K-9 stays with her.  The Doctor leaves and pulls out a box labeled  "K-9 Mark II"

This one is actually very interesting and entertaining.  The mystery of why the Doctor is acting like this goes on for a couple episodes so you aren't really quite sure what's going on and it builds up good tension.  Also getting to see the TARDIS swimming pool and other areas was really cool to see.  There are only two problems when you really sit down and think about it.  First is the fact that the Time Lords of Troughton's The War Games are certainly long gone.  For the Sontarans to cause a legitimate threat to the people who used their minds to erase an entire group of people from history.... yeah these are weak and pointless Time Lords now.  Also Leela's departure is a bit sudden.  She really didn't have much screentime or even chemistry with the character who she seemingly fell in love with.  Yes, Jo Grant left to be with a man she had fallen in love with but they spent plenty of time establishing that connection which made that work.  Here it doesn't.  Despite these two things I personally enjoyed this story; you might want to check it out!


That was Seasons Fourteen and Fifteen of Classic Doctor Who.  It was an interesting collection of really awesome, weird, and unique. For me personally, Leela was the last of the consecutively great companions that the show had to offer.  Don't get me wrong, I like the majority of the companions that will be coming in the future, but precious few of them would fall into the "great" category like everyone since Jamie and Zoe appeared with the Second Doctor.  The best era of the show is officially over with these seasons and honestly wouldn't gain the momentum back for another ten seasons.  We'll still have some really great episodes mixed in though.  Please join me again as we continue to examine all of Doctor Who.

This is Ghost, fading into the darkness
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