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
Season Sixteen ran from September 2, 1978 to February 24, 1979. It contained twenty six episodes across six stories. Season Sixteen is most commonly called The Key to Time as this has the first and only season-wide story arc of the entire classic show. Each of these stories have the Doctor trying to track down a different segment to The Key of Time. I had mentioned previously that the quality of the show started to go downhill. It is seen a bit more with this season, particularly in the area of budget. The budget for the show hadn't been adjusted to deal with inflation in years and as such they were effectively trying to make a better looking show on less money than they had in the Hartnell Era. This is most prominently seen in this season's story The Power of Kroll. This season also introduced a new companion, the Time Lady Romana. Also during the last story of this season, Douglas Adams took over as script editor. Yes Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams.
Season Seventeen ran from September 1, 1979 to January 12, 1980. It contained twenty episodes across five stories. There is actually a sixth story that is six episodes long, but there was a strike at the time of filming and much of the in-studio footage was never shot so the story never aired. Thankfully, the BBC invited Tom Baker to return and narrate the missing footage for the VHS release which made it to DVD, so we'll still get to talk about Shada. Romana regenerates for this really strange season. Keep reading to find out what I mean.
The Ribos Operation
The first story is The Ribos Operaion and it's four episodes long. The Doctor is summoned by the White Guardian who tasks the Doctor with tracking down the six pieces of the Key to Time in order to restore balance. He provides the Doctor with an assistant, the Time Lady Romanadvoratrelundar (The Doctor calls her Romana) and warns him that the Black Guardian also wishes to find the Key to Time for evil. Each piece is scattered across all of space and is disguised. The White Guardian provides the Doctor and Romana with a wand that will lead the TARDIS to the proper planet, locate each piece and remove the disguise. The first planet they find is on Ribos. An Earth swindler and his assistant are trying to sell the planet of Ribos to a wealthy man by claiming it has a large supply of a rare mineral which the swindler planted with the Royal Jewels. The mineral, as it turns out, is the first segment of the Key to Time leading the Doctor and Romana to it. The wealthy man eventually discovers the scheme and imprisons the swinder, the Doctor, and Romana while the assistant flees with the mineral. With K-9's help, the Doctor and Romana sneak into the wealthy man's guard and find the segment of the Key.
This story has the opening segment to the first season-length consecutive story arch of the show. It was a neat idea and it was great to see the Doctor flying around with another of his race. There's not a whole lot to note with this episode although the Doctor does outright kill a man by placing a bomb on him. To be fair the man was trying to kill the Doctor with that very same bomb.
The Pirate Planet
The next story is The Pirate Planet and it's four episodes long. The TARDIS heads for the planet of Calufrax but when the Doctor and Romana exit, they find themselves in a strange civilization living in constant prosperity. As it turns out, they are in the correct location for Calufrax but the planet of Zanak has materialized around it. Zanak is a hollowed out planet which materializes around other planets and absolutely destroys the planet as it strips it of anything useful or valuable before moving on to another planet. Zanak is ruled by the highly insane Captain, but the Captain is being controlled by an ancient tyrant queen searching for immortality. The captain has been keeping the tiny remains of the planets they plunder in his trophy room and Calufrax is the next segment to the Key of Time. With help from some psychics and using the TARDIS to mess with Zanak's engines, the Doctor stops the pirate planet before they reach their next destination, Earth.
This is by far the best story of the season. While it's not as good as some of the previous Tom Baker stories this one is still a class act! The levels of insanity going on and how overly bombastic everyone can be throughout these episodes is always entertaining and amusing. Diamanda Hagan said it best "If this story were a person it would be Brian Blessed." It's also very noteworthy for being written by Douglas Adams, the same man who wrote The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. If you want to check out one story from this season, make sure it's this one!
The Stones of Blood
The next story is The Stones of Blood and it's four episodes long. The next segment of time seems to be on planet Earth. The TARDIS materializes on a moor where there are some strange stones in a circle. These stones are being studied by an elderly archeologist and her friend Vivien Fay. The Doctor investigates some rumors about Druids sacrificing people on the stones by checking out a lead at the nearby manor. In the manor, the Doctor runs across paintings of the previous owners and all of them share the face of Vivien Fey. Vivien pours blood on the stones and they come to life and attack Romana and the Doctor. The Doctor realizes these stones are an alien race as Vivien teleports Romana to her ship in hyperspace. The Doctor follows her and after dealing with some justice machines, realize that Vivien is actually a murderous criminal and tricks the justice machines into scanning Vivien in order to discover her true identity. The Doctor takes Vivien's necklace which was the third segment of the key as the justice machines sentence her to an eternity as a stone on Earth.
This one is weird. It's got some interesting ideas going on with the stone aliens requiring blood to truly be alive, and the criminal Vivian having found a way to be on Earth for many years. The trial scene of the Doctor and the Justice Machines is kind of amusing as well. If this sounds interesting to you then check it out.
The Androids of Tara
The next story is The Androids of Tara and it's four episodes long. The TARDIS locates the next segment on Tara and for once it's simple. The Doctor goes fishing while Romana finds the segment almost instantaneously. However she is captured by a man thinking she is an android as she perfectly resembles the princess Strella. It turns out that it is the Prince of Tara's coronation day but his cousin, Count Grendel wants the throne and has kidnapped the Prince's love, Strella, to force him not to take the throne. The Doctor is recruited to help the Prince by fixing an android replica of the Prince to draw off Grendel's men while the real prince slips into the throne room for the coronation. Everything goes south when the real prince is attacked and kidnapped. After a lot of running around and various androids being used, the Doctor and Romana find each other and help the Prince defeat his cousin.
If you've ever read or heard of The Prisoner of Zenda then you know exactly what this is.. it just uses androids. It's always interesting to explore having a duplicate of someone on the TARDIS though Doctor doubles are usually more interesting. If you think the Prisoner of Zenda in Space sounds good to you then check it out.
The Power of Kroll
The next story is The Power of Kroll and it's four episodes long. The TARDIS lands on the third moon of Delta Magna to find the fifth segment of the Key of Time. The Doctor and Romana end up getting involved in a struggle between the natives known as Swampies, and the crew of a methane refinery on the planet. The Swampies are angry and say the refinery workers will suffer by the hands of Kroll, a giant squid they worship. Kroll was just a normal squid who accidentally ate the fifth segment of the key and has grown larger and larger and producing the methane being collected. He only feeds every few centuries and unfortunately for both the Swampies and the crew it's feeding time. The Doctor uses the tracing want to eliminate Kroll and obtain the fifth segment.
This one is pretty bad and that's not really a fault of the script. The idea of native peoples worshiping a giant squid who accidentally ate something it shouldn't have is actually kind of neat. It's the budget that makes this story terrible. At this point in the program, the budget had not been adjusted and due to inflation they were dealing with less of a budget than the Hartnell era sixteen years earlier. This resulted in people being painted green, and an entire monster costume looking so terrible that they modified the script to make the crab-creature just be a swampie in a suit because there was NO way anyone would be convinced it was an actual monster. Give this one a pass unless you're watching the whole season.
The Armageddon Factor
The final story is The Armageddon Factor and it's six episodes long. The TARDIS searches for the final segment of the Key to Time and lands on the planet of Atrios. Atrios has recently survived a bombing by the planet Zeos with whom they are at war. The Doctor, however, discovers that Zeos is completely deserted except for a single computer. The real enemy of Atrios is a man known as the Shadow on a different planet. The Shadow is under employ of the Black Guardian and has kidnapped Princess Astra of Atrios and threatens to torture her unless she revels the location of the final segment (which she doesn't know) Eventually the Doctor meets up with a fellow Time Lord named Drax who the Shadow has forced to assist him. Drax decides to help the Doctor as the Shadow sends a man to obtain the other segments of the key. The Doctor figures out why. Princess Astra is the final segment and she transforms in front of everyone. The Doctor eventually infiltrates the Shadow's lair and gets all six pieces of the key back, using the TARDIS' deflectors to send missiles towards the Shadow. Inside the TARDIS, the Doctor combines the key to time as the White Guardian appears and asks that they hand it over. The Doctor realizes that it is the Black Guardian in disguise when he shows no concern for Princess Astra and he commands the key to separate once more so that everything, Astra included, return home. The Doctor then escapes the Black Guardian by engaging a randomizer into the TARDIS coordinates.
This one sounds better than it is. I'm not sure if it's just the length of this story or what, ,but I always watched this one not entirely sure what all was going on. I skipped parts about the Doctor making a Time Loop and some other shenanigans because this story is a bit of a mess and all over the place. Maybe it will make more sense to you though. The twist ending was good and I liked how the princess was the final piece. Not a terrible way to end a season but the Pirate Planet is still the best episode of this season.
Destiny of the Daleks
The first story is Destiny of the Daleks and it's four episodes long. The TARDIS is flying to random coordinates and Romana regenerates for reasons unknown eventually choosing the form of Princess Astra from The Armageddon Factor. The Doctor and Romana land on a strange planet that turns out to be Skaro, home planet of the Daleks. The Daleks capture Romana while a group of other beings take the Doctor. It turns out these other aliens are called the Movellans and are here to continue their war against he Daleks. The Daleks and the Movellans have been in war for 200 years but not one shot has been made as both the Movellan and Dalek ships have been trying to find an opportunity to strike and find nothing. The Movellans plan to use the Doctor in their advantage while the Daleks are searching for their creator, Davros, to revive him from suspended animation for their advantage. The Daleks revive Davros and he orders suicide bombing of the Movellan craft. The Doctor, however, realizes the Movellans are robots and disables their power packs. The Doctor then goes to Davros, stops the dalek bombing and placed Davros back in suspended animation to be taken to Earth by the human slaved the Daleks have been using so that Davros can stand trial for his crimes.
This one is interesting for a few reasons. The first of which is the fairly ridiculous look of the Movellans which I kind of love. It's dumb but it's an awesome kind of dumb. Also I seriously have to question why this was a Dalek episode. The crux of the whole issue was that both sides of the war were too logical and weren't making mistakes. Daleks? Logical? This should have been an episode about the Cybermen. While Cybermen being purely logical still isn't quite a true fit it would be a better fit than the Daleks. Also the single weirdest and funniest thing about this is Romana's regeneration. We don't get a reason as to why she regenerated but just that it was happening and she decided to go through multiple bodies before settling on Princess Astra. It's bizarre and I love it. Check this one out if you want to see something silly...or at least check out Romana's regenerations.
City of Death
The next story is City of Death and it's four episodes long. The Doctor and Romana are taking a vacation in Paris and the Doctor feels a distortion in time. Later at the Louvre, the Doctor notices a woman wearing an alien bracelet that scans security systems and steals it from her. The Doctor and Romana are followed by an inspector, Duggan who has been trailing the woman and her husband Count Scarlioni for some time and fears they are planning to steal the Mona Lisa. Eventually the three go to Scarlioni's mansion and find six identical copies of the Mona Lisa. The Doctor leaves Duggan and Romana to investigate while he goes back to meet with Leonardo DaVinci. In the past, the Doctor is captured by a Captain Tancredi who looks exactly like Scarlioni. The man informs the Doctor that he is actually an alien named Scaroth, the last of a his race. He landed on Earth 4 million years prior and an explosion caused the death of his race and for himself to be split apart in time while allowing him to communicate with his other selves. He has convinced Leonardo to paint seven of the Mona Lisa so that in 1979 when Scarlioni steals the one in the Louvre, he can covertly sell all seven of them and get enough money to complete his time experiments allowing him to go back in time and stop the explosion of his ship. The Doctor escapes and returns to 1979 but finds that Scaroth has not only stolen the Mona Lisa but has forced Romana to fix his time machine. Romana reveals that the machine has only two minutes of use before Scaroth will be dragged back but that would be enough time to stop the explosion. The Doctor, Romana, and Duggan travel to the far past and theorize that Scaroth's explosion was the spark that started life on planet earth. Duggan punches Scaroth into unconsciousness allowing the time to pass, the explosion to take place, and Earth to be saved.
This is another story that was partially written by Douglas Adams and it's absolutely fantastic. It has a very rich story and although there is a lot going on it's very simple to understand. The comedy is brilliant and Duggan is a nice addition to the team; I wish he would have stayed on longer. There are two other noteworthy things about this. The first is that John Cleese of Monty Python fame makes a cameo for a very brief moment in this. Secondly, the mask for Scaroth is a bit ridiculous as it's clearly larger than the actor's head and it has one eye in the middle of his face. Not only would his 'human mask" not fit but he wouldn't be able to see. It's a bit of a nitpick but it's still there. Either way this is an EXCELLENT story to and a must watch!
The Creature from the Pit
The next story is The Creature from the Pit and it's four episodes long. The TARDIS lands on the lush jungle planet of Chloris. Chloris has almost no metal left on the planet and without tools, the plant life runs rampant. The leader of Chloris, Lady Adrasta, rules with fear and strange plants known as wolfweeds who are controlled by a Huntsman. Lady Adrasta meets the Doctor and mentions a creature within the pit on their planet. Meanwhile Romana is captured by some scavengers looking for any form of metal but escapes thanks to K-9. The Doctor decides to get to the bottom of this whole pit business and jumps in to find a large green alien who is speechless but attempting to communicate. At this same time the scavengers infiltrate the throne room while Lady Adrasta is preoccupied with the Doctor and begin stealing metal. When they reach a shield it takes over their mind and they bring it to the alien in the pit. The shield is actually a communication device. The alien, Erato, is actually an ambassador from another planet sent to negotiate a treaty between his planet and Chloris to provide goods, metal, and chlorophyll to one another. Lady Adrasta having realized her power came from lack of metal, imprisoned Erato for the past fifteen years. Adrasta enters the pit to find the Doctor and upon hearing Erato's tale, the Huntsman turns on Adrasta and his Wolfweeds along with Erato kill Adrasta. The Doctor leaves the planet encouraging trade between Erato and the Huntsman.
Yet another late Tom Baker story that's a bit on the weird side. It's really inventive and it's cool to see a really alien looking alien. There's not much of note to really say outside of one bit of Tom Baker comedy. The Doctor falls into the pit early on and tries to read a book on mountain climbing to get out. When he discovers it's in Tibetan, he pulls out a book to learn Tibetan. It's nothing fantastic but it's a solid story.
Nightmare of Eden
The next story is Nightmare of Eden and it's four episodes long. The TARDIS lands on a space ship that is having some difficulty with special distortion; in fact, two space ships have somewhat collided and are having difficulty separating. The Doctor agrees to help but eventually uncovers a drug smuggling operation of a highly dangerous and toxic drug. Elsewhere on the ship, some scientists have a machine on board which takes segments of a planet and holds it in a sort of suspended state to be used in a projector so one can visit the planet without actually going there. The efforts to separate the ships keep failing as people start to become addicted to the drug and strange creatures called Mandrels begin running about. They have escaped from the projection of Eden where the source of the drug is. It turns out the Mandrels themselves are the source of the drug. The Doctor eventually separates the two spaceships, discovers the smugglers, sends the Mandrels back to their projection, and uses the TARDIS to send all the segments of the various worlds back to their original point in space.
This one is boring and fairly bad. The idea of having parts of planets in a projector is kind of neat and the idea of having creatures that are used as drugs is also neat but the whole thing is just not well put together. There are long segments where I don't really know what's going on and even longer segments where I was bored out of my mind. Feel free to give this one a pass.
The Horns of Nimon
The next story is The Horns of Nimon and it's four episodes long. The Skonnan Empire is long past it's prime but a minotaur-like alien called a Nimon has appeared on Skonnos and has offered help in exchange for young tributes and a certain crystalline substance. This has been going on for years and the final batch of prisoners and crystals is now headed toward Skonnos but breaks down near a black hole. The TARDIS materializes nearby and also has problems due to the black hole. The Doctor and Romana extend an air and gravity corridor to the ship but are forced at gunpoint to repair the ship. The pilot leaves the Doctor behind with his malfunctioning TARDIS and takes Romana with him. Eventually the Doctor fixes the TARDIS and follows. On Skonnos, the leader, Soleed, sends the tributes and Romana deep into a labyrinth to find the Nimon and along their way discover the bodies of previous tributes. The Doctor follows closely and discovers that the Nimon have no intention of helping Skonnos. Instead they plan on bringing all the members of their race from another dying planet to take over Skonnos. Eventually the Doctor rescues Romana and the tributes while Soleed finds out the truth and starts a chain reaction to destroying the labyrinth. The Doctor and Romana watch as the labyrinth and the Nimon planet are both destroyed and the tributes are allowed to go back home freely.
Sweet merciful heavens this one is pretty bad. The Nimon costumes are utterly ridiculous and because of this they have to move very stiffly. I mean just look at it in the picture above. Not to mention the character of Soleed. I'm not entirely certain what was going through Graham Crowden's head when he was portraying this character. I'm certain he is a perfectly good actor but this performance was the definition of hammy. He's chewing so much scenery that I'm surprised there was any scenery left to act against. While the idea of a minotaur in a labyrinth is definitely a good one from Greek stories, this is NOT the way to do it. The Classic show tried twice to do something along those lines and failed both times. Thankfully we'll get a good minotaur story in the new show. Interestingly enough this is actually the last episode of the season... or at least the last one broadcast. There is still one more story to this season but people didn't get it till much later. I'll explain in a minute, but definitely give this one a skip.
The last story of the season was supposed to be Shada and it was going to be six episodes long. There is a planet named Shada in which the Time Lords have created the highest security facility in the universe to house the most dangerous of criminals. A man named Skagra intends to create a sort of Universal Mind by finding Shada and pooling the collective minds of all those criminals into one databank and utilizing that to control the universe. There is one problem; the Time Lords have hidden the knowledge as to the location of Shada from basically every living mind. There is only one book that holds the location to Shada and it has gone missing. Skagra discovers that there is a Time Lord living on earth as a Professor at Cambridge and he intends to find the location of this book. Sensing danger, Professor Chronotis asks the Doctor for his assistance. It turns out that Chronotis was actually in possession of the book and accidentally lent it to a student. The story concludes with a battle for control of the Universal Mind.
Now why did I say "supposed to be" in my description? Well, Shada was never actually broadcast. The episode was written, all of the location shooting was shot, and some of the studio shooting was completed. However, there was a strike at the BBC and work couldn't be continued on this story and it was mostly scrapped. It wasn't until 1992 that Shada was released to the public on VHS. The proper scenes were placed where they should go and any scenes not filmed were narrated by Tom Baker to fill in the gaps which may or may not have been the birth of The Curator Doctor depending on how you want to look at it.. It was a neat way to present the information, but I hate the fact that this couldn't have been fully filmed. If it was complete it probably would have been the best story of the season. Definitely worth a look to see what it could have been.
That concludes seasons sixteen and seventeen. We still have the most iconic Doctor and a couple excellent stories but you can't deny that the quality has gone down from the previous seasons with Tom Baker. I wish I could say that this is just a rough patch with the show, but in all actuality this is the continuing trend for the next several seasons. The show will unfortunately just keep going downhill until the Seventh Doctor's second season. From this point on you'll really want to cherry pick stories here and there unless you really just want to watch the whole thing. That's not to say that there aren't any good episodes later. I quite enjoy several of the stories on that time frame it's just that there are fewer of them. Please join me again as we continue to examine all of Doctor Who.
This is Ghost, fading into the darkness
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