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This is the official blog of Phoenix Roleplaying, a multi-genre simming site, created in August 2010.

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Wednesday, 10 October 2012

'Doctor Who' Season 19 (1982): Time Travellers Inc.

Some might say that the tree is not the most wooden thing in this picture


Following the show’s ratings mauling at the hands of Buck Rogers, the BBC decided to move the show’s timeslot. Instead of a prime time place on Saturday, it would now air in the early evening on Mondays and Tuesdays – i.e. twice a week and would now begin in the mid-winter for the first time since Season 12 to avoid a clash with Sink or Swim, a sitcom starring new Doctor Peter Davison.


The inter-season gap was thus much longer than usual, although in late 1981 the BBC aired a season of repeats called The Five Faces of Doctor Who – these were:

·         An Unearthly Child

·         The Krotons (well, most of Troughton’s run was missing at this point)

·         Carnival of Monsters

·         The Three Doctors

·         Logopolis (as a catch-up)


With Christopher H Bidmead leaving the show after not getting a pay rise, a young writer called Anthony Root got the temporary role as script editor, covering the role from January to April 1981[1], until Eric Saward got the gig on a full-time basis based on the quality of his “The Visitation”.  Saward would turn out to be a highly controversial script editor and possibly the worst one the show has ever had. In addition, Barry Letts did not return as executive producer as it was felt JNT could handle things on his own by now.


Nathan-Turner was given a budget for 28 episodes for this season, but decided to use the budget for two of those on a broadcast pilot for a possible spin-off show starring Sarah Jane Smith and K9…


K9 and Company: A Girl’s Best Friend (1 50-minute episode)


After Sarah Jane receives a box from the Doctor containing K9 Mark III[2], she teams up with the dog her aunt’s ward to investigate the disappearance of her aunt in a sleepy English village.


I’ve never actually seen this one, but it’s available on DVD in a box set with K9’s debut story “The Invisible Enemy”. The show, broadcast on 28 December 1981 and explicitly a Christmas special, got a respectable 8.4 million audience (higher than any Season 18 episode), even with a transmitter out meaning much of the North West of England could not see it. However, a change of BBC1 Controller meant that the pilot did not go to series.

With that out of the way, it was now time to properly debut the new Doctor, played by the youngest actor to take the role so far…


The Fifth Doctor – Cricket and Decorative Vegetables


All fans have their “first Doctor” – the one that they saw first on TV – and most have a slight preference to that one, conscious or otherwise. My first Doctor was the Fifth Doctor as that’s where I started with the UK Gold repeats. This said, I genuinely think he is very good.


The Fifth Doctor is a marked contrast to the bombastic Fourth. He’s far more human and vulnerable, a reactor instead of an actor, with an abhorrence of violence – although it certainly followed him about. While he looks young, he at times acts very old. He is also known for a love of cricket and wearing a stick of celery on his jacket.


Peter Moffett (1951-)[3], far better known by his stage name of Peter Davison, is arguably the most successful of the Doctors in terms of overall careers – he has been the star of more popular shows than any of the others.  Other actors became famous for being the Doctor – Davison is a famous actor who happens to played the Doctor.


After a couple of guest roles, including one in Thames Television’s sci-fi children’s series The Tomorrow People that he would prefer to forget, Davison achieved fame as Tristan Farnon in the popular BBC historical veterinary drama All Creatures Great and Small. During this time, he also made a cameo appearance in the TV version of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, starring his then wife and mother of his daughter Georgia Moffett (yes, Jenny from “The Doctor’s Daughter” and wife of David Tennant – thus making him basically his own father-in-law), where he plays the Dish of the Day, an alien cow specially bred so it wants to be eaten.


Davison was in fact doing double duty during his three years as the Doctor – starring in BBC sitcoms Sink or Swim (as mentioned earlier) and Holding the Fort.


After stepping down from the role on the advice of Patrick Troughton to do only three years, Davison got himself a number of other major gigs, including starring in A Very Peculiar Practice and more recently, The Last Detective. He currently plays the DA equivalent in the British version of Law & Order, Law & Order UK, arguably the best drama currently on ITV[4], which also features Freema Agyeman.


In addition, he has been playing the Fifth Doctor in Big Finish since 1999.

This 26-episode run is arguably where the rot is beginning to set in. It’s not to say that isn’t good, but there’s a certain style over coherent plot aspect here, especially when Eric Saward is writing. Also, while it’s acceptable for the Doctor to wear a distinctive outfit, companions really should change their clothes more often.


From here to the end of the classic run, the Doctor is actually credited as “The Doctor” as opposed to “Dr. Who” or “Doctor Who”.


Castrovalva (4 parts)


The newly regenerated Doctor is not having a good time of it. Not only is he highly unstable, but Adric has been kidnapped and the Master is setting an elaborate space-time trap for him…


A late replacement for the planned first story “Project Zeta-Sigma” and thus filmed fourth (it was not even commissioned when Davison first started on the role), this tale concludes the trilogy of stories that began with “The Keeper of Traken”. Inspired by M. C. Escher, a Dutch artist known for his pictures of impossible constructions (it’s named after one of his early works), it’s a very good serial.


This one also starts a habit of disguising the Master and using false credits to hide surprise appearances – I will not reveal any of these instances.


Four to Doomsday (4 parts)


Arriving on a large spaceship, the time travellers encounter a frog-like race and a large group of human androids. The commander of the vessel is a crazed leader out to depopulate Earth for his own people, as well as travel faster than light and thus back go to the Big Bang, to meet God, who he believes is himself. No, I am not making that up.


Filmed first in the season (not as often claimed by Davison to allow him to be stronger in the role for the first story aired but because of the need to re-jig the production order), this one is a fairly good one, perhaps best known for the Doctor taking a spacewalk wearing only an oxygen helmet and Tegan being able to speak a probably long-dead Aboriginal dialect[5].


Kinda (4 parts)


With an unwell Nyssa left in the TARDIS[6], the Doctor, Tegan and Adric visit the jungle world of Deva Loka, where the brash Australian gets possessed by an evil snake being.


A Buddhist-themed episode that is trippy, hard-to-follow and at times very cheap looking (due to a lack of studio time to make it look better – the production block was extended from five to six days after this) story, “Kinda” is an example of the sort of re-evaluation by fandom that some Doctor Who tales get. It came dead last in the 1982 Season Survey conducted by what was then Doctor Who Monthly, but is now deemed a minor classic and came 69th in the Mighty 200 poll in 2009. It is the source of the fan-expression “Not-We”, used for casual viewers.


The guest cast is impressive – renowned film star Richard Todd, Nerys Hughes and no less than three actors who would spend very long periods on The Bill.


The Visitation (4 parts)


The Doctor tries to take Tegan back to Heathrow Airport. He gets the location right, but the time wrong, arriving three centuries early. After they arrive, they discover an alien space capsule has crashed nearby and its occupants are out to destroy all life on Earth…


The final appearance of the sonic screwdriver until the 1996 TV movie – JNT felt it was being used too much as a get-out device and it is destroyed here. Noteworthy for its ending, although I might need to re-watch this as I can’t remember much of it.


Black Orchid (2 parts)


Arriving in 1925 England, the Doctor is mistaken for a cricketer and Nyssa for the fiancée of a lord. At the country home of the latter, murders start taking place.


The final “pure historical” story to date, “Orchid” is a dull murder mystery that all four regulars openly state they dislike on the DVD commentary. Oddly enough, it got the highest viewing figures of any Davison era story.


Earthshock (4 parts)


In the 26th century, the Doctor runs into a plot by the Cybermen to destroy the Earth. As he battles on board a freighter heading for the planet to stop this, not everyone will get out of this alive…


“Earthshock” is notable for two things – the surprise return of the Cybermen at the end of Part One and the surprise death of Adric at the end of Part Four, with silent credits over his destroyed mathematical excellence badge[7]. These two tremendous twists were hidden by the following methods:

·         Declining what would have been the first appearance of Doctor Who on the cover of prestigious listings magazine Radio Times since 1973.

·         Closing access to the normally open to the public viewing galleries and putting security guards there.

·         Having Adric make a small appearance in Part Two of the next story so he would appear in the listings for the following week’s episodes, so his departure was not obvious.


As for the story, written by Eric Saward after the previous tale was withdrawn after a payment dispute, it’s a very good tale that with some editing could pass off as a modern two-parter, although there a lot of plot holes. It’s Aliens four years earlier (some bits from Alien’s set turn in the props) with the Doctor actually breaking out a gun and the unusual casting of comedy actress Beryl Reid as a starship captain that works surprisingly well – they can’t all be Sigourney Weavers.


Finally, say what you like about Adric, his death is deeply affecting in my view.


Time-Flight (4 parts)


Mourning the death of Adric, the Doctor, Tegan and Nyssa arrive at Heathrow Airport in the present day, where they investigate the disappearance of a Concorde passenger plane – only to discover it has been sent millions of years back in time.


The only real instance of product placement in Doctor Who (it was banned on UK until 2011 and is still fairly uncommon in dramas), with the crew being allowed to film in a real Concorde and be the first show to use the real London Heathrow, “Time-Flight” has an awful reputation that is completely justified. The plot is bad and the effects even worse – the writers of The Discontinuity Guide summed it up best:


“I don't know what English cricket is coming to.' Somebody, somewhere should have thrown this script in the bin the moment it had Concorde crash landing in Jurassic England[8], but, instead, it was made on a typical end of season minimal budget. The actors give it their best, but it only exposes the paucity of the concept and the dialogue”.

At the end of the season, Tegan is apparently abandoned at Heathrow – this was never intended as a departure scene, but instead a season-ending cliff-hanger.


With an average rating of 9.4 million, the new timeslot and new Doctor had the desired effect of boosting the show. It could go into its 20th season with renewed confidence.

[1]He gets the credit for “Four to Doomsday”, “The Visitation” and “Earthshock”. The last credit is basically to avoid crediting Eric Saward as doing his own story, Root doing little or no work on it. Root’s script editing role did not involve commissioning any stories, merely rewriting and getting them ready for filming.

[2]As the first one was on Gallifrey and the second in E-Space.

[3]Not to be confused with the late director Peter Moffatt, who did a number of Whos or TV writer Peter Moffat.

[4]Although most of their current output is frankly rubbish. Yes, I do like Downton Abbey before anyone sets the dogs on me.

[5]Fans have interpreted this one as the Doctor allowing Tegan to show off via use of the TARDIS translator.

[6]The script was written before Sutton’s casting and making of her into a regular.

[7]The gold star being used by the Doctor to kill a Cyberman in the TARDIS.

[8]The take-off scene at the end in itself is a contender for worst effect in the show’s history, as it basically has a real shot of a take-off behind a model landscape; with the airport visible in the footage!

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