Doctor Who Re-watch Season 13 – 2020 Update

Season 13

fourthbannerPossibly the best season of the 1970s, which tells you that I clearly loved season thirteen. It’s the second year of Hinchcliffe/Holmes, no longer in the shadow of the successful team of Letts/Dicks. (With one exception, but that’s Hinchcliffe’s fault for asking Letts to direct and Nation to write a script.) But I digress…

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Sarah, Harry, the Brigadier and the Doctor (and guest)

This season brings to the fore all the hints we got in the previous season, with the darker aspects found in such stories as The Ark in Space and Genesis of the Daleks. It starts on a high with the impeccable Terror of the Zygons, the last full bona-fide UNIT story. But this is the UNIT of Hinchcliffe/Holmes, not the ever-cosy family of the Pertwee Era. There’s a different kind of spark between the Fourth Doctor and the Brigadier – a very strong friendship, although it’s very clear the Doctor is, at least initially, sulking at being brought back to Earth by the Brigadier. Throughout this season there’s a definite ongoing acknowledgement that the Doctor is no longer interested in being UNIT’s scientific advisor – it’s explicitly stated in Pyramids of Mars for a start – although he does keep on coming back. Partly this is due to Sarah’s presence, since she made him promise to return her home at the end of Terror of the Zygons, which explains why in Pyramids of Mars they arrived in the correct location, but the wrong time, and why they appear to return to Earth in The Android Invasion. It doesn’t, however, explain why the Doctor was on hand to help out in The Seeds of Doom.

Philip Hinchcliffe has gone to great lengths in interviews to explain that he doesn’t dislike UNIT, and would have been happy to keep on using them once a year, but it seems things worked against him. Certainly Nicholas Courtney’s availability became an issue, so in this season twice he’s replaced by a lesser character while the Brigadier is in Geneva. Intentionally or not, this serves to phase UNIT out. In The Android Invasion the only regular UNIT character is Benton, and Harry, and in The Seeds of Doom there’s not a single UNIT character previously known. It’s a shame in some ways. The Brigadier got a lovely final scene in Terror of the Zygons, although they did not know it would be at the time, but poor Benton doesn’t get a goodbye scene at all in The Android Invasion. The last we see him he’s knocked unconscious and replaced by an android duplicate – he could be dead for all we know. Another character who doesn’t get a goodbye scene is Harry – a companion! If he hadn’t been brought back for a needless role in The Android Invasion, then his final scene in Terror of the Zygons would have served as a lovely send-off (alongside the Brigadier). Alas, nobody knew that The Android Invasion would be the last appearance of either Benton or Harry, and both simply never appear again. No goodbye, no fond farewell.

This is the season that people think of when they talk ‘gothic’. With the exception of The Android Invasion (which is a horrible, although fun, throwback to the Pertwee era), every story this season screams gothic horror, and as a result we have five of the strongest stories ever seen in Doctor Who. Very strong scripts, with cracking dialogue, great performances (some of the best guest stars ever!), interesting direction… the list of accolades goes on. Of course, nothing is perfect, and despite being a very interesting idea and a well directed piece, I find Planet of Evil extremely dull to watch. I can’t place my finger on why, but it’s the one story this season that makes me want to sleep while I watch it. Even The Android Invasion is fun to watch, and it’s easily the weakest script Doctor Who has had in years – insane plot holes, motives that make no sense, over-reliance on coincidences, another self-mining of ideas from Terry Nation, and a direction that is competent and safe, and as such it stands out among one of the best directed seasons ever. But for all that it is great fun to watch. Every actor in the show gives it their best, there’s some wonderful location work, but none of this can hide the glaring plot issues. Still, among such greats as Terror of the Zygons, Pyramids of Mars, Brain of Morbius and The Seeds of Doom it was never going to stand out as a great example of Doctor Who. It would have been at home in seasons ten or eleven, but at this point, it just feels like a mis-step and a redundant throwback to an era well and truly over.

Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen continue to shine, going from strength to strength, developing the closest and most enjoyable Doctor/Companion dynamic since the Second Doctor and Jamie, if not the best yet. When, in The Seeds of Doom, the Doctor says ‘this is Sarah Jane Smith. She’s my best friend’, you do not question it. Arguably for the first time ever, the companion really is a friend. Before us are two people who love each other’s company, and have no intention of splitting up. Alas, all good things must end, and soon it will be ‘time’ for the Doctor and Sarah… But not just yet. Three years and they are going strong.

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Sarah and the Doctor. Ultimate team!

Now, for the first time since beginning this rewatch I honestly can’t pick a favourite. I’ve tried, but I cannot pick between three titles. Every time I try, I think of another reason why each of them are so damn good. So, these are my least favourites…

  • Planet of Evil
  • The Android Invasion
  • The Brain of Morbius

Which leaves these three as equal best:

13

Edited to add:

The above was posted five years ago, and right now I’m in the midst of another entire rewatch (with an added five years worth of televised Doctor Who, including associated spin-offs produced since 1987 – the first of which is coming up).

My views largely remain the same, although the least favourite stories of the season have switched places. This time around I’m watching the stories episodically, the way they were intended to be watched, in an attempt to view them afresh and, hopefully, to reassess those stories I’ve never really been overkeen on. It has largely worked out well, highlighting the strengths of some stories I’ve always found dull and plodding, while it’s highlighted the weaknesses of stories that feel fun and speedy when watched in one sitting.

This leads me the new line-up, although once again I honestly cannot choose between the winning three. Each has great strengths and very little weaknesses.

So, my 2020 list of season 13 is thus:

  • The Android Invasion
  • Planet of Evil
  • The Brain of Morbius
  • Terror of the Zygons/Pyramids of Mars/The Seeds of Doom

SEEKER, chapters 1-5

Some time ago I revised my novel, Seeker, for publication by Candy Jar Books. (It will be released in a new paperback format soon – just working out the details.) And after seeing the way people are struggling with the isolation brought on by the Coronavirus outbreak, I made the decision to release the book digitally in the meantime. And completely free!

So, one chapter at time, I’m giving you all access to the book. For a limited time. It won’t be here forever, but it will be here for a short while. Thus far chapters one to five have been released, and they’re all collected below.

Please enjoy and spread the word.

And, be safe.

Seeker_Chapter One FREE

Seeker Chapter Two FREE

Seeker Chapter Three FREE

Seeker Chapter Four FREE

Seeker Chapter Five FREE

In It Together

It’s been so long.

Like really long. Nigh on five years since I posted anything on this blog. A lot has happened since then. Back then it hadn’t even been a year since the Lethbridge-Stewart range was launched – indeed, it had only been just over three months. Wow! And now it’s been over five years. Fives years, twenty-five novels, seven short story collections, four novellas, and a spin-off series for young adults, later. That’s an insane amount of work in five years.

I didn’t write all of it. Indeed, I can count the novels I wrote on one hand. It’d take a couple more hands to add the short stories, and a country of hands if I included the rewritten and brand new scenes I wrote in every single release.

Fact is, I couldn’t do it alone. And that’s my whole point. A point even more important today, in a time when the entire world is threatened by the expansion of the Coronavirus. Things have escalated in an exponential way – people are dying. All over the world, in their thousands. The expected death toll before a vaccine is found is estimated to be in the millions – all over the world. So, don’t fret too much by that estimate. It’s high – shockingly so, but that’s a worldwide estimate.

But, please, continue to be cautious. The government (certainly in the UK) has made it plain as day. DO NOT GO OUT unless absolutely necessary. It’s difficult, especially with the weather turning out as well as it has. We are, generally, social creatures. We’re solar powered! We love to be out in the sun. We love to interact with each other – but right now the risk isn’t worth it.  Every time you go out, every time you interact with someone new, you risk either contracting the virus or spreading it. Nobody is 100% safe. Nobody.

We are all in this together. Now more than ever. We can’t survive this without everybody obeying the simple rules put in place.

Be safe, be well, be cautious. Be smart.

Season 1 | Season 2 | Seasons 3 & 4 | Seasons 5 | Season 6 | Season 7 | Season 8 | Season 9 | Season 10 | Season 11 | Season 12 | Season 13 |

Season 13

fourthbannerPossibly the best season of the 1970s, which tells you that I clearly loved season thirteen. It’s the second year of Hinchcliffe/Holmes, no longer in the shadow of the successful team of Letts/Dicks. (With one exception, but that’s Hinchcliffe’s fault for asking Letts to direct and Nation to write a script.) But I digress…READ MORE!

Doctor Who Re-watch – Season 12

Season 1 | Season 2 | Seasons 3 & 4 | Seasons 5 | Season 6 | Season 7 | Season 8 | Season 9 | Season 10 | Season 11 | Season 12 |

Season 12

fourthbannerA brand new era begins with the arrival of Tom Baker and it is, in my view, one that out stayed its welcome. Even today, ask almost anybody to describe the Doctor and it’s Tom Baker they describe… despite the popularity and presence of David Tennant and Matt Smith, Tom Baker is still widely regarded as the Doctor. I’m not sure if I’d agree, but I do feel that Baker owned the role for so long that he had something of a schizophrenic time, many eras within his era. For me, the best three years of Doctor Who are those produced by Philip Hinchcliffe and Robert Holmes, and they start with season twelve.

Read MORE

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Doctor Who Re-Watch – Season 11

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Season eleven… Such a breath of fresh air. And just in time, too. It’s the end of an era – an era that had two beginnings, and quickly settled into something very cosy and safe. Yet, back in the early ‘70s, an era that was incredibly popular. Alas, all good things come to an end, and now Jon Pertwee plays his final game… MORE

Doctor Who re-watch – Season Ten

Season 10

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I’m alive!

Which may seem an odd thing to say, as I’m obviously typing this, but honestly, I’m finally at a point in Doctor Who where I am a living person. Only two months old, mind, when episode one of The Three Doctors was transmitted, but alive nonetheless! Woo! So, onto the review… Um. First of all, despite all protestations to the contrary, The Three Doctors is not the tenth anniversary story. For one thing it began transmission just under a year before the tenth anniversary, and season ten itself finished transmitting a good five months before the anniversary. If anything, it’s a celebration of nine years. Sorry, but it is. Who celebrates a birthday eleven months early?

Read MORE

DOCTOR WHO RE-WATCH – SEASON NINE

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Season nine, it starts of very well. And, for the first time since the Third Doctor appeared, it feels like a follow on from the previous season, instead of another slight reboot. Although this feeling doesn’t last very long… see more

Nicholas Courtney Memorial

brigadierGuys and gals, we need your help! We, at Candy Jar Books, are in the process of putting together a brand new website for Lethbridge-Stewart. One section will be a memorial where fans and professionals can share their memories and pictures of the late, great Nicholas Courtney, the man behind the Brigadier.

If you have a story, or a picture, to share, then please email them to me on andy@candyjarbooks.co.uk (subject: Nick Courtney Memories). Look forward to hearing from you.  🙂

DOCTOR WHO RE-WATCH – SEASON EIGHT

Previously: season 1 | season 2 | seasons 3/4 | season 5 | season 6 | season 7

I have much to say about season eight, say you may want to grab a cuppa and get comfortable. For a start, it almost feels like a completely different show. I don’t think it’s a bad thing, though, since Doctor Who has survived for so long because of its ability to renew itself from time to time. But this is a different kind of reshaping.

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Season Eight line-up: The Master, The Doctor, Jo Grant, The Brigadier

Most of the elements that made the previous season such a success are still here, only the tone of the show is so different that it feels like everything has completely changed. The Doctor is still working alongside UNIT, only now he seems quite comfortable in his position. He says he’s trying to repair his TARDIS, and we do see him working on it, but there’s no sense of urgency to his desire to leave Earth – even though he does take a couple of opportunities to escape the planet as soon they present themselves. Each time he ends up back on Earth, and despite his words, his tone and smile implies that he’s really not bothered. If the Doctor’s attitude has changed since we last saw him, then so has UNIT’s. They seem much more relaxed as an organisation – cosy, to use a word that’s bandied about a lot when talking about the Pertwee era. And it’s true. The Brigadier is no longer the only regular officer; he now has Captain Yates as his second, and Sergeant Benton truly becomes a series regular this season. There’s an attempt to extend the ‘UNIT family’ a little further with the introduction of Corporal Bell in The Mind of Evil, but alas she only appears in one more story. Which is a shame. We don’t see much of her character, but it stands to reason that the HQ staff would be the same story by story, and so having familiar faces around makes sense. Alas, beyond the Brigadier, Yates and Benton all we have is the Doctor and Jo. Oh yes, Jo.

Now, I like Jo. Always have. It’s very easy to develop a soft spot for her. She’s so sweet, initially quite naïve, but over time she wins you over with her honesty and obviously love for the Doctor. But her introduction helps to soften up the whole UNIT scenario, adding a very human face to the organisation and serves to anchor the Doctor to Earth even more (curiously doing the exact opposite to what the production team wanted – they were very keen on getting the Doctor off Earth again!). But she’s no Liz. Which is a shame, as I mentioned in the previous season review. I liked the new dynamic, of the Doctor actually having a companion (or assistant, really, in Liz’s case) who was an adult, someone with their own mind and own objectives. Our first bona fide adult companion since Ian & Barbara left. Yes, I know Steven was an adult, but he wasn’t really written in any way equal to the Doctor, whereas Ian & Barbara were never second fiddle to the Doctor, and likewise neither was Liz. But Jo… For all her loveliness, she’s not an adult, but a girl in her late teens with an awful lot to learn. And so we’re brought back to the dynamic of Doctor/Companion we’ve seen time and time again. Luckily the chemistry behind Jon Pertwee and Katy Manning is such that this never becomes an issue, and they sell her completely. Initially he’s frustrated by her, as she does her best to prove herself as a valid UNIT agent, but he slowly softens up and warms to her.

The Brigadier has also changed since we last saw him. As I pointed out, in season seven he very clearly kept the Doctor around for his own purposes. There was no actual friendship between them. But from the outset of this season you can see a friendship there. Sure, it’s still charged at times, a mutual frustration between the two men, both of whom think they’re in charge, but there’s a nice sense of familiarity that wasn’t really there before. Again, this rather suggest a lot transpired between seasons. Another thing I’ve realised about the Brigadier – he really doesn’t believe a word the Doctor has said about the TARDIS or his travels through time. At this point he just accepts what the Doctor says, but really thinks the man is just an eccentric alien, a brilliant one at that, who happens to own a police box. The first time the Brigadier actually sees the TARDIS is in the lab in Spearhead from Space, and he doesn’t even witness it materialise (with a pop! for some reason) until Colony in Space (which is, in narrative terms, at least six years after he first learned of the TARDIS in The Web of Fear). And the Doctor’s line to Jo just after returning from the future says it all; the Brigadier would never believe where they’ve been. As we later learn, the Brigadier really has little idea of what really exist inside the box. I suspect the Brigadier even believes the Doctor built the console while at UNIT.

This season is also notable for introducing the Master to the series. Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks decided the Doctor needed his own Moriarty – a mirror opposite. And so the Master was created, another Time Lord in a similar mould to the War Chief from The War Games. (It’s of no surprise that a large section of fandom believe them to the be the same character – they certainly share a lot of similarities, alas the War Chief may be aware of the Doctor, but it’s very clear from their initial dialogue that the two men have never actually met before The War Games.) The Master is an old friend of the Doctor who is out for universal domination and to just generally cause problems for the Doctor. The only downside with the Master as a recurring villain in season eight is the ease with which he has always beaten, and how often he had to team up with the Doctor to defeat the aliens he brings to Earth. This does somewhat weaken him, and suggests, as many commentators have said over the years, that it’s just some game between the Doctor and the Master. With hindsight, Dicks and Letts have gone on record to say they believe having the Master in every story of season eight was a mistake. There was a time I agreed with them, until this rewatch. I’ve found, to my surprise, that it actually works and creates the first proper season arc since the first season (in which the arc was the Doctor trying to return Ian & Barbara home). The ongoing story of UNIT being on the watch-out for the Master adds a nice layer to the season, creating nice sense of continuity between the stories, given it an almost Nu Who feel. Unfortunately, Colony in Space rather spoils that, other than the bookend scenes with the Brigadier in which he mentions they’re following up reports on Master sightings. Taking the Doctor from UNIT at that point, in the middle of such an arc, only succeeds in damaging the pace of the ongoing story, and when the Master happens to turn up on the same planet… Well, it makes no logical sense at all, and just feels so contrived. With the Master being captured by UNIT at the end of The Dæmons they create a sense of completion, leaving the viewers feeling that that we really have followed a season long story. One with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Just a pity Colony in Space exists in the season, really.

A word on the ratings. They were high! Better than Doctor Who has had in a very long time, and by far the most consistently rated series in about four years. Whether you like the ‘dumbing down’ of UNIT and the softening of the tone, and I’m still in two minds about it since I adore season seven’s tone, there’s no doubt that what Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks did was create a very successful formula that secured Doctor Who as a real hit once again.

A quick mention of links to the Lethbridge-Stewart series of books (because, you know, it’s how I make my living)… In The Daemons the Doctor points out the Brigadier would have made a good accountant, and later the Brig says he should have run a bank instead. All this suggests the Brigadier is very good with numbers, which makes perfect sense as the Lethbridge-Stewart books reveal he did originally train to be a maths teacher. Another subtle link is the final scene of season eight, reportedly written by Richard Franklin and Nicholas Courtney themselves, in which Yates jokingly asks the Brig if he wants a dance, to which the Brigadier says he’d rather a pint. And thus why, when he arrives in Bledoe in The Forgotten Son, the first thing he does is say he could do with a pint. And, of course, the Brigadier’s lack of belief in half of what the Doctor says is echoed in the Lethbridge-Stewart books: ‘Really, Miss Travers, next thing you know you’ll be expecting a police box to turn up, too.’ Lethbridge-Stewart could tell Miss Travers was disappointed with his response, but he still wasn’t convinced by the idea of time travel, regardless of what Professor Travers had once told him.

And so to the countdown. Well, to be honest choosing a worst and best is incredibly easy. I have a little more trouble with the middle stories (well, second and third best), and they may well change next time I watch it. From worst (and, I’m sorry, but I can’t say least favourite as Colony in Space is just a very dull story, with very little to recommend it) to best, then:

  • Colony in Space
  • Terror of the Autons
  • The Claws of Axos
  • The Dæmons

Which makes the winner…

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