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Twentieth Season Review

By Richard Scheib

The opener Arc of Infinity was the major disappointment, primarily through a confused screenplay that failed to integrate its myriad subplots. What I failed to see was how Omega could be on Earth while having no physical existence? This Omega bore no resemblance to the old one, more like some cast-off H.R.Giger rip-off from a low budget Alien cash-in. Nevertheless there were some decent points - Colin Baker's appearance as Maxil was a better performance than his whole term as the Doctor. Michael Gough from any of a hundred glorious B-budget horror films of the fifties and sixties was great, if a little obviously the villain. And it was good to see Tegan back and the Holland locations were put to good use.

Snakedance followed in the series line of bringing back old companions and villains. This, the follow-up to Kinda, shares some of the same problems as Arc of Infinity. The original episode has the edge, the new Mara doesn't look any like the original and this seems to contradict the first story - there the Mara was destroyed by mirrors, here it uses them all over the place to materialize. I wasn't really impressed with until the final episode where it picked up into some reasonably interesting Carlos Castenada-ish mind trips. It was also a really well scored episode.

Mawdryn Undead particularly impressed me with its complex multi-layered script. The second episode, particularly with the introduction of the two Brigadiers, held some really fascinating plotting and characterisation. I liked this episode a lot, although one thing I did not like was Turlough. Although his whinging and cowering was toned down in the following stories it was particularly grating here. I also found the lack of explanation of his extra-terrestrial origin irritating.

Terminus was an average story enlivened by one or two things - chiefly Sarah Sutton's lack of clothing. The whole season seems to have been a competition to see how little the costume designers could get her into episode by episode, a move I'm all in favour of. A shame that she didn't stay on longer. The plot was fairly average, another "What cosmological event shall we have the Doctor and companions cause this story?" Having caused the creation of all life on Earth (City of Death), the destruction of the dinosaurs (Earthshock) and the creation of the universe not once but twice over (here and the radio serial Slipback), maybe an investigation into the possibility of God having taken on the form of the Doctor could be a good subject for an exegesis. There were a number of good things tucked away throughout - the first episode was particularly good at creating a haunted ship atmosphere with ghostly empty corridors, shuffling zombies and arms grabbing around the corner of doors in one wildly surreal moment. There was good characterisation, particularly in Tegan and Turlough's opening distrust - "Friends?" "Not yet," - and in Nyssa's goodbye scenes, opening up the humanitarian side of a character who was never particularly well enough explored for my liking. One thing I didn't really like was the dopey costumes - the dumb white knickerbockers, capes and plastic rayguns of the pirates went out with Flash Gordon, and the radiation suits seemed the most impractical design one could ever come up with.

Enlightenment was the most interesting story of the whole season. I found the Eternals the most fascinating aliens on the series for quite some time. The cerebral mystery built up around them and their powers was really most unusual and worked on a dazzlingly eerie level unlike most of the bombastics that surround these god-like powers episodes e.g.The Hand of Fear, The Greatest Show In The Galaxy. Particularly interesting was the strange relationship that developed between Tegan and Marriner. The sailing ships in space added a nice poetic visual touch, even if the series didn't have the special effects to carry it off with real majesty. I feel that the story didn't quite make a successful enough interpolation of the image - for example I can't really see the purpose of having oars in space. The story went downhill with the introduction of Captain Wrack and Lynda Baron's campy overplaying which destroyed the nicely cerebral and eerily offbeat mood that the foregoing stories had created. Although it did pick up in the last episode with the philosophical choice that Turlough had to make which was most impressively put, quite unlike anything the series had ever done before. Good to see Janet Fielding in plunging neckline and making a brief - if not entirely successful - attempt at being a redhead.

The King's Demons was quite good. I liked the character of Kamelion, although the makeup job was hardly enough to do it justice. Also good was the authentic looking historical detail, creating a dark and gloomy Middle Ages, far better than the tawdry period recreations of episodes like The Time Warrior. The story could have done with another episode at least to keep some of the story complications in the second episode from getting so compacted. But on the whole it worked. Anthony Ainley is always good value, although it would be interesting some day if his and the Doctor's encounters wouldn't always synchronously follow each other's time-lines i.e. that the Doctor would encounter the Master at an earlier or later period than he has before.

This item appeared in TSV 13 (May 1989).

Index nodes: Season 20, Arc of Infinity, Snakedance, Mawdryn Undead, Terminus, Enlightenment, The King's Demons