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Season 21

Reviewed by Richard Scheib

After the incredibly high standards set by the first two Davison seasons, Season 21 proved somewhat of a disappointment, a lapse into stories that weren't bad but stayed in a middling range of banality. The middle of the season suffered, as well from a change of identity as the entire continuing line-up did an about-change.

Warriors of the Deep was the low-point of the season if I was to point at any. The story wasn't bad, just a little too thin for its so-so initial ideas. But all the creatures were appalling - Silurians who somehow seem to have crossbred with Daleks and ended up flashing light-bulbs in their foreheads and grating mechanical voices. The faces of the Sea Devils were, as usual, rather too much like puppy-dogs to seem effectively threatening monsters, especially when here they seemed to be made of the same material as the plastic doggy poo one buys in joke shops. As to the Myrka, I can hardly stop laughing to find phrases to describe it - how about, the leftover two-person donkey costumes in high-school stage productions do a more convincing job.

The Awakening didn't really have enough time to get interesting. The type of plot seemed more a leftover from Sapphire and Steel, reusing bits and pieces from elsewhere - the village scenes being particularly reminiscent of The Daemons. I liked parts - the Will character was good, even if there was no proper explanation of how he came to the 20th Century. The idea of Tegan as the May Queen was so delightfully incongruous it was adorable.

We come to Frontios and at last a decent episode. It was a plot that held a number of good ideas even if the story didn't quite manage to balance their execution. A very interesting new alien race, even if they were designed as ludicrously as the Myrka was bad. There were lapses at times, but the situation on the planet and the nicely downbeat art direction held one's interest and Peter Davison had some nicely sharpened one-liners. The Plantagenet character was played with bold strength, although his relegation to secondary status halfway through was a disappointment. Tegan in a mini-skirt always makes an episode worth watching.

If a decent script editor had pruned and tightened some of the subplots in Resurrection of the Daleks, the episode could have been the highlight of the whole season. There are some wonderful bits in it. The first episode was a very impressive opening - impressive hard-assed characters, sharp editing keeping the action on the station moving non-stop, let down only by the poor modelwork. It went downhill into too many variant subplots in subsequent episodes, the whole 20th Century link never being that well integrated into the rest of the story and the subplots about the Dalek factions made it difficult to work out which side was which at times. Davros was well used, something both Destiny of the Daleks and the subsequent Davros stories have never really managed to do. The Doctor coming to kill Davros was singularly the most fascinating part of the whole story, although his trust in Davros' word bordered on the insanely naive. Tegan's departure was quite touching, making one realise how a character I never particularly liked originally had mellowed and grown into a real person. What I did not like about this story were the clichés. I hate android duplicates plots, both because they are so old hat, just thrown in whenever someone wants espionage work done and because the casual usage demonstrates no idea of the complexity someone would have to go to, to create a mechanical simulacrum that mimics the behaviour of its original.

Planet of Fire was worthwhile, if solely for the fact that the production team went on location to somewhere other than the BBC chalk pits - and it shows like a diamond ring gleaming among a pile of turds. The opening episode is shot with such expansive, scenic beauty one might be mistaken in thinking it a feature film, rather than a low budget TV production. The plot didn't strike me at all, Sarn seems a rather boring society. Peter Wyngarde gives class, even if he does look remarkably like Peter O'Toole. Nicola Bryant is as bad as she has been made out to be - her hesitant, muddled dialogue and petulant whining makes her a spoiled brat. She can't even scream, she just whimpers. She did have one great face off with the Master - "I am the Master", "So what, I'm Perpugilliam Brown and I can shout just as loud as you can" - and at least she fills out a bikini magnificently. I'm all for gratuitous titillation. Anthony Ainley succeeded in giving his worst, most overacted performance as the Master. On the other hand I really like Turlough, who makes some kind of coming to age here. Gone was the cowardly, whimpering schoolboy - it was really surprising to see him stand up, equally surprising to see Mark Strickson not overact. Shame he had to go and make his departure.

While admitting that The Caves of Androzani was the highlight of the season, I must admit to not being as impressed with it as I could have been. I found the first two episodes rather talky, with little action. This story has two of the best cliffhangers I've seen in quite some time at the end of Episodes 1 and 3 (Episode 2's was rather wimpy though), but Episode 1's has to go and turn out to be another damned android duplicate plot. This revelation made it an utterly absurd cop-out to me - you even see the Doctor and Peri saying their last requests. Ah well, I did like it for the elements it borrowed from other places - the whole downbeat political atmosphere was clearly influenced by Blake's Seven, the characters in the story becoming so scheming and double dealing one expected Jacqueline Pierce to walk through the door at any minute. I also thought Sharaz Jek was a great character even if he was clearly based on The Phantom of the Opera (the original film versions, not the wimpy watered-down musical version that everyone is thinking is the greatest thing since sliced bread, while totally ignoring Gaston Leroux, the original creator and Lon Chaney, the original actor in the role). The ending was quite good but then to quote a club member I met in the street - "How can Caves be the best story of the season when Peter Davison turns into yuck!"

Baker's first The Twin Dilemma was better than I expected. The story wasn't too bad. In fact the problems of the unstable Doctor made for some quite interesting moments, if only an actor who could take it seriously had played the role, e.g. Davison. But instead we get someone who blusters and barnstorms about with all the stage-stealing awfulness of a hysterically over-the-hill Shakespearean ham. On the other hand Peri actually seemed bearable and quite decent throughout, primarily because one ended up sorry for her having to put up with a grown man acting like a petulant five-year-old throughout.