Reviewed by Paul Scoones
The following article is a criticism of the production season that screened in Britain in 1985, from 5 January to 29 March. As with my review of Season 23 in TSV 1, it might be a good idea to refrain from reading this review if you haven't seen Season 22 yet, unless of course you don't mind a few surprises being spoilt. But as it is now some three years old, you may have already heard all about it even if you haven't seen it.
Season 22, the BBC would have us believe, was the reason Doctor Who was taken off for an 18 month break. As you may have gathered from my review of the only other Colin Baker season, its successor wasn't worth the wait. Season 22 may not have been exactly a masterpiece, and may have been the worst season since Season 17, but it was undeniably better than Season 23.
It's hard to pin down all the faults and plusses of the Twenty Second Season, but the standard of writing was on the most part, a lot better than The Trial of a Time Lord. It was ambitious in that with the exception of two, all the writers were new to Doctor Who. Paula Moore's Attack of the Cybermen was a well-thought out script whose main problem was that like Season 21's Resurrection of the Daleks, it tended to get more than a little bogged down with continuity. Moore plonked her story right on top of the Cyberman stories like The Tenth Planet, The Invasion, The Tomb of the Cybermen, and perhaps more indirectly, one or two others. To incorporate continuing themes from several different stories, and develop a plot of your own is a difficult task for any writer, and consequently one not usually attempted. Attack of the Cybermen might have worked better given another 25 minutes or so, to fully expound all the ideas that were brought in. Few might have realised that the Cybermen in the sewers were left over from The Invasion because there was no time to dwell on this fact. This was also the first story to be made for the 45-minute episode format, and I personally think it's too long. Perhaps I'm being an old conservative, but I much prefer the old 25-minute format. 45 minutes of Doctor Who I think might discourage more than a few viewers from sitting through it, and this may have contributed somewhat to the downturn in ratings that occurred in Britain.
One of the best things about Attack of the Cybermen was not the Cybermen (which were far too vulnerable), or the action (mostly unnecessarily graphic violence), but the characters and the settings. The exterior scenes on Telos were ones you could believe in, and even the 76 Totters Lane location was a nice touch, even if somewhat obscure for most viewers, not to mention totally irrelevant to the plot. You did get a sense, however, as the Doctor wandered around London, that he wasn't quite yet himself, as if the post- regenerative influences had outlasted The Twin Dilemma. Peri proved to be at her most obnoxious in this season, and I'm sure Nicola Bryant felt more than a little frustrated at the treatment her character was given by the writers. The character that really shone out of this story though, was Commander Lytton. Yes, I know he can't act in Howards' Way, but Maurice Colbourne put such a lot into the Lytton character, and it shows. The point where it becomes evident just whose side he's really on was a superb twist, and the closing scenes, as the Time Lord embarks on his desperate mission to save the mercenary was truly touching. Unfortunately, Lytton cannot be saved, and in a scene almost paralleling the Earthshock finale, where Davison's Doctor realises that Adric is doomed and destroys the Cyberman deputy with real anger, the Sixth Doctor does likewise here, diving to the floor in CyberControl, snatching up a Cyberman's blaster weapon and firing on his cybernetic foes. This was the only piece of violence in Attack of the Cybermen necessary to the plot, and yet it was perhaps the most shocking.
John Nathan-Turner's talk of finding new and original ways to kill a Cyberman when this story was made leads me to suspect that much of the violence content of this serial wasn't in the original script. Violent it was; the Doctor himself disarming, and likely killing Lytton's 'policemen', Bates and Stratton massacring one Cyberman after another, and the somewhat pointless deaths of Griffiths and Russell, not to mention the Cybermen torturing Lytton. Apparently, the 'Cybermassacre' scene from The Five Doctors had been so popular with viewers that John Nathan-Turner had resolved to produce an entire 'Cybermassacre' story. Attack of the Cybermen certainly was that, but at what cost?
Before I saw the second story of Season 22, 1 had built up an idea, through reading articles, letters and reviews, that Vengeance on Varos was going to be something rather special. "Ninety minutes of the most enjoyable and interesting entertainment seen on television in a long time," was how one reviewer put it, and others described the serial as "superb", "fantastic" and other compliments. Sil was reckoned to be the second-best villain of the season (after the Rani) in the Marvel Magazine survey, and come fourth on Favourite Monster. My anticipation of this story was great indeed; having seen it, I wonder what all the fuss was about. Philip Martin may be a good all-round writer for television and radio, but his ideas about how to write a Doctor Who serial are somewhat limited. There is little to distinguish Vengeance on Varos from Mindwarp, Martin's segment of The Trial of a Time Lord. It didn't help having the same director, Ron Jones, on both stories.
Looking at the good points, Vengeance on Varos was intended as a moral story: here we have a society who watch real life violence on their video screens, and accept it as part of everyday life. It was a very Orwellian vision, and the Arak/Etta scenes were actually very effective and original. Shame the same couldn't be said for the rest of the story. In my opinion, it was far too long; the message of Vengeance on Varos could have easily come across in a story half its length. But, that would have meant cutting out many of the highly unnecessary scenes, including cutting down the somewhat overly graphic scenes of violence. It was, I suspect, in some ways a 'vehicle' of sorts for JNT to have a nasty violent story on the pretext that it advocates non-violent attitudes. No one was fooled. Sil was a dead loss also. I don't know what anyone saw in the ridiculous creature to have it return in Mindwarp. Sil lacked any sort of evil or menace, and he was just embarrassing, a gurgling pathetic slug, no better than the equally-dreadful Mestor of The Twin Dilemma. Lastly, wasn't the Doctor supposed to be promoting non-violence on Varos? I cite one of many examples where he failed to do so by his pushing of the Varos guards into the acid berth. No wonder the message got lost. And what was the significance of the title? Where was the vengeance? If anyone knows please let me know!
The Mark of the Rani was a little better, in its location filming and historic setting more than anything else. The much acclaimed Rani was nearly as disappointing as Sil when I finally got to see her but she worked as an effective foil to the now tired concept of the Master. The climax of Peter Grimwade's Planet of Fire, incidentally, is virtually ruined by this story. Having seen Anthony Ainley's two return appearances since the Master's death on Sarn, I cannot but wish that it had been more permanent. The Mark of the Rani was a weak script, with more than a few flaws, and I am left wondering whatever made JNT invite Pip and Jane Baker to write over a third of The Trial of a Time Lord, plus Time and the Rani, or bring back Kate O'Mara's character. Hopefully, and I feel like I'm clutching at straws, the Bakers' McCoy debut script will be their first really good one?
Although fourth out of six stories in Season 22, The Two Doctors was the last one I saw. In fact, it was the last Colin Baker story I had yet to see until shortly before writing this article, and frankly, I was somewhat concerned. Those who know me are aware that Colin Baker is my least favourite Doctor, but I was concerned that the short Sixth Doctor era would slip by without a single really good story to its name. The Two Doctors is by far the best story of the entire Colin Baker era. I'm not sure that I'd go so far as to rate it as a classic, though, as it's not Robert Holmes' best effort, but it is by no means his worst, either. From the opening scene in Patrick Troughton's original TARDIS with the colour fading into the scene, to the Doctors' departure scene with the quip about the vegetarian diet, it was a joy to watch, above all the filming done around the Hacienda and in Seville. The Doctor was for once true to his old nature as he figured out the best way to rescue his previous incarnation from the house. Frazer Hines' Jamie proved to be as good a companion as ever, if a little different to his 1960s version. His scenes with Peri and the sixth Doctor were absolutely delightful, especially as they rated around the sunny streets of Seville in a manner that brought to mint the Doctor, Romana and Duggan's dash through Paris in City of Death, and the Doctor, Nyssa and Tegan doing the same thing in Amsterdam in Arc of Infinity.
The Androgums, Shockeye and Chessene, were interesting creations, even if Shockeye's obsession with food was overdone somewhat to the point where it was almost sick in addition to wanting to eat Peri and Jamie, he also chews on a rat and contemplates Sontaran flesh. Dastari was perhaps a bit 2-dimensional whereas all the others were well-rounded characters in true Holmesian tradition, but his moment came with that excellent camera shot in the courtyard of the hacienda, where he is standing in the background, broken and disillusioned, whilst his 'creation', Chessene, eagerly laps up the Doctor's blood from the step - isn't it interesting that every time the Doctor is seriously wounded, it's a Robert Holmes story. Co-incidence? Think of Spearhead from Space, The Deadly Assassin, The Caves of Androzani... Talking of Holmes, it was great to see the Sontarans making a long-awaited return appearance. I am generally critical of JNT's high number of monster-returning stories of late, but The Two Doctors is one story where the monsters have been done final justice. They are no less easy to kill, and even their probic vents are not so vulnerable. Stike and Varl were some of the best Sontarans we have seen. Another good character was Oscar Botcherby, played with such feeling by James Saxon, but the one who stole the show was of course one of my two favourite Doctors (the other being Davison), Patrick Troughton. If he'd been in every single scene of The Two Doctors it wouldn't have been nearly enough. As it was, we had to savour what we got, but it was nice to see the story start out as if it were a Troughton story alone. I rather suspect we will never see the likes of The Two Doctors again; the two men that undoubtedly made this serial great, Patrick Troughton and Robert Holmes, have since passed away, but the serial remains as a great reminder of their work.
From the best to the worst for Season 22 - after the best story of the season, the next was without a doubt, the worst. Nothing seemed to go right for Timelash. The cast, the sets, the writing, the direction... it was all terrible. There's not lot I can say about Timelash; I watched it once, and don't intend to again for at least a long time. Yes, it was a nice idea to use the character of Herbert George Wells, but the actor or the written part hardly did the great man credit, and obvious potential to provide inspiration for Well's novels was all but completely neglected. Timelash should have been a collection of themes from the HG Wells novels, science fiction or otherwise, but instead it was a poorly-thought-out, over length, very much padded and cliched script.
Glen McCoy must rank as one of the least successful writers new to Doctor Who in recent years. Director Pennant Roberts also did a poor job; I have never liked Roberts as a director his track record on Doctor Who, starting with The Face of Evil, isn't particularly impressive as many of his stories faced major difficulties in production. They include The Sun Makers, Warriors of the Deep, The Pirate Planet, and the ill-fated Shada. The cast of Timelash left a lot to be desired, with no one being particularly outstanding in any way whatsoever; usually one or two actors if not more put a lot into their roles, but even 'guest star' Paul Darrow (Avon in Blake's 7) was, to put it bluntly, absolutely pathetic. That may upset some Blake's 7 fans, but it had to be said. The actor himself admitted that he hadn't taken the part seriously. If Doctor Who was ever put on as an amateur stage production, you might expect this sort of standard, but not from the BBC. Presumably The Two Doctors soaked up most of the Timelash budget, causing it to be made on the cheap. It joins The Gunfighters and The Horns of Nimon as one of the worst stories in the history of Doctor Who.
At the risk of being exterminated by Dalek fans, I have to confess that I am somewhat bored of the Daleks. For years now, they have failed to interest me; ever since I first saw Destiny of the Daleks in fact. I for one will not cry if the BBC decides never to make another Dalek serial again. That said, the final story of Season 22 was Revelation of the Daleks, Eric Saward's last script to date for Doctor Who, and in my opinion perhaps his worst. It was too slow moving, and overly padded, I felt, as well as being a steal of Evelyn Waugh's very funny novel, The Loved One. It was better than Timelash or Vengeance on Varos, and perhaps even The Mark of the Rani, but it was by no means the highlight of the season. As with Vengeance on Varos, the meaning of the title is somewhat obscure, although there is a revelation about the Daleks, although anyone with half a brain would guess it five minutes into the programme, whereas I'm not sure where the vengeance is.
Terry Molloy's Davros was just as raving mad as he was in Resurrection of the Daleks, although with his hand shot off and being taken back to Skaro to stand trial for his crimes against the Daleks (a Dalek trial?) presumably means we have seen the last of Davros. He was never quite as good as the Genesis of the Daleks version. As for the other characters, Alexei Sayle's DJ was somewhat moronic, as was Tasambeker and the creepy Jobel was little better. The best characters were William Gaunt's Orcini in a very Don Quixote role, Eleanor Bron as Kara, and Hugh Walters as Vogel. Those three were almost like Robert Holmes creations, but the rest of the large cast was not.
The location filming was well done; especially the fight in the snow - no polystyrene here, folks! The special effects were also very good, especially the glass Dalek, not to mention the gruesome makeup of the mutant, the interesting set designs, and the excellent filming by Graeme Harper - all in all, an uneven end to a very uneven season of Doctor Who.
This item appeared in TSV 3 (October 1987).