Season 26 Overview
By Stuart Brown
It has been more than four years since this season was shown on New Zealand television and time enough has passed to reflect on the final and arguably one of the greatest seasons of Doctor Who ever. During Season 26 we are confronted with the 'Dark Doctor' - one who seems to know what's going on before we do - and then in due course reveals that he orchestrated the whole thing. Occasionally his plans go out of control, as in Ghost Light. The Seventh Doctor is a direct contrast to previous incarnations that might blunder into the situation, solve the problem and then leave. This Doctor is likely to have some degree of control over the situation even prior to his entrance.
Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred are both comfortable with their roles, developing and evolving their characters - the on-screen chemistry between them is at an all time high. We learn a great deal about the Doctor's past and future - he has had prior dealings with Fenric and the Master as well as future dealings with Morgaine and Mordred. The enemies encountered in this season are varied - Morgaine, her son Mordred and the drooling Destroyer, Josiah and Light, Fenric and the Haemovores, the Master and the Cat People.
Ace is manipulated by the Doctor until The Curse of Fenric where they become equals with Ace's 'cleansing' jump into the sea. The TARDIS plays a minor role, basically dropping the Doctor and Ace off at the beginning and picking them up at the end. With a season that re-injects some mystery into Doctor Who it is unusual that the TARDIS wasn't utilized to a fuller extent.
The season's opener has an emphasis on action scenes although an intricate plot still remains. Many battles occur between knights. In many cases, words are exchanged rather then physical blows. There are many plot elements - Excalibur, the Doctor's future, a parallel Earth, the Arthurian legend and the return of UNIT and the Brigadier. The UNIT team worked well with the Brigadiers Lethbridge-Stewart and Bambera, and Sergeant Zbrigniev. The strong-minded Bambera is an adequate replacement for Lethbridge-Stewart and her witty banter added some much needed humour.
Much of the Arthurian tradition and legend was retained and interwoven into the story. Morgaine is a particularly well-rounded character, with her respect for the monument to soldiers fallen in war and her complete disregard for good and evil with the draining and death of the helicopter pilot and the restoration of sight to the innkeeper's wife. Mordred is shunned by his mother - albeit temporarily - when he dishonours her. The Destroyer was visually quite impressive; anything that can drool that much has my vote of confidence!
Overall a fast-paced action story with ties to the past via UNIT, ties to the future via Morgaine and a strong solid plot that re-injects a lot of interest into the Doctor. Only one question remains - who is the Doctor and what exactly does happen in his future?
Undoubtedly one of the most complex Doctor Who stories - with every event having a purpose even if at first that purpose is not revealed. All the characters are extremely interesting, with each having their own motivation and agenda. As Ace puts it, 'Is this place an asylum with the patients in control?'
The acting was of a very high standard and the oppressive atmosphere and lighting came across well. Light seemed less ethereal than intended, although his presence was felt throughout the story, even prior to his appearance. Ghost Light was a rather fast-paced story with little time to reflect on events. The Doctor was at his enigmatic best with regard to wanting to know about Ace's past for reasons only known to him. It seemed like he was testing Ace by placing her into situations she could only just cope with - and in doing so was building up her character, making her stronger. We know things are getting out of control when the Doctor mutters the classic line 'Even I can't play this many games at once.'
I loved the effect of Gwendoline and Mrs Pritchard being turned to stone. The storyline may confuse viewers on a first screening but repeated viewing will gradually reveal bits that were missed at first. Another feature that Ghost Light is notable for is the fact that the story is not all spelt-out via the companion in the mold of 'What do we do now, Doctor?' or 'I don't understand.' This allows the viewer to draw their own conclusions, whatever they may be.
A brilliant piece of Doctor Who that deserves all the praise it receives.
The Curse of Fenric
We learn a lot about Ace's family in this story as she meets her mother as a baby and grandmother as a young woman. I loved the look of the Haemovores, the different time periods each came from could be worked out from the period clothing they wore; the waving of fingers and bloodlust. The whole evil they represented showed the extreme malevolence the Doctor was up against. The Ancient Haemovore was also very realistic.
The idea of faith as a weapon was original; it is not so much what you believe in but the fact that you do believe at all.
The musical score is excellent and fits in perfectly with the rest of the story. It is no wonder that Mark Ayres' score was the first complete Doctor Who soundtrack to be released. It evokes the fear and terror elements of the story especially well.
Doctor Judson's amazement at Ace's understanding of the 'flip-flop thingy' was humorous and when she mentioned computer studies you could almost hear his mind tick into overdrive. The Doctor manipulates Ace for the final time during Fenric and her 'cleansing' by jumping into the ocean was symbolic of this - at this point the Doctor and Ace could be viewed as equals rather then mentor and pupil.
It was a pity that the reason for Judson's wheelchair was not revealed as it could have added slightly to plot, perhaps in the form of a flashback. The whole chess sub-game tied Fenric into Silver Nemesis and indicated that Lady Peinforte may have been another of Fenric's pawns.
The gradual build-up of the action made a slight contrast to the rest of Season 26 - especially Battlefield where the action begins almost immediately. The Doctor's bluffing of the guards and forging of official documents to get to where he wants to be is reminiscent of previous Doctors. This reinforces the point that this Doctor is definitely the same 'being'.
The elements of gradual action buildup, Russian troops, English troops, Haemovores and Fenric all add up and combine in a tightly packed story which throws more light on the Doctor's past. It would be interesting to see a Missing Adventure by Ian Briggs detailing the events of the Doctor's prior encounter with Fenric.
This story ends the final season of Doctor Who so far, leaving the series on a high note - an okay story (although the others of the season were better), and an almost perfect characterisation of the Doctor and Ace. The conversion of Ace into a Cat Person was chilling and made things a lot more interesting, providing the story with a sense of urgency.
Survival has been criticised for being nothing more then an over-glorified character study; it is slightly more character-orientated then previous stories but others have been more effects and action orientated than this so it deserves the recognition of attempting something new.
The Master was in fine form being his usual devious self, though his erosion of his will by the Cheetah planet was ironic - he often boasted in the past about his mental prowess. Midge made an excellent convert of the Master.
The animatronic cat was less then spectacular; it looked too much like a puppet! The guest stars of Hale and Pace lightened things up slightly. The idea of the planet being linked to the Cheetah People in that the more they fight the more it destroys itself was interesting in that as they regress into savagery the planet would eventually blow up: 'If we fight like animals we die like animals'.
Overall a story which while maybe not as fast or intellectual as previous stories is enjoyable and examines the characters in the light of the present. As the final Doctor Who story it leaves the mythos wide open to be added to - here's hoping that it happens some time soon.
This item appeared in TSV 43 (March 1995).