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By johnbensalhia, Feb 16 2018 03:38PM


They are part and parcel of keeping Doctor Who alive, both for the character and the programme. It's such a simple notion, but one that works perfectly. When William Hartnell was announced as leaving the show, well, why couldn't a man who travels in a police box change his face? The initial premise may have been cautiously accepted, but in a very short while, that excellent actor Patrick Troughton made the part all his own. The rest as they say is history.

So here then is a quick guide to all the final moments to date of each Doctor. It's time to play the Regeneration Game!


Death by: Old Age

Which Story? The Tenth Planet

Where? The TARDIS

Notable Firsts: Obviously the first regeneration to take place, but it's also the first one to take place in the TARDIS. The strange behaviour of the TARDIS console suggests that it's pushing the regeneration process forward, you could argue.

Signposted? Not so much in the first three episodes – in the final part, something's evidently up with the Doctor, given that he's more frail and older than usual. He says “This old body of mine is wearing a bit thin” at one point, indicating that he knows that it's the end of the line.

Regeneration Rating: For shock value alone, this one scores highly. Up until now, viewers had got used to just one Doctor. The ending of The Tenth Planet then came along to rewrite the rule book – you can imagine 1966 audiences wondering what on Earth happened at the end. If social media had been around then, the likes of Twitter and Facebook would have gone into meltdown.

What could have been feasible is that the change was just a temporary trick. Back in those days, stories ended with cliffhangers – eg: the end of The Ark in which The Doctor becomes invisible led into the Celestial Toymaker's tricks. So the brand new face could just have been a similar sort of hook – in the end, The Power Of The Daleks came along to prove that Doctor Who had changed big time.

For its time, the first regeneration is also effectively achieved. It's a simple cross fade, but done with a flared out video effect (thanks to a dodgy vision mixing gizmo discovered by a lady called Shirley Coward). The build up is also strikingly doomy, with lots of close ups of Hartnell's anguished face and strange, ominous, bleepy noises from the TARDIS console. It's simply done, but still packs quite a wallop today.


Death by: Forced execution in a giant Time Lord tumble dryer

Which story? The War Games

Where? In a strange, kaleidoscopic Time Lord void

Signposted? The conclusion of The War Games is signposted in Episode One, in which three men place the Doctor on trial. General Smythe, Major Barrington and Captain Ransom all find the Doctor guilty (the latter two are hypnotised by the evil Smythe and his dreaded pebble glasses). While he manages to literally dodge a bullet at the end of the first episode of The War Games, he's not so lucky a second time for the tale's cliffhanger when the same thing happens again at the hands of the Time Lords.

The irony is, while the Doctor is found guilty and sentenced to execution, in the last episode, the Time Lords sugar-coat their verdict by accepting the argument that he has a part to play in fighting the good fight throughout the galaxy – even though they effectively kill off his second persona.

Notable firsts: We never see Doctor Two turn into Doctor Three. It's also the first one in which the Doctor is left to regenerate all by himself (see also the 'deaths' of Doctors Seven and Ten). Also the first one to take place without the reassuring comfort of the TARDIS.

Regeneration Rating: The weirdest and the creepiest regeneration of the lot.

Two points to chalk up on the creep factor: One is that the death of Doctor Two is treated in comedic fashion. There's lots of funny face pulling and gurning from the Mighty Trout as multiple copies of his face spin around. He also protests in amusingly comedic fashion that the Time Lords cannot do this to him. It's a bit awkward, given that at the same time, his face is burning up and distorting – rather like one of those tumbleweed moments in which you tell an out-of-place joke in a serious moment.

The second creep factor of Doctor Two's demise is that it's a grim last image as he vainly paws at an empty gap where his head should be, while spiralling off into a dark void. Kids at the time must have been left a bit aghast, to say the least, at such a bleak ending. A memorable Doctor conclusion then, but one that's the strangest and most unsettling of them all.


Death by: Radiation poisoning from the Great One's lair. All thanks to that wretched Metebelis crystal

Which story? Planet Of The Spiders

Where? Home, would you believe? In the Doctor's beloved UNIT laboratory, with only a manky chair cushion to make him feel a bit more comfortable.

Signposted? As many fans have pointed out, the prelude to the story in which Mike Yates blunders into a musty spider's web pre-empts the Doctor walking into the spider's lair near the story's conclusion. In Part Six, we get to hear about how the Doctor's guru changed his face and came to reside in a monastery. K'anpo then takes on the form of Cho-Je, setting things up nicely for a similar change at the end.

Notable firsts: This is the first time that the change of Doctor is actually called Regeneration. It's the first time in which an outside humanoid influence helps to trigger the regeneration process after the Doctor expires before he can actually regenerate. It's also the first time in which time passes between the damage done to the Doctor and his final last breath (see The End Of Time and Twice Upon A Time, in which this notion is taken to extremes).

Regeneration Rating: For fans of the modern regenerations, the change from Jon Pertwee to Tom Baker will undoubtedly disappoint. There are no flashy fireworks, video effects or even over-egged orchestral scores. It's just a simple cross fade from Pertwee's face to Baker's (accompanied by a silly, comedic, wee-wee-wee musical jingle).

But I still say that this is missing the point. The death of Doctor Three is a stark, no-frills passing, and is one of the few times that the ending of the crusading Time Lord actually feels like a genuine bereavement.

Staggering out of the TARDIS, the Doctor's usually coiffed appearance is notably rumpled. His face is deathly pale. His voice is just a barely audible whisper. After he has uttered his last words, Sarah closes his unseeing eyes. It's a brave move to take, and makes for a suitably harrowing curtain call – especially contrasting with the karate chopping man of action. The later Pertwee years are also notable for cranking up the emotion a bit, and the Doctor's last faltering speech is no exception. If you don't have a lump in your throat and a tear in your eye by the time the Doctor's gasped “Where there's life, there's...”, you're probably Lupton.


Death by: A fall from a great big satellite dish

Which story? Logopolis

Where? The Pharos Project on Earth

Signposted? Right from the first part of Logopolis – namely the bit in which the Doctor sees a mysterious white figure looking at him on a freezing Winter's day across a busy motorway. From that point on, the Fourth Doctor knows that his card is marked – hence his increasingly haunted face and crabby temper. Or maybe that's down to having Adric around.

Notable firsts: It's the first time for a trip down memory lane. The Fourth Doctor literally sees his life flash by before his eyes, revisiting old foes and friends barking “Doctor!” at him. It's also the first and only time in which his future self (“He was the Doctor all the time!”) kick starts the regeneration process.

Regeneration Rating: So many things conspire to make the Fourth Doctor's moments a bit laughable. We have a still photo of the Master gurning in the background while the Doctor crawls to the plug on the gantry. We have a very obvious toy Doctor hanging by a thread. Tegan, Adric and Nyssa seem to be looking at three different things as the Doctor plummets to his doom. The Doctor lands on fake grass (perhaps it's the greater height that made the difference, when compared with Doctor Ten's fall into the Naismith mansion). After the Doctor has regenerated, Tegan looks suitably unenthused by this startling transformation that has taken place before her eyes.

Yet despite all these factors, it's hard not to be moved by the last moments of this legendary incarnation. The flashback clips take you on a brief tour of an awesome six and a half years which has produced both many memorable characters and companions. And the sight of the seemingly omnipotent Fourth Doctor battered, unmoving and finally defeated is another moving moment. In the end, quality will out.


Death by: Spectrox Toxaemia

Which story? The Caves Of Androzani

Where? In the TARDIS console room

Signposted? Heavily. The Caves Of Androzani is a notably doomy story that makes a virtue of signposting Doctor Five's death. Already in the first part, he's sentenced to execution under the red cloth. When he's whisked away to safety by Sharaz Jek, the Doctor doesn't have time to break out the champagne, given that that the nasty rash that he picked up after sweeping grim-looking cobwebby stuff from Peri's legs in Part One is now revealed as deadly. Over the course of the next two and a half episodes, the Doctor almost rips his own body to pieces just to accomplish the mission of rescuing a companion that he barely knows.

And of course, near the end of Part Three, the Doctor almost succumbs to regeneration, in that he sees the same pattern that heralds his final demise at the story's end. Because his mission isn't done, he resists the temptation to change – what a trooper!

Notable firsts: See above. The Doctor nearly regenerates, but doesn't. The new Doctor also gets the chance to speak for the first time in a regeneration story. Specially shot floating head cameos also make their only I Claudius-influenced appearance as the Fifth Doctor slowly fades.

Regeneration Rating: Spectacular. Director Graeme Harper and his oft-quoted Day In The Life influence makes the ending of the Fifth Doctor a vividly memorable one.

The sequence is achieved incredibly well, staring with a neat bookend to Logopolis' Davison arrival thanks to the clever tracking shot into the motionless Doctor (achieved with a miniature camera crane and mic), before superimposing the companion heads and greater layers of strange video effects. It's ironic that the final person he sees and hears is the man who he supposedly killed only in the last adventure – as Terrance Dicks says in the novelisation, the Master has “the last laugh”. The dizzying visuals and noise all erupt into one final rush of Quantel, and then the final Day In The Life piano chord is represented by the brand new Doctor, who's being arrogant and caustic already.


Death by: A tumble from an exercise bike/radiation beams

Which story? Time And The Rani/The Brink Of Death (Big Finish audio)

Where? In the TARDIS control room

Signposted? No. Off-screen politics all conspired to result in the unceremonious sacking of Colin Baker. Naturally, Baker refused to film a planned final swansong, and so it was left to Pip and Jane Baker to cobble together a story that killed off the Sixth Doctor before the opening titles had even rolled.

Notable firsts: A different actor represents the outgoing incarnation. It's also questionable as to why Mel seems unharmed by the violent buffeting but the Doctor's badly affected. Presumably, he took an awkward fall and bashed his head fatally in the process.

But if we're going by the events of a Big Finish audio adventure, then in fact, the Sixth Doctor is affected by Time Lord-unfriendly radiation beams in the area of Lakertya, which is what does for this incarnation.

Regeneration Rating: From the sublime to the ridiculous. It's actually amazing that we do get a regeneration scene, given the behind-the-scenes shenanigans at the time. If you squint your eyes, you may also kid yourself that Colin Baker did actually come back for a nanosecond, since the blurry video effects do look quite convincing.

The original plan to kill Doctor Six off would have seen him take the place of Beyus, sacrificing himself while standing guard over a booby-trapped talking brain. Now that would have been a far better wrap-up to the short era of the Sixth Doctor. Alas, it wasn't to be, but at least he got a definitive reason and exit in the Big Finish audio adventure, The Brink Of Death nearly 30 years later.


Death by: Clumsy Ms Grace confusing human and Time Lord physiognomy

Which story? The TV Movie

Where? In a dark mortuary

Signposted? No. Like Time And The Rani, the TV Movie launches slap bang into the action – the only difference being that Sylvester McCoy agreed to come back and film his final scenes.

Notable firsts: The script does cleverly trick you into wondering what the cause of death is. It's not the many gunshots as you might think, but the work of a doctor who evidently doesn't know a lot about Time Lord physiology. It's the first time that a Doctor shows acute agony at the moment of expiry. It's also the first time that we see the Doctor's skeleton, which flickers in and out of life during this twisty, gurning regeneration process.

Regeneration Rating: After the disaster of Time And The Rani comes the disaster of the TV Movie.

But at least the regeneration sequence is quite good. It's a clever trick to juxtapose a morgue attendant enjoying the 1931 film of Frankenstein with the changeover of Doctors. It's well shot too, as the camera closes in on a morphing Doctor – the flickering shots of skeleton are quite gruesome, and the whole process is fluidly achieved. Too bad about all the Sylvester gurning though.


Death by: Spaceship crash

Which story? The Night Of The Doctor

Where? Karn of all places.

Signposted? In the media, yes, as part of the 50th anniversary celebrations was an announcement that Paul McGann's Doctor would finally get some kind of closure.

Notable firsts: The Doctor gets to choose what sort of incarnation he will get next, asking the Sisterhood of Karn for the choice of a warrior as a means of standing his ground in the Time War. In the real world, it's the only regeneration tale not to be broadcast on BBC1, only transmitting on BBC Red Button, BBC iPlayer and YouTube.

Regeneration Rating: At least we get final closure on Paul McGann's Lazenby Doctor, and the man himself gives a final strong performance. As such, the regeneration serves as a prologue for clumsily shoehorning in an extra Doctor (did the 50th anniversary special really need to go back to the events of the Time War?), and thus mucking up the regeneration order seen so far on TV. It's a reasonable mini-episode, although as recent times have proved, the inclusion of the Sisterhood of Karn indicates that the show is relying a little too much on its own mythology again, as opposed to coming up with brand new characters, planets and ideas.


Death by: His body wearing a bit thin after a turbulent Time War.

Which story? The Day Of The Doctor

Where? The TARDIS

Signposted? Yes, since John Hurt only got one shot on TV as the War Doctor in a one-off appearance for the 50th anniversary tale.

Notable firsts: The first time we get to see a glimmering of the Ninth Doctor's first few moments.

Regeneration Rating: Well, John Hurt's brilliant, at least. The shoehorning of the War Doctor, however, was a last resort after Christopher Eccleston was said to have declined taking part in the 50th anniversary special. Mind you, if I'd have been him, I would have done the same thing, given that The Day Of The Doctor isn't really much cop.

As for the regeneration, there's never any indication that the War Doctor is on his last legs. He simply bounds back into his TARDIS and basically says: “Oh, I'm regenerating”. For completists though, as with the 8th Doctor's last moments, at least the gap's filled with how the 9th Doctor came to be.


Death by: Absorbing the Time Vortex after snogging Rose

Which story? Bad Wolf/Parting Of The Ways

Where? In the TARDIS

Signposted? Interestingly not, although the Bad Wolf stuff has been slotted in at various points throughout Eccleston's lone season.

Notable firsts: The introduction of what seems a now standard regeneration effect – beams of volcanic light spewing forth from the Doctor's body. It's also the first time that he stands up. And it's also the first time that he explains to the companion what's about to happen (and also the viewers at home!).

Regeneration Rating: A hark back to the Hartnell regeneration in that it's a simply achieved but very effective sequence. It's sudden, out of the blue, but it also manages to be quite an emotional send-off while being an upbeat salute to the Ninth Doctor's short tenure. The Doctor's self-deprecating claim that “I'm not going to see you again – not like this, not with this daft old face” is quite sad, but at the same time, he's celebrating his short life with Rose by claiming that they were both “Fantastic!”

A great regeneration that caps off a great story.


Death by: Bad Wilf causing those four knocks in a radiation-critical booth

Which story? The End Of Time

Where? In the TARDIS

Signposted? Gosh, yes. Not only in this story, but in both the previous two adventures. At the end of Planet Of The Dead, the Doctor was greatly shocked that four knocks would mean the end of his song. In The Waters Of Mars, he's confronted by a solitary Ood, just like in the final moments of The End Of Time. Meanwhile, in his swansong, the Tenth Doctor is failing miserably to come to terms with the prospect of having to give up another incarnation. Like The Caves Of Androzani, he's confronted by lots of red herring death sources: The Master. The revolver. Falling through a glass window. But not what it actually was... Damn that radioactive phone kiosk.

Notable firsts: The first story in which fatal damage is done to the Doctor quite a while before the story ends, probably about 15 minutes at a guess. Between that point and his ultimate death, he manages to pay silent farewell visits to all his past companions. It's the first time that he makes a real meal of regenerating. He's on the verge of tears as he succumbs to the process of change, with the angry regeneration energy spilling out into the TARDIS and causing fires to rage throughout.

Regeneration Rating: Hoo boy, no other regeneration quite polarises the fans like this one. On the one hand, you could argue that it's over-egged to the point of one of Oswin Oswald's soufflés. The Doctor's goodbye scenes go on for a long time, and work to varying degrees. The final background score (as the Doctor staggers back to the TARDIS and takes off) is too pompous, intrusive and loud for my liking. Some have argued that the Doctor wails like a petulant child before regenerating.

But then on the other, you could argue that it's a bold, dramatic end to the Tenth Doctor. The scenes of Sarah, Verity Newman and Wilf blubbing pack an emotional punch, while it's a brave move to see such a broken, upset Doctor not wanting to go. David Tennant acts these last few scenes perfectly, and overall, it's a typically explosive, memorable end to an explosive and memorable era.


Death by: Old age

Which story? The Time Of The Doctor

Where? In the TARDIS. Sensing the pattern, hmmmm?

Signposted? Yup, especially with all the doomy Trenzalore stuff, the location where the Doctor is said to finally meet his maker. The Doctor also handily discusses his regeneration limit with Clara halfway through the story.

Notable firsts: The kick start of a brand new regeneration cycle, thanks to Moffat conveniently including the 10th Doctor's aborted Stolen Earth/Journey's End regeneration as canon. Following on from the regenerative power healing his previous incarnation's cuts and scrapes, it can completely reset the 11th Doctor back to his younger self before the change kicks in.

Regeneration Rating: While The Time Of The Doctor is a duff last showing for the 11th Doctor, at least the regeneration scene is lovely. It's as if Moffat wrote Matt Smith's farewell first and then grudgingly remembered that he had to construct a story around it (while also tying up the many loose ends of this era). That said, I do like the bitter irony in the youngest looking of the Doctors meeting his doom as a result of extreme old age.

But for five minutes, the story attains a degree of greatness. It's notably low-key compared to the explosive end of Tennant's Doctor, but it still packs an emotional wallop as Matt Smith looks back with fondness over his time. The behind-the-scenes footage of the read through saw the man himself have a blub at the table at this point, and it's little wonder. The dialogue is emotional without being too schmaltzy, and there are enough nods to his era such as the eaten fish fingers and custard, and the hallucination of little Amelia Pond running around the TARDIS.

The two elements guaranteed to bring a tear to your eye this time around are Karen Gillan's grown up Amy bidding a final goodnight to her “Raggedy Man” and the final symbolic slow-mo drop of the bow tie to the floor. Jenna Coleman also does a fine job of acting out Clara's grief at the prospect of losing her fella.

And then, BAM! With what looks like a regenerative sneeze (or fart: take your pick), Capaldi's Doctor suddenly replaces Smith's in a flash. Just so's you don't get too maudlin at losing another Doctor.


Death by: Cyberman electricity and laser beams and a big old explosion

Which story? Twice Upon A Time (although the Doctor suffers the pain in The Doctor Falls)

Where? In the TARDIS

Signposted? For sure, considering that we know that in his final story, Capaldi's Doctor is on the verge of regeneration. Yet still manages to have one final adventure. How's that for self control?

Notable firsts: The first time that a Doctor changes into a woman. Also the first story that doesn't feature the trigger for the regeneration (unless you count World Enough And Time, The Doctor Falls and Twice Upon A Time as a loosely connected three-part story).

Regeneration Rating: Back in his second adventure, the 12th Doctor asked Clara if she thought that he was a good man. Following those volatile early days of crabby temper, dislike of overly smiley people and abandonment of his companion to decide the fate of an egg planet, this incarnation gradually learnt the meaning of being a good man to the point where he genuinely believed that his old nemesis, the Master could make a difference in his fight against the Cybermen.

From a non-hugging grump to a Doctor who struck up a close rapport with his friends Clara, Bill and Nardole, the 12th incarnation has had quite the journey, and everything that he's learnt, he passes it on to his next incarnation in one of those grand speeches that Capaldi does so well.

The regeneration is far more explosive than the one that the 12th was born into, most likely as a result of holding back the fiery effects for so long. It's a neat bookend to the Capaldi cameo in The Day Of The Doctor in that the first and last we see of this incarnation is a close-up of those expressive eyes. Another echo of the past is to the 12th Doctor's travelling companion in Twice Upon A Time, his very first self. Both incarnations' rings drop to the floor as a very final way of saying that this guy is no more.

Capaldi will be much missed by this Doctor Who fan. Combining steel, wry humour and a perfect sense of dramatic timing, he made his Doctor a class act all the way, and his regeneration gives him the chance to say goodbye with dignity and a hankering for a tin of pears.

If you enjoyed this article, then why not take a look at my 3 value for money Doctor Who ebook guides which span the eras of the 3rd and 4th Doctors?










By johnbensalhia, Dec 8 2017 05:25PM

The end of an era’s a hoary old cliché. It’s always used when a TV programme reaches its natural conclusion (something that should have happened to Scrubs or The Big Bang Theory after their first seasons) or when a band announce that they are quitting the music business (well, until they decide to reform five years later when a big fat cheque is dangled in front of their eyes).

Doctor Who, though, has plenty of these ’End Of An Era’ moments - The regeneration of The Doctor. The departure of a companion. The last Keff McCulloch score. One of the big daddies of the end of an era is of course, The War Games.

Consider the following: The War Games is the last transmitted 1960s story. it’s the last black and white story. No more groovy Troughton title swirls. Jamie leaves. Zoe leaves. Doctor regenerates. You could write your own book listing all of these milestone departures - an epic in itself, much like The War Games.

After the 12-episode beast of The Daleks’ Master Plan, The War Games boasts a nearly-as-impressive 10 episodes. The common consensus, though, has been to skip the first eight episodes and get straight to Episode Nine, when we find out about The Doctor’s background. Luckily, all 10 episodes exist this time around, and sitting through these again, I think the earlier judgement’s a bit unfair. The whole adventure has an epic feel about it and right from the opening moments of Episode One, there’s a feeling of doom and oppression that never lets up until The Doctor’s spun away into the ether.

At first, we’re supposed to think that the time-travelling trio has blundered into the First World War. However, as events progress, we quickly find out that it’s not that simple. Cue General Smythe and his great big sideburns.

Not only does Smythe have a TV screen in his bedroom (he can catch all the main TV packages on it, you know), he's discovered the concept of Skype nearly a century before it became commonplace. He also has a pair of scary hypnotising glasses that make his victims forget things that they shouldn’t know about. The old hypnotising trick is The Demon Headmaster in reverse. I’m not quite sure how glasses are meant to hypnotise people, but it does establish that any Four Eyes in The War Games is a bad ’un. Not exactly a great advert for speccy kids watching The War Games in the 1960s. Maybe the speccy aliens should have gone to Specsavers to get some X-ray laser eye surgery or hypnotic contact lenses.

The intrigue is well set up in the first episode and there’s a sense that this is going to be the Second Doctor’s toughest challenge. In a neat anticipation of the Time Lord trial, The Doctor faces his three-strong panel of judges like a psychotic version of Britain’s Got Talent. And sure enough, the verdict’s a unanimous Off Off Off Off With His Head, as he’s sentenced to death at dawn. The first episode hits the ground running in establishing the mystery and doomy atmosphere.

That’s not to say that the next seven episodes are poor relations. The key to The War Games is that it’s like a mystery set of Russian Dolls. The mystery is gradually uncovered bit by bit. How are a bunch of effete Romans only a stone’s throw away from World War One? How does the War Chief know The Doctor? Who is the mysterious Waaaaawwwww Laaaaaaaawwwwd that the Security Chief keeps mentioning? All of these puzzles are thrown at the viewer, but what’s satisfying about the 10-episode format is that there’s enough scope to work it all out in a measured, logical and satisfying manner.

Admittedly, there is padding. There are lots of capture/escape/recapture scenarios and an awful lot of bickering. What the 10-episode length does allow though is for Malcolm Hulke’s and Uncle Terrance’s talents for characterisation to show through.

Good thing that the BBC didn’t release The War Games back in the days of omnibus videos, since you’d be looking at scrolling credits for about one hour, due to the sheer number of characters. They all work to varying degrees, but even the minor players are well defined. Captain Ransom clearly isn’t that much of a hit with the laydeez, given that he’s reduced to bumbling and gimbling like an imbecile when Lady Jennifer uses him as a diversion for Carstairs to see The Doctor. Private Moor is a young, inexperienced boy who’s easily fooled by a baldy in a monocle. Harper is strong-willed and not so easily duped - incidentally, Rudolph Walker is brilliant, giving some welly to what’s actually quite a minor role.

Interestingly, the humans and the aliens have their own personal battles to fight. Carstairs and Lady Jennifer are torn between following the rulebook and following their instincts at a sham trial that they somehow know is wrong. Luckily, they plump for the latter choice, and in the process, make rather a charming double act when helping The Doctor. David Savile and Jane Sherwin are well cast - Savile’s Carstairs in particular makes for a good substitute companion, like a heroic, typically British ancestor of Ian Chesterton (probably not so much an ancestor of incompetent Rory). I like to think that when he’s whisked away in Time Lord mist, he’s catapulted into Lady Jennifer’s swanky mansion where they end up choosing to marry over a cup of tea and a plate of scones.

The aliens though, have more issues to deal with. In particular, I’m talking about the power struggles between The Security Chief, The War Chief and The Waaaaawwwww Laaaaaaaawwwwd. It’s a three-tier system in terms of power. At the bottom of the pile is The Security Chief, although this is no surprise. He’s a pompous, jumped up midget who’s always on at The War Chief for some reason or other. Presumably, the two went to school together, where The War Chief picked on The Security Chief something rotten and stole his tuck shop money in the process.

Then there’s his voice which is - um, interesting. Let’s make no bones about this - The Security Chief has possibly the oddest speaking voice in Doctor Who history. It’s like he’s swallowed a pickled egg whole, and it’s got lodged in his throat, thus causing him to squawk in short, sharp bursts like a constipated duck. It doesn’t help either that he says and does the same things over and over again.

Here then is your cut-out and keep Security Chief Drinking Game:

* Take a swig of beer whenever The Security Chief puts a futuristic watering can on his head to grill his hapless victims.

* Take two swigs when The Security Chief struggles to come up with a witty insult: “Whaaaaatttt. Eeeeeh. Steeeeoooopeeed. Foooooool. Yooooooo. Aaaaaaaahhhhh.”

* Quaff half a pint of beer whenever The Security Chief starts a girly bitch-fest with The War Chief.

* Down a pint whenever The Security Chief muses over the wonders of a “Speeeeeeeece. Taaaaaaaam. Macheeeeeeen.”

* Down a pint, then a Mojito and then 10 vodka shots whenever The Security Chief refers to The War Lord - or The Waaaaawwwww Laaaaaaaawwwwd as he calls him.

Next in the pecking order is The War Chief, a slimy Abanazar lookalike who’s slightly more sympathetic than The Security Chief, although that’s not saying much. When he’s not spending his time hectoring his squawking number two, The War Chief is pondering on how to achieve total power. The arrival of The Doctor proves to be a godsend, since he plans to form an alliance with his old ‘friend’.

However, even The War Chief’s not totally in control, since he always has to creep behind The War Lord’s back. Naturally, he’s caught in the act, and sentenced to plastic gun oblivion by The War Lord (presumably, he regenerates off-screen). I think that Uncle Terrance is too harsh on Edward Brayshaw’s performance when he’s talking on the DVD commentary. Brayshaw’s acting is far better than bwa-ha-ha-ing moustache twirling, and he adds a degree of vulnerability to the character, especially in the scenes of his downfall.

The War Lord doesn’t need to worry about the acquisition of power, since he already has it. He’s such a badass that all he has to do is stare at someone to get them to do his bidding. The casting of Philip Madoc is inspired - Madoc’s average height and softly-spoken voice shouldn’t invoke pant-wetting terror among his subordinates, and yet The War Lord is one of the most convincing human baddies in Doctor Who. Madoc is absolutely spot-on - although his performance as Solon (in the Tom Baker outing The Brain Of Morbius) is his most memorable, The War Lord is just as chilling, and certainly on a par with both Solon and the vicious tourist officer in The Goodies episode on South Africa.

It’s a crying shame that this is the regulars' last story. Both Frazer Hines and Wendy Padbury make the most of their last few days on Doctor Who, combining dedication (Zoe’s rescue of The Doctor), humour (Jamie’s meeting with Arturo Villar) and poignancy (their leaving scene) in equal measure. Patrick Troughton is also at his best - every element that makes his Doctor so successful is encompassed here. Humour. Brains. Duplicity. It’s all here, and what’s more, he’s shown to be more vulnerable than ever. He’s clearly upset at having to summon his race for help, and his last plaintive comment at Jamie’s and Zoe’s departure speaks volumes (“They’ll forget me, won’t they?”).

The Time Lords’ portrayal is interesting. They’d never seem so awesome again. They can slow down time in a bid to stop The Doctor escaping. They can reduce the all-powerful War Lord to a screaming baby. And in the cruellest fashion possible, they mind-wipe Jamie and Zoe, and send them back to their original times and places. And for their piece-de-resistance, they banish The Doctor to Earth and force him to regenerate. The Time Lords are pompous. Unwilling to interfere. But they are also seen to be brutal. They are like a collection of The World’s Strictest Fathers, and it’s all there to see in the last episode.

The last episode is a belter, not just because of the script and acting but because of David Maloney’s fine direction. Maloney has produced some great scenes up till now: The reflection of the materialising TARDIS in a muddy puddle. The close-up shots of the hypnotised Earthlings. The frenzied pace of Episode Nine. In the last episode, Maloney cranks up the action even further. Maloney gets the best out of all the actors and keeps the action rattling along at breakneck speed. Who would have thought that trial scenes could be so exciting?

The Doctor knows that the game’s up. He humours Jamie and Zoe after they persuade him to escape from his cell and into the Dry Ice Time Lord Krypton Factor Course - but his body language and weary speech betray a beaten man. The farewell scene is the most touching of the 1960s (especially The Doctor’s last sad wave) and to make matters worse, Jamie and Zoe are technically back to Square One. They both learned so much in the TARDIS - not just knowledge about the world and its wonders but about friendship and learning to feel emotion. So to have Jamie return to his old bloodthirsty ways and for Zoe to be reunited with Tanya Lernov and Leo Ryan (ugh) with only fading dreams for souvenirs is very sad.

Technically, the Time Lords kill The Doctor off, and force him to live like a peasant on Earth. The ‘regeneration’ scene (well, as near as you can get - we don’t see him change into the Third Doctor) is the creepiest out of the lot. Future offerings would draw more on emotion, but the Second Doctor’s last moments are disturbing in the extreme. Alone and burning up in a kaleidoscopic void, the last we see of the Second Doctor is his headless body screaming out as he spins off into a black hole. Dudley Simpson’s off-kilter music only adds to the uneasy feeling (Simpson’s music has been back on form, incidentally), topping off a memorable if uncomfortable end to the reign of the Second Doctor.

The War Games may be regarded by some as overlong, but the lasting impression is one of a big epic blockbuster, full of high stakes and tragedy. It's very well produced, with some striking costumes and groovy 1960s sets from designer Roger Cheveley. Just be glad that it’s still complete in the BBC archives and out on shiny new DVD.

The end of an era.

* Moving on to the next eras of Doctor Who, they are covered at length in these 3 ebooks:










By johnbensalhia, Dec 8 2017 05:13PM

With only two more wacky adventures left for the Second Doctor, you would have thought that his penultimate story would be a humdinger. Well, think twice, since in the end, all we get is the Wild West in Space.

Welcome The Space Pirates, a tale that just pips The Dominators to the post to scoop the Dullest Story Of Season 6 prize. Maybe I’m biased, since I find western-type stories to be a bore. Here, we’ve got two main opposing factions: General Hermack and his nondescript set of English actors pretending to be American. And the eponymous pirates, as led by Caven.

Neither side is particularly inspiring. Hermack’s crew is rather faceless. Hermack himself has a rather strange accent that’s hard to fathom. Consider it an odd cross between upper crust English, Hungarian and Italian - although maybe I need to rinse out my ears. Despite a whole load of famous names including Jack May (Dangermouse), Donald Gee (Born and Bred) and George Layton (appearing in another Doctor series entirely), none of Hermack’s crew really stand out. Layton seems to be impersonating Peter Sarstedt with his 1969 helmet haircut and droopy moustache. On the other side of the tracks, Caven and Dervish are also clichéd villains, all melodramatic ham and little in the way of character.

To add insult to injury, we also get Milo Clancey, a great big pain in the derrière. Clancey is supposed to be a comedic outer space cowboy, complete with knackered spaceship and poor breakfast facilities. It’s a nice idea, but Clancey just isn’t funny. Robert Holmes, for once, is off the boil and labours the humour too much with rather ponderous ‘jokes’ and monologues. Gordon Gostelow’s performance isn’t great either and that whiny, Deputy Dawg voice tries the patience very quickly.

It’s odd that Holmes’ first couple of Doctor Who stories failed to hit the spot with fans. The Krotons has been lambasted for its shoddy production and comedy monsters, but The Space Pirates suffered an even worse fate - it got ignored. Mention The Space Pirates to the average fan, and it’s a fair bet that even they’ll draw a blank. “It’s the one with… um, pirates in.” The real fault of this story is that nothing happens. There’s very little action, and even when something does happen, it comes across as poorly executed: for example, The Doctor, Zoe and Jamie falling Scooby-Doo-like into a black pit at the end of Episode 3. The remainder of the tale has characters doing lots of talking. I mean lots. So much so, that it doesn’t really matter that most of the episodes don’t exist, since the soundtrack could probably tell the story anyway - although, the listener will probably have gone to the Land Of Nod before the end.

It also doesn’t help that The Doctor, Zoe and Jamie are shunted to the sidelines for the first couple of episodes. It’s hard to muster up enthusiasm when you’re stuck inside a futuristic broom cupboard. While the trio of Troughton, Padbury and Hines are excellent as always, there is a bit of weary fatigue creeping through. That said, it does set things nicely up for The Doctor’s ultimate fate in The War Games: Cut off from the TARDIS and totally helpless. Troughton’s very good here - From his initial chiding of Zoe (“Zoe, don’t be such a pessimist”) to his realisation of his folly in repelling the TARDIS rather than bringing it back (“Oh dear, what a silly idiot I am”), Troughton’s melancholy Doctor chillingly suggests that this latest incarnation is heading towards the finish line.

It’s difficult to comment on Michael Hart’s direction. Luckily, this is the last instance in which I get to comment on a Doctor Who story from recons and soundtrack, although in this case, there are no telesnaps to comment on. What I've got is the existing episode, and that doesn’t inspire much confidence. It’s too static and plodding, and after the visual treats of Michael Ferguson’s direction in The Seeds Of Death, it’s a bit of a comedown. The bizarre soprano shrieking is also a big mistake, since A. It’s like fingernails being run down a blackboard and B. It sounds too much like the lone warbler at the beginning of Star Trek.

Mind you, with the American accents, the OTT earnestness and the soprano, The Space Pirates could have passed for Star Trek on one of its off days. All we needed was William Shatner turning up to snog Madeleine Issigri and her rather odd hat. In the end though, Madeleine decides to give The Doctor a crafty peck on the cheek, the saucy minx.

In its favour, The Space Pirates does boast some stunning model work. John Wood’s spaceships are excellently realised and pre-empt shows like Space 1999. They are also quite topical, given the greater interest in space travel at the time. The first man on the moon was only a season away when The Space Pirates went out in March 1969, and so viewers will doubtless have been comparing the ships with the NASA vessels coming through on their black and white TV sets.

Despite that though, The Space Pirates is one long, slow, drawn-out fart of a story. There’s not enough material here for a four-part story, never mind a six-parter. Holmes’ script is uncharacteristically lazy and not that funny, while the actors and the director try in vain to breathe some sort of life into the whole thing. Unfortunately, the end result suggests that the Doctor Who production team were fast running out of ideas again, just like at the end of the third season. A change was needed fast, and sure enough, such a change was just around the corner.

* And you can read about some of those forthcoming changes in my Doctor Who ebook guides all about the 1970s tales!










By johnbensalhia, Dec 8 2017 05:05PM

About 15 sets of waffle ago, I mentioned that remakes were more common than you think in Doctor Who. The Moonbase was a blatant remake of The Tenth Planet. And then two seasons later, along comes The Seeds Of Death to mimic The Ice Warriors with all the gusto of a Les Dennis and Dustin Gee 24-hour marathon.

The Ice Warriors are back with a vengeance and are again hell-bent on terrorising an isolated bunch of quaking Earthlings. We get the same sort of characters as before. Radnor is Clent but without the stick and the limp. Eldred is the stubborn, anti-authoritarian old goat like Penley. Miss Kelly is the Ice Maiden replacement for the frosty Miss Garrett, but with a big, blonde ponytail that’s so stiff it could probably remain intact in the face of a nuclear explosion.

The one notable difference between the two stories is that the Ice Warriors aren’t so scary this time around. Whereas in their début, the Warriors were unearthly giants that could turn your average Scottish hippy into quivering jelly with a clench of - well I suppose you could call them fists - this time around, they’re not so threatening. Most of the time, the Ice Warriors plod aimlessly up and down corridors, narrowly avoiding collisions with the scenery. When one of them materialises in the T-Mat cubicle on Earth in Episode 4, it then decides to do a jolly dancing jig.

The Ice Warrior Shuffle is the low point of The Seeds Of Death, although even the victims’ deaths lack punch. Characters tend to wave their arms in the air and dance around like drunkards japing about in a hall of mirrors. At least Alan Bennion adds some degree of authority as Slaar the chief Ice Warrior, his hissing, sibilant tones providing enough chills for the kids and for Fewsham.

Ah, Fewsham. The first five episodes revolve around the breakdown of the poor sod as he’s mentally tortured by the Ice Warriors. We’re frequently treated to close-ups of Fewsham’s creased visage, which resembles a cross between a gnome and a little boy that didn’t get any Christmas presents. Life doesn’t so much rain on Fewsham - it downpours on him on a constant basis to the sound of booming, mocking laughter.

In order to survive, Fewsham is forced to carry out the Warriors’ fiendish plan of transmitting deadly seed pods to T-Mat Cubicles across the globe. He is also forced to betray his work colleagues and also apparently beam The Doctor into the middle of space. It’s all rather pitiful, like watching a school bully picking on his victim on a loop. At least Fewsham does get to die a hero’s death as he finally shows some gumption by betraying the Warriors’ plan to The Doctor back on Earth. Terry Scully does a great job of playing the luckless worker, and as the DVD commentators point out, he’s got the perfect craggy, anguished expression to carry it off.

The other characters are a bit harder to warm to. It doesn’t help that the blokes inexplicably wear Y-Fronts on the outside of their trousers. We’ve seen Radnor’s and Kelly’s types before - huffy, by-the-book bores who speak in pompous, know-it-all voices. Eldred, likewise, is the archetypal grumpy old man, pottering about in his museum and moaning to himself like Victor Meldrew in the Science Museum.

The subject of new vs old also rears its head again. This time, swanky T-Mat cubicles are pitted against old-fashioned rockets. Personally, I can’t see what’s wrong with travelling by T-Mat. Compared to travelling by bus or train, it’s a breeze. No delays. No traffic jams. No smelly weirdos plonking themselves next to you. No grumpy bus drivers, who I swear have some sort of grudge against all passengers. Pop yourself in the cubicle, and bingo! You’re at your destination in seconds. Again, though, the message seems to be Don’t Put All Your Eggs In One Basket, as Radnor and his team place too much reliance on the T-Mat system, which inevitably goes awry. Problem is, we’ve already had this message in The Ice Warriors, and to be honest, it was actually more subtle than in The Seeds Of Death.

I like the idea that museums of the future feature inventions and gizmos that are still in prototype form today. At least The Doctor, Zoe and Jamie pretend to show some interest in Eldred’s relics. With only two more stories to go after this, make the most of one of the best Doctor/companion teams in the series’ history. Patrick Troughton shows no sign of fatigue, turning in a performance that takes in endearing goofiness (the clowning around in foam at the end of Episode 5) and surprising ruthlessness.

It’s rare to see The Doctor commit murder so freely, with the aid of his portable oven, and he seems oddly dispassionate when the orbiting Warriors are sent on a one-way ticket to the sun. “You tried to destroy an entire world,” he retorts gravely when chided by Slaar for his actions. Not only this, but The Doctor’s somehow found a magical sideburn grower, since they’ve grown to Tennant proportions after he’s had his holiday-influenced power nap in Episode 4.

Frazer Hines and Wendy Padbury are also well up to their usual standard, even if, as Padbury notes on the commentary, Jamie’s more clueless than usual.

Padbury, in particular, captures Zoe’s character well in this story - a mix of faithful companion and bossy boots know-it-all. Her best moment is when she snaps at the anxious Earth team for getting their knickers in a twist when The Doctor, Zoe and Jamie go up in the rocket. As for that scene in which they feel the G-force: it’s priceless - never has there been so much gurning in Doctor Who. This scene would only be beaten by both Jon Pertwee (when he starts wrestling with a rubber Nestene, Goodie-style) and Sylvester McCoy when he starts pulling strange faces while ranting at Light.

One big boost to The Seeds Of Death is Michael Ferguson’s accomplished direction. Ferguson takes a rather run-of-the-mill script and turns it into an ambitious, fast-paced action adventure worthy of the big screen. Some of his shots are truly inspired, such as the backward countdown over Kelly’s face, the shot of Jamie and Zoe sipping on futuristic Slush Puppies (as shot through a transparent wall) and the attacks on the Ice Warriors (with fast, negative alternating jump cuts). Ferguson’s also adept at handling the action sequences, including the cliffhanger to Episode 5 and the odd chase in what seems to be a Hall Of Mirrors. Did the base on the moon build their own funfair to alleviate their boredom?

Those sequences are quite comedic, thanks to Troughton’s considerable comic timing and also to Dudley Simpson’s rather daft score. I’ll make a grudging confession here - this is one of the very few Simpson scores that I'm not keen on. Normally he comes up with the goods every time, but that annoying piano/glockenspiel plinky-plonky theme (first heard when Radnor et al lose contact with The Doctor’s team on the rocket) grates and to make matters worse, it’s repeated to the point of annoyance throughout the story.

The Seeds Of Death is still enjoyable fare, thanks to the efforts of the regulars and Michael Ferguson’s crisp direction. It doesn’t quite have the same impact that The Ice Warriors had, but it’s still worth a look - if only for the hilarious sight of a foam-covered Troughton waddling around like a snow-covered penguin. No wonder Wendy breaks into unscripted giggles.

* Classic monsters ahoy in the 1970s run of Doctor Who and these are discussed (along with lots more!) in my ebooks on sale now:










By johnbensalhia, Dec 8 2017 04:59PM

Waiter, there’s a Krotons in my Season 6 soup! Popular opinion says that it’s not worthy of being there - it’s too chewy. Too rubbish. Whatever.

Despite popular opinion, in actual fact, I don’t mind The Krotons. Maybe it’s because I have fond memories of seeing it as a 7-year-old kid when the BBC repeated it in the Five Faces Of Doctor Who season that went out in winter 1981. A steady diet of The Amazing Adventures Of Morph, Codename Icarus and Blake’s 7 all made the long winter evenings a bit more palatable, but to have Doctor Who on school-week nights was a real treat. Then look what happened with Season 19...

My over-riding memory is the cliffhanger to Episode 1 in which The Doctor is menaced by a suspicious-looking robot snake thing that threatens to reduce him to a pile of ash (after the Krotons’ automated device has mistaken him for one of Thara’s hothead rebels). Clearly The Doctor has The X Factor though, since the Krotons scanner brings up a great big X, like a robot Louis Walsh. What I remember thinking is that Tom's Doctor would have dealt with the snake far more effectively than the little chap with the bowlcut and the bow tie…

Even to my 43-year-old bleary eyes, The Krotons still isn’t all that bad and actually stands up quite well. You can’t exactly say that it’s the cream of the Robert Holmes crop - there are still one or two sticking points among the good. I suppose, taking the rubbish cooking analogy further, The Krotons shows signs of tasty Holmes morsels to come - it’s just that the end product is a bit undercooked in places. Masterchef judge, anyone?

The plot of The Krotons is a tad simple, and doesn’t scale the heights of Holmes’ more complex plots. Gonds are living in thrall to a couple of cardboard mobile jukeboxes with Brummie accents. The jukeboxes only select the best brains in the land and kill off the dead wood. Doctor shows up, investigates, and defeats the jukeboxes with a blast of acid.

Despite the simplicity of the plot, there are a couple of neat ideas at work. I like the way in which the Gonds are duped into thinking that they’re going to Krotons Academy For Swots, when instead, they’re inevitably going to end up as a pile of dust, after falling foul of the corrosive vapour jets. The deaths are actually quite brutal - poor old Selris doesn’t have a hope in hell after sacrificing himself to help The Doctor and Zoe. Getting disintegrated by corrosive acid vapour isn’t the most painless choice of death, although it inexplicably leaves overgrown medallions and axes intact.

The other aspect I like in The Krotons is the rivalry between The Doctor and Zoe as they battle it out to be the Biggest Clever Clogs In The Room. Is Zoe cleverer than The Doctor? She certainly flies through the tests with incredible speed, and would probably leave Jeremy Paxman agog in slack-jawed astonishment at her brain power. When it’s The Doctor’s turn, he gets more questions wrong - although I guess he’s too flustered to do as well as Zoe. Not only is he under pressure to beat Zoe’s score, he’s also probably dreading the Psychedelic Chair Of Doom that awaits them in the Krotons’ domain.

There are some surprisingly neat directorial touches added by David Maloney. The aforementioned Chair Of Doom scene is well shot with fast, distorted camera angles and close-up gurning shots of The Doctor and Zoe. The snake’s POV shot at the end of Episode 1 adds to the tension as does the last shot of The Doctor’s hands blotting out the screen. Even the shot of the revolving Krotons heads works well. All of which compensates for some ropey effects elsewhere - the opening shot of the sticking hatch is crying out for a retake, while the shot of the Gond city looks like a four-year-old’s junk modelling effort at playgroup.

The bad effects are frequently cited as a failing of The Krotons, which is true to a point. The lack of decent characters is another valid criticism. Most of them are bland clichés - The duped ruler. The hothead son. The doe-eyed damsel-in-distress. The boo-hiss baddie. And his gimp.

Most of whom seem to be indulging in some barmy haircut competition. There’s Selris and his comedy afro. Beta and his prodigious Del Amitri mutton chops. And Vana and her corkscrew 1980s perm.

Not all of the characters are too bad though. James Cairncross is good as Beta, and gets some amusing comedy scenes with Jamie when they’re stirring up the acid solution. Stealing the show though is of course, Philip Madoc, one of Doctor Who’s best guest actors, who gives his all, even with less demanding roles like Eelek. As a result, Eelek becomes a far more believable political backstabber rather than another faceless cliché. But if it’s unintentional laughs you’re after, then your best bet is the bumbling Custodian of the teaching machines. With a face like Agaton Sax and the voice of Inspector Clouseau who’s been at the helium balloons, the Custodian’s a bit of a sad case, who’s easily overpowered by a weedy looking bunch of hotheads.

The Krotons too are a bit of a laugh, it must be said. They’re too lumbering to pose a serious threat, and the Brummie voices are a harsh reminder that in actual fact, there’s two blokes sitting in a corner of the studio floor bellowing into modulated microphones.

Overall though, The Krotons is not as bad as its reputation suggests. Even if some of the effects and acting hamper the end product, and even if the plot’s a bit too simple, it’s still entertaining. Pie ’n’ mash rather than a swanky gourmet meal, but sometimes pie ’n’ mash hit the spot, no?

* Plenty of Robert Holmes classics reviewed in these Doctor Who ebook guides by me!