Tom Baker: The Beginning, End and In-Between (Part 1)
John Hussey begins his review of several stories from the Tom Baker era.
By Terrance Dicks (1974-1975, 4 Episodes)
“There’s no point in being grown up if you can’t be childish sometimes.”
The latest transition proved to be the most impressive as it lead to the introduction of one of the most popular Doctors within the show’s history. Jon Pertwee had established quite the fan-base during his five year reign but with the arrival of Tom Baker we had a whole new ball-game.
Continuing straight after the events of ‘Planet of the Spiders’ the newly regenerated Doctor was called into a fresh case by the Brigadier, but not before the Fourth Doctor caused a little trouble, establishing his childish and alien nature. It was a clever move to make the Fourth Doctor immature to the point of wanting to abandon his duties as scientific advisor. Sarah Jane Smith proved her friendship by persuading him to stay. I also liked the idea of the Brigadier being witness to the Doctor’s transition but having already dealt with the Doctor changing before he was less sceptical this time round and adjusted fairly quickly. What made ‘Robot’ all the more fun was witnessing the Fourth Doctor’s interactions with UNIT, allowing for a different take on the relationship that we had gotten use to with the Third Doctor.
It was good to see Terrance Dicks help with the transition by scripting the Fourth Doctor’s first serial which granted us some familiar territories whilst also adding in the nastier nature Robert Holmes and Philip Hinchcliffe wanted to add to the formula. The idea of K1 was intriguing, reflecting on some very brutal topics upon emotions, identity and the human soul. Instead of the creation being merely a robot K1 established human behaviour from its original programming. We had the typical villainous characters through Miss Winters and Jellico who used the robot as a tool and felt it was nothing more, whilst Sara Jane felt otherwise. This side of the story was cruel, making you sympathise with K1 due to its distress of contradicting orders and even returning to its creator Professor Kettlewell for help.
‘Robot’ went into even darker territories through Miss Winter’s attempts to cause a nuclear holocaust to provide her organisation with the means to build their perfect fascist world. The downside to this story was the fact their plans felt flawed when they started the countdown to the missile launch prior to blackmailing their enemy. Also the repetition of the countdown nearly reaching zero quickly got tiresome and boring. Still, it was clever to allow the serial to be focused on humanities evil rather than making K1 an unnecessary evil.
The final shame of this introductory piece was Part Four turning K1 into King Kong and making it far too insane and irrational. It was a shame for the character and I felt the creations conclusion was unsatisfactory. What made the serial impressive was UNIT’s incorporation, the Fourth Doctor’s establishment, Sarah Jane’s keen eye for investigation (though her incompetence in Part Four let that down) and a nice introduction to new companion Harry Sullivan. It was sad that the Brigadier’s character wasn’t given anything too impressive, forcing him to become too militaristic and dependent on the Doctor, but at least the promoted Warrant Officer Benton got given some great material, something that showed he was a great addition to the UNIT Family.
‘The Brain of Morbius’
By Robin Bland (1976, 4 Episodes)
“I am still here. I can see nothing, feel nothing. You have locked me into hell for eternity. If this is all there is, I would rather die now… Trapped like this, like a sponge beneath the sea. Yet even a sponge has more life than I. Can you understand a thousandth of my agony? I, Morbius, who once led the High Council of the Time Lords, reduced to this – to the condition where I envy a vegetable.”
The gothic nature of the early Fourth Doctor era was a triumph within its own right. I loved the idea of transferring the themes of old Hammer-House horror films into Doctor Who, creating unique twists upon classical monster creations. With ‘The Brain of Morbius’ we had a twist on Frankenstein’s monster. Morbius’s character was truly bleak due to his physical form throughout. Most of the time he spent his scenes as a brain within a specimen jar, bubbling in scientific liquids. His share desire to return to life was the core of the narrative and showcased how far one would be willing to go to regain a physical form. It was also more interesting by the mere implication that he was once a noble Time Lord who had defected and tried to cause war on a universal scale, now reduced to something far below his former status.
I found the driving force of the serial was Philip Madoc’s grotesque performance as the insane surgeon Solon. His sheer determination to create life, proving himself worthy of a god, and bring back his master really did push his character to some sinister places. He formed the part of Frankenstein and was even accompanied by his fateful inhuman servant Condo. Upon discovering his severed hand was being used for Morbius’ experiment Condo attacked his master and nearly killed Morbius’ brain to which Solon reacted violently against the simple servant, shooting at him repeatedly. This moment was enhanced by the pushed boundaries of violence; showcasing clear signs of blood splatter after the shots were fired.
I will agree though that Terrance Dicks’ original designs for the serial may have made more sense given that Solon was supposed to be a world-renowned surgeon and that his inability to create the perfect body seemed to point to his lack in skill. The re-scripted serial by Robert Holmes, however, did make Solon’s desperation more apparent through his continuous search for the perfect parts to add to his creation.
The other great addition was the Sisterhood of the Flame which I found added to the Time Lord’s mythology. Their involvement added greatly to the core theme of the narrative, and that being life. Their means of gaining immortality through the Elixir of Life reflected upon Morbius’ own desires to gain prolonged life. It was great to see the Fourth Doctor challenge the Sisterhood’s order by demonstrating that death grants progression and their way of life had been shunted due to their immortality.
Apart from her saving the Fourth Doctor from being sacrificed, my only complaint with the serial was Sarah Jane was pointless for the majority of the narrative, and appeared in repetitive cliff-hangers where she was attacked by Morbius. The resolution of the Fourth Doctor facing Morbius through a mind-bending contest was impressive and showcased how a lower ranked Time Lord with a disruptive attitude was more powerful, proving the Doctor’s strength as the hero of Gallifrey.
‘The Talons of Weng-Chiang’
By Robert Holmes (1977, 6 Episodes)
“I don’t know who’s a blackard. Some slavering gangrenous vampire who comes out of the sewers and stalks this city at night. He’s a blackard. I’ve got to find his lair and I haven’t got an hour to lose.”
‘The Talons of Weng-Chiang’ is by far one of my favourite serials written by Robert Holmes. It hits many interesting themes within a fascinating era of London’s history, capturing all of the neat elements to create a gritty, dark and mesmerising plot that keeps you engaged throughout the six parts. Holmes was always one to delve into the macabre, a strength that always made his scripts stand out above other writer’s, with him this time leaning towards taking a spin on the infamous Jack the Ripper. The character of Magnus Greel formulates this foundation as he has innocent young women plucked from the streets of Victorian London and murdered for his inhuman needs. What makes matters worse was his proud attitude towards his time travel experiment using zygma energy which ultimately caused the death of all those involved with the testing and even scarred Magnus with a decaying condition. This condition forced him to steal the life-force of the young women to remain alive; despite the fact each time he did this caused further cellular decay.
Magnus was a truly disgusting foe for the Fourth Doctor to face and he was extremely manipulative through his disguise of Chinese god Weng-Chiang, forcing Li H’sen Chang and the Tong of the Black Scorpion to obey his will. There was also his helper Mr. Sin which turned out to be an insane toy controlled by the mind of a pig. These elements really granted the narrative that edge within the gothic nature of Holmes’ storytelling. At least both vile creatures were given what they deserved, more so for Greel who got a taste of his own medicine.
I also loved how Holmes incorporated a Sherlock feel into the serial through the Fourth Doctor dressing like the famous character and taking on a very astute investigative role. He was also accompanied by fantastic characters Henry Gordon Jago and Professor George Litefoot who both served as his John Watson and Lestrade. The two of them really brought an extra layer to the narrative and became extremely memorable characters that you loved to follow onscreen. Leela also proved very resourceful throughout and faced each scenario without fear and with confidence through her savage instincts, always proving helpful to the Fourth Doctor’s ongoing investigation.
‘The Invasion of Time’
By David Agnew (1978, 6 Episodes)
“I am here to claim my legal right. I claim the inheritance of Rassilon. I claim the titles, honour, duty, obedience of all colleges. I claim the presidency of the Council of Time Lords.”
One of the many reasons I love this serial is down to the fact it was set entirely on Gallifrey. Up until that point we had only seen one serial tell a narrative entirely set around Gallifrey, the outstanding ‘The Deadly Assassin’ which I sadly had to pass reviewing. Robert Holmes’s vision of the Doctor’s race depicted them as an old fashioned, gothic diplomatic society that was corrupt at their very core. This idea passed over into this particular serial which sort of served as a sequel of events, mainly the Fourth Doctor’s abuse towards the Time Lords law systems to allow himself to be a candidate for Lord President.
The serial itself was intriguing due to the fact that the first couple of parts make you question the Fourth Doctor’s motives. His sudden aggression towards Leela was questionable as well as his peculiar decision to return to Gallifrey and claim the title of Lord President of the High Council. Throughout the serial he depicted himself as the villain, acting aggressively to his fellow Time Lords and even going about lowering Gallifrey’s defences to allow the Vardans access to the Citadel.
Of course it was slowly revealed that the Fourth Doctor was in fact deceiving everyone in order to pull the Vardans into a false sense of security, allowing him to learn their point of origins, thereby giving him the opportunity to lock their race in a time loop. Whilst all this goes on I find it fascinating watching the development of the Time Lord characters, particularly Borusa who we’d seen previously in ‘The Deadly Assassin’. He was now a Chancellor, thanks to the Fourth Doctor’s aid in stopping the Master and former Chancellor’s treachery, and through him we learnt more about the Doctor’s past and their chemistry together was interesting to watch. I’ve always found this serial brought out the best in their semi friendship.
Leela did well at getting around the Fourth Doctor’s strange behaviour, obviously being placed out of the loop along with the audience, and pushed herself into finding a means to help the Doctor. This I found showcased her loyalty perfectly as despite her friend acting negatively around her, and even banishing her from his home, she still believed in him. I suppose the only down side to her character, and indeed the resolution to the serial, was her abrupt departure through the means of her miraculously falling in love with Commander Andred. They had moments together in Part One and Part Six but never anything to suggest a love interest and in many ways ruined a potentially good ending for her character. A hero’s death might have been more appropriate.
The massive twist in the tale was that the Vardans were working for the Sontarans and that they were the true threat against Gallifrey. I suppose the downside to the last two Parts was the Sontarans didn’t seem to be in-charge of the situation and never felt like they were invading, aided more by the fact we didn’t see many troopers onscreen at any given time. They mainly spent their screen time playing tag with the Fourth Doctor. Despite what some might say I did however enjoy the chase through the TARDIS. In the wide perspective of things the Sontaran threat wasn’t very convincing but for the purposes of the storyline I do rather take pleasure in watching it and find ‘The Invasion of Time’ to always be an enjoyable watch. Plus who can forget about K9 being a badass throughout.