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Reviewed By: MercuryReview Date: 12/18/18 2:18 pm
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This is widely criticised and is often put forward as a leading contender to be rated as the worst story in Doctor Who history. I am sadly in agreement that it is pretty close to the bottom of the pile although, for me, there are a few stories worse than this. There are a couple of positives so this is not as abysmal as some of the rubbish you get on TV but for this show it is very poor.

The previous two seasons with Colin Baker as the 6th Doctor had been the two lowest quality seasons by far up to this point in many people's opinion (mine included). A number of changes were made for this new season to try to improve things but what actually resulted was a season that I think is clearly even worse. Thankfully the following season would be a big improvement and the one after that was really brilliant but season 24 for me stands as the lowest point of all.

One of the changes made was to replace Colin Baker against his will and bring in Sylvester McCoy as the 7th Doctor. Well in reality Baker's characterisation was a big issue in his era but that was largely down to the writing and instructions he was given. His often pompous, bad tempered, rude and conceited Doctor either needed a character overhaul or a replacement and it makes sense they replaced him but it lead to him refusing to film a regeneration scene. Therefore we get a weird and unsatisfying scenario where the episode begins with the TARDIS under attack and the Doctor lying on the floor before regenerating in a disappointing way whilst unconscious and being taken prisoner by renegade Timelord/Time Lady the Rani.

After his capture the Doctor awakes and for his first episode McCoy is pretty embarrassing. There are bad pratfalls, clowning about and unconvincing delivery of lame dialogue, malapropisms and jokes. A lot of people comment on him playing the spoons but I have no issue with that any more than I have an issue with the 2nd Doctor playing the recorder (badly). At least he is very good at playing the spoons haha! What is a problem is the writing and, initially McCoy's acting. Thankfully this turns out to be perhaps partly just nerves as he does improve over parts 2 to 4 of the story. Sadly the characterisation has gone from unpleasant and annoying with Baker to overly silly with McCoy proving it is the writing and showrunner John Nathan-Turner which are to blame for this nadir. Andrew Cartmel had come in as script editor and seemingly brought about improvements in seasons 25 and 26 by which time McCoy had become very good but in this story and whole of season 24 things are in bad shape. I will say though McCoy after his initial bad acting becomes quickly far more likeable and engaging than Baker was so it turns out to be one positive change.

The plot is nonsensical - The Rani has great minds such as Einstein and Pasteur as well as the Doctor and intends amalgamating their minds into a giant brain and get them to formulate a way to create a powerful substance and fire a rocket of that substance into an asteroid composed of strange matter. It is as illogical, confused and silly as it sounds. The Rani is exploiting a race called the Lakertyans with the help of another race the Tetraps. The Tetraps are not a bad monster in design, their heads and tongues are reasonably good but when allied to a pantomime costume type body and very human sounding voices delivering cliche baddie dialogue it makes them poor. The Lakertyans look rubbish and are boring but Donald Pickering and Wanda Ventham are fine actors and imbue their meagre roles with as much gravitas as possible.

Kate O'Mara as the Rani is camp and pantomime in many ways as a character but is genuinely good and enjoyable in the role. Her impersonation of Bonnie Langford when in disguise as Mel is amazingly accurate too. Langford herself is given little to do other than scream hysterically or chip in simpering inanities so is an irritating presence.

This does not all look cheap, there are some good effects like the spinning, exploding sphere traps and efforts have been made with sets but they sadly just look garish and do not improve on the overall lack of quality in writing and very poor action scenes of people awkwardly falling over and clowning about. There is a little bit of mindless fun in the middle but it becomes boring by the end.

Very disappointing. 4/10
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Reviewed By: MercuryReview Date: 12/14/18 12:25 am
0 out of 0 found this review helpful.

One of the worst Doctor Who TV stories. This has very few plus points - a couple of decent moments and a bit of campy fun here and there - but is basically pretty lame in every respect.

The story is that a society on the planet Karfel which we are told was visited and saved once by the 3rd Doctor (although this was not from any existing story just an added plot point) is ruled over by a dictator known as the Borad who has become a mutated monster after an experiment which went wrong so hides his appearance by having an android of an old man as his public face. The world is at war with an alien race called the Bandrils and the Karfel official Maylin Tekker is throwing anyone in the way of his and the Borad's evil plans into the Timelash which loses them in a time tunnel which leads to Earth history. When The Doctor travels through this time tunnel he also meets real life historical figure H.G. Wells as a young man and is therefore shown to influence Wells' science fiction writing.

Acting wise Colin Baker is fine but the 6th Doctor is showing the same argumentative, pompous and patriarchal behaviour that he showed in his first story (equally poor The Twin Dilemma) and not having an endearing Doctor is a big minus. Peri is as annoying and unsatisfactorily portrayed as usual and Herbert (young H.G. Wells) is not awful but pretty unimpressive. Paul Darrow is over the top camp as the Maylin but is fun and a highlight among all the other Karfelons who are almost entirely dull and wooden. Denis Carey is a magnificent actor as proved in his role in Shada but in Timelash he is completely wasted. Robert Ashby puts in a perfectly decent performance as the Borad but delivers cliched villainous dialogue.

The dialogue in general is very underwhelming and includes unnecessary meanness and grating superior attitude from The Doctor, particularly towards Peri. The sets and costumes are cheap looking and cheesy, the Morlox are pathetic rubber creatures and many effects look bad. The makeup of the Borad is OK but that is the only thing that looks sufficiently good quality. The Timelash itself is an embarrassing arrangement of tinsel and the Bandrils are equally embarrassing silly puppets.

The plot development is equally silly with most of the whole story making little sense and culminating in a dreadful twist as the Borad is ludicrously and inexplicably revealed to have not only had an android old man as a front but also a cloned version of himself with the same disfigured features who was able to engage in the full confrontation with the Doctor only to turn out to be 'not the real Borad'! Then he is defeated and pushed towards the Timelash simply by showing him a mirror despite him proclaiming his form as a wonderful improvement which he intends duplicating in an entire race - an odd choice if he finds it so unbearable to see! It all really beggars belief and is the worst revelation in Doctor Who history as well as the most pathetic defeat of a villain! How anyone can rate this as OK and harshly criticise the relatively miniscule flaws in plots or 'too easy' defeats of villains in new episodes grading them with lower scores than this nonsense is beyond my understanding. This is surely one of the bottom 3 Doctor Who TV stories if not the worst.
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Reviewed By: MercuryReview Date: 12/12/18 11:26 am
0 out of 1 found this review helpful.

Overall this episode is not exceptionally great but is perfectly solid quality in every respect apart from one plot aspect I did not like.

The story is that 'Tim Shaw' the evil Stenza leader who we met in the excellent The Woman Who Fell to Earth turns out to have been transported to a desolate planet Ranskoor Av Kolos where he meets the Ux, a pair of super powerful beings who can achieve dimensional engineering. The Stenza warrior is taken to be the God prophecied to the Ux and they follow his instructions to capture planets and shrink them down within a sort of crystal allowing him to keep them as trophies. The Doctor must stop him and also stop Graham's wish to avenge the death of his wife ending badly for him.

My one issue with this story is the UX. They are well acted and the idea of religious aliens taken in by a false God is decent but the way they were portrayed was problematic. Tim Shaw is meant to have arrived and been taken to be a God unquestioningly with the Ux so convinced that they go against all their own views of right and wrong to follow his orders. For such a powerful race to do this is hard to swallow without being at least given a reason for why they were so convinced. Did he meet a description of the 'messiah'? Would they have followed the first person to arrive? Seems odd. Also Tim Shaw has been with the Ux for roughly 3500 years and while his plot is an ambitious one which it makes sense would take time the Ux's powers seem contradictory. They are able to return the planets in a very short time and are clearly super powerful so it seems strange that they took so long to capture the planets and build his ship. If they simply had Tim Shaw as being with the Ux for a very short time instead, such as a year or two, then it would make more sense that they only followed him for a short time and had not achieved more and it would show a more frightening level of threat by them achieving a lot of damage in a short space of time. Tim Shaw also has not aged so if Stenza never age why do they ever need to replace their leaders? Not thought through fully in my opinion. It is not necessarily illogical as such but it just did not ring true to me.

It is not the most exciting season finale but it has fine acting, superb production values, no major problems with dialogue, lovely emotional journey with Graham and Ryan and a great scene with the TARDIS saving the day. The defeat of Tim Shaw by Graham was not done in the most clever or satisfying way but that has been the case in many of the greatest Doctor Who stories when the villain crumbles suddenly (The Daemons, the Master in numerous stories, the Weeping Angels being left staring at each other by the TARDIS dematerialising) so I cannot judge that too harshly. It would have maybe been a 9/10 excellent episode if it were not for the issues I had with the Ux. As a result my rating is 7.5/10.
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Reviewed By: MercuryReview Date: 12/11/18 1:54 pm
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This is clearly a divisive episode that some will hate but most will love. Meanwhile, as is often the case in divisive matters I am somewhere in between, mostly positive but with reservations. People, I feel, often over react and proclaim hate when in fact it is just a few aspects which spoiled something good. I prefer to acknowledge those problematic aspects but also take into account all the good parts. Overall there is a lot of good stuff in this and it is great as entertainment if you ignore the annoying issues which clash with the lore of the show or logic. I cannot ignore them but I cannot ignore the great qualities either. You also have to give credit for the great ambition even if it does not all work.

The story is that the TARDIS arrives in Norway near a secluded house where they discover a blind teenage girl all alone who says her mother died a while ago and that her father who she lives with has been taken by a monster. They hear the sounds of the monster outside but find a strange mirror inside which turns out to be the real story as it is a portal to an 'antizone', a barrier zone between two alternate universes. The other universe is ruled by the Solitract, a sentient power from Time Lord mythology.

This has some similarities with those occasional classic Who stories which delved into a fantasy world like The Celestial Toymaker or The Mind Robber or more recent efforts like Amy's Choice or The Doctor's Wife. In another way it very much reminds me of a Moffatt era story in that it is crammed with clever ideas, some excellent, some that felt good to the writer but end up appearing contrived and illogical to people who question it. Like many Moffatt stories this lacked a firm hand in charge to stop the writer getting carried away with the ideas and losing focus on some elements to ground it in believable limits. There is so much good stuff in it but it almost comes off the rails and for some viewers it turns them completely off. For me I still appreciate all the good elements but feel sad that as with so many stories ever since RTD left this ends up failing to be the classic it could have been and becomes just a decent effort due to ambition overriding good storytelling decisions.

The TARDIS arrives near a fjord and from that moment we get fantastic cinematography and production values as with the rest of series 11 (until one effects aspect at the end which feels a letdown). The problems begin though in an initial little introductory scene where The Doctor tastes soil and makes silly proclamations based on that 'sample'. A totally unnecessary and stupid little moment that would have been far better and more logical if she had just read the TARDIS scanner and told them they were in Norway in the middle of nowhere but there was a life sign nearby. There is also a misleading camera shot appearing to represent something watching them which turns out not to be the case.

Immediately after that initial silly scene it becomes a really good creepy episode as they discover the boarded up house, meet the blind girl who tells them her father has been taken by a monster and hear the monsters roars outside. These scenes are unsettling, intriguing, brilliantly scripted and well acted by all the cast so I felt we were going to get a classic scary tale as trailers had suggested. They then find the mirror portal and the antizone and all the scenes in this part continue with the great quality of production, acting, creepy atmosphere and enjoyable story. We now are moving away from the scary monster in the woods idea and into pure fantasy but it is working well. When they reach the alternative universe there is a brilliant, clever touch that has everything subtly reversed as if in a mirror. Almost impercebtibly everything is backwards from their faces to the logo on the T-shirt worn by the blind girl's father Erik. So far, apart from that tiny scene at the start this episode is tremendous. But then The Doctor tells Yaz and us about the Solitract. It is not necessarily any more silly or illogical than a hundred other ideas in Doctor Who but it just seems a silly concept and it seems odd we would never have heard of it. If only they had made the universe the realm of the Celestial Toymaker or linked it in with the Mind Robber, Amy's Choice, The Doctor's Wife or another existing idea fans could get excited about. The Solitract just feels a bit of an over complicated new idea. The dialogue where The Doctor describes her 7 grannies also feels wrong. Finally when the Solitract manifests itself as a frog, not only is that idea pretty strange and silly but the frog itself is poorly created and stands out as a bad effect in series 11 which otherwise has been visually the best ever. Why did they go with the idea of the frog when that would obviously annoy a lot of viewers and they could have had the Solitract fake Susan, a former companion or The Doctor's mother? Why did they not do a proper realistic CGI frog at least?

The other thing that seemed more wrong than the Solitract when you think about it is Erik's behaviour. Why would he think up and fake a terrifying monster and leave his daughter alone and scared when he could have tried taking her with him to the other universe or finding another way to keep her safe? It would have been far better if the monster was a real one that entered from the antizone and Erik had gone to the other universe and been seduced by the Solitract's tricks so that he forgot about returning for his daughter until The Doctor made him remember her. Instead he just gets rejected by the Solitract and never chose to return to his daughter. This, along with the frog are the biggest issues I had with the episode.

On the plus side in this latter part of the episode there continues to be some really great acting and interesting themes about loss, loneliness and grief with emotional scenes with Graham and Ryan at the end. When you combine these with all the great stuff throughout the episode it makes this far above the worst Who episodes.

The issues of just a couple of scenes of dodgy dialogue and a couple of ideas presented in a way that feels silly or illogical sadly detract from what could easily have been a 10/10 classic. We had creepiness, cleverness, awesome cinematography, thoughtful themes, great emotion from Graham, solid acting from the whole cast, a great Norwegian location and the whole concept including the antizone and alteranative universe which could have been great if they had not confused matters with the questionable Solitract idea and Erik's weird decisions.

Overall: 7.5/10

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