Timestamp: Seventeenth Series Summary

Doctor Who: Seventeenth Series Summary

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The franchise is in a bit of a slump.

The Fourteenth Series was strong, even with a farewell to a beloved companion, the welcome of another companion, and a slight stumble with The Deadly Assassin. The Fifteenth, Sixteenth, and now Seventeenth have all been well below that mark, and they have all been at about the same level.

So what happened?

Tom Baker was still the Doctor. The companions shifted from Leela (Louise Jameson) to Romana (Mary Tamm and Lalla Ward). Neither of these elements has stood out as a problem to me. Sure, I liked Leela more than Romana, but neither version of Romana has been objectionable.

What about behind the scenes issues? Series Fourteen had Philip Hinchcliffe producing episodes with Robert Holmes editing. Series Fifteen brought in Graham Williams to produce and added editor Anthony Read, and Robert Holmes was gone by Series Sixteen. Douglas Adams took over script editing for Series Seventeen.

And, after reading up on Graham Williams, that seems to be the linchpin. Hinchcliffe’s era was controversial due to the horror and violence elements, and Williams was asked ordered to tone it down, which he did by injecting more humor. He also had budget cuts, industrial (labor) problems, and friction with Tom Baker.

By the look of things, all three of these troubled seasons should have worked. The problem comes with stories like Image of the Fendahl, Underworld, The Power of Kroll, The Creature from the Pit, and The Horns of Nimon, all of which dragged like anchors on their respective seasons. To be fair, they’re still not bad sets – in fact, they’re all still above my average of a 3.0 grade – but they aren’t up to the standards set within the Fourth Doctor’s run by Series Twelve, Thirteen, or Fourteen.

Now for the highlights of this set: Destiny of the Daleks, City of Death, and Shada were great. They flowed well, were beautiful to watch, and kept me engaged. They were fantastic headers and footers for the series.

In the middle, there’s Romana. Back in the Sixteenth Series Summary, I noted that she wasn’t a stellar companion because she was written as the Doctor Redux. That hasn’t changed, and in fact, it’s gotten worse as Romana becomes more experienced. Lalla Ward is great, just like Mary Tamm was, but the chemistry is wasted in the writing.

Somewhere near the back of the pack is poor K9. I love the character, but the new voice has to go.

By my scoring, the Seventeenth Series is tied with the Fifteenth and Sixth for third to last place. It beats out the Sixteenth and the Third.

I dislike repeating myself, but I’ll do it anyway: I’m really hoping things turn around.

 

Destiny of the Daleks – 5
City of Death – 4
The Creature From the Pit – 2
Nightmare of Eden – 3
The Horns of Nimon – 2
Shada – 4

 

Series Seventeen Average Rating: 3.3/5

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Leisure Hive

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

Timestamp: Sixteenth Series Summary

Doctor Who: Sixteenth Series Summary
The Key to Time

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I remember when Doctor Who did a season-long arc. I liked the Eighth Series a lot more.

Sure, the final scores between the two reflect this, but it goes deeper, much like how I like the Second Doctor more than the Third (even though I scored the latter higher).

The concept seemed solid enough: The Key to Time Arc is a fight between good and evil – literally, the White Guardian versus the Black Guardian – with the Time Lords doing the legwork to maintain the balance of time, order, and chaos. It seems like something that Doctor Who should excel at, especially in how the eternal battle of angels and demons relates to humanity.

But it didn’t.

As I mentioned in The Power of Kroll, one of the biggest failings in this arc is how they handled the fragments of this powerful artifact. Instead of treating them along the same lines as the Infinity Stones in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the writers here treated them like museum pieces that would be hunted by Indiana Jones. Except that they even shortcut that as well because the fragments didn’t have any real power on their own.

Instead of making the fragments powerful enough to literally bend the story’s narrative – the tale of disparate criminals breaking out of prison becomes a quest to save the universe; a betrayed archaeologist decides to break up a cult, free slaves, and restore the village’s livelihood; a super-powered squid terrorizes a tribe of natives and their mining oppressors – five of the six pieces were effectively impotent and completely random.

The arc even had a chance to redeem itself in The Armageddon Factor by revisiting the ethical discussion from Genesis of the Daleks. The final Key Fragment was literally a human being, and in order to complete the mission and prevent the Black Guardian from enslaving the universe in eternal war, Princess Astra had to die. Is one human life worth completing the mission and saving the universe? That answer is no. What about when there is a completely viable alternative?

The Doctor had the ability to disperse the Key Fragments at the end to stop the Black Guardian from getting the completed Key. There was a perfect opportunity to pit Light and Dark against each other with the Time Lords protecting one human life in a discussion on how important it was. It was an opportunity to explore the human condition through metaphor, and it was missed by a long shot.

Sadly, the story execution was not the only failing in the Key to Time Arc.

I haven’t said a lot about Romana, and there is a really good reason for that. From the beginning, the role of the companion has been as a gateway to understand the Doctor. The Doctor has a cosmic understanding of time and space, and with that comes immense power. The companion balances the Doctor’s power (and his susceptibility to corruption by that power) by introducing an limited knowledge and an eagerness to learn more. We learned back in the Fourteenth Series that the Doctor cannot carry the responsibility (or the franchise) alone. He needs someone to temper the deus in the deus ex machina.

Unfortunately, Romana is written in this series as the Doctor Redux. Sure, she’s not as experienced, but she’s just as (or more) witty and capable, and shortly after her introduction, the pair is operating as equals instead of counterweights. It’s a case of double deus, and it removes our sympathetic window into understanding the Doctor and his adventures.

It’s certainly not Mary Tamm’s fault. She had so much potential in the role, but I feel that the screenplays prevented her from reaching it. There was also the opportunity to introduce the Doctor’s views on Time Lord society to a new recruit, maybe fixing the problems in the system that make the Doctor (and the audience) dislike his own people so much. Sadly, no. It’s unfortunate because there was some good chemistry between her and Tom Baker on screen. It’s doubly unfortunate because of her immediate departure from the role.

On a related note, I sincerely hope that Lalla Ward is better as the next companion. I’m willing to give her a shot, but I wasn’t impressed with her role as Princess Astra. Maybe it was the script? I’ll find out soon. I love the idea of a sympathetic Time Lord, but the character needs to be better.

So where does this put the Timestamps Project? The Sixteenth Series is just under the Fifteenth Series, and continues the decline since the Fourteenth Series. It is one step above last place.

I’m really hoping things turn around.

 

The Ribos Operation – 4
The Pirate Planet – 4
The Stones of Blood – 4
The Androids of Tara – 3
The Power of Kroll – 1
The Armageddon Factor – 3

 

Series Sixteen Average Rating: 3.2/5

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Destiny of the Daleks

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

Timestamp: Fifteenth Series Summary

Doctor Who: Fifteenth Series Summary

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The Fifteenth Series was a stumble.

It’s hard to watch the series take a tumble, especially one so severe as this. The first two episodes were strong with Horror of Fang Rock and The Invisible Enemy turning in fantastic performances. The next three, however, were exercises in great moments immersed in terrible execution. Image of the Fendahl – a title that still gives me issues when I try to type it out – took the show to a bleaker, darker place than it had previously been, which was a shock. The highlight was Louise Jameson’s acting, which seemed to blossom when she stopped wearing contact lenses.

After that, The Sun Makers and Underworld both did what science fiction does best: They each explored elements of the human condition through existential metaphor. Sadly, they used the metaphor as a mallet to bonk the viewers on the head with the message. The Sun Makers built a soapbox to expound on Robert Holmes’s anger about the tax system, and Underworld basically retold The Face of Evil with a veneer of the Greek myths and a lot of terrible blue screen work.

Once again, the only thing that really saved those stories for me was Louise Jameson’s performance.

And that’s why The Invasion of Time was shocking. The story was smart and the performances were sharp, but the ending stole the perfect score by creating a “Leela falls in love and wants to remain on Gallifrey” subplot in about thirty seconds, and it made no sense. She helped save the planet, but she’s still an alien, and the Doctor’s tenure as president was (supposedly) lost in the de-mat gun’s explosion.

But the franchise has never been strong on writing out companions, has it?

Looking at the numbers, the last time a series scored this low the Sixth, which was the final regular season for the Second Doctor. It’s also the second to worst, just ahead of the Third Series.

 

Horror of Fang Rock – 4
The Invisible Enemy – 5
Image of the Fendahl – 2
The Sun Makers – 3
Underworld – 2
The Invasion of Time – 4

 

Series Fifteen Average Rating: 3.3/5

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Ribos Operation

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.