This trilogy of serials, four episodes each, featured the return and final TV appearance of the Guardians of Time, introduced in The Key to Time arc. While works in other media have expanded the canon about the Guardians, a DVD interviewee said that we don’t know anything about the Guardians from their TV appearances except that the White embodies order, and the Black embodies chaos; this isn’t all we know, though, because the Key to Time is called “Guardian technology,” meaning that they are not supernatural. Actually, they fit my idea of “pan-dimensional beings” better than the ones in the Hitchhiker’s Guide, particularly as portrayed in the film.
Season 20, Story 3: Mawdryn Undead
Not a part of my initial watching plan, I watched this low-rated episode for the return of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, and am glad I did. I enjoyed the two interwoven time zones, the mysterious ship, and of course the Brigadier.
It didn’t bother me than the alien costumes are pastel clown suits, nor that the ending is a predictable Deus Ex Machina. The character of Turlough, however, did. Turlough is a rich schoolboy on Earth, conned by the Black Guardian into a mission to kill the Doctor. During the trilogy, his whining and attempts at being manipulative are painful to watch. He did become a decent companion afterwards, though.
It’s one of my favorite Fifth Doctor episodes, although that’s not high praise for anything from the JNT era.
Season 20, Story 4: Terminus
A bleak story set on a massive run-down space station, where huge numbers of people are taken for treatment of space cancer leprosy. The crew end up there thanks to some TARDIS sabotage by Turlough, who is under mounting pressure from the Black Guardian to kill the Doctor. In the end, Nyssa decides to stay to help treat the infected, and look for a permanent cure. I liked the set design of the rusted and decrepit station, but not much else.
Season 20, Story 5: Enlightenment
A popularly recommended Fifth Doctor story, Enlightenment concerns a sailing-ship race in space, conducted by Eternals – another race of immortal aliens who fit the idea of pan-dimensional beings. They are bored with immortality, and race to amuse themselves, as well as for the prize of “enlightenment.” Appearing human, they have kidnapped sailors from various periods of Earth history, drugged them to keep them oblivious to where they are, and set them operating ships which work just like the ships they knew on Earth, except that the sails catch the solar wind. The space visuals (and the costumes) in this one are excellent, but they outshine the story, which is mostly dull trickery among the Eternals in their competition. I did like the scene at the end, in which Turlough faces a final temptation and defeats the Black Guardian.
I skipped Story 6, The King’s Demons, which introduced a new companion: Kamelion, an android created by the Master to kill the Doctor. As it worked out, I didn’t watch anything with him in it, but I read that he had to be destroyed in the end. Tragic.
The Five Doctors
Coming between Seasons 20 and 21, this was the first Children in Need benefit special, created to celebrate the show’s 20th anniversary in 1983. It features the return of Patrick Troughton and Jon Pertwee, but sadly only stock footage of Tom Baker, who declined to take part. William Hartnell had passed away in 1975, so the First Doctor is played by Richard Hurndall, who gives an excellent performance of the iconic role. Sadly, he too passed away a few months after the story aired.
Someone on Gallifrey is using the Time Lords’ Time Scoop to snatch the Doctors and their companions from their timelines and put them into the Death Zone, a barren and sealed-off part of Gallifrey, to face various enemy monsters in the cruel Game of Rassilon. The scenery looks very much like Mordor, surrounded by mountains, with Rassilon himself sleeping in his tower, reminding me of the Barad-dur in the Rankin-Bass 1980 animated adaptation of The Return of the King (below right).
The First Doctor is paired with his granddaughter, Susan, a long-awaited reunion which really deserved its own serial, but I am glad that it at least happened.
What I would love to see in multiple-Doctor stories is the Doctors working together, ideally using each Doctor’s unique skills to solve the challenges that arise. Sadly, this doesn’t happen here; each Doctor is paired with a companion, and each pair finds their own way into the tower. Only when it’s almost over do they all meet. Still, it’s always great to see the old Doctors again, and the plot is a good one, thanks to old master Terrance Dicks having been brought in to do it. My only complaint is the sad end given to a Time Lord I really liked in a previous regeneration – the great ones always seem to end badly.
It feels unkind to say that this is my favorite Fifth Doctor story, but that’s the way it is. It wasn’t exactly what I’d hoped, but it’s an essential piece of Classic Who in its own right, as well as a tribute to the first 20 years.
Season 21, Story 4: Resurrection of the Daleks
In hindsight, it seems strange that I watched only two serials from Peter Davison’s third and final season, because it was his favourite season by far, but that’s just the way it worked out. Davison says that if it had been the second season, he might have stayed on longer than he did. The two stories I did watch are both very solid pieces that hold up well, but they are also dark and violent.
Davros has foolishly been put into suspended animation on a space station instead of being subjected to capital punishment, so the Daleks are on their way to extract him. Many, many people die. Davros, however, has his own agenda: not to be used by the Daleks, but to rule them. And the Daleks also want something in an alley of 1980’s London….
This impressive episode effectively revives the bitter desperation brought by the Daleks in The Dalek Invasion of Earth. At the end, Tegan leaves, telling the Doctor that “It’s not fun any more.” Well, by and large, neither is Classic Who for me at this point.
Cool bit: Indian woman working in future Earth’s space military, just like in the recent Dinosaurs on a Spaceship.
Season 21, Story 6: The Caves of Androzani
At last. This story I’ve known of since I did some searches for my name back in 2001, and I read some reviews back then, but at that time all I had seen was the Hartnell episode The War Machines. So the picture in my mind for ten years of what to expect from Androzani was a light, cheesy, colourful, and somewhat silly Saturday morning type of story, with obvious cardboard sets and clunky monsters. There is a rubber monster, but aside from that, it was completely opposite my expectations. Described as very modern, this terrifically paced story sends the Doctor and his new companion Peri through a hellish gauntlet of suffering, stricken with a deadly infection and tossed between soldiers, vicious mercenaries, and a tortured, lonely villain on a quest for revenge. Again, it’s all very impressive, but what is Doctor Who at this point? Why is this rated the best episode of all? If the show were always like this, I wouldn’t have watched 293 classic episodes. Actually, in terms of the type of show it is, Androzani has recent parallels in my least favorite Eleventh Doctor episodes, The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood and The Rebel Flesh/The Almost People – less adventures in time and space, more sad and depressing no-win situations.