Introducing Doctor Who (Part 2: The Fourth Doctor)

It seems quite a while ago now that I did my run down of the best stories from the first to third doctors with which to introduce someone… And since then we’ve had the announcement of a new Doctor (Peter Capaldi… Good Choice) the surfacing of nine classic episodes  and the return of Paul McGann. And now the fiftieth is also upon us so there’s probably no better time to continue my rundown…

Season 12: Genesis of The Daleks (6 Episodes)

Tom Baker’s first year is one hell of a cracker… It opens with the quite reasonable Robot and then continues with the sublime Ark In Space… But the highlight is this, the Genesis of The Daleks, an epic and sprawling tale about the origins of the Daleks. It has some brilliant moments (such as the opening of the sixth episode) and also sees the introduction of Davros. There is very little to fault in this one and it can serve as a good introductory story.

Season 13: The Seeds of Doom (6 episodes)

Half of this is set in the arctic and half on an English country estate. Baker is on top form battling against an alien weed (The Krynoid) that threatens to take over the planet. Like a lot of Tom Baker’s early episodes it’s fantastic (Alas, they went downhill later on). It may be six episodes but the two-fold story arc stops it from feeling over padded like a lot of other six parters as well. It’s lined with a great supporting cast and an even better script that in the wrong hands might have come as camp and over the top… But instead it works and works brilliantly.

Season 14: The Masque of Mandragora (4 episodes)

Almost all of the stories from this year are good and worth watching. The Hand Fear still looks great and The Deadly Assassin is a wondefully taut political thriller. There are some who say The Robots of Death is a prime example of Classic Who but I would have a strong tendency to disagree. To me it just doesn’t stand out enough from some of Tom Baker’s later stories- Nightmare of Eden and The Sunmakers for instance. It’s all futuristic corridors and I’m not a big fan of that sort of thing. I would recommend The Talons Of Weng Chiang but some of the stereotypes are a bit stuck in the seventies and the giant rat just looks ridiculous. No… It is Mandragora that works the best as an introduction episode. Set in 15th century Italia, it concerns the Doctor accidentally bringing a powerful form of energy to earth and then trying to stop it as it manipulates a sinister brotherhood in order to take over the earth. It’s nice blend of History and Sci Fi and it works exceptionally well.

Season 15: Horror of Fang Rock (4 episodes)

A very claustrophobic horror set in a lighthouse and the best story out of a season that is mostly lacking (and includes the terrible Underworld and The Sunmakers but also the quite good Image of The Fendahl). It works very well and isn’t too dodgy on the special effects front. It also lives up to it’s name… It’s a fairly gruesome tale and no mistake.

Season 16: The Androids of Tara (4 episodes)

The whole of season 16 follows one massive quest for the key to time. Two of those stories are excellent. Three are decent. The sixth I don’t want to talk about. Now I could have gone with The Pirate Planet which is a fantastic sci-fi story in it’s own right or The Stones of Blood which makes an indirect reference to the Bangor University Archaeology Department (Really!) but the one I personally prefer on the whole is The Androids of Tara. It’s a straight up pastiche of The Prisoner of Zenda and pastiching is one of the things Dr Who does and always has done very well. This is no exception and it adds a sci fi twist to the original tale by the inclusion of androids and several more doubles than were in the original book… And it doesn’t have the depressing sequel where they all die either.

Season 17: City of Death (4 episodes)

This is just one of the best Doctor Who stories ever… Set against the backdrop of Paris, an alien scattered throughout time tries to get back to his spaceship which blew up in prehistoric times and scattered him throughout time whilst simultaneously kick starting life on earth… And for some reason it involves several copies of the Mona Lisa and a cameo by John Cleese. I can’t remember why but it makes sense when you watch it. It’s a wonderful (and sometimes gloriously silly) tale that is instantly memorable and worth watching several time. The soundtrack too is a great addition and is awfully reminiscent of Waterloo Sunset. Despite a few creaky looking special effects this doesn’t go far wrong.

Season 18: State of Decay (4 Episodes)

In sharp contrast to his first series Tom Baker’s last is an absolute turkey. It starts with the absolutely dull and tedious Leisure Hive, continues with the walking Cactus of Meglos and then introduces us to Adric… Enough said. The Keeper of Traken is reasonable but I always find there’s very little excitement in it. The only two stand out stories from this year are Logopolis (the last one) and State of Decay. Logopolis can come off as a bit hammy in places though and it is probably too complex to introduce newcomers to. State of Decay is the better option, a breezy and gothic story about Vampires. Adric’s awfulness is made up for by the inclusion of Romana and K9 and the story is quite tight as well, unlike in Logopolis which just crams in a bit too much for my taste.

And that’s it for the fourth Doctor. I don’t know when part 3 (Doctors 5 to 7) will be as I have a lot to be getting on with for a while. But I’ll get around to it at some stage.

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