After some delay, we’re back, with Season Twenty-One of our classic Doctor Who rewatch! This season, we will say goodbye to the Fifth Doctor, as well as a few companions. Let’s get started!
The Doctor, Tegan, and Turlough return to Earth’s future in Warriors of the Deep. (Kamelion is also along for the ride, but we won’t see him again until the season finale; his vulnerability to manipulation causes him to hide in the TARDIS most of the time.) It’s 2084, and the Second Cold War is underway; we don’t get the names of the superpowers at war here, and more curious yet, we don’t know which side to “root for”. It’s mostly irrelevant however, as the real problem is the Silurians. They return again, this time enlisting help from their Sea Devil cousins to take over Sea Base 4 with its armaments; they plan to use it to precipitate an actual war on the surface which will eliminate humanity from the planet. Spoiler alert: Once again, it ends badly for them, with all individuals being killed by a gas that targets only reptile biology. Really it’s a wonder they don’t just wage mass war on us, as they get annihilated every time they encounter us.
This would have been a particularly dark and suspenseful story for Doctor Who, had writer Johnny Byrne had his way. He drew his inspiration from the dark, somewhat decrepit look of the sets of the Alien movies. However, he was overridden with regard to the design, and the brighter, cleaner look that was selected did much to override the suspense. I feel that’s unfortunate; and in a sense I suppose the BBC agreed, as scenes from this story were later used (among others) by BBC executives to push for cancellation of the show. At any rate, we do get a few good lines; there’s an early occurrence of the “When I say run, run. Run!” line that pops up a few times in NuWho, and also, the Doctor expresses a rare moment of dissatisfaction with his TARDIS (“I should have exchanged it for a Type 57 when I had the chance”). Overall, the story is a bit reminiscent of NuWho’s Cold War—one of my favorite stories—with the Cold War backdrop and the reptilian villain (an Ice Warrior in that case).
We remain on Earth for The Awakening, traveling back to Little Hodcombe, England, in 1984. At Tegan’s request, the Doctor is taking her to visit her grandfather; such familial contact will be more common, and sometimes integral to the plot, in NuWho. We can be fairly specific with the date; it’s on or about May Day, May first, as Tegan is to be crowned the Queen of May at the end of the reenactment of the Battle of Little Hodcombe. It’s a two-part serial; as well, though it’s not the final two-parter of the season, it is the final two-parter of the Fifth Doctor era to be filmed in the 25 minute format. (More on this later.)
The story shares some important elements with The Daemons, but oddly, it all appears to be completely coincidental (an apparently-supernatural being in a church which turns out to be of alien origin, ending with the destruction of the church). In that respect, it shares some elements with NuWho’s Vincent and the Doctor (a superior story, in my opinion, and one of the revived series’ best). The villain here is the Malus, a creature that arrived on Earth in 1643 in a crashed probe; the sending species, the Hakol, were planning an invasion, but never followed through. The Malus exploits the people around it for psychic energy, which is increased through the war games it inspires. We see a new costume for the Fifth Doctor here, which is only minimally different from the original.
Frontios takes us both out into space, and into the far future. Exactly how far is a matter of some confusion; A History of the Universe, with only Classic series information from which to work, places it after 10 million AD, similar to The Ark, as the scenario is similar. However, it doesn’t gel with events seen in NuWho. Turlough reads off the console that humans fled Earth because of a collision with the sun—not solar flares, but a collision—which is definitely an established event, but NuWho places it in approximately 5 billion AD (The End of the World). Further complicating things: the TARDIS console states that “time parameters [have been] exceeded”, and the Doctor states that they are on the outer limits [presumably of time], having gone too far into the future. To me, that indicates that they are near the end of time. It’s also known that that was the intent of the production team; they have stated they intended to leave the TARDIS destroyed and remove it from the show completely, leaving the crew stranded at the end of time. Of course they didn’t follow through, but there’s no reason the timeframe can’t stand. With all of that said, I’d place the story much later, near the end of time, but prior to Utopia (Utopia/The Sound of Drums) and the world seen by Orson Pink (Listen). Of course this gives the lie to Cassandra (The End of the World) being the last pure human; but many stories have since done that, and it appears she was just simply wrong. The universe is a big place, after all.
Whew. That was a mouthful. The villains here are the Tractators, non-humanoid aliens which control gravity and related forces. They once attacked Turlough’s home planet, which has been hitherto-unknown; the events were enough to cause racial memories, which now awaken in Turlough. They seem to require living minds of others to execute their will, similar to the Eternals, but via a different mechanism. This story sets us up for Turlough’s upcoming return home in Planet of Fire.
Resurrection of the Daleks is the oddball of the season, in that it is only two parts, but the episodes are forty-five minutes long (artificially broken down and re-edited for international broadcast, which is the version I was able to watch). This episode leads to an entire season of forty-five-minute episodes in the following season. It proved to be an unpopular change, and was revoked with Season 23. This story is a sequel to Destiny of the Daleks, in which Davros was captured and imprisoned; it is now ninety years later. The best I can say is it occurs somewhere between 4500 and 5100; there are varying estimates, but nothing definite for either story, or the one which will follow in Season 22. I enjoyed this story quite a bit; it’s a good Davros story, and as well, I felt it looked unusually crisp and modern, more like a NuWho story.
The TARDIS begins the story caught in a time corridor, which is under the control of the Daleks. They want to rescue their creator, Davros, from his imprisonment; they are suffering from a virus that was the final weapon of the Movellans in their stalemated war, and they want Davros to cure it. (Ironically, a species-specific disease is usually a Dalek weapon.) We get the first indication here that the Daleks really do not respect Davros; he is forced to use treachery to take control of them. He also plans to supplant them with a new Dalek race, created from his own DNA; he won’t succeed here, but does so in the future in The Stolen Earth. Failing that, he uses an injectable agent to control both Daleks and humans; the Daleks who result could be said to be the first of the later-revealed Imperial Daleks, loyal to Davros. Meanwhile, the Daleks have been led by a Supreme Dalek, the first such that we become aware of. The Daleks have discovered time travel by now, and seem to have done so in the past ninety years; if they had it in Destiny, they would probably have plucked Davros from the collapse of his bunker rather than digging him out at the end of his entombment.
As for the Doctor’s involvement: The Daleks have developed a technology to duplicate individuals. They intend to send a duplicate Doctor to Gallifrey to assassinate the High Council. If Genesis of the Daleks could be considered the opening salvo of the Time War, this could be considered the long-delayed counterstrike. Although I’m sure it was not planned as such, it’s really a clever plot arc, given that it spans years of broadcast time. We get a new and effective minor villain in the Dalek sympathizer Gustave Lytton, who—surprisingly—survives at the end; and we finish on a sad note, as Tegan leaves the Doctor at the end, having had enough of the carnage in his wake.
If Resurrection is the oddball, Planet of Fire is the turning point of the season. We see the end of Turlough and Kamelion’s story arcs; the return of the Master; and the entrance of new companion Perpugilliam “Peri” Brown, the first American to join the TARDIS crew. (She’ll be followed in that tradition by Grace Holloway and—depending on your point of view—Canton Everett Delaware III.) We begin on the island of Lanzarote in May 1984, and proceed to the planet Sarn in the same year. The Fifth Doctor, nearing the end of his life, exchanges his cricket jumper and coat for a waistcoat, at least temporarily.
Turlough finally has to face up to the reality of his homeworld, Trion. He had been a junior officer on the losing side of Trion’s civil war, and was banished to Earth; his father and infant brother were exiled to Sarn, which had long been a dumping ground for Trion’s unwanted individuals. His father has since died; his brother, bearing a mark of exile, was raised as a Chosen One by the natives. The Trionians have long kept the volcanic activity in check; but since the war they have not done so, and the planet will soon destroy itself. Its fate is not fully described in the end. Turlough, however, is pardoned and permitted to return home. Kamelion, meanwhile, falls under the control of the Master again, forcing the Doctor to kill him at his own request. His death and Turlough’s departure marks the end of seven years of non-human companions (beginning with K9 Mk I); as well, Turlough is the final male companion of the classic series. Only three more companions—Peri, Mel, and Ace—remain in the classic series.
The Master had shrunk himself in an accident involving his Tissue Compression Eliminator. He seeks the healing numismaton gas on Sarn to restore himself, and in fact finds it; however the Doctor traps him in the gas flames, and he appears (erroneously of course) to burn to death. His final line has prompted much controversy; he says “Won’t you show mercy to your own—“ and is cut off. The writing staff intended him to say “brother”, a revelation indeed! However they kept it vague; and later continuity makes it clear they are not related. I like to think he might have said “oldest friend” or something to that effect.
We reach the end of the Fifth Doctor’s life in The Caves of Androzani, one of the classic series’ most famous and popular serials. It really is an excellent story; and in my opinion, it should have been the season finale. It takes place on Androzani Minor in an unknown year (all estimates are based on VERY scanty evidence). The Doctor is traveling only with Peri now. They quickly become embroiled in a battle for control of the hyper-valuable spectrox gas; however, the gas is a double-edged sword, as overexposure causes spectrox toxaemia, to which both the Doctor and Peri fall victim. They acquire the bat milk which is the only antidote; but the Doctor unintentionally spills half. He gives the remainder to Peri, sacrificing himself and sparking his regeneration. It’s a grim ending, and the introduction to a contentious and arrogant Doctor; there are no real winners here.
There’s a great crash scene, with the Doctor at the controls of the ship in question; it’s a bit reminiscent of The Night of the Doctor, although the Doctor survives. His celery is finally explained; it turns purple in the presence of certain gases to which the Fifth Doctor is allergic. In the end, the Sixth Doctor gets an introductory scene with actual dialogue, which had never been done before. In my opinion, this is also the only good story for Peri as a companion; more on that in a moment.
We end the season—awkwardly, I might add—with The Twin Dilemma. It’s not a good beginning for the Sixth Doctor; the story is sluggish and badly written, and should never have been the finale (though it would have been okay as a season opener). It consistently ranks low in viewer polls, in contrast to Caves; a well-known Doctor Who Magazine poll placed Dilemma last and Caves first. It’s set in the year 2310, though this is not firmly established onscreen; several sources, including the novelization, give this date, and it seems correct, as a monitor onscreen gives the date of a preceding event as “12-99”, probably December 2299. The Sixth Doctor, having just regenerated, appears insane, or at least Peri thinks so; she has good reason, as he tries to strangle her to death. This infamous scene set the tone for their relationship ever afterward; she spends the rest of her tenure behaving like a victim of severe trauma, being very paranoid and unstable. It’s an incredibly sad turn for her. He continues to torment her, as well’; he is arrogant and capricious, though I will admit that he will calm down a bit next season.
The villain is Mestor, an alien gastropod, who wishes to conquer the galaxy by spreading his eggs. To accomplish this, he wishes to destroy the planet Jaconda in an explosion. The titular Twins, Romulus and Remus, are geniuses he kidnaps to make the necessary calculations. He is aided by the Time Lord Azmael, who is on his final life, and who formerly (and oddly) ruled Jaconda. However, Azmael’s servitude is forced; and he betrays and kills his master by forcing a regeneration, thus also killing himself. This one detail, however, is valuable; it does much to justify how the Eleventh Doctor, dying at Lake Silencio, could be seen to start to regenerate despite being on his last life.
Some thoughts on the season overall: The high point, for me, was Resurrection of the Daleks; I’m a diehard Davros fan, and I thought this serial sees him at his devious best. Lowest for me was The Twin Dilemma, for reasons I’ve already described; I have high hopes for Six, but he’s not off to a good start. Peri had much promise, and I was glad to see her arrive; but I know she will not end well, and that’s disappointing. It was a good wrap-up for Turlough, and even for Kamelion; not so much for Tegan, but I respect her for walking away as she did. Her exit foreshadows that of Martha Jones in NuWho, I feel. Overall it wasn’t the best run for the Fifth Doctor, but his exit could not have been better—short of being the season finale, that is.
Next time: The Sixth Doctor! See you there.
All episodes may be viewed on Dailymotion; links are below.