Friday, November 02, 2007

"It's either Romana, or Fred"

So, you're struck down with a particularly nasty bug, you've finished with one deadline, you can't quite rouse yourself to start the next job, what do you do? Well, if you're me, you sit down in front of the telly and enjoy a big box of Doctor Who!

The Key to Time is the complete 16th series of Doctor Who, first broadcast in 1978, and a novelty for the series at the time in having what we'd now call a story arc throughout the season, i.e. a vague plot linking all the stories together. This comes from the height of my first obsession with Doctor Who, so buying this was a shameless act of nostalgia on my part. I remember vividly reciting all the best lines from each episode on Monday morning in the playground, but of course it's 30 years later, and everybody knows the effects were crap and you couldn't get away with that now, don't we?

Well, ya boo sucks. I thoroughly enjoyed it. It's surprising how well it all stands up. See, it doesn't matter that the effects were crap (and actually, considering how little money they had, what they achieved and the ingenuity they show in achieving it is remarkable), or that it's sometimes a bit hammy, because there's more imagination in the least of these stories (probably "the Power of Kroll") than a month of most kids' TV now. Tom Baker's in great form, funny and mad and not yet a parody of himself, Mary Tamm as Romana talks back, not something the Doctor had been used to before, and there are some genuinely wonderful stories in here, best of the bunch being the Prisoner of Zenda spoof "The Androids of Tara". And in "The Armagedon Factor" K-9 actually gets something to do other than make smart-alec comments to cover up the fact that he's got stuck in the gravel again. Lots of extras (I've not listened to any of the commentaries yet, but as Baker, Tamm and John Leeson are all present, along with a number of supporting actors and directors, I anticipate some fun there), including a very funny interview with Tom Baker on Nationwide where he accuses Frank Bough of being a fictional character. And of course in "The Pirate Planet" and the final scene of "The Armageddon factor" you've got some significant early writing by the late Douglas Adams. Perhaps not the very best of old-skool Who, but a welcome reminder nevertheless of why it was the best thing on TV ever when I was 8.

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