Author: Mike Ferguson

“What is it, Doctor?” The 10 Best Companions in Doctor Who

With a long wait ahead of us until new Doctor Who arrives (next Christmas? Aaaargh!!!), and while waiting for the announcement of a new Companion for the Doctor’s upcoming episodes, we thought it’d be a good time to look back at the best of the previous Companions on Who. Rather than drive ourselves completely crazy, we’ve limited our choices of Companions to those who actually traveled in the TARDIS with the Doctor at some point, and those who only appeared on TV series (both “Classic” and “New” iterations).

So, without further adieu …

10. Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney) recurring, 1968-1989

“Chap with wings – five rounds rapid!”


The superb, never-ruffled Brigadier has traveled with the Doctor on several occasions, so yeah, he counts as a Companion! Classically British in the best sense of the word, the Brig would often pooh-pooh the Doctor’s scientific solutions to a crisis and look for something to shoot. This eventually became something of an in-joke, but it paid off in the 7th Doctor story, “Battlefield,” when the Brigadier returned to the show after a long absence and pretty much saved the day by firing silver bullets into a demon. It was the last Who appearance for the Brig, but he returned in The Sarah Jane Adventures in 2008. It’s a sign of the character’s strength (and the actor’s talent) that the Brig’s influence continues into New Who, with his daughter Kate now appearing in tales with the 11th and 12th Doctors.

9. Leela (Louise Jameson), 1977-1978

“These ‘taxes’… they are like sacrifices to tribal gods?”

Leela_close-upDon’t mess with the fierce warrior of the Sevateem and her skimpy leather hunting outfit. She certainly was unlike any previous Companion up to that point, having little compunction about killing enemies, although the Eliza Doolittle-Henry Higgins relationship between her and the Doctor created enough comedy to brighten up the dark spots. Her clash with Victorian England dining habits in the excellent “Talons of Weng-Chiang” is a moment of sheer joy. The fact that “Weng-Chiang,” like most of Leela’s stories, occurred during the great, dark, gothic Philip Hinchcliffe era didn’t hurt. Also, while Leela is best known for her savagery and fighting, she was surprisingly good at inspiring others to find bravery inside themselves.

8. Jo Grant, 1971-1973, 2010

JoGrant“One minute you’re condemning the Doctor to death, and the next minute you’re proposing to me!”

Television in the Seventies (and Eighties and Nineties…) wasn’t renowned for character development. And yet here’s Jo Grant! In the course of three years, she goes from being an earnest but vapid assistant to the Doctor to being a bold, spirited adventurer who could face down the Master one on one, armed with nothing but good, old-fashioned pluck. Her departure in 1973’s “The Green Death” was deservedly treated as a big moment. She wouldn’t meet the Doctor again until the “Death of the Doctor” episode of The Sarah Jane Adventures.

7. Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright (William Russell and Jacqueline Hill), 1963-1965

“I’m lending her a book on the French Revolution.” “What’s she going to do? Re-write it?”

Ian-and-BarbaraDWHow can you separate these two? The schoolteachers introduced us to the Doctor in the series’ very first episode, “An Unearthly Child,” and they left together two years later. Not only did they give us, the viewers, a reference point in those early days, Ian and Barbara helped to “humanize” the Doctor, forcing him to confront his own stubborn beliefs and eventually compelling him to view the people around him as more than just pieces of history data. They also set the bar high for all the Companions to come. Barbara, in particular, was remarkably feisty for an early Sixties woman on TV, a credit to both Hill and producer Verity Lambert. Barbara’s argument with William Hartnell’s Doctor in “The Aztecs,” where she attempts to violate history and persuade the Aztecs to follow a more peaceful path over his near-panicked objections, remains a favorite Who moment. And for a skinny science teacher, Ian could kick ass.

6. Ace (Sophie Aldred), 1987-1989

“Do you feel like arguing with a can of deodorant that registers 9 on the Richter scale?”

ace doctor whoSpeaking of kicking ass, there’s Ace. A juvenile delinquent with a knack for explosives, Ace was bold, reckless, completely devoted to “the Professor,” emotionally damaged, and fearless. She could shoot anti-tank missiles at Daleks and take on Cybermen with only a slingshot and a bag of gold coins — and she could fall to pieces if anybody dredged up memories of her mother. She was the culmination of then-producer John Nathan-Turner’s desire to feature “interesting” Companions, and while her backstory – such as it is – seems weak compared to what’s happening in the series now, Ace did blow up a path for these current Companions to follow.

5. Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman), 2012-2015

“Run. Run, you clever boy … and remember.”

clara strong 1From the Impossible Girl’s first appearance in “Asylum of the Daleks,” Clara’s tenure aboard the TARDIS has certainly been anything but dull. Although the mystery surrounding her arrival often overshadowed her actual character at first – somewhat understandable, since she died twice in her first two appearances! – she began coming into her own during “The Name of the Doctor” … and by the time “The Day of the Doctor” rolled around, she was more than holding her own with three Doctors! It was with Peter Capaldi’s 12th Doctor, though, that Clara really found her voice, and could often take charge of a, well, impossible situation as well as the Doctor. Could she be bossy? Sure. Abrasive? Yes. But much like the Doctor himself, everything she did was in the name of finding adventure – and more importantly, helping others.

4. Amy Pond (Karen Gillan), 2010-2012

“Raggedy Man, I remember you, and you are late for my wedding!”

amy pond

An attractive Scottish redhead with an attitude? What’s not to like? But even beyond the looks and the sass, there’s a lot about Amy Pond that makes her such a great Companion. Amy possesses a determination and confidence that rarely has been seen in the series. In her own way, she’s more intimidating than Leela, more tenacious than Donna, more resilient than Rose and Ace, and sexier than the whole lot of them. And it’s her fierce, passionate love for her friends – her love for Rory, and especially her love for the Doctor – that drives her to often do the impossible.

3. Donna Noble (Catherine Tate), 2006, 2008

“Oi! Watch it, spaceman!”

Donna-2From her beginnings as a bad-tempered, about-to-be married ‘temp from Chiswick’, Donna Noble arguably had the most complete evolution as a Companion in the whole of the series. A departure from her predecessors, Donna had no romantic interest in the Doctor – she simply wanted adventure. And as she found adventure with the Time Lord, she managed to discover so, so many good things about herself as well. She also helped keep the Doctor grounded, such as in “The Fires of Pompeii,” when the Doctor horrifically realizes that HE is responsible for triggering Mount Vesuvius and killing thousands of people in ancient Pompeii. In that moment, she stands beside him and won’t let him face that decision alone.

Sniff. Oi, you were brilliant, Donna. And Bonus points for the epic tragedy of her departure. Double sniff.

2. Romana II (Lalla Ward), 1979-1981

“Do you know what I don’t understand, Romana?” “I expect so.”

RomanaLallaWardRomana’s second incarnation went from being a novice Time Lord who often was unsure about herself (and played wonderfully by the late Mary Tamm) to being one of the few Companions ever to stand on equal ground with the Doctor himself. Smart, funny, and extremely charismatic, Lalla Ward as Romana was a genuine joy to watch. At times, she was a powerful force to be reckoned with – watch her performance in the otherwise forgettable “Horns of Nimon,” it’s outstanding – and by the time Romana leaves the Doctor’s side in “Warriors’ Gate,” it’s quite clear that the character is more than ready to face the universe (or E-Space) on her own. (It also didn’t hurt that the evident off-screen chemistry between her and Tom Baker carried over to their televised stories, and brought a smile to every viewer’s face.)

1. Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen), 1973-1976, recurring and ongoing through 2011

“Some things are worth getting your heart broken for.”

sarah jane

It’s more than nostalgia – and longevity – that makes Sarah Jane the best companion of all.  But that would be excluding the fact that she’s returned to Who in recent years — even starring in her own series — and is just as awesome! Originally cast as a nod to the changing times in the Seventies (“women’s lib”!), Sarah is smart, inquisitive, feisty, and a whole lot of fun. Sarah was always ready to stand up for herself – and her friends – in trying to do the right thing, but with Sarah, you could also see that, underneath, what was happening terrified the ever-loving crap out of her at times. But nonetheless, she always stood her ground. Marvelous acting by the late Liz Sladen, always – both during her classic appearances with Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker, and during her most recent stints on the modern iteration of the show with David Tennant. (Not to mention how terrific she was on her own spinoff show, The Sarah Jane Adventures!) For longtime followers of the show, she’s still quite deservedly the most popular Companion. And the best.

So … who’d we leave out? Who should’ve been ranked higher or lower? Or who did we include that you can’t stand? Give us a shout in the comments!

-Ken & Mike

Ninth Season, Twelfth Doctor, One Prologue, Four Quick Thoughts

The latest season of Doctor Who is nearly here. I haven’t had time to reflect upon the first incarnation of the Twelfth Doctor’s first season as much as I’d like, at least not in blog post form … suffice it to say that I found Peter Capaldi brilliant as the Doctor, and I truly enjoyed Clara coming into her own as a character, and not just as “The Impossible Girl” plot device. I thought the dynamic between the Doctor and Clara was wonderful as well – they had some truly terrific character moments throughout the season. As for the stories, I found them to be hit or miss. A few were great (Listen), a few were outright terrible (Kill the Moon), and most were … okay. But considering how experimental I found the season to be at times, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I give Steven Moffat and the production team much credit for trying new ideas rather than sticking to a safe formula.

I hope to expand on those thoughts some more. But right now, it’s time to anticipate the future, rather than reflect on the past. Which leads to:

The Prologue to the new season of Who is jam-packed with a lot of goodness. Here’s my quick take on it all:

  1. The Sisterhood of Karn is back. (Still protecting the Flame of Utter Boredom!) Which suggests either a regeneration is upon us – perhaps the Doctor’s, or perhaps the Master’s/Missy’s? Unless another Time Lord is being introduced, which seems unlikely. It certainly seems like the Doctor’s referring to the Master, although the fact that he’s referring to his mysterious friend/enemy as “him” throws a wrinkle on that idea. Still, regardless of pending regenerations or not, the Sisterhood represents one of the last remaining vestiges of Gallifrey, which means …
  2. The Seal of Rassilon? Twelve hands over a metal disk to The High Priestess Ohila, and says “You know who to give this to”. (Clara, presumably?) However, the disk looks suspiciously like the Seal of Rassilon, which the Eleventh Doctor used to contact the Time Lords in “Time of the Doctor”. Given the presence of the Sisterhood of Karn, I think it’s safe to say that regardless of regeneration possibilities, Gallifrey’s going to be part of this season, and the search for Gallifrey at the end of “Day of the Doctor” may be resuming in earnest.
  3. Where’s Clara? When Ohila tells the Doctor that “Everyone can hide from an enemy, no one from a friend”, I think it’s fairly obvious she’s referring to Clara. Why is the Doctor hiding, though? To protect her from something? Or because he doesn’t want her to know something? At this point, I’d be surprised about the latter, if only because last season was a lot about Twelve and Clara learning to trust each other. I’ll be curious to see why the Doctor wouldn’t want Clara’s help at this point.
  4. “That’s different, I don’t like you.” And Twelve’s still a grumpy bastard. Some things don’t change, and that’s marvelous to see.

I’ll be recapping each episode this season. See you for “The Magician’s Apprentice”!


Doctor Who DVD Review: Planet of Evil (Welcome to the Jungle!)


The thirteenth season of Doctor Who is also arguably its best of all time. Certainly, it’s got a lot going for it. In this season, you get arguably one of the best (and certainly the most iconic) actors to take the role of the Doctor in Tom Baker, and perhaps the best companion with Elisabeth Sladen’s portrayal of Sarah Jane Smith … and it’s in this particular season where the wonderful chemistry between the two really begins to shine. You also have Phillip Hinchcliffe at the helm as producer, finally steering the show away from its action-adventure period with the Third Doctor towards a more horror-inspired era heavily influenced by the Hammer films of the 1950s and 1960s … and the brilliant Robert Holmes as script editor. The show hit a creative peak during this season that’s been largely unmatched, before or since – imagine the possibilities if only this amazing creative team had been given the budgets and the special effects technology of the modern show!

Season Thirteen has a number of outstanding episodes – the fantastic “Seeds of Doom”, the delightful Frankenstein-inspired “Brain of Morbius” (a story that Ken and I like so much we named this site after it!), and the chilling “Pyramids of Mars”, which made our Top 5 Classic Who Episodes list. But pretty much all of the stories in this season are exceptionally good, with the possible exception of “The Android Invasion”, which mostly suffers by unfortunate comparison – put it in virtually any of Tom Baker’s other seasons as the Doctor, and it’d be closer to the top, rather than the bottom. Compare that to almost every other season, even including the modern iteration of the show. There’s almost always at least one clunker in there, if not two or three! So to have a season of solidly “good” stories, with half of them being standouts, if not classics … well, it’s impressive indeed.

One of my favorite Fourth Doctor stories – and another that I think gets overlooked from Season Thirteen, lost in the shuffle of so many good episodes to watch – is “Planet of Evil”. It’s the first real story where the Fourth Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith step away on their own, away from Harry Sullivan and the last vestiges of UNIT, and forge their way through the universe in a bold new direction. Like many of the Hinchcliffe/Holmes stories of this time, “Planet of Evil” cribs liberally from gothic horror stories – in this case, “The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”, with a more modern splash of “Forbidden Planet” thrown in for good measure – and puts its own Who-laden spin on the tale.

“Planet of Evil” opens up in the year 37,166, at the edge of the known universe, where a scientific team is studying anti-matter on the lonely planet of Zeta Minor. Professor Sorenson – the leader of the scientific team – is slowly going crazy, and while the rest of his crew is still sane (good!) they’re also being murdered by sinister invisible monsters (bad!). One of the last members of this crew manages to activate a distress call before shuffling off this mortal coil, though, so the signal is picked up by both the Doctor and Sarah Jane in the TARDIS, and by a military exploration ship. The Doctor and Sarah Jane arrive first, and are immediately blamed for all the deaths by the crew of the exploration ship that arrives later. Wacky hijinks ensue as the Doctor tries to convince everyone that what’s really killing everyone is an anti-matter creature, except no one’s listening except Sarah Jane (as usual) – and the anti-matter creature’s taking physical form through Sorenson, who’s apparently been busy drinking enough anti-matter soy espresso venti lattes to become an anti-matter monster himself!

Though “Planet of Evil” is a fairly straightforward story, it’s a good one … and it’s dark. The story really doesn’t pull any punches. The desiccated corpses of the science crew visible early on in the first episode make it clear that this is going to be a bleak, somber story. (You can see how those who still viewed Doctor Who as solely a children’s program, like Mary Whitehouse, would clearly be dismayed by Philip Hitchcliffe’s reign as producer!) The character’s lives are in constant danger, whether from each other, or from the anti-matter creatures lurking on Zeta Minor … or from the horrors exotic alien jungle, which is worth its own special mention.

Designer Roger Murray-Leach created a beautiful set for the jungle scenes that still looks terrific even when watching the story today – it’s a far cry from the typical “spray-painted styrofoam and tinfoil tied together with a bit of twine” cheap sets that unfortunately were all too common in the stories from this time. Done properly, with proper dim lighting to set the mood, rather than the constant over-bright lighting common to everything recorded in the BBC’s Television Centre … anything featuring the jungle sets is a treasure to watch. It makes you wonder what might’ve been possible production-wise in the stories of this time if only the BBC had been a bit more flexible!

“Are you pondering what I’m pondering, Doctor?”
“I think so, Sarah Jane, but where would we get a coconut at this time of night?”

Another of the main reasons that the story works so well is because of the Doctor and Sarah Jane. Tom Baker, in his second season in the role of the Doctor, is starting taking the opportunity to truly make the role his own … and he’s paired with Elisabeth Sladen, starting her third year as Sarah Jane. Top this amount of time they’ve spent in their respective roles with the clear chemistry between the two actors – it’s quite evident that Tom and Lis have a great deal of affection for each other – and you’re seeing a Doctor/companion pairing that isn’t trying to figure out exactly what that relationship really is, as it does in so many other seasons. They’re best friends, and they trust each other implicitly. And this trust comes across not just in the acting, but in the writing as well – when Sarah Jane heads back alone to the TARDIS through the jungles of Zeta Minor, there’s a moment where it’s clear the Doctor doesn’t want her to go … but he also knows she’s resourceful, and she’ll do the right thing, so he doesn’t try to stop her. There’s several scenes where Sarah Jane gets to do far, far more than just ask “What is it, Doctor?” in “Planet of Evil”, and it’s lovely to see the many nuances Elisabeth Sladen gives to the character.

The other characters (with one major exception, noted below) bring a lot to “Planet of Evil” as well. Frederick Jaegar’s unhinged Professor Sorenson can get a little over the top at times, but he plays the part of obsessed scientist very well, and as he starts transforming into the “Anti-Man” – the Hyde-like villain of the story – you can’t help but feel a little sorry for the deluded fool. Also worth mentioning is Ewen Solon, who plays Vishinsky, the second-in-command of the military ship. Vishinsky’s an interesting character in that he realizes fairly early on that what the Doctor is saying about the dangers on Zeta Minor is correct … but he’s not always in a position to do anything about it. There’s a nice balance between military duty and pragmatic realism with the character, and the conflict he finds in reconciling the two, and he’s both fun and believable to watch.

Not that everything about “Planet of Evil” is always brilliant, of course. For as wonderful as the filmed studio jungle sets are for the story, things get decidedly less impressive when the story returns to the video cameras and sets of BBC Television Centre Studio 6. Apparently military spacecraft in the year 37,166 are quite minimalist, utilizing cheap glass-and-chrome furnishings from some IKEA knockoff store to represent a supposedly high-tech control room. (Sharp-eyed viewers will notice that this set gets a terrific makeover the next season, though, when it’s transformed into the control room of the Sandminer in “The Robots of Death”.) Also, the electronic effects for the anti-matter monster – the in-theory scary “Big Bad” of the story – while reasonably good for the time back when “Planet of Evil” originally aired in 1975, don’t hold up well at all some forty years after the show originally aired.

“You know what they say, Frank … black holes really suck.” (puts on sunglasses)

And then there’s Salamar, the commander of the military ship. Bless Prentis Hancock, who played the character, but he’s straight out of the William Shatner/David Caruso School of Overacting. (When he arrives at Zeta Minor to survey Professor Sorenson’s abandoned outpost, I kept waiting for him to put on a pair of sunglasses while The Who’s ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ started blaring in the background.) He’s just ridiculous in the part, and it doesn’t help that he’s been handed a ridiculously-written part in the first place – he’s all blustery pompousness, doing virtually nothing that’s helpful to find out what’s actually happening on the planet, and often doing incredibly stupid things simply because it’s the opposite of whatever Sarah Jane or the Doctor has just helpfully suggested. Salamar’s just a bad fit all around for an otherwise exceptionally good story, which is a shame (although he does add a certain amount of unintentional comedy to his scenes that’s worth something, I guess).

If you can find “Planet of Evil” on DVD, it’s definitely worth picking up – apart from getting to watch a terrific story, the extras on the DVD are certainly worth a view as well. The “making-of” feature called “A Darker Side” covers the production aspects of the story, such as the making of the aforementioned brilliant jungle set at Ealing Studios, as well as the evolution of the script from its initial concept to its final draft. Meanwhile, the feature called “Planetary Performance” focuses on the acting side of the story, including a lot of interesting insights from both Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen about their acting relationship, and what their respective takes on their roles where during this time period. If – like me – you’re an absolute junkie for exactly how the show was made during these times, these features are must-watches for you.

Is “Planet of Evil” the best story of Season 13? No. But it’s damn fun, and it’s damn good … and if it can be said that there’s a hidden gem in this outstanding season of “Doctor Who”, this would be it. “Planet of Evil” is definitely worth watching.

Agree? Disagree? Think that Salamar has been viciously slighted in this review? Post your comments below!


Doctor Who DVD Review: The Claws of Axos Special Edition (It’s, Like, Way Groovy, Man!)


Doctor Who during the early Seventies remains something of an anomaly. For a show that likes to mine its own past, going all the way back to its earliest episodes in the Sixties, it’s in some ways surprising. Modern interpretations of the Doctor’s character owe a lot to the show’s past – Matt Smith’s Doctor clearly is influenced by Patrick Troughton, right down to the bow tie, while the gruff abruptness of Peter Capaldi is in many ways a reflection of William Hartnell’s original interpretation of the character. As the show’s marched on through time, the newer caretakers of the role have been influenced quite a bit by their predecessors – Hartnell, Troughton, Tom Baker, Davison …

… and then there’s Jon Pertwee. The Third Doctor.

Jon Pertwee’s incarnation of the Doctor clearly owes a lot to the Sixties British television series of “The Avengers” – specifically, the John Steed/Emma Peel incarnation of that show – and Pertwee’s debonair, aristocratic and often pompous man of action remains even today something of a unique portrayal of the Doctor. It’s very, very good, and extremely entertaining … but the Pertwee era of Doctor Who is a reflection of the time in which it was made. I suspect that if someone really tried to update Pertwee’s performance for the modern version of Doctor Who – the Twelfth Doctor’s costume details notwithstanding – it’d either come across as wildly, ridiculously camp, or require so much action and special effects that the budget would be astronomical.

Which is a shame, because the stories for the Third Doctor’s era are just fantastic. (To coin a certain phrase.)

If you’re not familiar with Jon Pertwee’s tenure in Doctor Who’s long history, I can think of no better introductory story to start with than the wonderful “Claws of Axos”. While not the best story of the Third Doctor’s era – that honor would more rightfully belong to “Inferno”, or perhaps “The Daemons” – “Axos” is a beautiful example of everything that was fun and great about “Doctor Who” at this time. It’s got Jon Pertwee and Katy Manning, with their chemistry between the Third Doctor and companion/best friend Jo Grant at its very best. It’s got the full supporting cast of UNIT – Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, Captain Yates, and Sergeant Benton – all crisp, brilliant and at their action-packed finest. And it’s got Roger Delgado as the original (and the best) Master, charming and subversive and ruthless, displaying just why the evil Time Lord is perfect as the Doctor’s “best enemy”. In a lot of ways, “Axos” is like a ‘greatest hits’ story for Pertwee’s Third Doctor, containing bits and pieces of everything that made his run on the show such a blast, and distilling it all into four fast-paced episodes that are still just a pleasure to watch.

The Partridge Family in Space. You know, if the Partridge Family was a bunch of psychedelic ruthless, homicidal space aliens in disguise. (That might actually be true, though.)

The Partridge Family in Space. You know, if the Partridge Family was a bunch of psychedelic ruthless, homicidal space aliens in disguise. (That might actually be true, though.)

The story itself is simple but solid – an alien race called the Axons come to Earth, offering humanity a fantastic gift called Axonite that seems too good to be true, in exchange for some help with their crashed spaceship. The aliens come across as these enlightened, flower power alien hippies … which is a disguise that the Doctor, of course, sees through right away. However, unable to prove his suspicions, he’s forced to work with UNIT to help transfer the Axonite into human hands – but meanwhile, he continues to work to expose the Axons for what they really are!

It’s not the deepest plot in the annals of “Who” history, but it’s enough to make a really intriguing tale. The action sequences are great, with the fights between UNIT and the Axons among the best the show ever featured in those early years. Pertwee’s at his charming, arrogant best, managing to be politely condescending to the bureaucrats while managing to con his way to getting access at a nuclear power plant, as much for his own selfish purposes as for stopping the Axon menace. And the Axons – and their crashed spaceship – are great, looking slightly surreal and psychedelic, which perfectly fits a lot of the ‘trippiness’ of the story.

The constant misdirection in the story is pretty great to watch as well. While it’s not of the complexity of, say, one of Moffat’s better “Modern Who” tales, “Axos” features a lot of unexpected twists. Virtually all the characters in this story do something surprising at some point during its four episodes, and it’s not always immediately clear why they’re doing those things. These many, many twists are all resolved fairly quickly, but they go on long enough for the viewer to keep guessing as to what’s really happening, and enough to make things very interesting – and very entertaining – indeed.

"Good night, Doctor. Good work. Sleep well. I'll most likely kill you in the morning."

“Good night, Doctor. Good work. Sleep well. I’ll most likely kill you in the morning.”

One particularly genius moment comes in “Axos” when the Axons go on the attack in full-on spaghetti monster mode, with the Doctor and Jo taken prisoner by them … and the Master and UNIT are forced together to fight them instead. And later on, after the Doctor’s inevitable escape, it’s the Doctor himself who joins forces with the Master against the Axons. This uneasy alliance between the two Time Lords is something that gets lost later in the classic series with Anthony Ainley, for the most part, and certainly with John Simm’s portrayal of the Master – Delgado’s original Master wasn’t always obsessed with killing or destroying the Doctor. In many of his stories, he’s doing something nefarious that doesn’t initially involve the Doctor, but his activities catch the Doctor’s attention – and many times, it’s actually in the Doctor’s interest (or the Doctor’s allies) to help the Master, either to buy some time, or to prevent something even more awful from happening. There’s a fascinating dynamic between Pertwee’s Doctor and Delgado’s Master that’s usually wonderful to watch, a game of one-upsmanship where the two mortal enemies have a healthy respect for one another, even if the game’s a deadly one to play.

There’s still some flaws, to be sure. Paul Grist’s ‘American’ accent for Filer is atrocious, and Derek Ware’s English country accent is even worse. And there’s some story elements which – typical of the time – not only defy logic, but proceed to club logic to death, kick logic a couple of times in the side for good measure, and then bury logic out in the deep woods somewhere to rot in ignominy. (Why do the Axons make a copy of Filer when they don’t need to? Why do they need to extract the secrets of time travel from the Doctor, when they’ve already been working with the Master? AAAAAARRRGH.) But it’s nothing more egregious than any other Doctor Who story of pretty much any era, and as with plenty of other Who stories, the good far outweighs the bad in “Axos”, making it a most enjoyable watch.

If you’re just interested in checking out “The Claws of Axos”, you can find the original DVD release on Amazon or eBay (or other similar sites) pretty damn cheap, and it’ll be worth every penny. I’d seriously recommend getting the Special Edition DVD of “Axos”, though, if that’s a viable option for you. In addition to having the original video restored to much better condition by the Doctor Who Restoration Team, there’s a few “behind-the-scenes” and “making-of” features included in the DVD that are totally worth checking out. In particular, I found the “Studio Recording” feature interesting, as it shows the video recording of all the studio sequences, including what’s going on between takes.

(And if you enjoyed this story, I highly recommend checking out the Big Finish audio production of “The Feast of Axos“, featuring the return of the nefarious Axons in an encounter with Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor.)


It’s the Beginning … But the Moment Has Been Prepared For! (With a Bonus Top 5 Doctor Who List!)

Welcome to the Brains of Morbius! Here, the geek intellects of Ken and Mike will merge to talk about pop culture, games, fantasy, Doctor Who, and related magnificence. Join the discussion!

Let’s get this underway with our respective takes on the best stories of our mutually favorite TV show, Doctor Who. First off, the Top 5 of Classic Who:

Mike’s #5. Inferno

InfernoA Doctor Who “mirror universe” story, by all rights, should be all sorts of juicy fun. And while there are no evil goatees here, the Alt-Brigadier’s sinister eye patch lets the viewer know pretty quickly that this is going to be fun. What makes this particular story so compelling is the fact that when the Third Doctor is flung into a parallel dimension, he still fights just as hard to save it, even though it’s populated by the evil counterparts of his friends … and he’s devastated when, for once, he fails to save the day. It makes his grim determination to succeed in saving his “own” Earth in the final episode even more gripping.

Ken’s comment: By rights, a 7-part story shouldn’t work. Hell, they often had a tough time maintaining a good story across 6 episodes! Don Houghton wrote an amazing script, and you could tell the actors relished playing their “evil” selves. The Doctor’s failure IS devastating and really well handled. It’s also notable for being one of the few stories in those continuity-light years to actually be referenced in a later story (“The Mind of Evil,” also written by Houghton.)


Ken’s #5. The Curse of Fenric

fenric2Doctor Who is usually never better than when its roots are showing, and when those roots are Hammer Films, it’s impossible not to embrace the eeriness. McCoy’s Doctor is at his mysterious, Machiavellian best, manipulating everyone on chessboards both real and metaphorical. The creepy atmosphere, superb acting, and plot payoff make up for the iffy vampire effects.

Mike’s comment: “Fenric” is by far the most ambitious story of the McCoy years, and it pays off in spades. It’s clever, gloomy, and brooding – a far cry from his hammy first season. There are many moments where you’re not quite sure what the Seventh Doctor’s really up to. If only McCoy had been given the opportunity to build on this for one more season….


Mike’s #4. The Tomb of the Cybermen

180px-Tomb_ep3Troughton’s performance in this “base under siege” story is so powerful that it’s left its mark on pretty much every other actor to have played the role, even up to today. As the Tomb is discovered, the Second Doctor acts the innocent fool, bumbling around and wondering what’s going on … but as the story unfolds, it’s clear that he’s manipulating everyone else to do what he wants, and to do whatever’s necessary to stop the Cybermen. Troughton somehow manages to be heroic and funny while being dark and ruthless and calculating all at the same time, and it’s a treasure to watch.

Ken’s comment: It’s a classic tale, no doubt about it. The emergence of the Cybermen from their tomb is brilliant. I have trouble with some of the supporting characters – like the tough-talking and somewhat dumb Captain Hopper – but Troughton’s Doctor is a must-watch bundle of energy, even though I don’t see him as the manipulator you describe. I’ll have to look for that on a rewatch! The Doctor-Jamie-Victoria relationship is delicious fun.


Ken’s #4. The Dalek Invasion of Earth

Dalek InvasionPerhaps the first epic tale in the series’ history, the second Dalek adventure – set on a dark, conquered future Earth – has plenty of surprises, close calls, and tragedy. The first cliffhanger’s emergence of a Dalek from the Thames and the concluding departure of Susan (the first cast change EVER) push this already-excellent story to the top.

Mike’s comment: The story takes all the promise – and the fear – of their initial appearance, and ups the ante by moving them to a location all too familiar to the audience. The images of the Daleks gliding through the streets of London are still iconic even today. For my money, it’s Hartnell’s best story, and also his best performance as the First Doctor.


Mike’s #3. The Robots of Death

Robots of DeathOn the surface, it’s an Agatha Christie murder mystery in space. Peel away that top layer, though, and there are rich, elegant levels upon levels beneath it to explore. All the characters are fleshed out with complex motivations, and how they all interact with each other – and with the Fourth Doctor and Leela – is just a joy to watch. It’s a magnificent story that keeps the viewer guessing from beginning to end about exactly what’s really happening, and who’s really responsible for the murderous robots slowly killing off the crew of the mining ship. (Not to mention that the early scene of the Doctor explaining to Leela how the TARDIS can be “bigger on the inside” remains one of the best scenes in the entire history of the show.)

Ken’s comment: I love that scene with the Doctor and Leela! Not much to add in praise of this excellent Philip Hinchcliffe era tale, aside from 1) all the cliffhangers are top notch, and 2) the Doctor’s means of defeating the villain is supremely clever and one of my favorite resolutions.


Ken’s #3. Earthshock

EarthshockIn the debate over Best Cyberman Story, “Earthshock” prevails. The script (by Eric Saward, prior to his descent into the Abyss as script editor) generates so much energy in the crackling first episode that you don’t care about the plot holes later on. (WHAT is the Cybermen’s plan?) All of Davison’s scenes with the Cyber Leader are, ahem, excellent, and Davison himself is in top form. It also makes you care about Adric. ADRIC! Take a moment to appreciate the twin surprises of his death and the big reveal at the end of Episode 1 – they’d be nearly impossible to pull off today.

Mike’s comment: I really like this story, but it’s kind of like an episode of “24” to me – it’s best just to lose yourself in what’s happening, and don’t scrutinize the plot too closely (in particular the details of the Cybermen’s plan, which doesn’t make a lick of sense). It doesn’t hold up well under repeat viewings for me for that reason, but nevertheless it’s still all sorts of fun, and must’ve been mind-blowing to viewers when it first aired.


Mike’s #2. Pyramids of Mars

PyramidsofMars1“1980, Sarah, if you want to get off.” Why does the Doctor interfere so often in the affairs of other worlds? This story demonstrates admirably what would happen if he didn’t, as he demonstrates to Sarah Jane Smith. It also happens to be the best story of Tom Baker’s early Hinchcliffe era – creepy, disturbing, and horrifying at times, especially when the Doctor confronts the god-like Sutekh … and you’re not quite sure how even the Time Lord can defeat such evil.

Ken’s comment: This came SO close to cracking my list, right up to the moment that I wrote this. One element that makes Sutekh so scary and formidable: As viewers, we’ve never seen the Doctor in agony before. Oh sure, the Doctor has felt pain, but you always knew that he’d get the upper hand. Here, he looked helpless against the seemingly omnipotent Sutekh. Actor Gabriel Woolf radiates power and malevolence while staying seated until the climax of the story! That’s bad-ass.


Ken’s #2. Genesis of the Daleks

No one is more surprised than me that two Dalek stories made my list. This great 6-parter (another tale from the Hinchcliffe gothic horror era of Who) is packed with “Holy crap!” moments. The ethical debates – first between the Doctor and Davros and, later, between the Doctor and himself – are intense, and remain among the series’ best and most remembered scenes.

Mike’s comment: Origin tales usually suck. This one doesn’t. Easily the best Doctor Who story featuring the Daleks, not to mention the most thought provoking. And Michael Wisher’s portrayal of Davros is sheer brilliance – he’s more cold, calculating and ruthless than his Dalek progeny, and his performance is much more nuanced than later OTT portrayals of the character by other actors would be.


Mike’s #1. The Caves of Androzani

It’s a story where the Doctor doesn’t save the universe, or even a planet. Instead, it’s simply about the Doctor and Peri being in the wrong place at the wrong time – landing in the middle of a “pathetic little local war” between ruthless mercenaries and a fanatical rebel leader – and the lengths that the Doctor will go to in order to save his friend, no matter what the cost. It’s the Doctor at his bravest, and his most heroic, and it absolutely deserves its reputation as the best Doctor Who story of all time.

Ken’s comment: It’s fantastic. And I’ll correct you on one point in a way that makes this story better still: Peri isn’t even the Doctor’s friend! They’d just met a short time earlier (I’m not counting the dozens of Big Finish audios that’d fill the gap years later). He needs to rescue Peri because he’s responsible for her. That makes his actions and desperation even greater. And that brings us to…


Ken’s #1. The Caves of Androzani

It deserves all the praise. The cinematic direction by Graeme Harper was unlike anything the series had ever done, full of tension, undercurrents, and dissolves, with shockingly effective breaking of TV’s Fourth Wall at times. The guest characters are so complex and so well acted that you feel that you could happily watch a miniseries starring any of them. The Doctor is dying from the first minute, it’s Davison’s last story, yet you still don’t know what’s going to happen. “Is this death?”

Mike’s comment: No surprise that I 100% agree with this. Everything’s clicking on all cylinders with this story – it’s easily Robert Holmes’ best story, and he’d already written some great ones; Graeme Harper’s direction is surprisingly modern and appropriately moody; and Davison gives everything he has and then some in his final appearance. A must-watch of the Classic series.


What do you think? Agree? Disagree? Incensed that there’s no love for “The King’s Demons” or “Timelash”? What are YOUR Top 5 of Classic Who? Leave your reply and let’s do some Time Lord Wrestling.

-Ken & Mike