I can’t wait to show Sue Season 11′s new title sequence. The diamond logo! The space-time vortex! Jon Pertwee’s legs!
Sue: They’ve changed the titles. (Pause) And they’ve missed a bit.
Sue: The bottom left-hand corner. They missed a bit.
Me: Is that it?
Sue: I like the new theme music.
Me: They haven’t changed the music!
Sue: Calm down! OK, it’s very clever, especially when you consider that they didn’t have any CGI back then. You can also see its influence on the new series’ titles, too. Is that better? Oh, The Time Warrior… Is it the…
Sue: Oh, look – Robert Holmes. I like Robert Holmes. A nice four-part Robert Holmes. It’s a winner already.
And then the episode begins…
Sue: It’s Game of Thrones but with -
Me: But with less incest. Yes, we know.
Sue: I like the historicals. They take me right back.
Me: Very funny.
Sue: No, I mean they take me back to the old William Hartnell stories. I used to like the comedy historicals. Is this one a comedy?
Me: Wait and see.
Sue: It really is Game of Thrones. This lot look like they’re members of the Night’s Watch. I miss Game of Thrones. Can’t we blog about that instead?
We are introduced to David “He’s in everything” Daker as Irongron, and his aide, Bloodaxe, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Noel Edmonds.
As an illuminated tennis ball hurtles past a castle window, I should point out that I didn’t bother trying to surreptitiously sneak in the version of this story that includes new CGI effects. Mainly because they are rubbish and they make what is already a cack-handed effect look even worse.
Sue: It’s a mini-Epcot.
She’s referring to a Sontaran ship that has crash landed outside Irongron’s castle. And when Linx exits this ship, Sue recognises him immediately.
Sue: Oh, it’s the Sontarans! Are you impressed that I know that?
Me: Not really. You can’t move for Sontarans in the new series.
Sue: They’re the good guys, aren’t they?
Me: No, they are not the good guys!
Linx forges an alliance with Irongron – he gives the robber baron access to modern weaponry in exchange for shelter while he repairs his ship.
Sue: He has created weapons that go bang before you’ve had a chance to fire them. That’s a bit dangerous.
Meanwhile, back in contemporary England, we are introduced to Sarah Jane Smith and Sue takes to her like a duck to water. But of course she does. Sarah Jane is a character that Sue knows very well, and there’s no point in trying to hide it. But this is the very first time that Sue has seen Sarah at the beginning of her illustrious career.
Sue: She’s very beautiful.
But it isn’t just Elisabeth Sladen’s looks that make an impression on Sue.
Sue: Sarah Jane is nothing like Jo. She isn’t girly at all. She’s very resourceful and ballsy, and I like it. I just hope her character stays like this throughout the series.
In fact, everything is going swimmingly until Sue is forced to concentrate on the partitions that have been erected to house some scientists who are currently under UNIT’s protection.
Sue: They are having a laugh. There are no ceilings on those things but the Doctor assumes that Sarah Jane can’t hear a word he’s saying as soon as she shuts the door. They look like they are sleeping in toilet cubicles! The walls look like they’ve been made from cardboard and I don’t buy it at all. That is some very shoddy design work.
Aside from spotting Dot Cotton as Lady Eleanor (Sue keeps waiting for her to stick a cigarette in her mouth), the episode races along nicely and Sue appears to be enjoying it immensely. She believes that it’s the perfect introduction for a new companion, and by the time we reach the cliffhanger – one of the classic series’ most iconic moments – and Linx takes off his helmet to poke his tongue out at us, she is completely sold.
Sue: The Sontarans aren’t half as scary in the new series.top
Me: I have a very strong memory of watching this particular episode. It was Christmas week, 1973, and I was four years old. What I remember the most is that I saw it in London. In my grandparents house in Stratford, to be precise. I can only assume that my dad was visiting them during the holidays. Anyway, I’m sitting in front of an open coal fire… And that’s about it.
Sue: Fascinating. Do the fans think the Sontarans look like potatoes?
Sue: What about giant poos?
Me: Not so much.
Sue: The make-up looks amazing, though. You can see why they became so popular. It’s a brilliant design.
We then have an animated discussion about Sarah’s reaction to her current predicament. Is she being thick or realistic? I’m going with thick.
Sue: It’s perfectly understandable for her to believe that she’s walked into a Medieval pageant -
Me: Via a Police Telephone Box? That’s bigger on the inside?
Sue: She might believe that the Doctor drugged her or something.
Me: So the Doctor date raped her and then he took her to a Medieval banquet? That makes sense.
Sue: All I know is that Jo would be screaming her head off at this point.
As Linx strokes Sarah’s thorax, and she barely flinches, I concede that Sue definitely has a point.
We are then introduced to Linx’s robot knight, which he has built for Irongron to play with.
Sue: That’s quite scary. Anything that doesn’t have a voice or a face terrifies me.
It’s bloody rubbish when it comes to fighting, though…
Sue: You could just run behind it and push it over. It looks like it’s about to fall over in that skirt. It wouldn’t take much.
The knight is repeatedly shot by Hal the Archer, aka Boba Fett (she’s not impressed by this fact for the second time in this experiment), and then its head comes off. And yet it still keeps on coming…
Sue: Ah, so that’s why it had such a top-heavy body. It’s so the stuntman could hide in its torso. That makes sense.
The damaged knight is eventually carted away for Linx to fix.
Sue: I hope it’s still under warranty.
In the castle’s basement, Linx has hypnotised a group of scientists that he has kidnapped from the future. To be honest, Sue struggles with this aspect to the story quite a lot. And who can blame her?
Sue: You know, there’s a lot of hypnotism in Doctor Who. Every other story has some character or other under the influence of mind control. It’s a bit lazy, especially when you get a lot of them in a row.
And then the Doctor says the word ‘Gallifrey’ for the very first time.
Me: There you go. It’s only taken them 10 years, but we finally have a name for the Doctor’s home planet.
Sue: Are you sure?
Sue: Are you quite sure they haven’t mentioned it before and we just didn’t notice?
I give her a very stern look.
The Doctor manages to escape from Linx’s clutches with the help of the story’s comic relief, Professor Rubeish.
Sue: Why does he keep running into them? Why doesn’t he just run away?
Me: It looks like we’re playing World of Warcraft from this angle.
Sue: This isn’t bad at all. It’s zipping by. I was going to watch an episode of Jersey Shore, but I’m happy to keep going with this if you are.
Me: Wow. High praise indeed.top
Between episodes, Sue tells me that she wishes she had some childhood memories of the time that The Time Warrior went out that she could draw upon, and so I decide to pay homage (well, rip off) Philip Sandifer’s excellent TARDIS Eruditorum blog. You see, at the beginning of every entry, Philip contextualises the original transmission date of any given story by listing what was riding high in the UK charts at the time.
So, in an effort to stimulate Sue’s memories (it will be good training for when the Alzheimer’s kicks in), I decide to play Sue some music that would have been on everyone’s lips when this story was broadcast.
Because the number one record was far too Christmassy to play (“Was it Slade?”), we begin with Gary Glitter’s seminal ‘I Love You Love Me Love’ instead.
You can listen to the track via Spotify, if you dare. Incidentally, this is why Gary Glitter turned up in my Spotify Facebook feed the other day. I swear to God.
Sue: Ah, yes, now I know exactly what I was doing when this episode went out.
Me: Go on.
Sue: I was having an argument with Louise Coghan – Coggie, we called her – about which pop star was better looking. Gary Glitter or Donny Osmond. I fancied Donny. She had a thing for Gary. She told me she wanted to marry him. She was also the most popular girl in the school so she won that argument. But I had the last laugh. I never fancied a paedo.
We’ll try this again every couple of stories. Maybe.
Sue: Would Robin Hood have been on television around this time?
Me: Has there ever been a time when Robin Hood wasn’t on television?
Sarah suspects that the Doctor is the evil wizard that everyone keeps talking about.
Sue: I like the way Sarah Jane distrusts the Doctor and she doesn’t just fall in with him straight away. It makes sense for her to suspect him, especially given that he’s responsible for bringing her here. It’s very clever and it stops her from appearing stupid, even if she is wrong.
The script continues to impress, and Sue loves the description of the Doctor as a “long shanked rascal with a mighty nose”.
Sue: Robert Holmes couldn’t write a rubbish insult if he tried.
Sue likes the design of the castle, too. Which is a blessed relief because she once met the designer for this episode, Keith Cheetham.
Sue: Oh yes! Didn’t I get him to come in and talk to my university students?
Me: Yes. It was the late 1990s, and when we took him out for lunch, I couldn’t stop asking him about the design of the Sontaran spaceship.
Sue: And what was I doing at this point?
Me: Yawning, mostly.
Sue: He was a very nice man. And the carpentry is very nice. I forgive him for the toilet cubicles.
We are then treated to a very funny scene where Linx can’t see the gun that someone hands to him because his helmet is impossible to see out of. It’s a very entertaining moment and we watch it several times over:
Sue: That’s cruel. Funny, but cruel.
A fabulous fight sequence follows, with the Doctor lobbing stink bombs at the marauding army below. And one of the explosions is definitely a bit too close for comfort.
Sue: That bloke genuinely shat himself just then.
In fact, the episode is only let down by some appalling acting from the two guards who allow the Doctor and Sarah to infiltrate Irongron’s castle dressed as friars.
Sue: They only stick out so much because everything else is so good.
Me: The Doctor is technically a meddling monk now.
The Doctor tries to reason with Linx. He offers to help him, if only Linx will promise to stop pissing around with time, but the Sontaran (who looks at the Doctor as if is speaking a foreign language) shoots the Doctor in the head instead.
Sue: I’m sorry if I’m not saying very much. I’m enjoying it too much.top
Sue: Back in the 70s, I had a leather jacket that was exactly the same shade of green as Jon Pertwee’s velvet coat. I loved that jacket.
And that’s all I get out of Sue for the first 10 minutes of this episode.
When Sarah Jane attempts to incite rebellion in the kitchen (“This is very Upstairs, Downstairs“), I ask Sue how she feels about the show’s sexual politics right now.
Me: Are you pleased to see feminism appearing in Doctor Who?
Sue: Of course I am. What a stupid question.
As Rubeish brings the kidnapped scientists out of their hypnotic states, Sue is impressed with their calm composure.
Sue: They are taking it very well. Why aren’t they all freaking out? Or at least taking notes?
When Rubeish knocks Linx unconscious with a quick smack on the back of his probic vent, Sue can’t see how they made it this far in life.
Sue: The Sontarans should put rear view mirrors on their armour. That way they’d be able to tell if an enemy was coming up behind them.
When the Doctor is recaptured by Irongron (who sounds more and more like Sean Bean with every passing scene), the Time Lord is used as target practice. Luckily for the Doctor, Irongron’s men are terrible shots.
Sue: This lot are almost as bad as UNIT!
The Doctor escapes, with the help of Sarah (of course), and he returns to his TARDIS to retrieve a set of metallic strips that form the shape of a circular fan.
Sue: It’s a giant feeler gauge.
Me: If you say so, love.
As the Doctor fights with Linx, Sue offers her usual advice from the sidelines:
Sue: Just stick your finger in his vent!
Linx tries to leg it but Hal shoots him where it counts.
Sue: What a shot.
Me: Yeah, it’s just a shame that it’s completely pointless.
Linx’s ship explodes with such force, it can only be realised with bad stock footage. A little later, as we skim through the obligatory ‘making of’ documentary on the DVD (mainly so Sue can remember what Keith Cheetham looks like), we eventually come to the section where Barry Letts laments Alan Bromly’s affinity for special effects, and we accidentally watch the ‘improved’ version of this scene as well.
Sue: I have students who could do better than that.
As the story comes to an end, Sue believes that Hal will join the Doctor and Sarah Jane on their travels. When they decide to leave without him, she can’t help feeling sorry for the poor sod.
Sue: That’s a shame. UNIT could do with a good shot.top
The Final Score
Sue: It fell apart at the end. It started really well but it ended up as a bit of a farce. Sarah Jane was great and the Sontaran looked really good too, but the plot was a bit silly. I think Robert Holmes got a bit bored – or rushed – towards the end.
The experiment continues…
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