Sue: Ooh, new title sequence.
She’s very quick, my wife.
Sue: The theme music is very techno.
Sue thinks any up-tempo electronic music is ‘techno’. She can’t help it.
Sue: Why is Tom Baker snarling? Is he in pain?
I don’t have an answer for that.
Sue: Is somebody torturing him? Hmmm… I’m not sure about these new titles. It’s very eighties, isn’t it? It doesn’t get any more eighties than chrome neon tubing. But I’m sure it will grow on me. You have to move with the times or it would get boring.
Me: I love this version of the theme music.
Sue: You would. You listen to techno bollocks all the time.
The story begins on Brighton beach. The camera pans across some deck chairs. The camera pans across some deck chairs a lot.
A quarter of the way through the pan:
Sue: For ****’s sake.
Sue: Are they taking the piss?
Sue: I could have had a shower while this was going on.
Me: They are establishing the hell out of this place.
Somebody is snoring. And it isn’t one of us.
Sue: Has the director fallen asleep?
The camera finally settles on the TARDIS.
Sue: All that for that! Was it worth it? WAS IT? REALLY?
Romana is taking K9 for a lovely walk.
Sue: K9 on pebbles. How did they do that? Wait, don’t tell me, I can see the wire. I’m surprised Romana hasn’t tripped over it.
Romana throws a ball into the sea and K9 chases after it. Romana screams.
Sue: Is it the cliffhanger already? I know that pan was long, but was it really twenty minutes long? It felt like it could have been twenty minutes long.
K9 hits the salt water and promptly blows up.
Me: That’s it. K9’s dead.
Sue: Romana killed K9!
I know I shouldn’t do this but I have to get my kicks where I can find them.
Me: I’m afraid so. We have a new producer called John Nathan-Turner, known as JNT, and he wanted to change everything about the show. New titles, new music –
Sue: This isn’t Dudley?
Me: No. One of the first things JNT did was he took Dudley to a very nice restaurant –
Sue: That’s nice.
Me: And he sacked him over the starter.
Sue: I don’t think I like this JNT character very much. How long does he stay for? I can’t believe he killed off K9. What a ****.
Me: At least K9 got his old voice back just before he died.
Sue: Did he? I didn’t even notice. He wasn’t around long enough for me to notice. The bastards.
The camera zooms out until the Doctor and Romana are framed by animated stars.
Sue: That was different.
Me: You’ll know what they used to do that. It begins with a Q.
Me: That’s the one.
Sue: Quantel was very expensive. It still is. It must have cost them a fortune.
Me: It was the first time Quantel was used in a BBC drama, I think. Top of the Pops used it a lot as well, of course.
Sue: It hasn’t stood the test of time. It’s very dated. You’d think twice about using that effect on YouTube nowadays.
When we arrive on the planet Argolis, the first thing Sue notices is Peter Howell’s music.
Sue: I don’t like the incidental music. It isn’t incidental for a start. It sounds like the sort of crap you’d listen to. Tangerine ****ing Dream. I still haven’t forgiven you for taking me to see them in Manchester. Worst gig ever. Ooh, is that Oliver Reed?
She’s referring to Brock, a human broker who is addressing an Argolin named Pangol via a video link.
Sue: I like the aliens’ hair. Do you think they all go to the same hairdressers?
The Argolins have built a Leisure Hive but tourist numbers are down.
Sue: It’s a radioactive Center Parks in the middle of a recession, then?
Argolis is about to go bankrupt and a group of investors want to buy the whole planet.
Sue: It’s Dallas. The young angry one is Bobby Ewing and the old grumpy one is Jock Ewing. I can’t wait to meet JR.
A shuttle craft from Earth arrives on Argolis.
Sue: The director isn’t in any rush.
Me: I thought you’d like the direction in this one.
Sue: Well, it’s different, but it’s entirely inappropriate for Doctor Who. It’s arty farty when it should be fast-paced and exciting. It’s boring. I mean, what I am supposed to be looking at here? I’ve been staring at it for two minutes and I still don’t know what it is.
Pangol demonstrates his recreation generator, a machine that runs on tachyonics.
Sue: I bet you like this story.
Me: What makes you say that?
Sue: It’s got tachyons in it. You ran a website for 10 years called Tachyon TV. It can’t be a coincidence.
Me: I didn’t get the idea from this.
Me: I stole it from a John Carpenter film. Now shut up and listen.
A volunteer enters the recreation generator and Pangol prepares to manipulate the visitor’s tachyonic image. Or something. Ask Christopher Hamilton Bidmead.
Sue: Why would anyone want pay for a go in that? And if they did, could you imagine the queues? They’ve only got the one cabinet. They haven’t thought this through. I bet they’ve only got one squash court as well. No wonder they are going bankrupt.
The demonstration goes horribly wrong and the Doctor enters the generator to investigate.
The Doctor: He’s terribly hurt.
Sue: Terribly hurt? It ripped his ****ing head off!
Another Argolin, Mena, arrives to take charge of the situation. She believes that experiments into tachyonics could rejuvenate a person.
Sue: Now that’s something I’d happily pay for. Sod the fancy Hall of Mirrors.
The Doctor and Romana explore the generator room, which is littered with plastic mannequins.
Sue: It’s the Autons! Ooh, I’m excited, now.
The Doctor sneaks into the recreation generator when Romana isn’t looking.
Sue: Is this where he regenerates?
Me: Wait and see.
The episode concludes with the Doctor suffering the same fate as the generator’s previous occupant.
Sue: I knew it! Peter Davison here we come!
Sue is disappointed when it turns out that the Doctor wasn’t in any real danger (“So why did he scream?”) but the director, Lovett Bickford, soon takes her mind off it.
Sue: Oh no, not this ****ing shot again.
The latest ship to arrive on Argolis is carrying Hardin, a human scientist employed by Mena to help her live longer.
Sue: This is very Babylon 5. The costumes, the hair, the sets, the endless triangles everywhere. The more I watch Doctor Who, the more I’m convinced that Babylon 5 was just ripping it off half the time. It’s been a real eye-opener for me, this.
The Doctor and Romana gaze upon the war-torn surface of Argolis.
The Doctor: It’s beautiful.
Sue: Beautiful? It’s a radioactive dump!
The war that devastated the planet lasted 20 minutes.
Sue: The pan in Part One lasted longer than that.
Not only are the Argolins dying, they can’t reproduce any more, either.
Sue: Ok, so let me get this straight: this race is dying, and they are all sterile, and how do they deal with this? They build some squash courts. What use is that? What kind of legacy is a squash court?
Not for the first time, we see a scaled claw interfering with the Hive’s workings.
Sue: This monster had better be good. They are really building it up to be something special.
A man with a goatee beard (Sue manages to restrain herself) finds a human disguise in Brock’s quarters.
Sue: It’s definitely the Autons.
But before he can warn anyone, the man is killed by a clawed beast.
Sue: Seriously, it had better be good.
The Doctor is framed for the murder and placed on trial.
Sue: Arrest the scarf! That’s the first decent joke in the whole story. And we’re halfway through Part Two. That’s not good.
Meanwhile, Romana and Hardin discuss tachyonics. At length.
Sue: You know, I don’t understand a word of this. I can’t put my finger on it, but this story isn’t working for me. Everything is too serious.
Me: This is what happens when you replace your script editor with a scientist. Nicol will love it.
I ask Sue what she makes of the Doctor’s new costume.
Sue: It’s alright, I suppose. I like the colour burgundy. It’s a nice change. I’m not all that keen on the question marks on his lapels, though. It’s the sort of thing the Joker might wear (she means the Riddler, bless her). Maybe it’s the Gallifreyan version of a Lacoste or Ben Sherman logo. That might explain it.
Hardin and Romana conduct a tachyon experiment.
Sue: Those crystals are so Babylon 5, it’s not even funny.
Their experiment seems to go on longer than ours.
Me: LOOK! PEOPLE DOING SCIENCE! AND STUFF!
Romana and Hardin think they’ve cracked it, but when they leave the lab, the experiment explodes.
Sue: First rule of science: wait until the experiment is over before you publish your work.
The Argolins decide to test Romana’s breakthrough on the Doctor.
Sue: Okay, so is this where he regenerates?
Sue: I knew it!
Sue: So Romana kills K9 and the Doctor? I’m not sure how I feel about that. I still like her, though. Isn’t that strange?
When the Doctor enters the generator, Sue is on the edge of her seat. Romana tries to stop the procedure but it’s too late. She opens the door.
Sue: That’s not Peter Davison. That’s ****ing Gandalf! And he’s looking down the camera lens again. Dock his pay!
Sue: The new music is beginning to grow on me.
Me: What took you so long?
Sue: It’s very confident. The old version of the theme music was scary. This is much more exciting. If only the story could live up to the theme music.
The Doctor has aged hundreds of years.
Sue: The makeup is brilliant. The top of his head is particularly good.
She praises Tom Baker’s performance as an old man, too.
Sue: I bet Tom enjoyed doing this. It must have been a nice challenge for him. He must be bored of doing this by now. I know I am.
Incredibly, Sue believes that the change is permanent.
Sue: Does he stay like this until he becomes Peter Davison? It’s as if we’ve got William Hartnell back again.
The Doctor isn’t very happy about it.
The Doctor: I’m sick of being old.
Sue: Regenerate, then! You can do it any time you feel like it. Romana will show you how. Just close your eyes, concentrate really hard, and look like Peter Davison!
Sue can’t take her eyes off the plastic mannequins.
Sue: I don’t understand what the plastic people have to do with this.
Me: Just let it go. Don’t get hung up about them. They aren’t Autons.
Sue: So what are they?
Me: I don’t know. Modern art, probably.
Sue: No wonder this civilisation is ****ed.
Lovett Bickford’s direction continues to perplex Sue.
Sue: Some of the shots are quite nice. It’s nice to see some depth of field for a change. The lighting is very effective at times, too. But in the very next scene, everything is over lit. I don’t know what to make of it.
Brock tells the Argolins that their arch-enemies, the Foamasi, are behind the bid for their planet.
Brock: Private enterprise is irrepressible.
Sue: This is so 1980. Nuclear war, private enterprise, squash courts. The only thing missing here is a bloody Rubik’s Cube.
It’s at this point, when we discover that Pangol is really an artificial creation, that Sue finally begins to engage with the plot.
Sue: I’m suddenly very interested in this. That was a very clever twist.
Pangol spies the Doctor skulking by his TARDIS on his CCTV monitor.
Sue: He’s caught a tramp pissing behind some bins.
Pangol sets off the alarm.
Sue: They’re playing ‘On the Run’ by Pink Floyd, now. It’s quite good, actually.
And then we see our first full-frontal Foamasi.
Sue: Oh dear.
Me: Not impressed?
Sue: Are they supposed to be scary?
The Foamasi communicate by chirruping.
Sue: It’s cute. A newt crossed with a canary. I hope you don’t expect me to be scared of it.
Meanwhile, Mena is dying.
Sue: She’s losing her marbles. It’s a shame, really. I liked her. I wanted to see her on Ten Years Younger.
The Foamasi leads the Doctor and Romana into the conference room, where it immediately attacks Brock.
Sue: Eh? What’s going on?
She can’t work it out for the live of her.
Sue: Is that alien sexually assaulting him?
I try to explain as the credits roll.
Sue: So, the broker was a big green alien in disguise? He would have needed one hell of a girdle to pull that off.
Before we begin the final episode, Sue sums up so far:
Sue: I’m intrigued by the plot. It’s got its fair share of flaws but I’m curious to see how it all ends. It’s a huge difference to what we’re used to. Were you surprised when you saw this at – what age would you have been? Ten? Eleven?
Me: Ten. And I didn’t see it.
Sue: Were you still living in New Zealand?
Me: Erm… not quite.
Sue: What do you mean, not quite?
Me: I decided to watch something else instead.
Sue: You must be joking.
Me: I still feel bad about this today but I switched to ITV. They were showing Buck Rogers in the 25th Century at exactly the same time, and because we didn’t have a video recorder well, let’s just say it was a very big decision.
Sue: Buck Rogers? Are you taking the piss?
Me: The trailers made it look amazing! Big budget spaceships – just like in Star Wars – and women in tight-fitting Lycra. What more could a boy ask for?
Sue: You missed Romana in a swim suit.
Me: I know. What was I thinking?
Sue: I didn’t see either of them. I was too busy being sporty.
Sue: What are these things called again?
Me: The Foamasi.
Sue: How do you remember all these silly names?
Me: This one is very easy. It’s name is an anagram of something else. Can you work it out?
That’ll shut her up for a bit.
The Foamasi imprisons Brock and his accomplice in a cocoon.
Sue: That’s a good a use as any for loft insulation, I guess.
Mira is still dying.
Sue: Is it something to do with a sofa?
Sue: My sofa? The anagram. I need to see it written down.
Me: It’s Mafioso.
Me: Wait… that doesn’t even work.
Pangol intends to raise an army with his re-creation generator, and the Doctor intends to stop him.
Sue: He’ll **** it up and turn into Peter Davison!
As the army of Pangols exit the generator to bombastic militaristic music, Sue starts singing “Quantel! Quantel!” at the top of her voice.
But it doesn’t take her long to notice that the Pangols come in different shapes and sizes.
Sue: That one is a fun-sized Pangol.
She loves their head-gear, though.
Sue: I like their helmets. Its design reminds me of the Cylons from Battlestar. Actually, some of the ideas in this – like the army of identical replicas – is very Battlestar as well. Everyone is ripping off Doctor Who!
It turns out that the clones are copies of the Doctor, not Pangol.
Sue: I bet Tom Baker wasn’t very happy when he saw the costume he’d have to wear in this scene.
Pangol tries again but the Doctor has –
Sue: Reversed the polarity, I bet. And I bet the baddie will turn into a baby as well. He’s a big baby already.
She’s right, of course, and Mena promises to bring Pangol up better this time.
Sue: Put him on the naughty step whenever he tries to take over the universe. That might help.
The Doctor isn’t concerned that he doesn’t possess a Randomiser any more.
Sue: I bet the Black Guardian turns up in the next one. I could write this, you know.
The Doctor and Romana return to their TARDIS.
The Doctor: I’m missing K9.
Sue: So am I! They didn’t even bury him. They went on a ****ing holiday instead!
The TARDIS dematerilises.
Sue: Can he steer his TARDIS properly, now?
Sue: So the story hasn’t been a complete waste of time, then.
Sue: I took a mark off as soon as they killed K9 –
Me: K9 isn’t dead.
Sue: Oh. Good.
And then she punched me – very hard – on the arm.
Sue: That’s for lying to me again. A cushion isn’t enough.
Sue: Okay, even though K9 isn’t dead, it’s still only just above average. The monsters didn’t do anything for me. What was the point of them? They were a pointless distraction. The sets looked cheap when all the studio lights were switched on, and the direction, although very interesting, was up its own arse at times. The best things about this story were the costumes, the hair and some of the ideas in the script. It’s probably Tom’s best performance for a while, too. But, at the end of the day, it was too much style and not enough substance.