5 December 2018: It Takes You Away review added.
26 November 2018: The Witchfinders review added.
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FOUR TO DOOMSDAY
"I wouldn’t dream of interfering with your monopticons."
"OK, Pete, we’re going to start you off with an easy one. There’s no plot to speak of, and we’ll keep you away from those pesky kids as much as possible. How do you feel about frogs, by the way?"
Oh yes, and did we mention the avalanche of heavy messages? Pop quiz. The Greenhouse Effect is: a) an increase in global temperature caused by the depletion of the ozone layer, or b) a violent headache caused by repeated pummelling by environmentalist script writers?
But what’s Four To Doomday's story? Some mad old lizard wants to become the universe’s longest-distance commuter? Well, it all starts when the TARDIS is mysteriously pulled off course by a powerful magnetic field. Is this a phenomenon unique to Gallifreyan transport, or does it also explain the traffic jams on the M25?
And for a few seconds, things actually look as though they’re going to get interesting. For a start, the TARDIS crew have landed in the one place in the galaxy which doesn’t provide a normal Earth atmosphere – even if they all have to wear extraordinarily stupid hats to prove it. Then the whole place is stacked with really advanced equipment! Oh no, wait a minute. It’s just an A-level physics lab.
Then there’s a whole lot of bickering about who’s going to carry the spare key, after which the Doctor doesn’t bother locking the door anyway. It’s just as well, though, because he immediately rushes off, taking Tegan and the spare key with him. Next thing we know, Tegan’s giving out fashion tips and we’re all invited to a Recreational. So far, so plotless. We yawned, we stretched, we wondered why anyone with such an obvious lack of understanding of relativity would want to write about it.
We had some unaccountable trouble with our eyes getting heavier during this one, so maybe someone can set us straight about the plot. Just why, exactly, was Monarch nipping back and forth across the galaxy? What was going to happen to the leftover three billion frogs? And for whose benefit were the incredibly dull Recreationals being staged, anyway?
Then there's all that mysterious stuff at the end. The Doctor can survive sub-zero temperatures for six minutes, can he? Well, all we can say is that it's lucky he doesn't live in Inverness. And how did he and the others manage not to burst into a nasty red mess when they opened the door out into space? And why would androids need suits with life support?
And what about the cricket ball? No, Scotty, you were wrong: you can change the laws of physics. What’s the point of taking the androids back to Earth? And it's finished up nicely by the Mystery of the Missing Android - quite apart from the stupidity of throwing the poison at Monarch without knowing whether it was going to spread out and slay everyone in the vicinity, if Monarch was only partially organic, how come all of him shrank? That one has the suspicious smell of an "oh, no!" moment at a script meeting followed by a last-minute rewrite.
So Four To Doomsday's plot-challenged and rambling, with the most suss physics we've seen since cold fusion. But despite all that, it does have its strong points. For a start, Stratford Johns makes a superlative villain, with cracking delivery ("Where is the booooaaaaa?")
And the Fifth Doctor's never going to be our favourite, but he's pretty intriguing here. What with the flirting, the request for weapons and the fights with companions, he's got a peculiarly quirky style that adds a lot of interest to the bland amiability we usually see. We particularly like the way he tells off Adric, not to mention his actually quite sinister finger-waving "Bad dog! No biscuit!" routine with Tegan. It's refreshing, too, to hear Tegan fronting up to him ("I'm sick of leaving everything to you!") Respect.
Of course, Tegan can't keep this level of interestingness up for long, being stupid, whiny and irritating through most of the adventure. Imagine the air rage with her in the flight crew. And should someone with such a basic lack of understanding of the words "time travel" really be trying to fly the TARDIS? Yes, we were crying too – but not nearly so unconvincingly.
Nyssa, as ever, is a high point, although we’d be pissed off if we were her. "The devils" hardly seems an adequate response to the news that a bunch of nutty androids plan to bump off your best companion, although being shoved in a cupboard for half the adventure – even wearing yet another stupid hat – does seem like a better option than sitting through those tedious Recreationals. And in the second-finest moment of the story, Nyssa fulfils our lifelong ambition of telling Adric to shut up.
As for Adric, he’s his usual irritatingly moronic self. Not only does he spew out info on the TARDIS faster than a bulimic at a banquet, but he also has the gall to treat the others like kids. The only redeeming feature of having him there at all was to see Tegan hitting him over the head. How we cheered!
It's rambling, it's confused, it's stuffed full of filler. But to see the Fifth Doctor being slightly interesting, it's worth it.
MORAL: Chips with everything.
Why doesn't someone take Tegan aside and explain time travel to her? Then we wouldn't have to put up with her brainless wittering about the Doctor having lost her her job.
SPECIALIST SUBJECT: THE BLEEDIN’ OBVIOUS
"Look! A door!"
OR MY TONGUE
Adric tries to say, "You know I’m no good with my hands," and trips hopelessly. Well, we didn’t know, and frankly we wish we hadn’t found out.
HE DOESN'T HAVE THE UPGRADE PACK
How come Bigon and Lin Futu both speak excellent English, but the Aborigine doesn’t?
TIE ME KANGAROO DOWN
Tegan speaks an Aboriginal language? In a pig's eye.
I NEVER THOUGHT OF THAT PART I
We groaned and threw things when Nyssa asks "What about love?" Her and everyone else who’s ever talked to an android, it seems to us.
Hey, there's Burt Kwouk as Lin Futu!
I NEVER THOUGHT OF THAT PART II
Lin Futu’s allegiance is remarkably fickle, isn't it? One sentence from the Doctor and he's all his.
We couldn't help feeling sorry for poor old Persuasion, running back and forth doing Monarch’s dirty work while Enlightenment sits around twiddling her fingers.
Now, about this cricket ball, and brace yourself, because we plan to get technical. When the ball left the Doctor’s hand, conservation of momentum would mean that he should start to move at around four metres per minute in the opposite direction. His bowling action, not to mention the spin on the ball, would confuse the issue significantly, probably sending him into a spin and almost certainly diverting him from his direct course for the TARDIS. The spin on the ball would also mean it wouldn’t have much chance of ricocheting perpendicularly, so the chances of it hitting the Doctor on its return flight are slim to say the least. Assuming, though, that he’s an uncannily accurate bowler, the ball’s impact against the ship would take out most of its energy, so by the time it hit the Doctor again it would hardly alter his speed at all. This, we think, is perhaps just as well, as being hit by anything hard enough to change one’s speed that much would be quite an unpleasant experience.
As for the Doctor's panting when he was supposed to be in a trance, we had to wonder whether the BBC were originally planning to show this after the watershed.