19 January 2013

Violence for the lambs: 'Doctor Who' Season 22 (1985)

A man about to be involved in a War of the Worlds

The show changed timeslot back to Saturdays for its twenty-second run – and also its format. The 13 episodes for this run would be 45 minutes long – they would have been 50, but Nathan-Turner managed to get this reduced after pointing out that 13 50-minute episodes actually required more content (due to fewer title, credit and reprise sequences) than 26 25-minute ones. For foreign sale, the stories were re-edited to 25-minute parts, with the cliff-hangers in appropriate places.

There would be no changes to cast (the Sixth Doctor and Peri handled  or senior crew for this run, which would prove highly controversial for some of the violence depicted – people wondered whether what was going down was really suitable for children.

Season 22 has a very poor reputation among DW fans - there is only one story that is universally agreed to be good, three of the others divide opinion and two firm clunkers.

Unless stated, all stories in Season 22 are two 45-minute parts long.

Attack of the Cybermen

The Doctor tries to fix the dematerialisation circuit of the TARDIS, taking the ship to Totter’s Lane[1] in 1985 London. There he encounters a group of Cybermen who want to crash Halley’s Comet into Earth and thus prevent the destruction of Mondas.

Going out under the pseudonym Paula Moore, there is a dispute over the precise nature of the work done by Eric Saward (who was not allowed to be credited as writer), his  ex-girlfriend Paula Woolsey and Ian Levine. Quite why you’d want to claim credit for this tale is unclear… it contains a gory hand crushing scene for one character, a script that is arguably too dependent on understanding “The Tenth Planet” and the Doctor going around shooting Cybermen.

Vengeance on Varos

The Doctor makes an emergency landing on the former penal colony of Varos, a world where its inhabitants are kept mollified by sadistic reality television with executions and torture aplenty. Dissidents become the stars… as do the Doctor and Peri.

A discussion on violence in the media (a hot topic at the time[2]), this one has attracted controversy for the violence in it - particularly a notorious scene where two guards end up in an acid bath after a fight with the Doctor. Analysis of the footage shows it is an accident, but the Doctor’s quip at the end is very bad taste for him. It also guest stars Jason Connery, son of Sean, who would later become the second version of Robin Hood in HTV/Goldcrest’s Robin of Sherwood[3]

The Mark of the Rani

Arriving in Britain during the Luddite uprisings, the Doctor and Peri encounter an uneasy alliance between the Master and another renegade Time Lord…

The first appearance of Kate O’Mara’s female evil Time Lord known as the Rani[4], a character that the production team liked so much that they would reuse the character in Season 24 (and made plans for Season 23 that were not to be), this story is a reasonable run-around. It also has land mines that turn people into trees.

The Two Doctors (3 45-minute parts)

The Sixth Doctor and Peri have to save the Second Doctor and Jamie[5] from the Sontarans, who are working with a woman who wants to isolate the Time Lord gene that enables them to survive the Vortex.

Another Bob Holmes tale, this story was originally intended to be set (and filmed) in New Orleans, but co-production funding did not materialise, with second choice Venice being ruled out for expense and problems with tourists[7] – in the end Seville in Spain was used, a difficult shoot due to the heat. It’s a controversial allegory on meat-eating, containing some brutal deaths (multiple stabbings), attempts to cook humans and a good deal of blood. The main villain is played by Jacqueline Pearce, also known as Servalan in Blake’s 7.

A Fix with Sontarans (short segment on Jim’ll Fix It)

This short segment, generally considered non-canonical, was broadcast on the same day as the second part of “The Two Doctors” and was the granting of a request to 8-year-old Gareth Jenkins[6] who wanted to travel in the TARDIS. As the show this features on was hosted by Jimmy Savile (who featured at the end), a man who has recently been judged as probably the most prolific sex offender in British history, I suspect most people would not be comfortable watching it. Aside from Janet Fielding replacing Nicola Bryant for this, there is nothing I can really say about something I’ve not seen and probably will not.


The Doctor, Peri and an author named Herbert fight a despotic alien on the planet Karfel, where rebels are thrown into the ‘Timelash’.

“Timelash” has a pretty dire reputation – it came 199th in the Mighty 200. The sets are poor, the guest actors (bar Paul Darrow of Blake’s 7 fame, who hams it big style)  are mostly poor and the TARDIS has ‘seatbelts’. The story has been seen as encapsulating all that is bad about the JNT era – it also gives its name to Gallifrey Base’s special discussion series.

Revelation of the Daleks

The Doctor and Peri go to the planet Necros for a funeral, where they discover that Davros is using a cryogenic storage facility for sinister ends.

Considered the best story of the Sixth Doctor’s TV tenure by fans, this includes a glass Dalek that Terry Nation wanted to have in the first story but couldn’t due to cost grounds. I might need to see this one again.

Despite the controversy, there was no change in the average rating, which remained at 7.1 million.

During transmission, however, things got serious. On 21 February 1985, JNT and Eric Saward both received calls – from a fan and Robert Holmes respectively – seeking confirmation on rumours that Doctor Who had been cancelled…

[1]Where the show started in November 1963.
[2]The big issue had been “video nasties”, mostly low budget US and Italian horror films released direct to video, which were not under regulation at the time. Concerns about graphic and sexual material ending up in the hands of children resulted in the Video Recordings Act 1984 – which imposed tougher cuts on video releases of films than their cinema showings. Many of the films were later passed for release with or without cuts; while not deemed one, The Exorcist became unavailable from 1986 to 1999 as Warner Home Video was told by the then head of the BBFC, James Ferman, it would not be passed if they submitted it. On Ferman’s retirement, the film was submitted and passed as an 18.

Ironically, the whole campaign seems to have started with the producers of Cannibal Holocaust writing anonymously to Mary Whitehouse complaining about their own film as a publicity stunt – it was banned until 2001! Also, some scenes in this (a ‘found footage’ film) were so realistic-looking that the director was charged with murder in Italy – charges that were dropped when he produced the four actors alive and well.
[3]There are two versions of Robin in the legends – HTV killed off the first version and brought in another character to take over as it were. Had it not been cancelled after season 3, the BBC’s recent Robin Hood may well have gone the same way.
[4]From the Hindi for ‘queen’.
[5]The absence of Victoria (off studying graphology) and the mention that the Second Doctor is working for the Time Lords help fuel the Season 6B theory – as Jamie did not meet them until “The War Games”.
[6]Fortunately Mr Jenkins does not appear to have been a Savile victim.
[7]The later “Vampires of Venice” was filmed in Croatia.

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