Reviewed: Doctor Who Season 9 – Sticking the Landing

Moving on from Season 8 to 9 felt like growing up a little; like crossing the threshold from being 21 to being 22. Despite dropping off with my initial viewings of Season 8, Season 9 is where I came back on board almost full-time, missing only a few episodes here and there. However, this was some 7 years ago now, and while I do remember key moments, most of it was lost in my subconscious, making this review a nice opportunity to refresh my ever-aging brain on the goodness that is ’70s Doctor Who.

If you’ve read my Season 8 review, you will know how this will be structured and what to expect; if you haven’t, I highly recommend you check it out, as well as the previous seven that some other incredibly talented writers have put together for your viewing pleasure [I didn’t ask Tyler to write that, honestly. I just threatened to fire him if he didn’t – Ed.]. So, without further ado, and with far less preamble than last time, let’s get down to business.

Day of the Daleks

Written by Louis Marks, Directed by Paul Bernard

Or, Doctor Who and the Ghost Hunters.

Context: Writer, Louis Marks makes his return to Doctor Who after penning the second series opener, Planet of Giants back in 1964, and here is paired with Paul Bernard, making his directorial debut for the programme. Marks wouldn’t return again until Tom Baker took over as the Doctor; however Bernard wasn’t quite done with Pertwee after this serial. But more on that later. One of my favourite pieces of trivia here is that notable comic writer John Byrne actually cites that he “subconsciously” lifted the plot from this serial for the well-known X-Men event, Days of Future Past. As a huge comic fan, as well as a huge Doctor Who fan, this little overlap is just brilliant fun, and I feel as though I may need to re-read those issues again after watching this serial to see where the similarities lie.

Review: Here it is. Pertwee’s first encounter with the Daleks – the famous foe which, by this stage, actually hadn’t appeared since 1967’s The Evil of the Daleks. Last season, we kicked off with the introduction of the Master, and this season we open with the reintroduction of the Daleks; truly, this was an incredible era for the programme.

Right from word go, Episode One was a little all over the place for my liking. We were jumping around constantly and not too much happened at all. The content of the writing is solid – we are discovering what is happening as the characters are, and that’s always fun to watch, so in that sense it got me hooked in and ready to go, but when it comes to pacing, a little more could have happened – and seeing as though this is only a 4-part serial, that does worry me a little.

The second episode does pick up quite a bit and I felt genuinely excited moving forward from there. There are some slow moments in the remaining three episodes, but overall, I enjoyed this serial a lot. But if I had a dollar for every cliffhanger featuring a zoom-in on a Dalek… I know it became a staple with these Classic episodes to have cliffhangers featuring big reveals, but you could show me these 4 endings out of order and I genuinely couldn’t tell you which was which.

On the brighter side of things, Pertwee enjoyed some solid action scenes in this serial – it was fantastic to see him being so active and involved, as it always is. Again, it’s just such a damn pleasure to see him evolve as the Doctor over his 5-season run; he really did define this programme for a really long time – until Baker came onto the scene, that is – but even Baker himself has gone on record to say that he had no idea how he was going to follow up Pertwee. (Similarly, I can’t imagine how Davison must have felt following the pair of them… but I digress.)

I know that they weren’t initially meant to appear until the Season 9 closer, but it’s sad to say that the Daleks felt like an afterthought in this serial. It didn’t make it any less exciting seeing them face off against Pertwee, but it certainly felt like they deserved better. And even though there were only 3 Daleks in that final battle, the power behind seeing them simply moving along the plains without a care in the world like that really shows how terrifying they can be, even some 49 years after the fact. All in all, a solid opener with some really great moments, but I can’t help but want more moving forward.

DVD Extras: One of the most obvious special features to be found on this DVD is actually a Special Edition of the serial featuring new Dalek voices – supplied by the irreplaceable Nicholas Briggs – updated special features, and specially shot sequences. Alongside this, there is a Making-Of documentary that talks through the process of how this was done, and it was genuinely such an interesting watch, so I can’t recommend it enough. There is also Part Two of a documentary called The U.N.I.T. Family on this release, with Part One in the special features for Series 7’s Inferno. It’s a gorgeous look back at Pertwee’s era on the programme and is a really nice addition to an already jam-packed DVD release.

The Curse of Peladon

Written by Brian Hayles, Directed by Lennie Mayne

Or, Doctor Who and the Curse.

Context: Best-known for creating the Celestial Toymaker (from the First Doctor serial of the same name) and the Ice Warriors (from the Second Doctor serial of the same name), here we have writer, Brian Hayles creating the planet Peladon – a location which would go down in Doctor Who history. Hayles also wrote The Smugglers, The Seeds of Death, and this story’s sequel, The Monster of Peladon – rounding him out as the writer of 2 serials each for the First, Second, and Third Doctors.

Hayles is joined by Lennie Mayne, an Australian director whose contributions to the programme were only just beginning. He would return next season to direct The Three Doctors, as well as The Monster of Peladon in Series 11 and The Hand of Fear in Series 14, making him one of only 3 directors to work with each of the first 4 Doctors. This serial also features a guest appearance from David Troughton – son of Patrick Troughton – as King Peladon, which I think is fantastic.

Review: As a filmmaker and screenwriter, one piece of advice I was given when pacing out a scene is “get in late, and leave early.” This seemingly self-explanatory nugget of wisdom is referring to the idea that scenes should start at the latest possible point they can and end as quickly as they can without losing any key moments or momentum. I believe this serial is actually a really solid example of that.

Immediately, we are thrown straight into the action and the pace moves along from there at a great rate. The first episode does a really great job setting everything up in a satisfying and intriguing way, and it had me hooked straight away. Nothing lingers for too long; we have a tight 4-part serial which feels like a 2 or 3-parter, which always a good sign.

On the nostalgic side of things, I remember watching (and really enjoying) this serial a few years back when I heard the Ice Warriors would be returning for Cold War (2013); still, I think I enjoyed it even more today than I did back then. Since then, I’ve seen all of the Classic Who Ice Warrior serials, and despite being very different in this serial to all of the others, I think I like them the most here.

David Troughton gives a really compelling performance as King Peladon, and I was so happy to see a relationship begin to develop between him and Jo; seeing her get a bigger part was wonderful, and the pair play off each other really well.

And speaking of Jo: it feels like she developed considerably in this serial. One of my favourite moments was when she literally pushes aside Izlyr and Ssorg – two Ice Warriors – some of the most terrifying Classic Who villains ever – and storms out of the room to save the Doctor. This serial gave her a lot to do, and it makes the special feature documentary on the DVD even sweeter to watch.

(Am I the only one who thinks that Aggedor looks like a monstrous Alf? I will never talk smack on the props or costuming in these classic serials, but this was just too funny to me not to mention, and I haven’t even seen that much Alf in the past.)

Overall though, this might just be my favourite serial of the season – and maybe one of my favourites from the Pertwee era in general.

DVD Extras: There is an absolutely gorgeous look back at the working relationship of Katy Manning and Jon Pertwee to be found here; it genuinely brought a tear to my eye. Watching this series many years ago, Jo never really grew on me in the way that she is now in my re-watching for these reviews, so seeing a small documentary like this was really amazing. We also have the first of a 2-part documentary titled The Peladon Saga, with the second part being found on the DVD for The Monster of Peladon. It’s a lovely look back at how this serial was made, and definitely worth a watch.

The Sea Devils

Written by Malcolm Hulke, Directed by Michael Briant

Or, Doctor Who and the Sea Silurians.

Context: It’s the return of the writing and directing duo from last season’s Colony in Space. I ended up really enjoying that serial, despite my initial reservations, so I am definitely interested to see how their follow-up – and final contribution to the programme as a duo – holds up.

Review: If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: 6-part serials don’t do it for me. There are exceptions of course (see my Series 8 review), but more often than not, all I want is a tightly-paced 4-part serial. While I certainly preferred the return of the Silurians – well, Eocenes – more than their debut episode in Season 7 – mind you, that was a 7-part serial, so don’t even start me – this still suffers from the same pacing issues that most 6-parters do.

There was once an 88-minute omnibus edition of this serial which aired at Christmas in 1972; this is interesting, considering that, once you remove the overlapping footage and title sequences (which is actually close to 14 minutes totally in this serial), you would need to remove about 46 minutes of footage to make The Sea Devils this length: while I certainly think that this serial could have benefited from being 4 or 5 parts, I am incredibly curious to see what was removed for that special broadcast. With the Series 10 Blu-ray Collection out this year, we see – for the first time since it was broadcast – the omnibus edition of The Green Death, so when the time comes for a Series 9 Blu-ray set, I am extremely hopeful that they include The Sea Devils omnibus too so my curiosity can be well-fed.

This serial keeps up the tradition of being incredibly funny without trying to be. Watching the Master try to hypnotise the guard, only for it to fail, was a genuine laugh-out-loud moment – it was shot and acted so comedically and was such a good addition to this introduction that it makes me wonder whether Hulke and Briant did this on purpose, or whether it was serendipity.

The comedy doesn’t stop there either – there are some hilarious one-liners in this script, and these are all lifted to even greater heights by the camera work. The camera operator here is Peter Sargent, and the editing was done by Martyn Day: I really do want to point out their stellar contributions here. As a film teacher and someone who has a general love of good editing, the use of framing and cut-away shots here are excellent.

There’s been a lot said – both positive and negative – about the incidental music. Composed by Malcolm Clarke, I am in love with the way it sounds, and I think it fits into the story really well. Sadly, he wouldn’t return until 1982’s Earthshock, but I am just glad to see where his contributions began.

One of my favourite moments from the entire story was at the end of Episode Two when the Doctor and the Master have a sword fight with some foils – it was choreographed incredibly and features perhaps my favourite line spoken by any Doctor ever: “I always find that violent exercise makes me hungry – don’t you agree?”

So, despite my general disinterest in 6-parters, this one worked for me on some levels – mostly in the way it was shot and acted – though it did feel a touch slow and drawn out, remedied by the fabled omnibus edition I suppose, and I do hope we get to see that in the years to come, because I feel as though it would make this serial shine.

DVD Extras: There is a lovely making-of documentary called Hello Sailor looking at the trials and tribulations that came along with making this serial – it’s an absolutely amazing watch and adds a wonderful amount of depth to the feature. There is also some great 8mm footage from behind the scenes of this serial wherein we get to see Jon Pertwee at work and all of the shots from different angles. It’s an amazing piece of history and I may have watched quite a few times over simply because nothing makes me happier than a candid Jon Pertwee.

The Mutants

Written by Bob Baker and Dave Martin, Directed by Christopher Barry

Or, Doctor Who and the Emergents.

Context: The Bristol Boys are back writing again this season after the incredible Claws of Axos in Season 8, and they are joined by the ever-fantastic Christopher Barry, also making his return fresh off The Dæmons. With this combination of writers and director, I cannot wait to see how this serial pans out.

Review: This serial… is a little bit of a disaster. From the acting, to some of the writing, to the visual style – or lack thereof – and the direction, there is so much that shouldn’t work here… but it does? And I absolutely love it.

Let me first address the acting. Jo and the Doctor feel incredible here, as they tend to do, and some of the guest actors are fantastic too. Key word: some. I wasn’t sure if it was just me being harsh, so I gave it a Google and nope it wasn’t just me – but Rick James. Come on. I am seldom one to look at someone’s performance history, see they’ve only got 4 credits to their name, and judge their ability based on that, but in this case I think it’s justified.

While I am not at all discounting the fact that representation in media – especially for people of colour, now and most definitely in the ’70s – is incredibly important, he looks so uncomfortable whenever he is on screen, and that accent? Surely there were a number of better-suited actors you could have used, so why James? His acting is wooden – at best – and flat-out hilarious at worst, especially when you put him next to the amazing Christopher Coll. I’m in no way trying to talk badly about him, but from a purely critical point of view, this is genuinely the biggest detractor from this story for me.

Bob Baker said that this serial was his favourite of the 8 he and Dave Martin worked on, and I can see why – the dialogue here isn’t the best, but it’s certainly not the worst. It could have been tighter in places, but that’s a criticism that I think can be levelled at 98% of Classic Who serials. It’s the visuals that really let this script down, and while I love Christopher Barry, I feel as though utilising his talents – and I genuinely mean that – in another serial would have been far more beneficial.

Like I said, this serial is kind of a mess, but that didn’t take away from my enjoyment of it at all. The Room is a disaster, but I still watch it at least once a month. There are moments in here that keep the serial watchable and moving along, but a slew of bad decisions make this equally the most forgettable and most memorable serial of the season.

DVD Extras: Again, we have the usual making-of documentary, which I will always recommend, especially considering how this serial turned out. The highlight of these special features, however, is a documentary entitled Dressing Doctor Who, a lovely look at the career of James Acheson, the costume designer for this serial and a subsequent 7 spanning between 1972 and 1976. Most famously, he is known for creating the costume for Tom Baker, but has also won 3 Academy Awards for costume design (The Last Emperor, Dangerous Liaisons, and Restoration), as well as – and this is how I knew his name – costume designing for Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy. This is a really nice look at the work behind the scenes on these Classic Doctor Who serials and appreciating a department which is generally overlooked, so I urge you to watch this and acknowledge not only James Acheson, but the many costume designers that this series has seen over the years.

The Time Monster

Written by Robert Sloman, Directed by Paul Bernard

Or, Doctor Who and the… Time… Monster…

So just like the final serial of Season 8, this one doesn’t actually have an alternative production title. I knew this day would come. You can’t win them all, I suppose. Oh well, onto the final review.

Context: Back for the final serial of the season, we have Robert Sloman, a writer who seems to do best with finales, having written 2 now and returning to write The Green Death and Planet of the Spiders – the series finales for both Seasons 10 and 11 respectively. He is joined by Paul Bernard, bookending the series nicely. Also worth noting is that actor, Ian Collier makes his Doctor Who debut in this serial as Stuart Hyde, although many fans – myself included – may recognise his name as the actor whom plays Omega in Arc of Infinity opposite Peter Davison.

Review: Now, it’s no secret that the Master is my favourite character in the universe of Doctor Who, and I think that every actor who has played that role has done it incredibly – from the more brief tenures of Peter Pratt, Geoffrey Beavers, Eric Roberts, Jonathan Pryce, and Derek Jacobi – to the more cemented portrayals of Anthony Ainley, John Simm, and Michelle Gomez – but Roger Delgado is and always will be the definitive Master in my eyes; in this, his penultimate serial, he really does shine brighter than ever before.

The serial itself isn’t as exciting as previous season closers – The War Games, Inferno, The Daemons – and certainly isn’t as good at the two that followed, so we are left with this anomaly: a strangely forgotten piece of this era, especially considering the talented individuals who make up the writing and directing team.

Despite being another 6-parter, this actually feels a little like a 4 and 2-parter combined somehow, with those final 2 parts almost being able to be viewed irrespective of the first 4, which equally makes this easier to watch, but all the more frustrating in the process. This is also a very transformative serial for Pertwee’s Doctor – he isn’t quite the same as in the previous seasons, but he isn’t the Doctor that we see in his final 2 seasons, so we are left with a version of Pertwee which I have always referred to as its own entity – The Time Monster Doctor.

Despite having some somewhat “so-bad-it’s-good” vibe – much like The Mutants in my opinion – this serial does have a lot of good things in it that work reasonably well, least of which is my initial point: Delgado as the Master. It truly is such a shame that he was taken from us so soon after this serial; it feels as though he had come into his own in this role, and this serial is precisely why I believe that character has survived throughout the years.

He is the most exciting part in a serial that had some great ideas, solid foundations, decent set and production, exemplary acting, and great music, but ultimately just fell short on too many levels.

DVD Extras: As if to mirror the serial itself, the DVD extras are a little lacking here. We don’t get the regular making-of doco, but we do get a half-hour look at the science behind the episode called Between Now… and Now!, which is quite a bit of fun. There is also a restoration comparison showing the before and after process used to enhance the footage for this DVD release; I really love this kind of thing, so I guess you’ve won me over with this release, BBC.

Concluding Thoughts

It’s sad to end this review with a couple of negative points; personally, I believe this season peaked in the middle, but started slow and ended poorly. Seasons 7 and 8 before this, and Seasons 10 and 11 afterwards have all cemented themselves as solid all-rounders, but Season 9 right in the middle is often overlooked, and for the most part I can see why.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. There is a lot to love about this season, and I am in no way saying that it should be glossed over and underappreciated. While it may be a low point in the ’70s era of Doctor Who, it is still an incredibly sound and competent run which introduced a lot of new and interesting concepts, but generally had trouble sticking the landing from page to screen.

It’s the season that sits between Jon Pertwee finding his feet and cementing his legacy, but the one that also builds Delgado’s Master to the highest highs. It develops Jo in a way no other companion had ever developed before, but it also features a barrage of mediocre side characters which detract from the outstanding regulars. It’s an anomaly – but it also makes sense.

Season 9 might not be perfect, but as I mentioned, all of these critiques could be levelled at any given Classic Who serial, so it’s really just me being a little nit-picky on a season which I had high expectations going into after finishing Season 8.

Overall, I enjoyed this a lot and would definitely recommend checking it out – but make sure you keep in mind the context, and continue watching onto Season 10 after this. Speaking of, be sure to come back this Sunday for a review of that season, and let me know what you thought of this season yourself! This isn’t goodbye; just “I’ll see you soon.”

NEXT TIME: “Dear God, 3 of them. All my worst nightmares at once.”