I’ve always felt that, although there are many Doctors whose first season was their finest, Tom Baker’s first three seasons were his finest work in the part, and Season 13 saw the ultimate team of producer, Phillip Hinchcliffe; Script Editor, Robert Holmes; and stars Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane Smith) in their prime. They’re magnificent throughout these stories.
The added bonus here for me was that The Brain of Morbius was the very first Doctor Who story I ever saw in America at the ripe old age of 18 in 1980. Although I’d never even heard of the show before, it had me rather hooked in minutes…
Terror of the Zygons
Written by Robert Banks Stewart, Directed by Douglas Camfield
The Brigadier (Nicholas Courtney) summons the Doctor, along with Sarah Jane and Harry Sullivan (Ian Marter), to Scotland to investigate the mysterious destruction of some oil rigs in the North Sea. The cause? Giant teeth marks. Hence the Doctor being summoned. The true culprits are the Zygons, shape shifting creatures who capture humans, and trap them to keep as an imprint, while they take their form. Their ship crashed to Earth centuries earlier and they awaited rescue. Once they found out their home planet had been destroyed, they set about a plan to take over the Earth and terraform it to suit their needs. They would accomplish this by duplicating people in powerful positions around Earth to enact their cause. In aid of this, they also had with them an embryonic sea creature called a Skarasen, who they cybernetically enhanced to giant proportions to use as an undersea enforcer.
During their investigation, the Doctor and company are misdirected by the shape changers and Harry’s even duplicated to further confuse the team – and boy does Marter portray a wonderfully moody Harry-Zygon – almost killing Sarah. The Doctor is even chased by the Skarasen across the wide open countryside because of a homing device hid on his person. When the Doctor finally figures out the deception, he manages to free the imprisoned humans. One of whom, the Duke of Forgill (John Woodnut) realises that he’s supposed to attend the first International Energy conference, along with several high level dignitaries in London, right by the Thames. A perfect place for a Skarasen attack that would leave the dignitaries wide open for Zygon capture and duplication.
The Doctor races to save the day, getting into the conference building and confronting the Zygon leader, Broton (also played by Woodnut), who holds the control device that attracts the Skarasen to its target. The Doctor with considerable help from the Brig, naturally saves the day, allowing the Skarasen to harmlessly, peacefully swims off back to it’s home in Loch Ness. The Doctor and Sarah offer the Brig and Harry a lift back to London in the TARDIS but they decline, preferring to stay at home.
The Zygons were some of the most beautifully designed monsters ever to grace the show, by James Acheson, who’d go on to make Oscar-winning designs in the future. It’s amazing that it took the Zygons almost 40 years to return to the show, considering their potential. They’re such a wonderful design that when they did return, there wasn’t really that much updating or revamping to be done that could really improve on it.
This was a nice, compact 4-part adventure that was originally slated for the end of Season 12 but got pushed back to the start of Season 13 for budgetary reasons. This also saw the last appearance of the Brigadier for almost 8 years. It was Harry’s last time as a regular companion traveling in the TARDIS, though we’d see him again.
If there’s one glaring weakness in the story, it is, of course, the Skarasen puppet. They gave it a decent effort, certainly better than the dinosaurs in Season 11, but still, in the released DVD, I’d hoped they’d have made an attempt at a better CGI model like the Mara during the Peter Davison era. A somewhat minor quibble though in a fun, intense, and creepy monster story.
Planet of Evil
Written by Louis Marks, Directed by David Maloney
The Doctor and Sarah investigate a distress signal from a planet called Zeta Minor, where a Morestran geological expedition has been attacked by some unseen creature, leaving only a Professor Sorenson (Frederick Jaeger) alive. A military mission also answers the distress call and blames the Doctor and Sarah for the deaths, them being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Eventually, the Doctor enters a massive pit and tries to communicate with the main creature on the planet and finds out that Professor Sorenson has been stealing anti-matter minerals from the planet that the inhabitant of said planet wants back badly. Enough to destroy anything in its way. Sorenson is also suffering physiological changes from exposure to the minerals, changing slowly into a hybrid, anti-matter creature. The Morestrans try and take off from the planet but are inexorably dragged back, as there are still some minerals on board.
This 4-part adventure is a solid tale, which is made all the more glorious by the incredible design work once again – this time with the incredible jungle it’s set in, by the incomparable Roger Murray-Leach. The detail, the land and swamp areas, the thickness, the treacherous nature of it, the color, the filming of it: all just brilliant.
We see old favorite guest actors, Prentis Hancock (Salamar) and Michael Wisher (the original Davros), and, of course, Tom and Lis are fantastic. The weak-point here, sadly, is the costumes for the Morestrans, with a rather so-so attempt, but the jungle, possibly the best of the Classic era, more than makes up for it.
Pyramids of Mars
Written by Robert Holmes and Lewis Greifer, Directed by Paddy Russell
In 1911 Egypt, Professor Marcus Scarman excavates a pyramid and finds a burial chamber marked as the Eye of Horus. His assistants flee and Scarman is bathed in a green light as something is freed. Elsewhere, the TARDIS lands, albeit decades earlier than intended, in an old English estate where the UNIT facility would one day be built. They’re found by a butler who informs them of the worrisome events happening, such as the mysterious Egyptian called Namin who’s taken over the estate since Scarman’s return. Scarman himself, acting very oddly, is now at odds with his longtime friend, Dr. Warlock and his brother, Lawrence.
Namin sends a strange Egyptian robot dressed as a huge mummy after the Doctor, Sarah, Warlock, and Lawrence and they seek refuge in a hunting lodge, where Lawrence has been getting transmissions on his Marconiscope, which the Doctor decodes as “Beware of Sutekh”. Sutekh was the last of a powerful alien race known as the Osirans imprisoned by his brother, Horus in a pyramid and was inspiration for the ancient Egyptian mythology.
Things heat up further when Namin welcomes the servant of Sutekh via a spacetime tunnel portal in the estate, who promptly kills Namin for his devoted service. The servant reveals himself to be Professor Scarman, but in reality it’s only his animated corpse being controlled by Sutekh from his prison chamber. The Osiran’s plan is to use his controlled pawns and mummy robots to construct an Osiran war missile to blast off to Mars and destroy the mechanism that maintains Sutekh’s prison, thus freeing him.
The Doctor finds Namin’s corpse and retrieves his ring, useful in controlling the mummy robots, and temporarily breaking Sutekh’s hold on Scarman. The Doctor suggests using some gelignite from the estate to blow up the missile before it can be launched. The Doctor, disguising himself as a mummy robot, successfully plants the gelignite on the missile platform and once clear, Sarah shoots and ignites it. But Sutekh manages to mentally contain the force of the explosion and instructs his robots to remove the explosives. The Doctor quickly makes his way to the space time portal tunnel and travels to Egypt and Sutekh’s tomb. His aim is to break Sutekh’s concentration long enough to release his hold on the explosion before the robots can amble up to take them away. The Doctor, however, is at the mercy of Sutekh, who enters the Doctor’s mind, and learns all there is to know about him and his TARDIS.
Sutekh now has complete control over the Time Lord and sends him, Sarah and Prof. Scarman to Mars in the TARDIS to deactivate the mechanism there that will free him on Earth. What follows is the Doctor and Sarah following Scarman through the many puzzles, obstructions, and riddles to where Scarman has already performed the act of freeing the Osiran. Scarman’s usefulness at an end, he turns to dust. The Doctor thinks all is lost until he remembers that it will take 2 minutes for the signal to reach Earth. He obtains a device from the TARDIS and hooks it up to the space-time portal tunnel and as Sutekh travels through said tunnel…
Hinchcliffe and Holmes’ take on the Egyptian tales of mummies and ancient evils yield wonderful results. Pyramids of Mars is one of the crown jewels of classic Doctor Who, right up there with Genesis of the Daleks and The Talons of Weng-Chiang. There’s a marvelous attention to the detail for the time period; the overall feel and look are particularly evocative. That’s without mentioning the wonderful guest cast: Michael Sheard (Lawrence Scarman), Bernard Archard (Marcus Scarman), Peter Copley (Dr. Warlock), and the incomparable Gabriel Woolf as Sutekh. Woolf would go on to portray another version of the Devil several decades later in the new era Series 2’s The Impossible planet/The Satan Pit.
Pyramids of Mars is a cracking good story which stands up as wonderfully today as it ever did. I cannot recommend this story highly enough.
The Android Invasion
Written by Terry Nation, Directed by Barry Letts
The Doctor and Sarah land in what seems to be an English countryside and find a strange, deserted town. On their way in,a UNIT soldier unbelievably walks off a cliff to his death. Strange, white suited figures with loaded fingers are seen around the town. Villagers are shipped in with trucks and act as if in a trance, then totally normal on command, then as if in a trance once again and get shipped off. Mysteries abound. The Doctor even manages to contact and reach UNIT only to find Sgt. Benton (John Levene) and Harry Sullivan (Ian Marter) acting nothing like themselves – and there’s no sign of the Brig.
The Doctor finally discovers that the whole set up is an artificial construct – a plot by an alien race known as the Kraals, who’ve created the forgery here on their base as a prelude to invading Earth at the proper time, using a long ago preserved “guest” as a patsy. An astronaut named Guy Crawford fell within their net years earlier and under the pretense of saving his life, they gained his loyalty. They then began plotting the invasion of Earth using him to smuggle them in once he “victoriously” returned to Earth. Then they’d follow him in, mercilessly releasing a deadly toxin that would kill off Earth’s population in days.
Sarah, an intended first victim of the toxin, escapes and frees the Doctor, who’s tied up in the town square, as it eventually dissolves, destroying everything in the vicinity. The two escape and take refuge in one of the many travel pods aboard Crayford’s rocket used for the androids to send them to Earth. Once on Earth, the real Doctor infiltrates the relevant base posing as a robot and manages to deactivate the androids mid-stride.
The only thing left is to confront Styggron, the Kraal leader. He has the toxin in his possession still on the rocket, along with the real techs from the base, Benton and Harry. The Doctor proves to Crayford that he owes no alliegance to Styggron for saving his life. He wasn’t even injured; just brainwashed (in what must be one of the most brilliantly bizarre twists in any Doctor Who). Crayford didn’t even know about the toxin or the plan. Needless to say, things go south for Styggron, who seemingly kills the Doctor in the process…
This is probably the weakest of the season but an engaging 4-parter, as there’s a very Twilight Zone feel to The Android Invasion. Good performances all around and it’s, sadly, the last we see of both Benton and Harry in the show. Nicholas Courtney was due to reprise his role as the Brig but was unable to participate because of scheduling. They replaced him with station commander Colonel Faraday (Patrick Newell), a buffoon. This is, appropriately, a copy-cat plot, as I notice not only some cribbing off some of the plot of Terror of the Zygons but a lot of the Kraal controls at the base look like repainted Zygon controls. Even the observation device buried in the dartboard is a knock off of the same type of bug implanted in the moose head in Terror of the Zygons. Perhaps Nation was a fan.
The Brain of Morbius
Written by Robin Bland (Terrance Dicks), rewritten by Robert Holmes, Directed by Christopher Barry
The Time Lords take command of the Doctor’s TARDIS and send him and Sarah to Karn, planet of the Sisterhood, but also the place of execution years earlier of the Time Lord’s greatest criminal, Morbius. The fiend had tried to lead an army of mercenaries to Karn to steal the Sisterhood’s Elixir of Life. This potion grants a being near immortality. He was defeated and destroyed, or so they thought.
Dr. Mehendri Solon (Philip Madoc), who also lives on Karn, has a uneasy acquaintance with the Sisterhood and, along with his manservant Condo (Colin Fay), keeps the actual brain of Morbius hidden in his laboratory, always searching for a new home to transfer it to. He searches for the perfect head to add to the patchwork monstrosity he hides in the lab so Morbius can have a new body.
The Doctor must contend with stopping Solon’s reviving of Morbius while convincing the Sisterhood that he’s not there to steal the Elixir and, in fact, that he can feel that Morbius still lives. The Doctor and Sarah must both escape and survive ritual sacrifice and blindness respectively as they try to stop Solon from getting closer and closer to bringing Morbius back, but in the end, he succeeds.
With Solon and Condo eliminated and members of the Sisterhood killed by the monster, when Morbius’ mind clears, the Doctor takes one last shot, setting up an apparatus for a mind-bending contest, a type of Time Lord wrestling that leaves a sole survivor. Morbius wins but is injured, wandering out onto the landscape where the Sisterhood finish him off and spare what they can of the Elixir to save the Doctor.
This one obviously holds a special place in my heart since it was my first. It’s also been very nice to see the Sisterhood and Ohila (a relative of Ohica) make several appearances during the time of the 50th anniversary, as well as during the Twelfth Doctor’s time. It’s also well known that Terrance Dicks originally wrote the script and turned the Frankenstein story on its head by having a monster Doctor creating a normal human. But while away on vacation, Hinchcliff and Holmes wanted to reverse it back and Holmes rewrote it, being unable to reach Dicks on holiday. Dicks was displeased and asked his name be taken off the script and replaced with “some bland pseudonym” – Robin Bland.
Wonderful performances by Philip Madoc (Solon) and Cynthia Grenville (Maren). The creature was very nicely designed as well. During the mind-bending contest, various faces had popped up on the screen including Jon Pertwee, Patrick Troughton, and William Hartnell, then faces from the actual production crew including Holmes, Hinchliffe, Christopher Barry, and others. Interestingly, at this point of a first viewing, I really wasn’t too sure of the significance of any of these faces!
The Seeds of Doom
Written by Robert Banks Stewart, Directed by Douglas Camfield
The Doctor and Sarah are sent to the Antarctic to examine a strange pod discovered in the permafrost by scientists. The pod is alive and infects one of the scientists, prompting the Doctor to seek and find a second pod. These are Krynoids, plants that land on a planet and consume all animal life. Meanwhile, insane, plant loving millionaire, Harrison Chase (Tony Beckley) also gets word of the pods and sends enforcers to steal them to be put under his protection.
When said enforcers, Scorby (John Challis) and Keeler (Mark Jones) arrive, they find the infected scientist is a monster and when it starts killing others, Scorby plants a bomb to destroy the base and all evidence, while they head back to London with the second pod. The Doctor and Sarah manage to escape the explosion that wipes out the first Krynoid and the base and they, too, head to London to recapture the second pod.
Back in London, Chase takes possession of the pod. Knowing that the Doctor and Sarah are still active, he sends someone to kill them while they search for him but the Doctor and Sarah escape, eventually finding out about Chase. They attempt to infiltrate his mansion but are caught, where Chase gives them a tour of his lovely grounds and how he cares for them. He values plant life far more than that of humans. After a couple daring back and forth escapes and rescues, the Doctor and Sarah keep ahead of Chase and his goons until Keeler gets stung by the second pod and transforms into a Krynoid.
Events spiral out of control as the new Krynoid gets larger and larger, its influence starting to spread. In the surrounding areas of the mansion, plants are starting to come alive and kill. Word gets to UNIT, who come in firing but it’s not enough. Chase and his minions meet their demise in different grisly ways while trying to kill the Doctor and Sarah. Scorby is strangled by plants trying to escape the mansion and Chase falls prey to his own crusher, intending to use it on the Doctor and Sarah.
With minutes left before the now-towering Krynoid begins germinating, the Doctor orders an air strike to destroy the mansion and the Krynoid, doing so after they narrowly escape the mansion with the help of a steam pipe to weaken the plants just enough.
This was an ambitious 6-parter where nothing is wasted: a classic ending to a strong season. A great mix of action, adventure, drama, tension – you name it. And the Kyrnoid is yet another of the rich, creative monsters from the Baker era, never utilised again. I think it’s a testament to the quality of the Hinchliffe/Holmes run that they came up with so many new, quality stories, they seldom had to dip into established ones; this season is the ultimate proof of that. This could just as well have been a part of the Pertwee era merely because the Doctor is at his most physically combative during the story, not only decking the driver/assassin but taking down the formidable Scorby a few times with his fists. This was a wonderful season.
My Love Affair
I said I was hooked minutes after stumbling onto Part 1 of The Brain of Morbius way back in the day and I was. But there was still so much I didn’t know. A year later, in 1981, while attending a comic book convention in Chicago, I found a little room off to the side that had Doctor Who items on sale. Inside, I saw a beautifully rendered pencil drawing of the faces of 4 men, left to right. I recognized Tom Baker on the right but I was unsure who the other 3 were. The gentleman settled back and told me who they were and… Well, I was in love with the greatest concept in the history of science fiction and the love affair never stopped.
The next year, 1982, found that Doctor Who was that much more of a presence at the same con, standing room only. I actually stood in one place, packed to the rafters and watched the entirety of Planet of the Spiders, shoulder to shoulder with the crowds, ultimately seeing my first regeneration.
Finally, 1983 Chicago saw the biggest, most amazing Doctor Who convention, perhaps ever. For the 20th anniversary, the giant convention was packed. 10,000 people got in with tickets – myself happily included —and further thousands were initially turned away, it was so massive. There were 24 hour screenings of Hartnell, Troughton, Pertwee, Baker, and Davison stories. I stayed up all night in a ballroom watching the entirety of The War Games. To top it off, this was the con, maybe the only one ever, to have Troughton, Pertwee, Baker, and Davison all together in person at a panel for a photo op. It was magical.