Friday, 30 November 2012

Overview: Doctor Who Classic: Season 18

Tom and Lalla were a fun team, but their personal
relationship got in the way of their acting.
Written between 30th August and 2nd September 2012 

Season 18 of Doctor Who is always called boring, and I don't believe that's entirely true. I say entirely for the simple reason that, unfortunately, a lot of the season sorta is. Newly-promoted John Nathan Turner wanted to turn the show away from the silliness it had become soaked in during the reign of previous producers Graham Williams and Douglas Adams. In doing so he hired scientific journalist Christopher H Bidmead, a man who brought not only great real-life ideas but also a lax way of using them. He also took up Tom Baker's resignation, and began preparations for a new Doctor and new companions.
     The problem with using real-world science as your standard technobabble is that those words actually mean something. Oh sure, Pip 'n' Jane Baker may boast about how Strange Matter is a real thing, but that doesn't make the science in their episode any more ridiculously wrong. If anything, using real terms and ideas only highlights when you're doing it wrong. Thus in our first story of the season, The Leisure Hive, where Tachyons, a real world concept, are strangulated. Again in Logopolis, where Mathemathics, Entropy and Gravity are all bastardised by the man himself. Furthermore, while these ideas are certainly interesting and add a lot of maturity to the series, they are not enough to carry a story by itself, leaving the characters to wander around doing standard, run-of-the-mill things. The only stories that really manage to carry themselves under their own weight are the odd Meglos and the slightly Shakespearean Keeper of Traken.
     The series themology, surrounding the idea of Entropy and the end of all things, fits well as foreshadowing of the Fourth Doctor's demise, but a lot of the stories in the season only barely cover it. In The Leisure Hive, entropy is seen in the life cycle of the Argolins, who live for long periods then suddenly start aging and turn to stone within a month. Meglos saw the failing planet of Zolfa-Thura, and of the society on Tigella. In Full Circle, Alzarius collapsed back into the time of the Marshmen, and in Warrior's Gate the Vampires' society is already run down. In Warrior's Gate the Gateway Realm is collapsing and in The Keeper of Traken sees the autumn years of the titular character's reign. Logopolis, despite not really getting what Entropy is, caps off the season by seeing actual Entropy destroy stuff and seeing The Fourth Doctor's demise. It's a themology that really isn't immediately obvious until Logopolis, and even then we get an extra theme surrounding Recursion to cross over into Season 19.
Thanks for the ride, JNT. You'll be missed.
      Overall, my experience of Season 18 has been rather a downer. I like good Who and I like bad Who, but Season 18's mix of stories, while intellectually stimulating, just weren't entertaining enough to sustain my interest. I loved the themes, the ideas and the overal storyline, but the stories themselves were incredibly dense and I often struggled to get through them (State of Decay and Warrior's Gate being the biggest offenders in that regard.) After loving the rest of the JNT Era, I was disappointed that his first season was so lifeless and dull. Now that my coverage of the JNT era is over, I'll be heading first back to the season that caused this whole mess, Season 17.


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