Thursday, September 6, 2012

Doctor Who: The Peter Davison Years (part 4)

Part 4 of an expansive essay about Peter Davison's three seasons (1982-84) on the long-running TV series Doctor Who. To read the full essay from the beginning, click here.

What follows are some thoughts about Davison's twenty Doctor Who serials (arranged chronologically): serials, to my mind, worth watching whether you're a fan of the genre or not, because at their heart, they boast a spectacularly fine actor doing spectacularly fine work. As you'll see, there are only seven or eight serials that I consider truly great, but Davison is rarely less than impressive, and frequently he's stirring. It's been nearly forty years since Davison made his TV debut, a full thirty years since he assumed the title role in Doctor Who. A year ago, I'd never heard of the guy; now I'd be hard-pressed to think of a television actor I admire more.

Castrovalva
written by Christopher H. Bidmead
directed by Fiona Cumming
Beguiling and exhilarating. Bidmead's scripts could be too clever by half, the results more science lesson than science fiction. Cumming lifts "Castrovalva" out of the lecture hall and infuses it with pace, style and warmth; she takes Bidmead's showy conceits (hydrogen inrush! recursive occlusion!) and paints a human face on them. Cumming was an accomplished technician, but she was above all an actor's director: just what "Castrovalva" needs. Fielding and Sutton don't seem to be spouting technical jargon; they seem to be processing it, sharing it. They have a few scenes where Cumming brings the volume down and draws the camera in close, and the two actresses are charmingly convincing. (It's the best work they'd do together till Cumming's next serial.) And Davison is, from the start, a revelation. It was his fourth serial filmed; John Nathan-Turner made a lot of questionable moves during his tenure on Doctor Who, but deciding to hold off filming Davison's debut until he'd inhabited the role for a while was not one of them. The Doctor is in a weakened state for much of "Castrovalva," but Davison is in command of every gesture and effect: he's riveting. A few blemishes in Part Four, mostly some action shots that were never Cumming's strong suit, but otherwise a triumph of script, direction, design and musical composition.

Four to Doomsday
written by Terence Dudley
directed by John Black

Exposition masquerading as plot, but so blithe and civilized, it doesn't much matter. For two episodes, characters meet, chat, posture, scheme, and trade secrets; nothing happens, but it's full of felicities (there's even a choreographed divertissement), and the set-design and direction are top-notch. (The sets are lit to match the costumes; even if you can't get into writer Terence Dudley's gentlemanly exchanges, you can bliss out staring at the pretty colors.) Sometime after the halfway mark, Dudley tries for more traditional suspense, but few of the set-pieces -- Tegan's frantic efforts to fly the TARDIS, Nyssa's aborted reprogramming -- truly come off. And two sequences near the end -- a pantomime fight in an airlock and the disposal of the villain against a sea of chaos -- are an embarrassment. Still, for much of its length, the low-key "Four to Doomsday" is unexpectedly appealing.

Kinda
written by Christopher Bailey
directed by Peter Grimwade

"Our madness is the Mara's meat and drink," the Wise Woman intones in "Kinda," and in Christopher Bailey's hallucinatory universe, the Mara -- the evil lurking in the deep recesses of the soul -- is feasting on us all. On Deva Loka, the line between sanity and madness is perilously thin. It's not just fear and isolation that can sully the mind; insight and empathy wreak their own havoc. Bailey's characters -- and the nightmares that consume them -- seem to spring from the dark corners of his imagination: in "Kinda," story and story-teller are inseparable. Bailey doesn't connect all the dots, but he doesn't need to; our limited understanding of life's mysteries becomes part of the "Kinda" narrative. Yet despite its philosophic overtones, "Kinda" is not a static piece -- the cast and director attack the work with such ferocity that the narrative becomes, for the most part, as stirring as it is stimulating. (Only a few of the younger actors are, sadly, not up to the task at hand, the chief offender being Waterhouse. In Part Three, trapped with two madmen, he's meant to project mounting desperation to escape, but mostly he conveys the bland boredom of a teenager anxious to ditch his parents on a Saturday night.) Davison's own growth as an actor further fuels the story. "Kinda" was his third serial filmed, and as the scenes progress, you see him getting inside the Doctor's skin. While the Doctor gains knowledge, Davison gains insight; by the time the Mara is banished (magnificently), the journey of the Fifth Doctor, and that of the actor playing him, have become intertwined, and the synergy is powerful.

The Visitation
written by Eric Saward
directed by Peter Moffatt
The dullest of the Davison serials: the only one that's a chore to sit through. The Doctor keeps telling his companions to hurry up, but no one seems to hurry in "The Visitation" -- scenes seem to go on forever. When they're good -- as in most of the first episode -- "The Visitation" is very good, but when they're bad, it's deadly. The Doctor, Adric and Tegan keep escaping from one room only to get trapped in another, while Nyssa -- well, poor Nyssa: during Part Two, the Doctor dispatches her to the TARDIS to build a machine, and when Part Four rolls around, she's still building it. She rearranges the furniture, she drags a contraption across two rooms, she kicks it and says "stupid machine" -- anything to delay her actually activating and testing it. "The Visitation" is like that; things that could be wrapped up in two minutes are stretched across two episodes. Moffatt directs like a disinterested bystander. The fight scenes are unfocused, the pacing tepid, and all four principals, at key moments, seem to lose track of the plot. Davison has a fine, energetic scene with the alien antagonist, then spends the next little while staring at the ground. (Is he trying to divine the alien's secret? -- killing time till his next line? -- awaiting some direction from the booth? It's hard to say.) There's a fun twist waiting at the end, but it's too little, far too late.

Black Orchid
written by Terence Dudley
directed by Ron Jones
Part One is all smart lines, high spirits and gorgeous production values. First-time Who director Ron Jones doesn't linger over anything; the scenes are brief, but his camera catches everything -- there isn't a missed moment or a missed beat. It's all plot threads, but the threads are golden. In Part Two, writer Terence Dudley tries to weave them into something substantial, and he flounders. Dudley understands well how to mill atmosphere for suspense, but give him a piece of plotting that he has to explore, justify or -- heaven forbid -- resolve, and he goes to pieces. He creates marvelous characters, then has no idea how to use them to generate story. (He establishes Lady Cranleigh's proud maternal instincts, suggesting that she would do anything to protect her family, but when the moment comes for her to turn on the Doctor, he can't make her actions convincing; she seems to be throwing him to the wolves just so Dudley can keep the plot in motion.) If you only watched Part Two of "Black Orchid," you might think this historical two-parter a disappointment; even Davison, that most dutiful of Doctors, has one scene where he seems to be holding his head in dismay. But if you watch the episodes in proper order, Part Two gets by on the good will built up in Part One; things come undone, but not disastrously so.

Earthshock
written by Eric Saward
directed by Peter Grimwade
The first half -- and the last ten minutes -- are unusually taut and effective. The Cybermen's two-pronged plan doesn't really bear scrutiny, but the action sequences are well conceived and executed, and the revelations are well-spaced. And even when the second half gets a little flabby, Grimwade does his darndest to keep it engrossing. As the ship's commander, Beryl Reed proves a godsend. Saward gets a lot right in this script, but he still can't devise distinctive characters; Reed is the kind of actress who can do it even when the lines aren't there. By contrast, aside from Reed, no one in the guest cast makes any impression, and Saward has no idea how to write for Nyssa or Tegan either. The scenes with Davison and Reed have some crackle, but every time Saward does those requisite cuts to the other members of the TARDIS crew, you're reminded how generic his writing can be. Nyssa stays behind in the TARDIS with a cypher named Professor Kyle, and they have exchanges like "What was that?" "I don't know. A robot!" "They're huge!" Their lines don't even function as exposition; they know less about what's going on than anyone. Near the end, Professor Kyle is killed by a Cyberman, but no one reacts much. Basically, she was only there till the final reel so she could lend Tegan her overalls; how do you mourn a clothes rack?

Time-Flight
written by Peter Grimwade
directed by Ron Jones
Nyssa screams 17 minutes into Part One; maybe she saw what's coming. Up till then, there's not much to complain about. The TARDIS crew needed a present-day, down-to-Earth romp, and this one, at first, seems just what the Doctor ordered. From 18 minutes on, though, it all goes to pot: low-rent special effects, a hideous painted backdrop, and a plot with so many holes you could fly a Concorde through it. The first time you watch, your mind may go numb. The second time through, it gets better, because you stop asking "Why?" every few minutes. There are no reasons, but there are notable diversions: a chipper crew of pilots, a novel alien backstory, and a really nice scene between the Doctor and his foe-of-the-moment, Kalid, where you sense Davison enjoying the battle of wits. (Davison rarely seemed to enjoy besting his opponents; it was consistent with his take on the character, but sometimes you wish he weren't so damned noble and earnest so that he could bask in his victory for a moment.) Occasionally things snap back into focus; because of that -- and the first seventeen minutes -- you keep cutting "Time-Flight" some slack, but after a while you realize that for every good moment, there will be an equally bad one to follow. It's another awful story for Tegan, who's either snippy or sappy -- Grimwade can't find any middle ground, and Fielding doesn't have the instincts or the guidance to help her fill in the blanks. Near the start, she's mouthing off to the Doctor for about the fifth time, and he has a rolled up newspaper in his hand that he's just been reading; for a second, you actually think he's going to smack her with it, the way you'd discipline an unruly pet. It's a very unsettling moment.

Arc of Infinity
written by Johnny Byrne
directed by Ron Jones
Would you sacrifice a friend to save a million strangers? It's the High Council of Gallifrey's turn to debate that age-old chestnut, but surprise! -- there's no debate. There's not much drama either. Writer Johnny Byrne has some good ideas, and a tough assignment, but the way he shapes "Arc of Infinity," the key events all happen offstage. We keep hearing about conversations held and decisions reached -- we arrive everywhere after the fact. Byrne's no dummy: he's aware of all the issues he's skirting (his characters keep saying things like "we considered that already" -- just to make us aware that he's considered them as well), but referencing conversations isn't the same as dramatizing them. The most wasted moment comes in Part Two when, sentenced to death, the Doctor turns to the Lord President, seething, "I have a great deal to say" -- and then he's promptly carted off. Every opportunity for verbal fireworks is squandered, and director Ron Jones hardly escapes blame: the scenes are slack, the special effects variable and the casting questionable. Yet to its credit, "Arc of Infinity" is bad, but rarely boring, and some of the absurdities make it almost pleasurable. Near the end, Davison doubles as the antagonist, and his performance has a gravitas that elevates the entire piece. And the final chase through the Amsterdam streets is surprisingly effective. "Act of Infinity" is a mess, but when it's done, you may hate yourself for having enjoyed it.

Snakedance
written by Christopher Bailey
directed by Fiona Cumming
No Classic Who script is blessed with better dialogue; no serial since Davison's debut made better use of the Fifth Doctor and his companions. Bailey's follow-up to "Kinda" is tidier than its predecessor -- the themes go down easier -- but it's none the worse for that: it is, in fact, the defining Davison serial. Davison became a master, during his years on Who, of bringing energy and conviction to scenes even when the writer, or director, or guest cast, or supporting cast, were letting him down miserably; in "Snakedance," when everyone else is on their game, Davison unleashes his Doctor as in no other serial -- practically bounding across the set, piecing together the mystery of the Mara with wild leaps of mental agility. It's a dazzling tour-de-force. Equally dazzling: the detail and delicacy that Bailey and Cumming bring to the proceedings -- delicacy, in particular, not being a trait you associate with Classic Who. The first, luminous exchange between mother and son doesn't appear to be scripted; it just seems to unfold, the way a scene would in the theatre. As it turns out, it's almost all exposition, but as you watch it, it seems a far cry from the Who norm, where you can hear the plot creaking during even the briefest of exchanges. The rare Classic Who that doesn't merely create an alien world, but luxuriates in it, "Snakedance" is sui generis: endlessly rewatchable and rewarding.

Mawdryn Undead
written by Peter Grimwade
directed by Peter Moffatt
Two time streams unfold simultaneously, and the effect is giddy, foolish fun. Key scenes between Tegan and the Brigadier in 1977 play out as memories of the Brigadier in 1983; it's the kind of conjuring trick New Who does often, but rarely better. One of Grimwade's niftiest notions -- of two Brigadiers trapped on one ship but repeatedly missing each other -- calls for the kind of flair and precision that seems beyond Moffatt's grasp, but the story succeeds despite him. Moffatt had been the strongest director on All Creatures during its first season, and time and again, he'd drawn out Davison's best performances. But Davison admits that on Who, the sci-fi elements baffled Moffatt, and ultimately, they seem to have defeated him. (A hallmark of his work on Who is actors looking lost for a few seconds between lines; it happens to pretty much everyone at some point in "Mawdryn Undead" -- Sutton, in fact, seems at sea throughout.) The whole serial builds towards the proverbial "zap" when the two Brigadiers meet; Moffatt nails that moment, but the lead-up is leaden and the fall-out limp. Yet despite the director's limitations, and a final act that's equal parts padded and preposterous, "Mawdryn Undead" is still a heady trip.

Terminus
written by Stephen Gallagher
directed by Mary Ridge
The juvenile cast opposite Sarah Sutton is even worse than she is; at one point, they have a contest to see who can show less emotion in the face of impending doom. But if you can look past that -- oh, and the big patchwork dog -- "Terminus" has its rewards, starting with some remarkable setups by director Mary Ridge. Turlough and Tegan are trapped in an air vent for much of the story, but who cares when the camerawork is this handsome? Ridge shoots her characters through grates and grids and bars, as if the eponymous spaceship is holding them hostage, precisely the point of "Terminus": Gallagher envisions a bleak universe in which his inhabitants (not just the TARDIS crew, but the patients in need of medical assistance, the self-proclaimed "baggage handlers" dispatched to deal with them, the raiders deserted by their own party) are all trapped -- disenfranchised by unseen, uncaring forces. (Even the ship itself -- in one of Gallagher's more twisted conceits -- is trapped in an unending cycle of creation and destruction.) Less an adventure than an indictment dressed up as a cautionary tale, "Terminus" does have moments when it feels aimless, but it also has its moments of excitement, atmosphere and even pathos, and it comes by them honestly. (December 2015 update: I offer a full review of "Terminus" here.)

Enlightenment
written by Barbara Clegg
directed by Fiona Cumming
Sailing ships in space: one of the iconic images of the Davison era, and the best Davison Who for the unenlightened. Others may be more thought-provoking ("Kinda"), more haunting ("Snakedance"), more gripping ("Earthshock"), or more pure fun ("The Awakening"), but "Enlightenment" manages a satisfying blend of all these qualities. Like Bailey before her, Clegg aims high without ever becoming high-brow, making the prosaic sound poetic ("It's as though somebody's been rummaging around in my memories") and the poetic unexpectedly resonant ("You are a Time Lord, a Lord of Time. Are there lords in such a small domain?"). Saward's comment that the script went nowhere -- this from the man who gave us the lumbering "Visitation" -- is one of his most sadly revealing. Can we chalk it up to professional jealousy? Davison and Keith Barron have a brief exchange about human worth that's so vibrant, it puts Saward's paler version in "Earthshock" to shame. No other Who helmer of the era could balance the intimate and the panoramic quite like Cumming, but a few moments do seem to get away from her -- no doubt because an electricians' strike forced filming to be spread across three months. But if Cumming's direction isn't quite as smooth or sly as her work on "Snakedance," she still works so many wonders, particularly with Fielding, that chance complaints are best (and easily) forgotten.

The King's Demons
written by Terence Dudley
directed by Tony Virgo
A great title, and a great start. Get Terence Dudley to pen a period piece, get the BBC to outfit it, and you're off and running. "The King's Demons," set in 1215, clips along at a pleasing pace for all of Part One. Then the Master, the Doctor's arch-nemesis, does his Big Reveal, and it quickly goes to pieces. Promising characters are marginalized, the setting minimized, and what's left is dead-end plotting. The climax is a battle of wills between the Doctor and the Master, but so badly botched it barely registers. (Virgo stages a great joust, but apparently a mental duel is beyond him -- but then, Dudley doesn't do him any favors. The whole premise of a mental standoff between the Doctor and the Master -- or at least between this Doctor and this Master -- is rubbish: back in "Snakedance," Davison's Doctor saved an entire world by focusing his thoughts; are we really supposed to believe that his powers of concentration are suddenly no match for those of Anthony Ainley's Master, hamming it up horrendously in his worst Davison Who performance?) Rare for Davison, you can sense his discouragement, through to episode's end; by the time the Doctor's inviting a robot to join the TARDIS crew, and indulging Tegan in a puerile game of "either he goes or I go," Davison looks like he's abandoned hope.

The Five Doctors
written by Terrance Dicks
directed by Peter Moffatt
It's like the school reunion you were dreading that you came away from thinking, "Well, it wasn't as bad as I'd feared." "The Five Doctors" is not as bad as you feared, but large parts of it are also not very good. The kindest thing you can say about Terrance Dicks' script is that it's well-assembled; it relies on in-jokes and catch phrases, but Dicks had a herculean task, full of last-minute rewrites, and his understanding of what makes the characters work and tick buys him a passing grade. The failures fall largely to Moffatt. The middle section involves three sets of doctors and companions making their way to the Tomb of Rassilon; they cry out for a little variety and suspense, but as staged, they mostly seem to be killing time. Former Doctors Patrick Troughton and Jon Pertwee (and Richard Hurndall, for that matter, filling in for the deceased William Hartnell) can't be faulted; they do what's asked of them, and well, but because there's no real sense of danger, they never feel heroic. What saves the day is Davison who, from his first gasp of pain, makes the threat palpable. Once Davison arrives at the Tomb, Moffatt seems to climb out of his stupor, and the final payoffs are quite good. But "The Five Doctors" belongs to Davison. His role was originally due to be subordinated to Tom Baker's, until Baker abruptly pulled out of the project. Baker's erratic ego is the best thing that could have happened to "The Five Doctors."

Warriors of the Deep
written by Johnny Byrne
directed by Pennant Roberts

The Myrka, one of the most derided creatures in Who history, impedes your enjoyment the first time through; by second viewing, you can latch on to better things: the strong score by newcomer Jonathan Gibbs, another striking set by Who staple Tony Burrough, and surprisingly, a script by Johnny Byrne that isn't half bad -- or perhaps more accurately, is only half bad. Byrne's last effort, "Arc of Infinity," was full of incident, but little sense or substance; "Warriors" has some heft. There are a few head-scratcher lines, but otherwise, it's a good story for Davison, who's particularly energetic. Fielding is also well-served (as in "Arc of Infinity," Byrne knows how to make Tegan brave and sympathetic while keeping her tetchy), and so is Strickson. It may sound odd to praise a script for serving the entire regular cast well, but how seldom that happens. On the flip side, there's a sea of amateur acting from the guest cast (Roberts has his virtues, but casting and coaching are not among them), and a surfeit of gratuitous deaths near the end, courtesy of Saward. And the props look like they were turned out by some fifth-grade papier-mâché class. But Davison slams through it all in fine fashion. His final line reading ("There should have been another way") is particularly splendid, and the last shot of the Doctor, shaken and singed, is memorable.

The Awakening
written by Eric Pringle
directed by Michael Owen Morris
Eric Pringle was reportedly displeased with Eric Saward's rewrites, branding the resulting script rushed and confusing. But "The Awakening" is neither -- in fact, it's one of the most delightful of all the Davison serials. Pringle has fifty minutes to tell a dense story, and a lot of tricks up his sleeve, but the tricks never seem obvious; director Morris bathes them in the sun. There's a childlike sense of wonder to "The Awakening." It's there in the giant crack in the wall, and in the ghoulish face hiding behind it. It's there in the young boy who flees the church in terror, but isn't too afraid to brandish a torch to save his new friend. And it's there, above all, in Davison's performance. At one point, the Doctor escapes captivity with a schoolboy prank; later he's in the TARDIS with the town schoolteacher, and he throws her looks that say "Why are you in my room?" and "Don't touch my things." He's both rebel and authoritarian, equal parts schoolboy and headmaster, and he's marvelous. There's only one moment in "The Awakening" that feels rushed and confusing, and it's pure Saward: the sci-fi explanation for the creature taking over the town. The schoolteacher characterizes him as "the devil," but never a fan of the mystical, Saward explains it with reconnaissance missions and alien invasions and rocks "mined by the Terileptils on the planet Raaga for the almost exclusive use of the people of Hakol," all of which Davison shrewdly recites so fast that he renders it unintelligible. Saward had no idea how people think; did he not understand that the moment we hear "the devil," we tune out any other explanation? It's the only moment in "The Awakening" that feels false: demystifying the devil.

Frontios
written by Christopher H. Bidmead
directed by Ron Jones
The kind of monster-of-the-week serial that suits Christopher Bidmead least. He tries to compensate with hyper-intelligent dialogue ("when deep ancestral memory pictures break through the conscious mind like this, dangerous instabilities are created"), but the results are static and self-conscious. And the attempts at humor are forced. Bidmead can write a good joke, but here, nothing rings true. We start with the Doctor offstage, making a madman's ruckus; Tegan explains, "He gets like this sometimes." Well, no, he doesn't -- at least not in a while. Bidmead writes the Doctor as eccentric, absent-minded, pompous, obtuse: equal parts Baker, Pertwee and Hartnell. Had Bidmead seen an episode since he left two years earlier? This may be where Bidmead had intended the Fifth Doctor to go, but it's not where others had taken him; the impulsive idealist, the Doctor who wears his heart on his sleeve, is largely missing from "Frontios." Nor does Bidmead do well by Strickson, who gets a protracted mad scene that encourages his worst excesses. (At one point, Turlough literally foams at the mouth; at another, as two characters carry him to safety, his legs go limp, and they have to drag him off. That's our Strickson; if he can't upstage everyone with his face, he'll make sure his legs get the parting shot.) There are a few genuinely eerie moments in Part Two, but precious little else, and the martial motif that plays throughout is murder on the ears.

Resurrection of the Daleks
written by Eric Saward
directed by Matthew Robinson
A stylish-looking, well-directed action-adventure that wears its machismo like a medal. Calling it Eric Saward's best Who script may be damning it with faint praise, but it's praise nonetheless. Saward writes the principals true to form; he scatters some distinct character traits among the ample supporting cast; and he clears most of the plotting hurdles he sets for himself -- i.e., he gets by on the barest of minimums, but he gets by. Only near the end -- in the shoot-it-out, blow-'em-up finale -- does a sort of willful incoherence take over, but by then you take heart in the fact that incoherence still trumps blandness. There's a good visual gag involving a cat, and only one scene that's a complete bust. (The Doctor is being tortured, but seems to be getting through to his captor; we cut away to another scene, and when we return, the Doctor has stopped strategizing -- he's just busy screaming. But then his captor has a change of heart and frees him anyway. You're left wondering if the Doctor had any role in his own escape; he's emasculated by his own editing.) At the end, Tegan bids the Doctor goodbye, telling him, "It's stopped being fun." She's wrong, of course: despite its flaws, "Resurrection" is more fun than four of the five previous serials; that said, if this slaughter-fest was a portent of things to come (and it was), she was right to get gone.

Planet of Fire
written by Peter Grimwade
directed by Fiona Cumming
The shots of Lanzarote -- its cliffs ripe for climbing, its valleys swirling in mist -- are majestic, and they're set to a percussive score (by Peter Howell) that's one of the most hypnotic in the Classic Who canon. Part Two feels like it's almost entirely shot outdoors, and Cumming milks the scenery for all it's worth. "Planet of Fire" suffers from some scrappy editing, and a few missteps, but by and large, this atmospheric tale is brimming with good ideas, well-executed. Grimwade was handed a laundry list of script requirements dwarfing even Byrne's on "Arc of Infinity," but there's no kitchen-sink clutter: it all coalesces into a brisk, satisfying story about faith and resistance, abandonment and deliverance. As ever, Cumming takes care of her actors, particularly the younger ones, coaxing a restrained performance out of Strickson and an appealing one out of Nicola Bryant. (It could be argued that it's Strickson's most restrained performance on Who, and Bryant's most appealing. Cumming even manages to tame Anthony Ainley.) You watch "Planet of Fire" thinking you'll carp about the small things it's getting wrong, but instead you're swept up in the formidable things it gets right. A late Davison sleeper; in many ways, it's the highlight of his final season.

The Caves of Androzani
written by Robert Holmes
directed by Graeme Harper
Early on, the Doctor and his new companion Peri are arrested and brought before a general, who insists on being addressed as "sir"; scripter Robert Holmes turns it into a quick comedy routine. Of course he does: those kind of hoary gags were a staple of the previous Doctor, for whom Holmes served as script editor. They were well-suited to Tom Baker's galumphing swagger, which could be commanding and detached at the same time; on Davison, whose line readings were honest to a fault, whose responses were visceral in the extreme, they seem all wrong. But the Fifth Doctor doesn't seem to interest Holmes much; his fancies lie elsewhere. He creates a cunning world, but the Doctor is pretty much an ancillary player: a prop, passed from one character to another like a bag of chips. Holmes structures the plot so that each of his characters has a reason for wanting the Doctor out of the picture. This isn't telling a story; it's stacking a deck. Near the end of Part Three, sanity and balance are briefly restored. His life slipping away, but determined to save Peri, the Doctor escapes captivity, seizes control of a ship and pilots it towards a crash landing; Davison lets loose with an adrenaline-fueled speech that gives you a glimmer of what "Caves" could have been. But the sequence is interrupted by three other scenes you couldn't care less about. Peter Davison makes a fine action hero in "Caves," but he has to do it in quick takes -- the camera rarely seems to be pointing his way.


Want more Classic Who? I offer up capsule reviews of all the Second Doctor serials here, and a re-evaluation of the Third Doctor era -- plus capsule reviews -- here.

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