My View of Season Eighteen
By Chris Noaro
I am continually amazed at the amount of praise heaped on Season 18 which I can now say is, in my opinion, composed of some of the most melodramatic, self-indulgent slime I have ever seen, including Seasons 22 and 23, and that really is saying something. Most of the villains and supporting characters were so dull and uninteresting that I had to have a look at some of my tapes to even put names to faces, in stark contrast to Scaroth, Adrasta, Duggan, Tryst, and Soldeed, with his cries of pain (?) after being tricked by the Nimon still ringing in my ears. The Argolins, the most boring of all, acted as though they were performing in a real-life drama (or some American pseudo SF series - take your pick), not a programme where a main character saves at least an entire planet every story.
Atmosphere, due to flashy sets and special effects, was virtually non-existent, with the exception of Warriors' Gate. There is some kind of popular notion that JNT was in his prime here and was corrupted in later years, but it is precisely his preoccupation with superficial concerns such as special effects and glossy sets that has led to the vacuous shell of a programme that now exists.
The Master was a disaster. The main reason that Anthony Ainley isn't considered as good as Roger Delgado is that there's no humour in his relationship with the Doctor. The Doctor also suffers because of this. Tom Baker's style of acting during Season 17 was totally in line with and a natural progression of the way he'd played the Doctor right from the start, but Season 18 cut him off in full flight.
If the overall style of the season wasn't enough, we also had to endure a few inspired extras thrown in for good measure, like the flashback sequence (a real taste of what's to come) and the self-satisfied inclusion of the signature tune in the incidental music more often than was decent, not to mention the new Miami Vice style arrangement of the theme.
And then there were the question marks. I don't even profess to understand the mentality behind them. Surely they go against the grain of JNT's stated direction he thought the show would go in. The humour of the previous season(s) had such style and Tom Baker knew exactly what it was and carried it off so well. Maybe it's JNT's way of discrediting humour in Doctor Who altogether - coming up with the most pathetic examples he can find and actually including them in the programme. It's been suggested recently, because both contain such large doses of humour, that Season 24 shows a return to the Graham Williams period, however the two kinds of humour are totally different in nature. The former, with Tom Baker's little sideline quips to the audience and deliberately unreal action sequences, dealt in making fun of Doctor Who (as a serious SF show) in a way that was both entertaining and intelligent, while still being part of quality stories with interesting concepts - covering itself against criticism on all sides, if you like, whereas recent humour is self-congratulatory, cosy jokes about the joys of having two hearts and getting Earthlings back in time for tea, as in the final corny scene from Meglos.
My dissatisfaction is not with the stories themselves, but their treatment. That devotees of Doctor Who can express such extreme and divergent views on two consecutive seasons really does suggest that some have totally different reasons for watching the programme. Obviously there are the seven year olds who like the monsters; the connoisseurs of staid science fiction (no funny business); and then, like it or not, there are those who like it for pure amusement. And I'm proud to say that I belong to that third category - it really is the most fun show in the world. To quote Sydney Newman (Starburst Mar 87, p64): "They (Doctor Who and The Avengers) were kibitzes on my part. They were fun, the wilder side of me to send up the world." With this in mind, Hartnell and Troughton, especially, played the part to perfection, and despite what most fans say about Season 17 being out of line with the rest of the series, I believe it contains the essence of the programme's history at that time and is for me a collection of some of the most delightful Doctor Who stories ever made.
This item appeared in TSV 12 (March 1989).