Doctor Who Season 7 (1970) Review // Recommendation

Jon Pertwee at the end of this season's production block.

Public Domain

Jon Pertwee at the end of this season's production block.

J. L. Ilai, Contributing Writer

Please Note: 1.) In the classic era of Doctor Who, stories were divided up into multiple episodes, in a serialized fashion. 2.) The uncut review of this season is so long that it has been highly abridged for CHSKTR. Links to the full, four part review are at the very bottom of this article.

It’s the 70’s, Doctor Who survived possible cancellation, the budget was cut, and the number of episodes was reduced. Did the show manage to be good? It was difficult to keep the train running smoothly when production was going on virtually all the time from 1963 to 1969. Perhaps the season breaks will do some favors to the behind the scenes members. Filming on Season 6’s finale, The War Games, most likely finished in April 1969. Filming for Season 7 most likely started in September 1969. While that break seems quite short, production had never been off for that long. I guess it takes extra time to change the format so drastically. A lot has changed. For starters, the show is now in color. The Doctor is now in exile on Earth with his spaceship serving little more purpose than set decoration. He’s aiding an organization called “U.N.I.T.”. Its objective is to stop alien threats from happening or escalating. This change of setup isn’t all new. The Web of Fear from Season 5 and The Invasion from Season 6 both feature U.N.I.T. for the first two times. The latter was a test to see if these Earth bound stories would be liked. Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart and Sergeant Benton are both members of U.N.I.T. that appeared in the earlier stories and they’re back for this season (as well as later ones). They’re joined by Liz Shaw and numerous guest characters from U.N.I.T. Unusually, this season had only four stories, but most had more episodes than the common four or six. Let’s check them out, starting with the only story not seven episodes…

Spearhead from Space (1970) – Four Episodes

I vaguely remember watching Spearhead from Space on DVD. It’s nice to see it again in crystal clear HD. In fact, it’s the only Doctor Who serial from the original series filmed in a way where it could be seen in HD. There’s lots to love here. The directing is very good. All the performances are believable. The framing and camera angles look very sharp. Director Derek Martinus had done Who stories in the past, but none look as good as this one. There are dramatic cuts to and fro intense happenings in the story. A highlight is when someone is driving a car and someone else walks in the road from nowhere. The driver swerves off the road to avoid hitting them. There’s then a cut to the person’s bloodied face in the car as the person from the road walks up to them. Where are you going to see that other than from sharp directors? Another highlight is a cut from a person to a doll face. The camera then quickly zooms out to show characters talking. This kind of style probably was difficult for the BBC in the 70’s. Namely the use of blood. There are some awkward cuts, but they’re outnumbered by effective ones.

I’m glad that this story is so good as being the start of a new era of the show, it’s the perfect introduction to people not into (Classic) Doctor Who. This story goes against its era by being more or less quick and efficient in how it tells the story. Stories are generally slower paced in the Classics. There are some issues I have with the story, but they’re outweighed by how good it is.

Doctor Who and the Silurians (1970) – Seven Episodes

Quite an odd romp this one is. Longer serials like this one often benefit from having more time to flesh out the story. This very much plays like a military drama, which seems intentional. Episode 1 has a lot of slow build up which is done quite well, but some parts of the serial are too slow. Episode 3 as example feels very uneventful. Amusingly, a Doctor Who superfan that goes by “Whopix” fan edits Doctor Who stories. He cut down this 169-Minute long serial to just 62-Minutes. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen that much cut from a story.

Silurians does have really good direction as seen in the season’s premiere serial, Spearhead from Space. There’s something so clever and interesting about how effortlessly the camera pans or zooms to something. This kind of camera movement creates so much intrigue for the story. I’m not too familiar with the 70’s or 80’s eras of the show, but when speaking of the 60’s and 2000’s, it’s a shame that this technique hasn’t been utilized more. The acting quality fluctuates. One notable guest star is beloved actor, Paul Darrow. He’s really great, unlike some performances…

Perhaps the biggest flaw of the story are the monsters, the Silurians themselves. They look, sound, and act so ridiculous that they can’t be taken seriously. Characters discuss intense, dramatic topics and I’m close to laughing.

The cliffhangers at the ends of the episodes are also pretty silly for the most part.

A theme prevalent in the story is stupidity and brash actions causing destruction. Numerous characters kill, which often later lead to their own deaths. If everyone thought to stop and think, issues would be prevented. At the end, it seems to some that the problem is solved, but their own destructive nature will continue on, spreading to more and more. This story is a good drama hampered by little issues.

The Ambassadors of Death (1970) – Seven Episodes

This story is like a game of chess. One group will get a leg up, then another will. The Ambassadors of Death is about a group of astronauts who are trapped in space. U.N.I.T. tries to figure out how this is happening and by extension, what’s going on. How are the Doctor, Liz, and the Brigadier going to save the day?

This serial in many ways breaks from the formula of the time. There are many similarities to what we’ve seen before, such as plot conveniences, kidnappings, monsters, etc. The creatures in this story are handled in a way that seems more realistic than usual. There’s various people that want the creatures’ resources for their own gain. The ending is also a lot different than typically. This season, as well as the whole show, has had some forced, lame cliffhangers. This serial has better ones. Some have a degree of sophistication.

I’ve found that sometimes the last episode of a serial is a bit lame. It seems that the people behind the scenes didn’t know how to end the story. Ambassadors final episode was quite good. It was very tense and the stakes were high. The ending’s drama wasn’t done with a Shoot ‘Em Up, but with a political confrontation and words. This ending is way more clever than many others are.

There are plenty of silly parts. Just to name a few, in Episode 2, The Doctor reveals he has an anti-theft device on his car. When a criminal touches it, their hands stick to the car. That’s just ridiculous. In Episode 7, the Brigadier gets a fight scene that would’ve been really good, but many of the hits are noticeably unrealistic. Characters don’t react how one would and you can see that several of the hits don’t hit the characters.

It’s worth noting the stellar cinematography and direction of the season’s first two serials is lacking here. While the direction of Ambassadors is not bad, it’s average.

This serial rides a tight line between a standard run of the mill affair and a unique bit of brilliance. That somewhat summarizes lots of Doctor Who. That’s why I love it! This serial is a lot of fun. It’s a bit different from the rest, so it’s good for those craving a new flavor, but not a new product.

Inferno (1970) – Seven Episodes

Inferno is a fan favorite and it’s easy to see why. It’s a ton of fun. The premise is that U.N.I.T. is watching over an experimental drilling project to penetrate the Earth’s crust and discover a new form of energy. A green liquid leaks from the drill head that transforms those who touch it into monsters.

Episode 1 is quite classy. A lot of characters are at the base of operations for the drill. They discuss the project, so the audience can learn of it. It’s done in a way that makes sense. There’s constantly new people coming on board, so it’s got to be explained multiple times. The viewer is sitting in for one of those times. While we’re learning of the story, someone touches the green liquid. We cut to them on and off as more talking is had. This is done more or less in real time. This slow build of what the stuff does creates great atmosphere.

OVERVIEW

Season 7 of Doctor Who sometimes seems unprofessional. There’s bad special effects and small continuity errors throughout. The biggest issue is that in order to have plot conveniences U.N.I.T. often has to be portrayed as incompetent. People under their care are killed or kidnapped, they don’t spot obvious problems, etc. A lot of these problems can be looked over because of how good the stories are. This season has a loose story arc that is quite fun to watch. It doesn’t interrupt the stories. In Inferno, it serves as a catalyst for the meat of the story.

Cliffhangers were often the most attention drawing part of these stories. Seeing as they served like little finales, they often summarized the good and bad of the stories/episodes. Sometimes they feel tacked on and unnecessary, sometimes they upped the stakes. The first episode of a serial was often best. They had good tension, drama, and pacing. The last episode was often the weakest. They struggled to wrap up the stories well.

There’s a theme of acting without stopping, thinking, or listening. The Doctor has to convince people not to do something that seems so obviously wrong or stupid. Some of the stories escalate to a destructive point because characters wouldn’t stop and listen to their “opponents”. There’s another theme of more heavy, realistic, tragic deaths. All stories feature a scene of some destruction in the streets, affecting normal people. This could be a metaphor for the growing threat and sophistication of the enemies. The monsters of the 1960’s are gone and the Doctor must now face new types of dangers that attack at the people. To contrast, in a 1960’s serial, The Dominators, the deaths are towards non-humans. They’re not consequential or emphasized. Things change a lot throughout the stories. Characters are killed and people change what they’re doing and why. The first and last episodes of a story generally are quite different in terms of stakes and escalation. This season feels quite different than the 60’s. I’m ready for more.

Doctor Who 050: Spearhead from Space // Season 7 (1970) Review Part 1

Doctor Who 051: and the Silurians // Season 7 (1970) Review Part 2

Doctor Who 052: The Ambassadors of Death // Season 7 (1970) Review Part 3

Doctor Who 053: Inferno // Season 7 (1970) Review Part 4

Read more reviews here: https://thefilmediary.wordpress.com/