OK, this was supposed to be a review of the novel Dreams of Empire by Justin Richards, but fun as it was – possibly the best instance of Patrick Troughton’s Doctor in print – the mystery that I remembered it being wasn’t as effective as I remembered. There’s a whodunit part to the story, but it’s so blooming obvious that I’m not going to review properly. It’s a great evocation of the Season 5 Base-Under-Siege series, although Jamie seemed a bit off, and well worth a look.
But instead, on this day of the 50th Anniversary, instead I thought I’d run through the remaining episodes that contain a whodunit. But are there that many?
An Unnamed First Doctor Story
I’m not saying which one, as it’s often slagged off as being a whodunit with only one suspect. But the reason why it works is that if you don’t know it’s a mystery, you assume that the bloke in a monster costume is, in fact, a monster, rather than the one suspect dressed up as a monster. As I’ve said before, the best mysteries are often the ones which you don’t know are mysteries until the reveal. This one isn’t that good, but it’s better than I thought, if you don’t know it’s a mystery. For the fans, it’s the one where the planet is the name of a character from Greek mythology.
The Curse Of Peladon
There might be a case for The Ambassadors of Death from earlier in Pertwee’s reign, but, along with the Tom Baker Horror Of Fang Rock, I don’t know it that well. But The Curse of Peladon, where the Doctor blunders into a intergalactic peace conference – where some of the delegates are Ice Warriors – and the murders start. Is it a decent mystery? It again depends on how much you know about the story… but there’s a couple of villains to spot. It’s been a while and my overwhelming memory of it was that it’s actually a bit boring. Jon Pertwee and Katy Manning were on top form – as ever – and they’re always a class act. There’s a “who’s the villain” aspect to the sequel, The Monster Of Peladon as well – personally I prefer it, but I know Curse is a better story.
There’s a bit of a dearth in the remainder of the classic series that I can recall apart from:
Terror Of The Vervoids
The Sixth Doctor meets Bonnie Langford. It’s not really fair to be rude about Mel, Langford’s character, as she has been redeemed by Big Finish on audio. But the television persona was awful. Just as Colin Baker began to settle into the sort of Doctor that he actually wanted to play, the audience was given a different reason to dislike the show. Oh, and the story’s pretty poor too, apart from the bits with Baker and Michael Jayston, as the Valeyard, in the framing sequences in the Doctor’s trial. The end of episode twelve (the end of this segments) in particular sticks in my memory as a great cliffhanger.
On televison, we then get a break under Christopher Eccleston’s second outing.
The End Of The World
A selection of weird and wonderful aliens meet up on a satellite to watch the Earth explode (narrowly avoiding a Monoid-filled ark in the process, obviously). But people start dying, and the most obvious suspect did it. Full of energy and passion, but, as ever, the mystery is obvious.
And, correct me if I’m wrong, there hasn’t been a whodunit since. I feel that there must be some Big Finish audios that I’m forgetting – The Chimes of Midnight, perhaps, but it’s more of a ghost story – but I think it means that the best Doctor Who mystery would be, for audio, Max Warp and for television, The Web Of Fear. But there’s actually less to choose from that I’d originally assumed. ADDENDUM: Forgot Whispers of Terror from Big Finish but can’t remember much about it. Sorry.
I don’t care though. By embracing every genre under the sun, Doctor Who remains the freshest, most exciting, 50 year old ever. For every slip-up – not giving Colin Baker any decent scripts, losing the off-switch on the lights in Warriors Of The Deep, Fear Her, Kamelion, Time and the Rani, to name just five – there have been a multitude of wonderful moments. Eleven great lead actors, countless loyal companions, innumerable writers, producers, designers, directors… To be honest, who cares if there’s a decent whodunit in the series or not. Roll on the next fifty years.
Just a reminder/blatant plug – Big Finish have their first fifty releases for only £2.99 on download. There are some cracking stories here for Doctors 5 to 8 so do check them out.