1978 opened with a story that is widely considered to be one of the weakest in the series's history - 'Underworld'. The story itself sounds really good - it's based on the Greek myths like Jason and the Argonauts and reveals something of the history of the Time Lords and the reason why they became a race of observers. It's the execution of the story that let's it down in the eyes of many fans.
Blue screen effects (or CSO as the BBC used to call it) was nothing new in Doctor Who in the Seventies. It was used in many stories to place characters in situations and locations that it would, under most circumstances, be impossible to do with Doctor's Who's tiny budget. And the fact that they use the effect in 'Underworld' is no surprise. The problem is that the production team decided to use CSO in nearly every scene. While nowadays such a decision would probably barely register with most viewers, back in 1978 the technology was in its infancy and the results were...less than stunning.
Fortunately the CSO was minimal in the season finale 'The Invasion of Time' although there was still evidence of budget stretching at certain points. All this considered though, this is something of a minor epic. We see the Doctor return to Gallifrey to take his place as President of the Time Lords. We see the Doctor apparently turning to the Dark Side, appearing to ally himself with a mysterious group of aliens called the Vardens who want to invade Gallifrey. And then, when it seems like the story is over and the Vardens have been defeated, the Sontarans turn up.
This is where it falls down a bit as the final two episodes largely consist of the Doctor and Sontarns chasing each other round inside the TARDIS. This in itself would have been fine had the production team had the budget needed to build a few sets for the TARDIS interior. Unfortunately they didn't and had to film inside a abandoned mental hospital instead, meaning that the inside of the TARDIS looks like, well, an abandoned mental hospital.
At the end of the story, Leela chooses to stay on Gallifrey as she's fallen in love with a guard that she met during the course of the story. It seems an unlikely exit for a character like Leela and actress Louise Jameson wasn't terribly happy with it as she wanted Leela to be killed saving the Doctor's life. In a way though, marrying her off instead has paid off as it's enabled the character to reappear in books and audios in later years.
|Leela with her future husband|
K9 also elects to stay with Leela so it looks as if the Doctor is going to be alone again but, in the final scene, he drags a big cardboard box into the TARDIS control room which says 'K9 Mark II' on it. So he won't be alone for long.
The series took it's usual Summer break and returned in September with a new series. This series, however, was going to be a little different to previously as this season had a running theme.
In the opening story of the season, 'The Ribos Operation' the Doctor comes face to face with the White Guardian. The White Guardian is an almost god-like being who, on this occasion looks like a kindly old man in a wicker chair. He asks the Doctor to find the six pieces of the Key to Time, a powerful object that supposedly keeps the entire universe in balance. The six segments are spread throughout time and space and could be disguised as almost anything.
|The White Guardian|
The Doctor agrees (not that he actually has any choice) and, for his troubles, is given a new companion to assist him. This is Time Lady Romana, who initially believes that she has been sent by the Time Lord President to aid the Doctor before realising that she too has been recruited by the White Guardian.
|The Doctor and Romana|
The Doctor and Romana, along with K9 (mark II) travel to the icy world of Ribos to find the first segment. The segment is disguised as a piece of valuable metal which is part of elaborate plot hatched by a pair of con artists that the Doctor and Romana are inadvertently caught up in.
The next story sees the TARDIS travel to the planet Zanak, a hollow world that is being used as a giant pirate ship by a cyborg space captain with a robot parrot. Not for nothing is this story called 'The Pirate Planet'.
This is the first Doctor Who story to be written by Douglas Adams who, as I'm sure everyone knows, went on to achieve great success in years to come. The first radio series of 'Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy' has been broadcast a few months earlier and the humour of that series is certainly evident here with even one or two lines from 'Hitch Hiker's...' being adapted and re-appearing here.
After finding the second segment of the Key to Time (which is actually on of the planets that had been plundered by the pirates), the TARDIS crew head to contemporary Earth for 'The Stones of Blood', which also happened to be the 100th Doctor Who story.
This time, the Doctor, Romana and K9 and investigating an ancient stone circle whose stones appear to be coming to life and attacking people. These rock-like monsters and called Ogri and they are the servants of an escaped alien criminal called Vivian Fey. The Doctor and Romana team up with the eccentric Professor Amelia Rumford (who takes everything in her stride) to defeat the aliens and find the third segment.
|The Doctor and Professor Rumford|
Finally this year, 'The Androids of Tara'. Here the TARDIS crew arrive on the planet of Tara to find the fourth segment of the Key to Time, something which they achieve within the first minutes of the first episode. However Romana is then mistaken for an android copy of one Princess Strella, of whom she is an exact double, and is promptly captured by the villianous Count Grendel.
The Doctor meanwhile falls in with Prince Reynart, the rightful ruler of the planet, who also has his own android double. Needless to say, with android doubles all over the place confusion abounds as the Doctor tries to rescue Romana, defeat the evil Count and ensure that the Prince and Princess are reunited.
In 1978 the BBC released an album that I am sure nearly every Doctor Who of a certain age must have listened to: the Doctor Who Sound Effects album.Not typical listening material admittedly but it was still strangely exciting to listen to Dalek laser blasts or the TARDIS materialising. My personal favourite was the sound of the TARDIS doors opening and closing.
The Target novelisation series continued this year, although fewer new novelisations were published than in previous years. Terrance Dicks once again wrote the lion's share of the books, novelising 'The Face of Evil', his own 'Horror of Fang Rock', 'Death to the Daleks', 'The Android Invasion' and 'The Time Warrior'. 'The Time Warrior' was originally to be novelised by original script writer Robert Holmes but Holmes had to pull out after writing the Prologue and the rest of the book was handed over to Dicks.
In addition to Dicks' efforts, Gerry Davis returned to novelise Second Doctor story 'Tomb of the Cybermen'. Former Harry Sullivan, Ian Marter, also made his return to the range, this time novelising the follow-up to 'The Ark in Space', 'The Sontaran Experiment'.
Target also published two more of the 'Doctor Who Discovers...' series of books. The two titles published in 1978 were '...The Conquerors' and 'Strange and Mysterious Creatures'.
Finally, in addition to the usual Doctor Who and Dalek Annuals, there was also a Dalek Colouring book and a shameless cash-in book called 'Jon Pertwee's Book of Monster's'. This had no connection to Doctor Who at all other than having Pertwee's name on the cover and a introduction to the book written by him. Nevertheless it was quite a neat way to persuade people to buy this book of short stories and it was a trick that was be used again in a few years, using Peter Davision rather than Pertwee to sell books of sci-fi short stories.
30 June1978 proved to be something of a milestone for the comic strip, as this was the last time that an original Doctor Who comic story appeared in the pages of TV Comic. The strip itself did continue (well into 1979 in fact) but they were all reprints. Just as had been done in the Winter Special in 1977, the artwork was altered to replace the previous Doctors (mostly the Third) with the Fourth Doctor's image.