The levels of taste and good judgement in the Doctor Who production office in the mid-1980s can be summed up in three words:

Doctor In Distress.

Eric Saward hasn’t received a lot of love in these essays so far, but in the last full series he script-edited, Colin Baker’s first, he finally found a coherent aesthetic vision for Doctor Who. Whereas previously he’d been content to throw in as much violence and references to old stories as he could, by this point he had been converted to The Church Of Bob Holmes, and had come up with a semi-formula for the show that worked in the three stories that year where he could try it — comic double acts, vicious black humour, and a smattering of post-modernism with characters commenting metafictionally on the action. The fact that new companion Peri’s catchphrase became “all of these corridors look alike to me” gives a hint of the way Saward’s thoughts were trending.

Vengeance On Varos is the story where this style is taken to its ultimate extreme, and is by far the best Doctor Who story of the 1980s

The Caves Of Androzani is, notably, the only actually good Doctor Who story from 1984

Earthshock is almost universally considered one of the very best Doctor Who stories of Peter Davison’s tenure in the role, with only The Caves Of Androzani offering it much competition. In Doctor Who Magazine‘s 2009 reader’s poll ranking the first two hundred televised stories, it was rated number 19, and was one of only three stories from the 1980s to feature in the top twenty (in contrast, a full ten of the bottom twenty were from that decade).

It’s therefore a good case study to look at exactly what went wrong with the show