Who Review: Logopolis

The Doctor once again detours from his summons to Gallifrey (see “Warrior’s Gate”) so he can attempt repairs to the TARDIS chameleon circuit–the device that, theoretically, enables the TARDIS to blend into its environment by changing its external form. He plans to visit Earth where he can take the measurements of a real police box, and then carry those measurements to the mathematicians on Logopolis who can use block transfer computations to repair the TARDIS. On Earth, the Doctor materializes around a police box situated along the side of a motorway, and, with Adric’s help, begins work. However, the Master has anticipated their arrival, and materialized around the police box first. While the Doctor and Adric are exploring the anomaly of a TARDIS within a TARDIS, an air hostess named Tegan Jovanka, wanders into the TARDIS looking for help with a flat tire. The Doctor and Adric manage to separate from the Master’s TARDIS, and set off for Logopolis. By the time they discover their new, uninvited guest, they are already well on the way. Tegan is along for the ride, whether she likes it or not. When they get to Logopolis, the trouble really begins, as the Master unwittingly interferes with the meticulous work of the Logopolitans which is holding the fabric of the universe together. Can the Doctor and his companions put a halt to the destruction before it’s too late? And who is the mysterious Watcher that seems to be following the TARDIS crew…?

SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen this serial. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!

After playing the Doctor for an unprecedented (and yet to be equaled) seven years, Tom Baker decided it was time to bow out. This story, the last of the season, written by script editor Christopher Bidmead, is his finale. And what a finale! “Logopolis” pulls in concepts and threads from throughout the season’s previous stories, introduces new companions (though Nyssa was, technically, introduced in the previous story, “The Keeper of Traken”), adds a new twist to the regeneration process, and pits the Doctor in mortal combat with his arch nemesis, the Master.

The Second Law of Thermodynamics and entropy have come up a few times this season, and here they take center stage. Since the universe is a closed system, entropy is inevitable, so the universe will, over time, cease to exist, being gradually burned away (that’s neither a full nor accurate definition of the Second Law of Thermodynamics, but that’s how it’s applied in the story). Logopolis is the cornerstone of the universe, with the Logopolitans applying their unique mathematical abilities to mitigate against the effects of entropy, essentially buying time for the universe.

In “Full Circle,” we were introduced to Charged Vacuum Emboitments, or CVEs–holes in space through which ships and TARDISes can fall into other universes (e.g., E-Space). We now learn that those CVEs were the work of the Logopolitans in an effort to open the universe and delay the effects of entropy. When the Master started killing off Logopolitans, messing with their math, the CVEs started to close, and entropy accelerated. The Master’s plan was to keep one CVE open, and hold the universe hostage, threatening to close it if the universe didn’t comply with his demands. The Fourth Doctor’s final act, pulling the plug on the satellite dish, essentially fixed the dish in place, keeping the CVE open, and preventing the Master from taking control of it.

The mathematics used by the Logopolitans, “block transfer computations,” is a way of modeling matter by the use of mathematics. The Logopolitans have to “mumble” the computations as opposed to using a computer. Not only are computers too cumbersome for this subtle form of math, but because the computations actually change matter, they could affect the computers running the programs, so they have to be done by spoken word. It’s this matter-modeling by mumbled math that creates the CVEs.

These concepts are very deftly handled and mixed into the story, which makes for a strong plot and keeps the viewer engaged.

A couple of touching moments in the story (aside from the regeneration scene) are when the Doctor opens the door to Romana’s room and sees her stuff still in there. And then, a short while later, he jettisons her room to provide the energy boost needed to separate his TARDIS from the Master’s. Another is when Nyssa realizes that, as a result of the Master’s meddling, the Traken Union no longer exists, burned up by entropy. The look on Nyssa’s face is heartbreaking. Which leads me to point out that Sarah Sutton could possibly be the best actress to play a companion since Elisabeth Sladen’s Sarah Jane Smith. Her performance is convincing, and pitch-perfect. Janet Fielding’s Tegan is well-played too, but Sarah’s the star of the show for me–aside from Tom Baker. And speaking of Tom, it’s testimony to how much he embodied the role that, in seven years, I don’t think he put in a single bad performance. He owned that part, which was one of the reasons it was hard to see him go.

Indeed, episode four of “Logopolis” was must-viewing for me. It aired three days before my eleventh birthday. As I recall, I was at my best friend’s house, and I insisted we had to watch Doctor Who. I don’t know how well I tracked with the story at the time, but I was captivated by the regeneration. And when Peter Davison sat up in place of Tom Baker, I truly wondered how the show could carry on. Davison was too young, and, well, he just wasn’t the Doctor! There was no way he could follow Tom Baker. It turned my Whoniverse upside down. For the nine months between “Logopolis” and the beginning of the next season, Tom was still the Doctor for me, as he had been for as long as I remembered. I tuned in to the new series with curiosity and trepidation, not sure whether I could stand to see anyone else playing the part.

Speaking of that regeneration, in one sense it’s a bit hokey, with a selection of his foes and companions from the last seven years chanting his name. But on the other hand, it’s a fitting homage to the Fourth Doctor’s legacy, and a reminder to us of all the great stories we enjoyed with Tom at the TARDIS console. A similar format will be employed for the Fifth Doctor’s regeneration (which, IMO, is the best regeneration since William Hartnell changed into Patrick Troughton–more about that in my review of “The Caves of Androzani”), and is echoed in the Tenth Doctor’s trek through his past before he turns into Matt Smith. As an interesting twist, Christopher Bidmead introduced the “Watcher”–a mysterious white figure who appears at various points in the story, and is simply referred to as a “friend” of the Doctor. It turns out this Watcher is actually a projection of the Doctor’s next regeneration, which is why the Doctor is perturbed to see him. I think the idea was to have the Doctor’s next self show up to watch over the last few hours of his old self’s life. We saw something like this in the Third Doctor story, “Planet of the Spiders,” where Cho-Je turned out to be a projection of Time Lord K’anpo Rinpoche’s future incarnation.

To sum up, this is MUST-SEE Who. A great story to cap off a good season, and a fitting way to say goodbye to the Doctor that epitomized the role for many people. Even today, people remember Classic Who in terms of the hat, the scarf, the curly hair, and the big teeth. For many, Tom Baker will always be the Doctor. His Doctor was certainly a big part of my childhood, and was, for many years, my Doctor (until I rediscovered Patrick Troughton). A tough act to follow…

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