Category Archives: Doctor Who

Who Review: The Visitation

Strange lights in the sky portend doom in mid-seventeenth century England. At least it does for a local squire, whose household comes under attack from an alien visitor, who, after killing everyone, takes up temporary residence in the squire’s basement.

Meanwhile, the Doctor, attempting to return Tegan to Heathrow airport, arrives 300 years early. When the crew set out to explore, they are accosted by locals with large sticks. Thankfully, a new friend comes to the rescue. Richard Mace is an actor turned highwayman, who uses his guns to frighten away their attackers. It seems a plague has gripped the town, which explains the xenophobic reaction to the Doctor and his friends. No-one knows where the plague came from, so all strangers are suspect. But something’s not right. Mace wears a necklace that the Doctor identifies as some kind of control device of alien origin. Worn around the neck as an ornament, it’s harmless. But attached to the wrist, according to its original design, it takes over the mind of the wearer. Now separated from the TARDIS, and without the TARDIS tracker, which Adric lost in the scuffle with the villagers, the crew plus Mace take refuge in a nearby barn. There they come across more evidence of an alien presence. The barn is on the grounds of a manor house, and the Doctor believes that’s where they will find answers. Little does the Doctor know, that manor house is under alien occupation. And a deadly surprise awaits them…

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!

“The Visitation” is the first of the two outstanding stories from this season (the other is “Earthshock”), both written by newcomer Eric Saward. Indeed, such was the quality of his work with these stories, producer John Nathan-Turner appointed Saward script editor, taking over from Anthony Root. Saward makes his mark from the outset by giving a five minute prologue that sets the scene for the story, and ends up with the residents of a manor house, including the squire, all dying at the hands of an alien invader. When the TARDIS lands, we already have a sense of what the crew are walking into.

Things in the TARDIS are a little tense. First, the Doctor and Adric squabble over the events of the previous story, “Kinda.” In that story, Adric took over a “TSS,” an armed exploration vehicle that’s controled by thought. He panicked and nearly killed one of the Kinda. The Doctor is still upset with him about that, it seems, though they do eventually resolve their argument. Then, when the Doctor misses Heathrow by 300 years, Tegan gets upset and storms out. The Doctor has to chase after her and calm her down, assuring her he will get her home. The Fourth Doctor never had this much trouble with his crew!

At this point, they could have all piled back into the TARDIS and left. But the Doctor smells sulphur, becomes curious, then they are set upon by villagers and get involved to the point where the Doctor feels morally obliged to stick around until the Terileptils either leave or are defeated.

I noted a moment ago the spat between the Doctor and Adric. It seems as if we’re building to a big moment in Adric’s story (which we are). Eric Saward also wrote Adric’s final story, “Earthshock,” so I wonder if he was preparing for that story here with all the Adric bashing going on. Part of me wants to think Saward had a plan because that would be cool. But Adric and the Fifth Doctor have had a rocky relationship from the start. In this story we see very clearly how they have transformed from the wise mentor and his young student in the Fourth Doctor era, to the older brother and his annoying kid brother in the Fifth Doctor era. While they settle their dispute at the beginning, the Doctor doesn’t congratulate or even acknowledge Adric’s achievement in successfully piloting the TARDIS to the manor house. Tegan and Nyssa don’t hold back their applause, which makes the Doctor’s lack of enthusiasm more pronounced. If that wasn’t enough, when Adric asks if the Doctor knows where the Terileptils are, the Doctor responds with sarcasm: “That’s why I’m searching for them.” Again, I like to think all this is deliberate, setting us up for “Earthshock.”

The TARDIS crew is temporarily augmented in this story with the addition of actor-turned-highwayman, Richard Mace. He’s an interesting character since he seems largely motivated by self-preservation, though he does feel sympathy for his new friends. This kind of complexity, where a character has mixed motives, and hence a bit more depth, is good, and clearly something Saward relishes. The Terileptils also are not just straight-up monsters. These particular Terileptils have escaped a penal colony where they have been brutally treated. They can’t return to their home planet, and so act out of a desperate instinct to survive. Yet, despite their aggressive manner, they have a love of beauty and art, which is reflected somewhat in the design of their spacecraft, but especially in their android, with his colorful and bejeweled armor.

We get to see Nyssa’s TARDIS bedroom, which is where she takes the sonic enhancer she has made to destroy the android. I think this is the first time since “The Keeper of Traken” we have seen her doing something technical and practical to help the Doctor. She had been pretty much sidelined for the previous two stories, so it’s good to see her more involved here. After destroying the android, she confesses regret to Adric. The android was, after all, a magnificent machine enslaved to do the will of the Terileptils. This attitude reminds us of her Traken origins, which predisposes her to peace, kindness, and seeing the good in things.

A landmark moment in this story is the destruction of the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver. This device had been a part of the show since the Second Doctor story, “Fury from the Deep,” making occasional appearances until well into the Third Doctor’s time when it became an established prop. Both producer John Nathan-Turner and Saward felt the sonic screwdriver had been overused as a convenient device to get the Doctor out of trouble. They wanted him to use his head more than his gadgets, so Saward wrote its demise into “The Visitation.” Little did Saward know, however, that Nathan-Turner didn’t plan to bring the sonic screwdriver back. Saward thought the Doctor would go back to the TARDIS at the end of the story and pull another sonic screwdriver out of a drawer. But Nathan-Turner’s vision held sway, marking this the last time we see the sonic screwdriver in the Classic Series.

In the end, the Doctor makes history, literally, by destroying the Terileptils, and accidentally starting the Great Fire of London in the process. Thus is explained one of history’s great mysteries!

“The Visitation” is well worth your time, borderline “Must See.” Eric Saward’s script is well constructed with good dialog and engaging characters. The BBC knows how to do historical costume dramas, so the costumes and sets are excellent. Even the Terileptil costume, while limited, isn’t bad for low-budget early 1980s sci-fi. Indeed, the use of animatronics to control the creatures “fins” and lips was considered cutting edge at the time. Definitely a story for both the die-hard and the casual Whovian.

Who Review: Four to Doomsday

Attempting to return Tegan to Earth, the TARDIS crew end up on a spaceship, equipped with very advanced technology. While Adric and Nyssa inspect the gadgets, the Doctor and Tegan explore the ship, and are granted an audience with the ship’s frog-like captain, Monarch, and his two equally frog-like cohorts, Enlightenment and Persuasion. It appears their hosts are Urbankans on their way to Earth, and are, naturally, intrigued by the Doctor’s visits to Earth, and Tegan’s depictions of Earth fashion. Monarch has a plan to help the people of Earth, cursed as they are with sickness and frailty. Aboard his ship he has representatives of four ancient Earth cultures: the Chinese, the Mayans, the Greeks, and the Australian Aborigines. He hopes they can be ambassadors of peace and goodwill, helping to sell Monarch’s plan to Earth’s varied inhabitants. Adric is quite taken with Monarch’s intentions, but the Doctor senses something fishy. It soon becomes apparent that Monarch’s plans for Earth are far from good. And the Doctor and his companions might be too much of a threat to be allowed to survive…

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!

“Four to Doomsday” is writer Terrance Dudley’s first script for Doctor Who. Not one of the show’s best writers, but not the worst, either. On the whole, is a pretty work-horse story. At first it sounds like Monarch wants to do the Cyberman thing–robotize the human race, eliminating their susceptibility to disease, their propensity to irrational thought, and their emotions. It’s to Dudley’s credit that he didn’t make that Monarch’s real goal, otherwise this might well have been another Cyberman story. However, Monarch’s true intentions are a bit of a hard sell. Having already plundered Urbanka, he wants to mine the Earth for its minerals so he can power his ship beyond light speed, achieve time travel, and go back to before the Big Bang to meet himself. Yes, he thinks he’s God. What makes this a hard sell is the question: what then? Why go to all this trouble simply to travel before the beginning of the universe? Most lunatic despots would want to use this power to dominate other worlds, and gain mastery over the entire cosmos. Monarch just wants to say hi to his pre-universe self. Sorry, this seems a bit unambitious, as well as bonkers. But Dudley manages to construct four episodes around this premise that hold the viewer’s attention, which is not to be sneezed at.

There are some things that were done well on “Four to Doomsday.” The floating cameras (“monopitcons”) look like they’re dangling in the air, even when using green screen to achieve the effect. And there aren’t any obvious dialog clunkers (I suspect the Doctor telling Monarch that he has “no intention of interfering with your monopticons!” was deliberate Benny Hill humor). Nyssa fainting at the end of the story was a surprise, and a nice way to keep people watching to see what happens at the beginning of the next serial. How seriously was she affected by Monarch’s brain-drain process? Or is there something else wrong? For a contrived ending to explain her fleeting appearances in “Kinda,” I think it worked. (It seems the production team wanted to write Nyssa out, so “Kinda,” the next story, had been written without her. However, Peter Davison insisted Nyssa was the right sort of companion for his Doctor, so she stayed. Nice one, Peter!)

Unfortunately, there were a number of things that didn’t work at all for me. It didn’t make sense that the Doctor gave Tegan the TARDIS key, and yet Adric was able to enter and exit the TARDIS without it. Then there’s the fact that Tegan just happened to be able to speak the Aborigine’s native language, without any explanation. Of course, she’s Australian, so she must speak Aborigine! The episode one cliffhanger was a bit of a non-cliffhanger. The formerly froggy Enlightenment and Persuasion enter the room looking distinctly human and wearing clothes Tegan had drawn. A bit of a surprise, maybe, but not a cliffhanger! And Bigon’s big reveal at the end of episode two, where he pulls back his “skin” to reveal robot circuitry, was not the best piece of CSO I’ve seen on Doctor Who. Especially the “mask” reveal, where the actor’s face looks straight ahead while he lifts the dummy face up! This could have been done better, even on a tight budget. As it is, it looks cheap and makeshift. Of course, there’s the classic scene where the Doctor, floating in space, launches himself toward the TARDIS by throwing a cricket ball against the side of the ship, and catching when it bounces back, using the momentum to propel him. Sounds wonderful, except it’s impossible without gravity. So much for the producers trying to be more “scientific.” Finally, when the Doctor goes into a deep trance to preserve oxygen, how come he breathes so heavily? One would think his breathing would be shallower.

This story makes me wonder what they were trying to do with Adric. His stories as the Fourth Doctor’s sole companion showed a lot of promise for the character. Now he’s become a gullible, misogynistic, irritating teenager. His piece about women being “impatient and bossy” sounds like something from the schoolyard. According to Adric, women aren’t very intelligent and don’t like to read. And when Nyssa, who, throughout this screed, is studying a book on mathematics, challenges him, Adric responds saying Nyssa doesn’t count because she’s only a girl, not a woman. Then later, Adric is genuinely taken in by Monarch, and believes his plan to refashion human beings is brilliant. Are the producers trying to make us hate him? If they’re intention was to write out Nyssa, then why make Adric so unlikeable? As it is, Adric’s days are numbered, but that decision was made after this story was written. Call it Providence, but scenes like this, as painful as they are, work to build up Adric’s departure in a few stories.

In summary, “Four to Doomsday” is not bad Who, but definitely missable. Unless you have to know what’s wrong with Nyssa at the beginning of “Kinda.”

Who Review: Castrovalva

The newly-regenerated Doctor, along with his companions Adric, Tegan, and Nyssa, manage to escape the guards at the Pharos project facility and make their way back to the TARDIS. Once inside, it becomes clear that the Doctor’s new persona is unstable. Nyssa and Tegan take him to a Zero Room, a place in the TARDIS cut off from all external stimuli, where his mind can be at peace. While the Doctor rests, the Tegan and Nyssa try to find a planet to which they can take the Doctor that will promote his recovery. The TARDIS data banks reveal the existence of such places, where simplicity and tranquility can restore the addled mind. Castrovalva is one of these locations. However, getting there will be a challenge. In his current state, the Doctor is of minimal help, also it appears Adric has been captured by the Master. Nevertheless, they somehow manage to pilot the TARDIS to Castrovalva. But Tegan’s sudden ability to operate the TARDIS is not the only thing that doesn’t make sense. Something about Castrovalva and its history doesn’t add up. Is this really a place of healing, or could it end up being the Doctor’s demise?

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!

“Castrovalva” launched Doctor Who’s nineteenth season, and was the first full story for the Doctor’s fifth incarnation, Peter Davison. It picks up where the previous story, “Logopolis” left off–in fact, for the first time, there’s a pre-titles sequence, recapping the regeneration, in case the audience forgot Tom Baker’s not the Doctor anymore. As soon as the titles finish, however, we cut to the Doctor, Adric, Nyssa, and Tegan running across a field to escape the Pharos Project guards.

The story is a bit of a mixed bag. Not a spectacular first story (see “Spearhead from Space,” our introduction to the Third Doctor, if you want a great opener), but not bad either. As with “Logopolis,” writer Christopher Bidmead uses concepts from the previous season to help give a sense of continuity. The idea of changing matter through mathematics with “Block Transfer Computation” was important in “Logopolis.” In “Castrovalva,” the Master uses Adric’s mathematical skill to create the world of Castrovalva, adapting the same Block Transfer principles. In “Logopolis,” the Doctor jettisoned Romana’s room to create sufficient thrust to break away from the Master’s TARDIS. In “Castrovalva,” the Doctor jettisons a quarter of the TARDIS rooms to help propel the ship away from the Big Bang.

One of the themes explored in “Castrovalva” is recursion. Tegan stumbles onto it when talking about how to find the TARDIS Information File by looking it up in the Information File. Then, when we actually get to Castrovalva, the town square and the buildings around it suffer from recursion, which is why the Doctor and his companions have such a hard time trying to find anything. It all seems very M. C. Escher, whose pictures were clearly the inspiration behind this aspect of the story. For example:

And this is a picture of a place called Castrovalva in Italy, drawn by Escher:

I thought it a nice touch when they eventually made it to the TARDIS, and the Doctor slipped into impersonations of his First, Second, and Third incarnations, calling his companions Jamie, Susan, and Victoria.

Tegan seems to roll with a lot of punches in this story. This is only her second story, and already she seems quite comfortable with the fact that she’s traveling in a time machine with three aliens, while being hunted down by a renegade Time Lord. She hasn’t even time to mourn the death of her Aunt Vanessa at the hands of the Master in “Logopolis.” And yet here she is trying to take control of the TARDIS, nursing the Doctor, and helping Nyssa to scope out a new world.

Nyssa, on the other hand, hasn’t forgotten who used to occupy the Master’s body. As the Master’s face disappears from the TARDIS scanner, she says, “I hate that face.” There’s a lot packed into this statement from Nyssa. First, that face used to belong to her father, but is now the face of the person who killed her father, and brought about the destruction of her home planet, Traken. But she doesn’t say she hates the Master. When we first met Nyssa in “The Keeper of Traken,” we were told how the Trakens had built their society on peace, and being kind to one another, even those who would come to do evil (the Melkurs). So it would be very hard for Nyssa to hate someone, at least at this point in her post-Traken life. The most she can do is despise the face of the person she once loved because of what that face now represents.

Some not-so-special moments include Adric’s pleading with the Master while stuck in his web, which sounds a bit overwrought. Then there’s the celery on the lapel, which could be attributed to the Doctor’s state of mind, but then he continues to wear it. And the question marks introduced onto the Doctor’s clothing last season are still there, even with a change of wardrobe. I don’t mind the Edwardian cricketing theme so much, but question marks? Really? Finally, I really really really don’t like the Doctor’s closing line at the end of episode four: “Well, whoever I feel like, it’s absolutely splendid!” It makes me cringe every time. A simple, “I feel like a new man!” Or, “I’m feeling quite myself once more–whoever that might be…” would have been much better.

“Castrovalva” is good Who, but not great Who. If it’s Must-See for any reason, it’s because I said “Logopolis” is Must-See Who, and this is the conclusion to that story. Certainly not a waste of time, and a good introduction to the Fifth Doctor.

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…

Who Review: The Keeper of Traken

Back in N-Space, the Doctor and Adric find themselves close to the planet Traken, part of the Traken Union, an empire whose controlling Source has enabled its inhabitants to live in peace and harmony for many years. The guardian of the Source, the Keeper of Traken, is on the verge of death, and will soon be succeeded by one of the ruling consuls, Tremas. The Keeper pays the Doctor an unexpected visit in the TARDIS to ask for his help. He senses some great evil about to befall Traken. A malevolent force has infiltrated Tremas’s family, which includes his second wife, Cassia, and his daughter, Nyssa. Cassia has been tending to a Melkur in the grove of the capital. Traken is used to receiving Melkurs–corrupt visitors drawn to Traken that become calcified due to the overwhelming harmony and peace of the planet. These creatures don’t usually last long, but for some reason, the Melkur under Cassia’s care still stands. The Keeper fears the influence of the Melkur, especially at such a volatile time for Traken, with the Keeper about to die, relinquishing the Source to his successor. If this evil should get control of the Source, it will be an unimaginable catastrophe, not only for Traken, but, given the great power contained within the Source, perhaps for the universe. The Keeper is not exaggerating, especially when the Doctor discovers the true nature of the Melkur, and his intentions…

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!

Written by newcomer, Johnny Byrne, “The Keeper of Traken” is one of the gems in this season, though it changed somewhat between Byrne’s writing and broadcast, largely due to broader changes within the series that producer John Nathan-Turner was keen to implement. This means the story serves as a vehicle for the introduction of soon-to-be new companion, Nyssa, as well as building up to the departure of Tom Baker. We also see Adric come into his own without the dominating shadow of Romana to steal his thunder. He and the Fourth Doctor work well together, with the Doctor allowing Adric to share in the problem-solving, treating him as part of the team. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the story is the return of The Master, last seen at death’s door and sporting the skeletal look in “The Deadly Assassin” five years previously. More about that in a moment.

In terms of production values, there’s a lot to like. The costumes look good, the sets are magnificent, and even the Melkur statue has an eerie quality to it. The “laser gun” type effects are clearly period and don’t hold up so well. What can you say? The effects team did the best they could with what they had. However, there’s not much to detract from the enjoyment of the story. Indeed, the design supports the story very well.

Tom Baker puts in another flawless performance as the Doctor, with some nice light touches of humor. Matthew Waterhouse is surprisingly good in this story. I really do think Lalla Ward’s departure was the best thing that happened for Matthew. There’s a chemistry between Adric and the Fourth Doctor that is begging to be explored, but sadly doesn’t make it beyond the next story. I would have loved to have seen this developed, with the Doctor mentoring Adric in a sort of professor-student relationship. There also seems to have been an attempt to return to the original concept for Adric as a kind of “Artful Dodger”-type character, betrayed, perhaps, by his ability to pick locks. Sarah Sutton is superb as Nyssa. She plays her with conviction, and is totally believable as the young girl suddenly caught up in a difficult and dangerous situation, and having to come into her own. Her character was originally only written for this one story, but Sarah delivered such a good performance, Nathan-Turner offered her a spot as a regular companion.

Byrne’s original script did not bring back the Master–this was Nathan-Turner’s idea, requiring a rewrite to include him. But it works. And the hints of his return are dropped slowly throughout, first with the withered hand controlling the Melkur, and then the fact the Melkur somehow knows the Doctor and the TARDIS. Near the end of episode three, we finally see the decaying face behind the Melkur, and, in the event the audience doesn’t recognize him from “The Deadly Assassin,” when the Melkur appears on the Keeper’s chair, you can hear the TARDIS materialization sound in the background.

I do have a couple of quibbles with the story. First, the use of terms like “hugger-mugger” and “rapport” seem out of place for an alien planet. Especially “rapport.” This is a French word, and the Trakens give it the same meaning when they talk about having “rapport” with the Source. When did the Trakens learn French? How did this word come into their vocabulary, their technical vocabulary, no less? Science fiction does this a lot (i.e., put English colloquialisms or foreign loan-words on the lips of aliens) and it makes me cringe.

The only negative design element worth comment, in my opinion anyway, is the Master’s costume. It simply doesn’t look as good as the original skeletal face in “The Deadly Assassin.” It’s not nearly as creepy, and makes him look a lot better off than he did five years ago.

Toward the end of the story, the Doctor sets us up for the next serial by commenting on the need for the TARDIS to be repaired. Adric wonders why he doesn’t go ahead and fix it, to which the Doctor quips, “This type’s not really my forte” (har har–his TARDIS is a type-40). Another set-up for the next serial is the appearance of the Master’s TARDIS disguised as a grandfather clock (as it was at the end of “The Deadly Assassin”). After taking over Tremas’s body (Tremas, by the way, is an intentional anagram of Master), the Master takes off in his TARDIS, leaving us the impression that we’ll see him again soon. The story ends with Nyssa looking for her father, which is both heartbreaking, and makes for a sort-of cliffhanger.

I’m actually going to call this one a Must-See for Who fans. Season eighteen is one of my favorite Fourth Doctor seasons, and this story shines as an example of everything that’s good about it. It’s fresh and original, with great acting, a good script, and good production values.

Who Review: Warrior’s Gate

Still trying to escape E-Space, the Doctor, Romana, K-9, and Adric find themselves caught in a neutral zone between universes. The TARDIS is visited by a lion-like man named Biroc, who travels to them on a time wind which fries K-9’s memory wafers. Biroc delivers a cryptic message before disappearing again. Intrigued, the Doctor sets out to explore this neutral area, hoping to find a pathway through to N-Space, normal space. Meanwhile, the crew of a vessel, similarly caught in this universe intersection, come upon the TARDIS, and take Romana captive, believing her to be a “time sensitive” and able to help fix their ship’s engines. It seems they are holding the lion-like people, Tharils, captive, and using their abilities to try to navigate their way out of E-Space. Meanwhile, the Doctor stumbles upon a banquet hall, shrouded in dust and cobwebs, and a mirror wall guarded by robots. That mirror could be the key to escaping E-Space if he could only find a way through. To make matters worse, the neutral space is contracting, and if the Doctor doesn’t hurry up and find a way out, they could all be trapped in E-Space forever…

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!

Written by another series newcomer (the fourth new writer this season), Stephen Gallagher, “Warrior’s Gate” started out as an epic script that the producer and director had to whittle down to T.V. dimensions. This probably accounts for the relatively dense nature of the story. It’s a good story, and well-written, but it marks a departure from previous Doctor Who stories in that it is quite “heavy.” Around the basic core story, there are layers of philosophy, science, and subtle messaging that sometimes muddy the waters, and leave the viewer a bit confused unless they are paying close attention.

The basic story revolves around the Tharils, who are able to use time winds to travel in space and time. At one time, they were hunters, enslaving people throughout galaxies and times. But then a group of their slaves built robots, Gundans, which they used to turn the tables on the Tharils, subduing and enslaving them. The large ship that shares the neutral void with the TARDIS is, in fact, a slave ship carrying Tharils. While the crew of the ship want to escape E-Space, the Tharils want to throw off their oppressors and be free. The Tharils now recognize the evil of their past, and desire to simply live their lives in peace. In the end, once the slave ship is destroyed and the captured Tharils safely rescued, Romana decides to stay in E-Space and help Biroc. He needs a Time Lord to help free all the other Tharils throughout time. K-9 has the data they need to reconstruct a TARDIS, so he stays with them. Besides, if he returns, he will suffer the effects of his damaged memory wafers.

Layered on top of this basic story, there’s talk of the I-Ching, chance, and coin tossing, among other things. Then there’s the rather unusual direction from Paul Joyce, who wanted to treat the story more like a movie than a T.V. show. This led to some interesting choices, including upward shots (usually disallowed because the camera would be pointing at the studio lights), and use of the fairly new hand-held camera for some first-person shots. Though these rankled the powers that be at the BBC, they ended up being quite effective, and contributing to the sophistication of the story.

“Warrior’s Gate” doesn’t require a lot of special effects, and the only “monster” costumes are the Tharil heads and hands, which are actually quite well done. The models in the model shots sadly can’t avoid looking like models, though they do the best with what they’ve got. Some of the CSO (“green screen”) effects are a bit wonky, but, again, the BBC didn’t have the technology to do much better.

At the end, we say goodbye to Romana and K-9. I can’t say I’m all that sad to see Romana go. This incarnation of the Time Lady is not my favorite. I much preferred Mary Tamm’s interpretation, and, to be blunt, while Lalla Ward is a good actress, Mary was better. Probably the thing that separates them the most is the way Mary avoided being overly theatrical, a trap Lalla fell into more than once. But that’s just my opinion. I wouldn’t have minded if they’d kept K-9, but he had been around for a few years, and it was probably time to remove that crutch. The Doctor will have to figure things out without recourse to a mobile computer.

With the Doctor and Adric now well on their way to N-Space, thanks to the Tharils, the next adventure awaits. But time’s running out on Doctor number Four. It was during the making of this serial that Tom Baker announced his departure after seven years on the show.

As with this season, and the “E-Space Trilogy” as a whole, I recommend this adventure. It’s not must-see watching, but it’s a good story, and the different approach to directing Doctor Who is worth the attention.

The Unique Power of Reading, Part 2

Last time I talked about the power of reading to communicate with the dead. Well, better put, to have the dead communicate with us. Though the author may have shed the chains of mortality many decades ago, their thoughts, ideas, and stories are still with us, and we can read them and hear their voice speak to us from the page.

Let’s push that idea a little further. If you read this blog regularly, you know about Doctor Who. Even if it’s from seeing (but not necessarily reading) the Who Reviews. Doctor Who is a TV show about an alien who travels in time and space in a police box called a TARDIS. The remarkable thing about this TARDIS, aside from being able to travel in time and space, is the fact that it is bigger on the inside than on the outside. On the outside, it looks like a blue box, barely big enough for two people standing. Inside, there is a cavernous control room, and a seemingly-infinite number of rooms and corridors and cubby holes. There’s a whole world, a whole dimension of existence, within those walls, that can swallow you up and keep you exploring for days.

Not only can a book take you back in time so you can hear Dickens tell you about Victorian London through the eyes of Oliver Twist, or have Agatha Christie transport you to Twenties England with Hercule Poirot, but within it’s covers is a vast world to explore. In fantasy novels, the world will be mapped and detailed, such as Tolkien’s Middle Earth, Lewis’s Narnia, or Rowling’s wizarding world. In these tales, and others like them, you get a sense of vastness, of places unexplored, expanses that are as limitless as your imagination. Other novels will take you to real places, maybe places you’ve never been, captured in a moment of time. Whether it’s the smells, culture, and drama of Haiti in Edwidge Danticat’s BREATH, EYES, MEMORY, or Kabul at the turn of the twenty-first century in Khaled Hosseini’s A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS.

Wherever it might be, imagined or real, within the space of a few hundred pages between two covers, you have your very own TARDIS to travel the universe and traverse the space-time continuum, to visit strange, and not-so-strange new worlds, without leaving the comfort of your favorite chair.

Reading gives you the power to be a Time Lord!

And when things in this world seem to get out of control, and become hard to deal with, that can be a wonderful thing.

Who Review: State of Decay

In their search for a way out of E-Space, the Doctor, Romana, and K-9 land on a primitive looking planet with near-Earth atmosphere. The inhabitants of a nearby village live in fear of the three lords who rule over them in the castle. Once a year, guards come down to the village and select certain villagers to go back with them. They are never seen again. As the Doctor and Romana investigate, they discover the remnants of technology. Some of the villagers, in defiance of the lords’ edict banning the acquisition of knowledge, have been working on getting the equipment to work. With the Doctor’s help, they discover computer files that speak of a ship called the “Hydrax” which seems to have been pulled into E-Space many years ago. Its crew of three, however, are unaccounted for. Meanwhile, the stowaway Adric comes upon the same village after the Doctor and Romana have left, and inadvertently finds himself chosen to go to the castle. It’s only when the Doctor and Romana explore the castle that the horrible truth of what’s going on dawns on them. The planet has become the feeding ground for one of the Time Lords’ oldest and most fearsome foes, and now the Doctor and Romana are on the menu…

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!

“State of Decay” started life as a script offered to the production team by former script editor and writer, Terrance Dicks, back in 1977. However, the BBC were about to screen an adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and they were afraid the Doctor Who serial would be perceived as a send-up of the classic drama. The “vampire story” was shelved, and Dicks came up with “The Horror of Fang Rock” to replace it. When John Nathan-Turner took over as producer in 1980, he came upon “State of Decay” in the production office and told new script editor Christopher Bidmead he wanted to do it.

It’s a good story, as one might expect from a veteran Who writer like Terrance Dicks, supported by some great acting from most of the main cast, and superb set design. It’s an oft-repeated fact that during this period in its history, the BBC were second-to-none when it came to costume dramas and depicting the past. The future (i.e., sci-fi), not so much. The medieval, pre-Gothic look to the castle is wonderfully conjured up, along with appropriate costumes for the three lords. When a set can make you forget the paltry budget, you know the designers have done well. The vampires are a lot more Hammer Horror than they are, say, classic Hollywood or Bram Stoker, but that was intentional, appealing to what was most familiar to the audience at the time.

The effects are a bit of a mixed bag, but on the whole good. The swarming bats could have been a disaster, but with some stock footage and careful (and sparing) use of model close-ups, I think they get away with it. However the model tower, village, and scout ship look like models. Unfortunately, I don’t know that they could have done much better given the time and money at their disposal. Probably the worst effect of the whole show is the hand of the “Great One” coming out of the ground near the end. I’m sorry, there’s no excuse for how bad it looks. But it’s followed by one of the best effects, where the three lords age and crumble. Very creepy, chilling, and well executed.

Adric. Oh, Adric. I think the biggest problem with Adric is the part is too big for the actor. Matthew Waterhouse was still a teenager himself, and not very experienced. And it shows. Yes, Adric is a precocious brat, but that’s part of his character arc. Here he “out-logics” K-9 to escape from the TARDIS, and then appears to betray Romana to the vampire lords. He later says it was a bluff, that he was trying to rescue her, but given how little we really know him, for a while we could easily believe he was really back-stabbing her. In the hands of a more seasoned actor, this might have been done less awkwardly, and with more credibility. I guess my verdict on Adric is, don’t judge the character by his actor (sorry Matthew!).

One minor story quibble: the Doctor “remembers” in episode three the stories told to him about the Vampire Wars, and the fact that all the Giant Vampires were killed except for one who “disappeared.” I would have thought this would have occurred to the Doctor much earlier, when he was talking about how every culture throughout the universe has vampire legends. It’s interesting that Dicks introduces the concept of a great rivalry between the Giant Vampires and the Time Lords, and yet this has never been explored in the T.V. series since (at least up until now). Rather, it’s been left to the original novels (both Virgin and BBC), and the Big Finish audio adventures to pick up the theme and run with it.

The story ends with the Doctor telling Adric he’s going to take him back to the Starliner (see the previous story, “Full Circle”). Will they get there? That remains to be seen in the final installment of this trilogy, “Warrior’s Gate.”

To sum up: a good story, worthy of your time. Not classic or must-see Who, but very enjoyable.

Who Review: Full Circle

Romana’s in a funk. The Time Lords want their Time Lady back, so they have recalled the TARDIS to Gallifrey. After all, she was only on loan to the Doctor for the “Key to Time” adventure, and now she’s overdue her return. But she doesn’t want the adventures to end, and doesn’t fancy the prospect of the staid, safe life back home. The Doctor isn’t unsympathetic, but he’s in enough trouble with the Time Lords, so he dutifully plugs in the coordinates and sets course. But something goes wrong. There’s a bump, a shift, and when the TARDIS lands, the scanner doesn’t appear to be working. A careful examination of the coordinates reveals that they are negative. They are no longer in “normal space.” And they are not on Gallifrey. In fact, they are on the planet Alzarius, whose inhabitants live on a Starliner that crashed thousands of years ago. They have been gathering food and conducting repairs, ready for the day of embarkation, when they will leave for their home planet of Terradon. But not all of the Alzarians live in the Starliner. A group of youngsters, “Outlers,” have chosen a life outside, living in caves, and stealing riverfruit to survive. It’s a rough life, but better than the boring existence in the ship. Except when Mistfall comes. That’s when a noxious gas fills the air, and the marsh creatures emerge from the water to terrorize the land. Adric, a young Alzarian, one of the “Elites,” eager to prove himself to his Outler brother, finds himself outside and injured as Mistfall starts. The Doctor and Romana take him in, but the marsh creatures are coming. Finding themselves trapped in this strange world, our heroes need to uncover the mystery of Mistfall so that they can escape and find a way back to N-Space…

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!

“Full Circle” is the first installment of a three-part story arc known as “The E-Space Trilogy.” The next two stories, “State of Decay” and “Warriors Gate” continue and conclude the adventure. This story was written by a newcomer, Andrew Smith, who was only seventeen at the time. Andrew had been submitting ideas to previous script editors, but it wasn’t until this particular story crossed new script editor Christopher Bidmead’s desk that his dream came true. It needed work, which wasn’t unusual for new writers, but between them, Smith and Bidmead crafted one of the better stories of the season.

The first episode is mainly concerned with setting up the trilogy premise, and establishing Alzarius, its inhabitants, and the back story to the adventure. We spend at least half the episode with the Starliner and the Outlers, not the TARDIS crew, which is unusual. But there is a lot to explain: the various strata of society (the regular people, the Elites, the Deciders, the Outlers, the Marshmen), the planet itself, Mistfall, why they are there, and what they are doing. And all of these elements are important for the plot. They establish Adric’s character as an Elite with particular skill in mathematics and a strong connection to the Outlers, as well as giving clues to the true nature of the colony.

The plot rests on an acceptance of Neo-Darwinian Micro-Mutational Evolutionary Theory. As a Christian, I do not accept NDMMET, but for the purpose of fiction, I can suspend my disbelief because, frankly, it makes for a good story (NDMMET is useless for science, so it may as well be employed for fiction). There are three “big secrets” at the heart of the plot–so this is a huge spoiler if you haven’t watched “Full Circle”: 1) there is no Terradon–the colonists are on their home planet; 2) the Starliner is ready to leave at any time, except no-one knows how to pilot it; 3) the spiders, the Marshmen, and the colonists are all genetically linked as three stages of an accelerated evolutionary development over many years. Over the course of the story, various hints are dropped (Adric’s knee healing in a matter of minutes, the fact the Mistfall air isn’t poisonous but is rich in nitrogen, the affinity spider-bitten Romana has with the Marshmen, and so on), but the Doctor clearly has his suspicions, which he proves by microscopically examining samples from a spider and a Marshman. The way these threads are drawn throughout is well done.

“Full Circle” certainly doesn’t suffer in the story department, nor in the set design. Both the Starliner and the caves look good, and the choice of outside location works well for Alzarius. Even the mist on the water is believable, especially as the Marshmen rise up out of the watery depths. My only gripe in terms of the design is that the caves would have looked even better filmed as opposed to video taped (as they did for the jungle setting in “Planet of Evil”). Tom Baker is, once again, on fine form, as are most of the main cast. The younger actors give stage-y performances which is a little distracting. And while Matthew Waterhouse does okay as Adric, that assessment makes concessions for his youth and inexperience as an actor, which really shows when he plays against Tom Baker and some of the other more veteran actors. I have to say, Lalla Ward seems to tend toward the same kind of stage-y, overdramatic performance that we see from the kids, which is disappointing after a great run of actors playing Doctor Who companions. She’s a decent actress, but after the likes of Elisabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane Smith), or Louise Jameson (Leela), I expect more.

As I said, the Marshmen looked quite effective on film, rising from the murky depths, but on video tape and on dry land, the costume flaws are more than evident. As is always the case with Classic Doctor Who, the design team is working with a very tight budget, and you have to applaud the creativity behind what they accomplish with so little money. When the effects and costumes work, you don’t notice them (e.g., Davros in “Genesis of the Daleks” or Linx, the Sontaran in “The Time Warrior”). Here, the costumes are very noticeable.

There’s a nice touch at the beginning of the story when the Doctor mentions the Key to Time, and looks forward to seeing Leela and Andred where he left them on Gallifrey. Viewers might have forgotten this detail, and it provides some motivation for the Doctor to obey the Time Lords’ summons. At the end of the story, our travelers are trapped in “Exo-Space” or “E-Space.” They determine that they stumbled through a CVE, or Charged Vacuum Emboitment. Their only escape is to find another CVE that will take them back to N-Space (“Normal Space”). They also have a stowaway on board, a fact that will be revealed in the next story, “State of Decay.”

As with all the stories in this season, I think “Full Circle” is worth watching. Not classic must-see Who, but entertaining, and with a plot that keeps you engaged, and some interesting characters.

 

Who Review: Meglos

Finding himself in the vicinity of the planet Tigella, the Doctor gets in touch with his old friend Zastor, leader of the Tigellans. His contact is timely, since Tigella is having problems with its power source, the “Dodecahedron.” This mighty crystal is worshiped by one faction of Tigellan society, and used for its energy potential by the scientists of the other faction. The scientists (“Savants”) want to run tests on the Dodecahedron to find out why they are having power fluctuations. To the religious Deons, this is blasphemy, and they won’t let the Savants anywhere near it. Zastor invites the Doctor to come and help mediate the situation, and assist with their troubleshooting. But this isn’t the only problem for Tigella. The Dodecahedron is actually from neighboring planet Zolfa-Thura, and Meglos, the cactus-like last of the Zolfa-Thurans, wants to reclaim it and use its power to exact revenge. He has recruited a band of space pirates to assist him, but the Doctor’s arrival could cause problems, so he traps the TARDIS crew in a time loop. When they break free from that, Meglos uses a captured human to adopt humanoid form. He then takes on the likeness of the Doctor, and arrives on Tigella ahead of the TARDIS. Meglos know that the Tigellans anticipate the Doctor’s arrival, so they won’t be suspicious when the Meglos-Doctor shows up. And then, when the Meglos-Doctor steals the Dodecahedron, they will capture the real Doctor when he arrives, leaving the way clear for Meglos to complete his plan…

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!

For the eighteenth season of Doctor Who, as the show entered the 1980s, new producer John Nathan-Turner gave the aging program a much-needed overhaul: new titles, new theme music, more “modern” sounding incidental music. As part of this eighties renovation, Nathan-Turner and new script editor Christopher H. Bidmead were eager to find new talent to write stories for the show. This is how television newbies John Flanagan and Andrew McCulloch got the opportunity to write “Meglos” for Doctor Who, though it would be their only contribution to the series.

It seems Nathan-Turner wasn’t all that impressed with the story, but pushed forward with it due to time constraints. I don’t think it’s at all bad, to be honest. Sure, the science vs. religion thing is a bit of an old trope (and one that continues to annoy me), but that’s just one of the tension points in the story. Indeed, once the Doctor arrives, the Deons are more cooperative–at least until the Meglos-Doctor steals the Dodecahedron, at which point they capture the real Doctor and offer him as an appeasement sacrifice. Naturally, the sacrifice is drawn out, consisting of being tied below a large boulder suspended by four ropes that are gradually burned until the last one gives out and the boulder squishes the victim. I’m not entirely sure, and it’s never explained, why this elaborate process is necessary, other than to buy time for Romana and Zastor to come and save the day, which they do.

Another thing that bothered me is the fact that the Doctor suggested there was a “doppelganger,” and the Tigellans appeared to understand what this German word means. But how? This isn’t a unique phenomenon to Doctor Who, of course. I’ve seen plenty of sci-fi shows and movies where aliens throw around French and German phrases. Why would the Tigellans understand the word “doppelganger”? Why did the Doctor even use that word, as opposed to talking about a “double”?

Unfortunately, the plants are a bit of a design failure. A nice attempt, but they don’t look organic. The cactus is probably the best fake plant, and the best effect has to be the cactus-human and cactus-Doctor. It’s pretty creepy, actually. And Tom Baker relishes the opportunity to play the bad guy, which adds to the creepiness of the hybrid. Having the human inside the Meglos-Doctor struggle for control was a good twist, especially since the human in question appeared initially to be a bit weak. When Meglos is eventually forced out of the human, he resumes a cactus form, but this time he’s deflated and squirms away. A nice idea, but not very well done, I’m afraid. Again, the costume fails to look anything other than a costume.

At the end of the story, the Doctor is summoned back to Gallifrey. This gives us a link into the next story, and spells the beginning of the end for Romana…

As I said, “Meglos” is a good story, though not spectacular. While some of the effects leave a lot to be desired, many others are at least acceptable, if not good. Tom Baker’s performance is, as always, top-notch, though he looks a bit sickly (I think Baker was ill at the time). We have some glimpses of humor, just enough to remind us that he’s still the Doctor. Since I recommend the season, of course I recommend “Meglos.” But it doesn’t rise to the level of “must-see.”