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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.

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.”

Who Review: The Leisure Hive

The Doctor misses the opening of Brighton Pavillion in England… again! So Romana suggests an alternative holiday location: the Leisure Hive on Argolis. They turn up in time to see a demonstration of the Tachyon Recreation Generator, a device that can duplicate and manipulate matter–a real draw for the tourists. And this Leisure Hive needs tourists. Thanks to the emergence of other leisure planets in the area, Argolis is close to bankruptcy. Their only hope is to sell to the Foamasi, reptile-like creatures against whom the Argolins waged a twenty-minute war some years ago. The Foamasi seem like ideal customers since they are able to live in the highly radioactive outdoor atmosphere of Argolis. But the Argolin leadership refuse to accept their offer. It seems someone is trying to force their hand as the Doctor and Romana witness an attempt to sabotage the Tachyon device, leading to the death of a tourist. This is only one of a series of deliberate attempts to disrupt Argolin equipment. The Doctor and Romana try to help, but find themselves instead the objects of suspicion. Their only hope of getting away is to discover who is responsible for the mysterious deaths, and why.

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 Leisure Hive” launched Doctor Who’s 18th season, and it did so with a kick up the 80s. New producer John Nathan-Turner decided the show was getting old and silly, and needed a breath of fresh air. He commissioned a new version of the theme, a new title sequence, and even a new wardrobe for the Doctor. Nathan-Turner didn’t like the overly-comical turn the show had taken over the last season, so he dropped much of the humor, and hired Christopher Bidmead to take over script editing duties. Bidmead sought out scripts that would bring a more serious edge to the show, employing “real science” at the service of science fiction. As the season progressed, Nathan-Turner’s overhaul of the show would see the departure of Romana and K-9… and eventually the Fourth Doctor himself. But that’s to come…

David Fisher penned this story, and, being the competent writer he is, came up with an interesting premise. The idea of “leisure planets” will be taken up again in the New Series, when the Tenth Doctor and Donna visit the “resort planet” Midnight. Argolis was built in response to the war against the Foamasi (an anagram of “Mafiosa”). That it was a twenty minute war demonstrates the show hasn’t completely lost its sense of humor. The Argolins want to dedicate themselves to peace, and the Leisure Hive stands as a reminder of their bloody past, and their determination to make a better future.

But not all the Argolins are on-board with this plan. In a clever twist, we learn that the Tachyon Recreation Generator is not about recreation (i.e., having fun), but re-creation. Pangol, the youngest of the Argolins, turns out to be a “child of the generator,” the only successful survivor of an old cloning experiment. He wants to use the machine to duplicate, or re-create, clones of himself that will form a new and powerful army. With this army, he intends to rebuild the Argolin race and defeat their enemies (which, to his xenophobic mind, are legion), starting with the Foamasi.

The Doctor puts an end to Pangol’s plan by using the TARDIS randomizer to destabilize the Tachyon Recreation Generator, thus producing an army that eventually disappears. In this nimble piece of writing, we are reminded that the Doctor’s travels have been guided by the randomizer for fear that the Black Guardian might catch up with him (see Season Sixteen’s “The Armageddon Factor”). Even the Doctor and Romana don’t know where they will end up when the TARDIS dematerializes. However, at the end of “The Leisure Hive,” the Doctor elects to leave the randomizer attached to the TRG. It seems he’s fed up of running from the Black Guardian, and wants to be able to go wherever he wants. The Doctor bypassed the randomizer to travel to Brighton and then to Argolis; this is a more permanent solution.

The concept of Tachyon Particles is a real scientific thing. These are hypothetical particles that can travel faster than light. In this story, the hypothetical is made real, thus delivering on Bidmead’s promise to re-anchor the show in “real science.”

The best effect of the whole story has to be the Doctor’s “old” make-up, when he is aged by the TRG. It looks quite convincing. The Argolins’ make-up and costumes aren’t bad, but I’m afraid that’s about it for the production compliments. The external models look like models, and the reptilian Foamasi look like costumes, complete with stitching and dry, solid eyes that don’t even attempt to look like living matter.

And I have to ask, why wasn’t K-9 aware that his sea water defenses were faulty? He’s usually pretty good with his diagnostic checks. I’m surprised he went head-long into the sea oblivious to  a problem that seriously compromises his safety. I suspect JN-T wanted rid of the dog no matter what–even if the excuse was seaweed limp. His opening shot is different–a slow pan of the beach that takes a couple of minutes to get to the TARDIS, and then the Doctor asleep on a deck chair. I’m not sure it works, though, especially for a young audience who would be getting restless after the first ten seconds. Perhaps the fact he never tried anything like that again says a lot.

“The Leisure Hive” is worth watching, if only for it’s historical value. I remember when it first aired, I was shocked at the new “star field” title sequence, and the synthesizer-based theme. The old theme and titles had been in use for ten years, so it was the only theme I ever knew up to that point. In fact, I believe my exact thought was, “What have they done to Doctor Who?!” Ironically, this arrangement of the theme ended up being my favorite. And this face-lift was long overdue.

Who Review: Shada (Untransmitted)

Professor Chronotis, a Time Lord posing as a Cambridge University lecturer, unwittingly lends an extremely powerful book to one of his students. The book is powerful because it reveals the location of the Time Lord prison planet Shada. Chronotis “borrowed” the book from Gallifrey, and, since he isn’t supposed to have a TARDIS (he’s retired), has called upon his old friend, the Doctor, to return the book for him. But when the Doctor and Romana arrive, he realizes he no longer has the book, and struggles to remember what he did with it. Meanwhile, an evil genius named Skagra wants to construct a “Universal Mind” filled with knowledge from all the greatest criminals. To complete the task, he must access Shada. His search for the planet’s location leads him to Professor Chronotis, and eventually the Doctor, who must prevent Skagra finding Shada. If Skagra completes his task, he will use this “Universal Mind” to take over the universe…

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!

“Shada” was supposed to be the season 17 finale, broadcast in six parts over January and February, 1980. The production team managed to complete outside filming, and made a good start on studio recording. But before the in-studio scenes could be completed, a technicians’ dispute at the BBC brought everything to a stop. Once the dispute was settled, Christmas 1979 was fast approaching, and a number of TV specials that had been put on hold were given studio priority. Doctor Who would have to wait its turn. And eventually time ran out. “The Horns of Nimon” broadcast as the season 17 finale, and “Shada” was shelved. In-coming producer John Nathan-Turner tried a number of times to have the story remounted, but eventually admitted defeat in the summer of 1980. The story remained a thing of legend until 1992, three years after the end of the Classic Series, when Nathan-Turner managed to procure the rights to the story from Douglas Adams, and released all the completed scenes, along with linking narration by Tom Baker, on video. This is all that remains of the original “Shada,” but it’s enough to give a sense of what the complete story would have looked like.

Many fans were excited to see “Shada” for the first time in 1992–even if close to half of the story is missing–having heard about it. But, as so often happens with the stuff of legends, the reality can be disappointing. At least it was to some. Not me, however. I think it’s a shame it wasn’t finished and broadcast, as it would have helped justify an otherwise dodgy season. “Shada” and “City of Death” were the only redeeming features of a lackluster and inconsistent season seventeen. It’s not Douglas Adams’s best, but close to it. The story has depth and the characters are interesting, with the final reveal about Professor Chronotis being perhaps the biggest surprise.

Adams was known for being a well-spring of creative ideas, and “Shada” is full of them. There’s Skagra’s invisible space ship, which was much beloved by the production team since it was very cheap. Also the ball that chased people and sucked out all their knowledge and memories. And then there’s the idea that a book can be dangerous, and the Professor’s study could be a TARDIS. Adams has Skagra initially wandering around Cambridge wearing a wide-brimmed hat and carrying a carpet bag–an odd visual that works because Skagra is an alien trying to “fit in.” Finally there are the Kraag, the monsters of the story, made of crystal with fire at their core.

There are some points that bothered me. First, when Chronotis dies, Romana isn’t surprised he doesn’t regenerate, even though he didn’t say anything about being on his last regeneration. In Cambridge, during the chase scene between Skagra’s knowledge sphere and the Doctor, we linger for a while on a group of singers. It’s a nice interval, but completely pointless. They add nothing to the story. David Brierley provides K-9’s voice, thankfully for the last time. As I’ve noted in other stories of this season, I don’t like his characterization of K-9. His inflections are too human, and give K-9 too much personality for a robot dog. And, lastly, there’s a scene where the Doctor gives Romana a medal for reminding him of something very important to the story. This comes across as patronizing, a bit childish, and, again, pointless.

A number of the special effects work quite well. The sphere that chases people and sucks their minds is well done, and the Kraag costumes aren’t bad either.

“Shada” isn’t must-see Who. Indeed, a number of fans weren’t able to see it for nearly thirteen years, so it won’t hurt your Whovian credibility if you never get around to it. But, given the opportunity, I recommend you take it. As one of Douglas Adams’s best Who scripts (as well as his last), it’s worth your time.

Who Review: The Horns of Nimon

The planet Skonnos was once the center of a powerful empire, but no longer. In an attempt to reclaim its former power, the Skonnans have made an agreement with the Nimon, a double-horned creature of great power. In exchange for weapons, and assistance with rebuilding their empire, the Skonnans give the Nimon tribute in the form of young people from the neighboring planet, Aneth, and hymetusite crystals that provide nuclear energy. However, the final shipment of tribute malfunctions and disappears from the Skonnan radar. The TARDIS materializes outside the ship, and the Doctor extends the TARDIS’s defense shields to provide safe passage for himself and Romana. Once on the ship, they encounter the tribute–a small group of boys and girls barely out of adolescence–and the nervous, self-serving co-pilot, who has taken command at the death of the pilot. Between them, the Doctor and Romana get the ship going again, using some of the hymetusite crystals. But when the Doctor returns to the TARDIS, the co-pilot sets off for Skonnos, leaving the Doctor stranded in the path of a fast-approaching, planet-sized asteroid. Somehow, he must reunite with Romana, and help the inhabitants of Aneth escape the clutches of the Skonnans, and the dreadful Nimon…

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 last broadcast serial of season 17, “The Horns of Nimon” makes the final case that the show needs a breath of fresh air. The silliness and goofiness that has pervaded the previous couple of stories doesn’t abate–in fact, it abounds. Watching the first scene with the TARDIS crew, you have to wonder whether this is a Doctor Who parody, or if the production team are still in pantomime mode (it was broadcast from December 12, 1979 to January 12, 1980). For a number of reasons, as I will soon enumerate, this is probably my least favorite Doctor Who story.

What’s sad about that assessment is the fact that the story itself isn’t to blame. Made during any other season, with a different production team and script editor, it would have fared much better, I think. The basic story is of a deal cut between the people of Skonnos and the Minotaur-like Nimon. Skonnos provides Nimon with power crystals and tribute (basically, young humans from which to feed), and the Nimon provides Skonnos with weapons and help restoring the empire. The Skonnans are represented to Nimon by Soldeed, a manic soothsayer-type, who also presents the Nimon’s requests to the people. Soldeed believes he is manipulating the Nimon, saying what he/it wants to hear and dutifully providing the tribute, meanwhile reaping the greater benefits of the relationship. At one point, one of the Skonnans questions Soldeed about this, noting that such an imbalance usually portends something ominous. Soldeed poo-poos the idea, but he is too quick to dismiss. As we later learn, there isn’t just one Nimon, but many, many Nimons, and they are utilizing the power of black holes to travel from planet to planet, draining them of their resources like parasitic nomads. They have about used up all the people and resources of their current base, Crinoth, and are set to invade Skonnos to do the same there. The tribute and crystals provided by the Skonnans are, in fact, the tools of their own downfall, as the Nimon makes use of them to give them the strength and power they need for their work.

As I said, this is a good premise for a Doctor Who story, and script writer Anthony Read (Douglas Adams’s predecessor as Script Editor) is to be commended for it. The main problem is there is so much whimsy, comedy, and hyper-melodrama added to the story, it’s hard to take it seriously. At one point, the Doctor, Romana, Seth, and Tika (two youngsters from Aneth) are hiding from the Nimons behind large consoles. The atmosphere of the show, and the way the Nimons move around, make me want to yell “Behind you!” like a small child watching pantomime.

The character of Soldeed is very theatrical, played with large gestures, and larger-than-life bravado and mischief. He is the classic villain, with an evil laugh, booming threats, and a showy, drawn out death scene. In short, he fits the mood of the serial. At one point Soldeed even calls Romana a “hussy”!

The Doctor makes an interesting comment, when he spins the TARDIS to make it bounce off an oncoming asteroid (whose idea was that?). He notes how he would have been “a great slow bowler.” This could be taken as an (unintended) foreshadowing of his next incarnation!

I have to say, Romana II is probably my least favorite companion. Mary Tamm’s Romana I was a lot more restrained, and far less like the Doctor, which was good. Romana II gets particularly shouty in this story. Excessively shouty, in fact. The dialog between Romana II and the Doctor can be witty, but often it’s nonsensical, and they sound like a pair of full-of-themselves undergrad students.

Amidst the budget-challenged effects (which includes model shots recorded on video, which never look as good, and some dubious firearms), there are some good and well-executed ideas. I like the corridors that change their configuration, so they are like an impossible maze. (Since the Nimon is based on the Minotaur, it only makes sense he has a labyrinth.) And the final explosion model shot, which was recorded on film, is probably the best effects shot of the whole story.

To sum up, don’t bother. Okay, if you’re the die-hard, completist Whovian, watch it, but you have been warned. For the rest, don’t panic. Things do get better. 🙂

Who Review: Nightmare of Eden

An interstellar cruise ship with many passengers on board materializes out of hyperspace to find its shipping lane occupied by a trade ship, causing the two to merge in a kind of dimensional crossover. It appears to be an accident, but the cruise ship’s navigator is clearly under the influence of some kind of narcotic. The TARDIS appears on the cruise ship close to the point of collision, and the Doctor immediately volunteers his services to separate the two craft. However, he is soon distracted from his task by the discovery of Vraxoin, a dangerous and addictive drug, on the ship. This is most likely what affected the navigator, causing the collision with the trade ship. The Doctor is also taken with a strange device brought on board by a couple of passengers: zoologist Tryst and his assistant, Della. The device is a C.E.T., Continual Event Transmuter, which the zoologist is using to store parts of planets in small, crystallized form, ostensibly for the purpose of preserving them. It was on one of these planets, Eden, that they lost one of their team, presumed dead when attacked by monstrous creatures called Mandrels. The Eden project interests the Doctor greatly, but Tryst and Della are reluctant to revisit that location. Nevertheless, both Romana and the Doctor make use of the C.E.T. to visit Eden. And what they discover is the stuff of nightmares…

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!

Bob Baker penned this story, his first solo outing from his regular partnership with Dave Martin, with whom he wrote a number of previous Who stories. This is one of those Who serials where there’s a good premise, and it’s not badly written but it suffers from lack of budget, some bad acting from extras, and, yet again in the Douglas Adams era, too much humor.

The central theme of the story is drugs. We have drug smugglers and drug abuse dealt with quite frankly, which is good, though the dialog can be a little preachy on the subject. The navigator is high on Vraxoin, which leads to the collision with the trading ship. Though it’s not all as it seems, since the pilot of the trading ship is in cahoots with Tryst, the zoologist, to smuggle the substance from “Eden” using the C.E.T. device. The Mandrel monsters from Eden are carriers of the drug, as the Doctor discovers when he accidentally electrocutes one of them, causing it to reduce to dust. In the end, the Doctor catches the bad guys as they are making off with their Vraxoin by containing their ship within the C.E.T., and projecting them back onto the cruise ship. As I said, this could make for a solid Doctor Who story, and if you can ignore a lot of the silliness, the painful acting (like I noted, mostly from the extras–the main cast is very good), the low-budget sets, and the pantomime monsters, it’s actually worthwhile.

But there’s the rub. It’s hard to ignore a lot of the flaws, many of which I’m sure had nothing to do with Bob Baker. And I don’t doubt the budget had a part to play, though the production team have managed better with as much before. Perhaps the most striking effects fail is when K-9 cuts a hole in a metal wall, and the Doctor and Captain Rigg strain to remove the piece of wall. Then a Mandral appears in the gap, and the Doctor swiftly replaces the wall on his own! The model effects suffer for being captured on videotape as opposed to film, and I’m sure the effects people were not happy about that. Film is simply more forgiving than videotape.

What can I say about the Mandrals other than, what exactly were they thinking? They don’t look at all frightening. I’m sure someone has described them as Muppets, and that would be quite an apt description. At the end when the Doctor leads them off the ship and into “Eden,” he does so blowing his dog whistle like the Pied Piper. And then he disappears into the woods, and all we hear are growls, and the Doctor’s moans and shouts, culminating in, “Oh my fingers, my arms, my everything!” This might be funny to some, but to me it’s more pantomime than serious children’s drama.

To sum up, “Nightmare of Eden” has potential, but that potential is overshadowed, and undermined, by the comedy. Add to that some wonky effects, and you have to wonder if anyone was taking the show seriously anymore at this point. Watch it if you want, but I wouldn’t insist on it.