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.