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Who Review: Resurrection of the Daleks

London, 1984. Two policemen armed with automatic weapons fire on a group of people running from an abandoned warehouse. Two dressed in space suits escape and head toward another building where they hope to find a time corridor. It’s this same time corridor that has trapped the TARDIS. With help from Turlough, the Doctor manages to break free, only to find they are traveling alongside it. The crew materialize near some dockside buildings, and, since something anachronistic is going on, naturally the Doctor goes inside investigate. They are soon joined by one of the two space-suited men, Stien, and encounter a bomb disposal squad sent to diffuse what were mistakenly identified as explosive devices. They are all surprised, however, by the sudden appearance of a Dalek. Meanwhile, on board a prison transport ship, the crew are under attack from a Dalek ship, come to collect their cargo: Davros, creator of the Daleks. The crew are prepared to destroy Davros before letting him fall into Dalek hands, but the Daleks are too powerful. And with the help of his creation, Davros can now avenge the Daleks against those that fought them. But the Daleks have other plans, ones that involve the assassination of the High Council of Gallifrey, which the Doctor will be persuaded to do on their behalf…

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!

To accommodate the BBC’s coverage of the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo, “Resurrection of the Daleks” was first broadcast as two 46-minute weekly episodes, as opposed to the usual four episodes. Subsequent re-broadcasts spliced it up into a traditional 4-parter. Nevertheless, the two-part format works very well for this. Fans of New Who, used to 45-minute episodes, will feel quite at home.

The story picks up where the previous adventure, “Frontios,” left off, with the TARDIS being sucked toward the center of the universe. We discover that it’s actually being drawn down a time corridor operated by the Daleks. Usually, a returning monster is given a surprising reveal, as with the Cybermen in “Earthshock.” Given that this is called “Resurrection of the Daleks,” the surprise is clearly not that it’s a Dalek story. The surprises are, I think, two-fold. First, the return of Davros, virtually picking up from the last Dalek story, “Destiny of the Daleks,” at the end of which Davros was being carted away to stand trial for his crimes. Only we’re now 90 years on (story-wise, that is; “Destiny” was broadcast in 1979, a mere five years previously). The other surprise is the fact that the Daleks are actually under the leadership of the Supreme Dalek. Davros thinks he controls the Daleks, but he soon finds out they’ve moved on, and only intend to keep him alive for as long as he’s useful. Pitting Dalek factions against each other makes for an interesting twist to the story, and adds a layer of complexity–it’s not simply the Doctor vs. the Daleks. In fact, both sides want the Doctor, but for different ends, so he’s caught in the middle.

For the benefit of viewers who haven’t seen “Destiny of the Daleks,” Davros is given a recap of the stalemate that existed between the Daleks and the Movellans: two logic-driven forces unable to out-maneuver one another because they both act in logical, predictable patterns. The Daleks dug up Davros to give them an irrational advantage (Davros only being part-Dalek), while the Movellans tried to enlist the Doctor to help them think outside the box. The trouble is, Davros knew all this, so the recap is very obviously for the viewers. The bit he is told that none of us knew is that the Daleks lost the war against the Movellans. It seems the Movellans found another way to attack the Daleks: a biological weapon. Davros’s task is now to develop an antidote to the weapon and breed a new race of Daleks immune to it. He can then use these Daleks to get revenge on everyone that has wronged him. The Supreme Dalek has much more modest plans. He simply wants to clone the Doctor, Tegan, and Turlough, and send them to Gallifrey to assassinate the members of the High Council. Naturally, Davros’s antidote would be useful to them, but the Supreme Dalek doesn’t seem too impressed with Davros’s objectives. Or Davros himself, in fact.

Speaking of Davros, the Dalek creator is here played by Terry Malloy, who played him in “Destiny.” The original Davros, Michael Wisher (“Genesis of the Daleks”), was to return to the part, but the filming was rescheduled and he wasn’t available. That’s a pity. Malloy does a fine job, but his Davros is way too shouty for my liking. Wisher’s interpretation was in that grey area between genius and bonkers, so Davros’s rants had a manic edge to them, and yet he could turn on the soft-spoken contemplation of a curious scientist. There have been a few other Davroses since Wisher, but his will always be my favorite.

“Resurrection” is notable among Classic Who stories for its high body count. There is a lot of gun fighting, and much death, some controversial. The two “policemen” at the beginning who pull out automatic pistols and start shooting at people received criticism for potentially increasing public fear of the police. Also, the Doctor, who generally hates guns and tries to find a peaceful solution to things, carries a gun without much objection, and even shoots multiple times at a Dalek blob. He tells his companions that he intends to kill Davros, finishing a job he failed to do before when he had the chance (i.e., stopping the creation of the Daleks back in “Genesis of the Daleks”). The Doctor points a gun at Davros’s head and tells him he has come as Davros’s “executioner.” Of course, Davros wheedles his way out by informing the Doctor he intends to reprogram the Daleks to have emotions, even compassion. I’m sure the Doctor is doubtful, but nevertheless he lowers the gun. Perhaps the Doctor’s comment at the end, that he left Gallifrey because he had grown tired of the lifestyle, and now “I must mend my ways,” is a reference to all the death and destruction he had been a part of over the course of the story. This was, after all, the breaking point for Tegan, where traveling with the Doctor ceased to be fun. Maybe this is akin to the point at the end of the Tenth Doctor story, “The Waters of Mars,” where he realizes he’s gone too far. If so, I guess that justifies showing the Doctor to be uncharacteristically violent. And, like the Tenth Doctor, he reaches this conclusion only a few stories away from his regeneration.

Tegan’s departure is well done, I think. This was a particularly tense adventure and, as she says, a lot of good people died. It’s hard not to sympathize with Tegan, and Janet Fielding’s performance is right on the mark. As usual for Classic Who, she leaves with handshakes and sad faces, not hugs and tears. But there’s no sense that she could have just got over herself and changed her mind.

On the whole, the acting is good, aside for a bit of woodenness from some of the extras. The initial gun battle between the Daleks and the crew of the prison ship is a bit one-sided, and not very convincing. The make-up on the dead people, with faces distorted, is gruesomely good. Stien’s final sacrifice was a great way for him to go, and a nice way to turn apparent defeat into success.

On the whole, I’d say “Resurrection of the Daleks” is a borderline classic. Certainly one of the best of the Fifth Doctor era. Must-see Who? Close. Certainly one you shouldn’t ignore.

Who Review: The Awakening

The Doctor takes Tegan and Turlough to visit Tegan’s grandfather, Andrew Verney, in the village of Little Hodcombe. The year is 1984, but on their arrival, they are greeted rather unwelcomingly by seventeenth century soldiers. It appears the village is reenacting the occasion when the English Civil War(s) came to the village, except it seems the villagers are getting a bit carried away with the realism. There have been acts of vandalism, and “high spirits” which the town’s squire, Sir George Hutchinson dismisses. But local schoolteacher, Jane Hampden, is more than a little concerned. Sir George has closed the village to outsiders for the duration of their “war games,” which is why he holds the Doctor, Tegan, and Turlough under arrest. As for Tegan’s grandfather, it seems he has mysteriously disappeared. Strange things are certainly going on in Little Hodcombe, and when the Doctor encounters a young lad from 1643, and an inexplicable build-up of psychic energy, he fears alien interference. But to what end? And can he stop it before the games come to their grisly conclusion?

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 Awakening” started life as a four-part story that writer Eric Pringle was having trouble telling. Working with script editor Eric Saward, the script eventually became a two-parter, and Saward undertook a number of changes to make it fit a shorter format. This made for a tight, pacy narrative, but I think it also left parts of the story rushed, and required big chunks of exposition to replace story that had to be edited out for time.

Despite its brevity, “The Awakening” is a good story. The premise involves an alien being called the Malus who thrives off of psychic energy, which it uses to manipulate those around it. The Malus first appeared during the Civil War, attracted by the large quantity of psychic energy produced by all that fighting. Three hundred years later, when Sir George stumbled upon the Malus in the local church, he came under its influence, and started reenactments of the Civil War to create the psychic energy so desired by the Malus. To protect itself from those that would try to thwart its plan, the Malus can use psychic energy to create projections, apparitions of creatures and soldiers that have sufficient physical properties to do real harm. Somewhere along the way, the Malus created a time rift, which is how young Will Chandler came to join the Doctor in 1984. Unfortunately, there is much that could have been developed in the story with another episode or two. Why did the Malus appear originally? To what end was it drawing psychic energy–to survive, or to escape? Why do we only see a head? Why did it create the time rift? Alas, these and many other questions must remain unanswered.

The sets and costumes are great, with the added bonus of this being “period” set in present day, so there was no need to hide phone boxes, cars, and telegraph poles. I really can’t fault much about the production. There aren’t a lot of special effects, but, for the most part, the effects team did well. I especially liked the lizard-like Malus projection in the TARDIS. We first see it on a wall, colored to blend in. None of the TARDIS crew notice it at first, so it’s up to the observant viewer to realize it’s there before Tegan points it out. Of course, when the Doctor taps into the Malus’s psychic frequency and destroys the projection, there’s green goo. For some reason, Doctor Who monsters like to spew green goo when they die.

Probably the most dodgy effect in the show is the giant Malus face that breaks through the wall of the church. It looks a bit more theatrical than I think they originally intended. If I’m right, and they were going for something with a more organic appearance–I’m sorry, but it looks like something someone made (which of course it is).

When the Malus is in its death throes, it focuses what psychic energy it has left to try to destroy the Doctor and those with him who are getting in its way. This creates a very tense and dramatic finale, where one person is decapitated by three soldier projections (we don’t see the beheading, but from the way they place their swords around the person’s neck, you know what happened when the camera cut away), and people start turning on each other.

Back in the TARDIS, the Doctor answers questions in what is clearly an attempt to use exposition to make up for a lack of episode time. This is a shame, as I noted above, since so much of what the Doctor says could have been shown given another couple of episodes. It also means the Doctor has somehow figured out where the Malus came from, and how to defeat it, and all kinds of other details based on what little evidence he found at the scene. Again, a couple more episodes where the Doctor could have, say, made contact with the Malus, and maybe found answers through discovery rather than intuition, would have made this much more satisfying.

All that said, “The Awakening” is worth watching, more than the previous episode (“Warriors of the Deep”). It’s not classic Who, and it’s not without its faults, but there’s a good story in these couple of episodes.

Who Review: Warriors of the Deep

Turlough has decided to stay on board the TARDIS with the Doctor and Tegan, as opposed to going home, so the Doctor decides to take Tegan for a promised trip into Earth’s future. A run-in with a remote weapons system in space forces the Doctor to dematerialize on what appears to be some kind of deep-sea station. Meanwhile, the crew of the station, Sea Base 4, are part of a nuclear stand-off with a rival power bloc. To safeguard their weapons, a member of the crew, Maddox, must “sync” with the computer via a port in his head before they can be activated. Maddox, however, isn’t sure he could do the job if the time came, a fact demonstrated when he collapses during a test. Senior officer Nilson, and the medical officer, Dr. Solow, take charge of Maddox, promising to help him resolve whatever issues he has. The TARDIS crew, meanwhile, explore the base, trying, and failing to remain undetected. When they are brought up to meet the crew, they manage to convince the officers that they aren’t saboteurs, but then the Base comes under attack from what the Doctor identifies as Silurian vessels. The Doctor tries to convince the officers to negotiate with the Silurians, but no-one is listening. Unable to escape, the Doctor, Tegan, and Turlough, need to find a way to make peace between the humans and their reptilian co-inhabitants before the situation goes nuclear. A problem only exacerbated by the fact there are real saboteurs on board…

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!

Season 21, Doctor Who’s 1984 season, begins with the return of some old friends. We haven’t seen either the Silurians or the Sea Devils since the Third Doctor era (“Doctor Who and the Silurians” in 1970, and “The Sea Devils” in 1972). Producer John Nathan-Turner gave the task of returning them to writer Johnny Byrne, previously responsible for “The Keeper of Traken” and “Arc of Infinity.” Johnny’s idea was to project the current Cold War situation between the US and Russia 100 years into the future. In the 2084 setting of “Warriors of the Deep,” two unnamed power blocs have their weapons pointing at each other, poised to use them if the other blinks. The Silurians and Sea Devils, meanwhile, are set to recapture the Earth. In previous stories, these reptilian cousins are generally peaceful (albeit with hawkish factions), and only strike out if driven to do so. In this story, however, they seem to have renounced their former conciliatory ways, though they don’t want to get their hands dirty. Hence they send giant beasts in to do their dirty work, and ultimately scheme to have the Earth’s inhabitants wipe themselves off the face of the Earth so they don’t have to do it themselves.

It’s a good plot, and a very workable story. However, the production of the show ran into all kinds of issues which left it in a less than desirable state. But more about that in a moment. Let’s first consider some notable story points. First, at the end of the last story, the 20th anniversary special, “The Five Doctors,” Turlough expressed a desire to go home. At the beginning of this season, he says he’s changed his mind, and he wants to stay on the TARDIS and learn from the Doctor. I’m not sure if the Doctor’s reaction is one of lingering distrust (Turlough was trying to kill him last season), or of awkward acceptance of the flattery. Either way, Turlough stays, and will for most of the season. When the TARDIS crew arrive on the Sea Base, the Doctor finds canisters of hexachromite gas, which he says is lethal to reptiles. This is an important plot point in episode one that will bear fruit in episode four, following Chekov’s famous dramatic principle (“If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off”).

There were a couple of odd points in the script. First, the Doctor tells the commander of the Sea Base that the Silurians are “honorable” and “want to live in peace.” And yet in the next breath he says they intend to “correct” the “evolutionary mistake” that led to mankind being the dominant species. That’s hardly a peaceful attitude! I’m not sure how the Doctor thinks those two thoughts co-exist. Then there’s the fact that the Silurians and Sea Devils call themselves by those names, when originally, those were the names given to them by the humans. “Silurians” is actually a misnomer, at least according to evolutionary theory, since they wouldn’t have actually been from the so-called Silurian period (the Third Doctor says they should properly be called “Eocenes”–see “The Sea Devils”). And “Sea Devils” is clearly not something those creatures would have called themselves. Why they have adopted these inaccurate and non-flattering titles for themselves is anyone’s guess.

As I said, the script is good, and the story has a lot of promise. The final production of the serial, however, leaves a lot to be desired. The Silurian and Sea Devil costumes are pretty much as they were back in the early 70s, without much of a redesign. Sadly, there’s not much the special effects team could do with them given their very limited budget, which means they have static mouths and eyes, and don’t look either very convincing or very threatening. But they aren’t the worst. The Myrka, a giant monster set upon the Sea Base by the Silurians, is, frankly, ridiculous. A cross between a Sesame Street Muppet and a pantomime horse is about the best I can do to describe it. And it’s about as terrifying and dangerous as a Muppet. The soldiers fighting it have to get really close to be clobbered by its stumpy arms, and apart from shuffling slowly forward, it doesn’t do much else. Whatever menace Johnny Byrne intended the monster to have is totally undermined by the production. To be fair, the production team had very little time to put it together, but, from a viewer’s perspective, that’s irrelevant. It’s what goes on the screen that matters, and if they can’t do at least a passable job, they shouldn’t bother. Spend the money on proper mouths for the Silurians and Sea Devils.

The fight sequences are a bit of a disaster, too. At one point, the Sea Devils and members of the Sea Base crew line up and shoot at each other. There’s no running for cover, or taking strategic shots at the enemy. It’s like medieval warfare, only these people have lasers and they are barely twenty feet away from each other. And they still miss! That fight should have ended with both sides wiped out. But no! Maybe as bad, perhaps worse, is Ingrid Pitt’s battle with the Myrka. For a woman of Pitt’s stature in the sci-fi/horror film world, this was quite an undignified way to go. She makes some ludicrous and ineffective kung fu-type moves, and is immediately zapped because she gets too close to the Myrka. Sad, sad, sad. Finally, I have to ask: what’s with the green goo? When a Sea Devil first gets hit with the hexachromite gas (his own fault–he shot one of the canisters by accident), he falls to the ground choking, then his face crumples, and green goo pours out of his eyes. Why is it when a monster dies, there’s always green (or sometimes red) slimy goo pouring from their orifices? We saw something similar when the Mara died in “Snakedance.” I understand they can’t be too realistic (this is 1980s family tea-time viewing, after all), but couldn’t the Sea Devil just lie stiff on the ground? Do we need the goo to get that he’s dead? I don’t think so.

The best part of the whole serial for me was the ending. It is so very unlike Doctor Who. Everyone dies. The Silurians, the Sea Devils, even the commander, who was shot, but held on to the end. The Doctor surveys the resolution, and says, “There should have been another way.” And he’s genuinely sad about all the death. Ending the story there was quite bold for Doctor Who; it’s not at all a happy ending, even though the Silurian threat has been eliminated (for now). It underscores the generally anti-war theme of the story, and how sad it is when sides can’t negotiate peace, and death is the only way to achieve a resolution.

In short, the last couple of minutes is really the only reason to watch “Warriors of the Deep.” I wish it was better because Johnny Byrne’s script has so much promise. But alas, it is what it is, and that’s missable. In fact, if you’re not a die-hard Whovian, I respectfully ask that you skip this one, unless you can overlook the worst of production values to enjoy the acting and the story.

Who Review: The King’s Demons

England, 1215, and King John is a guest in the castle of Sir Ranulf Fitzwilliam. But when the king is insulted, Sir Ranulf’s son must fight the king’s champion, Sir Gilles Estram, in a jolly joust. However, the contest is interrupted by the arrival of a blue box, inhabited by strangely-clad people. The king calls them demons, but they introduce themselves as the Doctor, Tegan, and Turlough. They are received as guests of the king, and an appreciative Sir Ranulf when the Doctor spares his son from death after he his defeated by Sir Gilles. His son is shamed by the dishonor of being denied death, and bears the Doctor a grudge. But this is the least of their troubles. The Doctor senses something’s not right. According to English history, at this point, three months prior to the signing of Magna Carta, King John should be in London. His suspicion is confirmed by Sir Ranulf’s cousin, who has just arrived having left the king in London only four hours ago. And there’s something not quite right with Sir Gilles, either. It seems Sir Gilles and this pretender King John have concocted a plan that would change the course of history. And the person behind the plot is no stranger to devious and dastardly plans…

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!

This two-part story, by the writer of the last two-parter (the previous season’s “Black Orchid”), Terrance Dudley, takes the TARDIS to medieval England and an encounter with bad King John, whom the Doctor says really wasn’t that bad after all. There’s some truth to what the Doctor says, in that while John made a lot of enemies during his reign, he actually managed the kingdom well. And though his brother, the former king Richard, was a lot more popular, as a hero of the Crusades he spent more time abroad than he did in England. At least John stayed close to the home front to keep an eye on things.

Alas, the dubious Sir Gilles Estram is scheming to ruin the king, and prevent Magna Carta from being signed, thus depriving the world of parliamentary democracy. But who would devise such an evil plan? Only the Estram… I mean the Master (yes, another clumsy anagram, no doubt devised by producer John Nathan-Turner, who had a penchant for that kind of thing). Fresh from his ordeal on Xeriphas (see “Time-Flight”) where he managed to escape with a relic of a former civilization–the robot shape-shifter Kamelion–the Master is out to take down Earth’s governments… well, Western Civilization… well, Western Democracy… well, the Parliamentary form of democracy as practiced in certain parts of the Western world on Earth. Not really a very ambitious plan for a renegade Time Lord who’s used to destroying planets and trying to take over the universe. In fact, if I was the Doctor, I would be waiting for the real Master to show up, not this wanna-be pretending to be a French nobleman with a bad accent.

But it gives the BBC the chance to show off its period drama skills (which is always a feast for the eyes), and it seems Terrance Dudley likes these historical jaunts, so it gives him a nice sandbox to play in. And, to be fair, there’s not a whole lot you can do plot-wise in a two-parter. Although, that’s about the length of a single episode of New Series Who, and there are some pretty far-reaching evil plans executed in many of those 45-minute stories.

So, with the Master’s unambitious scheme, the bad French accent, and the very staged-looking sword fight (quite unlike the swash-buckling encounter between the Doctor and the Master in “The Sea Devils”), is there anything about “The King’s Demons” that makes it worthwhile? I could be mean and say the fact it’s only two parts, but it really isn’t that bad. It doesn’t sparkle, and there are no outstanding performances, but it’s certainly watchable. Maybe the best line is when the Doctor is warned about Sir Gilles being the best swordsman in all of France, and he comes back with, “Well fortunately we are in England!”

At the end of the story, the Doctor steals Kamelion, and despite Tegan’s protests, the robot becomes part of the TARDIS crew. If you recall, Tegan objected to Turlough, too, so I’m not sure what her issue is with new companions. In response to her objection, the Doctor offers to take Tegan home. But she doesn’t want to go home, at least not yet. Which is just as well, because the Doctor wants to take them all to the Eye of Orion…

In short, “The King’s Demons” is completely missable, but since it’s only two parts, you might as well give it a watch. Who knows, you might enjoy it!

Who Review: Enlightenment

As our intrepid travelers in time and space wend their way through the universe, the TARDIS is affected by a sudden power surge. It seems the White Guardian is trying to make contact. Risking an overload of the TARDIS circuits, the Doctor boosts power in an attempt to stabilize contact with the Guardian. But all he gets are some coordinates, and a vague warning about danger and death, interrupted by a visit from the Black Guardian who tells the Doctor he’s doomed, then they both vanish. When the TARDIS lands, the Doctor and Turlough leave to investigate, while Tegan remains on board in case the White Guardian should attempt another contact. He does, and this time the message for the Doctor is “winner takes all.” Tegan leaves the TARDIS to tell the Doctor, and finds herself captured. The TARDIS has landed in what appears to be the hold of an Edwardian sailing vessel. The crew seem fairly cheerful and welcome the Doctor and Turlough. But there’s something up with the officers. One has taken a shine to Tegan in an odd, detached kind of way. Indeed, there’s something not quite right with the whole setup. As the TARDIS crew soon discovers, this Edwardian yacht is actually a ship–a space ship. And its crew are not from Earth, but are Eternals, using people from Earth in their game–a space race to Enlightenment, in which winner takes all. But at what cost to the Doctor, Tegan, and Turlough?

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 finale of the “Black Guardian Trilogy” is probably the strongest of the three stories. Written by first-time Who writer, Barbara Clegg, who is also the first female Who writer (and probably one of the few women writing sci-fi for television in the early 80s), “Enlightenment” takes the TARDIS crew aboard an Edwardian sailing vessel that turns out to be a space ship styled like an Edwardian sailing vessel, crewed by Edwardian sailors, plucked from Earth and doomed to live and die on that vessel. The officers are “Eternals,” beings that live outside of time, who get their kicks playing with “Ephemerals,” like Edwardian sailors, and the TARDIS crew. As the story progresses it becomes clear that for all the power of these Eternals, their ability to manipulate reality, and read the minds of Ephemerals as if their thoughts were a Twitter feed, they have no real life of their own. They don’t know excitement, love, passion, joy, and have no imagination. So, while they seem to be superior beings, they, in fact, depend on Ephemerals to take the boredom out of their eternal existence. They need the Ephemerals far more than the Ephemerals need them.

And then there’s Marriner, an Eternal who has a creepy fascination with Tegan that becomes sort-of sweet but still a bit creepy. Unlike his fellow Eternals, he grows to care for her, and miss her when she’s not around. It’s not love–he doesn’t know what love is–but an enjoyment of her company, her energy, and her lively mind. It’s hard to avoid comparing his treatment of Tegan like a dog owner with his beloved pet, but it does seem a little more than that. He does seem to respect the fact that she’s a sentient creature with a mind of her own–which is one of the things he enjoys about her.

In short, Barbara Clegg has given us some interesting characters that have depth and nuance, which doesn’t always happen on Doctor Who. As much as we may want to like Marriner, he’s still an Eternal, and still treats the death of Ephemerals as of no consequence.

The story of the ship race for Enlightenment, which means so much to everyone involved, but is, in fact, a mere distraction for the Ephemerals, is a good idea that works. And Wrack’s plot to cheat through special crystals she gives as gifts to her competitors that turn out to be focal points for a devastating power source she transmits to them, is not too far-fetched for Who. And blowing up her rivals nearly wins for her, except the Doctor catches on to her plan and saves the day for their ship.

Unlike the previous two installments of the trilogy, the Black Guardian plot is actually relevant to the main story. Both “Mawdryn Undead” and “Terminus” could stand alone apart from the Black Guardian’s involvement. But here, the Black Guardian is the one behind Wrack and her schemes, almost delivering Turlough into her hands for his failure to kill the Doctor.

The performances are, on the whole, good, especially the Ephemerals on the Edwardian ship. However, the pirate ship is a little too pantomime–especially Leee John, who plays first mate to Lynda Baron’s captain. They both go a little over the top, at least for me, making it too much like a stage performance as opposed to being villainous bad guys.

The effects are pretty good for the time. In fact, the DVD comes with a special “director’s cut” movie-length version of the story, where the four parts have been pasted together, and new CGI effects added. In honesty, I think the original effects look as good, if not better.

At the end, Turlough accidentally outwits the Black Guardian, severing their contract. Turlough is free, though the Black Guardian might return. Someday. All Turlough wants to do is return to his home planet. Knowing the TARDIS, however, that might be easier said than done!

To sum up, “Enlightenment” is not must-see Who, but very good nonetheless, at least in terms of story and character. The acting is a bit hit-and-miss, but it’s still an enjoyable adventure. Definitely for the die-hard Whovian, and of interest to the casual viewer.

Who Review: Terminus

Under the direction of the Black Guardian, Turlough tries to sabotage the TARDIS. Tegan nearly catches him when she comes to take him to his room–Adric’s old room. She leaves him to visit Nyssa who is busy with test tubes in her room, when an instability field opens up threatening to swallow her. The TARDIS’s emergency protocols kick in and they materialize on a space ship. Nyssa walks through, and when things stabilize, the Doctor goes off to find her. Things start to go downhill from there. The TARDIS crew discover the ship is full of Lazars, people infected with the deadly Lazar’s disease, on their way to Terminus, a space station serving as a sort of leper colony. It’s said that the people on Terminus are working on a cure, but so far no-one has returned alive. Then the Doctor and Nyssa are caught by a couple of raiders, the advance party of a raiding team that promptly abandons them. And then Nyssa falls ill, and is carted away with the other Lazars to join their fate. Is this the end of the line for Nyssa?

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

“Terminus” continues the story arc began with the previous story in which new companion Turlough, under pressure from the Black Guardian, has to kill the Doctor. However, the more Turlough spends time with his victim and the TARDIS crew, the harder it is for him to complete his task. Not only is it nearly impossible to get the Doctor alone somewhere where he can bump him off, but he’s discovering that the Black Guardian’s description of the Doctor as the most evil being in the universe is not entirely accurate. But Turlough has no choice, since the Black Guardian promised him passage to his home planet if he is successful, and a painful death if he fails.

Unlike the previous story, “Mawdryn Undead,” the Black Guardian arc doesn’t interact with the main plot of “Terminus.” Certainly, at one or two points the Guardian gives Turlough some tips, but he is in no way manipulating events to help Turlough complete his task. The Guardian simply prods and pokes him into action, leaving it up to the boy to figure out how to get the job done. And yet very quickly, Turlough gets caught up in the story, with only a few moments here and there to have a quick chat with the glowing crystal.

The opening TARDIS scene has Turlough pleading with the Black Guardian when Tegan comes along. Turlough claims he was singing to himself, but Tegan remains suspicious of the newcomer. She shows him to Adric’s room, which will now be his. As a Twentieth Anniversary gift to the fans, the room is full of memorabilia from the previous season, including a Kinda helix necklace and the mask of the robot from “The Visitation.” When Tegan catches up with Nyssa in her room, she is experimenting with test tubes, getting back to her science roots from when she was on Traken. Not only does this serve as a reminder to viewers of Nyssa’s background, but it’s a plot point that will become important later.

Inevitably with three companions, the TARDIS crew gets separated fairly soon into the story. The Doctor goes off in pursuit of Nyssa, while Turlough and Tegan are teamed together. This was no doubt deliberate given their argument at the beginning. You might think that after all they go through, crawling around in vents and nearly getting sterilized, Tegan might begin to warm to Turlough. But any chance of that disappears when Turlough bolts for the TARDIS as soon as he makes a way back. I suppose this is a shame, but I don’t think Tegan is ever supposed to really trust Turlough, which makes for an unusual vibe on the TARDIS.

I thought it interesting the way the Turlough-Tegan plot intersects with the Doctor’s plot. Turlough, following a suggestion from the Black Guardian for making a way back to the TARDIS, inadvertently triggers a computer sequence that will result in the ship jettisoning unstable fuel. This will, in turn, trigger a “big bang” that could destroy the universe. The Doctor manages to prevent the explosion, completely oblivious to the fact that it was Turlough who was behind it. And he will never know, because Turlough is oblivious to the fact that his actions caused this emergency situation.

The effects on “Terminus” are pretty standard for BBC sci-fi drama at this time. Not bad, but not stunning, either. The Garn, a large dog-like creature, is not the disaster it could have been, though it clearly needs some CGI ear twitching, and a bit of realism around the mouth. The other costumes are not exceptional, and the guards’ armor seems a bit impractical. Probably the most eye-opening costume is Nyssa’s, since she loses much of her clothing (at least as much as is appropriate for 1983 family viewing). Apparently, this was Sarah Sutton’s idea, responding to complaints that Nyssa was too well dressed–no doubt from some of the show’s older male viewers.

The big upset of the story is the fact that we say goodbye to Nyssa. Not only was this an upset to Sarah Sutton, who had not asked to leave, and to Peter Davison, who thought Nyssa was a great companion and enjoyed working with Sarah. There were fans who didn’t think this was a good idea–me being one of them! Not only was Sarah Sutton excellent in the role, reminiscent of Elisabeth Sladen (“Sarah Jane Smith”) in many ways, but her character had depth and dimensions that had barely been touched on. After all, she’s a young scientist whose father was taken over by the Master, and the Master then caused her home planet to be consumed by entropy. Her race instinct is toward peace, thinking the best of people, and being hopeful about life and circumstances. And yet she nurses a deep sadness at having lost so much. The Doctor gives her an anchor, the TARDIS a home, and Tegan a friend. The tears she cries in her parting scene are genuine. Sarah cried those tears for real. And I think Nyssa did too. Which, of course, makes this one of the most powerful and moving companion departure scenes in Classic Who history.

“Terminus” is not a bad story. Not one of the best, but not bad. If you watch the trilogy (“Mawdryn Undead,” “Terminus,” and “Enlightenment”), most likely this will be the weakest, but the performances are good (again, Sarah Sutton is excellent), and the plot doesn’t drag. Certainly not “must-see” Who, but not a waste of time either.

Who Review: Mawdryn Undead

It’s 1983, and Brandon Public School boy Turlough is causing trouble again, this time crashing the car belonging to their maths teacher, Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart. As he lies unconscious, Turlough is visited by the Black Guardian who commissions him to kill the Doctor. Turlough refuses–all he wants is to go home. Earth is not his native planet, and the life of a British schoolboy is no life for one with his intelligence. The Black Guardian makes an offer he can’t refuse: kill the Doctor, and he’ll return Turlough to his home planet. Meanwhile, the TARDIS is caught in the warp ellipse of a ship. To avoid crashing, the Doctor materializes on board. The TARDIS crew now find themselves on what appears to be an abandoned starliner–except it isn’t abandoned. Turlough is there. The Doctor will soon learn that the liner has a crew, scientists who have been experimenting on themselves to discover the Time Lord secret of regeneration. However, all they’ve managed to do is mutilate themselves into a painful but eternal existence. They want death, but the only way to achieve it is for the Doctor to give up his remaining regenerations…

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!

“Mawdryn Undead” is the first in what has come to be known as the “Black Guardian Trilogy,” since they all have the common story thread of the Black Guardian trying to kill the Doctor. Continuing the twentieth anniversary theme of returning characters, the Black Guardian was last seen in the Fourth Doctor’s “Key to Time” season in 1978, wherein the Doctor prevented him laying his hands on that powerful key. Clearly still bearing a grudge, the raven-hatted baddie is after deadly revenge, using a surrogate because he “mustn’t be seen to be involved.” That surrogate is a school boy named Turlough. Why Turlough? Perhaps because he was already a rotten egg, so he might be more amenable to the idea of murder? His attempts to resist give the impression he’s not all that bad, certainly not wanting the Doctor’s blood on his hands. Did the Guardian already know of Turlough’s compelling desire to return to his home planet? I’m not so sure. For much of the story, the Guardian appears to be improvising, as much as he accuses Turlough of not sticking to “the plan.” Whatever his reasons, the Guardian chooses Turlough, and exerts much mental persuasion to get him to comply to his wishes.

It’s not a bad story, though it comes off a bit fan-boyish, as if writer Peter Grimwade is deliberately trying to check all the True-Whovian boxes to keep the die-hards happy. Not only do you have the return of the Black Guardian and the Brigadier, but you have mention of old companions, flash-backs to previous stories, and even the Doctor using the line “reverse the polarity of the neutron flow”–an old favorite of the Third Doctor. The central theme of the serial is regeneration, and the fact that Mawdryn and his buddies had tried to become Time Lords through experimenting with the regeneration process. Now they are condemned to live forever in mutated form, and only a Time Lord’s regenerative power will give them sufficient energy to die. The Doctor reiterates the fact (since 1976’s “The Deadly Assassin” anyway) that a Time Lord can only regenerate twelve times. But he also states plainly for the first time that he has regenerated four times. As viewers, we regarded Davison’s incarnation as the Fifth Doctor, but the character himself only ever refers himself as “The Doctor,” leaving some ambiguity as to whether there might have been incarnations prior to the one we first encountered, William Hartnell. This story sets the record straight: Hartnell was the First, regardless of what previous stories might have suggested. Again, this would be the cause of much excitement and debate amongst Whovians, which is just the sort of thing you want in a celebratory year.

It does raise the existential question: Is being a Time Lord simply about being able to regenerate? Is regeneration the sole defining trait of a Time Lord, or simply one of many traits (including having two hearts, and a respiratory bypass system)? Does losing one’s ability to regenerate reduce a Time Lord to just another Gallifreyan, as the episode three cliffhanger would suggest? Before “The Invasion of Time” (1978), the only inhabitants of Gallifrey we had ever seen were the Time Lords. In that story, the Doctor’s companion Leela hooked up with a band of Gallifreyans who lived in the forests and wilderness surrounding the citadel. We don’t know much about these Gallifreyans other than, for some reason, they were not Time Lords. So there is a distinction. But could one become a Time Lord, and could one really cease to be a Time Lord? The show seems to leave both possibilities open. I’m not so sure, however, that merely losing the ability to regenerate makes all the difference. There seems to be much more to being a Time Lord, both physiologically, and in terms of education and social status.

It’s nice to see the Brigadier back, teaching mathematics at a public school (note for non-Brits, a British public school is actually a private school–think Eton, or Hogwarts). And not just one Brigadier, but two! One from 1977 and one from 1983. I thought the make-up for the younger Brig was quite well done. I can quite believe he’s six years younger.

As for Brandon Public School… I actually attended a British public school for seven years. A boarding school, no less, just like Brandon (though I didn’t board; I was a “day” pupil). From my experience, Brandon Public School is nothing like the average British public school in the early 1980s. It’s more of a parody of what a British public school would have been like in the 1920s! (See the Tenth Doctor two-part story “Human Nature”/”Family of Blood” for an idea of what that was like.) Surely someone on the production could have set them straight? I mean, the boater hats and “jolly wot-ho!” dialog? That was not the school I attended, I can tell you!

I’m a little confused with what exactly the Black Guardian’s plan is with regard to how Turlough should dispose of the Doctor. From the outset, it seems as if he’s given the young lad carte blanche to drop a rock on his head, or whatever it takes. But then as the Doctor gets tangled in the Mawdryn storyline, leading to where he will have to sacrifice his lives to save his friends, the Guardian acts as if that was his plan all along, and chides Turlough for not following it. Turlough might have been more cooperative if he’d been told about the ship, and what the mutated people wanted. Frankly, I think the Black Guardian’s totally winging this, and blaming Turlough when things go pear-shaped.

The story ends with the Brigadier saving the day. When he asks Nyssa what’s been going on, Nyssa replies, “The Doctor will explain later,” and a thousand Whovians chuckle (“I’ll explain later” was something the Doctor frequently said to his companions). And Turlough officially joins the TARDIS crew, though he is still under orders from the Black Guardian to kill the Doctor. It seems clear the Doctor, Nyssa, and Tegan don’t suspect anything seriously amiss with Turlough, though they do seem guarded. And rightly so!

What do we make of Turlough as a companion? He’s very different from previous companions, which is a good thing. I like that he has a bit of a dark edge to him, even beyond his collusion with the Black Guardian. After all, he went joyriding in the Brig’s car before the Guardian ever got to him. If he’s going to work, Nyssa and Tegan are going to have to warm to him, and that doesn’t appear to be happening anytime soon. Maybe as their adventures progress…

“Mawdryn Undead” is interesting, and as a Who celebration is fun. The story is a little convoluted, but not too much of a stretch if you pay attention. Certainly of interest, though not compelling. Worth watching, but not at all costs.

Who Review: Snakedance

The TARDIS is off-course, and the only explanation is whoever read the destination coordinates made a mistake. Or did they? After all, it was Tegan who acted as navigator, and she is trying to take a nap, though her sleep is interrupted by bad dreams. The Mara is rearing its serpentine head again, and its dormant influence over Tegan is reawakening. It caused her to give the Doctor coordinates to Manussa, which was formerly occupied by the Sumaran Empire. It is there that the cult of Snakedancers still celebrate the Mara’s banishment, and conduct rituals to keep the Mara away. It is also the home of the “Great Mind’s Eye” crystal, which, when combined with smaller “Little Mind’s Eye” crystals can channel the mental power of the wearers to create matter. Meanwhile, on Manussa, the ruling Federator’s indolent son, Lon, has taken a sudden fascination with the legends of the Mara, and its prophesied return. But Ambril, an archaeologist and expert on the Sumaran period, is convinced the legends of the Mara are just that–legends. When the TARDIS crew arrive on Manussa, despite the Doctor’s best efforts, Tegan is overpowered by the Mara, and leaves to find the Great Mind’s Eye. The Doctor’s attempts to warn Ambril fall on deaf ears. Somehow, the Doctor and Nyssa must find a way to warn the Manussans and save Tegan, before the Mara returns and consumes them all…

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 Doctor Who’s twentieth year, producer John Nathan-Turner wanted each story to bring back an old friend or foe (or both). The first story, “Arc of Infinity” saw the return of Omega, last seen in the Third Doctor story, “The Three Doctors” in 1973. For “Snakedance,” the production team didn’t reach very far back at all. The returning character is the Mara, last seen the previous season in “Kinda.” In that story, the Mara had taken over Tegan, and in the end was banished to the dark places. Banished doesn’t mean destroyed, and now its back with plans to stick around.

“Snakedance” was written by Christopher Bailey, who had written “Kinda.” He drew from the same pool of essentially Buddhist philosophy, but I think in “Snakedance” he did a better job making the ideas understandable to the layman. I particularly appreciated the lack of “Do you not see?” and “Do you not understand?” remarks that made “Kinda” come off as patronizing. Otherwise “Kinda” had some great acting, and was a good story. “Snakedance” also has some great acting (including a young Martin Clunes in one of his first lead roles), and is a good story.

Nyssa gets a change of clothes at last, sporting an 80s-style stripey skirt, red knee-length shorts, and blue-and-white wide-collar blouse. Martin Clunes is not quite so fortunate. His costume for the snake dance consists of a silky white tunic adorned with blue clouds, and a golden, sunshine headdress. I’m sure the symbolism is very meaningful.

I’m guessing the effects department learned some painful lessons from “Kinda.” The big snake at the end was a complete disaster (the CGI re-make on the DVD is excellent, which is a surprise–not all the CGI make-overs are that good). In “Snakedance” most of the snakes you see are fake, but they are small and used effectively. There is a big snake at the end, but it does look a bit more credible. Its death scene, with the strawberry and vanilla melted ice cream oozing from him, was a bit of a let-down. Though it would have catered many Manussan parties.

One particular oddity (at least to me) was the inclusion of the Punch and Judy show. The classic British puppet act involving acts of marital violence between Punch the Sociopath and his pan-wielding spouse was given a connection to the story by replacing the traditional crocodile character with a snake. But how on earth did Punch and Judy get to Manussa? Is there a Manussan legend of a traveling entertainer from Britain whose ship somehow ended up on Manussa, and, in exchange for the people’s hospitality, he gave them the gift of homicidal British vaudeville? Surely it would have been more appropriate to invent some kind of Mara-related entertainment that made sense to the Manussan culture. But no…

Complaints aside, the script is very good. Possibly my favorite part is when Ambril is showing the Doctor how ridiculously primitive the Sumarans were by holding up a headdress that is supposed to represent the six faces of delusion. “But look!” Ambril says, “There are only five faces.” To which the Doctor suggests Ambril try the headdress on. “Now count the faces.” Yes–the sixth face of delusion is the wearer’s own. A classic look of realization and foolishness on Ambril’s part.

In “Kinda,” we knew who was under the control of the Mara by the snake on the arm, and the pink coloring in the mouth (achieved no doubt by chewing one of those tablets they used to give us in school that colors the plaque on your teeth). This time, not only do we have the snake on the arm, but the victims face turns red. An interesting variation. I wonder if this was because the tablets tasted nasty?

At the end of “Snakedance,” the Mara has been destroyed, not just banished, but Tegan is shaken by the experience. The final scene, where Tegan is crying and the Doctor comforts her is not common in Classic Who. Recognizing that the audience mainly consisted of children, the producers didn’t often linger on the negative emotional consequences of the story. I think this is good, and the scene is well played.

“Snakedance” isn’t must-see Who, but it is worth watching. Despite their failings, this, and “Kinda” are good, thoughtful stories, with some excellent performances. And if you’ve loved Martin Clunes in anything else he has done since (e.g., “Doc Martin”), you ought to watch “Snakedance.”

Who Review: Arc of Infinity

In Amsterdam, a couple of tourists spend the night in a crypt. During the night, one of them is hypnotized by a strange creature who employs him carry equipment. This alien being is composed of anti-matter, and is using the city as a power source for an elaborate plan, a plan that involves the Doctor. Meanwhile, on Gallifrey, the alien has an accomplice steal the Doctor’s bio-scan. This creature appears to have knowledge of the Time Lords, and wishes to live in the world of matter again by bonding with a Time Lord, namely, the Doctor. On the TARDIS, the Doctor and Nyssa are hit by an energy bolt which attacks the Doctor. He recovers, but is anxious to locate the source of the attack. The High Council of Gallifrey are also concerned about this anti-matter creature, and it’s plan to bond with the Doctor. Should this creature manage to cross into the world of matter, the effect would be devastating. They recall the TARDIS, and both the Doctor and Nyssa are pleased to cooperate with the investigation, fully aware of the danger to the universe posed by this creature. However, while the Doctor wants to find the anti-matter being, discover who he is, and prevent him completing the bond, the Council has another solution in mind: kill the Doctor…

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!

“Arc of Infinity” was the first story of Doctor Who’s twentieth season, broadcast in January of 1983. Part of producer John Nathan-Turner’s plan for the show’s twenty year anniversary was to bring back an old character in each episode. For this story, the returning character was [SPOILER] Omega, the renegade Time Lord last seen in the tenth anniversary special, “The Three Doctors,” featuring Doctors one through three. Ten years on and the poor guy’s still stuck in anti-matter world, longing to join the rest of his kind, and willing to go to dangerous lengths to make that happen.

The Amsterdam location shoot apparently had nothing to do with the story. Nathan-Turner wanted to film the story on location, chose Amsterdam, and then told the writer, Johnny Byrne, to make it fit. Always up for a challenge, Byrne used the fact that Holland is below sea-level to contrive a plan by Omega use a fusion booster from Gallifrey to power his bond with the Doctor. This booster draws energy from hydrogen atoms, which are in plentiful supply in Amsterdam.

The “Arc of Infinity” in the story is a curve between dimensions whose properties shield anti-matter, enabling Omega to appear in the matter world, though only in one location. He later uses the Arc to take control of the Matrix on Gallifrey.

This isn’t a bad story, with some good ideas, and a workable plot. Johnny Byrne had previously written “The Keeper of Traken,” the story that introduced Nyssa, so no doubt he was pleased to get the chance to develop her character a little more, especially since she’s the sole companion for this story. However, I think it suffers from some dodgy effects and costumes, and what seems to me a lack of real drama. There are some potentially gripping scenes that just don’t come off, either because the effects are a bit blah, or the acting is, frankly, a bit blah. At the end of part one we have a great cliffhanger with Commander Maxil, played by future Sixth Doctor Colin Baker, shooting the Doctor. First, Colin Baker doesn’t look at all comfortable with his weapon, which makes the scene a bit awkward. Then he shoots, the Doctor collapses, and we see him on the floor. The part two cliffhanger, where the Doctor is apparently executed, had a lot more going for it, with all the smoke, Nyssa’s pleading and tears. Then we get to part three, and Omega has taken over the Matrix. That’s a big deal! And our cliffhanger is the Doctor’s somewhat plaintive, “We’re too late,” and a shot of Omega floating across the criss-cross Matrix pattern on the screen. Again, a good cliffhanger idea, but lacking punch.

Sarah Sutton has an opportunity to shine here, and she does. I’ve said in previous reviews how she plays Nyssa with such conviction, and this is no exception, taking full advantage of the scenes given to her to put her all into this character. Aside from some of the other leading characters, however, the performances seem a bit laid back for the supposed danger the universe is in thanks to Omega.

And then there’s the chase scenes. It’s hard to determine whether the lengthy excursion through the streets of Amsterdam is truly relevant to the plot, or whether they are padding for time, or if John Nathan-Turner wanted to make the most of his travel budget. Probably all three to some extent. Yes, we need time for Omega to gradually deteriorate, but it does seem a little protracted beyond what is needed for the story. At least I think so.

At the end, Nyssa laments Tegan having to return home to her job. Tegan, beaming with delight, informs her she got the sack (a phrase that, surprisingly, Nyssa understands). Everyone is overjoyed that Tegan is now one of Britain’s many unemployed… well, okay, they’re happy because this implies she is free to rejoin the TARDIS crew. When Tegan makes explicit her intentions (“So you’re stuck with me!”), Nyssa is delighted. The Doctor says, “So it seems,” and gives a rather bemused smile. I wonder, if this was the modern series, would the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa have been like the Tenth Doctor and Rose? He appears to look on Tegan as an awkward third party. Peter Davison has made no secret of the fact that he thought Nyssa was the best of his companions, and (no offense to the others) he would have liked to have seen more Doctor-Nyssa stories. Perhaps his own feelings are showing in that scene.

To sum up, “Arc of Infinity” is good, but not great, thanks to the execution more than the writing. The average viewer won’t be bored by it, and there are far worse stories, but aside from finding out what happened to Tegan, it’s totally non-essential.

Who Review: Time-Flight

Something strange is going on at Heathrow airport. It seems one of their Concorde’s has gone missing, disappearing from radar just as it was coming in to land. Meanwhile, on board the TARDIS, the Doctor offers to take his companions back to the Great Exhibition as way to help them move on from the loss of Adric. But something sends the TARDIS off course and they end up inside one of the terminals at Heathrow. When security comes to investigate, the Doctor appeals to UNIT, and the trio are taken to the airport authorities who have been instructed by UNIT to get the Doctor’s help to find their missing aircraft. The Doctor suspects some kind of temporal anomaly, which would explain why the TARDIS was affected. His solution is fly another Concorde along the same flight path as the previous one, and use the TARDIS on board to track where, and when, the flight is going. As the Doctor predicted, they disappear from radar, but they seem to land back at Heathrow. But what they see is an illusion. The truth is that they have traveled back in time some 140 million years. Their perception is being manipulated by a conjurer named Kalid, who is not at all what he appears to be, and who will go to extreme lengths to achieve his true 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!

“Time-Flight” follows directly on from the events of the previous story, “Earthshock,” most notably, the death of companion Adric. Still in shock, the Doctor’s suggestion of a trip to the Great Exhibition seems a little heartless. After all, Tegan and Nyssa are still grieving the loss of their friend. It would be consistent of the Doctor’s character to be insensitive to human grieving since he’s not human. But one of the Fifth Doctor’s personality traits is a greater sensitivity to suffering than his previous incarnation, so it is somewhat out-of-character. Interestingly, when Tegan tells the Doctor to travel back in time and rescue Adric, the Doctor insists that he can’t change what’s happened, and they should never ask him to do something like that again. It appears the concept of a “fixed point in time” that can’t be changed existed in the Classic Series! It’s all moot anyway, since the crew wind up in Heathrow, and are soon caught up in the mystery of the missing Concorde.

With the help of Captain Stapely and the second Concorde crew, the Doctor is able to detect where and when the aircraft has traveled. When they load the TARDIS horizontally into the Concorde’s cargo hold, the Doctor flips a switch on the console so the TARDIS interior is verticle. Nyssa says she wishes they’d known about that on Castrovalva–one of a number of references to previous stories in this episode.

Peter Davison, who played the Fifth Doctor, considered “Time-Flight” a good story let down by bad effects. In all honesty, I think that’s generous. It’s not a terrible story, but it lacks the dramatic scale of previous adventures. It turns out that Kalid is actually the Master, who escaped from Castrovalva but at the cost of his TARDIS which suffered damage along the way. He is now stranded on prehistoric Earth, getting there around the same time as the Xeraphin. The Xeraphin had attempted to escape a battle situation and ended up crashing on Earth. The Master’s arrival caused the ethereal and powerful Xeraphin to split between good and evil, the evil side aligning with the Master, the good side helping the Doctor. The Master wants to use the power of the Xeraphin to get his TARDIS going again so he can escape. This power would be dangerous in the hands of the Master, so the Doctor must try to stop him.

While the Xeraphin do engage with the plot, ultimately the story is all about the Master trying to escape prehistoric Earth. He’s not trying to take over the world, or the universe–he just wants to get away. Granted, getting away with a powerful energy source in his TARDIS is a potential recipe for disaster, but I don’t get the feeling the Master’s that concerned. For him, the Xeraphin power (which is, actually, a gestalt of all the Xeraphin) is simply a means to getting his TARDIS away from Earth. When the Doctor proclaims, “The Master has defeated me,” at the episode three cliffhanger, I’m not convinced: the Doctor never gives up that easily. And exactly how did the Master “defeat” the Doctor? He didn’t try to kill the Doctor; the Doctor just failed to stop the Master at that point in the story.

The special effects are not brilliant. At best they are passable, but never outstanding. And while the appearances of Adric, the Melkur from “The Keeper of Traken” (Nyssa’s first story), and a Terileptil from “The Visitation” are a nice surprise, I can’t help feeling they’re a bit contrived. It’s the last story in the season, so they’re reminding us of past story elements. But Nyssa and Tegan aren’t taken in by these psychological manifestations, which just underscores the fact that they’re there more for the audience than the story.

The best cliffhanger is at the end of episode four where the Doctor and Nyssa accidentally leave Tegan behind at Heathrow. To those watching at the time, it looks like this is Tegan’s last story, which would be unusual since there was no announcement that Janet Fielding was leaving the show. You can be sure people tuned in for season twenty to find out if Tegan is coming back.

I think the real winners of this story are the British Airways pilots. They come across as level-headed, resourceful, and able to quickly adapt to strange concepts and evolving situations. No wonder Heathrow was so willing to let the BBC film there!

To sum up, I think “Time-Flight” is for the die-hard Whovian. Unless you have to know what happened to the Master, there’s nothing here for the casual viewer. Pretend the season ended with “Earthshock” and move on.