Doctor Who: Warriors’ Gate
(4 episodes, s18e17-e20, 1981)
Romana bids the Doctor farewell on a timey-wimey wibbly-wobbly adventure.
The adventure opens on a bay full of hibernating beings, the universe’s slowest countdown, and a batch of Kilroy Was Here graffiti. The crew in charge of the ship is trying to escape wherever they are through a time rift, but they fail. One of the crew, a feline creature with psychic capability, visualizes the TARDIS. From the start, the story establishes a sense of authenticity, from the graffiti to the joker crewmen who are mocking the proceedings. I knew guys like that in the Navy. Hell, I knew pretty much this entire crew in the submarine force.
The feline creature is being escorted below when he breaks free of his captors and runs. A crewmember named Lane sees him, but can’t find the words to make the report. On the TARDIS, Adric flips a coin and punches a random button, an act that drags the TARDIS into the same space as the running creature and the stranded spacecraft. A place called Nowhere.
Okay, seriously, why is this kid fiddling with the console?
The TARDIS doors open and the creature boards the craft, phasing between timelines with an energy of time winds that burns out the console and K9. The creature phases into the TARDIS’s timeline and identifies himself as Biroc (a shadow of his past and their future), warns them of the people that are following him, and then runs from the craft. The Doctor pursues, leaving Romana, Adric, and K9 behind to determine that this place where the coordinates are all zeroes is the intersection between E-Space and the “normal” N-Space universe.
The stranded crew detects the TARDIS on their scanners and investigate, chancing that the new arrival will have parts to fix their burned out warp drive. Since underway waits for no man, they venture into the void and try to break into the TARDIS. Romana decides to confront them, leaving Adric in the TARDIS and covertly signaling to him before leaving with the stranded crewmen. Adric soon follows with a debilitated K9, and eventually goes it alone after K9 experiences significant computational errors.
This new companion is not winning any popularity contests with me. Go back for the dog.
The Doctor catches up with Biroc at a dusty and cobwebbed medieval dining hall, but Biroc disappears through a mirror. The Doctor, on the other hand, has a close encounter with armored skeleton wielding an axe. During the cat and mouse, they are joined by a second warrior and the Doctor tricks them into destroying each other.
On the stranded starship, the crew determine that Romana is a time-sensitive, and they force her into the navigation chair. She is able to conjure the destination image so she is left in the chair despite the risks to her mental well-being. The crew sets out on foot for the castle on the monitor, which happens to be the same building where the Doctor is investigating the skeletons and their secrets. K9 arrives as the Doctor discovers that the skeletons – the Gundans – are machines built by human slaves of the cat creatures – the Tharils – to fight against their masters. The masters fled through a Gateway, and the Doctor uses K9 as an alternate power source to keep the Gundans awake long enough to find out that there are three of these Gateways. His investigation is halted when the crew arrives, prompting one of the Gundans to destroy the other and escape through the mirror. The crew chases the Doctor and K9, but the Time Lord escapes through the mirror. On the other side of the mirror, he finds Biroc, who explains that the Doctor could pass through because he was touched by the time winds. K9 can follow when the time is right, but when he does, he will be trapped on that there permanently.
That does not bode well. Regardless, the Doctor follows Biroc on a blue-screen journey to a strange mansion.
Back on the ship, two crewmen revive a hibernating Tharil with a massive electric shock. The dazed and confused Tharil navigates to the bridge and finds Romana trapped in her chair, and though she thinks it is there to harm her, the creature attempts to set her free. The Tharil hides as the crewmen arrive in pursuit.
K9 accompanies the crew back to their ship, but is tossed out. This provides Adric, who has been navigating Nowhere through flips of the coin, a chance to sneak aboard and stumble into Romana. Rather, she stumbles into his hiding spot. The hiding spot, a large piece of machinery, is wheeled outside the ship where the pair encounter K9. The robot dog is investigating the apparent shrinking of Nowhere and is screaming warnings, which draws crewmen who capture Romana. She is immediately rescued by the Tharil, who is named Lazlo, and he takes her to another timeline.
The crew take the machine, a giant laser, back to the mirror Gateway. While they set up the laser, they witness Romana and Lazlo pass through the mirror. The pair walk to the mansion and as they travel, Romana notes that Lazlo’s injuries are healed. When they arrive, they find the Doctor dining with Biroc and a group of Tharils, but the mood turns sour when a Tharil assaults one of the human slaves. The Tharils turn on the Doctor, and when the room is stormed by the Gundans to start the revolution, the Doctor and Romana are whisked back to the present and the stranded crew.
I feel bad for the actress who was the playing the slave. When the Tharil strikes her, he backhands her square in the left breast. That had to hurt.
The Doctor explains to the ship’s captain that only time-sensitives can transit the mirrors, and K9 arrives with news that the super-massive dwarf-star alloy that comprises the ship’s hull is driving Nowhere’s destruction. The Doctor deduces that the crew are slavers who trade in time-sensitives, and as the crew holds him at gunpoint and demands the secret to the Gateways, Biroc concedes that the Doctor was right and advises him to do nothing. He is saved by Adric, who arrives and uses the laser as a distraction.
He is one lucky kid. Please tell me he’s not the Most-Important-Companion-In-The-Universe.
In a panic, the slavers attempt to blast through the mirrors and fail. They then use the ship’s engines, an act that will inadvertently destroy everything. The captain orders the remaining Tharil slaves to be rapidly awakened, hoping that at least one of them will survive the process to navigate them home. The process does not work. Unwilling to leave while the slaves are still on the ship, the Time Lords try to sabotage the engines. They are soon discovered by the captain, and then rescued by Biroc and transported back to the TARDIS. Meanwhile, Lazlo frees the remaining Tharils and kills their keeper.
What was with Romana hitting the captain with a clipboard? Seriously.
Romana takes the opportunity to leave the Doctor and the TARDIS, taking K9 with her through the mirror to help the Tharils. She can offer time technology and the Tharils will help her travel throughout E-Space and free all of Biroc’s people. As the ship engages the engines, the TARDIS dematerializes, and the slave ship explodes. The TARDIS returns to normal space and leaves Romana and K9 to start their new quest.
This story was one of mind-bending science fiction with a social justice element. The best part was that, instead of playing the “slavery is bad” trope straight, this story twists it by having the original captors becoming oppressed and realizing that they were in the wrong. Biroc learned a lesson that helped shape the story going forward. I liked that aspect immensely.
The only major fault I can find is that the ending was really rushed. Doctor Who hasn’t been strong to this point in saying goodbye to companions, and this is no exception.
Of course, that leads me to thoughts on Romana. In both the Seventeenth Series Summary and Sixteenth Series Summary, I wrote about how she felt like another iteration of the Doctor. The Doctor Redux, if you will. I still come back to the thought that Romana has steadily gotten worse as the character becomes more experienced. Don’t get me wrong, Lalla Ward is a great actress, just like Mary Tamm, but the chemistry is wasted in the writing and the behind the scenes tension between the lead actors. Frankly, I think she overstayed her welcome.
I think that if the Key to Time arc would have had a stronger emphasis on developing Romana as a Time Lord, maybe even as a conduit to channel the Doctor’s nature to the rest of Gallifrey by having her take a position of power in the post-The Invasion of Time civilization. President? Maybe. But definitely something where she and Leela can knock the rest of the Time Lords down a peg or two.
If wishes were horses, right?
Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”
UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Keeper of Traken
The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.