Doctor Who: Survival
(3 episodes, s26e12-e14, 1989)
As the classic era sails into the sunset, Ace comes home.
We open on a modern suburban street as a man washing his car is terrorized by an animatronic cat. The Doctor and Ace arrive shortly afterward and wander the streets of Perivale. Ace wondered how her grandmother and friends were doing and the Doctor obliged by taking her home. Unfortunately, Perivale has changed a lot since Ace has been gone.
The travelers wander into an abandoned coffee bar and stumble into a self-defense class led by Sergeant Paterson. As Ace gets news of the village’s history, the Doctor investigates the cat (who seems to be an avatar for a familiar shadowy figure), and the pair continue on their walk. The Doctor ends up in a store where he shops for cat bait.
The entire story seems saturated in metaphors for survival of the fittest.
As the pair continue on, the Doctor puzzles over the cat. Meanwhile, the cat attacks another citizen, teleporting a runner somewhere else. The Doctor sets a trap for the cat as Ace moves to a local park where she encounters a cheetah creature on a black horse. After a brief chase, Ace is teleported away as well, and she lands on a strange planet with a blood red sky. She spots the car washing victim from earlier but is chased again by the cheetah. She’s rescued by the runner, who is mauled by the cheetah for his efforts, and then finds friends of hers who are stranded here. The Doctor and Paterson, after a humorous chase through Perivale, also end up on the planet in a camp of cheetah people. As the Doctor is herded toward a tent, he looks inside to find the Master.
What an unexpected pleasure. What a way to end the classic run.
The Master, somehow infected with feline traits, occupies the cheetah people with Paterson as he confers with the Doctor. The Doctor is unwilling to let Paterson become cat food, so he steals a horse and rescues the sergeant. The cheetah people hunt by teleporting from planet to planet and seeking carrion, so the Doctor is confused at their presence on Earth, so far out of their normal range. As they ride on, they stumble into a trap set by Ace, uniting them once again.
The group slowly make their way through an area swarming with cheetah people, but when an unexpected new arrival teleports in, all hell breaks loose. The cheetahs chase anyone who runs, and Ace saves the horse-riding cheetah after giving it a concussion with a rock. The Doctor and the Master are reunited, and the Master explains that the fighting is feeding the destruction of the planet. The Master asks for help to leave the planet since he is unable to find a way himself. He tells of the indigenous people to this planet who bred the kitlings (the black normal-size cats) and used them to see the universe, and of how those people were transformed by that power into the cheetah people. The Master himself is succumbing to the same fate.
The Doctor finds Ace tending to the injured cheetah, Karra, who turn is entranced by the Soviet cap badge she was given by Captain Sorin. The Doctor believes that the only way home is for one of them to transform into a cheetah and then teleport their prey home. As Ace’s friends rally around Paterson and warfare, one of them (Midge) succumbs to animal instinct and kills a cheetah, eventually being captured by the Master and transforming into one himself. Midge is able to teleport himself and the Master back to Earth, and Ace begins to transform as well.
Karra arrives and takes Ace on a hunt while, on Earth, the Master revels in his freedom. Ace’s humanity wins out, and the Doctor is able to sway Ace away from Karra. Ace uses her new power to teleport everyone back to Perivale – notably, when Ace teleports them to “home,” the end up next to the TARDIS – and Paterson shakes the whole adventure off as a hallucination.
The Doctor and Ace roam Perivale in search of the Master and Midge. Ace uses her power to divine that they are at the youth club, where the two cats have enthralled the self-defense class to attack and kill Paterson. They track the group to the hill where Ace and Midge used to hang out, and after a motorcycle-based joust, Midge is killed, the Doctor has vanished, and Karra arrives to guide Ace. Karra disperses the enthralled students, but the Master is too strong. The Master kills Karra, then runs past the Doctor (who has ended up in a refuse pile). Karra reverts to human form and says her farewells to Ace before dying in her arms.
The Doctor tracks the Master to the TARDIS. The Master gloats that he will use the power of the cheetah people to destroy the Doctor, and as he teleports them back to the planet, the Doctor nearly succumbs to the power himself before realizing that their conflict will destroy the planet. As the Master aims the killing blow, the Doctor screams one last plea (“If we fight like animals, we’ll die like animals!”) and is teleported back to Earth, leaving the Master on the dying planet alone.
The Doctor returns to Ace’s side as Karra’s body is taken back to the cheetah planet by one of her comrades. With their transformations reversed, the Doctor asks Ace where she would like to go. Surprisingly, she says, “Home.” Unsurprisingly, she means the TARDIS. Together, they walk into the trees arm in arm.
“There are worlds out there where the sky is burning, the seas sleep, and the rivers dream; people made of smoke and cities made of song. Somewhere, there’s danger; somewhere, there’s injustice; and somewhere else, the tea’s getting cold! Come on Ace, we’ve got work to do.”
On one hand, it was great to end the classic run with the Master (and the last appearance by Anthony Ainley), as well as putting a bow on Ace’s loose story arc. Ace is amazing, and the chemistry between her and the Doctor is fantastic.
One the other hand, this was a rather average story in comparison. It had good themes, but it wasn’t particularly engaging and (in a rarity) could have benefited from another episode to flesh things out a bit.
The ending was bittersweet. I want another season with the Seventh Doctor and Ace.
Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”
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