Timestamp #113: State of Decay

Doctor Who: State of Decay
(4 episodes, s18e13-e16, 1980)

timestamp-113-state-of-decay

 

“The Doctor is not weaponless. He has the greatest weapon of all: Knowledge.”

Beneath a protective castle with village dwellings huddled like ducklings round their mother, it is the time of selection, and Captain of the Guard Habris is instructed to choose well. The best in the village are pulled aside by the village elder Ivo, and Habris chooses from among them. He also chooses the elder’s son, leaving the man and his wife distraught. Out in the cosmos, the Doctor and Romana continue their search for another path out of E-Space. K9 detects the planet from the opening scenes, and away they go.

The castle looks like a rocket – Can they possibly telegraph the twist any more heavily? – which matches with K9’s assessment of high technology on the planet. The Time Lords go exploring while K9 guards the TARDIS and Adric skulks about. They arrive as Ivo and Habris argue, and his request to meet a scientist is met with fear and alarm. When the Time Lords leave, Ivo pulls out a hidden radio unit and spreads the word to someone named Kalmar.

Ivo reports back to the king, queen, and court adviser – the Three Who Rule, with makeup consideration provided by The Rocky Horror Picture Show – with news of the Doctor and Romana. The adviser, Aukon, sends his bat servants to find them. In the interim, the Time Lords are surrounded by what look like Dungeons & Dragons druids who lead the travelers to Kalmar and a cave full of technology. Unfortunately, scientific knowledge is forbidden on the planet, and the penalty for knowledge is death. Everyone works in the fields as soon as they are able.

The Doctor fixes the gear in the cave and it displays information about the Earth cargo vessel Hydrax, its mission, and its crew. The three officers – Captain Miles Sharkey, Navigator Lauren MacMillan, and Science Officer Anthony O’Connor – bear a striking resemblance to the Three Who Rule. The Doctor decides to meet them, and Kalmar sets them free. As they make their way through the forest, Aukon’s bats attack!

Ah, the time honored tradition of swinging rubber bats on a fishing pole around your actors.

As the bats depart, Habris arrives and ushers the Time Lords to the court of the Three Who Rule. The king and queen entertain the Time Lords – the dialogue is clumsy: “We know everything here,” but, seconds later, they admit that they don’t know why the Time Lords are there – and provide a venue for a discussion on class politics. The Doctor tests a theory by toasting Romana, breaking her glass and cutting her thumb. Strangely, the king and queen are entranced by the blood. The discussion continues as Romana and the Doctor muse of the reverse evolution of the planet’s society: A literal state of decay.

*ding* There’s the title.

After the Doctor mentions the Hydrax, Habris arrives to ferry the king and queen to the Time of Arising. They leave the Time Lords alone in the throne room, and our heroes put the pieces together. Lo and behold, the castle is the missing ship. They explore the ship and track a strange thumping noise to a cargo bay. Inside, they discover a collection of exsanguinated corpses. Their blood is being stored in the fuel tanks. Proceeding deeper, they trace the fuel lines into the cave network beneath the castle.

At this point, it is time to catch up on the Adventures of Adric.

Adric attempts to leave the TARDIS but is stopped by K9. After a minor twist of logic, he is allowed to leave on his own. Adric makes his way to the village and is caught trying to steal food. The elder and his wife take him in for the night as a surrogate for their son. Adric passes the time by working for his benefactors, and as they explain their lives on the planet, he recommends insurrection. In a surprise move, Habris arrives for another bout of selection, this time by Aukon who selects Adric because the boy is an alien. Aukon takes Adric to the queen and king in the caves beneath the castle. Aukon wants to use Adric for his plan, and convinces his co-conspirators to follow along. Adric, strangely, is silent for this whole affair.

Back to our normally scheduled plot.

The Time Lords explore the caves, musing on legends of vampires throughout time and space. It all comes together when they find Aukon in the Resting Place, his domain as a vampire. Aukon tries to convince the Doctor to join him, offering the knowledge of the Great One – “he who brought us here” – on how to leave E-Space, but the Doctor is not swayed. Aukon reveals that Adric will be the first of the chosen ones, leaving the Time Lords distraught that he is here and not on his home planet. Aukon unleashes all of psychic power on the Doctor, but Romana throws a stalagmite at him, the vampire releases his grip. Discovering that they are Time Lords, Aukon declares them the enemy, and they are surrounded by the Three Who Rule. The Time Lords are selected as a sacrifice and taken to a cell.

The Doctor reminisces on the teachings of his old hermit mentor, including a tale of a war between Gallifreyans in the Age of Rassilon and a race of vampires who simply vanished. A standing order remains: If the Vampire King is found, he must be destroyed.

I imagine that the entire “you’re wonderful” moment in the jail cell must have been a bit awkward given the real-life conflict between the two leads.

A member of Kalmar’s rebellion, Tarak, has gained access to the castle and is searching for the Doctor. He frees them, but Romana refuses to leave until she finds Adric. They decide to split up: The Doctor heads for the TARDIS to read up on the Vampire King while Romana searches the inner sanctum. Meanwhile, Ivo approaches Kalmar for help avenging his son’s death, but the rebel is unsure.

The Doctor seems to know Count Dracula. Maybe he’s having flashbacks to the Dracula-bot in The Chase?

Romana finds Adric near the sleeping king and queen, and as she shakes him free of his trance, the royals awaken and kill Tarak. With the guard’s blood now stale and flat (and a seeming inability of Romana and Adric to run away), they ensnare our heroes for a more lively feast. Aukon blocks their joy by taking them as sacrifices for the Time of Arising. He needs their energy to leave E-Space and pillage the universe.

The Doctor moves the TARDIS to Kalmar’s cave and appeals for the insurgent’s help. Kalmar is unswayed until he sees the image of the King Vampire, Aukon’s great Chosen One. After that, he’s all in. The group plans their assault, and the Doctor puts K9 (and his nose laser) in charge of the army. They storm the castle: K9’s army keeps the guards at bay, Ivo confronts Habris for the death of his son, and the Doctor ascends the rocket and launches a scout ship. Meanwhile, Romana is enthralled and prepared for sacrifice, including bats swooping in to bite her. Adric tries to fight for her, but he is stopped and removed from the altar.

The Doctor’s scout ship lifts off, angling for the stars, but as the Vampire King arises from the depths, the rocket changes course and plunges into the creature’s heart and killing it. The Three Who Rule turn on the Doctor, but without the King to sustain them, they rapidly age and crumble to dust. The Doctor ties up loose ends by setting up the Hydrax’s computers for Kalmar’s use while Ivo apologizes to K9 for doubting the robotic dog. The Time Lords depart, continuing their search for a way out of E-Space and promising to take Adric home.

Two additional highlights: First, I loved the Three Wise Monkeys (“see no evil, hear no evil, say no evil”) salute by the villagers. It was a perfect encapsulation of their attitudes toward the mysteries surrounding their very existence. Second, K9 on the throne made me laugh, but I did wonder how he got up there.

The big negative here is Adric. The character is wasted in this story. I mean, in the Romana era of the franchise, K9 has usually taken the short straw with minimal screen time, but the newest companion is nothing but a narrative prop in this tale.

That said, State of Decay landed with a high three rating. I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt.

 

Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Warriors’ Gate

 

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.

 

 

 

Timestamp #112: Full Circle

Doctor Who: Full Circle
(4 episodes, s18e09-e12, 1980)

Doctor Who

 

A funny thing happened on the way to Gallifrey.

The first chapter in the E-Space Trilogy kicks off with our traveling Time Lords tying up loose ends. They drop off “Clark Kent” and set course for Gallifrey, but Romana doesn’t want to go. She’s addicted to the adventure, despite only being tasked with helping resolve the Key to Time crisis. Luckily for them, the TARDIS passes through an indescribable phenomenon and ends up in E-Space, an alternate universe.

There is a village nearby where humanoids are living an agrarian lifestyle, however the TARDIS scanners show that the Time Lords should be on Gallifrey. As the Time Lords troubleshoot the TARDIS, a senior villager known as a Decider investigates strange eggs in the river fruits. Among the villagers are a group of rebels called the Outlers who steal from the village to survive outside the community. One of the Elites in the village, a boy named Adric, is petitioning for membership in the rebel group to join his brother Varsh. To prove his worth, he must steal some river fruit for the Outlers. During his attempt a strange phenomenon called Mistfall begins, and the First Decider (and keeper of the System Files) orders the villagers into the Starliner, a derelict starship bordering the community. Despite not having the entire village aboard, the Deciders order the ship sealed to protect those inside.

Adric takes the opportunity to complete his task, but he is chased by the First Decider. During the pursuit, the Decider falls and is pulled into the river. Adric tries to save him and fails, but is left with a message: “Tell Dexeter we’ve come full circle.” Hey, it’s the title!

Adric runs through the forest and stumbles into the TARDIS. The Time Lords tend to the boy, who recovers unbelievably fast, and the Doctor investigates the marshes with K9. A group of Swamp Thing creatures emerge from the murky waters and stretch their fins, prompting the Doctor and K9 to retreat. After watching them from seclusion, the Doctor tasks K9 with following them while he attempts to make contact. Romana gives Adric a homing beacon, and he returns to the Outlers only to lead them to the TARDIS. The rebels hold Romana hostage and take over the ship. Meanwhile, Login, the father of Keara (the only girl in the Outler group) becomes a new Decider. Thus another conflict is born.

The Doctor returns to find the TARDIS missing. It has been taken by the Marshmen to a nearby cave, an act that throws everyone off balance inside and defuses the hostage situation. When K9 tracks the TARDIS to the cave, he is immediately beheaded by the Marshmen. With help from the Outlers, Adric and Ramona deduce that the TARDIS is being set up as a battering ram against the starship.

With nowhere else to go, the Doctor heads for the Starliner and gains access with his sonic screwdriver. Of course, the absent-minded Time Lord leaves the hatch open, and an inquisitive Marshman child follows him into the ship. They are both eventually captured, and the Deciders experiment on the child much to the Doctor’s displeasure.

When the Marshmen leave the cave, Romana’s group leaves the TARDIS to investigate but are attacked by a cluster of spiders. Adric accidentally locks Romana out and dematerializes the TARDIS, and the Time Lady is bitten. The TARDIS materializes on the Starliner in front of the Doctor, and he and Adric return to the cave to collect K9 (sans head), a dead spider, and an enthralled Romana. By the time he returns to the ship, the Deciders have pardoned the rebel children and Dexeter has started a lobotomy on the Marshman child. As Dexeter cuts into the child, Romana screams from her room on the TARDIS and, telepathically, the child reacts by killing the scientist and (eventually) itself.

A now incensed Doctor turns on the Deciders and reveals their duplicity: The Starliner has been ready to leave the planet for centuries but the farce of repairing it for the great journey has continued because no one knows how to pilot it. Chagrined, the Deciders provide the Doctor tools to analyze the spiders, but his investigation is interrupted when the enthralled Romana leaves the TARDIS and opens the emergency exits, releasing the Marshmen upon the starship.

While the Doctor and Adric search for Romana, they put the pieces together. The spider and the Marshman child share DNA, the invading Marshmen are more inquisitive than violent, and Adric’s wounds healed quickly. The Doctor finds Romana (and K9’s head) and returns to the lab to continue his research. After the Marshmen invade the ship’s control room and mortally wound the new First Decider, he adds another piece of the puzzle: The villagers have never been anywhere but the planet.

Oh, boy.

The Marshmen invade the lab, but the Doctor’s team is able to drive them back with pure oxygen. Ramona arrives and Adric stuns her with a blast of oxygen, providing the Doctor a chance to administer a serum and reverse the infection. After she recovers, the secret is finally revealed: The villagers are descended from the Marshmen, who in turn descended from the spiders. The Marshmen killed the original crew 40,000 generations ago and evolved to take their place. They have indeed come full circle.

While driving the Marshmen away and sealing bulkheads to isolate them, Varsh is killed, leaving Adric with no surviving family. Meanwhile, the Doctor and the remaining Deciders crank up the oxygen levels and drive the Marshmen off the ship. They convince the Doctor to help them learn to fly, and he sets them on the right course before leaving on the TARDIS with a new image translator courtesy of Adric to continue their voyage.

Little do they know that their benefactor has also stowed away on the TARDIS.

The location shoots added some depth to this story, and complemented the improved story and pacing. That isn’t to say that the latter elements were perfect, since the plot seemed rather thin in the first half because of all the setup. Luckily it picked up a bit in the second. The callbacks to Leela and Andred, as well as Romana’s origins on the show.

Unrelated to the final score, Full Circle – Part One is effectively my birthday episode since it is the closest to my date of birth.

 

 

Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: State of Decay

 

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.