Timestamp #154: Silver Nemesis

Doctor Who: Silver Nemesis
(3 episodes, s25e08-e10, 1988)

 

We open in South America, 22 November 1988, on a scene of Nazis trying to kill parrots with arrows. A similar scene plays out in 1638 Windsor, England – though without the Nazis, naturally – as a woman tries to kill a pigeon with a bow and arrow. She retreats to a dark room where a mathematician is working on a calculation while the woman prepares poison-tipped arrows. Back in 1988, the Nazi addresses a room of soldiers, heralding the birth of the Fourth Reich before retrieving a silver bow and leaving on a plane.

In Windsor, the mathematician informs the woman – Lady Peinforte – that according to the calculation, the Nemesis comet will return to Earth and land in the spot where it originated on 23 November 1988.

It seems that the Nazis and Lady Peinforte are on a collision course.

The Doctor and Ace are relaxing to the smooth sounds of Courtney Pine when the Doctor’s alarm goes off, but he can’t remember why. The performance ends, Ace gets an autograph, and the pair is ambushed by snipers.  The travelers escape by diving into the river. Later on, they dry out on the riverbank while the Doctor ponders the alarm, knowing that it means a planet somewhere is about to be destroyed. Moments later, the Doctor finds out that the planet in question is Earth. He remembers that he set the alarm in 1638, and they travel in the TARDIS to Windsor Castle’s basement in search of the silver bow.

Lady Peinforte and her assistant use magic fueled by the mathematician’s blood to travel through time, landing in the present day as the Nemesis crash lands on Earth. The Nazis and Lady Peinforte converge on the crash site, but the Nazis decide to bide their time until the site cools down. At the site, Lady Peinforte watches as the police radios stop working and a mysterious gas chokes the officers.

In the castle’s basement, the Doctor and Ace find an empty case and a prophecy: The bow originally disappeared in 1788, and unless it is kept in its case, the rest of the statue to which it belongs will return and destroy the world. The Doctor and Ace travel to 1638 and Lady Peinforte’s cottage and start to unravel her mystery. The Lady originally sculpted the statue, depicting herself, out of a silver metal that fell to Earth near her home. The travel forward again to Windsor Castle and join a tour group before sneaking away into the royal apartments and encountering Queen Elizabeth II. They are apprehended and escape, finding a painting of Ace that has happened yet for them, and eventually end up in the TARDIS.

The Nazis, Lady Peinforte, and the travelers all converge on the crash site. They are joined by a mysterious spacecraft that reveals a group of Cybermen. The Cybermen recognize the Doctor as the three aggressor parties open fire on each other and our heroes take refuge in the crash site. The Doctor and Ace steal the silver bow and escape, leaving the silver arrow in Lady Peinforte’s hands and the Nemesis statue unguarded.

The Doctor and Ace travel back to 1638 where the mathematician’s corpse has disappeared and the chess pieces have moved. The Doctor burns a note and they leave. As they return to present day, he explains to Ace that the validium metal was created on ancient Gallifrey by Omega and Rassilon as a form of ultimate defense. Some of it escaped from Gallifrey and landed on Earth, which the Doctor returned to space. They use the bow to track the other pieces.

They find the Cybermen and jam their transmissions with Ace’s jazz tape. They later find a pair of muggers who were defeated and strung up by Lady Peinforte. The Lady herself takes her assistant Richard to his own grave, and then into the castle where the Cybermen hold the statue, which is apparently her own grave. The Cybermen engage the Lady and Richard at the tomb as the Doctor and Ace destroy the Cybermen ship. The Nazis find the Cybermen and strike a deal, but they don’t understand that the Cybermen will kill them anyway.

The Doctor and Ace discuss the cyclical nature of the Nemesis comet and how each time it comes around, bad things happen in Earth’s history: In 1913, the First World War was about the erupt; in 1938, Hitler annexed Austria; and in 1963, President Kennedy was assassinated. The double their efforts to scan for a Cybermen fleet in space and they find it.

The Nazis arrive at the tomb and drive Lady Peinforte away through Richard’s cowardice, leaving the Nazis with the arrow and statue. The Nazis try to doublecross the Cybermen, but one of the Nazis betrays his leader (De Flores) and they are captured for processing. Meanwhile, the Doctor and Ace arrive at the tomb as the tape ends, presenting the bow to the Nemesis statue as the Cybermen re-establish contact with their fleet. The Doctor and Ace run with the bow, forcing the statue to follow them.

They travel back to 1638 and the Doctor makes another move on the chess board. Ace asks who originally brought the metal to Earth and what is really going on, but the Doctor remains silent as they leave for the hangar where the comet is stored. The Nemesis statue arrives and the Doctor gives it the bow. Soon enough, the Cybermen arrive and Ace battles them with a slingshot and gold coins from 1638.

The Nazis break free from their processing, revealing it to be a ruse the entire time. Meanwhile, Lady Peinforte and Richard hitch a ride with an American woman to Windsor. The woman descends from the 17th century Remington family, whom Peinforte refers to as thieves and swindlers. In fact, Dorothea Remington was killed by poison.

As Ace singlehandedly decimates the Cyberman army, the Doctor loads the statue back into the comet and sets the rocket’s course to the cyber fleet. At one point, Ace is trapped by three Cybermen and only one shot left, but she ends up forcing them to shoot each other. The Doctor talks with the statue, removing the bow and avoiding its questions about mission and purpose. The Doctor and Ace defeat the remaining Cybermen, but De Flores arrives and takes the bow. He is upset that the Nemesis will not speak to him, but he meets his end as the Cyber Leader guns him down.

Lady Peinforte arrives and faces off with the Doctor and the Cyber Leader, and Peinforte asks Ace a question: “Doctor who?” Who is the Doctor and where does he come from. The Doctor relents and passes the bow to the Cyber Leader, defusing Lady Peinforte’s attempts to reveal the Doctor’s secrets with the Cybermen’s apathy regarding them. All the Cybermen want is to transform Earth into Mondas. The bow ends up in the comet with the statue and the Doctor launches it, but not before Lady Peinforte hurls herself into the capsule with the Nemesis.

The comet races toward the fleet and destroys it, confounding the Cyber Leader and leaving an opening for Richard to stab the remaining Cyberman with the last arrow. Ace and the Doctor return Richard to 1638 where Ace figures out the Doctor’s gambit: He originally placed the statue into orbit to lure out the Cybermen and destroy them. As they listen to an impromptu concert, Ace asks the Doctor about his past, but the Doctor puts a finger to his lips and listens to the music instead.

 

Overall, this was a fun 25th anniversary adventure with a lot of moving parts. I’m glad they made the callback to Remembrance of the Daleks to keep continuity rolling. I am intrigued by this “Cartmel Masterplan” idea that mystifies and deepens the Doctor, but I’m cautious and hoping that it doesn’t make the Doctor menacing. Not knowing everything about the Doctor is good, but making him have a dark agenda (potentially one of wiping out his enemies rather than simply defeating them) won’t work for me.

 

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

 

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Greatest Show in the Galaxy

 

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.

 

 

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Timestamp Special #5: Real Time

Doctor Who: Real Time
(6 episodes, 2002)

It seems appropriate to visit the one visual Big Finish Sixth Doctor tale after saying farewell to Colin Baker’s live-action television portrayal.

After a brief reprise of the Third Doctor‘s opening credits, we are reintroduced to the Cybermen as they search the rooms surrounding a large ball called the Chronosphere. Two humans emerge after the patrols pass and send a “doctor” (who was connected inside the sphere) to the past, potentially destroying their timeline.

On a starship called the Cassius, an officer named Kruger talks to Professor Osborne on the state of the planet below. Two teams have disappeared in two days, but their disappearance has stymied the search teams. During the debrief, the professor and his team are engulfed by a wave of temporal energy and disappear, exactly on schedule with the last two events. They also witness a Cyberman as they vanish.

On the planet, the TARDIS overlooks a camp and pyramid-shaped temple. Evelyn Smythe and a third survey team are digging into the mystery with the help of the Doctor (as requested by the authority called Central) because of the Cyberman sighting. Evelyn and Doctor Reece Goddard discuss the Doctor before settling in for a chat about the history of Cybermen.

Inside the temple, the survey team and the Doctor are studying the hieroglyphs printed on the walls of a large chamber. This version of the Sixth Doctor is more conservatively dressed and far less pompous, and he helps the team unlock a few secrets of the building’s architecture. Together, they decide to open a sealed door and examine the wall beyond. The team leader, Nicola Savage, is adamant and eager to find her missing colleagues, but the Doctor and the rest of the team are hesitant and cautious. As they argue, the door opens on its own accord and exposes an extra-dimensional space beyond. The Doctor warns the team not to mess with the membrane covering the entrance, but the scientists don’t listen and they Savage is pulled through. After the lights go out, half-converted Cybermen (including Savage) emerge and threaten to assimilate the rest of the team.

Evelyn and the administrative team in the camp muse about the subcutaneous bio-trackers that keep tabs on everyone on the survey team – except Evelyn, the Doctor, and the allergic Goddard – and how Savage’s signal has blipped off then on. Their discussion and debate are interrupted by the Doctor and the partial Cybermen. The Cybermen cannot recognize the Doctor in his sixth form until Evelyn inadvertently reveals him, and they demand that he follow them into the portal to meet the Cyber Controller and turn over the TARDIS. The portal itself leads to the Chronosphere chamber from the story’s opening.

The Doctor puzzles over Cyber Savage’s ultimatum: She plans to kill the survey team if the Doctor doesn’t comply, but the Doctor notes that the threat is impotent since he sees a handful of lives as insignificant against the survival of the universe. He also deduces that the Cyber Controller didn’t build the temple, but instead is using it after the previous occupants have long since gone.

Cyber Savage reveals a critical key to the audience: The Cyber Controller is interested in an heir to its power, and the Doctor (along with his knowledge of time travel) is the perfect candidate. That’s an interesting idea. Anyway, Administrator Isherwood offers to betray the Doctor by making a duplicate key, and the Cybermen agree with the plan. The Doctor doesn’t think it will work, and he confirms it by watching the Cybermen struggle with basic logic as they try to carry the TARDIS into the temple. They are usually more intuitive than that.

After consulting with the Cyber Controller, Cyber Savage provides the Doctor with the history of the situation and a demand to provide sanctuary from the impending temporal wave inside the TARDIS. The Doctor also figures out the plan to assimilate him and travel back to the origins of the temple. The Doctor confronts Isherwood over his plans for the TARDIS, then develops a plan to prevent the Cyber Controller from communicating with Cyber Savage. Evelyn and Goddard enter the ruins with scientist Carey, but there are two problems: First, Carey has an implant so he can be tracked; Second, Evelyn has potential knowledge of TARDIS operation. The Doctor has no choice but to go after them, but the Cybermen catch them first and take them to the Cyber Controller. Carey is assimilated in a most gruesome fashion, and Evelyn is faced with a future as the new Controller.

Cyber Savage stands in the Doctor’s way as he tries to pass through the portal, prompting the Doctor to debate her with empathy. Cyber Savage responds with force and logic, driving the Doctor to relent. Cyber Savage uses this to her advantage later by tricking the Doctor by manipulating his empathy for her prior humanity.

Meanwhile, Goddard confronts Isherwood and his plan to take time travel for his own uses. On the other side of the portal, Evelyn discusses empathy with the Cyber Controller and makes some headway through logic and reason.

The Doctor figures out Cyber Savage’s deception before she succeeds in securing the TARDIS, and the Time Lord uses the distraction to confront Goddard. The Cybermen have ignored him so far, and the Doctor wants to know why. Goddard is a Cyberman from the future (sort of), and his technology is based on Time Lord knowledge, which the Doctor will inevitably yield.

Nice twist!

In 1927, the Cybermen unleashed a virus on Earth that transformed humans into cybernetic hybrids. Goddard was one of the few who survived and joined a rebellion to reclaim the planet, and his research has brought him to this point. The ability to travel in time has allowed the Cybermen to completely conquer the universe and Goddard (who was the doctor in the time sphere) us trying to stop the origins of the Cyber-verse using a counter-virus.

The downside: This creates a time paradox.

The Doctor tries to stop Goddard, but the hybrid knocks him out. The scientists see this happen, but Cyber Savage cannot see Goddard. Unable to explain the event, Cyber Savage kills Renchard while torturing him for the truth and then takes Isherwood to the portal. Goddard and the Doctor follow, but the Doctor is ambushed by a Cyberman. Goddard kills it with the counter-virus and they proceed, but the transition through the portal destroys most of the counter-virus. Once through the portal, the Doctor makes a few changes to the hieroglyphs.

I love the point/counterpoint of the clashing moralities between the Doctor and Goddard.

As Evelyn’s assimilation begins, the Cyber Controller demonstrates to Ishwerwood how the portal negatively affects the organics under the cyber armor. The Controller finds the Doctor and begins to reason out the existence of Goddard, and a slip of the tongue from Isherwood leads to a change in the Cyberman algorithms, making the young scientist is visible to the enemy. The Cyber Controller finds the virus and questions the Doctor’s morality around it, calling back to Article Seven of the Time Lord Constitution and the laws against genocide.

Goddard assures the Cybermen that he will use the counter-virus even if the Doctor will not, and the Doctor negotiates with the Cyber Controller over the TARDIS as Cyber Savage analyzes the counter-virus. Cyber Savage finds that the counter-virus will only help them and sends Isherwood and Goddard for assimilation.

In the assimilation chamber, Evelyn’s transformation stops as the overseeing Cyberman has a human epiphany of emotions. After the Cyberman leaves, the Cyber Controller notes the irregularity and reactivates the chamber. The Cyberman engages Cyber Savage, and the Doctor and Goddard use the distraction to gain the upper hand. Goddard kills Cyber Savage, then delivers a coup de grâce to Isherwood as the former administrator shares a secret with him.

The Doctor finds Evelyn and frees her from the conversion chamber, but Goddard arrives and reveals the secret: Evelyn is carrying the original virus, engineered from the counter-virus and completing the paradox that the Doctor warned of. Goddard defeats the Cyber Controller and opens the faceplate, revealing Evelyn’s face beneath as the being dies and the temporal wave washes over them both.

The Doctor and Evelyn reach the TARDIS, the former unaware of the terrible burden the latter carries. Evelyn is weary and a deeply respectful Doctor takes care of her as he sets course for a cliffhanger: The TARDIS hurtles toward Charles Lindbergh‘s historic flight in 1927 and the birth of the Cyber-verse.

This was a decent story with some great twists, and it operated almost like the reconstructions of the First and Second Doctor‘s eras. The downsides are numerous, including far too many close-ups on random bits, such as the cat brooch (which emotes as the Doctor does) and Cyber Savage’s cyber-crotch. It was also far gorier than previous stories and maintained the Fifth and Sixth Doctor era tradition of large body counts.

That said, the big positive is a better representation of the Sixth Doctor himself. This Doctor shucked the cynicism and abusive attitude while maintaining his standoffishness. He has really grown up, and I would have liked to see this Doctor for a season on the actual show.

Next up, our journeys with the Sixth Doctor come to a close with another non-canon tale.

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

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: A Fix with Sontarans

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 #138: Attack of the Cybermen

Doctor Who: Attack of the Cybermen
(2 episodes, s22e01-e02, 1985)

 

After some time off, the Doctor has gotten better.

The adventure begins with two unfortunate sewer workers who find a shiny new brick wall where one should not be. One of them investigates, but the other is attacked by an unknown force.

On the TARDIS, the Doctor is working on the capsule’s circuitry, specifically the chameleon circuit. Peri is concerned that he is over-exerting himself after his recent trauma, but the Doctor disregards her. When she suggests some relaxation he agrees and sets course, but something draws the TARDIS away.

On Earth, stranded mercenary Lytton is planning a heist with some local criminals. One of the cohort, a man named Russell, relays the plan to an outside party under the guise of purchasing explosives. Later on, Lytton’s gang enters the sewers, intending to access the diamond vault from below. As they set up, two policemen patrol nearby.

The production values have improved this season.

The TARDIS stabilizes in the orbit of Halley’s Comet, circa 1985. Peri wants to land, relating the comet’s appearance to certain disaster, but the Doctor disagrees. A sudden distress signal focuses both of them on Earth, the source of the call, and in franchise fashion they decide to investigate. They touch down at 76 Totter’s Lane, and the newly repaired chameleon circuit (eventually) kicks in, disguising the TARDIS as an ornate cabinet.

The Doctor and Peri track the source of the signal and Peri expresses her concerns for the Doctor’s well-being. She’s worried that his mind is not quite right, specifically because he keeps confusing her for past companions like Tegan, Zoe, Susan, Jamie, and even the Terrible Zodin (who?). He reluctantly admits that she may have a point. As they wander the streets of London and return to I.M. Foreman’s scrapyard, two policemen shadow them. The policemen are unimpressed when the TARDIS dematerializes.

In the sewers, Russell hears someone following them, and Lytton orders Payne to deal with the intruders. Instead, the intruders deal with him. Meanwhile, using the TARDIS computers, the Doctor and Peri determine that the signal is being bounced around multiple relays, and the Doctor assumes that someone must be watching the transmitter and waiting for help to arrive. They materialize at the garage where Lytton’s gang entered the sewers, and the Doctor is dismayed that the TARDIS has taken the form of a pipe organ. They are confronted by armed policemen – although they’re likely not real police officers – but the pair dispatches them with ease and enters the sewers.

This Doctor is much more violent, echoing the Third Doctor.

The Doctor and Peri find Payne’s body as they explore. Meanwhile, the thieves encounter the newly built wall and a black Cyberman. Russell runs as the wall opens and reveals many more Cybermen, to whom Lytton readily surrenders. He explains to the Cyber Leader that he tracked the signals to their hidden ship behind the moon, and he offers his accomplice Griffiths as fodder to be assimilated as Cybermen.

Moving to the planet Telos, the Cybermen have slave gangs digging in a quarry. They attempt to escape, but only two make it out alive. Unfortunately, they need three people to fly their escape craft. They head for the Cyber Control complex, using a Cyberman head as a disguise.

Russell finds the Doctor and Peri, revealing himself as an undercover policeman. The Doctor disarms Russell, and at gunpoint, the officer reveals that he was pursuing Lytton. Together, they all head back to the TARDIS. The Cybermen learn of their presence and send a team to find them. The Doctor disables the black Cyberman with a sonic lance, prompting the Cyber Leader to evacuate with Lytton and Griffiths.

When the travelers return to the TARDIS, they find it overrun by Cybermen. I’m guessing that keys and locks are beyond the Doctor now, and he pays for that laziness as the Cybermen kill Russell and take aim on Peri. The Doctor agrees to cooperate to save her, coercing the Cybermen into the agreement by setting a self-destruct sequence, which drives the Cybermen to reveal the Cyber Controller’s survival on Telos. The Doctor sets a course for Telos before being confined with Peri, Griffiths, and Lytton. Lytton begins the info-dump and explains that the Cybermen found a timeship that landed on Telos and now have plans for both it and the TARDIS.

As the one not well versed in all things Doctor Who, Griffiths demands an explanation. Lytton and the Doctor explain that Telos is the adopted home planet of the Cybermen, and that it only came into their possession after they destroyed the native Cryons to take over their advanced refrigeration technology to store their troops after Mondas was destroyed.

After the Doctor sabotages the navigational controls, the TARDIS lands in the catacombs instead of Cyber Control and assumes the shape of a gateway. The Cybermen are attacked by a rogue cyber soldier, one of many who have been driven insane by faulty refrigeration tombs. While their captors are distracted, Peri, Griffiths, and Lytton run. Peri, now in a new (warmer) costume, is rescued by Cryon freedom fighters. Another group finds Lytton and Griffiths and detail how Lytton has been working for them to stop the Cybermen from destroying Telos. Apparently, all he needs to do is steal the original time vessel.

The Doctor is confined to a cold storage room where he meets Flast, a Cryon prisoner. Flast reveals that the Cryons were not completely destroyed and that the Cybermen plan to save Mondas (and rewrite time) by destroying Earth with Halley’s Comet. Peri gets pretty much the same briefing from her new friends. Peri is distraught, but the Doctor is angry, partially because the Cybermen are breaking the laws of time, and partially because the Time Lords were likely responsible for diverting the TARDIS to this time and place to stop them, making him their errand boy once again.

The Cryons costumes are really quite strange, but their swooping fantasy movements are very elegant.

Lytton and Griffiths are intercepted by the two prisoners, who have both been partially assimilated, and the four men join forces in order to hijack the time vessel. They enter a tunnel to Cyber Control, but Lytton is captured en route to the ship. Elsewhere, Flast shows the Doctor a mineral that is highly volatile above freezing temperatures. The Doctor uses it to escape the room and kill the guard, then leaves his sonic lance with Flast (who cannot survive outside the refrigerated room) after she volunteers to detonate the rest of the minerals and destroy Cyber Control. After she sets the bomb, the Cybermen note the Doctor’s absence and kill Flast by exposing her to warm temperatures, effectively boiling her alive.

That was one of the most unique (and sad) deaths on this show in a while.

While the Cybermen torture Lytton to reveal his plan, Peri and the Doctor reunite and make their way to the TARDIS. The Doctor lures the Cybermen inside the time capsule with a dead Cyberman’s distress signal. The new leader of the Cryons, Rost, pressures the Doctor to leave before the bomb explodes, but Peri reminds him that Lytton’s team is still on Telos.

The Doctor moves the TARDIS to the conversion center – the TARDIS takes its normal form this time – where they find a partially assimilated Lytton. Lytton and the Doctor take out the Cyber Controller, but Lytton dies heroically in the battle. The Doctor reflects on his misjudgment of the man as he and Peri leave in the TARDIS and Cyber Control is destroyed.

I enjoyed watching the effort to tie up some of the loose ends in Cyberman mythology, including the return of both Telos and Mondas from the black and white days of the franchise. I also liked the moments of compassion from the Doctor, which were a good shift from the arrogant and pompous attitudes displayed in The Twin Dilemma. It was also a nice twist to use an established villain and turn him into an anti-hero.

The big downside across these two 45-minute episodes was the dump truck of exposition used to drive the plot, but it wasn’t enough to drag it down too much.

 

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

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Vengeance on Varos

 

 

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 #122: Earthshock

Doctor Who: Earthshock
(4 episodes, s19e19-e22, 1982)

 

It wasn’t seeing him blown to bits. It was the silence at the end.

On Earth, a squad of soldiers led by Lieutenant Scott climb a hillside in a search for a missing science team. Professor Kyle, the lone survivor, accompanies them. The team descends into a cave system to continue the search. During the search, they are stalked by two shadowy figures and communications jamming.

In the TARDIS, the Doctor is reading Black Orchid (which has to be more exciting than the actual episode) and consoles a depressed Adric. The boy feels that he is not a valuable member of the team, and he asks to return to his home in E-Space. One might say that some of Adric’s woes are self-induced, but the Doctor avoids that minor detail by proclaiming that he cannot calculate the coordinates. After a heated exchange, Adric begins to make the calculations himself. The Doctor pilots the TARDIS to the cave system so he can take a break from Adric, who in turn has a few choice insults for the Time Lord.

The Doctor, Nyssa, and Tegan examine the fossils in the cave walls and wax philosophically about the fate of the dinosaurs. Above ground, the squad’s scanner technician guides the search team to the Doctor’s position. Below ground, the shadowy figures pick off members of the team one by one, reducing them to steaming piles of goo. The figures do not appear on the scanner, probably because they aren’t alive.

When the soldiers intercept the Doctor, Nyssa, and Tegan, Lieutenant Scott accuses the Doctor of killing the squad members. After they uncover a metal hatch, the figures attack, and the Doctor identifies them as androids. The professor recognizes them as the beings that killed the science team. One of the androids identifies the Doctor, and its leader, a Cyberman, orders it to destroy everyone.

We haven’t seen the Cybermen since the Fourth Doctor and Sarah Jane faced them. This is a way different Cyberman than we’ve seen before. They’re a bit bulkier, have actual moving mouths, and are more verbose, emotional, and evolved.

The Doctor deduces that the androids are guarding the hatch, and working with Adric (who has left the TARDIS to look for the other travelers), the soldiers destroy the androids. The Doctor opens the hatch to reveal a bomb, which he disarms after taking everyone to the TARDIS and jamming the countdown signal. Through the remains of the androids, the Cybermen spot the TARDIS and understand who they are facing through a tour of previous encounters.

The Doctor pilots the TARDIS to the source of the bomb’s arming transmission, taking the soldiers because the ask to finish the job. En route, Adric and the Doctor make amends, and the boy decides to remain with his friends. The TARDIS arrives on a freighter in space, and the Doctor and Adric take a tour. The freighter is being inspected and replenished, and even though they are due for a bonus after they finish delivery, the crew’s morale is low since several of their number have gone missing.

The Doctor deliberately exposes himself to the security cameras, and the Cyber-Leader reveals to the audience that he has agents on the ship. All combined, the travelers are discovered and Captain Briggs sounds the alarm. A crewman named Ringway and two security guards pursue the intruders, but the guards are killed. Their screams draw the Doctor and Adric, who are confronted by Ringway at gunpoint and taken before the captain. The pair is interrogated by Captain Briggs before helping them to trap down a sudden power loss, which is related to the Cyber-Leader and his personal guard taking control of the ship, which is where they’ve been all along. Meanwhile, Lieutenant Scott, Tegan, and the soldiers search for the Doctor.

The Cybermen massacre the security teams, and the Doctor finally sees who he’s up against. The situation is exacerbated by Ringway’s revelation that he is working for the Cybermen. Ringway takes the bridge team hostage, but Adric, Briggs, and the Doctor incapacitate the traitor. Adric and the captain conclude that all 15,000 cargo containers likely carry Cybermen, which is bad since the cargo ship is heading for Earth. Meanwhile, the Cybermen use a thermal lance to penetrate the bridge security doors. Just as the door gives way, the Doctor reinforces it with antimatter, and the invading Cyberman is fused with.

Lieutenant Scott’s team destroys a Cyberman and critically damages a second. The damaged unit crawls to the Cyber-Leader just as the remaining bridge hatch is blown open. The Doctor meets the Cyber-Leader face to face, and Ringway is executed for not accounting for the soldiers on the TARDIS. The Cyber-Leader activates his army, filling the ship with Cybermen ready to invade Earth.

The Cyber-Leader turns the freighter into a missile aimed at Earth, intending to stop an interplanetary conference that plans to unite several civilizations against the Cybermen. Meanwhile, Tegan continues her reign of Ripley-like badassery by stalking through the cargo hold, armed with a Cyberman cannon, but is soon captured and taken to the bridge. The rest of Scott’s team make it back to the TARDIS, disabling a pursuing Cyberman patrol in the console room. Professor Kyle is killed in the crossfire.

The Cyber-Leader provokes the Doctor by threatening Tegan’s life to manipulate the Time Lord’s emotions. He leaves two Cybermen on the bridge with the crew and Adric to observe their emotions on impact, and then takes Tegan and the Doctor to the TARDIS to observe the impact from space. Scott and his team leave the TARDIS to search for the missing travelers and end up liberating the bridge. The captain suggests abandoning ship, but Adric sets to work on the unlocking the helm controls. Instead of stopping the ship, he inadvertently pushes it into time-warp. As the freighter barrels back through time, the Cyber-Leader orders the Doctor to land the TARDIS on the ship, but the Doctor cannot do so.

The captain orders the bridge crew to abandon the ship, but Adric slips out of the escape pod at the last second and breaks the final encryption code. On the TARDIS, our heroes realize that they’ve traveled back 65 million years and that the freighter is about to be the extinction event that kills the dinosaurs and paves the way for human evolution.

As Tegan distracts the Cyber-Leader, the Doctor grinds Adric’s badge for mathematical excellence into the Cyber-Leader’s chest unit. As he dies, the leader fires on the TARDIS control console, but falls to the floor as the Doctor fires the killing shot into the Cyberman’s chest. The damage to the console prevents the Doctor from rescuing Adric, and one critically damaged Cyberman destroys the freighter’s helm console.

Adric rides the freighter to the surface, ending his journey with the Doctor in a blaze of glory.

And even though I didn’t like him much, I shed a tear for his heroic exit.

 

With that powerful ending, it’s actually a little difficult to figure out where to go from here.

Overall, I enjoyed this story. It was well-written, even though it was slow in the beginning episode. The characters continue their ascent in the Fifth Doctor’s era, with Tegan stepping up with a touch of recklessness and the Doctor continuing his fatherly approach. Unfortunately, Nyssa was sidelined for a considerable portion of the story. And then there’s Adric.

Adric was far less annoying in this story, which is a good way to go out. He had his temper tantrum at the beginning which drove the plot, but he acquiesced and apologized before being the key that literally saved the world. He joins the small list of companions to die while traveling with the Doctor – the other two are Katarina and Sara Kingdom, both from The Daleks’ Master Plan – and his death was just as chilling but, in my opinion, more heroic. His arrogance was his downfall since nothing changed between him leaping out of the elevator and crashing into Earth, but his drive and motivation are something I admired.

Even though I knew it was coming – it’s very difficult to avoid spoilers around critical touchstones like this thirty-five years after the fact – the ending was still very emotional. Mind you, it doesn’t erase the problems I had with the character, but it does put a positive cap on his journey and growth.

 

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

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Time-Flight

 

 

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 #79: Revenge of the Cybermen

Doctor Who: Revenge of the Cybermen
(4 episodes, s12e17-e20, 1975)

Timestamp 079 Revenge of the Cybermen

 

It has been a long time since we encountered the Cybermen. That break ends as the Time Ring delivers our heroes back to the Nerva Beacon, just not exactly as they left it a few weeks ago.

As they investigate the station, they discover several dead bodies, some of which are obviously mannequins. Harry estimates that they have been dead for a couple of weeks. In that time, the station has been ravaged by a plague and is under quarantine, and is being protected by the few remaining survivors. Those survivors are also trying to fulfill the station’s mission as a warning buoy for a nearby hazard to navigation: The Voga asteroid.

The Doctor determines that this is the Nerva Beacon before it became the Ark in Space as a cybermat creeps by undetected. The team unlock a door using a screwdriver (but not the sonic one) and reach the control room just after the cybermat kills operator Warner and Professor Kellman, a planetary surveyor, alters the communication logs. Those logs hold evidence that the asteroid is inhabited, which Kellman claims isn’t true. The Doctor and his companions are captured by the station’s crew, and they examine Warner while being under suspicion of bringing the plague to Nerva. As the Doctor investigates the virus and Voga, Kellman spies on them with a makeshift receiver and then transmits a message to a waiting Cyberman spacecraft.

The Vogans, who share a common seal with the future Rassilon, are debating their situation. The one called Vorus is in control of the mines, and they assume that the reason they haven’t been contacted by their agent is that the Cybermen are monitoring their communications. The Cybermen were last heard from centuries before. They vanished right after attacking Voga near the end of the Cyber War.

Following his suspicions, the Doctor investigates Kellman’s quarters and finds gold, which Voga has in abundance. Kellman returns and the Doctor hides under the bed, but Kellman sets a trap that electrifies the deck plating and locks the Doctor in the room. Sarah Jane reviews the station’s logs and is attacked by the cybermat. The Doctor escapes Kellman’s quarters and rushes to Sarah Jane’s aid after killing the cybermat, but she’s already been bitten. The Doctor rushes her to the transmat, which will filter the poison from her blood, but the device has been sabotaged. Kellman overhears the conversation and the plans to arrest him, so he arms himself.

The Doctor jury-rigs the transmat, and it beams Sarah Jane and Harry to the asteroid, saving Sarah Jane’s life. As Harry finds the abundance of gold, the Vogans capture the travelers. Meanwhile, the station crew captures Kellman. The crew and the Doctor interrogate Kellman as the Cyberman ship approaches. The Cyberman Leader is identified by a black headpiece. Gold can kill the Cybermen by suffocation, explaining why they want to destroy Voga. The crew threaten Kellman with a cybermat using a control box they found in his quarters, coercing him to give up the transmat control drive.

The Vogans prep a device called the Sky Striker for use against the Cybermen. Councillor Tyrum, a leader of the Vogans, has dispatched troops to take over the mines and stop Vorus’s plans to re-emerge on the galactic market. Tyrum fears that they will be attacked again. Vorus plans to kill the humans and hide the Sky Striker from Tyrum. Harry and Sarah Jane escape just as the execution team arrives, and Tyrum’s militia arrives to force the Guardians to stand down.

You know, the Vogan politics are a bit of a drag on the story at this point.

The Doctor repairs the transmat but cannot locate his companions. The Cyberman ship docks with Nerva and board the station. The crew tries to repel them, but are struck down by cannons in the heads of the intruders. They also take down the Doctor. They are all merely stunned, and Kellman tries to find information on the Doctor but only comes up with an apple core and jelly babies. Meanwhile on Voga, Sarah Jane and Harry are taken before Tyrum and explain themselves. The mention of the cybermat sparks Tyrum’s interest in confronting Vorus.

As Kellman outlines his plan for the Leader, it is explained that his reward for destroying Voga is rule over the solar system. Kellman is sent to Voga to verify that the transmat is functional, and he is taken captive by the Vogans. The Doctor and humans, with a Cyberman escort, are to take bombs to the mines and set them, after which they will have fourteen minutes to escape. They cannot be defused, and they will kill the carriers if the harness is removed. The Vogans ambush the bomb team, but the Cybermen make short work of them.

Kellman is taken to Tyrum and explains that he was working with Vorus to destroy the Cybermen with the Sky Striker. This will result in the destruction of the Nerva Beacon as well, and the companions plan to warn/rescue the Doctor. Sarah Jane beams up to Nerva and overhears that the Cybermen have lied about the fourteen minute delay.

Kellman and Harry try to intercept the bombs as the Doctor and his team make their way to the center of the asteroid. They meet up as Kellman causes a cave-in the kills him and knocks out the Doctor’s team. They stop Harry from unbuckling the harness, and the Doctor humorously declares that Harry is an imbecile. The team makes a plan to attack the Cybermen while one of them continues on to confuse the trackers on their harnesses. Their plan is foiled by the sheer strength of the Cybermen, but one of the crew unbuckles his harness and destroys the enemies with the suicide switch. As the tracker signal is lost, the Leader orders a manual detonation, and Sarah Jane rushes them. They brush her off and attempt the detonation, but the Doctor has overridden the communications link and disabled the bombs.

Sarah Jane explains to the Cybermen how Kellman betrayed them. The Doctor convinces the Vogans to wait just long enough for him to rescue Sarah Jane. The Cybermen develop an alternative plan to crash Nerva into Voga with bombs and Sarah Jane onboard, and the Doctor frees Sarah Jane and then uses the remote control cybermat to ambush the Cybermen with gold dust.

As the Nerva Beacon races toward Voga, Vorus launches the Sky Striker as he shot by the militiamen. The Doctor and Sarah Jane are captured and are tied up as the remaining Cybermen leave in their ship. The Doctor frees himself and Sarah Jane, reasons with the Vogans on how to change the rocket’s course, and then overrides the gyros to park Nerva on the other side of the Voga asteroid. Just as the station stabilizes, the TARDIS finally arrives to meet the Doctor, and Harry returns to Nerva via transmat. They leave at the summons of the Brigadier who communicated an emergency through the space-time telegraph.

Overall, it was a decent story, but not particularly strong. I liked the Cyberman side of it, but the internal Voga politics dragged on the story. The last two episodes nearly made up for it with the action, but the setup took far too long and was way to choppy and erratic as the writers tried to make the Voga stuff fit.

All in all, I consider it a so-so return that should have been better.

 

Rating: 3/5 – “Reverse the polarity of the neutron flow.”

 

UP NEXT – Twelfth Series Summary

 

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 #46: The Invasion

Doctor Who: The Invasion
(8 episodes, s06e11-e18, 1968)

Timestamp 046 The Invasion

 

This one starts with the ending I expected from the last serial, and it kicks things off with a bang.

After the jump to the Land of Fiction and back, the TARDIS is malfunctioning. It materializes near the moon, and has to immediately dodge an incoming missile. The visual stabilizer circuit has gone bad and causes the TARDIS to turn invisible. The travelers leave to go find Professor Travers in what they think is 20th century London. They hitch a ride and the driver tells them about International Electromatics (IE), an electronics company that has bought out the locals and caused some of them to vanish without a trace. The travelers escape the IE compound, but the pursuing security guards kill the driver outside of their jurisdiction.

Professor Travers has moved to America, but his flat is occupied by Professor Watkins and his niece Isobel (played by Sally Faulkner, no relation). Watkins works for IE, but no one can reach him, so the Doctor and Jamie go there to investigate. They are subdued and meet Tobias Vaughn, non-official Bond villain and managing director of IE, who eventually gets the TARDIS circuitry to go with the strange alien computer in his closet. That computer recognizes the duo from Planet 14 (where?) and determines that they must be eliminated.

Jamie and the Doctor leave Vaughn and are promptly followed by suits in cars. It turns out that they are from the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce (UNIT), and work for recently promoted Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, who we last saw in The Web of Fear. It’s been four years since the Yetis, and the Brigadier and UNIT are investigating IE. I absolutely loved how the Doctor and Jamie try to escape, realize that they can’t, so accept their situation and start playing cards in the street.

Zoe determines that if there is trouble, the Doctor and Jamie are in it (I love this!), and she pulls a Captain Kirk on the reception computer by causing it to try solving an unsolvable problem. It goes boom, and she and Isobel are captured shortly thereafter. The Doctor and Jamie return to IE to search for the ladies, and are also captured.

After this, it’s a very Bond-flavored cat and mouse game with moles in the government and staying one step ahead of Vaughn’s plans for world domination. How is he trying to take over the world? Cybermen.

I have a long list of things I love from this serial. The Doctor’s pockets are like miniature TARDISes and are a source of unending amusement as he pulls random items from their depths. It goes well with his overall character, especially with his comic running from the shooting Cyberman and jumping at each explosion. I love seeing a modern (for the serial) era feminist working with a strong female character from the future, especially when it compares with Jamie’s period-specific sexism that seems to be integral to his character. The dynamic is fantastic, and the chemistry really makes it work.

The Bond feel is a reflection of the era and the country, and it extends beyond Vaughn to the technology and the setting overall. I like the James Bond movies, so this was fun to watch. I also like the pop culture nods (“Kilroy was here” and “Teddy Bears’ Picnic“) and the in-universe “Bad Wolf” nod in the animated reconstruction.

The march of the Cybermen from St. Paul’s Cathedral was also very similar to the march in Dark Water and Death and Heaven. It’s good to see the inspiration for those scenes. It’s also good to see the links between those modern episodes and the classic ones: The Cybermen corpses in this serial are used by UNIT to develop defenses for future invasions, and that iteration of UNIT is being led by the Brigadier’s daughter. Speaking of the Brigadier, he’s an awesome character. I’m looking forward to seeing more of him in coming series.

Finally, since this is the last appearance of the Cybermen for a while, I should mention the music. I haven’t really keyed in on a lot of the background music, but I really enjoyed the theme for the Cybermen. It’s so simple, but menacing at the same time. It’s also very mechanical without taking the use of creaking and beeping sound effects. I’m going to miss it.

The only two drawbacks to this serial are writing related: First, why does UNIT continue to attack the Cybermen with pistols and rifles when only grenades and rockets are working? Second, the final rocket strikes and wrap-up scenes are kind of anti-climatic compared to the rest of the episode.

Overall, this one get a 4.5, and I round up.

 

Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Krotons

 

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 #43: The Wheel in Space

Doctor Who: The Wheel in Space
(6 episodes, s05e34-e41, 1968)

Timestamp 043 The Wheel in Space

 

The Wheel in Space is still the basic “base under siege” story that was typical of the fifth series, but this one feels more unique.  First, the crew of the titular space station doesn’t believe in the Cyberman threat until it actually shows itself. Second, the antagonists partially control the escape route (the TARDIS is stranded on the rocket with the Cybermen) and are a bit more menacing in this story, finally bringing the boys in aluminum foil suits back to nearly the same threat level that they displayed in The Tenth Planet. There’s also the added twist of the impending meteor shower which adds dramatic pressure to the plot and prevents the protagonists from taking too much time or waiting for the enemy to make a move.

We also see a considerable amount of hand waving combined with smoke and mirrors in this serial. Classic Who fans complain about how the recent era (the “New Who” era) of the show treats the iconic sonic screwdriver like a magic wand – and the show runners even make fun of it themselves, as seen in the 50th anniversary special Day of the Doctor – but the “time vector generator” is a much more egregious example of a magic MacGuffin and overall problem solver. It acts as an improvised gun to destroy the robot on the rocket (wait, doesn’t the Doctor abhor using guns?), produces radio interference to signal the space station and save Jamie and the Doctor, supercharges the station’s X-ray laser to destroy the Cyberman spaceship, and controls the entire “bigger on the inside” element of the TARDIS itself. It’s less iconic than the sonic, and stretches the entire joke of the Second Doctor’s skill at pulling the right tool for the job from his pockets to a non-humorous extreme. That little metal bar feels overly convenient and considerably lazy scriptwise, and I kind of hope that we never see it again.

Okay, enough with that.

The motivations of the station crew are believable, and that helped sell me on this serial. They want to destroy the rocket because its erratic flight poses a collision danger to the station. They’re also skeptical of the Doctor and Jamie because the travelers are conspicuously unable to fit in with the current time, and act suspiciously at every move. even right down to the genesis of the Doctor’s long-term alias, John Smith. It’s also fascinating to see how the crew relates to Zoe, an astrophysicist relegated to librarian, which (ironically) is a role that the station couldn’t operate without. She feels underappreciated and completely enthralled with the mystery of the Doctor, so she joins the team as the new companion. She’s definitely quite smart and innocent, but somewhat shy and introverted, and I’m eager to see how she manages with the Doctor and Jamie.

Other positives on this serial include the TARDIS defense mechanism driven by Powerpoint slides of serene temptations, the decorations in the Cyberman control center that are giant lava lamps, and a callback to the infamous fluid link that keeps the TARDIS grounded after a power overload vaporizes the link’s mercury supply.

One minor downside was the Cybermen marching through space. That was rather silly.

This was a really good serial, but the convenience of the time vector generator really soured it for me. I settled on a 3.5 out of 5, but, as always, I’m looking forward and working with whole numbers.

 

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

 

UP NEXT – Fifth Series Summary

 

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.