Timestamp #136: The Caves of Androzani

Doctor Who: The Caves of Androzani
(4 episodes, s21e17-e20, 1984)

 

Davison deserved better.

The TARDIS arrives in a dry lake bed on Androzani Minor. After a small bout of exploration, Peri and the Doctor question the presence of motor vehicle tracks on an otherwise desolate planet and decide to follow them. While they travel, the Doctor muses about keeping diaries. While they explore the crystalline caves, Peri falls into a web-like substance that stings. Afterward, she asks the Doctor about his lapel celery, which turns purple when exposed to gases in the Praxis range.

Elsewhere, a monster attacks a group of soldiers. The travelers run into the soldiers, are mistaken for gunrunners and apprehended, and are taken to General Chellak. He believes that they are supplying arms to a group of android rebels and will not hear anything about their innocence. When Trau Morgus (CEO of the Sirius Conglomerate) on Androzani Major calls, the general tosses his prisoners into a closet. The communication is tense and tapped by a mysterious third party who thinks Peri is pretty. Morgus is disinterested in the travelers, unemotionally orders their execution, and engages in a little bit of fourth-wall breaking by staring straight into the camera. When more soldiers are attacked, the general orders his second, Major Salateen, to prepare the travelers for execution while he attends to the ambush. The entire squadron is decimated.

The Doctor apologizes to Peri for their predicament while tending to her web-induced rashes and watching the general as the dead squadron is returned to the base. He muses on the background of spectrox, the valuable material the humans are mining. On Androzani Major, Morgus hosts the president of the planet and reveals the nature of spectrox to the audience: It is a powerful drug produced by the bats of Androzani Minor that enhances youth and extends life. The meeting turns to the execution as the Doctor and Peri are lined up before a firing squad, and on the proper count, the Doctor and Peri are shot to death.

Except that they aren’t.

The mysterious eavesdropper, Sharaz Jek, swapped the prisoners for android duplicates. The general and major realize the deception, but cannot report it because it would end their careers. Jek also intends to keep the Doctor and Peri as unwilling companions. Jek owns a considerable share of the spectrox in the caves and can monitor troop movements. He has cost the general hundreds of troops and speculates that his inventory won’t be in jeopardy for another five years. He expects the people of Androzani Major to have rebelled against Morgus by then and wants nothing less than the CEO’s head at his feet. Meanwhile, on the surface, there are troubles among the gunrunners as they fight over failures and lack of pay.

Morgus receives word that one of his mines has exploded. Back in Jek’s caves, the Doctor meets the real Salateen (who was replaced months before) and discovers that the web they encountered earlier is a spectrox nest. Exposure is lethal, and the antidote (the milk of a queen bat) is difficult to find due to the mining operations.

So far, we have the following open threads: The spectrox war (androids vs. humans); spectrox toxaemia; the gun smugglers who are supplying Jek’s android army; a giant monster; and celery.

Stotz, the lead gunrunner, requests a meeting with Jek. Before Jek leaves, he talks to the Doctor and becomes enraged when Peri asks about his mask. The story behind it is gruesome and it hides the burn scars from an encounter with Morgus. After Jek leaves, the Doctor tries to sneak by the androids, which are programmed to kill humans on sight. The Doctor disables the android guards and takes Peri and Salateen back to the TARDIS for supplies. En route, they are ambushed and the Doctor is wounded by an android guard. Salateen saves Peri and abandons the Doctor.

The meeting between Jek and Stotz is less than productive. Stotz threatens to leave the operation, but Jek knows that he can get any number of people to wage his war with his supply of spectrox. Jek returns to his base and finds his captives missing. Meanwhile, the gunrunners meet up with the Doctor. The Time Lord hides and the gunrunners are attacked by another monster. The monster makes short work of the smugglers and the Doctor escapes. Stotz and the survivors find Jek, who reveals that the monster is a bat, and their tense confrontation is broken up by the Doctor. The smugglers are paid and the Doctor is taken captive and tortured for Peri’s location. When the Doctor reasons that Salateen and Peri have returned to Chellak’s base, the smugglers decide to take the Time Lord to the CEO on Androzani Major. It turns out that Morgus is playing both sides against each other. Fearing the president’s discovery of Morgus’s double dealings, the CEO assassinates him.

That combines two of our open threads: The spectrox war (androids vs. humans vs. Morgus and the gun smugglers); spectrox toxaemia; a giant monster; and celery.

Salateen and Peri arrive at Chellak’s base and expose the truth behind the major’s doppelgänger. Chellak develops a plan to remove the android from his ranks. and has no interest in Peri’s illness due to her affiliation with Jek. Salateen reveals the badges that keep humans safe from the androids and the nature of Jek’s wiretapping. The general is displeased, to say the least, but has an idea of how to turn the tide with this intel.

Chellak sends Android-Salateen on a recon mission, during which Jek finds out where Salateen and Peri are housed. Jek sneaks into the base and kidnaps Peri while the Doctor breaks free on the smuggler ship and returns it to (read: crashes it on) Androzani Minor. The Doctor runs from the smugglers and is able to get away as Stotz receives word that Morgus is on his way. The Doctor is only saved by a spontaneous mudburst that drives the smugglers away. When Morgus arrives, he orders Stotz to secure Jek’s supply of spectrox as a nest egg so he can escape the Androzani planets. His assistant has turned state’s evidence and usurped Morgus’s position. Stotz turns on his own crew, gunning them down, and joins Morgus on an expedition into the caves.

Salateen leads an assault misson on Jek’s base. As they come across an android, Salateen thinks that his buckle will identify him as a friendly, but the android opens fire and kills him. The assault team is pinned down but heroically press on. Chellak enters Jek’s base and fights the man, but is forced into the fatal mudburst inside the caverns. The Doctor arrives soon after and tries to revive Peri with the celery (supposedly a powerful restorative on Gallifrey), but is forced into the oxygen-deprived lower caverns after the bat milk. Jek provides him with one oxygen mask and looks after Peri until the Doctor returns.

While the Doctor retrieves the bat milk, Stotz and Morgus storm Jek’s lair. Jek kills Morgus, Stotz kills Jek, and Android-Salateen kills Stotz. The Doctor scoops up Peri and races to the TARDIS as the mudburst destroys Jek’s lair. Once inside, the Doctor dematerializes the TARDIS and gives her the milk before collapsing on the deck.

He says goodbye to Peri, unsure if he’s going to regenerate or not. He sees images of Tegan, Turlough, Kamelion, Nyssa, and Adric encouraging him to survive, and an image of the Master goading him into death. It is Adric — his only companion who died — that prompts him to live, and so he regenerates…

…into a rather brash man who claims to bring change, and not a moment too soon.

 

Where to begin?

This story has consistently been voted as the best in the history of the televised franchise. I don’t know what I missed. Starting with the spectrox war, I really enjoyed the idea of a conflict triangle, particularly when considered against the political atmospheres both now and in 1984. The big problem I have with the largest part of the story is that the narrative was so muddy and poorly paced. The conflict was unclear for most of the story, and while it had the benefit of placing us in the shoes of our heroes, the continued confusion quickly became frustrating.

This wasn’t helped by the acting. Morgus, the fulcrum of the conflict, came across as dull (was he reading his lines from cue cards?) and his incessant need to recap key plot points directly into the camera was distracting and unnerving. This was counterbalanced by Jek’s madness, which was plainly evident in the delightfully creepy portrayal, but the pacing sabotaged the atmosphere surrounding him by chopping up the interesting backstory with the lackluster Morgus and Chellak scenes. Among our heroes, Peri’s performance was still rocky despite it’s potential to become something more, but Peter Davison seemed off, almost as if he didn’t want to be involved anymore.

The spectrox toxaemia offered a good race-against-the-clock element to the story, and this time the frustration worked in the serial’s favor as each side has the potential to cure our heroes, but they refuse to do so because of how they view the Doctor’s allegiances. Politics in a nutshell, and while the plot devices of the inconvenient cure in the conveniently (and overly) hostile lower caves had merit, I felt that the execution was lazy.

Why? Because the Doctor could have gone after the cure at any time after being told about it and survived the story. In fact, it was his own curiosity that got him and Peri involved, and he had no reason to interfere in this conflict. Yes, there is an argument about combatting evil in even the smallest measures of good, but the body count in this story puts a giant thumb on that scale: Every male character in this serial dies, and there are only two survivors.

The red herring plot threads of the giant monster and the celery were annoying. Both of them were misdirections in an already muddled story.

All of that said, I did enjoy the boost in production value with this story, including the unique camera angles in the Doctor’s explosive run across the planetary surface.

I also plan to give the Sixth Doctor a chance to prove himself, but right now his introduction is far too cynical for my tastes.

The final score benefits greatly from the +1 regeneration handicap in this project, but it still doesn’t meet the “greatest story ever” expectations. Which is a letdown because Peter Davison deserved better.

 

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

 

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Twin Dilemma

 

 

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 #135: Planet of Fire

Doctor Who: Planet of Fire
(4 episodes, s21e13-e16, 1984)

 

It’s a strange mashup between a primitive religion theme and an unstoppable menace.

Crossing a barren volcanic landscape, two men in tattered clothes offer up a distinctly Middle Eastern vibe. The cross cuts to two other men discussing matters of faith and pilgrimages in a pristine palace environment further that flavor. The two travelers crest the volcano and find nothing, confirming their belief that the god Logar is a myth. That’s a slightly different pilgrimage than I expected.

Meanwhile, an archaeological expedition led by Howard Foster is dredging the ocean in search of artifacts. They find one with strange triangular markings, which are shared on the younger of the two men in the palace. In fact, the Mark of Logar makes the man a Chosen One, and his queries into his role in society are met with the same answer that has plagued religious challenges since time eternal: TRADITION!

“One day, it will all be clear to you.” Uh-huh. Right.

The Doctor depressively obsesses over the Daleks when robotic screaming from the other room snaps him and Turlough into action. Kamelion has plugged into the TARDIS data banks. Turlough tries to disable the link and picks up a distress signal. Turlough disables the signal by tearing apart the relays in the console (and lies to the Doctor about his role in such). The TARDIS changes course to intercept the signal and the Doctor devises a method to triangulate the distress signal.

As the archaeologists pull into port on the island, we meet a woman named Peri (Howard Foster’s stepdaughter) who is planning to leave on a trip with friends to Morocco. After some tense back and forth, Howard relents and allows Peri to go. Howard unloads the boat but strands Peri as he ferries in the rest of the artifacts. Peri loads her clothes, Howard’s wallet, and the double-triangle artifact into a bag and attempts to swim for shore. Unfortunately, she doesn’t make it far before floundering.

Back on shore, the TARDIS arrives and the Doctor and Turlough examine the artifacts. Turlough returns to the TARDIS and overloads the console, preventing Kamelion from making contact with an unknown entity, presumably a place called Trion. Turlough then sees Peri on the scanner and rushes to her rescue, taking her back to the TARDIS and discovering the triangle-marked artifact. It turns out that Turlough conveniently has the same Chosen One mark on his arm.

After inadvertently stiffing a local restauranteur over a glass of water, the Doctor traces the distress signal back to the TARDIS – specifically, to the artifact – and questions Turlough about the data core inside the mysterious device. As the Doctor labors, Peri has dreams about Howard’s treachery, and Kamelion shapeshifts into Howard’s form. Under his control, the TARDIS dematerializes while Kamelion-Howard interacts with the travelers and Peri.

This whole time, the religious group has been debating over the prophecies of Logar and the revelations of the non-believers who hiked the volcano. The congregation receives a sign from their god. The TARDIS arrives, presumably fulfilling the prophecy of an outsider coming to their civilization. When the Doctor and Turlough explore the area, Kamelion changes again, this time triumphantly celebrating his control of the TARDIS as the Master.

That man has so many lives. He must be part cat.

Peri attempts to escape and fails, though the altercation forces Kamelion to overcome the thrall of the Master for a time. Kamelion uses the time to prepare a message for the Doctor. Unfortunately, the Master’s TARDIS arrives soon after, and the renegade Time Lord reasserts control over Kamelion and forces her (and Peri) to leave the Doctor’s TARDIS. A seismic event causes the Master’s TARDIS to topple, breaking the psychic link and providing Peri the window she needs to run.

Kamelion is unable to lift the Master’s TARDIS, so he returns to the Doctor’s TARDIS with the plan to materialize it inside the Master’s capsule. Luckily, Peri has stolen a component from the console. Kamelion-Master gives chase as Peri makes her way toward the Doctor and Turlough, who have just been sheltered by the non-believers. Kamelion-Master catches her, but Peri forces a standoff by dangling the circuit board over a cliff. She persuades Kamelion to re-emerge and uses the distraction to escape once again, but as the Master resumes control, he is mistaken as the prophesied outsider by the priest from the story’s opening.

The Doctor warns the non-believers that their hiding spot isn’t safe: It is in the same vent tunnels that the impending volcanic eruption will use to release its pressure and magma. The non-believers take the Doctor and Turlough to the congregation where Turlough recognizes the technology. It is from Trion, and potentially from his father’s ship. Turlough convinces Malkon, the Chosen One, to take him to the Place of Fire where Malkon was found. The triangular mark on Turlough’s arm is sufficient to sway Malkon.

Meanwhile, Kamelion-Master arrives and surprises the Doctor as Peri catches up to Turlough and briefs him on what has happened. In a rather tense and perilous sequence, Kamelion-Master orders the sacrifice of the entire congregation as leverage to get the circuit board back. Peri, Turlough, and Malkon arrive to save the Doctor, and while Malkon unsuccessfully stalls for time, Peri and Turlough turn off the flames at the source. Malkon tips off the Doctor and plays dead after being shot, prompting the Doctor to confront Kamelion-Master. The Doctor nearly succeeds in releasing the android from the Master, but Kamelion-Master has the Doctor and the non-believers locked away. When Peri rushes to the Doctor’s defense, Kamelion-Master takes her and the congregation to the Master’s TARDIS. Turlough arrives shortly thereafter, releases the Doctor and the non-believers, and reveals that Malkon may very well be his brother.

The congregation uprights the obvious styrofoam pillar and Kamelion-Master pulls Peri into the time capsule. The Doctor arrives and, after some persuasion of the believers by Turlough, attempts to stop the Master. Unfortunately, the Doctor’s TARDIS has been sabotaged and the Master escapes. Luckily, he hasn’t gone far: The pair arrive in the heart of the volcano and Kamelion-Master coerces Peri to cooperate on pain of death.

It’s a conspicuous dichotomy, but I do like the Master’s dark control room.

Kamelion-Master initiates another seismic event and Turlough loads all of the civilians into the TARDIS. The Doctor discusses Logar with the head priest, Timanov, and learns of the sacred blue flame within the volcano. When Kamelion-Master turns on that blue flame, the congregation takes it as a sign of mercy and retreats to their bunker for celebration. The Doctor grills Turlough for information, but the boy is silent and the Doctor settles for an analysis of the fire chamber. Meanwhile, Peri escapes from Kamelion-Master and takes refuge in the Master’s TARDIS. When she attempts to use the control box to disable Kamelion, she finds a miniature Master hiding within.

Huh?

Peri kicks the box in disgust and knocks it over. That disrupts the Master’s control over Kamelion and causes him to scurry like a rat for safety in the TARDIS console. There he taunts Peri and shorts the circuitry for the TARDIS door, prompting Peri to leave the capsule. He then figures out a way to restore his control over Kamelion.

The Doctor and Turlough discover that the blue flame is fueled by Numismaton gas, which has healing powers. They use it to mend Malkon’s wounds, then they devise a plan to save the people on the planet. Turlough was a Trion political prisoner, but he is willing to risk himself to call for a rescue ship. His captors used this planet as a prison for undesirables, covering their technological control of the volcano with legends and myths, but the pending eruption is too large for the tech to handle.

The Doctor reunites with Peri as he and Amyand (the lead non-believer) make their way to the Numismaton control room. He finds that the Master has already started an irreversible chain reaction, but he is able to slow it for a time. The Doctor swipes components for his own TARDIS, then discovers the Master’s condition inside the control box. It turns out that the Master accidentally shrunk himself and needs the flame to restore his former glory. Kamelion, back under the Master’s control, ambushes the team and forces them to leave.

Amyand dons a fire suit – effectively becoming Logar – and goes for help. Meanwhile, the Doctor conceives a plan to short-circuit Kamelion. The plan works, and Kamelion requests a coup de grâce to end his potential threat. Sadly, the Doctor complies and then continues his work. Amyand arrives at the bunker, convinces the congregation to leave, and gives Turlough the parts for the TARDIS. Once Turlough installs the parts, the TARDIS follows the Master’s TARDIS to the flame control room, but without Turlough onboard.

The blue flame ignites, restoring the Master to his proper form, but the normal flame returns shortly thereafter and (supposedly) destroys the Master. The Doctor and Peri seek refuge in the TARDIS as the eruption begins. It lands near Turlough, who has just received word that his exile is rescinded. Turlough doesn’t want to leave, but both he and the Doctor know that it’s for the best.

After a brief farewell, the Doctor offers Peri the chance to travel with him. After all, she still has three months left on her vacation.

 

Starting with the departures, I’m conflicted. I haven’t liked Turlough from his debut in Mawdryn Undead, and his selfless acts here didn’t ring true to me. It’s almost as if he resigned himself to his fate (and avoided any negative repercussions by pure chance) instead of surrendering himself because it was the right thing to do. He had nothing left to lose, and it seemed like he was using the Doctor as a convenient sanctuary.

Kamelion, on the other hand, was a wasted opportunity. I mean, look at him. The android was virtually unstoppable, and while I enjoyed the Terminator vibe I think that his heel turn and subsequent demise would have had much more meaning if he would have been involved in more than two stories. Otherwise, it’s merely a clearing of the decks before Peter Davison leaves in the next story.

In place of Turlough and Kamelion, the Doctor picks up Peri. I like her strong will and I hope the damsel-in-distress vibe dies off quickly as she settles in.

 

Other than that, this was a fairly strong story hampered by a contrived plot about the incredible shrinking Master. It was good to see him back, and the twist was a nice touch, but there had to be a better way to explain his stature than his foolish tinkering. I also noticed that I had to rewind periodically to sort out the characters because of their uniform costumes, genders, and ethnicities.

 

Next time, we say goodbye once again. It’s hard to believe that we’re already here.

 

 

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

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Caves of Androzani

 

 

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 #129: The King’s Demons

Doctor Who: The King’s Demons
(2 episodes, s20e21-e22, 1983)

 

It’s half a nod to the black and white era with a pseudo-historical story.

In medieval Europe, King John of England feels that his reception at Lord Ranulf Fitzwilliam’s castle is insufficient, leading to the challenge of a duel between the king’s champion and the lord’s own son. At daybreak, the competition begins with a joust, but it is interrupted by the TARDIS as it arrives in the middle of the arena.

Turlough is frustrated since Earth is not his home, but the Doctor and his companions leave the TARDIS to assess the situation. They are welcomed as demons by the king, and the Doctor places the year as 1215, sometime around the signing of the Magna Carta. The travelers are seated with the king and the challenge continues. The champion nearly kills the lord’s son, but the Doctor convinces King John to spare the boy’s life, an act that earns Sir Ranulf’s respect. The travelers are given quarters, but the lord’s son takes Turlough captive and interrogates him.

In the room, the Doctor does the calculations and realizes that King John should not be at this place at this time: He’s supposed to be in London, taking the Crusader’s Oath. In the meantime, the king takes Sir Ranulf’s family hostage, prompting the lord to seek help from the Doctor. Lord Ranulf also mentions that his cousin, Sir Geoffrey de Lacy, is in London doing exactly what the king should be. The Doctor’s suspicions grow, fueled by Sir Geoffrey’s arrival and confirmation of the king’s presence in London.

The king’s guards arrest Sir Geoffrey and he is brought before the assembled court during a royal banquet. The Doctor challenges the king’s champion, resulting in a sword duel between the two which the Doctor wins. Shortly afterward, the knight drops his disguise, revealing that he is the Master. Dun-dun-dun…

I guess he survived Xeriphas.

The Master threatens the Doctor with his tissue compression eliminator, but the Doctor disarms his nemesis. The Master leaves his fate in the Doctor’s hands, but when the Doctor spares him, the king places the Master in the iron maiden that was meant for Sir Geoffrey. In a clever twist, the torture device was really the Master’s TARDIS. Additionally, the Master has control over the king (real or not).

The Master rematerializes in the jail cell containing Sir Ranulf’s family, and he convinces them to join forces against the Doctor. In the chambers above, the king knights the Doctor as his new champion. Sir Doctor arrests Sir Geoffrey as a ruse to get access to the dungeons. There, he barely misses the Master’s group but is able to free Turlough and sabotage the Master’s TARDIS.

The Doctor sends Sir Geoffrey to London, but the Master assassinates him en route. The Master turns the castle guards against the Doctor, but Tegan is able to get into the TARDIS and pilot it away as the Doctor escapes on foot. The Doctor stumbles across the king, who is really a shape-shifting machine named Kamelion, a tool used by a previous invader of Xeriphas and key to the Master’s escape. The android is controlled through psychokinesis, which the Time Lords have in spades.

The Master’s plan is to besmirch King John’s reputation with the android, spark an uprising driven by the public’s lack of confidence in the king’s leadership, and prevent the Magna Carta from establishing modern parliamentary democracy. It’s a smaller scheme than the Master normally works, but effective in uprooting a cornerstone of modern human society.

So, anyway, the Time Lords have a battle of wills over Kamelion which the Doctor wins. Kamelion turns into Tegan and, as the real Tegan materializes the TARDIS in the same chamber, the Doctor, Kamelion-Tegan, and Turlough rush aboard. The Master is thwarted, so he rushes to his own TARDIS, but since the Doctor sabotaged it, the time capsule’s destination is randomized.

As the Doctor programs his own TARDIS console, he invites Kamelion to join them, much to Tegan’s chagrin. When given the choice between accepting Kamelion or going home, Tegan chooses to remain on board. Next stop: The Eye of Orion… and a large celebration in the Doctor Who mythos.

Honestly, they could have sacrificed an episode from Terminus and given it to this one to boost the story. It would have helped both of them.

 

Programming note: I will be including The Five Doctors as part of Twentieth Series, which has thematically attempting to take a tour of the franchise’s greatest hits. I recognize that is it fits between the Twentieth and Twenty-First years, but I think the idea and purpose behind it fit better with this series than with the next. Tune in next week.

 

Rating: 2/5 – “Mm? What’s that, my boy?”

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Five Doctors

 

 

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.