Timestamp #103: The Armageddon Factor

Doctor Who: The Armageddon Factor
The Key to Time, Part VI
(6 episodes, s16e21-e26, 1979)

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The end to the Key to Time arc begins with melodrama in a hospital.

The target for the sixth and final segment of the Key to Time is Atrios, the twin planet to Zeos, which are engaged with each other in a brutal nuclear war. Princess Astra, the leader of Atrios in name only, is appalled at the carnage and the conditions for her people. She is also disturbed by the actions of the Marshal, who holds all of the power because of the hostilities. The Marshal confesses to his aide-de-camp Shapp that they are actually losing the war and is searching for any way to win, and the Marshal leads the princess into a trap. To silence her, perhaps? Or is it something more?

The TARDIS arrives in parking orbit around Atrios, but the Time Lords determine that they are way off course. They take the TARDIS in manually, which provokes the Atrians to launch a nuclear missile to intercept. The TARDIS de-materializes moments before impact to confuse the Atrians, then arrives on the planet.

The Marshal is also communicating with an unseen entity. Are we finally coming to the Black Guardian?

Since the planet is engaged in nuclear war, the Time Lords decide to move quickly. They track the fragment to the room holding Princess Astra, but are soon ambushed by the Marshal. He leads them away as another bombardment buries the TARDIS in rubble. K9 takes the opportunity to hide.

The Marshal declares the Time Lords, along with Merak (the princess’s sort of secret lover), as spies against the government. The Doctor tricks the Marshal into summoning K9, who provides a distraction for Time Lords to escape. The return to the landing site only to discover that the TARDIS is buried, and unbeknownst to them, the princess has been transmatted away by a mysterious masked figure.

Merak follows the Time Lords, and together they breach the room where Astra was being kept. Due to the high radiation, the humanoids leave K9 to stand guard while they continue the investigation. The Marshal uses the opportunity to lure K9 into the recycling complex. He also sends guards to retrieve the trio and bring them back to the command center, intending to treat them as guests. The Marshal asks the Doctor to help Atrios win the war, and he suggests a shield to block Zeons from attacking. The Marshal demands a weapon instead, intent on destroying the enemy. The Doctor says that he’ll need K9 and the Marshal reveals the robotic dog’s fate. The Doctor rushes to the recycling complex and rescues K9 at the last second. In the confusion, the Marshal reveals a small device attached to his neck. Romana tells the Doctor of this device later on as they brainstorm a solution. The Doctor deduces that something is blocking Zeos from Atrios, and the Doctor proposes going to Zeos to investigate.

Princess Astra appears on a transmission from Zeos demanding an Atrian surrender, and the Marshal sends the Doctor to a transmat for transport. Romana and Merak sneak into the room behind the Marshal’s mirror and discover a stone skull and the Marshal’s plot to trap the Doctor. As they arrive with the information, the trap is sprung, and the Doctor is transmatted away with two masked men.

The entity controlling the Marshal ends the Zeon attacks on Atrios, leaving the Marshal open to any course he chooses. Meanwhile, the Doctor is brought before the entity, the Shadow, who reveals that he has the TARDIS. The Shadow demands that the Doctor open the TARDIS and retrieve the segments to the Key to Time. Meanwhile, Romana and Merak discover that the TARDIS is missing, and then decide to follow the Doctor. Merak tricks Romana into surrendering the Key Core before transmatting away.

The Shadow leaves the Doctor, confident that the Time Lord will eventually make a mistake that will lead to the other fragments. The Doctor begins to search for the final segment while the Shadow interrogates Princess Astra. The Shadow reveals Astra is on his ship while Merak is on Zeos. Romana and K9 follow to Zeos, as does the Marshal’s aide Shapp. Shapp finds the Doctor and is convinced to follow K9’s tracks to the rest of the group. K9 has been communicating with the Zeon commander, which is actually a supercomputer named Mentalis. The computer has been instructed to conceal all information about Princess Astra, but reveals that the war is over and obliteration of everything is the next step.

The Marshal launches a plan to destroy Zeos with a missile assault. The computer cannot counterattack since it believes that it has won. If the computer is destroyed, it will implement the Armageddon Factor and destroy both planets. The Time Lords set to work in reprogramming Mentalis, but this triggers the computer to start a self-destruct sequence. Meanwhile, Romana deduces that the Shadow is located on a third planet in the star system. With the self-destruct clock still ticking the Time Lords seek refuge in the TARDIS.

The Shadow returns to Astra and fits her with a control device. He forces her to project an image of herself to distract Merak, and Shapp is stunned by one of the Shadow’s henchmen and transmatted away. Merak ends up falling down a hole after chasing the apparition.

The Doctor and Romana attempt to construct the Key to Time, but without the remaining fragment the artifact is useless. The Doctor constructs an artificial piece to fill the gap which places the Marshall’s ship in a time loop and prevents him from attacking. Since the one segment is artificial, the time loop is steadily degrading.

The real Astra (under the Shadow’s control) rescues Marek. The pair run into K9 and the dog fights off the henchmen as the pair head to the TARDIS. The villains lure K9 into the transmat with a distress call and the pooch is beamed away to the Shadow’s ship where he is reprogrammed. Meanwhile, Astra reveals her allegiances to Marek and he is beamed away as she tries to fool the Doctor. She gains access to the TARDIS and accompanies the Time Lords to the Shadow’s location.

K9, now working for the Shadow, goes to greet the trio. Inside the TARDIS, Astra is directed by the Shadow to take Romana to him. The Doctor finds the distress signal that trapped K9 and follows it, plagued the entire trip by illusions of Romana, Astra, and himself. He eventually confronts the Shadow, who reveals that he is the agent of the Black Guardian, and is captured.

FINALLY! The Black Guardian arrives!

In his cell, the Doctor encounters another Time Lord named Drax (who refers to him as Theta Sigma – that can’t be his real name, can it?). Drax was forced under threat of death to build Mentalis. He has since been trying to tunnel out and find a way to his own TARDIS on Zeos. The Doctor determines if Drax is trustworthy as the Shadow tortures Romana for information. After gaining everything he can from her, the Shadow sends K9 after the Doctor. The Doctor tricks K9 into the cell with Drax where the threat is stopped. The Doctor makes his way out to the upper levels and is captured by a henchman and taken to the Shadow. There, the Doctor is forced to retrieve the Key to Time so the Shadow can add the Sixth Fragment and set the cosmos at war. When he reaches the TARDIS with his henchman escort, the Doctor is surprised by Drax’s arrival. Drax shoots him with a shrink ray, miniaturizing both of the Time Lords. Since the TARDIS doors are open and the time loop is crumbling as the artificial Key Fragment is burning up, they decide to create a distraction.

The Shadow leaves to retrieve the Key, and Romana discovers that Princess Astra is the Sixth Fragment. The Doctor and Drax fix K9 and hitch a ride to the wall outside the Shadow’s chambers. After Merak transmats back to the Shadow’s ship, he joins the group in the chamber where Astra is transformed into the fragment. As K9 blasts in and the Time Lords are restored to normal size, the Doctor retrieves the Key and takes Romana back to the TARDIS. They travel to the computer room where Drax – who rescued K9 – helps them disarm Mentalis. Free of the time loop, the Marshal fires on Zeos, but his missiles are deflected into the Shadow’s ship.

Drax leaves to find his next construction job and the Doctor is briefly enthralled by the power of the Key. As the Shadow dies, the Black Guardian disguises himself as the White Guardian and attempts to trick the Doctor into surrendering the Key. The Black Guardian callously disregards Princess Astra’s sacrifice, and the Doctor figures out who the Guardian truly is. The Doctor disperses the Key Fragments across the universe, thus reuniting the restored Princess Astra with Marek, at the same moment as the TARDIS dematerializes.

To prevent the Black Guardian from following and seeking revenge, the Doctor has installed a randomizer on the TARDIS. Not even the Doctor knows where they are going next.

The ending is iffy. If the White Guardian had successfully restored the balance between good and evil throughout time, then the show would theoretically be over since it relies on the Doctor battling evil. But the dispersal of the key feels like it invalidates the entire journey to assemble it. It’s a hollow victory capped by a last-minute convenience. It’s almost as if the writers had no idea how to put a lid on this whole season’s story.

That said, this episode was mostly solid. Mostly.

 

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

 

UP NEXT – Sixteenth 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.

 

 

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Timestamp #102: The Power of Kroll

Doctor Who: The Power of Kroll
The Key to Time, Part V
(4 episodes, s16e17-e20, 1978-79)

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Before now, I had never seen a squid stumble.

The common thread throughout the serial was the weak story. There was very little meat on the bone, and it shows in how detailed my notes are. The story opens in a methane catalyzing refinery where we’re introduced to the crew and their servant, Mensch. The servant, who they treat like swamp scum until he dies, is a native of the planet.

The planet is really a moon orbiting Delta Magna. Taking a cue from The Empire Strikes Back, the moon is one big swamp. Instead of a single green Jedi, the moon’s inhabitants are a group of green natives called the “swampies.” For the record, that’s the last time I’ll mention that name because the narrative treats it in the ugliest manner for the duration.

The commander is returning from somewhere, and the tracking officer notes that a spacecraft followed in the commander’s shuttle. They presume that it must be Rohm-Dutt, a gun-runner who is supplying the natives with weapons in the name of The Sons of Earth. Who are they? A missed opportunity for the plot.

The refinery workers take up arms in pursuit of the smuggler. Coincidentally, the TARDIS arrives at that same time, and as the Doctor and Romana search for the next Key Fragment, Romana is abducted by the natives and the Doctor is ambushed by the humans. K9 gets to stay in the TARDIS since he cannot navigate the swamp. Lucky dog.

Rohm-Dutt questions Romana about her presence and intentions, and the Doctor gets a similar treatment from the workers. After he convinces them that he’s not a threat, the refinery personnel decide to keep the Doctor at their facility. He accompanies them to watch an orbit shot, the purpose of which is, well, not really explained.

Romana, on the other hand, gets to meet the local god since the natives decide to sacrifice her to the mighty Kroll. She’s tied to a stake, subjected to the local interpretation of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and gets scared by a native in a squid suit. With the Doctor’s quip that “it probably looked more convincing from the front,” it’s apparent that this serial is mocking itself.

After freeing Romana, the Doctor reveals that he has (somehow) recovered the Key Core. They decide to investigate further for reasons and discover a text that references Kroll, a creature that consumed a previous High Priest, and has made three appearances. It’s due for a fourth, which happens in short order. The refinery workers note that something has caused the moon’s surface to move up briefly and then settle again. They find that the Doctor has left the complex, decide that he’s a sympathizer who is going to warn the natives of a pending human assault on them, and set out in pursuit to kill him. Everything converges as the humans hunt the Time Lords, the natives attack the humans, their weapons explode on use, Kroll eats Mensch, and the natives retreat to settle the score with Rohm-Dutt and seek a blood sacrifice to appease the god.

The god Kroll is a giant squid. How Lovecraftian.

The natives capture the Time Lords, bundling them with Rohm-Dutt as a massive sacrifice under one of the “seven holy rituals.” The Doctor finds it lucky that they get to participate in the seventh, which is the swamp equivalent of torture by the racks. The second episode ends as Kroll seeks out the refinery, which apparently has been harvesting methane produced by the creature when it hibernates and has been drilling right into it, and eats one of the crewmen after breaking through a pipe.

The Doctor questions the native High Priest about Kroll, trying to hypnotize him so the man will free them, but all he gets is some backstory. Rohm-Dutt also admits that the refinery foreman paid him handsomely to sell the faulty weapons to the natives and discredit The Sons of Earth. See above, re: missed opportunity.

Luckily, the captives break free courtesy of two conveniences: The Doctor shatters a window with his singing and the ensuing storm loosens their bonds. Seven really is his lucky number. They make their way across the swamps and encounter the Kroll once again. It eats Rohm-Dutt and a native, leading the Doctor to deduce that it hunts by vibration.

Those two paragraphs were Episode Three. Yes, really.

The refinery commander, who is going insane in his need to eliminate his opposition, decides to aim the next orbital shot (whatever that is) at the Kroll, but his crew afraid that it will ignite the thin atmosphere and kill all of the natives. The Doctor stops the launch and the Kroll escapes, but the Time Lords do not as the commander catches up to them.

The natives invade the refinery, ending the commander’s threat at the surprise end of a spear. Kroll resumes its assault on the refinery, but the Doctor and the remaining refinery worker distract it by engaging all of the platform’s equipment and alarms. The High Priest offers a prayer to the tentacle emerging from the broken pipe. He ends up becoming a sacrament.

The Doctor takes the Key Core topside, testing his theory that the source of the Kroll’s power is the Fragment. After getting a hug from the squid, he transforms it into the Fifth Segment. The story ends with an aborted bang as the Doctor short circuits the computer to prevent the next orbit shot, which would have been into a plugged firing tube.

The Doctor and Romana make their way back to the TARDIS and take off, thankfully ending this adventure.

Why thankfully?

This one is stretched thin across the board. The refinery crew is acted poorly, as are the natives, and they have the extra baggage of the Savage Indian trope. The special effects are bad, and so is the script, especially when thin atmosphere and weak gravity are explicitly called out but neither is readily apparent in the acting. Even the regulars are poorly written with jokes that fail so hard at landing that they reach escape velocity without a push.

This could have easily been turned serious as another Doctor Who allegory on colonialism, capitalism, racism, slavery, and religion. It could have been as deep as The Mutants. Instead, we get a self-effacing farce that doesn’t even take advantage of the groundwork to the Key to Time arc. We’ve had one or two hints, but the warning to beware the Black Guardian hasn’t had any payoff at all.

The tremendous positive here is how the Key Fragment was handled. In the previous four stories, the fragments have all been random objects like a lump of jethrik ore, the remnants of a compressed planet, the Great Seal of Diplos, and a piece of a statue. The rub is that the Key was sold to us as a powerful and legendary artifact that maintains the equilibrium of time. This story treated the Key Fragment like one of the Marvel Cinematic Universe‘s Infinity Stones, making it so powerful that it warped the narrative around it. The Time Lords couldn’t just theoretically arrive, identify and snag the treasure, and then leave. Instead, they had no choice but to literally fight the monster to solve the story’s conflict and earn the reward. In this story, they had to work for it.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough.

I’m surprised at how thin and disengaging this story is. Robert Holmes has been the writer behind some of the highest ratings in the Timestamps Project – Spearhead from SpaceTerror of the AutonsThe Time WarriorThe Ark in SpacePyramids of MarsThe Talons of Weng-Chiang, and The Ribos Operation – but this one turned out more like The Krotons and The Space Pirates.

 

Rating: 1/5 – “EXTERMINATE!”

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Armageddon Factor

 

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 #101: The Androids of Tara

Doctor Who: The Androids of Tara
The Key to Time, Part IV
(4 episodes, s16e13-e16, 1978)

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As a bookend to the fifteenth anniversary, it could have been so much more.

With the TARDIS in transit, the Doctor challenges K9 to a game of chess. Romana uses the Key’s tracker to steer their course to Tara. While the Doctor goes fishing, Romana hunts for the next fragment. As she locates it, she is attacked by a wood beast and rescued by a knight with a electrified sword. He identifies himself as Count Grendel of Gracht, and he confiscates the fragment under the law for identification. To compensate her, the count takes Romana to his castle to tend after her twisted ankle.

The Doctor, asleep on the riverbank, is found by Zadek and Farrah, two swordsmen, and they recruit him to fix their android. The Doctor is taken to Prince Reynart who offers him a reward for his services fixing the android, which looks like the androids from a different Fourth Doctor adventure. After a face is attached, it is designed to look like the prince and act as a (life model) decoy for his coronation the next day.

Upon arriving at the Count’s castle, Romana is tended to an engineer named Lamia. The engineer and count admire her “construction” and decide to disassemble her. The swelling in her ankle convinces them that she’s not an android after all. Instead of being disassembled, she is drugged. Similarly, he ends up drugging the retinue and kidnapping the prince.

When they come to, the Doctor and the retinue develop a plan to use the android decoy to stand in until the prince is rescued. The Doctor calls in K9 for support and learns that Romana has not yet returned. In Grendel’s castle, Romana awakens and is taken to see Princess Strella and Prince Reynart. Both are Grendel’s captives, and Romana is physically identical to the princess. If Reynart is not crowned as king at the proper time, Grendel may be chosen to ascend in his stead. The count leaves Romana and the prince in their cell and heads to the coronation.

The Doctor sends K9 to Count Grendel’s castle to search for Romana and the prince while he and the rest of the retinue carry on with the decoy plot. As they journey, the retinue explains how a plague attacked ninety percent of the population and the androids were built to keep the civilization moving. The culture has become a mix of feudal and futuristic elements. They are attacked by Grendel’s men, but still manage to arrive in time for the ceremony. In a somewhat Weekend at Bernie’s sequence, the android is crowned, but as Princess Strella approaches to pledge her fealty, the Doctor grabs the royal scepter and strikes her dead.

This really isn’t a very good cliffhanger since we know that Romana and Princess Strella are still in captivity.

The princess is really an android. Count Grendel convinces Zardek to postpone the oath-taking until the next day on the premise that other android assassins may be in the court. Grendel retreats to his castle and orders Lamia (who is experimenting with the Key Fragment) to build a Romana android that will assassinate the Doctor. Grendel then offers the Doctor a chance to collect Romana, which he knows is a trap, but chooses to spring anyway. The real Romana escapes and makes her way on horseback to the Doctor, but arrives to find Lamia dead after the Doctor and K9 have thwarted the assassination attempt.  She escapes with the Doctor to the prince’s home, with Grendel in hot pursuit. In private discussion, the count stalls by offering the throne to the Doctor, but then destroys the decoy prince and escapes with Romana.

Count Grendel explains his new plan for usurping power: Romana will marry the king, who will then die as a matter of convenience so Grendel can marry the widow and assume the throne. The Doctor knows that a full siege of the castle would take too long, so he and K9 sneak in through the moat and tunnel system to disrupt the wedding. After a sword duel, during which the gates are opened and the prince’s forces storm the castle, Count Grendel escapes by diving into the moat and swimming away, presumably into exile. Meanwhile, Romana rescues Princess Strella from captivity.

Putting the wrap on the adventure, Prince Reynart reunites with Princess Strella, the Doctor reunites with Romana, and the Time Lords reunite with the Key Fragment. On their way back to the TARDIS, they make one more stop: They must retrieve K9 from the boat in the middle of the moat.

The positives: Mary Tamm and her four distinct roles (Romana, Romana-bot, Princess Strella, and Princess-bot). I mean, it was fun to see her range and skill beyond being a snarky foil for the Doctor.

The negatives: Pretty much everything else. It was a lackluster story, and while the rest of the season hasn’t been exactly stellar, at least the other tales were fun. This one felt paint-by-the-numbers and, dare I say, boring. I wasn’t horrible, but it wasn’t great either.

Remember how I said that Louise Jameson saved Underworld from joining the ranks of failing grades for me?

Thank Mary Tamm for this one.

 

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

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Power of Kroll

 

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 #100: The Stones of Blood

Doctor Who: The Stones of Blood
The Key to Time, Part III
(4 episodes, s16e09-e12, 1978)

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It’s a time of milestones: The 100th adventure, the dawn of the franchise’s 15th anniversary, and the 100th (regular) Timestamp.

This adventure begins as the Doctor and Romana assemble the first two pieces of the Key to Time, with Romana one-upping the Doctor repeatedly. The Doctor determines that the next stop is Earth, where a druidic sect is pouring blood on the stones of a cromlech. As he pilots the TARDIS to their destination, they duo receive a warning to beware of the Black Guardian. This prompts the Doctor to finally explain the mission to Romana.

The TARDIS lands and the Time Lords set out, soon coming across the stone circle and an archaeologist named Amelia Rumford. The professor introduces the stone circle as the Nine Travellers, and explains the blood as it relates to deVries and his sect, worshippers of Cailleach. The Doctor heads out to meet deVries while Romana (and her impractical shoes) keeps an eye on Professor Rumford and her assistant, Vivien Fay.

Mr. deVries and his maid, Martha, are in the middle of an incantation when the Doctor arrives, and deVries entertains the Doctor as he stalls for time. During the tour, the Doctor notes that the portraits of the previous owners have been taken down. That may be important later. Meanwhile, the survey team wrap up their work and retire to their cottage for tea. Crows have been circling the site all afternoon, but as the team leaves, the birds depart. DeVries explains to the Doctor that the crows and ravens are the eyes of the Cailleach, and as a figure appears in a rather ridiculous bird costume to draw the Doctor’s attention, deVries knocks him out. Back at the stone circle, Romana hears the Doctor’s voice calling, and she investigates in her bare feet. She approaches a cliff and is startled by something unseen, toppling backward off the edge toward the ocean below.

The Doctor awakens on a sacrificial altar inside the Nine Travellers, but as the professor approaches on a bicycle, the druids scatter. Rumford had returned to offer Romana a flask of tea, and together (with the help of K9’s nose) they save Romana from her state as a literal cliffhanger. Romana claims that the Doctor pushed her over the edge, but after K9 verifies the Doctor’s identity, Romana determines that it must be the third Segment’s power at play. After a brief respite in the TARDIS, they return to the cromlech and continue tracking the Segment. Between the camera angles and the acting, it’s no longer a mystery that Vivien has something to do with the use of the Segment’s power.

As Romana accompanies the women to the cottage, the Doctor and K9 visit deVries. Just before they arrive, deVries and Martha are crushed by giant sentient stones. The stone returns to attack the Doctor and is repelled by K9, however the pup is critically damaged. At the cottage, Romana reviews the professor’s notes, noting that the owners of Boscombe Hall, the headquarters of the druids and the site of the Convent of the Little Sisters of Saint Gudula, have all been women. Romana and Rumford head to the Hall to investigate further where they find the Doctor working on K9. Romana takes K9 back to the TARDIS to rebuild him while the Doctor pursues the lead that the stone creature feeds on blood.

The next few minutes are a rapid series of back and forths. At the stone circle, a woman in the crow costume summons another stone creature with a bowl of blood. At the Hall, the Doctor puts his investigative skills to use and discovers a priest hole. Inside, he discovers the portraits of the Hall’s previous owners: They all share the likeness of Vivien Fay. At the TARDIS, Romana starts the process of restoring K9, but as she leaves she notes a raven and a crow watching her. Vivien intercepts her at the stone circle and operates a scepter, causing Romana to disappear.

The Doctor and Rumford are chased out of the Hall by one of the stone creatures. They lead it to Romana’s cliff and the Doctor plays matador, tricking the beast into a late night swim where it sinks to its death. The pair meet up with Vivien at the stone circle where she offers Romana’s safety if he leaves her alone. She then vanishes in the same manner as Romana, telling the Doctor to count the stones. He notes the missing stones and links their sentience to the Ogri, a race from Ogros in the Tau Ceti system.

The Doctor (and a fully recovered K9) determine that Romana and Vivien are hiding in hyperspace, so the Time Lord builds a device to jump into hyperspace. While he is away, Rumford and K9 defend the device against two attacking Ogri. The Doctor materializes on a spaceship, a prison vessel of some sort, and frees Romana. The ship is physically hovering just over the Nine Travellers, but cannot be seen because it is in an additional dimension to our own. The Time Lords search the ship and discover two sparkling globes called the Megara. They are justice machines who act as judge, jury, and executioner when the law is violated. The Doctor and Romana sneak away as the Megara deliberate.

As K9’s power packs expire, his force field fails, but the Ogri retreat to recharge. They quickly come across two unfortunate campers who are consumed tout de suite. Professor Rumford reactivates the machine on schedule, but the gateway summons a silver-colored Vivien instead of the Time Lords. She destroys the machine, then returns to the ship with the two Ogri to break the news to the Doctor and Romana. Vivien sics the Ogri on the Time Lords, but the Megara interrupt to dispense justice. Since they have deliberated in his absence, he petitions for an appeal and is granted a two hour reprieve to state his case. He calls Romana and Vivien to the witness stand, constructing his defense that they only released the Megara in concern for their welfare.

Romana continues to search the ship while Vivien is testifying – the Megara kill one of the Ogri after Vivien tries to summon them to her defense, and the Doctor petitions for her to be attached to the truth assessor, a Megara lie detector – and both she and the remaining Ogri are teleported back to the stone circle thanks to Rumford’s repair of the hyperspace device. They escape, and eventually discover a potential weakness in Vivien. They run from the Ogri, and Romana and the Ogri return to the ship.

As the Doctor continues his trial, he uncovers that Vivien is the Cessair of Diplos, a criminal wanted by the Megara for murder and misappropriation of the Great Seal of Diplos. The Megara are not convinced and pass sentence on the Doctor, however when they attempt to execute him, he pulls Vivien into the beam with him. The beam is short-circuited, and the Megara are convinced to scan Vivien to learn the truth. When all is said and done, the Ogri is returned home, Vivien is imprisoned in a stone at the cromlech for fifteen hundred years, and the Great Seal of Diplos – the third Segment to the Key of Time – is taken by the Time Lords. As the Megara turn their attention to the Doctor’s sentence, he uses the Seal to send them back to hyperspace.

With their epic quest halfway completed, the Doctor and Romana leave in the TARDIS and continue to their next stop.

This story was a fun one overall with some incredible chemistry between Tom Baker’s Doctor and Beatrix Lehmann’s Amelia Rumford. It also showcased a costuming choice for Vivien’s Cessair of Diplos role that would have been right at home on Star Trek. Her somewhat risqué (for this franchise so far, at any rate) low-cut silver-gray gown called back to William Ware Theiss and his famous theory of titillation.

This serial wasn’t perfect by any stretch: The “Time Lord on trial” angle of the story was a bit rough, and while it worked out in the end, it felt kind of wedged in between the more supernatural elements of the plot. The start of the second episode was also a bit jarring since it was the only one not to contain the standard “last week on Doctor Who” cliffhanger-refresher segment.

One final note is another Star Trek link: Tau Ceti appears to be a galactic crossroads in both franchises. In Doctor Who, it is home to Diplos, Ogros, and Zygor. On a larger scale, Star Trek references the star system on the order of ten times in over fifty years, including as the home of the Traveler and the Kobayashi Maru. These franchises aren’t unique in this regard, since Tau Ceti is a staple of modern science fiction.

It only makes sense, almost as a rite of passage, that this franchise would take advantage of the second closest main sequence star to our own.

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

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Androids of Tara

 

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 #99: The Pirate Planet

Doctor Who: The Pirate Planet
The Key to Time, Part II
(4 episodes, s16e05-e08, 1978)

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I’m ushering out the double digits with Douglas Adams. There’s no better way to go.

The story begins with the impatient and flamboyant captain of a mining operation taking out his frustrations on a nervous Mr. Fibuli. The vacillating scientist informs him that a new source of vasilium has been located, and the captain orders it mined before making an announcement to the city about their potential promised prosperity. The citizens are comically overjoyed, but one stands out as underwhelmed. Unbeknownst to him, that man is being watched as a selectee by a local cult. Because it’s Doctor Who, and cults are standard operating procedure.

On the TARDIS, the Doctor cleans and stores the first segment of the Key of Time before joining Romana in the console room as she studies the obsolete time capsule that is her current home. The Doctor inserts the core into the console and is, shall we say, less than enthralled about the next destination: Calufrax. The TARDIS is unable to materialize – Romana thinks that the Doctor doesn’t drive properly, but the Doctor believes that this was a natural aberration – and the event damages the mining operation’s engines and the Doctor’s face. Romana takes the helm and pilots the TARDIS by the book, and they materialize without any further incident. Well, except that they aren’t on Calufrax and K9 has starting spinning out of control.

The dissident from the earlier celebrations, Pralix, is having some sort of episode, and just like K9, the cult is chanting and spinning in their headquarters/temple/lair. It’s probably not a coincidence that Pralix is repeating the chant: “Life force dying! Life force dying!”

The Doctor, Romana, and K9 leave the TARDIS to investigate, and while the citizens ignore the Doctor, they readily engage with Romana. In typical Adams fashion, K9 speculates that it’s because she’s prettier. One of the citizens exchanges diamonds and rubies for jelly babies, and proclaims that they are in a new age of prosperity. The man leaves with a warning to avoid the Mentiads, and the Time Lords find that the streets are littered with precious stones. The citizen inadvertently tips off the guards, who eventually encounter and arrest Romana.

Romana has become much more humorous in this episode, and she’s very much the Doctor’s equal in personality. Perhaps that’s why they clash so much more than other companions.

Turns out that the cult members are the Mentiads, and they set out to collect Pralix as the Doctor arrives, drawn by the young man’s cries. Mr. Fibuli informs the captain that the Mentiads are marching, and they link it to a rogue telepath in their bailiwick. The captain sends his guards to intercept the cult, but their weapons are useless, so the leader orders his troops to break contact, locate the telepath, and kill him. The guards arrive at Pralix’s house and K9 stuns them, but the Mentiads are right on their heels. They are impervious to K9’s stun ray, but they quite effectively stun the Doctor with their powers.

The captain discovers that his officers failed and that the telepath is now with the Mentiads, and he executes one of them as an example with his robotic parrot. He’s a pirate captain, you see, so he has to have a parrot. Back in the city, the Doctor comes to and makes a plan to find Pralix and Romana, settling on seeking the Time Lady first since she’s likely to be in more danger. Pralix’s friend Mula sets out to find Pralix as the Doctor and a man named Kimus head to the bridge, which is the captain’s headquarters. It’s a pirate ship, you see, so it has to have a bridge. En route, Kimus explains how their economy works: The mines are automated and refill when the captain announces a new age of prosperity. Coincidentally, the stars in the sky change as well.

Fibuli reports that the macromat field integrator is burned out, and they don’t have a replacement. After listening to Romana’s tale of how the TARDIS works, the captain has her inspect the integrator, and she learns that the planet itself travels through space to each mining location. She asks for the Doctor’s help, and he arrives on cue. They are escorted to the engine room to affect repairs, but after receiving another strange signal from the Key core, the Doctor comes to a conclusion. He convinces the captain to allow them to return to the TARDIS, but then escape (thanks to Kimus) and head for the mines.

The captain is fearful of the Time Lords discovering the secrets at the bottom of the mines: The planet is hollow, and it travels through hyperspace, materializes around a target, absorbs all of the valuable minerals, and destroys the rest. The guards pursue the Doctor’s group through the mines and run straight into the Mentiads, led by Pralix. They erect a telepathic force field to block guards, and the entire group returns to the cult’s headquarters where K9 and Mula are waiting.

The target on Calufrax is a crystal that, when refined, can block the Mentiad psychic energy. Though dangerous, the captain orders the mine to operate at excessive capacity to complete this task. Meanwhile, the Mentiads explain the history of the planet, which was prosperous until the reign of Queen Xanaxia. They also discuss the life force, which spikes as each planet is consumed and causes great psychic pain in the telepaths as it is destroyed.

The Doctor and Kimus attempt to steal an air car but fail, and are taken back to the bridge. While they are on the way, Fibuli finds another source of crystals: Earth. After he is restrained, the Doctor grills the captain about his true goals. The Doctor is released and shown to the captain’s trophy room, where the remains of each consumed world is on display. Each display is a supercompressed mass of stone, kept on the very edge of becoming a black hole. If the system were to fail, the pirate planet would be destroyed in a gravitational whirlpool. Disgusted and appalled by this grotesque museum, the Doctor demands to know the end goal, but the captain is pulled away as the Mentiads approach the bridge. The captain attempts to kill the Doctor and Kimus, but K9 arrives and distracts the captain’s assassin robot while the heroes escape. They duck into a room where they find Queen Xanaxia, held in a series of time dams at the last seconds of her life, which are powered by the energy extracted from each planet.

I loved the scene with K9 returning to the Doctor with his own trophy, the dead robotic parrot assassin, in the equivalent of his mouth.

The Doctor returns to the bridge, ready to expose the secrets he’s discovered, and is made to walk the plank – It’s a pirate ship, you see, so it has to have a plank – however the real Doctor appears with a projector. The one who was thrown overboard was a hologram, and so is the captain’s nurse, the latter being powered by the Queen. The Queen’s image is nearly corporeal, almost resurrecting her. She also is in control of the captain. The downside is that the time dams require an exponentially increasing amount of energy, and there is not enough power in the universe to keep her alive indefinitely.

Fibuli completes his crystal-powered psychic jammer, which removes the Mentiad advantage, and the Queen’s avatar and the captain prepare to jump to Earth. The Doctor escapes and encounters the group, and he tasks K9 with establishing an inference wave to counteract the psychic jammer. Meanwhile, the Time Lords remember what happened with the TARDIS upon arrival – both the TARDIS and the planet were trying to materialize at the same time, cancelling each action – and they return to the TARDIS with a plan.

The Doctor dropped the apple on Newton’s head? That made me laugh.

The Time Lords repeat the circumstances, effectively jamming the planet’s materialization, while the Doctor communicates telepathically with the Mentiads. As the TARDIS nearly comes apart around him, the Doctor guides the Mentiads on destroying a component in the engine room. The end result is that the bridge is in shambles, Fibuli is dead, and the captain mourns him. The captain attempts to kill the nurse avatar, but she turns on him. Kimus fires on the avatar, and she is destroyed.

When the TARDIS materializes, the Doctor and Romana return to the trophy room and discover that the remains of Calufrax are the second fragment of the Key. After the captain and the nurse are killed, the Doctor develops a plan to restore the planets (though the status of their valuable minerals is unknown) and retrieve the Key fragment. He wraps up the adventure by helping the Zanak natives destroy the bridge and seal their new freedom in a nice spatial neighborhood.

This was fun adventure that kept clipping along. It had the whimsy of recent stories, but it took the extra step of ratcheting up the humor to match the fantastic plots. That places it in a better position than the rest of the more fanciful serials since Sarah Jane’s departure.

I’m also a fan of Douglas Adams. There are a lot of parallels between works like The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and this franchise, so his touch on the Doctor Who mythos didn’t hurt a bit.

 

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

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Stones of Blood

 

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 #98: The Ribos Operation

Doctor Who: The Ribos Operation
The Key to Time, Part I
(4 episodes, s16e01-e04, 1978)

timestamp-098-the-ribos-operation

 

Our Odd Couple meets an intergalactic Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Sorta kinda.

The Doctor is training K9 to respond to a dog whistle, and then promises him a holiday. It is not meant to be as the TARDIS loses power and materializes in a bright white light. The doors open and the Doctor is summoned by the White Guardian, a being that the Doctor appears to deeply respect. The White Guardian tasks the Time Lord with locating and assembling the Key to Time, a powerful cube that controls the equilibrium of time. A Black Guardian, the counter to the White Guardian, is also seeking the Key. The Doctor is given a locator to find the pieces, as well as an assistant in the Time Lady Romanadvoratrelundar. For simplicity, let’s call her Romana. Or Fred. Nah, Romana is better.

Romana, a new graduate the Time Lord Academy, gives the Doctor the core to the Key. The core acts as a homing beacon for the pieces of the Key, and it takes them Cyrrenhis Minima, and then immediately to Ribos. Coincidentally, on Ribos, two men are sneaking onto a castle’s parapet. In the room below, the guards extinguish the lights and secure the treasure room. One of the shady figures, Unstoffe, slips the guard dragon a Mickey, drop into the room, and set to work. Instead of stealing anything, he leaves a large blue stone in the display case. Meanwhile, Garron, the other rogue, meets up with the Graff Vynda-K, and exiled tyrant.

The Doctor and Romana arrive on Ribos, and as he is warning her to expect the unexpected, he gets trapped in an unexpected snare.

The Graff is astounded by the supply of jethrik, a very valuable mineral, on the planet. Garron eavesdrops on the conversation, but is interrupted by the Time Lords. Garron escapes, and the duo continue on to the treasure room. They trace Key fragment to the Crown Jewels, but Unstoffe drugs the guard and sounds the alarm, causing the rest of the guards to converge and lower the door to the waking dragon as part of their morning ritual. The Time Lords hide as the guards enter and open the room. Garron follows, petitioning the guards to store a large sum of money for him in the vault. The Doctor presumes that the rogue is also after the Key segment.

The money is intended as a deposit by the Graff for the purchase of the planet, which Vynda-K intends to use as a base for an army and navy. Together, Garron and Unstoffe weave a con about a lost mine of jethrik, which intrigues the Graff. The Doctor and Romana investigate the jethrik that Unstoffe smuggled into the vault, and they deduce that it is the Key fragment. Meanwhile, the Graff finds a bug in his chambers and determines that Garron is trying to swindle him. If true, the Graff intends to kill the conman.

The Doctor unravels the con and sneaks into the vault from below as Unstoffe sneaks in from above, both targeting the jethrik. Unstoffe is one step ahead, however, and gives the Time Lord the slip. The Doctor escapes through the dragon’s den and attempts to run with Romana and Garron, but is intercepted by the Graff. He takes them into custody as he attempts to recover his money and discovers that the story of the lost mine was part of the con. From the cell, the Doctor signals K9 with the dog whistle.

The Ribos guards use the Seeker, a local religious shaman who uncovers Unstoffe’s hideout. The guards prepare a raid, but the Graff plots to kill the guards and take the stone for himself. Unstoffe takes refuge with an outcast named Binro, a heretic who eschews the mythology of two battling titans for a more scientific explanation of the seasons, which the rogue validates.

The captives use the listening device in Graff’s quarters to warn Unstoffe of the pending raid, and Binro offers refuge in the city’s catacombs. Meanwhile, K9 frees the captives, and they follow the Key’s core to the catacombs and the jethrik. The trifecta is completed when the Seeker sends the guards to the labyrinths (home of the ice gods) in pursuit of Unstoffe.

Convenient plot point: The catacombs also house wild shrivenzales, just like the one that guards the vault. As the Graff and the guards search for everyone, the Doctor inadvertently gives away their position by knocking loose a skull. The creatures come to the rescue, scattering the guards, and the Graff resolves to use the Seeker’s talents to find the fugitives.

Outside the catacombs, the Graff waits impatiently for the Seeker, killing a guard to prove his might. The Seeker reveals that if the Graff’s platoon enters the catacombs, all but one of them will die. They proceed regardless.

Binro offers to help find Garron for Unstoffe, but the rogue finds Unstoffe on his own with help from the recently stolen Key core.  Binro, on the other hand, is apprehended by the Graff. The Seeker leads the Graff to the rouges, but Binro sacrifices himself for them. Unstoffe is wounded as he charges the Graff, and Garron tries to bluff his way out. As the Doctor, disguised as a guard, signals for K9, a shrivenzale attacks. Romana and K9 follow the sounds of combat, and the guards outside the catacombs seal the labyrinth with cannon fire. In the resulting cave-in, Sholak is crushed and the Graff vows revenge.

Romana and K9 free Garron and Unstoffe. Elsewhere, the Graff kills the Seeker before turning on the disguised Doctor, determined to be the last one standing as the Seeker’s prophecy comes to pass. He hands the Doctor a timed explosive and leaves, but not before the Doctor exchanges it for the jethrik. The Graff is killed in the explosion.

The Doctor and Romana head for the TARDIS, avoiding an attempt by the rogues to pick the Doctor’s pocket, and leaving them to commandeer the former Graff’s ship. The Time Lords depart with only five segments remaining in their quest.

I really liked the dynamic between the two pairs. Garron and Unstoffe are evidently very close friends and colleagues, and the contrast between them and the Time Lord team helped drive the character drama. Placing the Doctor and Romana into an Odd Couple dynamic – newcomer Romana takes the role of Felix while the Doctor and his increasingly ratty scarf is our Oscar – added some humor to this already madcap con artist story. Even more interesting is how the reluctant mentor is evoking some of the grumpiness from regenerations past.

I settled at a 3.5, and I round up.
Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Pirate Planet

 

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.