Timestamp Special #11: Shada (Eighth Doctor)

Doctor Who: Shada (Eighth Doctor)
(6 episodes, 2003)

 

A new look on a once unfinished classic.

The story opens on Gallifrey with the Eighth Doctor paying a visit to Romana and K9. Romana has been elected Lord President and has not regenerated since taking her second incarnation, and the Doctor has intentionally breached the transduction barriers to steal his former companion away for an adventure from their past. He talks of their travels together four of his regenerations ago – collecting the Key to Time, defacing da Vinci’s artwork, and punting on the River Cam – and Romana mentions their bout in stasis during their trip to Cambridge. It seems that neither Romana nor K9 remember the visit to Professor Chronotis, and together they believe that they landed in Cambridge, sailed the river, were put in stasis, and then immediately set course for Brighton.

It was only because of a vision… a dream… that the Doctor even thought of this point in his history, and now he wants answers.

Across the universe, the Institute for Advanced Scientific Studies drifts through space under quarantine. The station has suffered an accident, and scientists Skagra and Caldera discuss the situation and a familiar sphere. Skagra demonstrates the sphere’s ability to consume minds, much to Caldera’s horror.

On Earth, Chris Parsons visits Professor Chronotis (who is housing the TARDIS in his office) to borrow books on carbon dating. Parsons picks up a book with mysterious writing, gathers the carbon dating references, and departs in a hurry. Chris travels to his lab to meet a woman named Claire, and when he analyzes it, he calls Claire right away to seek her advice.

Elsewhere, the Doctor and Romana wander the university’s grounds on their way to the professor’s office. Romana hears a babbling of voices as Skagra and his sphere lurk in the shadows. They also meet Mr. Wilkin, who still remembers the Doctor and the honorary degree in 1960. Wilkin remembers the Doctor’s three visits (1964, 1960, and 1955), but has no recollection of the fourth visit thanks to the events of The Five Doctors. The Time Lords arrive in Chronotis’s office, and this time it is no surprise that the professor is also a Time Lord. The Doctor tells the professor that they came at his summons, but the professor says that he didn’t send the signal. After a little prodding, the professor remembers that he summoned the Time Lords to help find the missing book.

Skagra, having spoken to Wilkin, follows his previous actions: He hitches a ride with a stranger (in a Ford Prefect in honor of Shada writer Douglas Adams), assaults the stranger with the sphere, and steals the car. The event echoes to our Time Lord trio as they hear voices.

The professor explains that the missing book is The Worshipful and Ancient Law of Gallifrey, dating from the era of Rassilon. The Doctor is beside himself: The book is one of the powerful artifacts, and the professor stole it from the Panopticon Archives upon his retirement. As Time Lords past and present continue to search the professor’s library, Skagra absorbs massive amounts of data about the Doctor, continuing the same path as before.

Skagra’s ship is beautiful in this incarnation, and he’s not wearing the sun hat and flowing silver cape from 1979-80 which is a plus. Also, despite it being pompous, I did like the expanded mythology of the Time Lord Academy and their induction oath: “I swear to protect the ancient Law of Gallifrey with all my might and brain. I will to the end of my days, with justice and with honor, temper my actions and my thoughts.”

Carrying on, the Doctor and Romana briefly discuss Salyavin, a Gallifreyan criminal and one of the Doctor’s heroes. When the Doctor asks Chronotis about Salyavin, the professor scrounges up Chris Parsons’s identity from his spotty memory. The Doctor goes to find Parsons while Romana stays with the professor.

In the laboratory, Claire (who no longer resembles Sarah Jane like she did in the original Shada) and Chris are analyzing the book. As they puzzle over it, Skagra returns to Cambridge and pesters Wilkin for directions to the professor’s office. The professor runs out of milk (after brewing his tenth pot of tea), and as Romana looks in the TARDIS for some, Skagra arrives in contemporary clothes and demands the book. When Chronotis refuses to yield, Skagra’s sphere attacks.

Chris returns to the professor’s office as Romana and K9 (after a brief discussion of milk in the console room) examine Chronotis. The professor has had part of his mind extracted, resulting in severe mental trauma. Romana sends Chris into the TARDIS for a medical kit while she tends to the professor, placing him on life support with the kit Chris retrieves.

After the Doctor arrives at the lab, he and Claire analyze the book and determine that it is 20,000 years old. Meanwhile, in his ship, Skagra analyzes the professor’s mental data. After it doesn’t pan out, he pursues the Doctor. In office, K9 and Romana tend to the professor. Sadly, he is in a vegetative state, but he does send a message in Gallifreyan morse code (via his heartsbeat) warning them of the spheres, Skagra, and Shada before dying.

Skagra intercepts the Doctor and the book. The Doctor is pursued through Cambridge by the sphere, losing the book in the chase. Skagra retrieves the book, but the Doctor is captured by the sphere and it starts to drain his mind. This version of the chase loses the situational humor and impact of the original version, which is just as well given the limited visual effects of the animation.

Romana arrives in the TARDIS and rescues the Doctor. They return to the professor’s offices just after the retired Time Lord disappears – no regeneration or anything, which makes the Doctor think that Chronotis was on his last life – and the Doctor vows vengeance. K9 scans for the sphere as the Time Lords and Chris wait in the TARDIS.

Claire heads to the professor’s offices with a printout just as the TARDIS dematerializes in pursuit of the sphere. The capsule arrives in the field where Skagra’s ship is located – K9 is displeased about navigating the pasture – and Skagra welcomes the group aboard before taking them prisoner. Skagra reveals that he was only interested in the professor’s mind, not his life, and he demands that the Doctor decode the book. When the Doctor stalls and delays, the sphere attacks him. In their cell, Romana, K9, and Chris look for a way out. They can find nothing, and K9 cannot blast out. The robotic dog does detect the voices, including a new addition in the Doctor’s voice. Romana is transmatted from the cell and forced by Skagra to pilot the TARDIS.

Claire, in search of the professor, finds Wilkin and explains that the book is absorbing energy. She returns to the office while Wilkin looks for Chronotis, and as she looks about, she inadvertently sets off an explosion that results in a time vortex filling the space.

The Doctor awakens on the ship and reveals to the vessel’s computer that since he was playing dumb, the sphere only copied his mind. He convinces the ship that he is dead to secure freedom for him and his companions, and it replies by shutting off the air supply.  When Chris and K9 are transmatted into the corridor, the ship promptly restores life support. Just as it was in the original, this moment was a cheap cliffhanger.

Following the original story closely, the TARDIS travels and Skagra reveals that he is after the criminal Salyavin. Thus, he needs Time Lord technology to find him. They materialize on the Krarg carrier ship, and Romana discovers that only a Time Lord can decipher the book. Back on Earth, the Doctor pilots Skagra’s ship into space, setting the course for Think Tank, and it dematerializes just like a TARDIS as he boosts the power. There’s also a Krarg on the ship.

Claire awakens inside the professor’s office to discover Professor Chronotis. The office is a TARDIS, Claire has activated it, and the capsule restored him in the accidental temporal convergence. Oh, and the book… yeah, the book is revealed to be the key to Shada, a Time Lord prison.

Back on the carrier, Skagra plows through the Doctor’s memories but is unable to crack the code. As the Doctor’s ship arrives at the Think Tank, he and Chris board the ship while K9 holds the Krarg at bay. On the carrier, Skagra and Romana retreat to the Doctor’s TARDIS. As Skagra turns the pages and continues his study, the TARDIS operates, and he deduces that turning the last page will unlock the code.

The Doctor and Chris discover the aged members of the Think Tank, and the Doctor connects Chris to the machine. This restores the Think Tank members, and the lead scientist, Caldera, explains the group’s history with Skagra. The evil scientist intends to use his intellect to dominate humanity by merging everything into himself, but needs Salyavin to do so. The Doctor is interrupted by K9, who has no choice but to release the Krarg, and the crystalline creature attacks the group. In the process it destroys the central computer column. In the smoke, the Doctor, K9, and Chris escape to Skagra’s ship and escape just in time. Sadly, the Think Tank members die as their ship explodes. The Doctor feels guilty, but K9 assuages him by reporting that only the Doctor and Chris were still alive when the Krarg attacked.

The professor’s TARDIS is wedged between two irrational time interfaces, and Chronotis and Claire attempt to fix the capsule (with a sonic screwdriver!). The retired Time Lord telepathically focuses on Claire’s mind and transfers his knowledge into her. Meanwhile, Skagra’s ship arrives at the carrier, and in the attempt to rescue Romana, the Doctor, Chris, and K9 end up inside the professor’s newly repaired TARDIS. While everyone catches up, Skagra pilots the Doctor’s TARDIS to Shada using the book and start searching for Salyavin. The Doctor and Chronotis soon follow in the professor’s TARDIS, and when they arrive, they leave Chris and Claire in the time capsule while they search for Skagra.

Skagra starts the revival process in the prison, but Salyavin’s not there. The other two Time Lords arrive and Chronotis reveals that he is Salyavin. Chris and Claire come to the same conclusion and leave the TARDIS to confront him.

Skagra drains Salyavin’s mind, and not even K9 can slow it down. The sphere deposits fragments of all the minds it holds into the Krarg army, starting Skagra’s plan of the universal mind. The sphere attacks Chris and adds him to the collective. K9 builds a wall of ricocheting laser blasts, and the Doctor uses the distraction to escort Romana, Claire, and K9 to the professor’s TARDIS. As the Doctor attempts to find a solution, Romana reminds him that all of the captured minds are in the melting pot, including the Doctor’s.

Romana is wearing a TARDIS key around her neck like a choker. How interesting.

Skagra takes his legion to the Doctor’s TARDIS, preparing to dispatch them throughout the universe. The Doctor, Romana, and Claire use the professor’s TARDIS to generate a force field as they pursue Skagra, capturing the phone box in the time vortex. The Doctor attempts to pass across to his TARDIS, but the force field fades, threatening to toss the Doctor into the vortex. The professor’s TARDIS ends up a shambles, but the Doctor is dumped into his workshop. He formulates a plan, including a helmet with familiar markings and the Second Doctor‘s hat.

Both TARDISes arrive on the carrier ship as the Doctor struggles for control of the joint mind. The Krargs self-destruct, restoring Chris’s mind, and Romana teams with K9 to destroy the Krarg generators. Seeing that he has lost, Skagra retreats to his ship, but the computer incarcerates him after deciding to serve the Doctor. The heroes travel to Shada and restore Salyavin’s mind to his body. The Doctor tries to decide Salyavin’s fate, deducing that Salyavin covered his escape by erasing the memory of Shada from the collective Time Lord memory, including stealing the key. Romana uses her executive authority to sentence Salyavin to Earth, acting once again as Professor Chronotis.

The TARDISes return to Earth. The return of the professor’s offices stumps Wilkin, who has summoned a policeman to report the “stolen room,” as the professor entertains his guests to tea. The Doctor and Romana depart, stymieing the policeman as the TARDIS dematerializes.

 

My feelings on Shada in its entirety are complicated. When I first covered the story, I gave it a solid four out of five rating, calling it an enjoyable romp. Even here, the story remains solid, and it is only amplified  by including Paul McGann, bringing back K9, and advancing the story of Romana following her last appearance in E-Space. Romana’s story is even more special as she has finally surpassed her mentor in nearly every way.

But, while it’s entirely possible to do so, I have a hard time acknowledging it as part of the continuity. I would love to, but this makes the story of Shada so much more complicated than it needs to be. I mean, look at it on the real world timeline:

  • 1979-80 – Shada is intended to serve as the Season 17 finale, but a production strike stops the completion of the story.
  • 1983 – The Five Doctors premieres, in which each incarnation of the Doctor is pulled from (and replaced within) their respective timelines except the Fourth Doctor because Tom Baker didn’t want to participate. Using footage from the unfinished Shada, the Fourth Doctor and Romana are removed from the story during the river punting scene.
  • 1992 – Shada premieres, completed with narration by Tom Baker (sort of in character) over the missing segments. A reasonable viewer could conclude that the events of Shada took place regardless of The Five Doctors: The Doctor and Romana arrived in Cambridge, got abducted by President Borusa, were returned, and then completed the Skagra/Salyavin mission without a hitch.
  • 2003 – This version of Shada premieres. It acknowledges that the Fourth Doctor and Romana arrived in Cambridge, but after their abduction by Borusa, they immediately left Cambridge for Brighton. Presumably, since Skagra couldn’t get access to the Time Lords – assuming that he didn’t have the fortitude to invade Gallifrey and none of the other traveling Time Lords in Doctor Who mythology were available to be brain-sucked by the sphere – the ability to open Shada was lost and the threat was stopped. But, the Eighth Doctor found the hole in his memories and responded to the (what seems to be a fixed constant) call from Chronotis/Salyavin to find the Shada key and stop Skagra, so that means that the threat is still serious enough.

So, why not just stick with the assumption from 1992, especially considering that Shada was finally completed with animation in 2017?

To me, that makes this version an alternate telling of events.

The highlights were having more Paul McGann and furthering the Romana/K9 story. I was a bit put off by the animation and its limits, particularly in the chase sequences and some of the narrative shortcuts that were more powerful visual sequences in the original. Overall, though, it’s still a good tale.

 

With this post – excluding future revisits to Power of the Daleks, The Enemy of the World, The Web of Fear, and Shada thanks to their recovery and reconstruction – the Timestamps Project has covered the entirety of the classic era of Doctor Who. This leg of the journey has taken approximately four and a half years to complete, but the adventure is far from over.

It’s time to revisit the modern era with the understanding of the classic era in my mind.

 

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

 

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Rose

 

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 #7: Dimensions in Time

Doctor Who: Dimensions in Time
(2 episodes, 1993)

 

Celebrating thirty years.

Starting off with a little backstory, this was shown as part of the 1993 Children in Need telethon over two nights. Both parts were bracketed by host Noel Edmonds, and the first part involved a short intro sketch with Jon Pertwee in character as the Doctor. Sadly, this was his last on-screen performance before his death.

On to the story…

The Rani is traveling with her companion, previously having captured (busts of) the First and Second Doctors in an attempt to assemble a menagerie of sentient life-forms to control the universe. That’s kind of her thing, really. Her companion checks off a Cyberman and a Time Lord from Gallifrey, noting that they need a human from Earth to complete the collection.

Elsewhere, the Fourth Doctor (in his Eighteenth Season garb) issues a warning to all of his other incarnations. It appears that he’s too late as the Rani takes aim on the TARDIS and knocks the capsule off course. Instead of landing in China, the Seventh Doctor and Ace materialize on the docks at the Cutty Sark Gardens, circa 1973. As Ace calls for help, the Seventh Doctor transforms into the Sixth Doctor, and both of them are instantly transported to (the fictional) Albert Square. The Sixth Doctor remarks that they have “slipped a groove” in time, and somehow he knows who Ace is.

This timey-wimey-wibbly-wobbliness will drive the rest of the adventure.

As Ace spots a clothing stand and a discount on a jacket from Sanjay and Gita (of The EastEnders), the Sixth Doctor discovers that they are now in 1993. The slipped groove has also slipped them two decades into the future. Just as he begins to question things, the slip happens again, leaving behind the Third Doctor and Mel. The Third Doctor believes that someone is rooting through his timeline and extracting previous incarnations and companions. The pair stop and ask two shop owners (Pauline Fowler and Kathy Beale from The EastEnders) what year they are in, and they are shocked to discover that they are in 2013.

The slips come fast and furious now, bouncing between 1973, 1993, and 2013, all in an attempt to separate the Doctor from the TARDIS and seal all of the Doctors together. One slip occurs, revealing the Sixth Doctor and Susan Foreman, the latter of whom is eager to find her grandfather, Ian, and Barbara. Another slip brings Sarah Jane and the Third Doctor back together. The next reunites the Fifth Doctor, Nyssa, and Peri, and this time they’re under attack from the Rani’s menagerie because our heroes (in all their guises) are too close to the truth.

They face off against a host of villains from the last thirty years (including an Argolin, a biomechanoid, a Cyberman, a Mentor, an Ogron, a Sandminer robot, a Sea Devil, a Tetrap, a Time Lord, a Tractator, a Vanir and a Vervoid, and even Fifi), and after they attempt to warn Pat Butcher (The EastEnders) of the danger – a futile effort, it seems – they are trapped by the Rani outside the Queen Victoria (once more, The EastEnders).

The Fifth Doctor psychically summons the Third Doctor in his place, an act that replaces Nyssa and Peri with Liz Shaw. Liz attempts to disarm the Rani, but then flees after Mandy (The EastEnders) distracts the villain. Mike Yates arrives in Bessie and shoots the gun out of the Rani’s hands, offering the Doctor a way out. Together they flee to a helicopter and the Brigadier.

Another slip occurs, exchanging the Third Doctor for the Sixth as they reach safety. As another slip occurs, the Rani and her companion set course for the Greenwich Meridian to find their missing human specimen. In a garage, the second Romana is flushed out of her hiding spot by Phil and Grant Mitchell (you guessed it, The EastEnders), who point her to their doctor, Harold Legg. As she passes the Queen Victoria, the Rani captures her.

In 1973, the Third Doctor and Victoria Waterfield discuss the nature of the Rani as they return to the TARDIS. Time slips once again, and the Seventh Doctor lands in 1993 and encounters Leela, who has escaped the Rani after being cloned in the form of the second Romana. This is the key that the Doctor needs, since the Rani now has an extra Time Lord brain imprint instead of the human one she needed. The Seventh Doctor, Ace, and K9 rig up a device to overload the time tunnel, capturing the Rani inside while breaking the other Doctors free.

Triumphant, the Seventh Doctor and Ace board the TARDIS for their next adventure, confident in the fact that the Doctor(s) are difficult to get rid of.

 

This was fun but chaotic, and a decent nod to the franchise on its thirtieth anniversary.

 

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

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Death Comes to Time

 

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 #130: The Five Doctors

Doctor Who: The Five Doctors
(Twentieth Anniversary Special, 1983)

 

“I am being diminished, whittled away piece by piece. A man is the sum of his memories you know, a Time Lord even more so…”

After a heart-touching introduction by the First Doctor, we find the Fifth Doctor – To save on confusion, I’m going to call them by number right out of the gate – putting the finishing touches on a brand new control console, and I actually kind of like it. The team is relaxing at the Eye of Orion, taking some time away from the rush of their recent adventures. The tranquil atmosphere has something to do with a bombardment of positive ions, and the Doctor agrees with Tegan that they can vacation for a little while.

Elsewhere, a black-gloved hand fiddles with controls and activates a scanner. On the screen is none other than the First Doctor (though not quite the genuine article due to an obvious need for recasting). A black Phantom Zone-like two-dimensional triangle swoops down and scoops up the Time Lord, an act that causes the Fifth Doctor considerable pain. The First Doctor is reduced to an Eaglemoss figurine and placed on a crystalline display.

Next up, we’re taken to UNIT HQ where Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart is talking to his replacement, Colonel Crighton, when the Second Doctor arrives. The Time Lord has arrived to attend the Brig’s farewell speech and is unhappy with the renovations at UNIT HQ. He and the Brigadier take a walk, reminiscing over the Yeti, the Cybermen, Omega, and the Terrible Zodin (okay, not so much that one) before they too are swept into the Phantom Zone and turned into toys.

On to the Third Doctor, who is trying to outrace the spinning triangle in Bessie. He fails.

Tegan and Turlough escort the Fifth Doctor to the TARDIS, where he tells them that he must find his older selves to stop whatever is chewing at his soul. Meanwhile, back on Earth, Sarah Jane and K9 puzzle over the danger that the robotic dog detects. Sarah Jane ignores his concerns and heads to the bus for her daily schedule. She’s later consumed by the mysterious triangle.

The Fourth Doctor and Romana are punting down the river at Cambridge, just like they did in Shada. It’s a clever re-use of footage, really. Anyway, they are also taken, which causes the Fifth Doctor to collapse, but not before he sets the coordinates. The Fifth Doctor fades in and out before the TARDIS lands, and the mysterious figure adds models of Tegan, Turlough, and the Fifth Doctor to the display.

On Gallifrey, the Inner Council has convened, comprised of a newly-regenerated President Borusa, High Chancellor Flavia, and the Castellan. Shockingly, they admit the Master for a conference. The Inner Council offer a pardon for his long list of crimes and a whole new regeneration cycle in exchange for one act: He is to rescue the Doctor.

Surprise!

The First Doctor wanders an angular cave of mirrors, joined in a surprise appearance by Susan. (There were cheers from this Whovian. I’ve missed her.) The pair run as a Dalek (we haven’t seen them in a while!) rounds a corner and opens fire. The place is known as the Death Zone, an arena-like place on Gallifrey where beings from across the universe were sent to battle for amusement before the time of Rassilon. The Council sent two representatives who did not return. They attempted to send the Doctor, but all of his incarnations have vanished from the timeline. All of them (except the Fourth because Tom Baker had reasons) have been deposited in the Death Zone. Inside the Zone, the First Doctor and Susan trick the Dalek into a mirrored dead end. It fires and the reflected beam destroys the creature, revealing the mutant within the armored casing. Through a hole in the wall, they see the tower of the Death Zone and decide to investigate.

Elsewhere, the Second Doctor and the Brigadier tangle with Cybermen and the Third Doctor reunites with Sarah Jane as he rescues her from a terrible fall. As the First Doctor and Susan wander, they find the Fifth Doctor’s TARDIS and meet Tegan, Turlough, and the Fifth Doctor. The First Doctor spearheads introductions all around and then tasks Tegan with fetching refreshments. She objects, but the Fifth Doctor asks her to humor the oldest of the Doctors. After all, he used to get a bit tetchy. Meanwhile, the Master is sent into the Zone with the Seal of the High Council (to prove his credentials) and a transmat recall device. He is soon found by the Third Doctor and Sarah Jane, but the reunion is broken up by laser fire. The Master runs one direction while the Third Doctor and Sarah Jane go another, but without the aid of Bessie who took a direct hit to the engine.

The Fifth Doctor sets the TARDIS coordinates for the Dark Tower, a place that supposedly holds the tomb of Rassilon and is the current destination for all of the Doctors and companions. The Fifth Doctor, Susan, and Tegan set out on foot to disable the force field around it so the First Doctor and Turlough can move the TARDIS to its doorstep. Meanwhile, the Second Doctor and the Brigadier go in through the cave system beneath the tower, the Third Doctor and Sarah Jane encounter Cybermen, and the Fifth Doctor’s team encounters the Master. The last event is watched by a squad of Cybermen, who rush the Time Lords and stun the Master. The Fifth Doctor sends Susan (who twists her ankle) and Tegan back to the TARDIS before using the transmat recall to return to the capitol. The First Doctor decides to take up the Fifth Doctor’s task, and Tegan joins him. Amusingly, the First Doctor still has a great deal of resentment at being addressed as “Doc.”

The Fifth Doctor confers with the Inner Council about who has control of the time scoop and the Cybermen. He uncovers a homing beacon inside the recall device, surmising that someone led the Cybermen to the Master to attack the Doctors. Borusa has the Castellan, who originally gave the device to the Master, arrested and his office and quarters searched. Meanwhile, the Master makes an arrangement with the Cybermen, who then converge on the TARDIS.

The Third Doctor and Sarah Jane encounter a Raston Warrior Robot, a perfect killing machine, halting their progress until it passes. Luckily, the Cybermen approach and engage the Raston, providing a diversion for our heroes to escape (with the Raston’s supplies). In the caves, the Second Doctor and the Brig find a Yeti, which they evade before finding a door to the Dark Tower. It is unlocked, so a trap must lie beyond.

In the Citadel, a chest containing Black Scrolls of Rassilon, forbidden knowledge from the Dark Times, is found in the Castellan’s quarters. The Castellan is taken away for interrogation but is shot dead (without regeneration) en route. The Fifth Doctor is forbidden by Borusa from returning to the Death Zone. Flavia is tasked with taking care of the Fifth Doctor, and they discuss the possibility that the Castellan was not the traitor.

At this point, all three entrances to the Dark Tower are in use. The Third Doctor and Sarah Jane zipline across to the upper entrance, the Second Doctor and the Brigadier are in the basement, and the First Doctor and Tegan use a biometric entry coder to open the front door. The Master follows through the main entrance with the Cybermen. Interestingly, the First Doctor does not recognize his former classmate. The Master tricks the Cybermen into a death trap, but the CyberLeader survives until the Master tricks and kills him with a Cyberman blaster. The Master passes the trap, followed by the First Doctor and Tegan who survive by using π. Stay in school, kids… math can save your life.

The Third Doctor and Sarah Jane descend toward the Tomb of Rassilon, but the closer they get, the more psychic energy pushes back on Sarah Jane. The Third Doctor scouts ahead and finds former companions Mike Yates and Liz Shaw. Similarly, the Second Doctor encounters Zoe Heriot and Jaimie McCrimmon, but in both cases, the former companions are only specters designed to impede progress toward the heart of the tower. Once the Doctors understand that the companions are mere illusions, they disappear with chilling screams. The First Doctor is unaffected since, at his age, he has nothing left to fear.

The First, Second, and Third Doctors, along with their current traveling companions, finally arrive at the tomb. After a series of reunions, the Doctors decipher the Old High Gallifreyan language of mathematical symbols to discover that whoever wears Rassilon’s ring shall achieve immortality. The First Doctor is troubled by the last line in the text: “To lose is to win and he who wins shall lose.” The Master arrives shortly afterward and threatens the Doctors, but he is sucker-punched by the Brigadier and tied up by Tegan and Sarah Jane.

The Fifth Doctor goes to confer with Borusa, but the president is nowhere to be found. The Doctor discovers that the Harp of Rassilon is a musical key. The key unlocks a chamber where the figurines (including one of the Master) are being overseen by Borusa, the true mastermind of this scheme. The president is not satisfied with leading Gallifrey for all of his lifetimes, but instead want to be immortal and President Eternal. He plans to use the Doctors to clear the path and traps, leaving the way open for him to claim the prize. When the Fifth Doctor refuses to help, Borusa uses the power of the Coronet of Rassilon to compel his cooperation.

Politicians, right?

The Third Doctor reverses the polarity of the neutron flow on the control console, and with the forcefields down around the Tomb of Rassilon, the TARDIS engages autopilot and moves to the tomb with Susan and Turlough. The movement is just in time as the Cybermen detonate a bomb to destroy the TARDIS, but they miss. Soon, the Fifth Doctor and Borusa arrive via transmat to claim the prize. The first three Doctors combine their psionic powers to break the telepathic hold, and as the Fifth Doctor is freed, the voice of Rassilon issues a challenge to Borusa. The First Doctor convinces Rassilon to surrender the ring to Borusa, and the president’s desire is granted: The faces that line the plinth come to life, for they are those who have previously sought immortality, and Borusa becomes one of them.

Rassilon offers immortality to the Doctors, but they decline in exchange for the chance to go back to their respective timestreams. The Fourth Doctor is restored to Shada, and the Master is restored with the promise that his sins will find their punishment in due time. As the Doctors says their farewells, the First Doctor (smugly) explains that he convinced Rassilon to give Borusa the ring because he finally understood the riddle: It was a trap set by Rassilon to weed out the more selfish of their people because they were a danger to civilization. Each set of Doctors and companions boards the TARDIS in order and the TARDIS splits through a form of temporal fission to return them their proper homes.

Chancellor Flavia arrives and tells the Doctor that he is due back to the Citadel. Since Borusa has been disqualified, the High Council has decided that the Doctor shall resume his duties as Lord President. He orders Flavia back to the Citadel, telling her that she has full authority until he arrives in his TARDIS. After ushering Tegan and Turlough aboard, he sets a course and dematerializes, stunning his companions by announcing his intention to not take office.

“You mean you’re deliberately choosing to go on the run from your own people, in a rackety old TARDIS?”

“Why not? After all, that’s how it all started.”

 

All in all, this was a wonderful story to celebrate a significant milestone. I was curious, so I looked at scripted entertainment television across the United States and United Kingdom and came up with a short list of shows to reach twenty years by 1983: Coronation Street, Guiding Light, As the World Turns, General Hospital, The Wonderful World of Disney, Romper Room, Search for Tomorrow, Captain Kangaroo, and The Edge of Night. There were also a couple of semi-scripted children’s shows like Blue Peter and The Sooty Show, but the fact remains that, in a world dominated by soap opera longevity, Doctor Who was the only science-fiction drama reach that mark.

Yeah, they deserved this party.

I was very pleased to see so many of the companions back in action, even if their cameos were short. While I would have loved to see Liz, Zoe, and Jamie get into the mix, the saying holds true that too many cooks spoil the broth. It was clever, however, to subvert nostalgia with the canonical circumstances of The War Games. I appreciate that level of attention to detail.

I did miss having Tom Baker in the mix, which would have drawn The Five Doctors down to four if it hadn’t been for Richard Hurndall. From what I gather in fan circles, his involvement as the First Doctor is sometimes disparaged, but I thought he did a fantastic job. Mixing his performance with the archival footage at the beginning (effectively bringing us two First Doctors) was a nice touch and a beautiful tribute to the beginnings of this franchise.

Finally, that wonderful musical mix over the end credits to tie the eras together: C’est fantastique.

 

Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”

 

 

UP NEXT – Twentieth 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 #114: Warriors’ Gate

Doctor Who: Warriors’ Gate
(4 episodes, s18e17-e20, 1981)

timestamp-114-warriors-gate

 

Romana bids the Doctor farewell on a timey-wimey wibbly-wobbly adventure.

The adventure opens on a bay full of hibernating beings, the universe’s slowest countdown, and a batch of Kilroy Was Here graffiti. The crew in charge of the ship is trying to escape wherever they are through a time rift, but they fail. One of the crew, a feline creature with psychic capability, visualizes the TARDIS. From the start, the story establishes a sense of authenticity, from the graffiti to the joker crewmen who are mocking the proceedings. I knew guys like that in the Navy. Hell, I knew pretty much this entire crew in the submarine force.

The feline creature is being escorted below when he breaks free of his captors and runs. A crewmember named Lane sees him, but can’t find the words to make the report. On the TARDIS, Adric flips a coin and punches a random button, an act that drags the TARDIS into the same space as the running creature and the stranded spacecraft. A place called Nowhere.

Okay, seriously, why is this kid fiddling with the console?

The TARDIS doors open and the creature boards the craft, phasing between timelines with an energy of time winds that burns out the console and K9. The creature phases into the TARDIS’s timeline and identifies himself as Biroc (a shadow of his past and their future), warns them of the people that are following him, and then runs from the craft. The Doctor pursues, leaving Romana, Adric, and K9 behind to determine that this place where the coordinates are all zeroes is the intersection between E-Space and the “normal” N-Space universe.

The stranded crew detects the TARDIS on their scanners and investigate, chancing that the new arrival will have parts to fix their burned out warp drive. Since underway waits for no man, they venture into the void and try to break into the TARDIS. Romana decides to confront them, leaving Adric in the TARDIS and covertly signaling to him before leaving with the stranded crewmen. Adric soon follows with a debilitated K9, and eventually goes it alone after K9 experiences significant computational errors.

This new companion is not winning any popularity contests with me. Go back for the dog.

The Doctor catches up with Biroc at a dusty and cobwebbed medieval dining hall, but Biroc disappears through a mirror. The Doctor, on the other hand, has a close encounter with armored skeleton wielding an axe. During the cat and mouse, they are joined by a second warrior and the Doctor tricks them into destroying each other.

On the stranded starship, the crew determine that Romana is a time-sensitive, and they force her into the navigation chair. She is able to conjure the destination image so she is left in the chair despite the risks to her mental well-being. The crew sets out on foot for the castle on the monitor, which happens to be the same building where the Doctor is investigating the skeletons and their secrets. K9 arrives as the Doctor discovers that the skeletons – the Gundans – are machines built by human slaves of the cat creatures – the Tharils – to fight against their masters. The masters fled through a Gateway, and the Doctor uses K9 as an alternate power source to keep the Gundans awake long enough to find out that there are three of these Gateways. His investigation is halted when the crew arrives, prompting one of the Gundans to destroy the other and escape through the mirror. The crew chases the Doctor and K9, but the Time Lord escapes through the mirror. On the other side of the mirror, he finds Biroc, who explains that the Doctor could pass through because he was touched by the time winds. K9 can follow when the time is right, but when he does, he will be trapped on that there permanently.

That does not bode well. Regardless, the Doctor follows Biroc on a blue-screen journey to a strange mansion.

Back on the ship, two crewmen revive a hibernating Tharil with a massive electric shock. The dazed and confused Tharil navigates to the bridge and finds Romana trapped in her chair, and though she thinks it is there to harm her, the creature attempts to set her free. The Tharil hides as the crewmen arrive in pursuit.

K9 accompanies the crew back to their ship, but is tossed out. This provides Adric, who has been navigating Nowhere through flips of the coin, a chance to sneak aboard and stumble into Romana. Rather, she stumbles into his hiding spot. The hiding spot, a large piece of machinery, is wheeled outside the ship where the pair encounter K9. The robot dog is investigating the apparent shrinking of Nowhere and is screaming warnings, which draws crewmen who capture Romana. She is immediately rescued by the Tharil, who is named Lazlo, and he takes her to another timeline.

The crew take the machine, a giant laser, back to the mirror Gateway. While they set up the laser, they witness Romana and Lazlo pass through the mirror. The pair walk to the mansion and as they travel, Romana notes that Lazlo’s injuries are healed. When they arrive, they find the Doctor dining with Biroc and a group of Tharils, but the mood turns sour when a Tharil assaults one of the human slaves. The Tharils turn on the Doctor, and when the room is stormed by the Gundans to start the revolution, the Doctor and Romana are whisked back to the present and the stranded crew.

I feel bad for the actress who was the playing the slave. When the Tharil strikes her, he backhands her square in the left breast. That had to hurt.

The Doctor explains to the ship’s captain that only time-sensitives can transit the mirrors, and K9 arrives with news that the super-massive dwarf-star alloy that comprises the ship’s hull is driving Nowhere’s destruction. The Doctor deduces that the crew are slavers who trade in time-sensitives, and as the crew holds him at gunpoint and demands the secret to the Gateways, Biroc concedes that the Doctor was right and advises him to do nothing. He is saved by Adric, who arrives and uses the laser as a distraction.

He is one lucky kid. Please tell me he’s not the Most-Important-Companion-In-The-Universe.

In a panic, the slavers attempt to blast through the mirrors and fail. They then use the ship’s engines, an act that will inadvertently destroy everything. The captain orders the remaining Tharil slaves to be rapidly awakened, hoping that at least one of them will survive the process to navigate them home. The process does not work. Unwilling to leave while the slaves are still on the ship, the Time Lords try to sabotage the engines. They are soon discovered by the captain, and then rescued by Biroc and transported back to the TARDIS. Meanwhile, Lazlo frees the remaining Tharils and kills their keeper.

What was with Romana hitting the captain with a clipboard? Seriously.

Romana takes the opportunity to leave the Doctor and the TARDIS, taking K9 with her through the mirror to help the Tharils. She can offer time technology and the Tharils will help her travel throughout E-Space and free all of Biroc’s people. As the ship engages the engines, the TARDIS dematerializes, and the slave ship explodes. The TARDIS returns to normal space and leaves Romana and K9 to start their new quest.

This story was one of mind-bending science fiction with a social justice element. The best part was that, instead of playing the “slavery is bad” trope straight, this story twists it by having the original captors becoming oppressed and realizing that they were in the wrong. Biroc learned a lesson that helped shape the story going forward. I liked that aspect immensely.

The only major fault I can find is that the ending was really rushed. Doctor Who hasn’t been strong to this point in saying goodbye to companions, and this is no exception.

Of course, that leads me to thoughts on Romana. In both the Seventeenth Series Summary and Sixteenth Series Summary, I wrote about how she felt like another iteration of the Doctor. The Doctor Redux, if you will. I still come back to the thought that Romana has steadily gotten worse as the character becomes more experienced. Don’t get me wrong, Lalla Ward is a great actress, just like Mary Tamm, but the chemistry is wasted in the writing and the behind the scenes tension between the lead actors. Frankly, I think she overstayed her welcome.

I think that if the Key to Time arc would have had a stronger emphasis on developing Romana as a Time Lord, maybe even as a conduit to channel the Doctor’s nature to the rest of Gallifrey by having her take a position of power in the post-The Invasion of Time civilization. President? Maybe. But definitely something where she and Leela can knock the rest of the Time Lords down a peg or two.

If wishes were horses, right?

 

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

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Keeper of Traken

 

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 #113: State of Decay

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

timestamp-113-state-of-decay

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*ding* There’s the title.

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

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

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

Back to our normally scheduled plot.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Warriors’ Gate

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

 

 

 

Timestamp #112: Full Circle

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

Doctor Who

 

A funny thing happened on the way to Gallifrey.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, boy.

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: State of Decay

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

 

 

Timestamp #111: Meglos

Doctor Who: Meglos
(4 episodes, s18e05-e08, 1980)

timestamp-111-meglos

 

Time loops have momentum problems.

Time loops have momentum problems.

Time loops have momentum problems.

Annoying, right? So why did the showrunners think it would hold my attention without irritating me?

In the TARDIS, the Time Lords are repairing K9. Romana puts the TARDIS into a hover over the planet Tigella to avoid any sudden movements during the procedure, and the Doctor reminisces about his last experience on the planet. We’ll see this again.

On the planet below, a transformer blows resulting in a severe casualty for a community that lives below ground. They are the Savants, and are in conflict over an item called the Dodecahedron, a sacred item for the Deon sect of their culture, and the religious leader named Lexa refuses to let them touch it, enter the power room where it resides, or venture above ground. Stuck in the middle of the impasse, Zastor, the leader of the community, sends for the Doctor.

Two notes: First, Lexa looks familiar. It’s good to see Jacqueline Hill again, and she is just relishing this role. Second, the Savants share the same hairstylist as Prince Adam of Eternia and the Romulan Sela.

On a desert world, a ship lands to reveal a party of bounty hunters, including a Clark Kent-style human in a business suit. The human is stunned, and this crew brought him to the world for a reward. A mysterious structure rises from the sand, revealing a door which the party enters. Beyond, they meet Meglos, a giant sentient cactus and the only survivor of the planet. Meglos tasks the bounty hunters with stealing the Dodecahedron, which he claims was constructed on the desert planet and is far more powerful than the Tigellans realize. As Meglos and the human are placed in adjacent chambers for some kind of procedure, the bounty hunters scheme to steal all of the valuable technology within, but Meglos traps them in the structure and forces them to execute his plan. The procedure transfers Meglos into the human, notably changing the human’s skin into something more cactus-like. Meglos then traps the Time Lords in a time loop and assumes the Doctor’s identity. They set course for Tigella.

Time loops. Why did it have to be time loops?

Lexa finally relents and allows the Doctor to visit, but only if he swears allegiance to the Deons. Zastor is upset with the decision, but errs on the side of diplomacy when the bounty hunters ship arrives and the Meglos-Doctor inspects the city. Meglos-Doctor takes the oath, and then sells them on the idea that it is too dangerous for anyone but him to inspect the Dodecahedron. Shortly afterward, Meglos-Doctor steals the Dodecahedron.

The Doctor and Romana break the time loop (thank the maker) by repeating the events within the loop, setting up a destructive interference pattern. They then proceed to Tigella and head for the city, but Romana is waylaid by some bell plants and K9 is sent to find her. The Doctor arrives in the city as his arrest order goes out, stumbles into some guards, and is taken prisoner.

K9’s power runs low, so he returns to the city. Of course, without the Dodecahedron to power it, the city shares a similar fate. Meanwhile, Romana follows a trail of scorched vegetation to find the bounty hunter ship only to encounter the crew and an overacted order to kill her. Romana stalls them by promising to lead the crew to her ship, parading them in circles through the jungle, and snaring them in the bell plants.

While in hiding, Meglos struggles to keep the Clark Kent human in check. In Superman III-style – okay, okay, but that bomb of a movie has its moments – it is fighting his control.  After the Doctor convinces the Savants that he is the victim of a doppelgänger, Meglos kidnaps engineer Caris and convinces her to follow him. As the Doctor and Zastor investigate the Dodecahedron’s whereabouts, the Deons stage a revolution and send all of the non-believers to the surface. Lexa keeps the Doctor and prepares him for sacrifice.

On the run from the bounty hunters, Romana finds K9 stranded in the undergrowth. She barely makes it inside the city and is trapped in the airlock, but she’s safe from the bounty hunters for a moment before they break down the door. As Meglos is plagued by the human he absorbed, Caris takes him hostage, but he breaks away and joins the bounty hunters outside the city. Romana joins forces with Caris to search for the Doctor, who is about to be crushed by a giant stone. They find Zastor and Deedrix, and the four rush to the power room just in time to prevent the sacrifice.

Meglos and the bounty hunters return to Zolfa-Thura, the desert planet from earlier. The Doctor wonders why they would go there until Romana reminds him of the screens on the surface. They head for the TARDIS, and a dying bounty hunter takes a shot at Romana. Lexa steps in front of the bolt, giving her life for the Time Lords and ending Jacqueline Hill’s roles with the franchise. In all seriousness, that woman was such a class act.

When Meglos buries the Dodecahedron inside the perimeter, the screens amplify its power into a Death Star-type of superweapon. Since Dantooine is too remote to make an effective demonstration, the bounty hunters choose Tigella as the test for their new tool of terror. The Doctor leaves Romana, K9, Caris, and Deedrix with the TARDIS as he attempts to stand in for Meglos and stall the countdown. The bounty hunters decide to capture Meglos and operate the weapon themselves, and they end up capturing both the cactus and the Time Lord. Trapped in the same cargo hold, the Doctor informs Meglos that he changed the target’s coordinates to Zolfa-Thura. Meanwhile, the rest of the travelers rescue the pair, presenting an opportunity for Meglos to abandon his humanoid form and slither away.

The travelers and the sacrificial human run for the TARDIS, which has a bit of trouble dematerializing but finally does so before Zolfa-Thura is disintegrated. The Time Lords return everyone to their proper places, but the Tigellans will have to live on the surface now since the Dodecahedron was destroyed. As they get ready to take the Clark Kent human home, they get an urgent message: Gallifrey needs their help.

You know, I enjoyed this one. Except for that stupid time loop sequence that consumed most of the first episode. Carve that out and restore the momentum, and this serial could have sung.

Instead, it merely meets the average.

 

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

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Full Circle

 

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.