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.

 

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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 Special #3: A Girl’s Best Friend

A Girl’s Best Friend
(1981)

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After closing out the Tom Baker era of Doctor Who, it felt appropriate to spend another 1980s adventure with two of his iconic companions.

After a set of trippy opening credits, we come to a cult ceremony where two goat-headed figures are leading a chant against a heretic: Sarah Jane Smith’s aunt Lavinia. We last heard of her in The Time Warrior.

Lavinia is packing for a lecture tour in America, but has a box that arrived a long time ago addressed to Sarah Jane. Sarah Jane has been working abroad as a reporter and arrives too late to meet up with Lavinia, but luckily her aunt left the crate behind. She gets delayed by her aunt’s ward, Brendan Richards, and his surprise arrival at the train station. He reveals that Lavinia’s absence is awfully sudden. Suspicious, even.

Sarah Jane retrieves Brendan and returns to her aunt’s house to meet Bill Pollock, Lavinia’s partner in a local market garden who lives in the east wing of the house. The man is awfully standoffish and rude toward Brendan, and their discussion is interrupted by a suspicious call from Juno Baker, a friend of Lavinia’s. Pollock leaves shortly afterward, leaving Sarah Jane and Brendan a chance to open the crate.

Inside is K9. Mark III to be exact.

And since K9 joined the Doctor after Sarah Jane’s departure, she has no idea what it is. Luckily, K9 fills in the details: He was sent by the Doctor as a gift in 1978 with his fondest love. So, he’s been in the crate for two or three years.

I’d wonder where the Doctor found time during the search for the Key to Time to build and send K9, but he’s a Time Lord. He has nothing but time.

 

 

Brendan is very curious about K9’s workings and origins – “Who is the Doctor?” followed by the only logical response, “Affirmative” – and Sarah Jane follows the leads on her aunt. Lavinia was disliked in town because of her outspoken views on local witchcraft. While Sarah Jane talks with Juno, Brendan runs an analysis on the local soil and K9 thwarts an abduction attempt on the young ward by George Tracey and his son Peter, both of whom are tied to the coven. Of course, Tracey is Lavinia’s gardener, and he arrives the next morning to inspect the resultant damage in the garden. Later that night, Peter succeeds in abducting Brendan and cutting the phone lines.

Sarah Jane is suspicious of Tracey and hides K9 in the gardener’s house. The robotic dog overhears plans to sacrifice Brendan for the coven, forcing Sarah Jane and K9 to investigate. Of course, she is unable to involve the local police because she cannot explain her actions or K9’s presence, and none of the locals believe her story about witchcraft. While she continues to investigate, Peter is inducted into the coven, and K9 explains that they have only a few scant hours before the winter solstice occurs.

In the nick of time – the countdown was more annoying than tension-building – K9 and Sarah Jane save Brendan and unmask the cult members, revealing the leaders as Pollock and Lily Gregson, the postmistress of the village. The reason that Sarah Jane never got her aunt’s telegraphs was that the two of them stopped them from getting out, fueling Sarah Jane’s suspicions about Lavinia’s disappearance. Luckily, Sarah Jane gets a Christmas call from her aunt to sort things out while K9 learns how to sing We Wish You a Merry Christmas.

So, it’s not a terrible story, but not a great one. It was nice to see Sarah Jane once again and K9 one last time in the classic era, and it was a good way to close out the Fourth Doctor’s adventures. I think the stories would have gotten better if the series had been picked up, but as a pilot, this tale was cute but weak.

 

As with the other specials, this rating won’t count toward anything since this isn’t an official Doctor story, though it does provide me things to think about when I move into the multiple spinoff television series at some point.

 

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

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Castrovalva

 

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 #87: The Hand of Fear

Doctor Who: The Hand of Fear
(4 episodes, s14e05-e08, 1976)

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It’s time to say goodbye, but first… an adventure!

In the prologue, a traitor named Eldrad is sentenced to death by being launched into space. Eldrad’s crimes include the destruction of the barriers that stopped the solar winds from assaulting the planet Kastria. In an attempt to beat the rush before their impending doom, the planetary leaders decide to destroy the space capsule, despite the possibility of survival, and then they evacuate the area and await their fate as the planet dies around them.

Back in present time, the TARDIS materializes in a quarry where blasting operations are underway. Sarah Jane is upset that they are not in South Croydon, but is soon more upset as the crew detonates the quarry and buries her in the resulting rubble. When she is uncovered, she found clutching a fossilized hand as she is taken to the hospital. The hand is recovered, but clutched tightly in her hand is a ring. Eldrad’s ring.

The fossilized hand is examined by the Doctor and a pathologist named Carter, and it is found the be 150 million years old. The Doctor visits the quarry, then returns to the pathology lab. While he is away, Sarah Jane (now possessed by Eldrad) steals the hand and knocks out Carter with a flash from the ring. The Doctor notes the DNA a crystalline form, which is regenerating due to radiation from the microscope, and sets out after Sarah Jane.

There are some great camera angles in this story.

Sarah Jane takes the hand to a nearby nuclear reactor – Doctor Who loves the nuclear reactor sci-fi tropes – and enters the reactor chamber. The hand begins to regenerate and move. The alarms sound throughout the complex as the Doctor and Carter infiltrate the plant. Professor Watson, the senior operator in the control room (who has a random bug on his forehead in one shot) orders a shutdown to remove Sarah Jane from the reactor room. The core near Sarah Jane (magically) won’t shutdown, and she is absorbing a ton of radiation. When the Doctor talks to her over the intercom, she repeats that, “Eldrad must live,” which prompts the Doctor to go after her. Carter, also possessed by Eldrad, follows and tries to stop the Doctor. In the fight, Carter falls to his death.

The radiation reaches “critical” levels as Sarah Jane tries to open the containment area. The Doctor bursts in through a cooling pipe, knocks out Sarah Jane, and takes her to decontamination. The hand escapes and the ring is left behind. Sarah Jane is revived, not remembering any of the adventure so far, and apparently fine after her significant radiation exposure. The Doctor tells the operations team the story of the hand, which they see on the camera, and they send a technician named Driscoll to retrieve it. He finds the ring, becomes possessed, and takes the hand to the reactor core. The Doctor pursues and narrowly avoids being blasted by the ring. Driscoll takes the hand into the reactor core, which could cause a chain reaction and explosion (huh?), and results in the consoles in the control room to explode (huh?).

At the core itself, all of the radiation has been absorbed by the hand in what the Doctor calls an “unexplosion” reaction. Watson calls the RAF for a missile strike to destroy the site and the threat, but the nuclear missiles are absorbed by Eldrad and complete her regeneration.

Insert that animated GIF of Nathan Fillion as Captain Malcolm Reynolds here, because the professor should have connected those dots without any help whatsoever.

The Doctor and Sarah Jane return to the core to confront Eldrad. She explains that she was the architect of the barriers that allowed Kastria to thrive, but they were destroyed in a war and she was betrayed. She asks the Doctor to take her back in time to save her world, but he can only take her to present day Kastria. After she agrees to his terms, Watson tries to kill her with a handgun. Eldrad fights back, but stops as the Doctor adds Watson’s survival as a contingency to their agreement.

Eldrad, Sarah Jane, and the Doctor return to the quarry and use the TARDIS to travel to Kastria. Eldrad tries to take over, but she is powerless inside the TARDIS… for reasons. When they arrive, the planet is desolate and powerless, but Eldrad activates a backup geothermal power supply. As she opens the door to the thermal chambers below to rally her people, she takes an arrow to the chest.

The arrow was a syringe containing an acid that will destroy her crystalline structure. The travelers take her to the regeneration chambers, but are slowed by a series of traps. The chamber regenerates Eldrad into a new, male body, and he reveals that he patterned his previous body off of Sarah Jane. How flattering. He also reveals that he destroyed the barriers in an attempt to take over the throne, and that there was no war. He declares his intention to take over the planet, but is stopped by the revelation that all of his people are long since dead. Eldrad turns his attention to Earth, demanding that the Doctor take him to be their ruler, but the Doctor rejects him. They run and Eldrad pursues, but our heroes trip him over the side a deep abyss, presumably to his doom, but as they say, no body, no death.

The travelers return to the TARDIS, and Sarah Jane laments her life as a companion. Much like in Terror of the Zygons, she’s ready to go home. As she storms off to pack her belongings, the Doctor receives a distress call from Gallifrey and sets a course for South Croydon since he conveniently cannot take her with him. After a touching goodbye, Sarah Jane leaves the TARDIS, only realizing after the Doctor departs that she is nowhere near home.

And here’s where we say goodbye to Sarah Jane. She has been one of my favorite companions because of her energy, wit, and intelligence. I’m going to miss her, but, hey, at least they didn’t kill her off.

 

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

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Deadly Assassin

 

 

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 #86: The Masque of Mandragora

Doctor Who: The Masque of Mandragora
(4 episodes, s14e01-e04, 1976)

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Our heroes made their own adventure this time.

On a tour of the TARDIS, our heroes find the secondary control room. It’s a swanky, intimate affair with mood lighting, wood paneling, and brass rails, and it comes complete with a previous Doctor’s clothes, a previous previous Doctor’s recorder, and an Enterprise viewscreen. On said screen, a swirl of living energy appears which the Doctor calls the Mandragora Helix. He tries to pilot through it, but instead ends up stuck inside it. The pair go outside to investigate – stay in the ship, Sarah Jane! – and dodge a flare of helix energy. Since Sarah Jane left the door open, the flare ends up inside the TARDIS. Unaware of this, the travelers depart the helix.

The TARDIS randomly lands in 15th century Italy, which has a peasant revolt and the death of the Duke as “foretold” by the court astrologer Hieronymous. The Duke’s son Giuliano takes charge of San Martino, but his uncle Count Frederico is plotting to take over while conspiring with Hieronymous. The entire peasant revolt aspect of the plot is forgotten as soon as it is mentioned.

The Doctor reveals that he was not in control of the TARDIS, and Sarah Jane explores the area, happy with some tasty fresh oranges. She is soon captured by some men in robes. One attacks the Doctor and he defends himself, presumably with the Third’s Venusian Aikido. He is soon knocked out and the hooded men escape with Sarah Jane. Meanwhile, the helix energy leaves the TARDIS and attacks a peasant. The Doctor investigates the smoking scene and realizes just what he has brought with him. He is soon intercepted by the Duke’s soldiers, and he distracts them long enough to steal a horse. That escape is short-lived.

Sarah Jane is brought before a priest who plans to sacrifice her to Demnos, the Roman god of moonlight and solstice, as foretold in a prophecy. Not too far away, the helix energy kills a guard.

The Doctor is brought before Count Frederico, and he explains about the helix energy. The court mocks him, and the Count tests him as a potential seer. The Doctor fails the test and is ordered to be executed as a spy. Just as he is to be killed, he uses his scarf to trip the executioner and he escapes into the city’s catacombs. The guards refuse to follow because they fear the followers of Demnos.

I loved how the Dcotor was obviously toying with the guards during the chase. It was very funny.

The cult’s ritual commences, and a purple-clad follower is about to sacrifice Sarah Jane when the Doctor rescues her. As Purple orders the followers to pursue, they are distracted by the helix energy, which they take to be a manifestation of Demnos. Purple, who is really Hieronymous, is chosen as the vessel of the helix energy. Lucky him. The Doctor and Sarah Jane are captured, but are taken to Giuliano, who has examined the remains of the guard who was killed by the helix. Giuliano fears that if the Count succeeds in his plot, all learning and knowledge will be suppressed. The Doctor decides to find some answers to all of the questions surrounding the circumstances.

The Count discovers that Giuliano has called for the area nobles to come to a celebration of his ascension, and the Count orders Hieronymous to kill Giuliano before the nobles confirm the new Duke. The Doctor explains the reason for the helix’s arrival at this time and place: At the end of the Dark Ages, the cult of Demnos provides a ready power base before the dawn of the Renaissance. Giuliano leads the travelers to the catacombs so the Doctor can destroy the temple. The Count is alerted to their presence and plans to remove both of his problems at once. As the Doctor enters the temple, he is assaulted by the helix energy. The guards corner Giuliano and Sarah Jane flees into the catacombs where she is captured by the cult.

There was some nice use of haunted house technology to put up temporary walls against the Doctor as he tries to escape the temple.

The Doctor escapes the temple and fights the guards with Giuliano. The Duke is injured, but the cult’s brethren join the fray and provide a window for the Doctor and Giuliano to escape. Against the priest’s wishes, Hieronymous uses Sarah Jane as bait for the Doctor. He explains that he allowed Giuliano to escape because he has some value left before his death, and then he hypnotizes Sarah Jane to kill the Doctor. She is left in the catacombs for the Doctor and Giuliano to find.

Sarah Jane questions the ability to understand foreign languages. There’s that part of the franchise mythology.

Hieronymous warns the Count that his life is in danger, and the Count exiles Hieronymous from the city. Meanwhile, the Doctor determines that Hieronymous is the leader of the cult and confronts him, stealthily leading Sarah Jane to the scene. Sarah Jane tries to attack the Doctor, but he breaks her trance by reminding her that he is her best friend. The guards come for Hieronymous, and while he escapes, the Doctor, Sarah Jane, and Giuliano are captured.

The fact that Sarah Jane questioned the ability to understand languages informed the Doctor of her trance. It is a “Time Lord gift” that he shares with her.

Hieronymous and his followers are infused with the helix energy as the cult marches on the city. The Count takes the Doctor to confront Hieronymous. The Count unmasks him and discovers that the seer’s face is pure energy. Hieronymous then disintegrates the Count and the guards, but the Doctor escapes disguised as a cult member. He returns to the dungeon and reveals the Count’s fate. The guards side with the Duke, and the Doctor hatches a plan.

The palace is fortified, and the followers drive the citizens from the city. The Duke attempts to cancel the gathering – the titular “masque” – but is dissuaded. The Doctor determines that a lunar eclipse will occur within the next day, fulfilling the prophecy that Mandragora will swallow the moon and signaling the start of the attack on humanity. The Doctor determines that the helix energy is spread thin at this critical point, and determines a method to exhaust it.

I love the running gag of the Doctor wanting to meet Leonardo da Vinci.

The Doctor sets his trap in the temple as the masque commences. He is confronted by Hieronymous, who fires on him repeatedly and drains his helix energy.

“It’s part of a Time Lord’s job to insist on justice for all species.” If only we could all be like the Doctor.

The brethren attack the masque, killing two of the attendees before Hieronymous appears, orders them to stop, and take everyone to the temple. The brethren begin the ceremony at the eclipse, but they are absorbed into the altar. The threat is over as “Hieronymous” is unmasked as the Doctor.

After some goodbyes, the gift of a salami, and the Doctor’s warning that Mandragora will return at the end of the 20th century, he and Sarah depart on another adventure.

And I’m left wondering if our heroes need to walk all the way through the TARDIS to exit from the secondary control room, or if it’s just “timey-wimey wibbly-wobbly”.

 

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

 

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Hand of Fear

 

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 #85: The Seeds of Doom

Doctor Who: The Seeds of Doom
(6 episodes, s13e21-e26, 1976)

Timestamp 085 The Seeds of Doom

 

 

Doctor Who meets The Thing? Maybe, when The Thing was Who Goes There?, The Thing from Another World, or even Horror Express.

A science team is digging up a strange artifact which turns out to be a 20,000 year-old lifeform. Meanwhile, back in London – they made it! – Richard Dunbar shows the Doctor photographs of the seed pod. The Doctor worries that it may be a time bomb ready to explode, and he books the next flight with UNIT for the Antarctic.

The videography looks much nicer this time around with the outdoor sequences being filmed on videotape.

The Antarctic science team fears that the Doctor will know nothing about their studies and continues to experiment on the pod as Dunbar visits millionaire Harrison Chase, a man who is on a mission to protect plant life worldwide. Dunbar sells the information to Chase, who then sends his own a representative to the Antarctic.

The pod awakens and stings Winlett, one of the scientists who is working alone –  that’s never a good thing to be in a horror film –  and he is assimilated by the pod. The Doctor arrives and examines Winlett. The scientist’s pulse rate and body temperature are dropping. The Doctor believes that the infection is a complete mutation into a plant form. His worst fears are confirmed when he examines the pod: It will likely result in the destruction of all life on the planet. The Doctor seeks out a second pod since they travel in pairs, and explains that Winlett is changing into a Krynoid, a form of intergalactic kudzu that consumes animal life wherever it goes.

The sound of engines draws the science team outside, presumably to meet the medical team. Instead, it was a private plane with Chase’s men – Scorby and Keeler – on board. The Doctor suggests that the infection may be slowed at its source by amputating Winlett’s arm. After some deliberation, the group leaves to prepare, and Winlett rises from the bed and kills one of the other scientists. Scorby prepares to assassinate everyone at the base, but Keeler doesn’t like the plan, so Scorby coerces him on threat of death. Sarah Jane discovers Moberly’s body and alerts the Doctor and Stevenson. They go out to search for the Krynoid, and Chase’s men take the opportunity to search for the pod. They intercept a radio message about the medical team and call off the dispatch.

The Doctor’s team track the Krynoid to the generator hut and the experimental fuel cell system, but when they can’t find it, they return to the base under the assumption that it has frozen in the subzero conditions. When the Doctor and Sarah Jane return to the infirmary, they are ambushed by Chase’s men, and the Doctor tells them the story. Chase’s men tie them up and interrogate them, and Stevenson tracks them the bunk room. The remaining scientist tries to stop the antagonists, but his rifle has been sabotaged and he is also taken captive, but not before letting slip that a second pod exists. They find the pod and force Sarah Jane to take them to the generator, leaving the Doctor and Stevenson tied up. The Doctor breaks a lantern uses the glass to cut their bonds.

Scorby sets a bomb on the generator that will destroy the entire base and leaves Sarah Jane to die. Keeler tries to stop Scorby, but Scorby forces him to leave with him. The Doctor sets out to find Sarah Jane as Stevenson calls for help, but the Krynoid breaks in and kills Stevenson. It then tracks the Doctor to the generator as he frees Sarah Jane. The Doctor locks the Krynoid in the generator hut and the travelers run. The bomb explodes and destroys the base.

Some time later, the rest of the base’s crew return from their expedition to South Bend to discover Sarah Jane and the Doctor, the MacReady and Childs of this story (even though neither of them are the alien). Chase’s men return home to the estate with the pod, but Dunbar spoils Chase’s joyous moment by reporting that the Doctor and Sarah Jane are still alive.

The Doctor and Sarah Jane return to London and consult with Dunbar and his boss, Sir Colin Thackeray. They then depart for the Botanic Institute, but the driver takes them to a deserted quarry and tries to assassinate them. They stop the driver and find a painting in the car’s trunk that leads them to Amelia Ducat, one of the world’s leading floral artists. She tells them that the painting was bought by Chase, but that she was never paid.

The Doctor and Sarah Jane sneak into Chase’s estate. After they are discovered, the Doctor suggests that they act natural, which in their case means to run. They are captured and taken before Chase who tells them that they will die, but only after a guided tour of the millionaire’s collection.

After an annoying musical sequence that was obviously filler, Chase is informed that the pod is growing. He orders the execution and departs for the lab. The travelers get the jump on Scorby and escape. The Doctor sends Sarah Jane to inform Sir Colin of the happenings before heading back for the pod, but she is readily captured once again. She is taken to the lab where Chase plans to expose her to the hatching pod.

The Doctor jumps in like an action star, beats down the bad guys, and holds them at gunpoint – to the writing team’s credit, they do acknowledge that the Doctor would never use it, but that the bad guys don’t know that – as he rescues Sarah Jane. Meanwhile, the pod opens and attacks Keeler. Instead of calling for the ambulance, Chase has Keeler taken the estate’s cottage for observation.

As the Doctor returns to the lab, he is captured by Scorby and taken to the compost room. Chase is called away as Amelia Ducat arrives and demands her payment. After she negotiates like a champ, he pays her handsomely, and then leaves to oversee the “recycling” of the Doctor. He has the Doctor loaded into the composter and sets it for an automatic delay.

Oh, come on! You know, you’d get away with all of this if you just killed them straight away instead of playing games. What is this, a James Bond movie?

Meanwhile, Sarah Jane sneaks to the cottage and discovers Keeler. He asks for her help, but she refuses in fear that he could complete his transformation at any moment, and she escapes at the earliest convenience and returns to the main house. She intercepts Ducat and asks her to pass the word of what’s happening at the estate. Amelia informs Sir Colin, but they are delayed by Dunbar who returns to the house to rectify his mistake. He tells Sir Colin to contact UNIT if he doesn’t return in the next half hour.

Sarah Jane rescues the Doctor as the Krynoid finishes transforming and Dunbar confronts Chase. Dunbar tries to leave, but is pursued by Scorby. He runs into the Krynoid, and in true Doctor Who fashion, firearms don’t work against it. The Krynoid kills Dunbar just as the Doctor and Sarah Jane arrive, and the Doctor faces off against the creature with a sword. Scorby and the guards arrive and open fire, prompting them all to run and take shelter in the cottage. The Krynoid offers to let everyone else escape in exchange for the Doctor. Scorby almost agrees, but is convinced to make a firebomb instead.

There is a great performance here by Tom Baker as the Doctor gets absolutely furious, then within seconds shifts back to typical Doctor whimsy.

Sir Colin and Ducat return his office and call UNIT as Scorby throws the bomb and the Doctor runs, making it to a car and driving away. Scorby and Sarah Jane take refuge in the main house. Chase has gone to photograph the Krynoid, and it doesn’t attack him. Instead, he has a transcendent experience and comes to understand the Krynoid’s plans, which he considers beautiful.

The Doctor arrives at Sir Colin’s office and convinces Major Beresford (who is standing in for the Brigadier) to take action as the world’s plants become hostile. The Doctor calls Sarah Jane to tell her the news, but the Krynoid cuts the phone lines. They discover that the plants are becoming violent and confront Chase as he communes with his collection. The collection attacks them, but the Doctor and Sgt. Henderson arrive in the nick of time to douse the attacking plants with an experimental herbicide. Chase escapes as the Doctor frees Sarah Jane and Scorby, but Chase’s butler Hargreaves is dead.

The team takes all of the smaller plants outside, and Chase locks them outside with the towering Krynoid. They are saved by UNIT and an impressive laser cannon. The team returns to the house as UNIT assaults the Krynoid, and the Doctor determines that Chase is possessed by the creature. They take refuge in the laboratory, and Chase ambushes Henderson as the sergeant gathers timber to barricade the windows. As Scorby panics, Chase kills Henderson with the composter. Scorby runs from the laboratory and into a pond where the plants drown him. As the Doctor repairs the loudspeaker system, Sarah Jane searches for Henderson and is captured by Chase.

Major Beresford contacts the Doctor, and the Time Lord reveals that they have about fifteen minutes before the Krynoid spreads its influence across all of England. He convinces the major to order an air strike, then goes in search of Sarah Jane, who is about to be composted. The Doctor rescues her, but is trapped in the machine with Chase. The Doctor escapes just in time as Chase returns to the plants in the messiest way possible.

Trapped by the plants, the Doctor rigs a steam pipe to blow a hole in the foliage, and they escape the house as the Royal Air Force blasts the Krynoid into oblivion.

Later on, the Doctor wraps up loose threads with Sir Colin, and then offers to take Sarah Jane on vacation to Cassiopeia. They take flight in the TARDIS, but land in Antarctica and wonder if they’ve already been there or if they’re yet to arrive. Even though it was obviously staged, I loved that last bit of chemistry between these two actors in this season.

There are some very strong characters in this tale with the exception of Chase, who was shallow and very annoying. This story also capitalizes on coming up within weeks of my first viewing of The Thing, which helped make the Antarctic sequences that much better. Overall, this is a high 3 grade, and I always round up.

 

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

 

UP NEXT – Thirteenth Series Summary

 

 

 

 

Timestamp #84: The Brain of Morbius

Doctor Who: The Brain of Morbius
(4 episodes, s13e17-e20, 1976)

Timestamp 084 The Brain of Morbius

 

 

Doctor Who meets Frankenstein.

A creature crawls across a Star Trek like planet’s surface, being pursued by a man with a hook for his hand. The hook-handed murderer, a being named Condo, takes the creature’s head to his master, Menhendri Solon. Solon chastises Condo for bringing him an insect head, which will simply not do. He needs a humanoid head.

The TARDIS arrives on the same planet, and the Doctor is angry because the Time Lords dragged them off course. Sarah Jane explores the area and finds an entire field of crashed spaceships, and she decides to look around as the Doctor sulks. Sarah Jane screams as she finds the insect’s body, which is actually one of the Mutts, and the Doctor runs to her aid. The Doctor recognizes the neighborhood and realizes that they are within a couple billion miles of Gallifrey. They head toward a nearby castle as a red-robed woman watches.

The Sisterhood of Karn? I’ve seen them before in the 50th anniversary celebration and a bit later in the Twelfth Doctor’s run. The observer was Ohica, and she reports the new arrivals to High Priestess Maren. Maren suspects that the visitors are linked to the slow death of the Sacred Flame, the source of the Elixir of Life that maintains their immortality. The Elixir is only known to the Sisterhood and the High Council of the Time Lords, but as the supply runs low, they believe that the Time Lords are coming for it. Supposedly, they use it to ease cases of trauma after regeneration.

The Doctor and Sarah Jane arrive at the castle, and Solon is excited because he believes that the Doctor’s head is magnificent and superb. Creeeeeeeepy. The Doctor offhandedly remarks his previous heads, including the Third’s grey one (which Sarah Jane really liked). Solon entertains the travelers, and the Doctor investigates the man’s obsession with various heads.

Okay, look, this whole scene is really awkward. I mean, not just in the writing, but even in the acting, as if the players themselves wanted no part of it.

Condo brings wine and food for the guests, and the Doctor recognizes Solon as a famed neuroscientist who was rumored to join the cult of Morbius, a terrible renegade Time Lord. The Doctor connects all the dots as the drugs in the food and drink take effect on him. Condo takes the Doctor to the surgical area as Sarah Jane, who was faking anesthesia, makes her escape. As she explores the castle, she finds Solon’s Monster, a construct of various parts that is only missing a head.

The Sisters form a seeing circle and discover the TARDIS. They channel their power to teleport the TARDIS to Maren, and after she investigates it, her suspicions deepen that the Time Lords are indeed coming for the Elixir. The Sisters form another circle and teleport the Doctor to their location, inadvertently saving him from the operation. Solon hatches a plan to rescue the Doctor from the Sisters.

The Doctor awakens bound in ropes, and the Sisterhood demands that he confess to the plan. He obviously cannot, and discovers that Morbius was executed and disintegrated by the Time Lords for his crimes of rebellion against the Sisterhood and the alliance their two species share, but he determines that the renegade’s essence survived. Morbius revealed the secret of the Elixir to the cosmos, and they have been deliberately crashing passing starships to prevent anyone from stealing it. The Sisters prepare to burn the Doctor at the stake, and Solon and Condo burst in to save him.

The Sisters (Death! Death! Death! Death!) are pretty much like the Knights Who Say Ni (Ni! Ni! Ni! Ni!) at this point. I’m waiting them to demand that the Doctor bring them a shrubbery.

As Solon negotiates for the Doctor’s head, including offering Condo in exchange, Sarah Jane covertly cuts the Doctor free. The travelers run, but Maren blinds Sarah Jane with her power ring.

Condo angrily confronts Solon for his betrayal. The neuroscientist uses the always terrible “It was just a joke” excuse, but Condo is not swayed until Solon promises to replace the hook with a real arm. As Condo relents and leaves to find an extra arm, Solon sneaks away and consults with the disembodied voice of Morbius. He is interrupted as the travelers arrive and disclose Sarah Jane’s ailment. Solon invites them to the lab, determining that only the Elixir will restore her eyesight, and the Doctor resolves to retrieve it. Solon sends Condo to the Sisters with this knowledge, and Sarah Jane stumbles her way into the secret lab. There she discovers the voice of Morbius, which accuses her of being one of the Sisters. What she doesn’t know is that the voice comes from the renegade’s brain, enclosed in a jar.

<insert sigh here> Someone cracked open the Guide to Writing Horror for Science Fiction and started scribbling notes, didn’t they?

Carrying on…

Solon removes Sarah Jane and then endures a verbal whipping from the Time Lord in a jar. In true Evil MastermindTM fashion, he details his entire plan in a method that protagonist can overhear. Sarah Jane locks Solon in the room and stumbles out of the castle.

Maren distributes the Elixir of Life to the Sisters (from an obviously empty cup, which is one of my biggest pet peeves in film), but there’s only enough for five. The Doctor arrives, but is ambushed after receiving Solon’s note. He explains the situation, but Maren reveals that Solon lied and that the ring’s effect is temporary. Together, they deduce that Morbius could have survived execution, and the Doctor offers to help them if they help him. The Doctor investigates the flame, determines that some soot is choking the natural combustion, and frees it up with a firecracker. The Flame is restored, and they hatch a plan to stop Solon.

Let me get this straight. The Sisters are smart enough to competently negotiate with the Time Lords, recognize a TARDIS, and wield power rings, but they have no idea how their entire elixir production system works? I don’t quite buy it.

Condo finds Sarah Jane and returns her to Solon’s lab. Solon updates Morbius, but a slip of the tongue reveals the Doctor’s identity to the renegade, and Morbius is furious. He believes that the Time Lords have found him and will kill him, and pressures Solon to operate immediately with an artificial brain case instead of an organic head. Condor assists in preparation, but discovers his arm is attached to Solon’s Monster. He attacks Solon, and Solon shoots him. In the struggle, the brain jar is toppled. A frantic Solon presses a blind Sarah Jane into service and completes the operation, not knowing how badly the brain was damaged.

The Sisters arrive with a supposedly dead Doctor, and Solon leaves to answer the door as the Morbius Monster awakens. It doesn’t have any higher functions, so it attacks Sarah Jane (who just regained her eyesight), trashes the lab, and attacks Solon. It goes after the Doctor and Sarah Jane, but a fatally wounded Condor saves them, and the monster storms off into the night. Condor was a good and kind Igor. His death was a sad one.

Solon sets out after the monster with a tranquilizer, and they track it down as it kills one of the Sisters. Solon and the Doctor capture the monster, and Solon takes it back to the lab with the promise of disassembling it and returning the brain to Gallifrey. Solon tricks the Doctor and completes the operation, restoring Morbius to full capacity. The Doctor floods the lab with cyanogen gas, but only Solon is killed since the monster’s lungs are immune to the poison.

Morbius challenges the Doctor to a form of Time Lord wrestling called mindbending. The Doctor falls unconscious as a massive energy feedback drives Morbius from the lab, and the Sisters chase him with torches over a cliff. We don’t know if he survived the long fall and regenerated, and I’m skeptical since “no body, no death”. The Doctor is fatally injured from the mindbending, and Maren provides her share of the Elixir and sacrifices herself to save him. Ohica is left in charge of the Sisterhood with a fresh package of fireworks as the Doctor and Sarah Jane move on to the next adventure.

Okay, first, let’s knock out the questions. During the mindbending, the question was raised of how long the Doctor has lived. There were eight other faces after rolling back through the Third, Second, and First Doctors. Within the scope of the mythology, who were they? They can’t be the Doctor, since Hartnell’s incarnation was clearly defined as the First. So, are they Morbius’s former regenerations?

Also, why did the TARDIS explode out of Karn instead of dematerializing like normal? Was it because of the somewhat unnatural change in position from landing to take-off courtesy of the Sisterhood?

Finally, the overall feeling of the story. There are so many tropes here, and while it was nice to get the backstory on the Sisterhood of Karn, the basis for their existence is really quite shallow. This story overall seemed like an exercise in getting the puzzle pieces down and connecting the dots, and while it flowed well, it didn’t hold my interest as well as some of the other stories in the Fourth Doctor’s run. It just felt, in a tip of the hat to the pseudonym that wrote it, bland.

 

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

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Seeds of Doom

 

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.