Timestamp #193: Utopia & The Sound of Drums & Last of the Time Lords

Doctor Who: Utopia
Doctor Who: The Sound of Drums
Doctor Who: Last of the Time Lords
(3 episodes, s03e11-e13, 2007)

 

From the end of the universe to the end of the world.

 

Utopia

The TARDIS materializes on the Cardiff Rift in the modern day in order to refuel. They only expect to be there for twenty seconds, during which Martha and the Doctor discuss a little problem with the Slitheen on the Rift, and the Doctor almost avoids picking up an immortal hitch-hiker. Something propels the TARDIS to the year 100 trillion, at the very end of the universe, and Captain Jack Harkness is hanging on through time and space for the ride.

In that far future, a human hunt is underway by the Futurekind. Professor Yana and his assistant Chantho regret the event in motion, but they cannot spare the guards to save the lost soul. They are on a quest for a place called Utopia. When asked for a status report, Yana is unable to focus due to the sound of drums in his head.

They also detect a new arrival as the TARDIS touches down.

The Doctor is apprehensive – almost scared – since this place is farther than any Time Lord has gone before. (Remember that there was a rule among Time Lords that they shouldn’t travel beyond a certain time.) As they leave the TARDIS, they find Jack’s dead body. Luckily, he springs back to life. The Doctor dissuades Jack from hitting on Martha as they exchange tense pleasantries. Jack notes the Doctor’s new face and asks after Rose, relieved to know that she’s still alive.

As they explore, Jack shares his story with Martha as the Doctor criticizes his method of time travel. Jack used his vortex manipulator to bounce from the battle with the Daleks to Earth in 1869. From there, he waited for the Doctor to arrive, eventually settling on the Rift. Martha frets about being left behind like Jack was, but the Doctor focuses them back on their task. They have found a city (or hive) and the Doctor muses on the decline of the universe as it dies around them. They then spot the hunted human and rush to his aid.

Jack draws his revolver and fires warning shots into the air. The horde stops long enough for the travelers to set their sights on the Silo, a safe space for humanity. The Silo is also home to Yana’s lab, and he is excited to learn that a doctor (of everything) has arrived. As the humans in the Silo offer aid, the Doctor asks them to bring his TARDIS to the camp.

As they walk through the refugee camp, the Doctor praises the indomitable spirit of humanity. They also figure out (by almost falling to the bottom) that the Silo is a literal missile silo, home to a rocket to take people to Utopia.

Professor Yana finds the Doctor and puts him to work as a consultant, but the Time Lord doesn’t recognize any of it. Meanwhile, Martha finds out that Jack is carrying the Doctor’s discarded hand, prompting a discussion of the Doctor’s status as the last of the Time Lords. Chantho is also the last of her kind, and Martha is downright obsessed with the Doctor’s new hand.

She’s never seen him regenerate, so this is all new to her.

Yana introduces the Doctor to Utopia: A signal from the depths that calls to the last of the humans scattered across the night. The Doctor is intrigued but also concerned as the professor has another attack of the drums. He also recognizes that the rocket will not be able to fly, and with a wave of his sonic screwdriver the circuits are complete.

Humanity is ready to fly.

As the Futurekind watch from beyond the gates, the humans board the rocket. Martha talks briefly with the young child they met on their arrival, unaware of a Futurekind spy nearby. Meanwhile, the Doctor praises Yana’s work which he recognizes a system of “food and string and staples.” Yana reveals that he will be staying behind with Chantho, and the drums intensify as he sees the TARDIS on a nearby monitor.

As the Doctor uses the TARDIS to help make final launch preparations, he seems to recognize the professor’s symptoms. Meanwhile, Martha bonds with Chantho (who begins each sentence with “chan” and ends it with “tho”) before aiding the professor with monitoring a coupling room. The room is flooded with Stet radiation, but it also controls the gravity footprint on the ship.

While work proceeds in the coupling room, the Futurekind spy sabotages the system. As radiation rises, Jack jumpstarts the override by passing the current through himself. It kills him momentarily, but his resurrection proves useful as they need someone to go in and finish the work.

As Jack enters the flooded chamber, the Doctor reveals that he’s known about the immortality since the battle with the Daleks. Jack, a single person, is a fixed point in time. That’s something that should never happen. Rose’s power as the Bad Wolf gave him that gift. The Doctor asks him if he wants to die, and Jack says that he doesn’t know.

While Martha and Chantho monitor Jack’s progress, Yana’s internal drumbeat intensifies again as he learns about traveling in time and space. The discussion between the Doctor and Jack reverberates through Yana.

The Gallifrey theme (“This is Gallifrey: Our Childhood, Our Home“) punctuates every step, but comes crashing to a stop as Yana produces a pocket watch. He’s had it since he was found as a child, and he’s never been able to open it.

Martha recognizes it. She goes to find the Doctor.

Jack finishes his work and the countdown commences. As they work, Martha tells the Doctor about the watch. The Doctor is shaken by this news because it means that he is not the last of his kind. But the perception filter is slipping. Familiar words and voices flit through Yana’s mind as the rocket lifts off, and he opens the watch.

Remember Boe’s last words: You are not alone. YANA.

Professor Yana is the Master.

He locks the Doctor’s team in the launch control room and opens the Silo to the Futurekind. The Doctor breaks out, but he’s too late to stop the Master from killing Chantho. The Master takes the disc regarding Utopia, puts the jar with the hand in the TARDIS, and disconnects the TARDIS from the laboratory. He takes a fatal gunshot from a mortally wounded Chantho before jumping into the capsule and locking the door.

The Doctor breaks into the lab and begs with him to let him in, but the Master takes the opportunity to regenerate. He taunts the Doctor with a voice that Martha recognizes, but despite the Doctor’s apology and attempt to stop him with the sonic screwdriver, the Master dematerializes with the TARDIS.

The travelers are stranded in the future and left to fight the invading Futurekind.

 

The Sound of Drums

The Doctor fixes the vortex manipulator and is able to jump the travelers to modern-day London. As Martha and Jack discuss how they’ll find the Master, they realize that they have arrived on the day after Election Day.

The Master has been elected Prime Minister, and his name is Harold Saxon.

On Saxon’s first day, he’s a little overwhelmed by the demands of the job, but he’s happy to have Martha’s sister Tish on his staff. His cabinet is dismayed by his odd behavior, particularly when he calls them all traitors.

He rewards their loyalty by killing them all with toxic gas.

Martha, Jack, and the Doctor retreat to Martha’s apartment to research Saxon. She’s stunned to realize that they’ve only been away for four days since she first met the Doctor, but the Master was able to use the TARDIS to change history for the duration of his campaign. All of it started after the downfall of Harriet Jones.

In a sense, the Doctor paved the way for the Master’s ascendancy.

Meanwhile, Vivien Rook of the Sunday Mirror tries to convince Lucy Saxon, Harold’s wife, that her husband is an imposter. She provides proof that his life is a forgery, starting only eighteen months before around the launch of the Archangel project. Lucy is faithful to her husband, however, and Rook ends up dead shortly thereafter by the hands of the Master’s death probes.

Lucy is beside herself that someone could put it all together, but Saxon reassures her that everything ends the next morning.

In Martha’s apartment, the Doctor reveals that he fused the TARDIS controls when the Master stole the capsule. It had no choice but to land eighteen months before their current location. The Doctor recognizes that Saxon’s campaign speeches were laced with the drumbeat, impregnating it in the minds of the electorate.

They watch as Saxon announces the arrival of the Toclafane, reassuring the viewers that this won’t be like the previous alien encounters – namely the destruction of Big Ben, the ghosts and Cybermen, and the Christmas Star – before cueing the Doctor that Martha’s apartment is boobytrapped (complete with a Magpie Electricals television set). They escape before it blows up, and Martha tries to warn her family that they are in danger. Saxon’s forces are faster, and her entire family is locked away while the travelers run.

The Master intercepts Martha’s call to her brother, and the Doctor takes the opportunity to talk with his friend and rival. The Doctor reveals the fate of Gallifrey. He also learns that the Master was resurrected by the Time Lords to fight in the Last Great Time War, but that he ran when the Dalek Emperor took the Cruciform and used a Chameleon Arch to become human.

The Master refuses the Doctor’s offer of help, showing the Doctor on television that he and his friends are now enemies of the state. He’s also dispatched Torchwood Three to the Himalayas on a wild goose chase. When he disconnects, the travelers have no choice but to run.

The Master is later contacted by one of the Toclafane – the spheres of death – demanding to know if the machine is ready. The Master says that it will be by the next morning, and despite the threat of the coming darkness from which the Toclafane must run, there’s nothing he can do to speed it up.

The Doctor, Martha, and Jack hide in an abandoned warehouse. While snacking on takeaway chips, they discuss the origins of the Master. The Doctor speaks highly of the known image of Gallifrey. At the age of eight, initiates are taken to look upon a gap in the fabric of reality known as the Untempered Schism, a window into the temporal vortex. It inspired the Doctor to run but it probably drove the Master mad.

Jack reveals that he works for Torchwood, but promises that he rebuilt it from the ashes of the old, corrupt regime. He downloads a video sent to Torchwood about the Archangel Network, a new phone service that the Master controls. The carrier wave is the sound of drums, whispering to the world to trust the Master. The Doctor devises perception filters for three TARDIS keys, one for each of them. He also reveals that Time Lords can detect other Time Lords, even through regenerations.

The team moves from the warehouse as Air Force One delivers President Arthur Winters to London. The President orders Saxon to cede control to UNIT and is dismayed by the Prime Minister’s childish antics. The President has arranged for first contact on the USS Valiant, a UNIT aircraft carrier. The travelers watch the goings-on from the side of the runway, and the Master is suspicious but overall unaware. Martha is upset to see her family paraded on the tarmac, and the Doctor reinforces that he wants to save the Master, not kill him. They use the vortex manipulator to travel to the Valiant, where they discover that it is an aircraft carrier in the sky.

As morning dawns, the Master prepares for the first contact meeting while eating jelly babies. The travelers find the TARDIS, but subdued lighting and the Cloister Bell alert the Doctor that something is wrong. It has been configured to be a paradox machine, set to go off at 8:02 AM.

But the Doctor has a plan.

They sneak into the meeting room, intent on putting a key around the Master’s neck and canceling his perception filter. The first contact begins, but the Toclafane specifically (by name) request to see the Master. Saxon reveals himself as the Master and assassinates the President. The Doctor is taken into custody before the Master kills Jack with a laser screwdriver.

The Master uses the Lazarus experiment and the Doctor’s genetic code (courtesy of the hand in a jar) to advance the Doctor a century in age. He then brings in Martha’s family for the main event.

A crack tears open in the sky above the carrier as six billion Toclafane emerge and start murdering humans without prejudice. Ten percent are killed immediately. Martha takes one last look at her friends and family before using the vortex manipulator to teleport away. She emerges on the planet below and runs into hiding, promising to return.

Until then, the Master has won.

So it came to pass that the human race fell and the Earth was no more. And I looked down upon my new dominion as Master of all. And I thought it good.

 

Last of the Time Lords

It’s been one year since the invasion of the Toclafane. The planet Earth has been quarantined as it enters its final extinction. Martha, still fighting the good fight, is traveling the world. She just returned home to find Professor Alison Docherty, and her liaison Tom Milligan believes the legend that she can save the world.

On the carrier Valiant, the Master is still riding high as lord of the planet. He treats the Doctor like a pet dog, Martha’s family like slaves, Jack an eternal prisoner, and his wife like an abused plaything. He also knows that the Doctor has worked out who the Toclafane are, and that the epiphany has broken his hearts.

The Doctor sends Francine a signal – the number three – which she passes along. Meanwhile, Martha and Tom come across a field of thousands of spaceships, ready to wage war with the universe. They are challenged by the Tocalafane, but Tom is a doctor and Martha still has her perception filter.

On the Valiant, the prisoners revolt at 3:00pm as planned. In the chaos, the Doctor gets ahold of the Master’s laser screwdriver but can’t operate it due to isomorphic controls keyed to the Master alone. Martha’s family is locked up, Jack is killed (again), and the Doctor is back to being taunted in a leather chair.

The taunting includes mentions of The Sea Devils, The Claws of Axos, and something about closing the rift at the Medusa Cascade.

Martha and Tom find Professor Docherty. She tunes into a broadcast from the Master during which he ages the Doctor through his entire lifespan regardless of regenerations. The now thousand-year-old form of the Doctor has withered into a being unable to fit his own clothes, but Martha finds hope in the fact that he still lives.

Docherty says that the Archangel Network is continuously broadcasting a fear signal to the planet, keeping the humans in line. Martha produces a disc with information about one Toclafane sphere that was destroyed in a lightning strike and using that data they experiment on a sphere.

The Master and Lucy visit the Doctor, contained in a birdcage suspended from the ceiling, and tell him that they will launch a fleet through a hole in the Braccatolian space. He will only stop when there is a new Gallifrey in the heavens, and that the Doctor should be proud. After all, he’s doing this for the Toclafane, which the Doctor loves very, very much.

The Toclafane that Martha experiments on is the orphan kid from the end of the universe. The whole race is built from the humans who were launched toward Utopia. The Master took Lucy there and discovered them, transformed into the spheres, regressing into children. There was no Utopia. Just death.

The TARDIS, the paradox machine, keeps the fabric of time in place while the Toclafane exist.

Docherty asks Martha if the legends are true. She shows them a gun developed by Torchwood and UNIT that supposedly halts regeneration and kills a Time Lord permanently. She needs one last chemical component, apparently housed at an old UNIT base. After Martha and Tom leave for a safehouse, Docherty transmits Martha’s location to the Master in exchange for information about the professor’s son.

As Martha tells the assembled survivors in the safehouse about the Doctor, the Master comes for Martha. He flushes her out by threatening the survivors around her. He destroys the anti-regeneration gun, kills Milligan when he defends her, and takes Martha back to the carrier to kill her in front of the Doctor.

At the moment of her execution, the moment when the fleet is due to launch, Martha starts to laugh. The gun was a ruse since the Doctor would never endorse her killing the Master. Instead, the weapon was the story of the Doctor. If the world thinks of one word at the same moment within the Archangel Network’s telepathic field, it would restore the world.

The word: “Doctor.”

The world turns against the Master and the Doctor is restored, having spent the year integrating himself into the network. The power of his restoration is so strong that the laser screwdriver is useless against him. The Doctor corners the Master and shatters his world with one phrase: “I forgive you.”

Which is better than the Master’s actual fear concerning the Doctor.

The Master rallies the Toclafane to protect the Paradox Machine, then teleports the two Time Lords to the planet below using Jack’s vortex manipulator. The Master threatens to detonate the Toclafane, each with a black hole converter capable of destroying the Earth.

Meanwhile, the humans on the Valiant defend the ship against the Toclafane assault. Just as Jack destroys the paradox device, the Doctor manages to teleport himself and the Master back to the Valiant. The previous year is reversed to the point just after the President of the United States was assassinated. Everyone on the Valiant will remember the year that never was, but the rest of the universe will not.

The Master is apprehended, but Francine threatens to kill him. The Doctor stops her and decides to keep the Master on the TARDIS. Unfortunately, the plan is destroyed when Lucy shoots the Master. He collapses in the Doctor’s arms, but faced with the prospect of being locked away forever in the TARDIS with the Doctor, he refuses to regenerate.

Once again, the Doctor is the last of the Time Lords. The drumming stops. The Master is dead.

The Doctor’s raw fury and sorrow resonate thanks to David Tennant’s wonderful acting talent.

Later, the Doctor cremates the Master’s remains, ensuring that no one can harvest the Time Lord’s DNA. Martha finds Docherty and forgives her, even though the professor has no idea what’s going on. Martha and Jack say their farewells – Jack loses his ability to use the vortex manipulator – and Jack inadvertently reveals his nickname from his home on the Boeshane Peninsula: The Face of Boe.

The looks of simultaneous shock and amusement on Martha’s and the Doctor’s faces are incredible.

The Doctor prepares to leave, complete with the hand in a jar. All that’s left is Martha Jones. Unfortunately for the Doctor, Martha takes her leave of the TARDIS. She can’t continue on with all those people left for her to care for. She gives the Doctor her phone number, reminding the Time Lord that she’s not second best, and finally reveals her unrequited feelings for him. She makes him promise to come running if she needs him, and steps out of the TARDIS one last time.

The Doctor dematerializes the TARDIS, alone once again, unaware that the Master’s signet ring has been taken by unknown forces. But the moment is broken when a ship crashes through the TARDIS walls.

Her name is Titanic.

 

This trilogy of episodes earns every bit of the high ratings, from the drama and the effects to the characters that bind the whole thing together. Oh, the look on Francine Jones’s face when she realized that she had been used this whole time to get to the Doctor and Martha.

In terms of the overall franchise, this is a return to classic form. This is the first three-part story since Survival (the last story of the classic era). If you count the Torchwood episodes, this is the first story with more than four parts since The Armageddon Factor (or Shada, had it been fully completed and aired).

We also get the first appearance in the revival era of the Doctor’s best friend and nemesis, the Master. The callbacks to the classic era are a welcome addition with lines from Roger Delgado (prominent through the Third Doctor’s era and last seen in Frontier in Space) and trademark laughter from Anthony Ainley (who took up the role in The Keeper of Traken and carried it all the way to Survival). It’s worth noting that Eric Roberts (the Master from the TV movie) gave his permission to include his voice, but Fox refused.

The Roger Delgado lines were doubled by Sir Derek Jacobi (Professor Yana), who previously appeared in Scream of the Shalka as an alternative version of the Master. After this performance and the 50th anniversary televised special, he also worked with Big Finish to tell the story of his Master during the Time War.

The Master’s heritage was also on display with John Simm’s costumes, from the black single-breasted suit, white shirt, and black tie ensemble (from Planet of Fire) to a Pertwee nod (black overcoat with red satin lining) and the trademark evil Time Lord black leather gloves. The young Master also wore an outift similar to the Time Lords in The War Games.

Doctor Who mythology also makes a couple of debuts here.

First, we get to see Gallifreyan children on screen. Sure, we’ve heard about time tots before – lest we forget the tales of röntgen-bricks in the nursery – but the youngest Gallifreyan we had ever seen was Susan, and she was 15 during An Unearthly Child.

We also get introduced to the concept that regenerations are far more controllable than we saw from Romana in Destiny of the Daleks. The Master bypasses the Doctor’s regenerations to artificially age him – this is certainly not a new trick for either the Doctor or the Master – and he also willingly halts the process after being shot by Lucy. We will see this crop up again in the future.

The Ninth Doctor’s dark line – “I win, how ’bout that?” – also echoes from beyond Dalek as the Master (supposedly) dies.

I previously mentioned the majestic Gallifrey theme, which can be found on YouTube, but Murray Gold was also on fire with the haunting “Martha’s Theme” and the purely energetic “All the Strange, Strange Creatures” throughout this story. The use of modern pop music (also as digetic music) was fun, including “Voodoo Child” by the Rogue Traders – “So here it comes/the sound of drums/Here come the drums here come the drums…” – and “I Can’t Decide” by the Scissor Sisters.

Basically pulling out all the stops, as they should for the last full-time adventure with Martha Jones, an exemplary hero and companion. She saved the day, and (in my eyes) is better than Rose Tyler ever was.

 

 

Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”

 

UP NEXT – Series Three Summary

 

 

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

 

 

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Timestamp Special #9: The Curse of Fatal Death

Doctor Who: The Curse of Fatal Death
(4 episodes, 1999)

 

Five Doctors in twenty minutes: That must be a record.

Starting off with a little backstory, this was shown as part of the 1999 Comic Relief Red Nose Day telethon. This comedic special starred Rowan Atkinson (Mr. Bean, Blackadder) as the ninth incarnation of the Doctor, Richard E. Grant (Scream of the Shalka, Logan) as the “quite handsome” tenth incarnation, Jim Broadbent (Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Paddington) as the slapstick shy eleventh incarnation, Hugh Grant (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill) as the (not “quite”) handsome twelfth incarnation, and Joanna Lumley (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Sapphire & Steel) as the thirteenth incarnation.

Alongside all those Doctors, we also had Jonathan Pryce (Tomorrow Never Dies, Brazil) as an over-the-top version of the Master and Julia Sawalha (Absolutely Fabulous, Chicken Run) as companion (in more ways than one) Emma, and the adventure was penned by Steven Moffat, who would go on to Coupling before coming back to Doctor Who.

Got all that? There may be a quiz later.

On to the story…

After a revival of the Fourth Doctor’s title sequence, we watch as The Master chases the Doctor through the temporal vortex, maniacally blustering about his evil plan to kill the Doctor and spoiling the important parts through his inability to operate a speakerphone. The Doctor and his companion Emma meet the Master on Tersurus – the planet was previously inhabited by a race that was peace-loving, shunned because they communicated by passing gas through precision modulation, and were self-exterminated after they discovered fire – and of course the Master traps them by arriving early. The Doctor and Emma trade traps with the Master, each party having arrived earlier than the other. Emma interrupts the roundabout party with a revelation: The Doctor has found love with Emma and plans to retire, get married, and settle into domestic bliss.

The Master is disgusted, and he travels back in time to convince the castle’s architect to install a trap door to the sewers. The Doctor turns the tables again by going back even further to place the trap door under the Master. Before they can leave, an aged Master arrives (after three centuries trying to escape the sewer) with Daleks to exact his vengeance. The Doctor traps the Master in the sewers twice more, and a chase commences with the Daleks and an even more aged Master.

The Daleks capture the travelers for the Master (now rejuvenated by superior and firm Dalek technology), who has promised them the means to conquer the universe. Of course, the Daleks plan to exterminate the Master, and the Doctor informs the Master of this double-cross in Tersuran. The Daleks figure it out anyway and shoot the Doctor, who then regenerates from his ninth body into his tenth.

After a brief memory refresher, the Daleks ask the Doctor to stop the overload that they started, but a few crossed wires results in another regeneration, exchanging the tenth incarnation for the eleventh. Another short circuit causes another regeneration, and a residual discharge forces another (which needs a little prompting from Emma, the Master, and the Daleks).

In a moment of foreshadowing, the Doctor’s new body is female.

Unfortunately, Emma is not keen on marrying the Doctor in her new form, but the Master and the Doctor spark something special and walk off into the end credits together.

 

This was certainly funny (in the British comedy tradition of sex and bodily function humor) but not particularly deep. Honestly, there’s no particular need for depth since it’s played for laughs to spur donations. That’s the whole drive of Comic Relief after all.

The element of the Doctor finding romance is still a key element, but it’s hard to tell if Steven Moffat and company are spoofing the idea or trying to further it in the franchise. The continual ramping up of the Doctor’s sexuality in this twenty-minute segment points to the joke, but we certainly know what he’ll think of the concept in years to come.

And even though this was a BBC-authorized television production bridging the gap between the TV movie and the 2005 revival, I certainly disagree with his notion that this could have been a legitimate continuation of the franchise.

 

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

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Scream of the Shalka

 

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 #160: Doctor Who (The Movie)

Doctor Who: The Movie
(1996)

 

It’s a major turning point: The gateway between the classic era and the modern. But first, the Doctor must face Y2K.

The Master finally came to trial for his litany of crimes on the planet Skaro as part of a treaty between the Daleks and the Time Lords. Over cat eyes, we learn that the Master’s final request was for the Doctor to carry his remains back to Gallifrey for final disposition. The Doctor places the Master’s urn in a lockbox and secures it with a new sonic screwdriver before settling in with “In a Dream” on the gramaphone, The Time Machine in his hands, and a bowl of jelly babies. The control room is massive and gorgeous, and reflects the Seventh Doctor’s twilight years to a tee.

The Master breaks out of the urn and the lockbox, moving as a shadowy snake form to the TARDIS console and shorting it out, forcing the Doctor to make an emergency landing on Earth, San Francisco, New Years Eve, 1999. The TARDIS materializes in the middle of a gang fight, saving a young survivor in the process. Unfortunately, the Doctor (who didn’t use the scanners, I guess) steps into the fight and is shot. As Chang Lee calls for an ambulance, the Master escapes through the TARDIS lock.

The Doctor (on the record as John Smith) is rushed to the hospital, but modern medicine fails him. The x-ray accurately reflects his two hearts, and the bullet wounds are not particularly life-threatening (one in the shoulder, two in the leg), but the heart readings require a cardiac specialist. Enter: Grace Holloway.

The Doctor wakes up on the operating table to the sound of Madame Butterfly, pleading with Grace to stop the surgery and get him a beryllium atomic clock. The surgical team ups the anesthetic and proceeds, but human surgery on Time Lord physiology proves fatal. The Seventh Doctor dies on the operating table. Grace reviews the x-rays before informing Lee of the bad news, and Lee runs off with the Doctor’s personal effects.

We are treated to a double Time Lord resurrection: On the other side of the city, the Master has hitched a ride home with an ambulance driver named Bruce. As he snores away, preventing his wife from sleeping, Bruce is taken over and killed by the Master. Bruce’s wife is happy for the silence. At the hospital, the Doctor’s body is loaded into the morgue and regenerates in parallel with the 1931 version of Frankenstein. The Doctor bangs at the door and breaks out of the freezer, scaring the on-duty attendant. The Eighth Doctor finds a mirror (or thirteen… see what they did there?) in a broken room (seriously, what?) while humming Madame Butterfly. In shock, he screams and questions who he is.

As morning dawns, we find Grace Holloway in her office, the Doctor rifling through lockers for clothing (and discarding a replica of the Fourth Doctor’s scarf), and Lee trying to figure out what a sonic screwdriver does (as well as examining a yo-yo, the Doctor’s pocketwatch, and the TARDIS key). The Doctor finds a Wild Bill Hickok costume (intended for the New Years Eve costume party), discarding the gun belt and hat in the process. Meanwhile, the Master awakens (with glowing green eyes) and kills Bruce’s wife.

Pete, the morgue attendant, shows Grace what happened the night before. She walks right by the Doctor, who is still suffering from the effects of his regeneration, before meeting with the hospital administrator. The administrator tries to cover up the events of the botched surgery, and she quits her job as a result. As she’s leaving, the Doctor joins her in the elevator and follows her to her car. He begs her for help, pulling the abandoned cardiac probe from his chest as Grace drives him away.

The Master arrives at the hospital and demands to see the Doctor’s body, but finds out that the corpse is missing and that Lee has the Doctor’s possessions. Meanwhile, Grace and the Doctor arrive at her home to find that her boyfriend has left her (and taken her furniture). She examines the Doctor and his heartbeats as his memory fades back in. Grace is upset and confused by the whole affair, but the Doctor comforts her in his awkward way.

Lee finds his way to the TARDIS and steps inside, having one of the most amazing “bigger on the inside” moments. Unfortunately, he also finds the Master, who somehow entered before without the TARDIS key. The Master enthralls Lee and takes the Doctor’s things before demanding that Lee help him find the Time Lord. The Master tells Lee a false tale of how the Doctor stole his regenerations, offering the human gold dust and a tour of the TARDIS, including the Cloister Room. In the depths of the Cloister Room is the Eye of Harmony, the heart of the TARDIS, and Lee is able to open it with a little coercion. The Eye shows the Master and Lee the Doctor’s Seventh and Eighth incarnations, and the image of a human retina leads the Master to believe that the new Doctor is half-human.

That’s an important note to make: The Master makes the assumption that the Doctor is somehow half-human. While the Master – who has known the Doctor for a really, really long time – should presumably know better, the Doctor’s lineage is not a statement of fact. It is a wild assumption.

The Doctor finishes getting dressed (and finally removing his toe tag) as Grace examines his blood. They take a walk to clear their minds, jogging the Doctor’s memories of his own childhood. The joy of this incarnation is amazing. As the Eye of Harmony is opened, he remembers that he is the Doctor and kisses Grace, making this the first romantic moment for the Doctor in the franchise.

I’m okay with that. New face, new body, new Doctor.

With the Eye of Harmony open, the Doctor and the Master can share vision through the Eye. The Doctor closes his eyes and gives Grace the download on who he is. Lee also hears this, chipping away at the Master’s thrall. Grace runs away in shock and locks the Doctor out of her house. Despite the Doctor’s protests, Grace calls for an ambulance, but the Doctor shows her that the Eye of Harmony is tearing the planet apart by walking through a window without breaking it. The Master and Lee oblige her request by hijacking an ambulance and taking it to meet the doctor (and the Doctor).

The Doctor watches the news while they wait for the ambulance, learning that a local institute is unveiling a beryllium atomic clock, which is exactly what he needs to close the Eye. The doorbell rings, and it’s the Master calling. Grace has no idea, but the Doctor obviously recognizes the Master, and nevertheless, they all pile into the ambulance and hit the road. Eventually, the Doctor unmasks the Master and runs with Grace. They hijack a police motorcycle with jelly babies and race for the institute with the Master in pursuit.

Notably, the Doctor does use a gun once again, but it’s a distraction instead of a threat.

Lee knows a shortcut – of course he does – so they beat the Doctor and the doctor to the clock. They proceed inside and look for a way to the clock, passing the Doctor off as “Dr. Bowman” and meeting Professor Wagg, the inventor of the device. In the meantime, the Doctor explains more about himself, and distracts the professor with a joke about being half-human while swiping his badge. They take a piece of the clock, distract a guard with a jelly baby, and spot the Master before running. They race to the roof (understandably, the Doctor is afraid of heights) and use a fire hose to drop to the street before heading to the TARDIS.

They use a spare key to open the TARDIS, have a humorous moment with a police officer driving in and out of the time capsule, and go inside to install the clock component in the console. Unfortunately, the Eye has been open too long and the cosmos are in danger. The TARDIS also has no power. They attempt to jump-start the TARDIS, but Grace is enthralled by the Master as he arrives. She knocks the Doctor out and together, she and Lee take him to the Eye. The Master supervises as Grace places a device on the Doctor’s head to prop his eyes open. The Doctor pleads with Lee, and Lee refuses to open the Eye when the Doctor points out the Master’s lies. The Master kills Lee by snapping his neck, then enthralls Grace into opening the Eye.

Apparently, only a human’s eyes can open the Eye. Which is weird, but kind of plays into a theory of mine… more on that later.

The Eye’s light is focused on two points, designed in this case to channel the Doctor’s regenerative energy into the Master and extend the villain’s lifespan. The light of the Eye breaks Grace’s trance, and she runs to the console to reroute the power. At the very last second, Grace jump-starts the TARDIS and they travel into a temporal orbit. She releases the Doctor, but the Master throws her off the balcony and kills her. The two Time Lords fight over the eye, but the Doctor is triumphant and the Master falls into the Eye. The Doctor tries to rescue him, but the Master refuses and is (apparently) killed.

The Doctor places Lee and Grace on a balcony in the Cloister Room, and the energy of the Eye infuses with them, bringing them back to life courtesy of the TARDIS and its sentimentality. The Doctor shows them Gallifrey from a distance before returning midnight on January 1, 2000. Lee departs with the gold dust and a little advice after returning the Doctor’s stuff, and the Doctor offers Grace the opportunity to travel with him. Grace declines, and the Doctor departs for a new adventure.

 

This presentation is deeply flawed, but it does have a lot of things working for it. I love the theme music (even if they don’t credit Ron Grainer or Delia Derbyshire) and I do love the humor and Doctor/Grace banter. On the other hand, it is swimming in the cheesiness that defined televised American science fiction in the 1990s, and a lot of those elements fall flat in the spirit of Doctor Who. I mean, can we get that hospital a little more funding for the entire floor full of broken junk?

The story also has a fixation on people stealing people’s stuff. Was there a major trend of kleptomania in the mid-90s?

Paul McGann is simply a joy to watch, and his energy and joy shines in this story. It’s also interesting to watch the “half-human” controversy play out: The Master takes it seriously based on scant evidence, but the Doctor plays it as a joke. I have often wondered if Gallifreyans are some sort of evolved human being – it’s definitely possible given that the default appearance is always human, most medical exams show only the two hearts as a physical difference, and that whole Eye of Harmony key thing – but I don’t think that the Doctor is any more human than that. The evidence just doesn’t support it.

All in all, this story would fall into the average range, which is a shame since Paul McGann deserved so much better. Of course, this was also a regeneration story, so it gets a little boost per the rules of the Timestamps Project.

 

 

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

 

 

UP NEXT – Seventh Doctor 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 #159: Survival

Doctor Who: Survival
(3 episodes, s26e12-e14, 1989)

 

As the classic era sails into the sunset, Ace comes home.

We open on a modern suburban street as a man washing his car is terrorized by an animatronic cat. The Doctor and Ace arrive shortly afterward and wander the streets of Perivale. Ace wondered how her grandmother and friends were doing and the Doctor obliged by taking her home. Unfortunately, Perivale has changed a lot since Ace has been gone.

The travelers wander into an abandoned coffee bar and stumble into a self-defense class led by Sergeant Paterson. As Ace gets news of the village’s history, the Doctor investigates the cat (who seems to be an avatar for a familiar shadowy figure), and the pair continue on their walk. The Doctor ends up in a store where he shops for cat bait.

The entire story seems saturated in metaphors for survival of the fittest.

As the pair continue on, the Doctor puzzles over the cat. Meanwhile, the cat attacks another citizen, teleporting a runner somewhere else. The Doctor sets a trap for the cat as Ace moves to a local park where she encounters a cheetah creature on a black horse. After a brief chase, Ace is teleported away as well, and she lands on a strange planet with a blood red sky. She spots the car washing victim from earlier but is chased again by the cheetah. She’s rescued by the runner, who is mauled by the cheetah for his efforts, and then finds friends of hers who are stranded here. The Doctor and Paterson, after a humorous chase through Perivale, also end up on the planet in a camp of cheetah people. As the Doctor is herded toward a tent, he looks inside to find the Master.

What an unexpected pleasure. What a way to end the classic run.

The Master, somehow infected with feline traits, occupies the cheetah people with Paterson as he confers with the Doctor. The Doctor is unwilling to let Paterson become cat food, so he steals a horse and rescues the sergeant. The cheetah people hunt by teleporting from planet to planet and seeking carrion, so the Doctor is confused at their presence on Earth, so far out of their normal range. As they ride on, they stumble into a trap set by Ace, uniting them once again.

The group slowly make their way through an area swarming with cheetah people, but when an unexpected new arrival teleports in, all hell breaks loose. The cheetahs chase anyone who runs, and Ace saves the horse-riding cheetah after giving it a concussion with a rock. The Doctor and the Master are reunited, and the Master explains that the fighting is feeding the destruction of the planet. The Master asks for help to leave the planet since he is unable to find a way himself. He tells of the indigenous people to this planet who bred the kitlings (the black normal-size cats) and used them to see the universe, and of how those people were transformed by that power into the cheetah people. The Master himself is succumbing to the same fate.

The Doctor finds Ace tending to the injured cheetah, Karra, who turn is entranced by the Soviet cap badge she was given by Captain Sorin. The Doctor believes that the only way home is for one of them to transform into a cheetah and then teleport their prey home. As Ace’s friends rally around Paterson and warfare, one of them (Midge) succumbs to animal instinct and kills a cheetah, eventually being captured by the Master and transforming into one himself. Midge is able to teleport himself and the Master back to Earth, and Ace begins to transform as well.

Karra arrives and takes Ace on a hunt while, on Earth, the Master revels in his freedom. Ace’s humanity wins out, and the Doctor is able to sway Ace away from Karra. Ace uses her new power to teleport everyone back to Perivale – notably, when Ace teleports them to “home,” the end up next to the TARDIS – and Paterson shakes the whole adventure off as a hallucination.

The Doctor and Ace roam Perivale in search of the Master and Midge. Ace uses her power to divine that they are at the youth club, where the two cats have enthralled the self-defense class to attack and kill Paterson. They track the group to the hill where Ace and Midge used to hang out, and after a motorcycle-based joust, Midge is killed, the Doctor has vanished, and Karra arrives to guide Ace. Karra disperses the enthralled students, but the Master is too strong. The Master kills Karra, then runs past the Doctor (who has ended up in a refuse pile). Karra reverts to human form and says her farewells to Ace before dying in her arms.

The Doctor tracks the Master to the TARDIS. The Master gloats that he will use the power of the cheetah people to destroy the Doctor, and as he teleports them back to the planet, the Doctor nearly succumbs to the power himself before realizing that their conflict will destroy the planet. As the Master aims the killing blow, the Doctor screams one last plea (“If we fight like animals, we’ll die like animals!”) and is teleported back to Earth, leaving the Master on the dying planet alone.

The Doctor returns to Ace’s side as Karra’s body is taken back to the cheetah planet by one of her comrades. With their transformations reversed, the Doctor asks Ace where she would like to go. Surprisingly, she says, “Home.” Unsurprisingly, she means the TARDIS. Together, they walk into the trees arm in arm.

“There are worlds out there where the sky is burning, the seas sleep, and the rivers dream; people made of smoke and cities made of song. Somewhere, there’s danger; somewhere, there’s injustice; and somewhere else, the tea’s getting cold! Come on Ace, we’ve got work to do.”

 

On one hand, it was great to end the classic run with the Master (and the last appearance by Anthony Ainley), as well as putting a bow on Ace’s loose story arc. Ace is amazing, and the chemistry between her and the Doctor is fantastic.

One the other hand, this was a rather average story in comparison. It had good themes, but it wasn’t particularly engaging and (in a rarity) could have benefited from another episode to flesh things out a bit.

The ending was bittersweet. I want another season with the Seventh Doctor and Ace.

 

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

 

UP NEXT – Twenty-Sixth 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 #147: The Ultimate Foe

Doctor Who: The Ultimate Foe
The Trial of a Time Lord, Parts XIII-XIV

(2 episodes, s23e13-e14, 1986)

 

It’s time for closing statements.

Picking up at the Doctor’s inadvertent admission of genocide, the Doctor charges that the Matrix has been tampered with so the Inquisitor calls upon the Keeper of the Matrix to testify. The Keeper denies the possibility on grounds that the Key of Rassilon is required to enter the database, and only senior Time Lords have access to the keys. Neither the Valeyard nor the Inquisitor is swayed.

Something sounded fishy here, so I waded back into the archives. The Invasion of Time calls out the Great Key of Rassilon, the literal key to ultimate Time Lord knowledge. So are all of these senior Time Lords holding Lesser Keys of Rassilon, and if so, what is the difference if they all lead to the same Matrix, arguably the source of all Time Lord knowledge?

Outside the station, two pods arrive and travel down the fancy corridor of light. They open to reveal Sabalom Glitz and Mel – though neither knows how they arrived at the station – and they barge into the courtroom to offer a defense for the Doctor. On cue, their mysterious benefactor is revealed as the Master, communicating to them from the depths of the Matrix.

First, this whole arc just got a lot more deus ex machina.

Second, it turns out that a Key of Rassilon can be duplicated. Looking back on The Invasion of Time and the (admittedly assumed) purpose of the Great Key and the “lesser” keys, this really makes me wonder about the Artifacts of Rassilon. Possession of the Sash, the Key, and the Rod could lead to absolute power and a Time Lord dictatorship, and if the keys are so easily duplicated then why hasn’t someone attempted a coup with a Gallifreyan 3-D printer?

The Time Lords in attendance do not recognize the Master (which is surprising given how often the High Council has interacted with the Master and/or sent the Doctor to stop him), but the Master seems to have a deep interest in the Valeyard and a strong desire to see him lose. The Inquisitor allows Glitz to testify and the rogue reveals that the mysterious box he was searching for contained secrets of the Time Lords. The sleepers – the inhabitants of Ravalox, then known as Earth – somehow gained access to the Matrix and were siphoning secrets into the box for later use, and the Gallifreyan High Council drew Earth out of orbit, initiated the fireball, and renamed the planet to protect the information.

Yikes. The Doctor’s enemy in this story is own people?

The Master reveals that the Valeyard was charged to tamper with the trial evidence in exchange for the rest of the Doctor’s regenerations. You see, the Valeyard is the Doctor… or rather the amalgamation of the Doctor’s darker impulses from somewhere between his twelfth and final incarnations.

The Doctor’s real enemy is himself.

The Inquisitor agrees that the trial must consider this new evidence, and the Valeyard flees into the Matrix. The Doctor and Glitz pursue him, landing in a warped recreation of Victorian-era London. The Doctor is attacked by a rain barrel, but he is saved by Glitz. The rouge hands the Time Lord a note from the Master pointing them toward a place called The Fantasy Factory. As they approach, Glitz takes a harpoon to the chest.

The Matrix is a place where logic has no hold, and we’re back to The Deadly Assassin.

In the courtroom, the Master testifies to the court that everything they saw was true with minor adjustments to cast doubt on the Doctor. He also reveals that Peri’s fate in Mindwarp was a lie. She is serving as a queen at the side of King Yrcanos, thus providing a great sigh of relief from your humble reviewer. The Master hopes that the Valeyard and the Doctor will destroy each other and leave him free to pillage the universe, and he suggests that the High Council be made to answer for their crimes.

Reasonable.

In the Matrix, we find that the Valeyard’s attack didn’t roll high enough to defeat Glitz’s armor class, and the rogue is convinced to help the Doctor and escape the computer. They enter The Fantasy Factory and meet Mr. Popplewick, a rather stuffy bureaucrat who loves his red tape. The Doctor rushes past the front desk to the proprietor’s office only to find a more officious version of Popplewick. The procedure is sacrosanct!

Before the Doctor is allowed to proceed, he is forced to sign over his remaining regenerations to Mr. J. J. Chambers – the Valeyard – in the event of his “untimely” death. Within moments, he is whisked away to a bleak beach where hands attack from beneath the sand and draw him down, reminiscent of the quicksand traps that permeated much of ’80s television and film adventures. Glitz adopts the role of reliable sidekick and tries to rescue him, but the Doctor overcomes the trap by sheer willpower, pretty much invalidating any amount of physical peril going forward. After a round of taunting from the Valeyard, the evil Time Lord forces the Doctor and Glitz into a nearby hut with a cloud of nerve gas.

The twist: The hut is the Master’s TARDIS. The Master explains that the Valeyard has to be stopped because he has none of the Doctor’s morality, leaving him eviler, more powerful, and a huge threat. The Master tricks the Doctor by putting him in a catatonic state and leaving him as bait for the Valeyard. The Master’s Tissue Compression Eliminator proves useless against the Valeyard and the pair is forced to retreat. Meanwhile, Mel somehow arrives in the Matrix and escorts him out of the Matrix and back to the courtroom.

Mel testifies in the Doctor’s defense, offering footage from Terror of the Vervoids as evidence. The Inquisitor is not swayed, sentencing the Doctor to death. The Doctor accepts the verdict with surprising calm, and we find out that this is yet another Matrix illusion. Outside the Matrix, the real Mel is incensed, prompting her to steal the Key of Rassilon and enter the Matrix. She intercepts the Doctor, but he chides her because he knew it was a ruse based on her digital doppelgänger’s testimony. Together they enter the Fantasy Factory in pursuit of the Valeyard.

The Master charges Glitz, first via failed hypnosis then with a treasure chest, with finding the Ravalox Matrix box. Glitz finds the memory tapes and Mr. Popplewick while the Doctor discovers a list (in his own handwriting) of judges from his trial. Together, they force Popplewick to take them to the Valeyard, but Glitz trades the Doctor for the memory tapes, which he then passes to the Master.

The Doctor reveals Popplewick to be the Valeyard in disguise. He further discovers a maser device aimed at the courtroom, ready to kill the assembled Time Lords as a last resort. The list of names was a hit list. He dispatches Mel to evacuate the courtroom.

In the real world, Gallifrey is collapsing into chaos. The High Council has been deposed by a civilian revolt, and the Master takes the opportunity to seize control. The attempt is stymied when he loads the Ravalox drive into his TARDIS console and it freezes both the Master and Glitz in the Matrix.

Mel tries to evacuate the courtroom while the Doctor destroys the maser using a feedback loop. The surge strikes the Valeyard, knocking him down as the Fantasy Factory explodes. The Doctor returns to reality and learns of Peri’s true fate. The Inquisitor offers the presidency to the Doctor, but he declines, instead offering it to her. He also suggests that the Master should be punished but that Glitz can be reformed.

Leaving his fate up to the Time Lords means that the Master will be back. No doubt.

Mel and the Doctor depart with a quip, and the Doctor nearly abandons Mel at the hint of carrot juice in their future. Instead, they board the TARDIS and take off for points unknown. Meanwhile, the Inquisitor dissolves the court and orders the Keeper to repair and reinforce the Matrix.

Unbeknownst to anyone in attendance, the Keeper is the Valeyard in disguise.

 

As part of the Trial of a Time Lord arc, The Ultimate Foe provides a decent enough resolution, bolstered by the revelation that Peri survived and is living a good life. She did look a little sad, but I assume that it’s the weight of her role as leader. I can’t imagine that she actually missed the Sixth Doctor after all the abuse he has subjected her to, but she might miss the thrill of the adventure.

On its own, the story of The Ultimate Foe is fairly weak. The introduction of the Master weakens the power of the Valeyard and turns this “dark Doctor” into “Master Lite”. The disguises, the logical trickery, the drive to steal regenerations and kill the Doctor… all of it is just a rehash of the Master’s various machinations. The resolution also points out a massive plot hole: If the Sixth Doctor dies with regenerating, there can’t be a Twelfth Doctor or beyond. The Valeyard cannot exist unless he remains outside of time, and if he does stay outside of time then what is the point of all that power?

On a series continuity note, I did enjoy the call back to the Doctor’s dislike of the nickname “Doc”. We’ve seen it at least four times before: The Dalek Invasion of EarthThe Time Meddler, The Five Doctors, and The Twin Dilemma.

On a project note, this is the first time that an incarnation’s finale doesn’t get the regeneration handicap. This wasn’t intended as the final story for Colin Baker, and he doesn’t even begin the regeneration process in this story.

 

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

 

UP NEXT – Twenty-Third 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 #140: The Mark of the Rani

Doctor Who: The Mark of the Rani
(2 episodes, s22e05-e06, 1985)

 

A peaceful, hard-working existence at a mining village meets a trio of Time Lords.

This story has a fast launch out of the gate. A group of miners head for the relaxation of the local bathhouse, but they are gassed out by an unknown force. On the TARDIS, the Doctor is frustrated as the TARDIS is pulled off course by a mysterious time distortion. Peri, in an odd costume, is displeased at the rural setting.

The gassed miners have an odd mark on their necks, and the chemicals have transformed them into vandals more intent on fighting than working. In fact, they act more like Luddites than anything else, destroying machinery and attacking those who use it. The Doctor and Peri disrupt one of these attacks and find a red mark on one of the vandals, but the attacker runs off.

As the Doctor and Peri make their way into town – intent on meeting George Stephenson, an architect of the Industrial Revolution – the Doctor’s time distortion tracker keys in on the bathhouse. They also fail to notice the shadowy figure skulking in their wake. We soon discover that dark figure is none other than the Master and that the woman who runs the bathhouse is in on the scheme in some way. The Master commands the vandals – who don’t bat an eye at the Master’s advanced technology – to attack the Doctor. Our heroic Time Lord nearly falls into the open mineshaft before being saved by Lord Ravensworth, the landowner. They discuss the mystery of the mining village.

The Master, using a device that works on wood (unlike the typical sonic screwdriver), forces his way into the bathhouse and uncovers the identity of the old woman: She is the Rani, an exiled Time Lord, and a chemist who is distilling sleep-inducing neurochemicals from the miners. The distillation process causes the red marks, and the sleep-inducing chemicals are needed for Miasimia Gora, a planet that the Rani rules. The two Time Lords work together despite their deep distrust of one another and repeated attempts to sabotage one another in their quest to kill the Doctor.

The Doctor follows the clues to the bathhouse, going undercover as a miner to investigate. He succumbs to the gas, but upon awakening, he challenges the Rani’s ethics. She’s been coming to Earth for the neurochemicals for centuries, and their discussion reveals the presence of the Master to the Doctor. The Rani leaves to find the Master, leaving an opening for Peri to sneak in. Unfortunately, her attempt to save the Doctor is interrupted by the other two Time Lords. After some rhetorical back, forth, and trickery, the Master is given leave to deal with the Doctor. He has the Luddites drop the TARDIS down the mining shaft, and after a twist of fate, they find the Doctor and send him in after it.

Luckily, the Doctor is saved just in time by George Stephenson. The inventor spirits the Doctor and Peri to Lord Ravensworth’s home and sends Luke to find the lord with a message. Unfortunately, he is intercepted and enthralled by the Master, forced to kill anyone who might disrupt the upcoming meeting of inventors at Lord Ravensworth’s manor. The Master wants to use the meeting to accelerate the Earth’s technological development so he can harness that power for his own evil means, and he strikes a deal with the Rani so that she can return to Earth at any time if she helps his plans move forward.

The Doctor and Peri return to the bathhouse and investigate the Rani’s TARDIS. After dodging booby traps, they enter the console room, but the Doctor kicks Peri out as the TARDIS dematerializes remotely and moves to the mines where the Rani and the Master are scheming. The pair enter, retrieve some tools and leave, which frees the Doctor to sabotage the control column.

I do like elements of the Rani’s TARDIS console room, but it needs a bit more color and depth. It’s certainly better than redressing the Doctor’s console room once again. The renovated roundels are a nice touch.

The Doctor meets up with Peri at the mine shaft where she takes him back to Lord Ravensworth’s manor. Stephenson is gearing up to rescue one of the incoming inventors, but the Doctor realizes that the message was carried by Luke and that the assistant is acting funny. The Doctor goes in his stead to Redfern Dell, where the Rani and the Master have set landmines (those tools they retrieved earlier) to ambush Stephenson.

As the Doctor ventures out, Peri uses her botanical knowledge to develop a sleeping-draught for the affected miners. Her quest takes her to Redfern Dell with Luke to find the herbs. As everyone converges, the Doctor ambushes the other two Time Lords and holds them at bay with the Master’s Tissue Compression Eliminator. He watches as Luke inadvertently steps on a landmine and is transformed into a tree – a development that comes out of nowhere – then angrily marches his hostages through the dell. The Luke-tree saves Peri from sharing his fate, alerting the Doctor to his companion’s danger. He forces the Rani to save her but leaves Peri to take them to the mines as he tries to save the Luddite horde from the landmines. His captors don’t listen and succumb to their new fates.

The Rani and the Master escape due to the former’s trickery, but their triumph is short-lived as they board the Rani’s TARDIS. The Doctor’s sabotage causes the time capsule to tumble out of control, and the time spillage reaches a jar holding a Tyrannosaurus Rex embryo. The dinosaur begins to grow…

The Doctor and Peri return to Lord Ravensworth, exchanging the vial of neurochemicals (which they pickpocketed from the Master) for the TARDIS (which Ravensworth retrieved from the mines). The travelers board the TARDIS and dematerialize, shocking the inventor and his financier.

 

Really all I can say is that this was an average story. It was good to see another Time Lord in a large role, nice to see the Master again, and fun to touch on history once again with the first historical figure directly on screen since The Gunfighters. The Rani seems like she could be a good lead-in to the concept of Missy, which debuts nearly thirty years after this point.

It’s especially fun to see the mystery and menace of the Master. We’ve never needed to know how he survives each time, it’s just enough to know that he does and seems unstoppable.

 

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

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Two Doctors

 

 

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

Timestamp #135: Planet of Fire

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Huh?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Caves of Androzani

 

 

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