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.

 

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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.

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.