The City Administrator returns to Plan A – The Disintegrator Ray. Meanwhile, The Doctor looks for the connection between the poisoned water and the monsters in the aqueduct. Also, a Sensorite scientist learns to shake hands.
“To see all the time is not a good thing.”
We left The Doctor in the dark aqueducts, a loud roar coming from nearby. Susan and Ian rush into the dark and find The Doctor on the ground, his jacket ripped, but otherwise okay. He didn’t get a look at what attacked him. He proclaims that he knows what is happening with the aqueduct, but that the pressing matter is finding The Sensorite who is plotting against them.
The City Administrator demands the imprisoned Second Elder arrange the return of the firing key to The Disintegrator Ray. Once they have the key, The Second Elder grabs it and breaks it before The City Administrator can activate the ray. In the ensuing struggle, The Second Elder is killed. The conspiracy has now turned to outright murder. The City Administrator will kill Sensorites for his goal. He then comes up with a plan to pin the death on The Doctor. The City Administrator’s co-conspirator claims to have seen the murder. He says The Doctor pulled the weapon from his coat. Ian quickly points out that The Doctor’s coat had been ruined and left in the aqueduct. Being caught in the lie, the co-conspirator corrects himself, saying it was most-definitely a cloak, not realizing The First Elder had presented The Doctor with the cloak mere moments earlier. This is obviously not going well. Conspiracies are only as good as those involved. The City Administrator then proves he is a better mastermind, transferring the xenophobia to The Second Elder, and casting all blame onto him. The City Administrator is now officially promoted to Second Elder, being championed for the position by The Doctor. Ah, dramatic irony. The episode ends with Ian and The Doctor entering the aqueducts with weapons and a map sabotaged by The New Second Elder, and Carol being kidnapped, hence the title.
I have to say once more that I think the strength of this story is the plotting. The actions and words of the characters are not wasted. One example is the destruction of The Doctor’s coat, which plays heavily into proving he didn’t commit murder. In any number of stories these would just be events that happened but have no overall relevance. In this story, the coat and the cloak play heavily into events. Likewise, The First Elder realizes that it The Doctor and his companions didn’t kill The Second Elder, then someone else must have, and that someone would have to be a Sensorite. So many of the details in this story help create the clues for the characters and the audience. We know The Sensorite villain and we see the clues that are planted for our characters, but there is also a mystery in the aqueducts and this mystery is hidden from the audience. Yet even this plot has clues in the nightshade, the darkness, the noise, and in exposition that was set up earlier in the serial. I’m not sure what else Peter Newman has written, but I bet he would be a good mystery writer. His command of pace, detail and motivation would certainly be a boon in that genre.
I have given Susan a bit of grief in previous stories, but I have to admit that she is really working in this story. I don’t know if it is Barbara’s absence (she is still on the ship with Maitland) which allows Susan to be portrayed as stronger and more Barbara-like, or if she is finally being written as competent in her own right. In my opinion, this has been the best use of her character since the episode An Unearthly Child. No screaming, no panicking, she even seems smart and intuitive. I wish she had been used like this in all the stories. The fact that she wasn’t lends some credence to the generally accepted idea in fandom that three companions in the TARDIS doesn’t work. Two is thought to be the ideal number. While I don’t think that should be a hard rule, I do acknowledge that it often doesn’t work because it can be hard to find enough for each character to do. These episodes on The Sense Sphere seem to lend credence to this rule. There is the hint that Barbara will return in the next episode. It will be interesting to see what happens with Susan’s character at that point.
The City Administrator continues plotting against the humans while The Doctor attempts to find a cure for Ian’s illness.
“These people have fine qualities. The Second Elder and I have misjudged them.”
It doesn’t take long for The Doctor to work out the water as the cause of the Ian’s illness. He mixes salt and water to act as a way to slow the poison, but he demands access to The TARDIS which has supplies and equipment he could use to find a cure for both Ian and The Sensorites. After consideration and advice, The First Elder refuses to return the TARDIS lock, which infuriates The Doctor, leaving him to work with what supplies The Sensorites can provide him.
The City Administrator and The Second Elder are put at odds a bit more. The Second Elder even threatens to remove The City Administrator from his position. John makes the realization that the evil he senses is actually The City Administrator. Then Carol sets up the idea that to the humans all Sensorites look the same. If it wasn’t for their sashes of office, they the humans wouldn’t be able to tell them apart. “I had not thought of that,” says The City Administrator, obviously trying to use this information to his advantage.
Next we are given a science montage where The Doctor and The Sensorite Scientists analyze water from different districts, The First Elder holds a piece of paper, and Ian thrashes about on a couch. All joking aside, it accomplishes what the story needs and doesn’t go on too long. The Doctor discovers that District 8’s water is poisoned. This doesn’t explain why people are getting sick in every district, but it does prove there is poison in the water. Since all the water comes from the same source, it is reasonable to assume everyone is being poisoned in the same way but that the poison doesn’t affect all areas at the same time. Regardless, The Doctor makes a quick antidote and sends one of his assistants to deliver it to Susan and The First Elder. Meanwhile, The City Administrator kidnaps The Second Elder and takes his sash of office for the purpose of imitation.
The Doctor decides to go with one of the scientists to the aqueducts to investigate the water source. The City Administrator intercepts the antidote and, believing it is poison, smashes the vial. “This will prove if the young man is faking, one way or another,” he cheers.
Upon arrival at the aqueducts, The Doctor finds he must enter alone. The aqueducts are both dark and supposedly full of loud monsters. The Doctor dismisses his assistant, remarking on the convenience of the water source being located at a place which naturally fills The Sensorites with fear. Susan, worrying about the antidote, goes to the scientists and gets a back-up antidote and cures Ian, who then goes rushing after The Doctor into the aqueduct. As the episode comes to an end, The Doctor finds a few sprigs of Deadly Nightshade and hears a ferocious roar!
So, I must admit that this viewing of The Sensorites hasn’t been nearly as bad as I remember. I have a theory to explain this. When I first watched The Sensorites it was all in one go. This time I have only watched an episode or two per day, writing a review between each. I think this actually improves the viewing experience. As Doctor Who has always gone out one episode at a time, week to week, this simulates (to a degree) the way it was originally intended to be watched. Thus, sometimes concepts or plot points are sometimes repeated. This was way before home video. In addition, each episode, while slow by today’s standards, is paced fairly well. I never thought I would say this before, but I am actually enjoying The Sensorites this time around. These days, shows are made with full expectation that they will be going to DVD. This – consciously or unconsciously – will affect the writing. It affects the pace. If people can go back and re-watch something, there is no real need for a recap or restatement of plot or ideas. Contrasting this season of Doctor Who with the most-recent (New Who series Five) we see a stark difference in plotting. Okay, there are many differences between William Hartnell’s first season and Matt Smith’s first season, but one of those differences is the acknowledgement that the viewers of Matt Smith’s first season will almost certainly watch and re-watch each episode many times, even doing a frame by frame analysis. This level of detail may seem a bit obsessive, but if the show is being written with that in mind, then Steven Moffat and the other writers for Series Five are giving the fans what they want. This is very clever plotting. On some level, I also find it irritating. While I do agree somewhat with the idea that the devil is in the details, if all you focus on is the details, then all you have is the devil. You have details but no story. Thus far, Moffat is still giving us an entertaining story, but I have to wonder if Doctor Who in its current incarnation will become so focused on the obsessive details at the expense of being a well-told story. Or, to put it in storytelling terms, are we getting details or are we getting clues? Are we getting Easter eggs or are we getting foreshadowing? These are not the same thing.
Anyway, The Sensorites: still entertaining. Will it hold up past episode 4?
We get a crash course in Sensorite government and sociology plus, we learn more about the illness.
“No opinion can be worse, sometimes, than a very dogmatic one.”
The cliffhanger from the previous episode, where Susan agrees to go with the Sensorites in order to save the lives of her friends, is quickly resolved as The Doctor demands that she doesn’t. The two characters have an argument over Susan’s foolish choice. Susan insists that she is no longer a child, The Doctor insists that she still lacks wisdom. While this scene is odd when juxtaposed with the threat that caused it, it does provide some good characterization between Susan and The Doctor. She is growing up. The Doctor states that he and Susan have never argued before. Perhaps her telepathic link to The Sensorites is making her more bold. Perhaps she is merely growing up as Barbara says. Regardless, it is a nice opening scene even if it does cheapen the cliffhanger from the previous episode. Two for two on that account.
We learn more of the history of Sensorite-Human relations in this episode. It seems that five humans had visited The Sense Sphere once before. At the time they were welcomed, but the humans began to argue. Two of them took the ship and tried to leave but it exploded. The Sensorites never saw the other humans from the ship and assumed that they had stowed away. Ever since that day The Sensorites have been dying off in greater numbers each year. This new situation filled them with fear, but The First Elder has decided to let The Doctor, Ian, Susan, Carol, and John visit The Sense Sphere. He hopes The Doctor may be able to find a cure for his people. The Sensorites, as an act of goodwill, will attempt to cure John. Barbara and Maitland will remain on the ship as insurance should the humans try anything deceptive.
With this, the third episode, we finally see the villain of the piece in the form of The City Administrator. None of The Sensorites have names beyond their positions, which is indicative of their caste society. The City Administrator seems to be a type of Third Elder, after the First and Second Elders. Each Elder is marked by a sash, The First Elder having a sash that crisscrosses his chest, the second having a single sash across his chest, and the City Administrator who has a sash around his neck. He is also very distrustful of the humans. As a result, he has assembled the disintegrator ray and has it trained on the humans visitors. The Second Elder, furious at this action, takes the firing key from the disintegrator. This does nothing to dissuade The City Administrator from his opinion, it only makes him more subversive and cautious.
As The Doctor, Ian, and Susan dine with The First Elder, they are initially served different water. The Elder insists his guests are served water that he has stored in flagons at the palace. It seems he discovered a spring one day and all the elders drink from the water gathered there. Coincidentally, none of the Elders have grown ill. I wonder…. Ian, being extremely thirsty, drinks some of the lesser-water. He soon passes out and it is revealed that he is afflicted with the same illness that is killing The Sensorites.
Okay, let’s just say it now, the water is the key. The Elders dink stored water, everyone else drinks water from the aqueducts. The Elders are not growing ill, everyone else is. It is obvious that the water is being poisoned somehow. As simple as this seems, it is fun that the writer actually put enough thought into the story to provide large clues. There is a mystery here. While it is reasonable to conclude the water is the key, we do not yet know what is causing the poison, but we do know it coincided with the departure of the original human visitors. We also know from this episode that The Sensorites couldn’t account for all five of the original visitors, they merely assumed they left with the others. It is not a big leap to theorize that the original humans are still on the planet and could be the cause, in one form or another, of the poisoning.
We also have it established that John, due to his “mind being opened”, is able to determine if a person is good or evil. He senses an evil presence in The Palace, but he also senses that The First Elder is good. More clues, although the evil presence will most-likely be The City Administrator since he advocates murder.
The Sensorites is holding up so far, although it was harder to keep my attention on this episode. This is probably due more to not getting enough sleep last night rather than anything inherent in the episode. Three down, so far so good.
“So far you have only proven you can lock doors. We can unlock them.”
Okay, first thing is first. Occasionally on Doctor Who when a new episode starts they will replay the footage from a previous episode as a recap. Other times they re-film footage. Strangers in Space ended with a great cliffhanger as Ian Chesterton looked with horror upon a disturbing visage gazing into the space ship. The Unwilling Warriors begins with this same sequence re-filmed, but to much less effect. Ian’s fearful gaze is shortened to a look of shock as he calls immediately to The Doctor. Our first look at a Sensorite even shows the costume to look different from what it was in the first episode. How disappointing. How underwhelming. What was once a great shock and ominous cliffhanger has been reduced to a mildly odd shot of a strange, yet not horrific, creature gazing at our heroes. Again, disappointment.
In this episode we learn why The Sensorites have been keeping the astronauts prisoner on their ship. It turns out that when John did a mineralogical reading on The Sensorite planet (The Sense-Sphere) he discovered high quantities of a mineral called molybdenum. Molybdenum has a high melting point and is used as an alloy in steel for ships. Whoever could mine The Sense-Sphere would become rich. John’s thoughts of wealth were picked up by The Sensorites, and they imprisoned the astronauts as a defense mechanism. It seems that humans had tried to get at The Sense-Sphere’s molybdenum once before and there was some sort of “affliction.” This hasn’t yet been explained. Regardless, the fear The Sensorites have of the humans is justified, even if their methods for defense are extreme. But this is an interesting portrayal of xenophobia, not human of alien, but alien of human. This is also a far cry from the all-to-typical portrayal of all aliens as a threat to humanity that exists in more modern Doctor Who stories. Yes, The Sensorites start off as villains, but they have a motivation that is understandable and in the end we are merely witnessing a diplomatic catastrophe.
We learn two additional things in this episode. First, The Sensorites’ eyes are fully dilated. The Doctor theorizes that they will be unable to see in low light or darkness. Second, it would seem The Sensorites can telepathically communicate with Susan. Finally we have some characterization of Susan that extends beyond panicking and screaming. Carol Ann Ford is able to do some better acting, more in line with her portrayal of Susan from An Unearthly Child, which was the last time the character seemed at all interesting. Susan even agrees to accompany The Sensorites to The Sense-Sphere if they will spare the lives of the people on the ship.
In all, this was a more interesting episode. Despite its disappointing start, this episode cracks along at a nice pace and we start getting pieces that answer questions that have already arisen and the author starts putting other pieces into play that will be addressed later. So, an improvement over the previous episode. What does the next hold?
The TARDIS Crew materialize on a ship under siege by mind-controlling beings known as The Sensorites.
“One thing’s for certain. We’re certainly different from when we started out with you.”
Compared to the finale of The Aztecs, Strangers in Space is like hitting a brick wall. The pace slows to a crawl. This isn’t so much due to bad writing or directing, it is for the purpose of suspense and atmosphere. A large amount of exposition is thrown at us as the astronauts reawaken from their enforced slumber. They are being mentally tormented by a race called The Sensorites. These creatures seem to be able to control the minds of the three people on the ship, Maitland, Carol, and John. We discover that something horrific happened to John and he appears to be insane. He moves like a zombie in some scenes, like a schizophrenic in others. Maitland continually succumbs to fear. It is only Carol who is emboldened by the appearance of the TARDIS crew. Unfortunately, The Doctor and his companions soon find themselves sharing the situation of the astronauts when they discover the TARDIS locking mechanism has been removed by The Sensorites.
As stated before, this episode attempts to build a suspenseful atmosphere. I think it is partially effective. Many of the sets are dimly lit and the camera movements are slow and ponderous. Maitland and Carol give a jarring performance, perhaps intending to convey mental instability, but at times it comes across as bad acting. Doctor Who has had a long history of questionable portrayals of people under alien influence, and it would seem The Sensorites sets this standard rather low. The Sensorites remain unseen until the closing moments of the episode, and I think the reveal is very well done. After a few minutes of building tension as we hear the arrival of The Sensorite ship, we have silence as Ian moves to inspect a view port. William Russell does an excellent job of conveying fear as he sees The Sensorites appear. The ending really does pay off the slow pace.
Another excellent shot is when the camera follows the TARDIS crew from the TARDIS control room and onto the ship. It is a single shot. The director, Mervyn Pinfield, really went above and beyond with this. Granted, it was a very easy shot to do since everything was on the same set, but it was the first time such a shot was used, and in our modern age of television, such a shot would be done with computers. The simplicity and practicality of the shot and sheer illusion of the TARDIS are what make it so wonderful and imaginative. So, while The Sensorites has yet to really be compelling to me, it has a few things that work in its favor thus far, and I look forward to re-watching this story to see how it holds up. I admit that I am going in with a bias against it. My first viewing of this story did not leave me with a good impression. It seemed slow and boring. It is too early yet to tell if this opinion will hold.
One final note, when Ian and Barbara first make introductions to Carol and Maitland, they admit to being from the 20th century. The two astronauts take this in stride as if this is a normal thing. This seems rather jarring and unusual. Apparently, for 28th century Earth, meeting time travelers is commonplace.
Ian is trapped in a flooding passage that leads to the tomb while Barbara desperately tries to stop the sacrifices planned for the eclipse–one sacrifice being Susan!
“I feel that all the people who died here are watching and waiting for me to die here too.”
Many heartbreaking things happen in this episode. While The Doctor’s engagement was quite unexpected, to The Doctor most of all, he does have a genuine fondness for Cameca. In the end, he must leave her, and Cameca accepts this truth with dignity and grace. But that doesn’t mean it is easy. Meanwhile, despite a final attempt by Tlotoxl to discredit Barbara to Autloc, the High Priest of Knowledge sides with Barbara. He knows that this decision will be his undoing, and to this end he sacrifices all his wealth to the guard watching Susan so that she may escape. Autloc then imposes exile upon himself, never to be seen again. While history has not changed, Barbara’s interference has broken two people.
Having rigged a system with leather straps and a pulley carved by The Doctor, a daring escape is made. Tlotoxl attempts to kill Barbara, but Ian intervenes. Tlotoxl cries out for Ixta and the two rivals have a final showdown, Ian eventually throwing Ixta from the temple, killing him. Sadly, like many fights in early Doctor Who, this one isn’t shot well, nor is the choreography the best. That doesn’t mean there aren’t good shots, the wide-shots in particular are good, but there are a lot of close-ups. Television as a medium still hadn’t developed a good eye for fight scenes. The Time Travelers are able to get into the tomb once more. Tlotoxl, realizing that they have escaped but that he has won nonetheless, proceeds to the altar to sacrifice The Perfect Victim. History, as a whole, remains unchanged.
In the denouement The Doctor and Barbara reflect on the events they have just taken part in. Barbara questions why even bother traveling in time if one cannot change anything. The Doctor said that while she was unable to change a society, she did change one man. She gave Autloc a better perspective, a better outlook. In a way, perhaps this does institute some change. Often it is the small victories such as these which can have unforeseen consequences. Societies often change one person at a time. While Barbara failed in an immediate sense, perhaps some decsendant of Autloc had a better life because of her interference.
Overall, I would say that The Aztecs may take the prize for best of the season. Admittedly, I love Marco Polo, but The Aztecs is much tighter and has a better pace. Possibly the thing that works against Marco Polo the most is that it is missing. Thankfully, this is not the case with The Aztecs. Rarely has Doctor Who done a story this tight and this emotional. In the end, our characters only escape with their lives and a trail of tears from the two people they hurt along the way. Those left behind may ultimately have a better life due to this interference, but that doesn’t make the abandonment any easier. Autloc is now in exile, Cameca has lost her second great love. Even The Doctor cannot bear to leave without a reminder of Cameca. Of all the adventures thus far, this one has taken the highest emotional toll on the TARDIS crew. Once more, Lucarotti set the bar high. He truly was one of the best writers in the history of Doctor Who.
Tlotoxl raises the stakes and The Doctor gets engaged.
“Tlotoxl‘s evil and he‘ll make everyone else the same!”
“They are the same, Barbara! That’s the whole point!”
I love how Barbara rises to Tlotoxl’s challenge in the opening moments of the episode. The fight between Ixta and Ian should end in death, Tlotoxl tells Barbara that her command cannot stop the duel and if she wishes Ian to live, she must save him. So, Barbara puts a knife to Tlotoxl’s throat and says that if Ian dies, so does Tlotoxl. As Barbara says, “Why should use a divine miracle when human ability will suffice?”
The next catastrophe, which will be addressed in the next episode, is an eclipse of the sun. The plan is for Tlotoxl to sacrifice the Perfect Victim to have the sun returned. Barbara pleads with Autloc to trust in her, to join her against Tlotoxl. The sun will return, she insists. What is interesting is that from this scene it would seem that while Autloc does believe the sun will return, he also has provisions within his worldview that if the gods disfavor The Aztecs, they will not return the sun. To know something to be true, yet still make allowances for it to NOT be true is very human. It ranges from superstition to outright religious faith. Once again, the duality between Barbara’s knowledge of history and reason and the religious beliefs of The Aztecs butt heads. And now that Tlotoxl has been publicly humiliated, the situation is growing more dangerous.
The Doctor and Tlotoxl have a brief confrontation, one which left me wanting more. The Doctor’s method of dealing with Tlotoxl is to not give him anything, to not even verbally spar with him. As the servant of a god, that is his right. Barbara as Yetaxa claims to be a benevolent god and thus owes some explanation. The Doctor insists that if Tlotoxl delivers the plans for the tomb, then Tlotoxl will find the truth about Yetaxa. What beautiful irony that both sides ultimately want the same thing. The Time Travelers want to leave and Tlotoxl wants the false goddess to be gone. Sadly, we learn that the plans do not exist. Ixta lied about them.
Ian and Barbara share a moment where he convinces her of the futility of her struggle. Having been among the people, Ian has learned that Tlotoxl isn’t the exception, he is the rule. The Aztec society share’s Tlotoxl’s belief in sacrifices. Autloc is the odd man out. Barbara cannot change an entire society using one man. Rather, she cannot change it overnight. Barbara, in a moment of frustration, confesses to Tlotoxl that she is not Yetaxa, but she also threatens to destroy him if he tells anyone. The situation is growing more dire. But we are in the penultimate episode. That’s just drama.
Just as things were really going well, we have a scene with Susan. Okay, perhaps this is an unfair way of phrasing things since it was a rather short scene. Tlotoxl and Tonila have plotted together to have The Perfect Victim meet Susan and choose her for his bride. As The Perfect Victim cannot be denied any request, Susan’s refusal completely violates Aztec law. She must be executed. We’re meant to believe this is a bad thing.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the funniest moment in this episode. The Doctor accidentally gets engaged as he makes cocoa for Cameca. A more modern incarnation would have been more proactive about this.
Machiavellian antics begin as Anti-Yetaxa factions make their move.
“What better way to destroy your enemies than to let them destroy themselves.”
As Doctor Who villains go, Tlotoxl is one of my non-Kevin Stoney favorites. He is cunning. He is ruthless. He manipulates. Having lost faith in Barbara as Yetaxa, Tlotoxl wastes no time undermining her authority. He attempts to test her with knowledge, but when he is rebuffed he turns his attention to Barbara’s weakness: her companions. Using the sacred status of the Perfect Victim, he is able to manipulate the Perfect Victim into requesting things which cannot be denied. The request is a fight between Ian and Ixta. This is the second fight between the two men in this episode, the first saw Ian defeat Ixta due to his knowledge of pressure points. This is one area where modern knowledge soundly defeats ancient knowledge. Although, such a move probably wouldn’t have worked as effectively in Marco Polo.
Ixta soon proves to be just as cunning as Tlotoxl. In his preparation for the duel, he discovers The Doctor’s interest in the temple with Yetaxa’s tomb. Without letting The Doctor know his position as Ian’s rival, Ixta trades information about the temple for information on how to defeat a rival. In this case, a thorn whose poison slowly drains the energy of the person scratched. Tlotoxl and Ixta are formidable opponents indeed.
Barbara, meanwhile, beings to focus on her greatest ally: Autloc. As High Priest of Knowledge, Autloc outranks Tlotoxl. Barbara appeals to his wisdom and reason, building a case for the elimination of the sacrifices while undermining Tlotoxl. She also uses her knowledge of history to make a prophecy about the downfall of Aztec society. This was an interesting scene, adding a fun spin to the idea of prophecy. Someone who has foreknowledge would be in an ideal position to prophesize.
As has been the case in The Edge of Destruction, William Hartnell and Jacqueline Hill put in great performances. Jacqueline has to portray a character who realizes how much of a mistake she has made, but realizes that she can’t undo her actions. She must follow the path she thoughtlessly started to whatever end it may go. As such, she must draw on an inner strength to meet a vicious man who is plotting her downfall and a gentle man whom she respects. William Hartnell is wonderful as a conniving Doctor, but rather than a malicious plotter, he is all charm. Whether charming Cameca or helping Ixta, The Doctor moves from gentle flirtations to subtle manipulator effortlessly. This character has already shown much growth. The fact that his manipulations are actually the result of Ixta’s manipulations make ominous what would normally be a great victory. Ixta promises the plans for the temple at the cost of Ian’s life.
A final note on Susan. Thankfully, she doesn’t spend the episode screaming or panicking, but we do get a scene of her reciting information she has studied while at the Aztec School of Theology. Yet her progressive views of the place of women in society are in stark contrast to what The Aztecs are used to. Even her proclamation that she cannot be told who she will married, that she will choose her future husband, has the air of a plot-point which will come back to bite her hard.
Of course, such foreshadowing is easy to catch when I have already seen the story.
The Doctor and his companions materialize in 1400s Mexico, become separated from the TARDIS, and Barbara is elevated to godhood.
“There’s no but about it! If human sacrifice is their tradition, let them get on with it. But for our sakes don’t interfere!”
I adore this episode. It is simply bursting with so many great concepts.
First, a synopsis. The TARDIS materializes in an Aztec tomb and while exploring the tomb we discover that Barbara’s specialty is Aztec history. She puts on a bracelet from the skeleton and is discovered when she leaves the tomb. One of the wall of the tomb operates on a type of hinge that allows it to open from within but not from outside. When Barbara leaves the tomb she becomes trapped. Susan gets The Doctor and Ian, and they also become trapped outside the tomb. But rather than becoming prisoners, they discover The Aztec priests have assumed Barbara to the reappearance of the Aztec god Yetaxa. She is, after all, wearing Yetaxa’s bracelet and that was only accessible inside the tomb. Our heroes must use their positions as Yetaxa’s servants to infiltrate Aztec society and find another way inside the tomb. Ian becomes a leader of the army, with a rival named Ixta. The Doctor is taken to the garden where the elders of the society are able to live their lives in
peace, giving wisdom to all who seek it. Susan becomes Barabara’s handmaiden. Everything works fine until Barbara decides to use her position to alter Aztec society. She decides to guide the Aztecs to abandon the barbarism and cruelty of their culture and hopes that once these are purged the wisdom and advancement will remain. The Doctor protests, and when Barbara interferes with a sacrifice, she makes an enemy of Tlotoxl the High Priest of Sacrifice.
Once again John Lucarotti has created a fully-realized society. It is educational, giving some quick details of Aztec society in the opening moments of the show, then allowing more details to come out in the narrative. Tlotoxl and Autloc are The High Priest of Sacrifice and The High Priest of Knowledge, respectively. They represent the duality of Aztec society, the barbarism and the wisdom and insight. Even today we are fascinated by this duality which led to much bloodshed amidst a society that also had accurate calendars and advanced building techniques compared to other societies at the time. Perhaps this fascination is due in part to a type of chronological snobbery where we cannot conceive of someone achieving what we have without our technology. Perhaps the reminder of violence among the civilized is an uncomfortable reminder that humans have still not achieved a utopian society despite our reason and knowledge. Western history has shown that this duality still exists in the form of The Roman Empire and more recently in the Nazi Regime. The uncomfortable pattern seems to indicate that more advancement leads not to enlightenment, but to more efficient ways of killing. Regardless, Tlotoxl and Autloc are the balance of power in this society. Barbara wishes to upset this balance in Autloc’s favor, yet neither priest truly initiates this change. Barbara is imposing her own view upon the past, and The Doctor takes umbrage at this. We are left to ask if he is correct in this? It is inevitable that the show would touch upon this at some point. A story about time travel, someone would eventually be faced with temptation. Doctor Who will come back to this idea off and on, but at this point in the show changing history is forbidden. The Doctor, in an oft quoted line, says, “You can’t change history, not one line!” But the second half of the quote, the one which is often left out, is “Believe me, I know!” Were Lucarotti, Lambert, and Whitaker thinking of something specific with this line, or were they just building intrigue for the Doctor’s character? Within the scope of the show, this line is never explain. At least, I don’t believe it ever has been.
Barbara doesn’t care, and in attempting to prevent the sacrifice, which she fails to do, she makes a powerful enemy. Until this point, while Tlotoxl has been creepy and a bit bloodthirsty, he hasn’t been an enemy. He sees Yetaxa’s return as another boon to society and his position. Despite his nature as High Priest of Sacrifice, he is downright . . . agreeable. But when Barbara attempts to thwart him, he vows to expose her as a false god. Barbara has threatened history, and now history is about to fight back.
A final thought on this story. I am fascinated by the coexistence of knowledge and superstition. This is different from the duality I mentioned earlier. In this story, religion and, let’s call it science, share power. Both Autloc and Tlotoxl know perfectly well that the rain will come regardless of the sacrifice. This is the bluff that Barbara is calling, hinging her success at restructuring Aztec society on this particular revelation. She halts the sacrifice for just a moment, but Tlotoxl moves quickly, telling the Perfect Victim to honor his people with a sacrifice. The Perfect Victim jumps from the temple, spilling his blood in death when he hits the stones below. Only then does rain fall. Lucarotti doesn’t for a moment make the case that the sacrifice worked. But neither does it seem Tlotoxl truly believes the sacrifice caused the rain. Both priests spend the duration of the episode carefully planning and timing the sacrifice to coincide with the start of the rain. This necessitates a great understanding of weather. Having not studied Aztec society in detail, I have no idea if this characterization is true, but it is does capture the imagination. It is easy to draw the conclusion based on the longevity of the sacrifices and the knowledge of the natural world that the Aztecs had. Showing this cooperation between the two priests is something that seems rather foreign to what I see in my country. Living in the United States right now, much of what I see is about grabbing power, not sharing it. Autloc and Tlotoxl represent two very different philosophies, but they work together, at least for now. What are the chances seeing that in the current climate in the United States. On a more philosophical level, there is a huge divide between religion and science in the form of creationism and naturalism (this divide can be characterized in a number of other ways, but for brevity’s sake, this is how I shall refer to it). Autloc and Tlotoxl both believe in gods, but they believe in gods of wisdom and war. Each god has different characteristics. Perhaps that is what accounts for this cooperation. But where wisdom and superstition intersect in the modern world, there is conflict. In this story, there seems to be compromise. Having seen this story before, I know that this compromise will begin to quickly erode based on Barbara’s intervention.
“I think a few million years of evil and bloodshed are well worth the ultimate salvation of sentient life, don’t you?”
Originally I hadn’t intended to review comics on this blog for one simple reason: There’s too many of them. Within the Doctor Who Media Empire we have television, audio drama, novels, comics and each month adds two or more new stories to the mix. One would need a small fortune to keep up with just one medium let alone all of them. And yet, the longevity of Doctor Who is quite fascinating. It is the only television show that I can think of that has the scope of a comic book. In his introduction to Saga of the Swamp Thing, Alan Moore makes this fascinating observation about horror comics that I believe also applies to Doctor Who: “Anyone picking up a comic book for the first time is almost certain to find themselves in the middle of a continuum that may have commenced before the reader’s birth, and will quite possibly continue long after his or her demise.” This is certainly true of Doctor Who, as the majority of viewers had not been born at the time of An Unearthly Child and as the show is rapidly approaching its 50th anniversary, there have been deaths of original cast members as well as original fans. To be able to collect all the stories is a mammoth task, one that I neither have the time or money to devote to it.
The second reason is that so many of the Doctor Who comics I’ve read haven’t been very interesting. I do understand that the comic tradition in Britain has evolved in a slightly different way to that of America, but in my defense, many of my favorite comic writers are British. Grant Morrison, Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Paul Jenkins are all British and all great comic writers in their own unique ways. In fact, the first three on this list have actually done more to shape the modern American comic than many American writers. What would comics be like without Neil Gaiman’s Sandman or indeed anything by Alan Moore? But the Doctor Who comics I have read seem less interesting than some of its superhero counterparts. However, I fully admit that I am biased. Right now, I feel that DC Comics is going through what may be a mini-golden age with Geoff Johns and Grant Morrison doing amazing work on two major DC titles. Grant Morrison in particular is shaping and redefining Batman, and while it hasn’t been to everyone’s liking, it has been groundbreaking, original, and (in my opinion) brilliant. How could I resist tracking down IDW’s republication of Grant Morrison’s comics for Doctor Who. I say “tracking down”. What I really mean is that I came across the reprints in a comic shop I decided to drop in to on the spur of the moment while on vacation in California. There was no intentional pursuit, but I was more than happy to passively acquire them. The stories were originally published in the 1980s, and since one story involves the return to Marinus, and I have just finished reviewing The Keys of Marinus, I decided this would be a good intermission.
First, what do I like about Grant Morrison? Morrison has this amazing ability to deconstruct characters in established universes to their core characteristics, then redefine the world around them. In New X-Men, Magneto was always about the superiority of mutants over homo-sapiens. Morrison introduced the idea of Magneto losing his powers as he grew older. How would he react when everything he felt made him superior was gone? Morrison introduced the idea of narcotics that gave the user mutant powers or heightened already existing powers. Thus, Magneto would start taking these drugs and even become addicted to them.
In addition to the deconstruction of characters, Morrison doesn’t like to maintain the status quo. In New X-Men he introduced the idea of another race evolving that would take the place of mutants. He created the social phenomenon of people wanting to be like mutants as a “scene”, not unlike a goth, emo, or vampire scene. In his work on Batman, Morrison has introduced a new Robin who is actually Bruce Wayne’s son. Dick Grayson, the original Robin, is now the Batman of Gotham City, and the concept of Batman is now being franchised under the guidance of Bruce Wayne. Essentially, Batman is going global and is now a crime-fighting corporation. The cultural and political ramifications of this new paradigm for The Dark Knight are staggering and I’m sure Morrison will explore these in due time. But while Morrison moves the material into new and unpredictable directions, he never fully abandons the past. Bruce’s son Damien is the result of a night shared by Bruce and Talia al Ghul in a comic from the ‘80s. In this issue, Bruce Wayne was drugged and manipulated by Ra’s al Ghul who saw Bruce Wayne as his natural heir. Batman also feared a master criminal who was manipulating Bruce Wayne’s life from behind the scenes and this actually traced back to a comic where Batman underwent a psychological experiment where he attempted to understand The Joker. The doctor who ran the experiment used his findings to attack Batman all these years later. Morrison even found a way to work in appearances by Bat-Mite and The Batman of Zur-En-Arrh, characters who go as far back as the 1950s. He weaves these unlikely characters into a mythology where they shouldn’t exist, and he does so in a very believable way, largely positing that The Batman of Zur-En-Arrh isn’t a Batman from another planet but a second personality for Batman should his original personality be compromised due to psychological manipulation or breakdown. It is a back-up personality.
These are the things I love about Grant Morrison’s writing, the grasp of character while still deconstructing said character to the core, the redefinition of the mythology of the work he is writing, and the complete love of the continuity of the story and finding ways to reincorporate it from different perspectives. Even though the stories cited above were written in 2000 or later, my question is would these elements be present in Doctor Who: The World Shapers, a story written early in Grant Morrison’s career. The answer is yes. While the above elements aren’t as refined, they are still present in some minor ways.
The World Shapers stars The Sixth Doctor, Peri, and Frobisher. They answer a distress call on the planet Marinus, which The Doctor claims to be a water planet. While this claim is never made in The Keys of Marinus, one can certainly see why Morrison would go this route: The first episode takes place on an island surrounded by an acid ocean, the Voord wear wet-suits, adhering to the Terry Nation Naming Convention, Marinus would be a
perfectly logical name for a water world. The Doctor finds a Time Lord who is dying. He has exhausted all his regenerations and his body decomposes. The Doctor is shocked at the speed of this procedure, saying that it usually takes much longer. The travelers find the dead Time Lord’s TARDIS and discover that he was investigating violent temporal disturbances. Indeed, Frobisher has begun molting very badly and Peri’s hair and fingernails are rapidly growing. Time has been sped up. The only clue The Doctor has is the dying words of The Time Lord, “Planet 14.” The last time The Doctor had heard reference to Planet 14 was in his second incarnation but The Doctor can‘t remember anything about the place. So, The Doctor and his companions leave Marinus, which is dangerous anyway due to the temporal disturbances, and go in search of Jamie McCrimmon who traveled with The Second Doctor.
At the end of The Second Doctor’s era, The Time Lords erased Jamie’s memory of traveling with The Doctor. It seems this mind wipe wasn’t nearly as successful as The Time Lords hoped. Jamie remembers everything, but when questioned by The Doctor he has no memory of a Planet 14. The only thing Jamie can recall is hearing a Cyberman mention Planet 14 when they attempted to invade Earth. The Doctor reasons that if The Cybermen are involved then the situation must be dire. The Doctor determines to return to Marinus. Jamie begs to accompany him. Ever since he had returned to Scotland he has been an outcast. His life has been miserable. The Doctor graciously accepts his friend’s return. They arrive on Marinus one week after they had left it and find a planet devoid of water and populated by half-Voord/half-Cyber men.
In the end, The Doctor discovers that the temporal disturbances are being caused by a machine called a World Shaper. These machines were designed to cause rapid environmental change to uninhabited planets to make them more hospitable. The one on Marinus had malfunctioned and since Marinus wasn’t uninhabited, The Voord began to
evolve rapidly. They became The Cybermen. The Doctor and Jamie confront The Cybermen and Jamie sacrifices his life to destroy The World Shaper and thus inhibit the rapid evolution of The Cybermen. The Doctor sees his chance to alter the progression of The Cybermen, to prevent them from causing the violence and bloodshed they will be responsible for in the future. Two Time Lords then appear to stop him. The Doctor, enraged leaves Marinus, which is now the planet Mondas, homeworld of The Cybermen. The Time Lords watch The Doctor leave, lamenting his youth and naiveté. The timeline must be preserved because one day in the far future The Cybermen will complete their evolutionary cycle and become beings of pure thought. With this final evolution comes a complete embrace of peace, which they use to guide the universe into a new era. The End.
I’m sure you can already begin to see a few of Grant Morrison’s hallmarks. Doctor Who continuity is everywhere in this comic, from the return to Marinus and the return of Jamie, to the development of a throwaway line referring to Planet 14. Morrison provides an origin for The Cybermen, something that hadn’t been done at the time this comic was written. (An origin of the Cybermen was written many years later, and it bears no resemblance to this story. That doesn’t mean the new story is bad, just different.) Morrison even does something interesting with The Time Lords, making them more powerful and god-like than the characters we typically see on Doctor Who. This really pushes the concept of Time Lords, quite possibly bringing more in line with how the original writers of Doctor Who saw them. In the early years of the show, The Time Lords were a mysterious force and hardly ever seen. Then, in the 1970s, Robert Holmes wrote a story in which we finally see Time Lord Society and they took on more of an appearance and characterization of bureaucrats. In The World Changers, Morrison almost presents The Time Lords as a type of galactic Men in Black who protect the Time Line because they can see the ultimate end of many races. They know where time is going and the present (or past) of any race is irrelevant to the ultimate good. They are a bit Machiavellian in that the end truly does justify the means. Who cares if The Cybermen have killed millions when one day they will lead trillions in an era of peace? This isn’t too far out of line with how The Time Lords are portrayed in Genesis of The Daleks when The Doctor is sent on a mission to prevent the creation of The Daleks because The Time Lords discover there will be no good to ever come from their existence. In fact the epilogue of The World Changers is almost a mirror of that prologue. It wouldn’t surprise me if Morrison had that firmly in mind.
The story isn’t without its flaws. The art is a bit rougher than some styles I’ve seen. Peri and Frobisher are sidelined most of the time after Jamie joins the crew. The connection between The Voord and The Cybermen is a bit weak and may be a bit of a joke: the Voord costume was a wet suit, the original Cybermen costume was also a wet suit. While the connection is amusing and even creative, I’m not sure this really makes for an epic origin story. The Doctor isn’t quite the same in this story as how he was portrayed on screen (this may actually be an improvement). But even with these quibbles, the story is very creative and I love the portrayal of The Time Lords. The story is imaginative and certainly expresses a love for the history of the show. Really, who would deliberately make a reference back to The Keys of Marinus but someone who had a great passion for the show. Well, perhaps someone who hadn’t seen it. Regardless, I thought it was a fascinating story and certainly a fun way to see how one of my favorite writers intersected with one of my favorite series. I would welcome a return of Grant Morrison to Doctor Who in whichever medium he wished.