089 – Death of a Spy (The Myth Makers Part 3)

Written by Donald Cotton
Directed by Michael Leeston-Smith

Vicki and Steven are put in a Trojan dungeon and sentenced to execution unless Vicki works a miracle.  At the Greek camp, The Doctor must find a way to win the war or face his own execution.

“Father, would you please not patronize me in front of the prisoner.”

I’m really enjoying this story.  I felt like the first two episodes got off to a bit of a rocky start, but now that all the characters are in place and the situations are established, we can sit back and watch everything unfold.

The Doctor is in a particularly difficult spot here.  He faces execution unless he can win the war, but he has Vicki and Steven in Troy to worry about and he cannot interfere with history.  He tries out an idea of catapults and “flying” soldiers into Troy, but when Odysseus proposes The Doctor be the test flight, the idea is quickly nixed.  In the end, he has no choice but to suggest The Trojan Horse, in part to save his own skin.  However, this constitutes major interference in time.  In fact, we have The Doctor actually causing an historical event, something the show has avoided up to this point.  Whitaker’s views of time and history are now officially gone.  The only thing that stands between history as we know it and history being changed is the benevolence of The Doctor.  He will make things unfold the way they should.  That’s an awful lot of responsibility to place on a man who once lied about a fluid link being destroyed so he could explore a city.  This may be the first place where The Doctor ceased being a curious explorer and started becoming a meddler.  He seems scared to death to do it in this story.  Sure, he preserved the timeline in The Time Meddler, but that was to stop a renegade Time Lord.  Here there is no Time Lord to stop, there are no aliens.  It is just humanity fighting a war, and now The Doctor has interfered and set into motion an historic event that will move into mythology.  Perhaps that is the only saving grace, that it becomes mythology rather than established history.  In a sense, he is protected because no one knows if the story is true or not.  But, having gotten a taste for interference, and not being caught, I think we can expect this behavior to escalate.

Vicki (Cressida) and Steven (Diomede) spend most of this episode in a Trojan dungeon.  Cressida has been given an ultimatum.  She must use her supernatural power to either give Piam information about the Greeks, or cause the Trojans to win the war.  Otherwise, she will be executed as a witch, something Cassandra will do with relish.  Priam trusts Cressida, however.  This trust is rewarded when a giant horse appears on the plains, a wooden avatar of the god the Trojans worship.  Vicki knows she didn’t cause this, but Priam believes she did.  Vicki knows what this means and Cassandra is correct, it is an ill omen.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Troilus.  Vicki seems to be playing on his affections for information and possibly freedom.  The would be in character for her.  What seems out of character is that she is falling in love with him.  Sure, Troilus is smitten, but O’Brien’s performance as Vicki doesn’t seem to convey this quite so well.  I think she is staying in character, in spite of what the script demands.

088 – Small Prophet, Quick Return (The Myth Makers Part 2)

Written by Donald Cotton
Directed by Michael Leeston-Smith

The Doctor is revealed to not be Zeus and Odysseus demands his help in formulating a plan to conquer the Trojans.  In Troy, Vicki becomes the guest of King Priam.

“Don’t pay any mind to Cassandra.  She always takes the gloomiest view.”

Perhaps what stands out the most in this story is King Priam’s son Paris.  He is the instigator of the war, being the man who stole away Helen from Menelaus.  It turns out that Paris isn’t so much a dashing rogue, but a foppish idiot.  He seems to have no stomach for fighting, his father has little respect for him, and he is more talk than action.  When admonished by King Priam and told to find and kill Achilles, Paris bristles, feeling it is more Troilus’ thing to do than his.  And when Paris goes out to find Achilles, he really doesn’t wish to be successful.  He calls out for Achilles in a whisper, finding instead Steven, who has convinced Odysseus to let him find Vicki.

You see, it was Paris who took The TARDIS to Troy.  Cassandra felt The TARDIS was an ill omen, believing it to be from a dream, a gift from The Greeks that would spill out Greek soldiers who would conquer the city.  Instead, The TARDIS spilled out Vicki, who made the bold claim of being from the future, something which caused Cassandra  great offense.  Someone from the future is a threat to a prophetess.  King Priam takes kindly to Vicki, however, and renames her Cressida.  At this point we have a fascinating dynamic occurring.  King Priam has Vicki, who he seems to believe is from the future.  In the Greek camp, The Doctor is no longer thought to be Zeus, but he is now under Odysseus’ thumb.  Odysseus seems to believe The Doctor and Steven’s claim to be time travelers and wants them to use their knowledge to conquer Troy.  So, both sides have their advisers, The Doctor to the Greeks, Vicki to the Trojans.  Both advisers know the story of Troy.  The Doctor doesn’t suggest The Horse because he believes it to be foolishness invented by Homer.  Vicki doesn’t warn about The Horse because she doesn’t want to upset history, but she is growing attached to Priam.  In truth, Priam is a likable man, caught up in the consequences of his son’s foolishness.  This may well show something that an historical has yet to show:  sympathy for the other side.  I think the closest to this we have seen is in The Aztecs where Tltoxol must ultimately win even though we like Autloc better.  Vicki is obviously torn and wants to manipulate conversations away from who she is and what she knows.  She doesn’t want to have to choose.  Being in a post-Whitaker world, the future could be altered.  It won’t happen, this being Earth history and all, but it is a potentiality.  However, given that The Trojan War is more mythology than history, there would certainly be the possibility to break with the story, if done in an interesting way that would require Homer to one day change the story.  This isn’t what Donald Cotton is doing, though.  He is doing more of a straight-forward telling with our characters stuck in the middle.  He is playing with the formula, but not departing from it.

The more I think on it, the more I want to see someone in New Who really take on the straight historical.  In the past, the show has treated the historical as historical drama, more theater than science fiction television.  It certainly worked for the time, and many of them were well written.  While I long to see what BBC Wales would do with an historical that was devoid of the usual Doctor Who cliches, I wonder if a writer could do something to really shift the concept of what an historical is capable of.  Perhaps, much like The Myth Makers, we could take a myth but explore the historical context of it, but along the way have some sort of twist that completely redefines not only our view of the history, but the original myth.  In the case of this story, perhaps Troy doesn’t fall.  Maybe some tragedy occurs to cause both sides of the conflict to rethink their positions and achieve an uneasy truce, but for reasons unknown to us in the present day, the story of the fall of Troy must be perpetuated.  Perhaps a myth would exist to keep people from looking to close at the historical event.

Doctor Who typically presents us with monsters.  Even the historicals do this.  But what if a story was done to examine the possibility of history as a lie.  In this case, history wouldn’t be something to protect, it would be something to create.  In much the same way the Tenth Doctor always claimed The Time Lords were destroyed when in reality they had been imprisoned in a temporal lock, perhaps it is better to think the Greeks conquered Troy because the reality of the situation was something quite different and much more horrific.  Again, this isn’t what is happening in The Myth Makers, but it is an idea of playing with the format, something I think New Who should consider.

087 – Temple of Secrets (The Myth Makers Part 1)

Written by Donald Cotton
Directed by Michael Leeston-Smith

The TARDIS materializes outside Troy and The Doctor is mistaken by Achilles to be Zeus.

“If you take notice of them, they are doing more talking than they are fighting.”

This is one of the first instances of Doctor Who tackling Greek myth.  Later instances will be science fiction adaptations of the myths, but this story retells the Trojan War as an historical event.  The Greek forces have been camped outside of Troy for ten years.  No real progress has been made in this time.  The TARDIS arrives as Achilles and Hector are fighting.  The Doctor arrives as the two talk of Zeus, Hector mocking him.  Using the surprise appearance to his advantage, Achilles slays Hector as a sacrifice to The Doctor, who he believes to be Zeus.  The Doctor immediately slides into this part, going along with Achilles’ assertions.  Everything goes well until Odysseus arrives.  He is skeptical of Achilles’ belief of The Doctor as a deity.  Both men urge The Doctor to go to the Greek camp, each for his own reasons.

I have to admit that it has been quite some time since I have done any type of study on Greek mythology.  I have only a passing knowledge of The Trojan War.  I remember that the war was started when Paris of Troy had Helen kidnapped because he fancied her.  The Greeks attacked to get her back.  These details are implied in this introduction to the story (for that is the primary function of this first episode).  And while Homer’s telling of the war includes the Greek gods, I think we can assume this telling will not.  The Doctor as Zeus is probably the closest we will get.  I rather like this idea.  The Greek myths have much material to mine, and it is believed in some circles that many of them have roots in actual events.  I recently read an article that attempted to analyze the possibility that the story of the Minotaur was actually a symbolic retelling of an ancient war.  It is a fascinating read.  Approaching The Trojan War in this way makes this story an historical in essence, but it is still merely speculation.  I’m excited about this story.

Back to my knowledge of Troy, keeping the names straight, especially working with voices rather than visuals as this is a missing story, is difficult at first.  Reacquainting myself with the names and connecting them to the voices may be a bit of a challenge, especially since we have only met half the cast.  We have met the Greeks.  I expect to meet the Trojans soon enough.  And Homer’s epic does have a lot of characters.

The Doctor is quite sharp in this episode.  In the past he has occasionally reacted with indignity first and intelligence second.  Here, he goes along with Achilles, playing along as Zeus, even when Steven sneaks into the Greek camp as he looks for The Doctor.  The Doctor pretends he knows and cares nothing for Steven, but promises to show the Greeks a miraculous display in the morning at Zeus’s Traveling Temple (The TARDIS) when he executes Steven.  Presumably, this would be how The Doctor and Steven leave Troy.  Unfortunately, Odysseus informs The Doctor that “the temple” has vanished.  This is distressing as Vicki was still inside.

Not a bad introduction to this serial.  The characters seem well written and acted.  My biggest fear is that they will be hard to keep straight as the cast grow.

086 – Mission to the Unknown

Written by Terry Nation
Directed by Derek Martinus

On the planet Kembel, Space Security Agent Marc Cory must fight to survive after discovering evidence of a planned Dalek invasion.

The name is Cory. Marc Cory.

This episode is unique for many reasons.  First, The Doctor does not appear, and neither do any of the companions.  This is the only episode in the history of Doctor Who where this has happened.  Second, what seems to be the beginning of a new serial, is followed by a completely different story.  We end on a cliffhanger, and the next episode follows The Doctor, Vicki, and Steven to Troy, with no mention of Kembel or The Daleks.  Mission to the Unknown is a prologue, a teaser for the forthcoming Dalek Master Plan.

In addition to the above oddities, this episode marks the departure of Verity Lambert as producer.  This is one of many places where Doctor Who could have failed.  In-coming producer John Wiles could have killed the show.  He could have changed the format or the vision of the show.  Arguably, he did make changes and tweaked things, but the show obviously didn’t fail.  But it does seem odd to me that Lambert would leave on such an atypical story.

In Mission to the Unknown, Terry Nation returns in all his B-movie glory.  We have Marc Cory, the James Bond of the SSS, even down to his license to kill.  We have the genetically engineered Varga plants that use thorns and poison to affect the brain and bring out violent tendencies in their victims.  We have all kinds of unusual (and impractical) alien creatures allying themselves with—The Daleks!  We are told that one thousand years have passed since The Dalek invasion of Earth, and The Daleks have not been seen by humanity since.  However, 500 years ago, The Daleks started expanding their empire, conquering other territories.  Only recently was a Dalek ship spotted in the vicinity of The Solar System.  Marc Cory is investigating, trying to determine if a Dalek invasion is imminent.  He commanded Captain Lowery to land on Kembel, feeling it would be ideal for a Dalek base.  The Varga plants confirmed his suspicions as they are native only to Skaro.  Under threat of Vargas and The Daleks, Corey must get a message to Earth.

The tone of this story is quite different from The Chase, and I think that is a good thing.  While I don’t mind The Chase, it is quite silly at times, and The Daleks don’t seem very menacing.  In Mission to the Unknown, they seem to be returning to their old selves.  They also seem aware of their limitations, as they have formed an alliance with other war-mongering races.  The goal is complete domination of The Solar System, starting with Earth.  One can only speculate how long this alliance will last.

This episode is, sadly, lost.  As it was never intended for export, it is unlikely it will ever be recovered.  This is a shame, really, as it is a decent story.  It is well-paced, there is a lot of intrigue, and the actors in this story are quite good.  The alien voices are a bit over-the-top, and the designs of the aliens range from quite good to plain unusual.  With the creation of the SSS, Terry Nation has started to engage in some long-term world building.  In fact, he is starting to set his eyes to America and a possible Dalek series.  There is a good core of ideas here.  In fact, Big Finish has recently released their adaptation of what would have been the pilot of this series, had Nation been successful in wooing U.S. television.  Sadly, I don’t have it, so I’ll have to wait a while before reviewing it.

Mission to the Unknown is a good start, a good preview, of things to come.  We’ll return to The Daleks later, for the next episode we revisit The Doctor, Vicki, and Steven on Earth during The Trojan War.

085 – The Exploding Planet (Galaxy Four, Part 4)

Written by William Emms
Directed by Derek Martinus

As the final dawn approaches, The Doctor works furiously to re-power The Rill ship.  The Drahvins, however, will do anything to prevent The Rills or The Doctor from escaping the planet.

“Death does not frighten me.  I die a warrior Drahvin!”

Truthfully, the story ends about as you would expect.  The Rills escape the planet, as does The TARDIS and its crew.  The Drahvins are left behind to be killed with the destruction of the planet.  For a moment, however, I once thought we would get a fourth act twist.  Steven, after being rescued from The Drahvin ship, questions The Rills.  Sure, The Doctor trusts them, but Steven has just spent an episode imprisoned by a race that feigned benevolence, so he is suspicious.  He is eventually convinced when The Rills admit that if time ran out, they would allow The TARDIS crew to leave the planet, condemning The Rills to their fate.  It is hard to imagine that this would happen, but it would be a distinct possibility since The Rills need another atmosphere than the planet has.  While it is conceivable that The TARDIS could generate such an atmosphere in one of its rooms, there would be no way to transport The Rills to The TARDIS, and The Doctor, at this stage, is not able to pilot The TARDIS with the necessary accuracy.  In fact, there seems to be some indication that The Doctor, at this point, cannot return to the same place and time more than once.  This will change eventually, but the likelihood of rescuing The Rills if their ship proves useless, is very small.  The Rill resignation to this fate, and refusal to seek vengeance, convinces Steven that they are peaceful.

I’ve been trying to find alternate interpretations of this story beyond the obvious message.  In truth, I think that message truly is the extent.  However, what if this story is really about first contact between humanity and an alien race?  Seen in this light, the story makes a bit of sense.  The Rills would obviously be the aliens, and they would know that we humans are a visual lot, prone to judge by appearances.  Early encounters would probably be violent or distrustful due to nothing more than appearance.  The fact that Steven still doesn’t trust them causes The Rills to conclude that Earth still knows conflict, something The Rills seem to have overcome on their planet.  Maybe Galaxy Four is a parable of contact between humans and aliens, perhaps it is a cautionary tale that warns us to proceed with caution, rejecting preconceived notions about appearance and actions.

Another theme at work is distrust of what you cannot see.  Our characters have some difficulty trusting The Rills at various points based on nothing more than being unable to see The Rills.  It is hard to trust what you cannot see.  In the end we get to see The Rills (well, the original audience would have), and then The Doctor moralizes a bit, which feels more like Star Trek than Doctor Who.

The final moments of this episode are devoted to a cliffhanger that doesn’t involve our characters.  In fact, it isn’t so much a cliffhanger as a preview of what will be the most-unique story the show has done thus far, and hasn’t really done since.  None of our leads will appear.  It will also mark the end of an era as Verity Lambert, producer since episode one, finally leaves the show.  More on that tomorrow.

084 – Airlock (Galaxy Four Part 3)

Written by William Emms
Directed by Derek Martinus

The Doctor and Vicki meet The Rills and get their side of the story.  Meanwhile, Steven attempts to escape The Drahvin ship.

Steven makes an attempt at escaping, but gets trapped in The Drahvin airlock.  He has armed soldiers on one side and a Chumblie on the other.  Sadly, he still believes the robot to be a threat, so he is stuck.  Maaga starts draining the air from the airlock, ensuring Steven will suffocate.  The Doctor and Vicki rush to help, their new allies sending Chumblies to help.

As for The Rills, they cannot breathe oxygen (as predicted).  They have no vocal chords, communicating with each other via telepathy, and with The Doctor and Vicki via Chumblies which can read Rill thoughts.  Their ship has been drilling for fuel, but they lack the capacity to convert what they collect, especially in the amount of time left before the planet explodes.  The Doctor offers to use power from The TARDIS to help them.  The Rills, it seems, were not being threatening toward The Drahvins.  The latter made all the aggressive moves, and now both ships are stuck on this dying planet.

Experiencing this story episodically certainly makes it less tedious than listening to it in one go.  However, this episode seems a bit predictable and not much of interest happens.  It has been insinuated since Part One that The Drahvins were lying and The Rills were good.  We have it confirmed here.  It would be interesting if there were a last-minute double-cross in Part Four, showing both sides to be self-serving, but there is a genuineness to The Rills that makes that unlikely.  No, The Rills are pretty much what they seem: nice.  They have offered to take The Drahvins with them, but that offer has been rejected.  This episode, more than those before, really seems to support the beauty versus ugly theme.  I suppose I was hoping for something more clever with this story, but unless The Rills represent something that I have yet to discern, I can’t quite see any larger themes or deeper subtext.

083 – The Steel Trap (Galaxy Four Part 2)

Written by William Emms
Directed by Derek Martinus

With the destruction of the planet immanent, The Doctor is coerced into helping The Drahvins steal The Rill ship.

“I noted, observed, collated, concluded, then I threw the rock.”

We know from music and dialogue cues (and from the few photos that survive) that The Drahvins are supposed to be beautiful.  We also know that Maaga believes The Rills to be ugly.  At this point, we still have not seen a Rill, so we have to take her word for it.  Is this the extent of the story, the subversion of beauty is good and ugly is bad?  We’ve already seen this theme explored a bit in The Sensorites, only instead of beauty/ugly, we have human/alien.  However, The Sensorites is actually more nuanced because it offers the idea that there are good and bad humans just as there are trustworthy and malicious Sensorites.  The story subverts the human versus the alien expectation and gives us a much more accurate view.  With Galaxy Four, we seem to have a heavy-handed view that the beauty of The Drahvins is not indicative of trustworthiness.  Quite the contrary, Maaga is manipulative and self-serving.  The Rills, which we are told are ugly, seem to have made every indication to help The Drahvins.  They told The Drahvins the planet would be destroyed.  They obviously have more advanced technology, and they haven’t destroyed The Drahvins.  The Rills, it would seem are good.  Again, this is heavy-handed and much too obvious.  Is this really all Galaxy Four is saying?  If so, it has already been done, and done better at that.

And yet, there seems to be something more being portrayed in The Drahvins themselves.  We have the single leader with the drones who are unthinking (although Steven is able to make suggestions to one that causes it to question things).  This leader gets special food and special treatment that the others do not.  The Drahvins are supposedly grown in test-tubes.  Are we getting a criticism of genetic engineering creating a clone slave race?  Perhaps we are getting a metaphor for Communism and The Soviet leadership’s treatment of the people?  Either William Emms’ story is quite subtle, or not fully developed.  It is so hard to tell.  All this to say, halfway in, it is interesting, but it doesn’t quite seem to work.  The main characters almost seem less important than the central conflict and The Chumblies.

This episode sees Steven taking Vicki’s place as Drahvin prisoner as Maaga forces The Doctor to try to steal The Rill ship.  The Rill ship is more advanced (as is The Chumblie weaponry) and seems to be drilling for something.  The Doctor also notices equipment for converting oxygen to other forms of gas, which implies The Rills have different atmospheric needs.  And that is pretty much all that happens in this episode.  We switch out prisoners and make our way to the next ship.  Steven sweet talks a Drahvin drone, but that doesn’t last long, and Maaga starts to make some moves on Steven.  Interesting subtext when you consider this story was originally written to include Barbara.  They just gave Steven her lines.  Now THAT would have been quite the controversial story in 1964.

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I just realized that this was my 100th post!  Quite exciting.

082 – Four Hundred Dawns (Galaxy Four Part 1)

Written by William Emms
Directed by Derek Martinus

The TARDIS materializes on a dying planet and the crew soon gets involved in a conflict between The Drahvins and Rills.

“It’s got a sort of chumbly movement. You know . . . chumbly.”

With this story we return to lost episodes for a while. Hartnell’s third season took a particularly hard hit, and few episodes from the first half exist. So, Galaxy Four will be an experiment in imagination, one that has mixed results.

The story opens with Vicki giving Steven a haircut. Not only is the scene amusing for the sheer normality of it, but it really emphasizes the comfort this crew has with one another. Hartnell is the only original cast member still on the show, and yet, it feels like all these characters have been together longer than they have. Vicki and Steven have a wonderful chemistry, and they both interact well with The Doctor.

The TARDIS arrives on an unnamed planet that seems deserted until a small robot appears. This robot, from the few pictures that exist, was rather the anti-Dalek. It doesn’t seem inherently violent, it can’t see, and it communicates through a series of Radiophonic noises. The story being lost doesn’t really hurt the portrayal of the robots (which Vicki insists on calling “Chumblies” and will continually repeat this word through the rest of the episodes) since they are characterized quite well in sound. Even the sort of innocent, safe vibe sent by The Chumblies is conveyed in their sounds.

The Chumblies are controlled by The Rills, a group that we know very little about at this point other than they are aliens. Instead, we meet the Drahvins and their leader Maaga. The Drahvins, much to Steven’s delight, are a race of genetically engineered, beautiful warrior women. Most of The Drahvins are a type of drone, with certain Drahvins, in this case Maaga, allowed to have free-thought and the finer things in life. Maaga takes The Doctor, Steven, and Vicki prisoner and explains the predicament. It turns out The Drahvins and The Rills are at war, and in a brief skirmish, their ships crashed on this planet. The Rills, according to Maaga, claim the planet will be destroyed through natural processes in 14 dawns time. The Drahvins want to capture The Rill ship. The Doctor agrees to confirm The Rills’ speculation, and makes to return to The TARDIS. Maaga, being distrustful, allows The Doctor and Steven to go, but keeps Vicki at the Drahvin ship under the pretense of protecting her. The Doctor later finds that The Rills’ calculations are wrong and the planet will die the next morning.

This is an odd little story. It is hard to get a read on The Chumblies beyond the fact that they seem cute, which makes them inherently trustworthy. Yes, they have guns, but they don’t seem to use them much, and only in self-defense or as a threat. The Rills remain unseen, but The Doctor, Steven, and Vicki seem to think they might be somewhat trustworthy. The Drahvins, however, show no indication of being trustworthy. The story seems well-paced at the moment, but with a significant limit to the number of players, I wonder how well-it will feel being spread over the next three episodes. One thing seems certain to me, though. This episode feels different. I can’t explain what it is. Maybe it is the lack of visuals to accompany the story, maybe it is the writer or the production team, which is about to be changed in a big way, but this story has a different feel to it. I believe it is the first under a new story editor. This can often account for quite a shift in tone.

Quinnis

Written by Marc Platt
Directed by Lisa Bowerman

Susan remembers a time before Coal Hill School when she and her grandfather arrived on the mysterious planet Quinnis which needs a new rainmaker.

“That’s where we nearly lost the TARDIS when our journey started.”

Way back in Edge of Destruction, Susan mentions that the TARDIS stores information on every place it visits.  One of the places that appeared on the visualizer during the TARDIS malfunctions was the planet Quinnis.  Susan gives a brief reference to Quinnis, in much the same way Sherlock Holmes and Watson would reference an adventure that hasn’t been written.  Big Finish and Marc Platt have decided, nearly 50 years later, to tell us the story of Quinnis.

Like all titles in the Companion Chronicle range, this one is narrated by one of the companions and has one additional actor providing the voice of another character.  Obviously, it is narrated by Carol Anne Ford, who reprises her role as Susan.  The character of Meedla, who becomes Susan’s friend, is voiced by Ford’s daughter Tara Louise-Kay.  Both actresses do a marvelous job, with the exception of Ford’s portrayal of The Doctor.  As the action focuses primarily on Susan, this isn’t much of a distraction.  What impressed me about Ford’s performance is how she effectively recaptures Susan’s mannerisms, yet makes her less grating than they were back in the 1960s.

Marc Platt is one of my favorite Doctor Who writers.  Oddly enough, however, I have not seen his only contribution to the show.  I have not seen Ghost Light.  I’m familiar with Platt primarily due to his work on Big Finish, all of which I have loved.  He creates striking images and concepts.  He wrote the much beloved Spare Parts about the origin of the Cybermen, and has written many of the First Doctor Companion Chronicles.  He has a pretty good feel for The Hartnell Era.  As this story takes place just before An Unearthly Child, Platt doesn’t have to completely capture the feel of the era.  Instead, he focuses on what it is about this planet that would have stuck in Susan’s mind and why it would be memorable.

The concept designer for the original Star Wars movies was a painter named Ralph McQuarrie.  If you have ever seen his designs for the movies, you will be struck by two things.  First, how other-worldly they are.  Second, how much they do not look like the Star Wars we would eventually see in theaters.  Yes, there is a thematic connection, but many of the landscapes and designs McQuarrie created were either not used or significantly tweaked.  I remember being in high school collecting the Star Wars Galaxy Trading Cards and being struck by the paintings of McQuarrie.  There were no stories accompanying the pictures, but I wanted the stories that seemed to be taking place.  They seemed to have more potential than what was realized on screen.

Quinnis reminds me of the feeling I had when looking at McQuarrie’s paintings.  Some of his work had vast fields of grass, much like the Serengeti.  Platt deliberately drew images from vacations he had in Africa and other exotic locations.  From the fields outside the town, to the woman carrying a piglet everywhere, to a vast marketplace, the images in this story are rooted in our world.  What he adds, which makes the planet more alien, are bridges and arches that move up and up into the mountains, but none of the stone structures are complete.  They are half-finished.  Additionally, all the market kiosks are chained to the ground.  The reason for this becomes evident when the rains come.

As for the story, The Doctor and Susan arrive on Quinnis.  After a bit of exploring the town, The Doctor decides to find another scientist.  The people in the town interpret this to mean he is trying to find a rainmaker.  Quinnis is suffering from a severe drought, and the last rainmaker was literally thrown out of town due to his inability to create rain.  The Doctor is soon set-up as the new rainmaker, against his will, I might add.  Throughout, Susan becomes friends with a young woman named Meedla.  Susan is quite devoted to the young girl, who is just a bit cruel, spending much time laughing at other people and making mischief.

The people live in fear of the Bad Luck Birds.  These are creatures that are birdlike but can take on a humanoid appearance and blend in.  They feed off the misery and pain of others.  They aren’t so much bringers of bad luck as they are trickster creatures.  Hunters pursue and kill the birds to try to keep them out of the towns.  It turns out Meedla is one such bird, and she has taken quite the shining to Susan.

But the birds are not the only threat.  When the finally comes, it arrives in torrents, flooding the town and washing away any building that isn’t chained down, which includes the TARDIS.  All debris is washed to the fields below.  However, the grass is ravenous, and as it soaks more water, it grows taller and taller, it become more violent.

I really enjoyed this story.  Again, I’m a fan of Marc Platt.  The performances are good, and the story is unpredictable, despite some reference to it in the classic series.  One thing I especially like is that this story is placed just before The Doctor and Susan arrive on Totter’s Lane in London.  The Doctor is understandably unnerved by how easily Susan befriended this creature, and how easily she was manipulated by it.  He decides that Susan needs a bit of stability and the chance to make friends in a safer environment.  In essence, she needs to be around people so she can learn to interact.  Thus, Coal Hill School.

So, a great story, fun, suspenseful, and just a bit creepy in places.  If you like the Hartnell era, or are a fan of the Companion Chronicles, check this one out.

081 – Checkmate (The Time Meddler Part 4)

Written by Dennis Spooner
Directed by Douglas Camfield

The Monk reveals his intentions as the villagers rally to rid themselves of the Viking survivors.

The Doctor voids the warranty.

“I count myself very fortunate indeed to be here, in this time…to prevent this disgusting exhibition!”

There are times when I wish I didn’t have knowledge of Doctor Who.  I would love to experience these stories fresh, no knowledge of Time Lords or regeneration.  How utterly mind-blowing and epic this story must have seemed.  Two years of stories, 80 episodes, with no information of The Doctor’s people, then WHAM!  A TARDIS.  The Monk is of the same people as The Doctor.  We still aren’t given a name at this point, but the introduction of another Time Lord to the mix shows an active race and now that the barrier has been crossed, we can probably guarantee that one day we will get more.  I’m actually rather amazed that it took as long as it did.  Beyond The Monk, we won’t see another Time Lord until Patrick Troughton’s final story.  Ah, to relive the days when The Time Lords were mysterious entities that lurked behind the scenes, almost not present at all.  Sure, the new series has done a little to recapture that feel, but it isn’t the same.  The Time Lords are removed from time in the new show.  Lurking, but not active.  They are exhibits in a temporal museum, not god-like beings moving unseen.

The Monk’s plan is laid bare in this episode, revealing himself to be nothing more than a mischief-maker.  He isn’t necessarily evil, but he does have the arrogance to assume his view of history is the best way.  He wants to manipulate time to his own ends.  In this case, he wants to destroy the Vikings so King Harold will be at full strength when the Normans invade.  The Monk believes Harold would be a good King, and not get involved in the wars in Europe.  He wants to improve history.  The Doctor will not allow this.  He claims the golden rule of time travel is to not change the past.  Let’s deal with the large implication of this rule:  Dennis Spooner is re-writing David Whitaker.

David Whitaker’s view of time was of a force that was moving toward an end.  Any changes that were made would be rejected.  His views are very evident in The Aztecs and the epilogue of The Reign of Terror.  As discussed here before, history course-corrects any changes that are made.  If you drop a boulder into the stream of time, the boulder will be destroyed.  If you drop a pebble, it will be shifted into a complimentary position as to limit damage.  Dennis Spooner has now changed that this is now nothing more than a rule of The Time Lords.  Mucking about in history isn’t a law of nature, it is a golden rule, a suggestion.  There may still be a natural law that has led to this particular rule, but as of The Time Meddler, history CAN be changed.  Sorry, Mr. Moffatt.  Dennis Spooner beat you to it.  Although, to be fair, Spooner still has The Doctor toe the Time Lords’ line.  Steven Moffatt is leading The Doctor to a place of rejection of The Time Lords’ rule.  The Big Bang and A Christmas Carol bear this out, and I’m really hoping that if Moffatt continues taking the show in this direction, he is also planning to show major consequences to mucking about in time.  Really, is what The Monk doing so different from what The Doctor does in A Christmas Carol?  The Monk wants to change historical events to achieve his view of the way things should be.  The Doctor wants to re-write a man’s life to save the lives of people on a crashing ship.  The violation that offends The Doctor is that The Monk is changing history, not taking or saving lives.  By his own moral standards, The Eleventh Doctor has broken the golden rule.

But, back to The Time Meddler and simpler times.  The villagers hunt down the two Vikings, thus restoring original progression of history, and The Doctor prevents The Monk’s further meddling in time by removing the dimensional control from The Monk’s TARDIS.  Without the dimensional control, the trans-dimensional properties of The TARDIS are reset, which is just a fancy way of saying The Monk’s TARDIS is no longer bigger on the inside.  Everything inside has been returned to scale, and The Monk is too big to enter his ship.  He is stranded…for now.

The Time Meddler is a great ending to the season.  The story was intriguing, but only marginally about the history.  The history serviced the time-travel plot, which was a new exploration of the foundation of the show.  It was also an alteration of David Whitaker’s view of time and history.  But in the end, it was fun and provided a bit of mythology building for The Doctor and his people.

And it also introduced the first example of TARDIS envy.