John Flanagan and Andrew McCulloch
What’s It About
While trying to repair K-9, the Doctor and Romana arrive in the Prion Planetary System, and the Doctor decides to call on his old friend Zastor. It turns out Zastor needs the Doctor’s help in mediating a conflict between the Deons and the Savants over the mysterious Dodecahedron. But someone else has his eyes on the Dodecahedron—Meglos, the last of the Zolfa-Thurans. He wants to use the Dodecahedron for his own, malicious purposes.
There are a couple of very interesting things at play in “Meglos,” both of which are tied up in Jonathan Nathan Turner’s attempt to revive the show. First, the character of the Doctor is being tied to a nostalgic idea. Zastor waxes eloquently about the Doctor in the first episode. He praises the Doctor’s wisdom, insight, and morality. He expresses his confidence in the Doctor’s ability to mediate the division between the Deons and the Savants. His speech almost makes the episode self-aware in its attempt to define the Doctor. It encapsulates qualities that many fans, both old and new, would attribute to the Doctor. It also plants the idea that the Doctor has been and will continue to be; he exists as he once existed, as he will continue to exist.
The second thing at play is the undermining of the Tom Baker as the Doctor image, played out quite literally when Meglos takes on the Doctor’s image. He becomes the evil opposite, at once providing Tom Baker the chance to do something different, but also subtly de-associating him from the Doctor. It is a reminder that Tom Baker is merely an actor, not the Doctor himself. If he is an actor, he can be replaced, as Pertwee before him was replaced. It is also interesting that the Doctor and Romana become trapped in a chronic hysteresis, forcing them to relive the same two minutes over and over again. Metaphorically, this implies that the Doctor is in a rut, an outworking of a formula that repeats over and over again. The suggestion here is that Doctor Who has been repeating the same formula over and over and the only way to succeed is to change. The Doctor and Romana break the hysteresis by going pretending to go through the motions. Similarly, “Meglos” seems like it could be a story from the previous season, making this story one that goes through the previous Doctor Who formula, enabling the show to break free and shift toward something new (which we will see in The E-Space Trilogy).
Beyond this, “Meglos” is pretty forgettable. I was thrilled to see Jacqueline Hill again, but would have preferred to see her reprise her role as Barbara. (Admittedly, this was not part of this story’s scope.) I also love the sentient, malevolent, shape-shifting cactus. It’s silly, yes, but what other show would give us a sentient, malevolent, shape-shifting cactus. I thoroughly enjoyed the first episode, but didn’t find enough to connect with throughout the rest of the serial. The Deons and Savants are not fleshed out beyond the basic characteristic of religion versus science; there is no nuance between them, no interesting exploration of the theme.
In the end, “Meglos” is enjoyable enough. It feels like a remnant from the Graham Williams era in tone and pacing, but lacking the humor.