Doctor Who – Logopolis

Doctor Who Story 115 – Logopolis

Written By

Christopher H. Bidmead

What’s It About

Still reeling from the departure of Romana, the Doctor decides it is time to adjust the TARDIS’s dimensions to better match the public call box shape it is stuck in. However, the Master has survived their encounter on Traken, and he has a plan that could lead to the end of the universe.

I’m an ignorant old Doctor, and I’ve made a mistake
The Doctor hangs tighly from a cable.
Source: TARDIS Data Core

Moving from script editor to actual writer, Bidmead fully unleashes his blend of science and mythology to fascinating effect. “Logopolis” has long confused viewers and been criticized as a poor send-off for the Fourth Doctor. Thematically, I think it is a great story as an ending, but being the ending for this particular Doctor . . . I’m divided.

The title “Logopolis” is a natural starting point. It is the title but also a planet. The name is composed of two Greek words, logos and polis. Logos can mean word, reason, thought, or principle. Polis means city. But the question is, how do we understand logos in this context? In the classical tradition, logos is the ordering principle of the cosmos, hence the occasional attempts in philosophy to connect logos to valued concepts—reason (for classical philosophers), Jesus and God (in the Christian tradition). In Bidmead’s case, he is arguing that logos is math. Thus, math is the ordering principle in the cosmos. So, Logopolis a society which calculates and studies math to continue the ordered existence of the cosmos. If anything happens to Logopolis, the cosmos would be in danger as the math that holds chaos at bay would stop. Chaos would become unrestrained. This bears out as we learn that the Logopolitans have been keeping entropy at bay, the universe having passed the point of no return quite some time ago.

The Master is an agent of Chaos. It is important to know that one reading of the Bible can be taken as the fight of Order (represented by God) against Chaos (the Dragon, Serpent, or Satan). Many passages in the Hebrew Scriptures talk to this directly, with God as the ordering agent (the book of Job, Genesis 1, and so on). So, Bidmead has started with math as the ordering principle of the universe, and brought in the Master as an agent of chaos, hence “Logopolis” is a direct continuation (thematically) of “The Keeper of Traken.” “Keeper” had the fall of Man and the introduction of evil into ordered society. The evil was ultimately defeated but not destroyed. It went into hiding, manipulating events to gain access to “Logopolis,” the source of the divine logos (math). The evil then disrupted logos, unshackling chaos, which sets about an accelerated destruction of the cosmos through entropy.

Much has been made of the growing apotheosis of the Doctor in the Cartmel era and the even heavier god themes in the RTD era. But I would argue those ideas began here as The Doctor becomes the Christ-figure, sacrificing himself to re-establish logos. Water in film is typically a metaphor for baptism, hence we frequently see characters change after crossing rivers or being caught in rainstorms. After the TARDIS materializes at the Thames, the Doctor meets with the mysterious Watcher. This becomes the Doctor’s anointing, his blessing by the Holy Spirit, and his path becomes driven from this point on. He becomes an agent of Order. At the end of “Logopolis,” the Doctor dies, but the Watcher, the Spirit, resurrects him. In biblical terms, the Doctor was vindicated by Order. We have never seen the presence of the Watcher in Doctor Who, but much like in “Keeper of Traken,” Who mythos is played with loosely. It takes a secondary position to the thematic mythmaking that Bidmead is engaging in. When Nyssa says the Watcher “was the Doctor all along,” one could interpret this as meaning the Doctor was the moral incarnation of the Watcher just as Jesus was the incarnation of God. (It isn’t a huge leap to get from this idea to the Doctor/Other ideas from the Cartmel/Virgin era. Perhaps the difficult regenerations from this point on are the attempts of the Other to fully incarnate in the Doctor’s body. Ah, fan theories.)

Ultimately, I’m divided. I think “Logopolis” is a brilliant story. I love the mythic science concept woven in these last two stories, and I love that the E-Space trilogy was tied in to “Logopolis,” the CEVs being the release of entropy into a neighboring universe. But in the end, this approach to the Tom Baker era is unlike anything we have seen. This isn’t a Fourth Doctor’s greatest hits. As an ending, it is brilliant, but as an ending for Tom, it misses the mark.

My Rating

4.5/5

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3 thoughts on “Doctor Who – Logopolis

  1. Really insightful thoughts on a perplexing, complicated serial. Like yourself, I do not know if was the best way to close out Tom Baker’s monumental seven year run playing the Doctor. But how exactly do you encapsulate in one story an era that veered from gothic horror to slapstick comedy to somber, philosophical, science-driven plots? I guess Bidmead decided to fall back on what he knew best and thought worked, which was the later.

    It is interesting to try and make sense of the Master’s ideology because, well, it seems like going back to his very first appearance every different writer gave him a different motivation. Is he trying to conquer the world / galaxy / universe, or cause it to fall into chaos? Does he want to kill the Doctor, get him to switch over to his side, or just force his long-time rival to admit that, yes, he’s very smart & impressive? From “The Deadly Assassin” onward, the Master’s main driving force was to continue to exist, to find a way to live on past his final regeneration. But throughout the 1980s most of his other schemes seem at best half-hearted, and at most completely unworkable. The show even ends up hanging a lampshade on this in “King’s Demons” when the Doctor admits that the Master’s plot to prevent the signing of the Magna Carta is “small time villainy by his standards.” After Bidmead left, it felt like the Master spent most of the decade trying to be as much of a nuisance to the Doctor as possible. At least Anthony Ainley’s version of the Master was allowed a more dignified, thoughtful characterization in his final on-screen appearance, “Survival.” No doubt a significant part of that was due to script editor Andrew Cartmel, who seemed to have a much better idea what to do with the character than either JNT or Eric Saward.

    Sorry to ramble on for so long. Once again, thanks for an interesting blog entry!

    • Thanks for the comment.

      I agree that it would be hard to know how to do a proper send off for Baker. His era was too diverse in tone. There was probably no good solution, and what we got was actually pretty interesting. I’m happy with it, even if it does feel a bit off.

      And your comments on the Master are good. I never could figure out why preventing Magna Carta was so important. Did the writer give a shot at the educational mandate that had been dead for years? But as for my preferred view of the Master, I like the idea of him being the opposite of the Doctor. Whatever the Doctor is and stands for, the Master must counter him, sort of a Yin Yang idea. They balance one another. Of course, this could be how I justify the John Simm Master. He worked well opposite the Tenth Doctor, but not so well if you like the Delgado Master.

      Thanks again for reading. I appreciate your feedback.

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