Doctor Who – The Five Doctors

Doctor Who Story 129 – The Five Doctors

Written by

Terrance Dicks

What’s It About?

Someone has reactivated the Time Scoop, an ancient Gallifreyan device which pulls creatures out of time and deposits them in the Death Zone, where they fight for the amusement of the Time Lords. The targets of the Time Scoop are the Doctor’s previous incarnations. The goal: to play the Game of Rassilon.

No! Not the mind probe!

Art from the Five Doctors DVD coverDoctor Who is just weeks away from its 50th anniversary. In the meantime, I’m celebrating the 20th anniversary with “The Five Doctors.” More so than “The Three Doctors,” which celebrated the 10th anniversary, “The Five Doctors” is the general model for how Doctor Who anniversary stories tend to go. They feature the return of Doctors and companions. Much of the beginning sets up how the Doctors and companions are brought out of their own continuity or time stream and placed in this new story. They face a challenge that can only be overcome by combining their efforts. As a result, anniversary stories have a tendency to drag in the “getting the team together” act because there are only so many ways you can make this act interesting from a storytelling perspective. Instead, act one becomes more of a reunion, driven by the return of previous Doctors. Thus, this act succeeds or fails based on the actors and the excitement created in the viewer by reconnecting with old favorites. Anniversary stories, then, can be difficult for fans who are not familiar with previous Doctors or who (shudder) do not like previous Doctors.

But while “The Three Doctors” began the multi-Doctor story, “The Five Doctors” became the model, which is interesting because “Five” is really a conglomeration of Doctor Who tropes, many of which were defined directly or indirectly by Terrance Dicks. There is a “Death to the Daleks” style dungeon crawl. The entire premise of the Death Zone is a reproduction of the premise of “The War Games.” And the Time Lords are very . . . well, they deserve their own paragraph.

In his analysis of “State of Decay,” Philip Sandifer brings up the idea that in the classic series the Time Lords had three distinct portrayals: the Terrance Dicks version (“The War Games” – Pertwee era), the Robert Holmes’ version (“Genesis of the Daleks” – “The Deadly Assassin”) and the Andrew Cartmel version (the McCoy era). I’ll briefly focus on the first two since I haven’t made it to the McCoy era yet. The Terrance Dicks Time Lords are somewhat godlike, but the godlike qualities are based in elevated technology. They possess the technology that is indistinguishable from magic. They are separate from the lower races like a deist god, but at one time they were more active and that activity led to legend, hence Omega vs. Rassilon, the vampires, and the Game of Rassilon. However, they are not gods, they are godlike (Cartmel will weigh in on this with his third view). The Robert Holmes version of the Time Lords is far more cynical, and it turns the Time Lords into bureaucrats. These Time Lords are not gods, nor are they godlike. They are merely an advanced civilization, but they are a dying civilization. They are dying because the no longer truly remember who they are; they do not understand themselves. But because they are so far advanced, they do not look like they are on the decline.

With “The Five Doctors,” Dicks straddles these views. President Borusa, a character created by Robert Holmes, is representative of the bureaucrat Time Lords. He is, then, a stand in for the Holmes version. Dicks subjects Borusa to the Time Lords of legend, and Borusa is defeated. Symbolically, it seems Terrance Dicks is suppressing the Robert Holmes version of the Time Lords; he is weighing it and showing it to be wanting. (This analysis is even more interesting, I think, when you learn that Robert Holmes was originally commissioned to write “The Five Doctors.” He gave it a shot, gave up, and Terrance Dicks was hired.) Looked at another way, Borusa represents political secularization and Rassilon represents myth (or magic or religion). Borusa is allowed to live forever, although in the way many heads of state live forever—in sculpture. But the Brand of Rassilon will outlive Borusa because myth is better at branding since it captures the imagination. It provides narrative.

This idea of immortality derived from winning the Game of Rassilon is fascinating because in a pre-“Deadly Assassin” mythos it would be meaningless. “The Deadly Assassin” asserted a regeneration limit (thus symbolically assassinating Doctor Who, according to Sandifer) thus condemning Time Lords to mortality on a different scale. The JNT era has reinforced this in dialogue more than once. Doctor Who has offered multiple ways around this Holmes-imposed limit, but none of them have stuck. “The Five Doctors” can only work with this regeneration limit. The Doctor himself is offered immortality, and he refuses, stating immortality is a curse (which, again, The Black Guardian trilogy reinforced). In a story celebrating 20 years of the show and knowing there are only six season left for the classic series, I almost wonder if this can be read as a recognition the even Doctor Who as a show has a shelf life. Or perhaps, instead, Doctor Who needs periods where it is away from our screens so it can renew itself in other ways. Being on continually, year after year, may cause too strong a bond of continuity and pressure to do more of the same. Certainly the Fifth Doctor era has waffled between looking forward and looking backward, the former view creating some fascinating stories, the latter creating a mixed bag. But by being off the air for a time, it can allow new writers and producers to come up with a new approach, one that could be controversial to fans of what came before but appeal to people who join this new approach. In its current Cymru incarnation, Doctor Who has yet to grow stale, so the new series hasn’t reached that point yet. (I say this despite occasionally being really annoyed with what Steven Moffat does with the show, but credit where it is due, it is still moving forward with unprecedented quality. It works for many new fans, just not always for this old, curmudgeonly fan.)

Ultimately, though, “The Five Doctors” really isn’t a new or groundbreaking story. It is Terrance Dicks by the numbers, but Terrance Dicks by the numbers can still be fun. And truly, that’s what “The Five Doctors” is—fun. It is great to see Troughton and Pertwee again. It is great to see Sarah Jane and Susan again. I’d say it was good to see the Brigadier again, but that is a given; besides, his appearance is somewhat undermined by having seen him recently in “Mawdryn Undead.” But in all, “The Five Doctors” is a fun nostalgia fest, but divorced from the nostalgia, I’m not sure it is very effective.

My Rating

3.5/5; for the Peter Davison/Terrance Dicks commentary, however 4/5

The Tom Baker Era – A Look Back at My Favorites

Fourth Doctor title image
Fourth Doctor title image

It took me nine months to finish the seven-year run that Tom Baker had on Doctor Who. By the final episode of each Doctor I have covered so far, I was ready for the next actor, but with Hartnell and Troughton, I started to re-think my desire to move on. For the first two Doctors I was ultimately sad to see them go. In the case of Hartnell, I actually cried. With Pertwee, I felt sad, but I was ready for Tom. And despite having a wonderful final season, I never felt sad about Tom Baker’s departure. I still don’t. I think seven years was too long of a run, especially after the struggles the show had during the Graham Williams era. So while Tom Baker was my introduction to Doctor Who as a child, as an adult, he is no longer “my Doctor.” He isn’t a bad Doctor, by any means, but somewhere along the way he ceased being the Doctor and became Tom Baker. And I think the show broke down for me somewhere in there.

Since the tone of the show varied drastically from producer to producer, rather than give my favorite Fourth Doctor stories, I will evaluate my favorites by producer. I will do five from Philip Hinchcliffe, four from Graham Williams, and three from Jonathan Nathan Turner.

The Philip Hinchcliffe Era

The Hinchcliffe Era is the one most associated with my childhood. It will always have a soft spot for me. (You never forget your first Doctor, as they say, or in this case, your first producer.) This era of the show, however, did have some recurring tropes that may have hurt the show if they had gone on too long. While I would have loved to see one more season from Hinchcliffe, being left wanting more is rarely a bad thing. Here is my top five:

  1. The Talons of Weng-Chiang. This story is a perfect imitation of gaslight horror. Unfortunately, that also includes the racism. The story is a joy to watch, however. It plays on tropes from Sherlock Holmes, Phantom of the Opera, Fu Manchu, Jack the Ripper, and on and on. Jago and Litefoot are delightful characters that steal the story from Tom Baker, which is quite the accomplishment. Leela is at her best, and Tom is on top form. The world-building backstory is delightful. This is the story that so many Doctor Who fans define the series by, which can be a problem because its scope is rather limited. Nevertheless, it is immensely watchable and a lot of fun.
  2. Terror of the Zygons. This is the final story to feature Harry Sullivan and the final UNIT story with our regulars. It is a great send-off for the Brigadier and Benton. We are in gothic horror territory again, and the story is dark. But once more, it is compelling. The pace is great. The story is only let down by the Loch Ness Monster effects, and even those are forgivable due to the fun in this story.
  3. The Seeds of Doom. A bit of an oddity for Doctor Who as this one is more action-packed than normal. Oddly enough, it works. The Hinchcliffe Era is again raiding horror movies and tropes, but they do it well. Hints of The Thing from Another World and At the Mountains of Madness. This is Doctor Who at its Quatermass-y, Lovecraftian best.
  4. The Brain of Morbius. If only all failed stories could be this good. Robert Holmes reworked this Terrance Dicks story and made a darkly comedic Frankenstein story. Philip Madoc dominates this story, and the one liners are disturbing and hilarious. “Don’t lie to me, Condo! You’ve been looking for that arm again, haven’t you?”
  5. Genesis of the Daleks. This story breathed new life into the Daleks. Unfortunately, it also caused a major shift away from the Daleks toward Davros. But that shouldn’t be held against this story. Davros is a wonderful megalomaniac and Nyder is perfect as his second-in-command. The story is straightforward as it plummets toward the inevitable conclusion, but the tension along the way is achieved well.
The Graham Williams Era

I think the Graham Williams Era gets a bad reputation. I think each producer should be allowed to succeed or fail on his own terms. Graham Williams did not and was forced to make his era in response to what the BBC felt had gone wrong in the Hinchcliffe Era. Williams is best-known for his failures, which is completely unfair because when his era was good, it was good. It may not have had the sheer number of hits that Hinchcliffe’s era had, but there were some strong stories here. These are my favorites:

  1. City of Death. As modern Doctor Who goes, “City of Death” is near perfect. New fans can be drawn to the classic series by this story. It is pitch perfect. The leads are on form. The guest cast is interesting. Julian Glover is a perfect villain. The story is great. I don’t think Douglas Adams was the best thing to happen to Doctor Who, but if all of his stories had achieved the heights of “City of Death,” he probably could have ousted Robert Holmes from his notable position as fan-favorite writer.
  2. Horror at Fang Rock. This is one of the tightest, darkest gothic horror stories that Doctor Who has ever done, and it wasn’t even in Hinchcliffe’s era. Terrance Dicks hits this story perfectly. It is moody, atmospheric, and genuinely creepy.
  3. The Ribos Operation. This story is a distillation of all the things Robert Holmes does best. It has two great double-acts (Garron and Unstoffe, Graff Vynda-K and Sholakh), it is full of humor, and it has great world-building. The sets look great, and Mary Tamm is wonderful as Romana I.
  4. The Stones of Blood. What starts as a gothic horror quickly takes a sci-fi turn. And that is what I love so much about this story—the shift in tone. The guest cast is superb, and you won’t find many other stories with a female to male cast ratio as high as this one. This is a wonderful story.
The Jonathan-Nathan Turner Era

This is merely the beginning of his over-long era, so it isn’t fair to judge him on this one season alone. But it is a strong start and Christopher H. Bidmead worked wonders in moving this show from being about Tom Baker to being about the Doctor. Here are my favorites:

  1. The Keeper of Traken. The start of Bidmead’s mythic re-working of the Doctor who mythos, which comes at the end of a season-long deconstruction of the Fourth Doctor. “Traken” can be boring if you are looking for an action-packed story, but the depth to this one is astounding.
  2. State of Decay. One final foray into the gothic horror by a crew that doesn’t quite capture the horror. Nonetheless, this is an interesting addition to Time Lord mythology and the story is quite good.
  3. Logopolis. Ending the Tom Baker era is a tall challenge. Bidmead does a wonderful job by draping this story with mythology, classical philosophy, and Messianic imagery. Pitting the Doctor as a force for stability against the Master as a force for entropy and chaos brings a surprisingly epic tone to a story that can be dense. You have to work at this story, but it rewards you for it.

So, these are my favorites. Feel free to chime in with yours and let me know why.

In the meantime, on to the Fifth Doctor.

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


Doctor Who – The Keeper of Traken

Doctor Who Story 114 – The Keeper of Traken

Written By

Johnny Byrne

What’s It About

The Doctor and Adric are enlisted by the Keeper of Traken to investigate a great evil that he suspects has invaded his otherwise peaceful planet.

A whole empire being held together by people being terribly nice to each other
the Melkur
Source: The TARDIS Data Core.

Christopher H. Bidmead, who has been the script editor for this final season of Tom Baker as the Doctor, is generally considered to be the script editor who took a more “hard science” approach to Doctor Who. And yes, under Bidmead we had stories with tachyons, evolution, and reality-altering mathematics called block transfer computation (in the upcoming “Logopolis”). How “hard science” these concepts based on their use in Doctor Who is up for debate, but what I find most interesting is that Bidmead seems to be, at heart, a mythic storyteller. It seems, based on “The Keeper of Traken” and the following “Logopolis,” that for Bidmead, science is the starting point for magic. And so, we have a mythologizing of science, which I find fascinating. Since this is the entry on “The Keeper of Traken,” I’ll limit my discussion of the mythologizing to the episode in question, but I’m sure it will come up again in the entry for “Logopolis.”

“Keeper” is, at its core, is the story of the Fall. It is a theodicy, which basically means it is an explanation for the origin of evil, but in the case of “Keeper” it is on a local scale. The Traken Empire is held together, as the Doctor says, “by people being terribly nice to each other.” But their peace and stability hinges on two other factors: the Keeper and the Source. The Source is a device of some sort which holds evil at bay. When an evil entity enters its field, the evil entity becomes stone until it perishes. This plays on a theological idea that evil cannot survive in the presence of pure good, typically represented by God or the divine (which can, according to some religious beliefs, be called the Source). The Keeper is the Trakenite (mortal) who interfaces with the Source and uses it to mediate the peace of Traken. The Keeper, then, is a high priest, an intermediary between the Trakenites and the Source. A ruling council exists for the daily operations of the empire, the mundane or profane tasks, but the Keeper is consulted for advice, unusual dilemmas, or rituals (such as the marriage of Tremas and Kassia). This is the theological info-dump that we are given in the first episode of “Keeper.” The story that follows, then, is a play on the Fall of Man, the introduction of evil.

The Melkur (who is really the Master in a disguised TARDIS) plays the role of the serpent. The Melkur is one of the evil entities who arrived in the Traken capitol’s grove (a garden). The Melkur is unusual because it does not die quickly, thus allowing Kassia to be exposed to its influence over years. She becomes the unwitting Eve in this story, driven by forces she does not understand to an end she cannot comprehend. The Master uses her to replace the Keeper then, as she dies, he takes her place as Keeper. The evil, in the end, destroyed her. In the end, the Doctor eliminates the Master’s hold over Traken, but the Master is able to escape by superimposing his essence onto Tremas, Kassia’s husband (the symbolic Adam).

“The Keeper of Traken” is mythology through and through. And it is fitting, being the first part of a trilogy that sees the changing of the Doctor, that it starts with an origin story of sorts. It is the origin of evil, an evil which will follow the Doctor and seeks to destroy him. While “Keeper” is the only story in the “Master Trilogy” to not be written by Bidmead, it sets up the mythic feel that runs through this trilogy, and it is, I think, a fine way to incorporate mythology into Doctor Who. And really, when you are about to change the longest-running actor to portray the Doctor, it doesn’t hurt to play up the mythic feel. An entire season has been leading to this and so far, it is paying off in spades.

My Rating


Doctor Who – Warriors’ Gate

Doctor Who Story 113 – Warriors’ Gate

Written By

Steve Gallagher

What’s It About

The Doctor, Romana, and Adric materialize at zero co-ordinates—the void between E-Space and N-Space. Believing this may be the gateway back to the Doctor and Romana’s universe, they begin investigating and soon discover a ship of slavers and their time-sensitive captives.

Do nothing, if it’s the right sort of nothing
The Doctor is captured by Rorvik and his crew.
Source: Wikipedia

Ah, and here we have one of those controversial stories. It isn’t controversial because it questions loosely established canon. It is controversial because it is so unusual. Viewers seem to love or hate this story, often the dividing line being how well the viewer seems to understand it (or profess to understand it). For my part, I think this is very atypical Doctor Who. It is a story that exhibits a successful blend of televisual language. The story is divided between scripting, directing, and symbolism. It is told through visual association. It is only by engaging with “Warriors’ Gate” as a unified whole that the story begins to make sense, and even then, at times it is almost like a vague impression. “Warriors’ Gate” is Doctor Who doing high-concept art, and largely succeeding.

Normally I avoid synopses because those are plentiful on the internet. In this case, I will go ahead and give my perception of the story being told, exploring different themes that are broached along the way. The entire story takes place at zero co-ordinates. This void is the space between universes, the space between spaces. But as the TARDIS also moves through time, it is reasonable to conclude the void is also the space between time. Romana directly addresses this when talking to Rorvik and Packard about “timelines” and “striations in the continuum.” Because of this, time has less meaning here. Time sensitives, especially those who have been burned by the time winds, may move through gateways to other timelines. This is expressed in the Tharil castle with the mirror (more on the mirror shortly). The only problem, however, is that time is altered by mass, which means the slavers’ spaceship, with its dwarf-star alloy (read “super-dense metal”) hull, is altering the space-time stability of the void. The ship is a time bomb due to its very presence in the void. But so is the captain, who is desperate to get out of the void.

So, the mirrors. The mirrors are handy as a visual gateway (Through the Looking Glass, anyone?), but they also match the thematic concept of reflection. The Tharils have been enslaved by humans who use them for their time ships. In the past, however, the Tharils were a great race who enslaved others. Biroc says, “The weak enslave themselves.” But the strong may one day become weak, and the robot uprising in the Tharil castle eliminated their strength. So, not only are the mirrors a gateway to the past, they are also a direct connection to it. They reflect the past to the present, and vice-versa. The story of the Tharils is the story of the slavers: the arrogantly powerful being overthrown by the weaker slaves.

At this point, we have a fairly interesting commentary on power and its abuse. The present is an outworking of the past. “Warriors’ Gate” tells this in a rather unconventional way, but it tells it in a fascinating and compelling way. The story required ambitious and visionary directing by Paul Joyce, and that was certainly achieved. But I think there is far more present in this story than the plot.

Who, ultimately, is manipulating events here? Is it the Tharils? I don’t think so. In episode four, the Doctor confronts Biroc, asking him (in the present) what he is doing here. Biroc replies, “Nothing.” Then further expounds, “And you, too. Do nothing.” This is a theme: doing nothing. And when looking at the story closely, nothing the Doctor, Romana, and Adric do ultimately makes any difference in the freeing of the slaves and the defeat of the slavers. There is very little agency for the characters in the story. This sequence of events story is preordained; the events have been planned. Just as the slaves overthrew the Tharil masters in the past, the Tharil slaves in the present will overthrow the human masters. The Doctor investigates and observes, but his actions ultimately make no difference. Biroc tells him outright to do nothing. In a way, the Doctor is fulfilling a very Time Lord role here: observe, do not interfere. Romana makes a decision in the end to stay and help free other Tharils (presumably in N-Space). She makes this decision after gaining wisdom about the Tharil experience (although a reluctance to return to Gallifrey is certainly part of her decision). But Adric also makes decisions by flipping a coin. After a brief explanation of the I Ching in the first episode, Adric takes the concept of random chance in decision making to heart. All his choices lead him to be in a strategic position to save the Doctor and Romana in episode four. Coincidence or guidance? But decisions made due to character agency are very rare. Ultimately, Rorvik decides to fire the engines of the ship in the hope of finding escape from the void. His battle cry: “I’m finally getting something done.” In truth, Rorvik and his crew were puppets performing according to pre-written dictates. Or, more literally, actors performing their pieces. They had no agency because prior to this story, they did not exist. For four episodes they do, but they could only act according to their scripts. Rorvik, by firing the engines and causing his death, exercises his agency—to no effect.

Finally, I love what this story does for my pet theory of season 18 as Tom Baker deconstruction. In episode one, the Doctor enters the ruins of the Tharil castle. He finds the banquet table, which is covered with cobwebs, as are the corpses seated at the table. Metaphorically, the Doctor has entered a tomb. Additionally, the Doctor is told to do nothing in this story. He is at his most useless and ineffective; he has been relegated to observer. The story moves on without him, and Romana symbolically becomes the Doctor and leaves. The companion has more agency than the hero. And now the last hold-over has been eliminated—except for the Doctor himself.

This entire season has impressed me and renewed my interest in Doctor Who and continuing this project. I can’t wait to see what remains of the season, and to see how the regeneration compares to what I remember.

My Rating


Doctor Who – State of Decay

Doctor Who Story 112 – State of Decay

Written By

Terrance Dicks

What’s It About

Still in E-Space, the Doctor, Romana, and the stowaway Adric arrive on a feudal planet with a solitary castle, the domain of the Three Who Rule. These rulers have suppressed all technology and kept their subjects in a medieval civilization. These rulers also follow an ancient evil, one that once called the Time Lords rivals.

Reconfigured in aggression mode, Master
The Three Who Rule prepare to sacrifice Romana.
Source: Wikipedia

I don’t remember a thing about this story from my childhood. This is strange, because I remember knowing that Doctor Who had vampires. One of the earliest memories I have of Doctor Who is of the Doctor being cautious because vampires are on Earth. Connected to this is a man dressed in black. He runs away from the Doctor.

As I have renewed my acquaintance with eras that I watched as a child, I know that this early memory is flawed. I don’t believe the Doctor ever encountered vampires on Earth. I do, however, know that the man dressed in black who is running from the Doctor is the Master from “The Five Doctors.” So either I thought the Anthony Ainley Master was a vampire based on costume and performance, or I saw “State of Decay” and inferred a connection, forgetting about the episode in the process. It’s fun trying to match up memories with the show. (For instance, I remember—as a three-year-old—hoping to one day see the human race that the Doctor kept referring to. I wasn’t sure if this was a footrace or a space race, but it was important enough to be mentioned on the show quite a bit, so it had to be good.)

I’ve seen “State of Decay” a few times since then. Each time I seem to have a different opinion. Initially, I loved it, then I was embarrassed by it (the Three Who Rule, in particular, are over-acting), then I thought it was watchable but slow, and this time I thought it was great. The special effects let it down a bit, but it is quite a good story, and Dicks sketches some more history to the Time Lords, an ancient war between Rassilon and ancient vampires.

Watching this story, I remembered a discussion I heard once about how “Logopolis” is a good story, but a strange story for a regeneration. In general, I think we’ve come to expect regeneration stories to be a retrospective of sorts. We remember all the good times we had with this version of the Doctor, and get to mourn him. “Logopolis” is a bit of an oddity as it has little reminiscence on Tom Baker’s era as a whole. But in a way, this entire season is the Fourth Doctor’s final story. With “Meglos” we revisit Graham Williams sensibilities, and with “State of Decay,” we revisit Hinchcliffe sensibilities. Much of the rest of the season is redefining the show, recreating it with an eye to the past. And so I think I will start to look on season eighteen as the true final story; a long one, yes, but the final story all the same. “State of Decay” is the final look at the Fourth Doctor’s era. From this point on, the Doctor is a marked man.


I was searching “State of Decay” for a specific screen capture. (Ultimately, I just found something on the internet). I had the video on mute because I was listening to a lecture as I searched. Having “State of Decay” without sound, engaging only with the images, really caught my attention. Peter Moffatt’s directing was fascinating. He blends theater staging with television framing. Watching the movements of the camera and the actors was extremely interesting, and if I had more time in my life, I would love to do a deeper analysis of Doctor Who stories, accounting for both the overall story, but also the visual narrative. If I wasn’t a full-time student, I might actually attempt this. Maybe one day I will do my own version of Doctor Who Revisitations, and re-evaluate stories by giving a deeper analysis.

My Rating


Doctor Who – Full Circle

Doctor Who Story 111 – Full Circle

Written By

Andrew Smith

What’s It About

The Doctor and Romana accidentally travel through a CVE and fall into E-Space, a realm that exists at inverse co-ordinates to our own. As they attempt to return Romana to Gallifrey, they arrive on a planet with an Edenic society which lives in fear of Mistfall.

Of Course I’m Better Than You. I’m Elite.
Source: Wikipedia.
Source: Wikipedia.

I’m not sure where it originated, but analyses of season eighteen tend to center around entropy. Without a doubt, this theme is present. And since I have spent the last few reviews pondering the re-definition of Doctor Who that Jonathan Nathan Turner has been creating, I can’t help but view entropy through the lens of Doctor Who as a program. Essentially, the thematic entropy is a criticism of the Graham Williams era of Doctor Who, something I slightly disagree with, but given the output of Williams’s era and the propagandistic historical revisionism JNT engaged in, the argument can be made. JNT wished to return Doctor Who to its pre-Tom Baker glory. This is the difficulty when a single actor portrays the Doctor for nearly a decade in an age when VCRs were not the norm—viewers forget what came before.

In this way, “Full Circle” becomes an interesting critique of fandom . . . or at the very least, viewers. The older people on Terradon remember Mistfall. The younger people don’t. Or, in this case, the older viewers remember Pertwee, Troughton, and maybe even Hartnell. The younger viewers do not. How much more the gap between fans of the new series and fans of the old? By and large new series fans do not need to watch Doctors 1 – 8. If they choose not to, they can easily check Wikipedia for Doctor Who mythos, or they can ask a friend who may be a fan of the old series. But Doctor Who mythos (for this is a better word than “canon”) is a tricky thing, and explanation of it is filtered through fan opinion. And, like the people of Terradon, fans of the new series must take the word of those who have access to the archives (DVDs, in this case). Thus, the old series becomes mythology, and the new series fan may take it or leave it as they wish.

And, to return to “Full Circle,” something similar is happening here. This story marks as much of the redefinition of Doctor Who as is possible without bringing in a new Doctor. This is the first story to fall firmly under script editor Christopher Bidmead’s control (previous stories having been left-overs). This is a story written by a fan, and a young one at that. This is a story that sees a fan actually hired to play a lead in the show. With “Full Circle,” Doctor Who is evolving into a show that is firmly aware of its legacy, and the mythologizing of Doctor Who begins here. In “Meglos,” Zastor shared a gospel of the Doctor. In “Full Circle,” fans are vindicated in Andrew Smith and Matthew Waterhouse (with admittedly mixed results). And it is somewhat telling to me that at the very end of JNT’s long era, the Doctor achieves implied apotheosis. (And then, in the new series, the Doctor is actually called a “lonely god.”)

None of this matters, however, as “Full Circle” is a great story that is only marred by a few bad performances (well, one in particular). And I’m glad, because my interest in the classic series was waning. Much as I enjoy Tom Baker, I’m ready for him to leave. In a few more stories, I get my wish.

My Rating


Doctor Who – Meglos

Doctor Who Story 110 – Meglos

Written By

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.

A screen capture of Meglos the cactus.
Source: DVD Active.

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.

My Rating


Doctor Who – The Leisure Hive

Doctor Who Story 109 – The Leisure Hive

Written by

David Fisher

What’s It About

The Doctor and Romana go on vacation to The Leisure Hive, a recreation facility on the dying planet Argolis. The Argolans, after being nearly wiped out during a twenty-minute war with the Foamasi, have dedicated themselves to a study of tachyonics and recreation. The Hive, however, is on the verge of bankruptcy and the only monetary backers willing to purchase the planet are the Foamasi. The situation grows worse when a tourist is killed during one of the tachyonic demonstrations. The Doctor and Romana must figure out what went wrong during the experiment while Mena, leader of the Argolins, must determine the path for her people.

Don’t cross your bridges before their hatched
I don't like this new Doctor. He's too old.
I don’t like this new Doctor. He’s too old.

The Graham Williams’s era was a struggle; it was an attempt to keep life in a show that looked to be dying. And while there were some jewels in Williams’s run, the era ended on a rather depressing note: a shoddy production followed by a strike. JNT didn’t need to do much to breathe new life into the show. And when “The Leisure Hive” begins, it is clear that Doctor Who’s aesthetics have changed. The camera work is different. The music is different. The Doctor’s costume is different. The humor has, by and large, been toned down. I recommend reading Philip Sandifer’s analysis of “The Leisure Hive” because he discusses how, with JNT, understanding of Doctor Who became paratextual—Doctor Who was influenced by the critical analysis of fans. The show became the focus. Doctor Who was less about adventures in time and space, it was about Doctor Who itself. This is a trait which never left the show.

One of my new-Who friends wants to watch more of the classic show. (Hooray!) She enjoys talking about Doctor Who with one of her co-workers, but since he is a fan of both eras, she occasionally feels lost in his references. She wants to borrow DVDs to help her understand some of what he talks about. But herein is a problem: watching “The Horns of Nimon” and then “The Leisure Hive” doesn’t tell the viewer a thing about what happened to the show. It doesn’t tell the viewer why these stories contrast with one another, nor does it tell the viewer this contrast was a big deal. And so, the commentary of Doctor Who, by which I mean the paratext, becomes important to the understanding of the show. There are layers upon layers upon layers of fan understanding of Doctor Who, which can seem virtually impenetrable to the fan of new-Who. In many ways, it is like debating theology. There isn’t any one right way to interpret Doctor Who. The text (the show) is important, but it isn’t conclusive. Our hero’s name is either the Doctor, or he is Doctor Who. You can use the text to support either view. The UNIT stories took place in the 1970s or the 1980s. Again, the text supports both. And the debate goes on and on through many issues: how many regenerations do Time Lords have; who came up with the name TARDIS, and what does it actually stand for; was Hartnell the First Doctor or just the first Doctor that we have seen; how old is the Doctor; and so on. So, as in theology, the commentary on the text is as influential (often more influential) than the text itself.

Looking at “The Leisure Hive” as a text, it really isn’t anything too different from what we’ve seen before. David Fisher is always a good writer for taking real-world events and translating them to a science fiction setting. In this story, we have nuclear holocaust combined with shady Mafia dealings. It isn’t a space epic on the scale of Star Wars or even on the scale of Underworld, but it attempts to tell an interesting story while taking a few shots at how our political climate is shaping up. Fisher has done this before, but without Douglas Adams to script edit, many of the jokes were removed.

But while the last year of Graham Williams’s involvement on the show was marked by struggle and growth, this first story of JNT’s era took a huge step forward. There is only one problem left, and it is a big one: Tom Baker. This story sees the Doctor ripped apart in the tachyon chamber and later aged a few hundred years. He spends quite a few scenes just sitting off to the side, not taking part in the action. In the final episode, tachyon clones are made of the Doctor, but they quickly vanish. The Doctor is not saving others, he is becoming the victim. He saves the day, not by being Tom Baker, but by being the Doctor. In many ways, the character is being put back into his place. It isn’t about Tom Baker, it is about the Doctor. And who better to rein this in than JNT—who is focused on Doctor Who as paratext, Doctor Who as a show—and executive producer Barry Letts—who directed Patrick Troughton, produced much of Jon Pertwee’s stories, and cast Tom Baker. Both men looked at Doctor Who’s success over the years, not just at what was currently working.

My Rating


Doctor Who: The Horns of Nimon

Doctor Who Story 108 – The Horns of Nimon

Written By

Anthony Read

What’s It About

Pilots from the Skonnan Empire experience technical difficulties as they transport captives from Aneth. These captives are to be sacrificed to the Nimon, a creature who promises scientific knowledge which will restore the Skonnan Empire to its former glory. Unfortunately, Romana is condemned to join the Aneth captives as tribute to the Nimon.

Come on, old girl. There’s quite a few millennia left in you yet.
The Nimon grandstands.
Source: The Digital Fix Films.

In many ways, a television is a TARDIS—it is a small box, but it has the potential to transport the viewer to new worlds; it can help the viewer to experience new ideas and perspectives. Doctor Who, therefore, is a metaphor for television. Not only has the show existed long enough to trace the development of television production, it plays in numerous genres: science fiction, action/adventures, mystery, horror, romance, and historical drama. Sometimes the show is aware of its meta-fictional potential: The Savages gives us a race that has watched The Doctor’s adventures and been inspired by them, Vengeance on Varos and Bad Wolf comment on reality shows. And so, this line from the final exchange between the Doctor and Romana becomes a meta-commentary when one follows the metaphor: Come on, old girl. There’s quite a few millennia left in you yet. Don’t lose hope; this show still has a lot of life in it.

And what a line to close out The Horns of Nimon, one of the lesser-regarded stories in the Doctor Who canon. The production quality is not good. The acting is extremely hammy, Tom Baker and Graham Crowden seeming to see who can go further over the top. The Horns of Nimon is the Graham Williams era’s second attempt at retelling a Greek myth, and it is the better attempt, in my opinion, because this story is hilarious. That was probably not Anthony Read’s intention, but if you watch Nimon as you would one of those horrible Syfy channel movies, it provides good entertainment.

But I also think that Nimon hint at some interesting ideas—unfortunately, it only hints. At the end of the story, The Doctor implies that the events of this story, which are based on the story of Theseus and the Minotaur, had happened before, specifically, that history has repeated itself. Given that this is the second Greek myth to be reinterpreted by the Williams era, a theme of the cyclical nature of history is developing. This episode marks the final statement on that, however, as this is the final episode of Graham Williams tenure. A strike halted the filming of Shada, the intended finale to the era, leaving Nimon as the premature finale. In a way, this is a fitting ending to Williams’ era—circumstances beyond his control trumped his plans and what aired is thrown together as competently as possible. But with the exception of Lalla Ward, none of the leads seem to be taking the story seriously. The era fades away, maligned and ridiculed; the saving grace is a few moments of humor.

I like The Horns of Nimon. Unlike Underworld, this story is watchable. It is entertaining, even if it isn’t entertaining for the reasons Anthony Read intended. But the story also makes me sad. It epitomizes the Williams era—the best of intentions, but ultimate failure because those who cared about the show were not supported.

My Rating