Doctor Who – Earthshock

Doctor Who Story 121 – Earthshock

Written by

Eric Saward

What’s It About?

An archeological team disappears in a recently exposed network of caves. A military investigation looks for answers and finds the Doctor, Nyssa, Teagan, and Adric, who have materialized in the cave after the Doctor and Adric had an argument over whether or not it was possible to return to E-Space. The team falls under attack by two mysterious androids who are guarding something alien.

Eating a Well-Prepared Meal

adricI’m trying to decide what I think of the title “Earthshock.” While I suppose it works to refer to the shock wave from the collision of the freighter and the earth which this story posits is the reason for the extinction of the dinosaurs, it more accurately seems to refer to the two major shocks in this story, both of which are rather muted due to modern marketing and information-obsessed internet culture.

At the time, the two shocking moments in this story were the return of the Cybermen at the end of episode one and the death of Adric at the end of the story. Neither of these was revealed to the press ahead of time. Neither was used for marketing. And so, the shock was very real and unexpected. However, any copy of “Earthshock” on DVD or VHS has a Cyberman on the cover, thus negating the first shock, and any casual research into Doctor Who story developments or companions reveal that Adric died. There is no shock.

But is the death of Adric really so shocking? Sure, from the standpoint of character death in a fairly light show which has not had a major character death since the 1960s, yes, it would be shocking. But was Adric liked enough to elicit a moment of genuine surprise? As the story stands, I think Adric’s death is nothing more than trivia about the show; why is “Earthshock” important? Because Adric died. But Adric has not been an interesting character since season eighteen. This could be due to the current production team and script editor. This could be due to having too many companions in the TARDIS. Regardless, Adric’s death is not very meaningful (he had a way out), and many fans of the show didn’t like him anyway. His death is now marked by the question of whether people cry or cheer. But is it Adric’s fault that his character hasn’t been written well for this entire era? Is it Matthew Waterhouse’s fault that there were too many companions that the writers didn’t really have a way to handle them well? None of the companions at this point are interesting. They have potential, but that potential is never achieved, but the hate falls disproportionately on Adric, I think, because falls into the child-identification trope and because stories about Waterhouse on the set painted him in a bad light.

But stories are stories. In the commentary of “Earthshock,” the cast complains about Peter Grimwade’s directing, but the results of the directing show that Grimwade knew what he was doing. “Earthshock” is extremely well direct. From a production standpoint, “Earthshock” is nearly flawless. And I genuinely think that is what works in this story’s favor. The direction is great. The pace is perfect. This is Doctor Who at its action-packed, suspenseful best. But apart from these production points and the well-handled shocking moments, there isn’t really much to this story. If given to another director, this story would have fallen flat because there is nothing below the surface of the story. “Earthshock” is base-under-siege revisionism, putting it more firmly on the “Visitation” side of the season as opposed to the “Kinda” side of the season. “Earthshock” looks backward rather than looking forward.

For me, I really enjoy “Earthshock.” It is a lot of fun, although I admit that I now find Adric’s death a hindrance to the story. But when it comes to Doctor Who that fires my imagination or fills me with joy at having watched something brilliant, “Earthshock” doesn’t satisfy. It is fun, but it is consciously formulaic, attempting to connect with the distant past of the show in a way that feel superficial in a we-can-do-that-type-of-thing-better-than-they-did way.

My Rating

4/5

Doctor Who – Black Orchid

Doctor Who Story 120 – Black Orchid

Written by

Terrance Dudley

What’s It About?

In 1920s England The Doctor is mistaken for a cricket player sent to join Lord Cranleigh’s team. After the game, the Doctor, Adric, Nyssa, and Teagan are invited to stay for a costume party at Cranleigh Hall. The festivities are short-lived, however, as a killer is hiding in the Hall and he has his eyes set on Lord Cranleigh’s fiancé, Ann—who is an exact look-alike of Nyssa.

Smutty!

The Doctor looks at a harlequin costume.“Black Orchid” is largely remembered and spoken of as the first straight historical since Patrick Troughton’s 1966 “The Highlanders.” It is somewhat telling that this is how fans talk about “Black Orchid,” implying that this is the only noteworthy thing about it. On the whole, I think DW fandom sees straight historicals as throwback to an era that has long since passed, which is a shame. I love the Hartnell-era historicals. I was very sad when this style of story was dropped. But I also acknowledge that it can be extremely difficult write one effectively. It is far easier to throw in an alien who threatens history or the status quo and portray the commonly believed stereotypes of the period. The best example of this is, I think, “The Talons of Weng-Chiang,” which is far more gaslight horror/adventure than historical. Even when the Hartnell-era historicals got the history inaccurate, there was still the attempt at accuracy. John Lucarotti took seriously the educational mandate of Doctor Who.

And so, while “Black Orchid” truly is a straight historical, it is not of the same quality as those of the Hartnell-era because it is more a series of tropes than it is an attempt to educate as well as entertain. It is a period drama, not a historical. Some of its influences are easy to identify: Wodehouse, with the portrayal of British gentry; Agatha Christie, with the murder mystery/parlor room scenes; and the mad woman in the attic trope which originated with Jane Eyre (although in this case, it is a man, not a woman). In fact, Jane Eyre seems to be a major influence on this story, even down to the climax which leads to a death as the Hall burns. As a result, this story is even less of a historical and more of a media-conversant period piece. If you identify the tropes, you know exactly where the story is going and what the ultimate mystery is. Sadly, I had this story figured out the moment Lord Cranleigh told the story about his brother.

Incidentally, “Black Orchid” has its new Who counterpart in “The Unicorn and the Wasp,” which is also media-conversant as it owes more to “Black Orchid” and BBC and ITV Agatha Christie adaptations than it does to Christie’s actual writing and life. Just replace the madman with a giant, alien wasp, in this case.

If the companions didn’t have much to do in a four part story, they will have even less in a two part story. Adric spends most of his time eating and being teased. Teagan dances a lot (allowing us to finally see her happy, which is nice). Interestingly, Sarah Sutton plays both Nyssa and Ann in this story, and the slight contrast between the characters provides a bit of characterization. A bit.

Davison shines once more as the Doctor, and I finally think I am getting a feel for him. He is a contrast to the Baker Doctor in that he is calm and more reserved. Hartnell, Troughton, and Baker portrayed the otherness of the Doctor (albeit Hartnell’s was an otherness shaped by crankiness). Pertwee was the British dandy. The Fifth Doctor is a British gentleman. This should be perfectly obvious due to his costume, but it took me until “Black Orchid” to finally see it. The Doctor fit in too perfectly at Cranleigh Hall. This isn’t a Doctor who would refuse an invitation to Christmas dinner. This isn’t a Doctor who would run away from socializing when the adventure is over. This is a Doctor who builds relationships (and the character moments have significantly increased throughout this season). This is a Doctor who will stick around and interact with people. He isn’t seeking his next adrenaline high. If I had to level some criticism at him, this is the Doctor at his most . . . bland. I don’t mean this as an insult or criticism. In his novel Timewyrm: Revelation, Paul Cornell explores the idea that each version of the Doctor is an aspect of the Time Lord’s overall Self. The Fifth Doctor is his moral core. He is the stable center of the Doctor’s Self. He is balance. And while balance brings comfort and stability, it is not always dramatically interesting. Hence, this Doctor is constantly at odds with the universe around him, a universe that just won’t seem to stabilize into peace and harmony.

So while “Black Orchid” isn’t the best historical Doctor Who has to offer, and it is extremely predictable if you know its literary influence, it is an interesting look into the psychology of the Fifth Doctor, even if this look is not explicit. This is the Doctor at peace after a few difficult stories. He is taking it easy with a relatively simple mystery.

This will not last.

My Rating

3/5

Doctor Who – The Visitation

Doctor Who Story 119 – The Visitation

Written by

Eric Saward

What’s It About?

The Doctor fails to return Teagan to London by materializing about three hundred years too early. They encounter Richard Mace, a former actor turned highwayman, and a mysterious, abandoned manor house.

I like long walks
The Doctor threatens a Tereleptil as Mace and an android look on.
Source: The AV Club

Davison era seems to be the conflict between two visions: Bidmead and Saward. Bidmead attempted to redefine Doctor Who, to bring it in to a new era by re-inventing it. Saward looked back to what worked in the past and attempted to duplicate it. “The Visitation,” then, is about as influenced by classic Doctor Who as you can get . . . or more specifically, Robert Holmesian Doctor Who. In some ways, “The Visitation” owes much of its story to “The Time Warrior” (alien crash lands in Medeival England). Even Richard Mace is a character who could have been written by Holmes. All he needs is his double-act.

Apart from its formula, the major problem with this story, which is indicative of the problem with many of the stories in this era, is that there are too many companions. There just isn’t much for Adric and Nyssa to do, thus Adric runs from location to location, gets captured, and gets away. He doesn’t add anything to the plot. Likewise, Nyssa spends most of her time in the TARDIS, preparing a security set-up for break-in that occurs in part four, a break-in that really could have been prevented and wasn’t necessary. Especially when there is a whole village of plague-paranoid villagers who are not under Tereleptil control, Adric and Nyssa’s uselessness to the plot seems glaring. And when these characters (and, let’s be honest, Teagan) are held in comparison to Mace, the deficiencies are made more glaring. The guest cast is more compelling than the main cast, barring Peter Davison. This is frustrating because under Bidmead, these characters were given a great deal of potential. Even their circumstances for being with the Doctor (an orphan from another dimension, the last survivor of Traken who had her parents destroyed by the Master, a reluctant participant whose aunt was murdered by the Master) are compelling enough to give us interesting characters. Unfortunately, the show is still fairly plot-driven, and character development isn’t emphasized. And yet, Saward was aware of this on some level. Teagan and Nyssa share a tender moment as Teagan prepares (she thinks) to leave the TARDIS for good. I don’t say this often, but this story could have benefited from being longer, so long as we got more character moments and we were able to explore the fears of the townspeople. This story had enough pieces to work with, it just never put them all together. And just like the ending, this entire story is rushed, focusing on the more formulaic alien-invasion story rather than the real drama that was just underneath the script.

If nothing else, “The Visitation” is immensely watchable, but it truly isn’t anything groundbreaking despite having enough elements to be a great story.

My Rating

3/5

Doctor Who – Kinda

Doctor Who Story 118 – Kinda

Written By

Christopher Bailey

What’s It About

So that Nyssa can recover from severe headaches, the TARDIS crew stops on Deva Loka for rest. While there, however, Teagan encounters something evil that wants to be released.

What’s in the box? What’s in the box!?

Teagan in a black void with her duplicate self. “Kinda” is a return to the type of story that was told when Christopher H. Bidmead was script editor, which isn’t too surprising since he commissioned it. It is heavily influenced by religious mythology, particularly Buddhist concepts and Judeo-Christian origins. In evangelicalism, there is the idea that evangelism can be effective by studying a culture and learning what biblical parallels exist in that culture. In this way, “Kinda” is almost a type of Buddhist evangelism being offered through Judeo-Christian symbols. Deva Loka is a paradise world—Eden. Evil (the Mara) in its true form is a snake. When under Mara control, Teagan corrupts Aris by dropping apples on him (invoking both Eve offering fruit to Adam and, interestingly, Isaac Newton . . . is “Kinda” making a comment on knowledge?). Buddhist concepts are coded into character names (Dukkha, Karuna, Mara, to name a few) and places (Deva Loka). Cyclical time is a strong component in Buddhism. Teagan’s dream sequences in particular are symbolic of Buddhist philosophies. So, from a religious studies aspect, “Kinda” is a fascinating story, one that offers depth and endless analysis. Sadly, I haven’t studied Buddhism in-depth, and it has been years since I have taken a class on the religion (although next semester I am taking a class on Eastern religions, so I hope to revisit this story at that time).

But in addition to this, the production itself is quite good. While the survival suits are a dated design and the snake itself is of mixed result (although the special edition DVD has very good CGI to replace the snake), the set designs are excellent and the supporting cast is extremely good. Richard Todd as Sanders gives an amazing performance of a man going mad—not in the megalomaniacal way that we typically see on Doctor Who, but in the unpredictable, highly unstable way. He swings from pleasant to horrifying on a dime and makes it completely believable. I’m tempted to put Richard Todd in the same category as Kevin Stoney and Philip Madoc for great villainous actors in Doctor Who.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’m watching many of the Peter Davison stories for the first time. I’ve seen “Snakedance” but I had not seen “Kinda.” This story was an absolute joy to watch, and it was hard to not watch it in a single sitting.

My Rating

5/5

Doctor Who – Four to Doomsday

Doctor Who Story 117 – Four to Doomsday

Written By

Terrence Dudley

What’s It About

The Doctor, Teagan, Nyssa, and Adric materialize on a spaceship run by an autocrat. It is populated by humans taken from various points in Earth’s history (ancient Greece, Aborigines, Imperial Chinese, and so on). The ship is on its way to Earth, but the Doctor is unsure what the autocrat’s motivations are.

Now listen to me, you young idiot!
The Doctor in space.
Source: Wikipedia

“Four to Doomsday” is a particularly odd story. Following a run of brilliant episodes, and one that gets brilliant in parts 3 and 4, it certainly stands out a lesser effort. But we are in a new sub-era, that of script editor Antony Root. His ambitions on this first story are hard to identify, but so were Christopher H. Bidmead’s back when watching “The Leisure Hive.” Bidmead’s first script-edited story was a holdover from the previous season, and so, it seems, is “Four to Doomsday.” In some ways, this story would have worked somewhat well with season 18’s deconstructionist themes, as this story feels like it came out of an earlier era—specifically, the Hartnell era. However, it still would have clashed in this respect as season 18 primarily deconstructed the Baker era. Regardless, “Four to Doomsday” has a distinctly Harnell ear feel, complete with location exploration, philosophical debate, and companion antagonism.

It is with respect to the latter that this story is hindered. Teagan is immensely unlikeable here. Where her previous desire to get home was understandable, here it becomes panicked and unnervingly dangerous. While the case could be made that she lacks the motivation from “Castrovalva” to heal the man who could get her home, and Teagan is at her wits end. This clashes with the self-determined initiative she exhibited in the two previous stories. Adric is also off in this story. He sides too quickly with the fascist Monarch, undoing the development we saw across season 18. While it seems the companions in this story are trying to be used to comment on the philosophies at play, the arguments never quite come together because Teagan and Adric are so unlikeable in this story. Nyssa, being the balance character, fades into the background—even being taken out of the story for moments at a time. It is left to the Doctor to carry this story, which Davison does extremely well. Despite being a somewhat bland story, it sells me on Davison as the Doctor.

Davison’s performance is a strong point for this story. I also thing the sets look great. They have depth and take advantage of height as well. We are not in a spaceship with one level to every room. There are catwalks, stairs, and staging areas. In many places, looking at the sets is the most interesting part of a scene.

This isn’t a particularly bad story. It is just a story that seems out of place. It have very little nuance and doesn’t play with the ideas in any way as to make them interesting. It’s not bad, but it’s not compelling either.

My Rating

3/5

Doctor Who – Castrovalva

Doctor Who Story 116 – Castrovalva

Written By

Christopher H. Bidmead

What’s It About

On the run from the Master, the Doctor’s regeneration begins to go wrong. Nyssa and Teagan must find a way to save the TARDIS and the Doctor from the Master’s new plan.

Enough zap and you have your thrust
The Doctor tries to count to three.
Mr. Belvedere (Source: http://www.cathoderaytube.co.uk)

I get the impression Christopher H. Bidmead enjoyed Latin. His previous story, “Logopolis,” gave a clue to the theme of his story. It takes a bit of work to get at the meaning of both the title and idea in “Logopolis,” but it is worth it to try. Conversely, “Castrovalva” is more straightforward in name and plot.

As near as I can tell, “Castrovalva” is derived from the Latin words castra (the plural version of castrum), meaning fort, fortress, or castle, and valva, meaning folding door. Valva is also where we get the word valve, which has multiple variations on a central idea of regulated flow. Thus we can posit that Castrovalva means a castle with regulated passages, folding passages. And this bears out in the story as Castrovalva is a city created by block transfer computation as a trap for recently regenerated Doctor. The trap is that the city has no exit, the passages loop back on one another as in M.C. Escher’s Relativity painting. Of course, he may have cribbed the title from another work, named Castrovalva, by Escher. This piece depicts a castle on a mountain, which is also connected to the Doctor Who story. Either way you look at it, the meaning is clear.

The plot, similarly, is not very complicated. The entire story centers around the Master’s attempt to kill the Doctor through two different traps: sending the TARDIS into Event One (the Big Bang) and when that fails, sending him to Castrovalva. Plots within plots. Bidmead sets these ideas up well, referring once more to block transfer computation, and even using it to create simulations of Adric. This plants the idea into the minds of the viewer so the ultimate reveal is not completely out of nowhere. But this story lacks the depth of “Logopolis.” In fact, I think the first two episodes are a bit dull. Peter Davison’s Doctor does more to deconstruct his previous lives, obscuring his personality through these two episodes. He is in turmoil, trying to define himself. By the end he has stabilized, but I don’t think I have a firm grasp of his character by this point. I look forward to the next story to see him in full form.

But where the first two episodes merely flit back and forth between the TARDIS and the Master’s hiding place, episodes three and four pick up with the exploration of the city of Castrovalva itself. It is a peaceful and pleasant society (unless you are a woman, in which case you do a lot of menial tasks and serve the men), and they seem to prize knowledge and wisdom—a perfect place to trap the Doctor, in other words.

The pieces are set up well, and the plot moves along fine once we reach the third episode. The directing provides some good shots to emphasize the Escher influence. However,his almost felt like a couple of two-parters rather than a single story. On the whole it works, but the resolution from “Logopolis” was a bit uneven, and I’m still waiting to get a feel for this new Doctor.

My Rating

3.5/5

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

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

5/5

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

5/5

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.

Addendum

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

4.5/5