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

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

4/5

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

2/5

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

4/5

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

3/5

Doctor Who: Nightmare of Eden

Doctor Who Story 107 – Nightmare of Eden

Written By

Bob Baker

What’s It About

When two spaceships materialize in the same airspace, they become fused. This causes a drug smuggling ring to be exposed, but where are the drugs coming from, and who is responsible for their transfer?

Their worse than idiots, they’re bureaucrats
This image foreshadows that Doctor Who is about to enter the 80s.
This image foreshadows that Doctor Who is about to enter the 80s.

After a few seasons of scripts by Bob Baker and Dave Martin that didn’t work, it is pleasant to see one of them turn in a script which does, by and large work. Baker’s “Nightmare of Eden” is probably his strongest effort since “The Claws of Axos.” From the start, he creates a concept that is realized fairly well on a BBC budget: two ships, a luxury liner and a transport ship, become fused when they attempt to materialize at the same coordinates in space. And it is from this crisis that the drama unfolds. The drug smugglers in this story had a good racket, but this one mistake was the catalyst that revealed their actions and led to their downfall. This is what I enjoy about the story, it is a fairly good mystery (although, it isn’t too hard to work out who the smugglers are), and the accident is what shed light on the mystery. Like many mysteries, it is the one mistake which trips everyone up. So, Baker has crafted a story which blends the sci-fi, monster aspect of Doctor Who with a mystery (drug running rather than murder). And his big, conceptual ideas become the backdrop rather than the main idea of the show. While there are a number of big ideas in this story, they all service the mystery and fit together, interlocking quite well. Even the Continual Event Transmuter fits the idea of spaces fused together, and creates three interlocking locations: the Empress, the Hectate, and Eden. In a way, this foreshadows the conclusion of the story.

This is a confident script, and, overall, it works. It is a solid effort. The production lets it down in a few places, but that is hardly Baker’s fault (well, unless you criticize him for not realizing the ability of the production to service his ideas). But there is a completeness and competence to “Nightmare” that other stories in this season lacked. “City of Death” is still the highlight of the season, but “Nightmare” is clearly the second-place story. And, as I said, this is probably Baker’s best work since “Axos.”

My Rating

3.5/5

Doctor Who: The Creature from the Pit

Doctor Who Story 106 – The Creature from the Pit

Written By

David Fisher

What’s It About

The Doctor and Romana arrive on the planet Chloris. It does not take them long to be captured by the power-hungry Lady Adrastra, who controls the metal-mining industry on the planet. A mysterious shell in the forest has captured her attention, and she demands the Doctor’s help in studying it. But the Doctor soon discovers that the shell is connected to a creature that is in a pit, a creature that eats those who cross Lady Adrastra.

She tipped the ambassador into a pit and threw astrologers at him

creature I’ll go ahead and state outright that I don’t really care for this story, and, apart from a few funny lines of dialogue, I was largely bored by it. It is obvious Lala Ward is trying to refine her portrayal of Romana (as this was her first filmed story). Eratu, while getting points for not being a humanoid creation, is rather odd and hard to take seriously in some of its more phallic moments. And the pace is a bit of a mish-mash. Christopher Barry, while generally a good director (at least, I like him in the First and Second Doctor eras), doesn’t seem to find a good pace for this one. Part four especially seems uneven.

These things aside, there is an interesting idea at the center of this story. The first time I watched it, I largely read it as a “the monster is really quite civilized and the humans are really not” story. We’ve had this in Doctor Who in the past, “Galaxy 4” being a notable example. But what struck me about the story this time around was that the savages, characters who the Doctor would often ally himself with in other stories, were no better than the oppressive regime of Adrastra. Fisher is subverting a Doctor Who trope here, and when the obvious villain has been defeated, the savages and an advisor quickly attempt to fill the power vacuum. And so, this story isn’t really about a misunderstood monster; it is about power structures—in this case, economic since the entire conflict was initiated by an attempted trade agreement. Eratu was attempting to offer the people of Chloris a mutually-beneficial trade agreement that would bring prosperity to both planets. It just happens to upset the balance of power on Chloris. So, “The Creature from the Pit” is actually high-concept science fiction, and it is certainly a theme worth exploring.

And yet, for me, it is hard to watch. The story certainly looks good in many places: the costumes are great, the sets are well-realized. But the pace and directing don’t really emphasize the ideas in this script, and much of the silliness, while helping to maintain interest in the story, doesn’t really bring attention to the ideas lurking beneath the surface of the story. For me, this story was an ambitious failure, which is a shame because I normally enjoy David Fisher stories. But while I may not enjoy the execution, I admire the ambition.

On the whole, and I may have more to say about this in a future post, I feel sorry for the Graham Williams era. Sure, there are some great stories in it, but I feel that this era of the show is one of identity crisis. Doctor Who is trying to find its place in a post-Star Wars world. Williams had the unenviable position of producer when these films came out. He was producer when Doctor Who had to move from gothic horror to light-hearted science fiction. Season seventeen is the season where this identity crisis comes to a head—the very first scene is Romana trying on different regenerations, searching for a new identity. And “Creature” fails to find its voice, unable to find the balance between the high concepts in Fisher’s script, the silliness of Tom Baker and Douglas Adams, and the directing of Christopher Barry.

My Rating

1.5/5

Doctor Who – The Armageddon Factor

Doctor Who Story 103 – The Armageddon Factor

Written By

Bob Baker and Dave Martin

What’s It About

The search for the Key to Time is near its end. The Doctor and Romana have traced the final piece to Atrios, a planet in perpetual war with the nearby planet Zeos. Their ruler, Princess Astra, has been abducted, and their Marshal seems to be taking secret orders from an unknown source. And hidden in the darkness between the two planets is a third planet, a shadowy planet.

I’ve Stopped the Universe

Source: Wikipedia. Copyright by BBC.
Source: Wikipedia. Copyright by BBC.

At least, that is how this story feels. It is six parts, and it is slow. This is a shame because on the whole, season 16 has been a lot of fun. “The Ribos Operation,” “The Stones of Blood,” and “The Androids of Tara” were great stories. “The Pirate Planet” was full of witty dialogue and was conceptually amazing, but it was a bit too ambitious to realize. It has only been these last two stories, “The Power of Kroll” and “The Armageddon Factor” that have let the season down. Bob Baker and Dave Martin are usually great at concepts, even if they don’t always realize them. And while the idea of the final segment being a living, breathing, sentient being is a great idea that has the potential to create a moral dilemma, in the end even that is squandered, and we have the equivalent of a megalomaniac trying to assemble a super-weapon. The tension between the White and Black Guardians, the restoration of balance to the universe, is gone. The scope is nothing more than a Cold War space opera, which doesn’t even have the courtesy to work on a meta-textual level. Indeed, what could be more fascinating than the Guardians being a metaphor for the East and the West, and true balance being the unification of the two. There is no shadow without light; there is no yin without yang. The anima and the animus. This is not pursued, and neither does “The Armageddon Factor” attempt to subvert them. And all the potential of the Key to Time falls apart.

In truth, at the end of this second Graham Williams season, I feel sorry for the show. I genuinely believe Williams wanted the show to succeed. The entire concept had potential, and the season started well. But beyond the MacGuffin, there seemed to be no real unity to the concept. There themes didn’t play out as well as they should have. This was one of the most ambitious stories Doctor Who had ever told, and it failed. And it is incredibly sad knowing that Graham Williams’ troubles are far from over.

Doctor Who – The Pirate Planet

Doctor Who Story 099 – The Pirate Planet

Who Wrote It?

Douglas Adams

What’s It About?

The second segment of the Key to Time is on the planet Calufrax. Unfortunately, Calufrax is missing. Instead, the TARDIS arrives on Zanak, a planet whose inhabitants are so wealthy that precious jewels litter the streets. They celebrate their beloved Captain, who has seen them to a life of prosperity. But a group of exiled psychics know something deadly lies beneath the wealth of Zanak.

Excuse me, are you sure this planet’s meant to be here?

The Doctor and The CaptainI was filled with dismay when, after two episodes, I had failed to get in to this story. I have seen The Pirate Planet quite a few times. I know what to expect. The jokes aren’t funny to me anymore. But starting with episode three, I was enthralled. And when I look back on it, episode three is when the plot starts to pay off what the first two episodes had set up. The tone shifted from frivolity to complicated concepts punctuated by humor. The Captain has shifted from a bombastic blowhard to a tortured slave; a story of genocidal greed turned into a story about resurrection. This story was positively bursting with wonderful ideas, and the four episodes are struggling to contain them. In the end, everything becomes a bit rushed and confusing.

As for criticisms, as noted earlier, I think the beginning is slow. Given how rushed the ending was, I wonder if the material could have been spread out a bit more so that the early episodes pulled more weight. Also, Zanak did not seem like a populated world. The crowd scene in episode one had just enough people to fill an elevator. This hardly constitutes a crowd. A few more extras would have helped this story out. The budget, however, was well spent on the pirate bridge. The set looked amazing. I also enjoyed the nods to pirate tropes: the Captain’s electronic eye patch, the mechanical parrot, the plank the Doctor walks in episode three, and the mechanical arm (rather than a peg leg). And who couldn’t smile when K-9 chases the Polyphase Avatron? A mechanical dog is still a dog.

::Edit 3.16.2012::

When I woke up this morning, I couldn’t get Star Wars out of my head. I was thinking about Obi-Wan, and I had a vague impression that I had a dream about Qui-Gon. But after a few minutes of trying to figure out why Star Wars was stuck in my head like a bad song, I realized that The Pirate Planet contains quite a few ideas that were also present in George Lucas’s original trilogy:

  • a celestial body that destroys planets (the Death Star/Zanak)
  • a group of exiled mystics (the Jedi—particularly Obi-Wan and Yoda/the Mentiads)
  • a strong psychic pain when a planet is destroyed (Obi-Wan feeling the death of Alderaan/Pralix)
  • a villain who is part machine, part man (Darth Vader/the Captain)
  • this villain is good at heart, a pawn of an evil tyrant (Vader’s relationship to the Emperor/the Captain’s relationship to Xanxia

Now, to be clear, I don’t believe Douglas Adams (or Anthony Read, who reportedly did major revisions on the script) cribbed a bunch of ideas from Star Wars. Some of these ideas that are a part of Star Wars came about years later. I believe that Adams, Read, and Lucas tapped into similar ideas. There is nothing in The Pirate Planet that suggests it was added just to reference Star Wars; all the above elements are actually central to the overall plot. Additionally, The Pirate Planet is closer to plausible science than Star Wars ever attempts. (The release of psychic energy from a destroyed planet applies Einsteinian principles to fictional energy, thus giving it the ring of truth—something midichlorians never had.)

What does this mean? I’m not entirely sure. I have always been fascinated when ideas, conceived in relative isolation (as much isolation as one can get, at any rate), turn out to be similar: Babylon 5 and Deep Space Nine, Millennium and Profiler. We are media savvy these days; we expect that any successful story will spawn imitators. When two, unrelated but similar stories appear at the same time, we are tempted to cry copycat. All we see is the end product, however; we are never privy to the cross-pollination of the behind-the-scenes creative process. And when similar elements start to reappear, I start to wonder if these elements betray something deeper: An observation about society? A fear held by the creator? A necessary solution to a problem that arose during production?

One final note: On the TARDIS Eruditorum blog, Philip Sandifer writes, “First Holmes knocks down the idea of binary oppositions . . . then Douglas Adams knocks down the idea of “balance” as a fundamental moral good by reminding us of the existence of atrocity.” While I don’t take issue with this, per se, I do find it interesting that, when looking at The Pirate Planet and Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, we have a binary opposition. In The Pirate Planet we see a hollow planet that materializes around other planets and destroys them. In H2G2 we see a hollow planet that creates new planets. Between the two stories, we have equilibrium: a planet that destroys and a planet that creates.

My Rating

3.5/5