I Know Who I Am and That’s Enough

The TV Movie

The Doctor, Lee, and Grace stand by the TARDIS console.

Where to Find It

The DVD can be purchased through Amazon.com.

A detailed synopsis can be found on the Doctor Who Reference Guide.

Story By

Matthew Jacobs

DVD Copy

The Doctor is taking the remains of his arch-nemesis, the Master, back home to Gallifrey.

Forced off-course, the TARDIS arrives in San Francisco on New Year’s Eve 1999, where the Doctor is critically wounded in a gangland gun battle. At the local hospital Dr. Grace Holloway fights – and fails – to save his life.

Later, in the morgue, the Doctor wakes up a new man. But he is not the only one—the Master has found a new body too. As the clock counts down to midnight and the new millennium, can the Doctor stop his old enemy destroying all life on earth?


 

I can’t make your dream come true forever, but I can make it come true today.

I think it is safe to say that I came to a type of media awakening in the 1990s. Prior to the 90s, television was something I watched because it existed. During the 90s it became something I watched because of shows. And while I missed the TV movie when it first aired, I watched many of the shows it would be invariably compared to because they were all part of the science fiction mosaic of 90s television: Sliders, The X-Files, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Star Trek Voyager, Babylon 5, The Outer Limits, and The Adventures of Lois & Clark. Science fiction on 90s American television was a period of evolution away from the Star Trek mold. Arguably the two most successful shows in breaking the dominance of Star Trek were Babylon 5 (which took a while for its influence to sink in) and The X-Files. The X-Files and Sliders would have been Doctor Who’s companion shows if Who had gone to series. The X-Files is distinctly American in tone and approach; Sliders is a similar premise to Doctor Who (all of the multiverse rather than all of time and space, which ends up being essentially the same thing). And so Doctor Who needed to stand out. It needed to define itself as something different, something unique.

He’s British.

Intentional or not, identity is a theme which runs haphazardly through the TV movie. It has the trappings of 90s cult television, but it has an established mythology which sets it apart from other premieres. It has a continuity-heavy info-dump before the main title, but it wants to appeal to new viewers. It is a British property reimagined by American network television. The Doctor has amnesia, possibly as a hackneyed plot device, possibly to have his rediscovery of identity a way to provide character information to the audience. The Doctor is cast as a Christ figure via resurrection and tomb imagery and a crown of thorns; the Master is cast as the devil, being a serpent in the opening minutes of the movie as well as a liar and tempter where Lee is concerned. Oddly, the crucifixion comes after the resurrection in this telling. The writers seem to recognize this, and so Grace and Lee are inexplicably resurrected, more to leave us with a happy ending than due to any demands of the plot. (Although, I suppose her name is Grace.)

And that seems to be a common problem: symbolism trumps plot. Eye imagery is heavy handed throughout. The religious imagery is used to bring a type of thematic characterization to the Doctor and the Master, but not provide them with any identity other than hero and villain. It seems almost telling that, when the Doctor’s authority is questioned (as it often is in this story), the justification is that he’s British. Why should this derivative story go to series when Sliders does pretty much the same thing? Well, he’s British.

Despite the callback to the classic series—the scarf, the Eye of Harmony (in name more than function), the Daleks, Jelly Babies—the general approach is forecast in how the regeneration is handled. The Seventh Doctor, a Time Lord who played chess and gambled with gods, is shot by gang members and dies on an operating table. He is summarily swept away without any particular insight into his character, gunned down by American culture and buried in a medical drama.

This can’t be how it ends.

The TV Movie isn’t terrible. In fact, I would say it is pretty much on par with anything put out by Sliders at the time. For cult sci-fi, its biggest crime is being made in the 90s and that it is far too formulaic. Whether this is the result of writing, multiple drafts, directing, network interference, or some combination of these, I don’t know. But for as for making a case for the return of Doctor Who, it did a poor job. If not for Paul McGann’s charisma in the part and the fact that this was pretty much it for his Doctor’s outing (along with the inclusion of the Seventh Doctor for regeneration purposes), I could easily see this one going ignored and fading into apocryphal status. Instead, it has been endlessly retconned.

But imagine if it had gained an audience. Imagine if audiences had embraced it. What would have spun out of this story? It would have constituted a different approach to Doctor Who. The TV Movie wasn’t the resurrection we hoped for. But for one day, we had Doctor Who back.

Thankfully, it wasn’t the last time.

Doctor Who – Survival

Doctor Who story 159 – Survival

Foreshadowing what might have been?
Foreshadowing what might have been?

On its own merits, “Survival” is an interesting story that continues the trajectory of Ace’s development. We have seen her family history in “The Curse of Fenric,” the history of a traumatic location from her past in “Ghost Light,” and now we come to her hometown of Perivale. Ace has a great dislike of Perivale and an even greater dislike of her mother. In this story Ace develops a bond with Karra, a feline huntress of the Cheetah people. Karra refers to Ace as sister, but in reality there is a mother/daughter vibe here. Karra represents the inner nature, the animal nature. Ace has been growing up over the last few stories, and with Karra she must confront a remaining element of her personality: her violent nature. Ace likes fighting. She likes to blow things up. Kill or be killed; survival of the fittest. But she develops a bond with Karra through a moment of mercy.

The theme of violence over mercy permeates story. It is represented in Ace’s struggle, where the conflict is resolved by refusing to fight; in the destruction of the cursed planet, which becomes unstable and loses integrity as its inhabitants fight, in the Doctor and the Master, the former trying to bring peace while the latter wants to destroy. In this story, the Master is more a force of nature than a moustache-twirling villain. He is antagonism personified; he brings conflict by his nature. The Doctor is spared by refusing to fight. Ace is healed from the Cheetah virus by refusing to fight. And in the end, thinking the Doctor is dead, Ace puts on his hat, taking on his peaceful nature and putting aside her own violent past. The season ends as Ace starts a new journey, her character having been healed of the past.

Or has she? “Survival” is the end. Season 26 has finished and the classic series of Doctor Who is over. What was the next step? Where do we go from here? What was Ace’s next moment? The Doctor’s?

I have debated what to do next. The obvious next step is to continue on to modern Doctor Who via the McGann movie. But that seems too big a leap to me. Modern Doctor Who is a continuation, yes, but its developmental continuity weaves a path through the New Adventures novels. Even here, I’m conflicted, though because the New Adventures, while continuing where the classic series left off, developed in its own way. Ace has been on a journey away from violence. The New Adventures do not continue that journey, from what I understand.

And so I’m thinking about an intermission that looks at what might have been, which takes me to Big Finish and the Seventh Doctor Lost Stories. Apart from Farewell Great Macedon I’ve largely ignored the Lost Stories on this blog. I’ve intended to cover them eventually, but my need to get through the classic series proved too great to justify the tangents. Now, however, I’m curious. These Lost Stories are probably the closest indication of what season 27 would have been like even though they are separated from season 26 by over twenty years. While I’m still eager to do so, I want to see the potential future before moving in to what actually developed.

But before all that, I will take some time to reflect on the journey I have taken thus far. Look for that in the upcoming week.

Doctor Who – Mark of the Rani

Doctor Who Story 140 – Mark of the Rani

Written by

Pip and Jane Baker

What’s It About?

The TARDIS materializes near a coal mine in the 1800s as the Luddite rebellion is breaking out. But the Doctor and Peri soon discover that the Luddites bear an odd mark on their necks. And it is soon revealed that the Doctor isn’t the only Time Lord on the scene.

You’re unbalanced

The Rani is disgustedPip and Jane Baker are, as I understand it, a hated writing team among Doctor Who fans. This was the first story I have watched by them. While I don’t think “Mark of the Rani” is the worst Doctor Who story I’ve ever seen, I do see why some fans may not like it. I think the worst thing I can really say about the story is that the two 45 minute episode format is a huge stumbling block for this era of Doctor Who. “Mark of the Rani” would probably be fine if it was just 45 minutes and no more. There seems to be a lot of padding or at least a large amount of unevenness. But are those due to the script or the directing. I don’t really care, however. For some reason “Mark of the Rani” was fun. I really enjoyed it, and I think that was largely due to Kate O’Mara. The Rani is a fascinating concept. She is a Time Lord who rejected Time Lord society and set herself up as ruler of some other planet. But her people need chemicals to help them sleep, and humans have those chemicals, so she uses her scientific knowledge to extract what she needs from humanity. She doesn’t care about the consequences.

Since I am at the end of the semester (which is why this post is later than I have usually been scheduling them), I want to briefly reflect on actors who brought to life poorly written or otherwise uninteresting roles.

  • Kate O’Mara as the Rani. For some reason, this performance me. She is a Time Lord villain with a decently plausible motive for her nefarious deeds. O’Mara’s performance is wonderful and really stands out against Ainley’s Master and Colin Baker’s Doctor. She’s caught in the middle, but just wants to be left alone.
  • Roger Delgado as the Master. With as much reverence as Delgado is held in by fandom, I expected his Master to be amazing and brilliant. Unfortunately, he had incomprehensible plans, made all sorts of unusual decisions, and had no consistently discernable motive. But Delgado’s Master is still fascinating to watch because Roger Delgado brought class and villainy to this role. It could have been played camp (and by Ainley it was), but you would never know it because of Delgado.
  • Philip Madoc as anything, really. Madoc was brilliant because he managed to balance absurdity with believability. His masterwork in this regard is Dr. Solon in “The Brain of Morbius.” This character was extremely strange and morbid and could have failed miserably. Philip Madoc turned this role into something you couldn’t stop watching, and he threatened to upstage even Tom Baker.

I’m sure

I’m sure I could name many more. What are some of your favorite roles? What actors really made something memorable when they could have easily not bothered?

My Rating

3.5/5

 

Doctor Who – Planet of Fire

Doctor Who Story 134 – Planet of Fire

Written by

Peter Grimwade

What’s It About?

A strange artifact discovered on Earth has ties to Turlough’s past.

Would You Show No Mercy to Your Own

The Master accuses the Doctor of being dangerous to the people of SarnOf the four companions to get a send-off during the Davison era, I think Turlough comes off the best. Peter Grimwade, more than Saward (who was responsible for writing two of these send-offs) is able to handle the character drama better than most. Even though we had been toyed with where Turlough’s past is concerned, Grimwade provides a moderately satisfying conclusion and a believable exit to the character. This makes me happy since Turlough was probably the best-realized companion of the era.

But there is a contrast here with Peri, who I’m tempted to see as a scathing portrayal as an American but in reality just see as a poorly developed character. This isn’t down to Nicola Bryant, per se. It is hard to judge her acting chops with this character because the character seems so ill-conceived. From episode one it seems clear that Peri’s main role is titillation. The blocking of certain shots make this painfully clear. Once more, I’m grateful for Big Finish’s redemption of certain characters in Doctor Who.

But impressive is Grimwade’s handling of a checklist of ideas. No, “Planet of Fire” isn’t a bona fide classic, but Grimwade does seem adept at taking the checklist and doing his best with it. Much like Terrance Dicks with “The Five Doctors,” although I think “Planet of Fire” has more satisfying character moments. Grimwade’s challenge here is to reveal Turlough’s past and subsequently write him out of the show, introduce the Peri, and resolve the Kamelion (non)arc. It isn’t a long list, but each item on its own would be enough emotional and plot drama for an entire story. That Grimwade is able to put all of these in while at the same time scripting a passable main plot is admirable. And that this script actually feels more like an end of an era is fascinating, especially as Davison has one more story left. “Planet of Fire” shakes off everything that had been a part of Doctor Who since “Castrovalva.” On some level, you can make a case that the Davison era ended here because “Caves of Androzani” (the final Fifth Doctor story) is a different beast entirely. This is the final story where the Fifth Doctor can be the Fifth Doctor. This is the final story where the Fifth Doctor faces the Master. This is the final story with a Fifth Doctor companion. And while Davison is still there in the end, you can tell that the Doctor is not quite sure where things are going to go from here. He almost seems to sense that the end is around the corner, and Peri is an indication that his time is over.

And given its tone, “Planet of Fire” is a wonderful break from the darkness that Saward has been spreading over his vision of Doctor Who.

My Rating

3/5

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

Doctor Who – Time-Flight

Doctor Who Story 122 – Time-Flight

Written by

Peter Grimwade

What’s It About?

On its final descent to Heathrow Airport, a Concord vanishes. The Doctor, Nyssa, and Teagan investigate by trying to recreate the conditions under which the plane vanished. The Doctor’s theory: the plane flew through a time warp.

This Thing Is Smaller on the Inside Than on the Outside
The Doctor and the Master do an equipment hand-off.
Source: Wikipedia

What did I just watch?

Like most of this season, this was my first viewing of “Time-Flight.” In general, I try to avoid fan opinion going in to stories. I want to decide for myself, especially after watching a few stories that are not well-regarded by fans that I actually enjoyed. More and more my interests in Doctor Who are rooted in the 1960s, and while I like pockets of Doctor Who from the 1970s – present, I can’t say that I love ALL Doctor Who. This is probably why I divide the show in to producer-defined or script editor-defined eras rather than Doctor-defined eras. I can’t say that I love the Tom Baker era, but I can say that I largely enjoyed the Hinchcliff era. I like Bidmead’s era, but not so much the Douglas Adams era.

But seasons like this one are hard. From story to story my opinion has varied widely. After Christopher H. Bidmead successfully redefined Doctor Who in the previous season, this season failed to really take that definition and build on it. In fact, once Eric Saward fully stepped in to script editing the show, he and JNT started looking backward, reversing course. This isn’t inherently a bad thing, but what we had just seen was so interesting, so compelling. And so season nineteen has tripped, stumbled, occasionally danced, and now it staggers across the finish line with “Time-Flight,” a story that really isn’t very good. Not. At. All.

This is a huge disappointment because I like Peter Grimwade. But apparently I only like him as a director. Granted, it isn’t fair to judge him on a single story. In television and film, the name attributed to the script can be misleading. Changes could have been made by script editors, producers, or directors. The script could have been commissioned to include specific elements, giving the writer a list of elements to include, thus putting restrictions on the story that may be absurd.

“Time-Flight” has absurdity in spades: the Master’s plan, the Master’s disguise, the exceedingly dull final episode, the attempt to re-fit the Concord with parts from the other plane in a matter of hours. But “Time-Flight” does have some things that work. Captain Stapley and his crew are a joy. I get the impression that Stapley had the time of his life on this adventure. His enthusiasm made him a compelling character, and I would have loved to see him join the TARDIS crew. Similarly, the Arabian mystic idea is interesting (so long at the racist undertones are removed). A compelling story was set up, but then abandoned for a far less interesting story. And, of course, I love how the Doctor gets involved in this story. Who needs psychic paper when you can just say, “Call UNIT. Tell them the Doctor is here.”

At the end, all I can really say in defense of “Time-Flight” is that it has a lot of interesting ideas thrown in to it. They never really go anywhere, which makes them deeply unsatisfying, but they are creative.

My Rating

.5/5

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 – The Deadly Assassin

Doctor Who Story 088 – The Deadly Assassin

The Skeletal Master
Source: IGN

Who Wrote It: Robert Holmes

What’s It About: After having a premonition in which he kills the Time Lord president, The Doctor returns to Gallifrey and discovers The Master has deadly plans for the secret technology at the heart of Time Lord society.

This is a story that I enjoy even though I hate it.

Maybe hate is too strong of a word. I guess I should say that I don’t enjoy what this story does to the Time Lords. Prior to engaging in this project, my knowledge of the Time Lords was derived from The Deadly Assassin and all post-Deadly Assassin stories. The Time Lords were extremely powerful but a bit dull. The stories were not too interesting, The Deadly Assassin being the best of the lot. But when I started watching Doctor Who from the beginning, I discovered Time Lords that were extremely mysterious. Especially after watching The War Games, The Time Lords seemed a force of nature. As much as I hate to admit it, they did seem a bit more “oncoming storm” than grumpy headmaster. For me, the best rule for the Time Lords is “less is more.”

With The Deadly Assassin, Robert Holmes completely redefines the Time Lords and Gallifrey. This isn’t such a great shock. In fact, over the past few years the show has been building toward this. Appearances of Time Lords in the Pertwee era prepared the way for The Deadly Assassin. The Time Lords in The Three Doctors don’t seem too far removed from Robert Holmes portrayal. A story such as this one was going to happen sooner or later, who better to take it on than a world-builder like Holmes?

But at the same time, the magic is gone. We couldn’t avoid the Time Lords forever. It was fun while it lasted. And as good as 70s Doctor Who was (from a budget perspective), it still wasn’t likely to create a Time Lord society that was truly mind-bending or godlike. This obviously wasn’t a goal for Holmes (although, if the portrayal of the Time Lords had occurred for the first time in the Cartmel era, we may have got something truly magical). Robert Holmes took what had been established so far (much of it during the Pertwee years), and he added in a healthy dose of his own love of Victorian adventure stories (The Most Dangerous Game seems to be a major influence on this story). Then throw in a pinch of The Manchurian Candidate, and you have The Deadly Assassin.

It is astounding how much Doctor Who mythology was introduced in this story: the Celestial Intervention Agency, Castellans, the Matrix, The Great Houses, the robes and helmets, Time Lords as stuffy academics and bureaucrats, Borusa, shobogons, the twelve regenerations concept, Rassilon, The Eye of Harmony, The ___ of Rassilon, and many more. With regard to the mythology of the show, The Deadly Assassin is probably the most important story since The War Games (or maybe The Tenth Planet part 4).

As a story itself, The Deadly Assassin is decent and fairly experimental. The concept of a virtual world that is controlled by thought is quite innovative for television sci-fi. It starts as a surreal horror dream and quickly becomes an homage to The Most Dangerous Game, which is fun for what it’s worth, but is unnervingly dark. The story reaches for an epic feel but falls short in the end as part four becomes extremely rushed. But there are some great characters, including Spandrell and Engin (the latest Holmes double-act), Borusa, Chancellor Goth (played wonderfully by Bernard Horsfall), and The Master in a transitional state—with hints of the Delgado Master, but truly a new character. The story works, for the most part. For this reason, it is hard to completely dislike it. I wish it had never been made, but I enjoy it nonetheless.

My Rating: 3.5/5