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 – Resurrection of the Daleks

Doctor Who Story 133 – Resurrection of the Daleks

Written by

Eric Saward

What’s It About?

An army from another time is gunned down by police on an abandoned industrial block in London. When the TARDIS crew arrives, they discover the British military has set up a camp in one of the buildings—a building where Daleks occasionally appear via time portal.

You Are Soft

The Doctor aims a gun at DavrosTo me, the most important development in “Resurrection of the Daleks” is not the establishment of Davros vs. Daleks factions but the toll this story takes on Tegan and, thus, on the Doctor. This story is a turning point in the Fifth Doctor’s development, one that sees him shifting to a darker personality. I’m stealing a bit from Ben Herman here, but I really like his theory, which (as I adopt it) goes like this:

During this past season, the Doctor has increasingly been exposed to a bleak and cruel universe. “Warriors of the Deep ended in a massacre. “Resurrection” sees the Doctor trying to decide if he should assassinate Davros. The moral choices he faces are becoming more difficult, and the Fifth Doctor, who started energetic and more domestic (he took part in an Edwardian costume party after all, something other Doctors would have found uninteresting) cannot handle these situations. He is the wrong Doctor for these stories, the wrong Doctor for a Saward universe. That’s not to say Davison is a bad Doctor or that the stories are all bad. But the Doctor increasingly realizes that he is taking emotional blow after emotional blow. He lacks the elitism or sense of superiority of earlier Doctors. He has been around humans for a long time and is become one of them in temperament. The Sixth Doctor, who is only two stories away now, is a darker, more brutally realist Doctor. He is the hard heartedness that the Fifth Doctor needs but can’t manifest. “Resurrection of the Daleks,” to my reading, is Fifth’s first realization that he cannot handle this universe. Tegan, the last remnant of a simpler time, has abandons him for a normal, quiet life. As she said, “It’s not fun anymore.” (Something Saward didn’t observe about his own conception of Doctor Who.) This comes as a blow to the Doctor, and this dynamic will play out over the next two stories as he tries to adopt a harsher attitude, fails, and is forced to regenerate into a Doctor who can handle the Saward universe. (This is quite similar, I think, to the recently released mini-episode Night of the Doctor.) So, essentially, thank you, Mr. Herman, for your fascinating perspective.

It is hard for me to not read the new series Time War into this story. There is a Doctor Who confidential episode in which Russell T. Davies marks “Genesis of the Daleks” as the origin of the Time War. To review, a member of the Celestial Intervention Agency (according to one fan retcon, a generic Time Lord otherwise) forces the Doctor to go to Skaro during the Davros’s creation of the Daleks. The Doctor is supposed to stop the Daleks from ever being created. He fails, but he does (depending on your perspective) alter Dalek history (maybe). But the key piece of information here is that the Time Lords chose to interfere in history by preventing a race from existing. Said race would, understandably, hold a grudge. (Not that the Daleks needed the excuse.) Along the way, the Daleks got involved in many other wars (specifically the Movellan War), but by the time of “Resurrection,” their focus was on the Time Lords. They had suffered great losses during the Movellan War, but that didn’t stop them from wanting to take on the Time Lords by creating a duplicate of the Doctor who could assassinate the Time Lord high council. By this point, formal declarations of war are only a matter of time.

“Resurrection of the Daleks,” then, fits into to broader narratives: one developing the Doctor into a darker personality and one which sees the escalation of Time Lord/Dalek conflict. This escalation can be seen in many early Big Finish audios. (Which, interestingly, were made prior to the new series, leading me to wonder if the Time Lord/ Dalek war was floating in the collective consciousness of Doctor Who fans, or was a strong theory at the time that Davies wove into the new series. I was not a part of fandom in those late 90s/early 00s years [arguably, I’m in my own corner of fandom right now, but not a part of larger fandom movements], so I’m not sure what ideas were floating in the ether. Also, I live in America, which is a slight insulator from larger DW movements.)

All this said, “Resurrection of the Daleks” is an interesting approach to the Daleks. It is a pivotal piece of Doctor Who’s on-going mythology. Despite all this, however, I am somewhat indifferent toward it.

My Rating

3/5

Doctor Who – Frontios

Doctor Who Story 132 – Frontios

Written by

Christopher H. Bidmead

What’s It About?

The TARDIS has travelled beyond the point where Time Lords are allowed to travel. Humanity is looking for a new home, and the Doctor must not get involved. Unfortunately, the TARDIS is forced to materialize on Frontios. A colony of humans is dying out due to mysterious vanishings. But the Doctor must not get involved. The colony is being bombarded by asteroids. But the Doctor must not get involved.

You Can Tell Them I Came And Went Like A Summer Cloud

The Doctor tempts Gravis with the TARDISHooray for Bidmead’s return to Doctor Who! And even though there are Sawardian fingerprints on “Frontios” (lots of military and the horror is elevated), Bidmead still turns in an interesting and satisfying story. This is particularly intriguing to me because I had trouble engaging with this story in the first two episodes, but was hooked in the final two. This was based in part on Bidmead’s name being in the credits, forcing me to pay attention because I knew it had to be good even if I wasn’t enjoying it, but also because Bidmead starts from the Saward view of the universe and moves beyond it. “Frontios” starts with a military group begin preyed upon. The imagery of people being sucked through the earth is horrifying. Humans are being used as batteries to fuel machinery. Turlough spends most of the story in horrific shock as he builds up the threat of the Tractators. But in the end, the Doctor wins over the soldiers (making them thoughtful and human rather than Machiavellian) and outwits the monsters. He lets them destroy themselves. Bidmead starts with Saward view, dismantles, and refutes it.

At the same time, Bidmead always plays with mythology in fascinating ways. The planet Frontios is a new beginning for humanity, an Eden in the sense of origin, but not in a garden sense. Asteroids regularly bombard the planet, heavenly bodies falling from the sky like angels cast out of Heaven. People are consumed by the earth; they are pulled into caverns and enslaved by Tractators, the bug-like demons of the earth. This is death and burial; this is descent into hell. Only by entering hell and defeating the demons can the colonists survive. But ultimately, only a god (or a Time Lord) can defeat the devil by tricking him using his own desires to escape from hell against him, a war between creatures from a higher sphere of existence than humans. “Frontios” is Paradise Lost; it is a story of the salvation of humanity from the enslavement to death. But it is also a refutation of the Saward approach to Doctor Who. And, sadly, it is Christopher H. Bidmead’s last contribution to classic Doctor Who.

My Rating

4/5

Doctor Who – The Awakening

Doctor Who Story 131 – The Awakening

Written by

Eric Pringle

What’s It About?

The TARDIS materializes in Little Hodcombe, a small English village where Tegan’s grandfather lives. The residents are reenacting the English Civil War, but as the Doctor, Tegan, and Turlough look for Tegan’s grandfather, they realize that the residents are taking the reenactment extremely seriously.

We’re Running Out of Places to Run

A psychic projection of a gargoyle appears in the TARDIS.I will admit up front that “The Awakening” didn’t resonate with me. That doesn’t, however, mean that “The Awakening” is bad.

I’ve been taking a class on Advanced Non-Fiction. Basically, it helps us develop our writing on a creative level within the creative non-fiction genre. (Creative non-fiction is a bit of a nebulous term and it covers a multitude of forms. For my anecdotal purposes, let’s just say it is non-academic non-fiction.) We are in the workshop phase of the semester, and each day we have about 3 – 4 pieces to read and critique. With a class of 24 or so people, it is understandable that not every essay will resonate with every reader. Whether the essay does or does not resonate is only one facet of the process; it gives an indication of audience. The primary purpose is to evaluate craft and effectiveness. In this way, we can read a work that may not interest us based on style or subject, but still appreciate and evaluate the craft.

And this is how I view “The Awakening.” It didn’t really resonate with me, but it was an effective piece. If anything, it reminded me of New Who. In fact, I think “The Awakening” may be one of the most forward-looking stories of the Davison era, not because it is forward-looking in a Bidmead way, but because it is forward-looking in a 2005-Russell-T-Davies way. It distills certain aspects of Doctor Who into a 50-minute format and does so successfully. I’m perfectly willing to admit that maybe my antipathy toward it rests in having seen RTD streamline the formula into a way that pretty much worked for his era of Doctor Who and “The Awakening” seems like something I’ve seen done better. I hope this isn’t the explanation because it is horrendously unfair to this story.

But the central conceit of the story—that celebrations of an historical event create psychic energy which awakens an ancient evil who then uses the created psychic energy to control the celebrants into not merely re-enacting but actually enacting the event which has now become an icon of a perceived golden age—is intriguing. This is, naturally, an endless struggle of humanity which often manifests politically. I think of my own country’s progressive/conservative divide, the extremes of which are based on overly reductive interpretations U.S. history and misreadings of the past. And so the idea of manifesting the ideal one wishes to see, regardless of whether or not that ideal actually ever existed, is fascinating.

In fact, I may re-watch this story sometime after I finish the main run-through Doctor Who. I think it is already in need of re-evaluation.

My Rating

Withheld for the time being.

Doctor Who – Warriors of the Deep

Doctor Who Story 130 – Warriors of the Deep

Written by

Johnny Byrne

What’s It About?

After nearly being shot down from Earth’s orbit, the Doctor, Tegan, and Turlough materialize in an underwater base which is engaged in a type of cold-war exercise. Little do they know, an old enemy is planning on gaining access to this base to enact a plan which will destroy all of humanity.

There Should Have Been Another Way
The Doctor talks to a Silurian
Don’t let the smile fool you.

On some level, “Warriors of the Deep” makes me happy.

It makes me happy because it supports my pet theory of the Davison era, that this era was pulled like a rag doll between looking to the past and looking to the future. Or, to put it another way, does the show redefine itself for a new era, attempting to craft its own unique style and storytelling form, or does it look at what worked in the past and replicate it in the 1980s. I’ve characterized this as the Bidmead/Saward divide, based on nothing more than the fact that these two men were script editors and seemed to take one of these two approaches to the show. Bidmead redefined Doctor Who for a new era. Saward looked at what Doctor Who had done in the past and tried to replicate it. I have no real knowledge if these two men consciously thought this way, but I do know that Saward was instrumental in bringing Robert Holmes back into the Doctor Who fold. As much as I love Holmes, I can’t think of a writer who defined a previous era more than him, so I count this as a look backward.

To me, “Warriors of the Deep” epitomizes this struggle. It’s closest analogy is “Earthshock,” which succeeded beyond any reason why it should. “Warriors of the Deep” fails in part due to shoddy production values (a fairly insignificant crime, in my opinion) and in part due to a banal story. Being the third time in the classic era where we see the Silurians, nothing much is added here. This story is a direct sequel to “The Silurians,” which was multi-layered and gripping. “Warriors of the Deep” only manages to rehash the same conflict that was old in “The Sea Devils.” (Although that story had The Master to create more conflict. Besides, the directing was quite effective there.) One thing I like about Moffatt’s run is that the Silurians have actually been taken in to new territory. Yes, “The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood” were rehashes of the same plot for the fourth time, but this was for a new generation of fans who may never bother to watch the Pertwee era. Rehashing the story is somewhat forgivable. But with the introduction of Lady Vastra, at least ONE Silurian has been taken into new territory.

But back to “Warriors of the Deep.” It really seems as if it is trying to re-do “Earthshock,” but without Peter Grimwade behind the camera. The ending in unnecessarily bleak. The moral complexity that was in “The Silurians” is absent here. And besides that, it is flat-out dull. It was a struggle to watch this story.

My Rating

1/5

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 – The King’s Demons

Doctor Who Story 128 – The King’s Demons

Written by

Terence Dudley

What’s It About?

On the verge of the revolt that led to the Magna Carta, the Doctor, Tegan, and Turlough discover a conspiracy that could change the course of history.

Another way of keeping warm
A knight on horseback investigates the TARDIS
Do not get your hopes up; this is nothing like The Crusade

I have tried hard to come up with things to say about this story. I don’t want to come down harshly on it because when I started reintroducing myself to Doctor Who while I was in college, “The King’s Demons” was one of the stories I watched. It was part of a VHS collection that also contained “The Five Doctors.” Even though I knew this story was nothing particularly special, it was connected to a story that I had fond memories of watching when I was a child—connected by being in the same box. And, having watched over half of the Davison era for this blog, I have discovered that most of my dislike for his Doctor was rooted in this story. I used this story as the indication of what the Davison era was like. This was a mistake.

And while this story isn’t, to my thinking, particularly horrible, it also isn’t very interesting. That seems its biggest crime. It isn’t long enough or even interesting enough to be irritating or frustrating. I can’t bring myself to hate it or have any emotional reaction to it other than, “well, that was . . . kinda pointless.”

So here we are. A story that is memorable in part due to daft master plan of the Master and the general pointlessness of the adventure. At two episodes, it is hardly painful. I can’t hate it. There’s no point. All I can do is make sure I don’t judge the entire era by this one story. I’ve learned that lesson.

My Rating

1.5/5

Doctor Who – Enlightenment (The Black Guardian Trilogy Part 3)

Doctor Who Story 127 – Enlightenment

Written by

Barbara Clegg

What’s It About?

The Doctor, Tegan, and Turlough are contacted by the White Guardian, but his message is unable to come through clearly. Soon after they materialize on an Earth sailing ship crewed by Eternals and kidnapped humans. Bored by their existence, the Eternals are having a race. The winner receives enlightenment.

Superior beings do not punish inferiors.

Ships in spaceThemes of mortality and death in The Black Guardian Trilogy continue with the introduction of the Eternals, a race of beings who are immortal. They have strong psychic powers. And they are bored. Immortality is dull and dreary. What does one do with an eternal existence? Well, the current answer is to race sailing ships across a galaxy. This leads to some striking images throughout the story, both on the screen and conceptually. This is just a fun story to look at.

But what strikes me the most about this story, what captures my attention, is Turlough. We have seen a definite character arc for him, which is striking because the past few character departures (Nyssa and Adric) seemed so meaningless since the characters were not interesting. They did not live up to the potential that was introduced when they joined the TARDIS crew. Turlough, however, has been nothing but conflict. He is self-serving. He is a coward. He is deceitful. The only particular criticism I have with his introduction in “Mawdryn Undead” is that I wanted a better indication why he was this way other than being trapped on Earth, which was not his native planet.

Turlough has been a servant of the Black Guardian, who offered Turlough passage off Earth if Turlough would kill the Doctor. While Turlough is no longer bound to Earth, he has yet to kill the Doctor (obviously) and has waffled endlessly about the situation. From a religious standpoint, Turlough made a deal with the devil, and now he can’t find a way out of the deal. But part of his dilemma lies not in his goodness, his desire to not kill the Doctor, but in his ability to commit to a side. Turlough wants to do his own thing, follow his own impulses and desires. But many of those desires up to this point have been self-destructive or harmful toward others. Turlough, then, becomes indecisive, not willing to do what needs to be done for the Black Guardian, but not willing to give up his own selfishness to fully reveal his predicament to the Doctor (who could save him, this story makes clear). “Enlightenment” pivots when Turlough is faced with death on Wrack’s ship. He cries out to the Black Guardian for help, but he is denied. Finally, for the first time Turlough calls out to the Doctor, who arrives just in time to save him. As such, “Enlightenment” can be read as a story about salvation and redemption. In the end, the decision is up to Turlough. He can use his reward from the race to kill the Doctor or break his contract. As the Doctor says, “Enlightenment [the prize for the race] was the choice.” The only way to throw off the contract was to choose something else, to embody a new story. To become the companion, not be the villain.

There are many ways someone could read “Enlightenment” in the context of The Black Guardian Trilogy. The themes in this story lend themselves to multiple interpretations, which is probably why this story is the most popular of the three. It resonates on many levels. It speaks to our humanity.

My Rating

5/5

Doctor Who – Terminus (The Black Guardian Trilogy Part 2)

Doctor Who Story 126 – Terminus

Written by

Steven Gallagher

What’s It About?

The TARDIS merges with a cargo ship which is carrying victims of Lazar’s Disease to the medical station Terminus. Nyssa contracts the disease while the Doctor and a space-pirate captain must rescue her. Meanwhile, Tegan and Turlough become trapped in duct work.

Am I Dead Yet?

The Doctor is attacked by a VanirAh, “Terminus.” I saw this one twelve years ago on VHS. I remembered being struck by the visuals, but being somewhat clueless as to what was going on. I didn’t know these companions, and I barely knew this Doctor. This time around, the characters made far more sense, at least from context. In all, I think “Terminus” is a highly ambitious story that doesn’t quite come together as well as it could. But I’m giving it high marks anyway because there are a lot of interesting ideas and because I think everyone gives it their best.

Gallagher drew quite a bit from Norse mythology for “Terminus.” The Garm refers to a dog in Norse mythology that guards the entrance to Hel. And this would be a good view of the Terminus station—Hel. I don’t refer to a fire/brimstone hell, but a realm of darkness and misery. Everyone on the Terminus station is dying and in misery. As mentioned in my “Mawdryn Undead” review, this trilogy contemplates issues of mortality and immortality. Life and death are a major theme running through this group of stories. But another aspect of the mythological Garm is that its howl would usher in Ragnarok, which is the end of the world. We learn during the course of this story that a radiation dump from Terminus station caused the Big Bang. A second radiation dump would destroy the universe. So, in a way, “Terminus” is an amalgamation of Norse mythology in much the same way that “Underworld” and “The Horns of Nimon” are retellings of Greek mythology. But where those stories are largely production failures, “Terminus” does capture the bleak, cold feel of the Norse ethos. The apocalypse or destruction of all things needs more of a bleak, cold feel. On the whole this story isn’t the best directed, but there are many things it does quite well. The Vanir armor is skeletal. Practically, the armor is unusual, but symbolically it works. Terminus station is cold, dark, and bleak. Personally, I think “Terminus” is a gem. The story and ideas are excellent, and the production works to capture the metaphor, if not realism. It is well worth engaging with this story and its ideas. Much like his previous Doctor Who story (“Warrior’s Gate”), Steven Gallagher’s “Terminus” is best approached metaphorically. It would have been great to see what Peter Grimwade would have done with this story.

A final note. Nyssa departs in this story. From the documentary material, this wasn’t Sara Sutton’s choice, which is a shame. For the dynamic of the show, however, it may have been a good move. Mark Strickson is doing a good job with the moral dilemma of Turlough. Tegan has been better since her return. Nyssa, sadly, has been woefully underdeveloped for her entire run on this show. Thus, her departure was unemotional for me. I’m actually happy to see her go. I want to see Tegan and Turlough become compelling characters, should they get better material to work with. I’m also quite curious to see what Big Finish has done with Nyssa. There is enough material in “Keeper of Traken” to follow through with, but the show has never done it. But Big Finish has occasionally picked up these dropped threads and woven brilliant stories with them. Additionally, I know they have told some stories with Tegan, Turlough, and a post-Terminus Nyssa. How fascinating would that be? Oh, and one of those stories is written by Marc Platt and is about the Mara? I think I know where my Christmas money is going this year.

My Rating

4/5

Doctor Who – Mawdryn Undead (The Black Guardian Trilogy Part 1)

Doctor Who Story 125 – Mawdryn Undead

Written by

Peter Grimwade

What’s It About?

A young school boy named Turlough becomes the target of the Black Guardian, who wishes to use him as a pawn in his attempt to kill the Doctor. Nyssa, Tegan, and the Doctor materialize on a mysterious ship that appears uninhabited. And for some reason, this ship’s transport is set to coordinates on Earth . . . to the edge of the property of Brendon Public School where the Brigadier now teaches math.

Fools who tried to become Time Lords

Mawdryn poses as the DoctorOne theme that I have noticed running through The Black Guardian Trilogy is one of mortality and death. These elements are first introduced in this story with a group of scientist/thieves who had stolen Time Lord technology in an attempt to become immortal just as the Time Lords are immortal. While they achieved some degree of success with regeneration, they learned quickly that they had not mastered the technology. So, instead of regenerating completely, they are unable to die. They are flesh animated for eternity, a consciousness trapped in unending existence—an existence where pain and decay is still possible and felt every second of every moment. The theological implications are compelling in that their attempt to be gods bound them to unending torment, unable to become free through death. They are self-condemned.

And so “Mawdryn Undead” is a brilliant beginning to this trio of stories, linked in part by the Black-Guardian-using-Turlough plot explicitly and explorations of mortality implicitly. By comparing “Mawdryn Undead” and “Enlightenment” directly, both seem to indicate eternal existence as more of a curse than a blessing, eternal pain according to the former, eternal boredom according to the latter. Not to reveal my hand too soon, but I enjoyed all three of these serials immensely.

But perhaps one of the most controversial elements of “Mawdryn Undead” is the use of the Brigadier. It is well-known that the original choice for the returning-past-companion in this story was Ian Chesterton, which would have been wonderful. In the end, Nicholas Courtney was the available actor, so we are now given a post-UNIT Brigadier and all kinds of issues in dating the UNIT stories. My thoughts on these, in reverse order, are “Who cares?” and “Intriguing.” Yes, I am familiar with the issues surrounding the UNIT dating controversy. I heard voices in the back of my head as I watched this story. I remembered what Sarah Jane said about when she was from. I’m quite happy to dismiss this as a production gaffe. Besides, a series like Doctor Who, in which the rules of reality are not entirely systematized, is open for interpretation. If we can move through time and space, is it any more of a leap to say we can move in reality? How many potential continuities have come into existence, ever-so briefly, only to die out soon after. Potentiality, to me, is written and re-written around regeneration. It is too late, at this point in the game, to insist too strongly on any given “fact” of the Doctor Who universe.

While I would have loved to see Ian once more, I think there is a rich idea behind the Brigadier leaving UNIT because it all became too much. War and combat destroy the psyche. Add to the mix the reality-shattering experiences of a Cybermen invasion, alien visitations, and astral entities trying to control the consciousness of humanity, and I think anyone will crack under the pressure. There is nothing wrong with the Brigadier leaving UNIT nor is there anything wrong with showing him capable of weakness. Too often in the West we celebrate success, ignoring stories of failure and struggle. (Unless, of course, those stories end in success. Then we contextualize it as paying our dues.) As Doctor Who fans, we don’t even like seeing the Doctor fail, hence some of the dislike of the Tennant Doctor’s stories. But failure is a part of life, and stories of failure help us to navigate our own struggles. Seeing the Brigadier in weakness makes him a more fully realized character, even if the role was not initially intended for him.

My Rating

4/5