Timestamp #94: Image of the Fendahl

Doctor Who: Image of the Fendahl
(4 episodes, s15e09-e12, 1977)

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In science fiction, nothing good ever happens in a fog bank.

Two intimate scientists, Thea Ransome and Adam Colby, examine a skull they have christened Eustace. Elsewhere in the lab, Maximillian Stael and Doctor Fendelman conduct an experiment which, unbeknownst to them, spark a strange possessive effect from Eustace over Thea. It’s no coincidence that a hiker walking through the woods gets killed in the fog by something spooky.

On the TARDIS, the Doctor has torn K9 apart to fix some sort of damage. How the pooch was damaged is a mystery probably left to the expanded universe novels. Regardless, the TARDIS takes a dive as it encounters a Relative Continuum Displacement Zone – a hole in time for those of us who don’t speak Time Lord – and the Doctor tracks it to a time scanner on Earth.

I’m a big fan of the changes to Leela: Her wardrobe and hairstyle brighten her up overall, including bringing out her vibrant blue eyes. Louise Jameson has a lot wider range now as well. Was changing her eye color that significant of a game changer?

Adam finds the hiker’s corpse the next morning, and Fendelman suggests they cover it up to avoid the media and the police interrupting their work. He also orders an armed lockdown of the site. Just in time, the TARDIS arrives at the site of time scanner and start their search. They encounter a man, Ted Moss, who tells them about the strange happenings at the local Priory.

Stael conducts an autopsy of the hiker, but cannot determine the cause of death. The peculiar things is that the corpse is already decomposing, as though it has been sped up through time. Through an altercation between local cook and witch Martha Tyler (to my knowledge, no relation to a certain future companion or any superheroes) and a guard named Mitchell, Thea and Adam learn of the lockdown. Adam confronts Fendelman and learns of the professor’s experiments, which Adam later dismisses as absurd. Thea is not convinced, and she investigates on her own. When Thea activates the experiment, the skull effect starts again. Leela is drawn to the experiment through her sixth sense, and is attacked by Moss. The Doctor encounters the mysterious creature and a momentary paralysis before running away.

The confrontation between Leela and Moss is broken up by Jack Tyler, grandson of Martha. After Moss leaves, Jack talks to Leela about his grandmother, the old religion, and the “nasty” events in the area. Martha returns home, terrified that something “hungry for her soul” was pursuing her. Adam stops Thea’s use of the time scanner, but not before the creature kills the guard Mitchell. Thea collapses into a ball of glowing light and tentacles/serpents called an Embryo Fendahleen as the Doctor arrives. Doctor Fendelman bullies his colleagues into silence and has the Doctor locked away on suspicion of murder, but the Time Lord is quickly freed by a mysterious benefactor.

Fendelman theorizes that the skull is extraterrestrial in origin, and has located the moment of death in the timeline. That moment is at the focal point of a huge energy burst. An x-ray of the skull reveals a pentagram in the bone structure, which may be part of a neural capacitor that could signal the presence of intelligent life on the planet. Thea returns to the time scanner and sees the x-ray. Stael arrives and reveals that he is the leader of a local coven, and that Thea is the key to his power. She is his chosen one.

Then he chloroforms her.

Pro tip: Not an effective way to win friends and influence people.

The Doctor finds the lab and the skull, and the latter starts to glow. A moth to the flame, he is drawn to it, and of course it burns him. He cannot release his grip on Eustace, but Leela arrives and (much to her delight) saves him. The Doctor identifies the skull as the indestructible remnants of a Fendahl. Leela takes him to Martha, whom the Doctor rouses from her shocked stupor. Meanwhile, Stael ambushes Adam and Fendelman at gunpoint in the lab, stopping their progress with the scanner. The pair are confined to the basement near Thea, who is bound on the floor inside a pentagram.

The Doctor and Leela use the TARDIS to follow the time fissure to the Fendahl’s home planet. The Doctor discovers that the planet (supposedly a missing fifth in our solar system) has been destroyed (resulting in the asteroid belt) and placed in a time loop to prevent knowledge of the Fendahl from escaping. Apparently, that kind of madness can only be achieved by a Time Lord. You know, the non-interfering Time Lords who punish their own kind for interfering in things. They were too late: The Fendahl had already reached Earth by that point and affected human evolution.

Time Lords, man. Time Lords.

Back on Earth, Stael assembles his cult and Fendelman connects the dots: The Fendahl has used humanity in the past to regain life, and this ceremony will do the same. He begs the cultists to stop, but only earns a bullet to the head for his trouble. The Doctor  and Leela return to the Priory, meeting up with the Tylers. As they attempt to leave, they are paralyzed, and a Fendahleen is bearing down on them. The Fendahleen meets its end at the muzzle of Jack’s gun, some rock salt, and the hand of the Doctor.

I guess it was the only way, but it’s further evidence that the Doctor isn’t as adverse to guns as I hear in fandom.

The cult continues their ceremony, and the Fendahl is manifested into Thea’s body. The Fendahl transforms the cult members into Fendahleen and paralyzes Stael. The Doctor and Leela free Adam, but they cannot free Stael because of the Fendahl’s influence. Stael asks for his gun, which uses to commit suicide. The group determines that salt kills the Fendahleen, and (conveniently) the Fendahl needs thirteen Fendahleen to reach full power. The Doctor rigs the scanner to destroy the Priory, and then he and Leela retrieve the skull to remove the Fendahl’s power base. The Priory explodes, and the powerless Fendahl is destroyed.

Back aboard the TARDIS, Leela has (sadly) returned to her previous costume, but (thankfully) it appears to be better constructed and more vibrant. After a comedic bonding interlude between K9 and the Doctor, they set course for a supernova to destroy the skull.

Okay, let’s cover the positive first. Louise Jameson was better in this story than she had been in the past.

Now, the negatives.

This story is a mess. There are a lot of great elements, but it felt spotty, chaotic, and not fully fleshed out. It’s also one of the darker stories in a while, and the first I can recall with this level of gun violence (headshots and suicides). I think that the entire venture suffered from the rapid-fire attempt to coalesce the various threads into a cohesive tapestry, and I spent a great portion of this serial bouncing between boredom, confusion, and trying to make the notes for this write-up make sense so future me didn’t have to rewatch the serial to connect the dots.

Overall, I’m not a fan of this tale.

 

Rating: 2/5 – “Mm? What’s that, my boy?”

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Sun Makers

 

 

 

 

Timestamp #93: The Invisible Enemy

Doctor Who: The Invisible Enemy
(4 episodes, s15e05-e08, 1977)

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If only that bored shuttle pilot had checked his Facebook feed instead.

While flying through an asteroid field, the duty pilot excises his boredom by shifting control to manual. Per the status quo on Doctor Who, things go awry as the ship is drawn into an anomaly and struck by an energy field.  The crew regains control and heads to Titan, where they take up arms and slaughter the shuttle’s relief team. The murderous crew has been infected by something, and they set their sights on the Lowe, the station commander. The commander discovers what has happened and sends a distress call before abandoning the station for the surface of Titan.

On the TARDIS, it’s moving day as the Doctor and Leela reoccupy the (improved) main console room. The Doctor complains about the color – He’s never happy with the décor, is he? – before the TARDIS stops in deep space near Titan. The Doctor intercepts the distress call and sets a course to help. They pass through the same anomaly and the Doctor is struck by the energy field just as Leela’s sixth sense kicks into overdrive. The Doctor collapses, the TARDIS arrives on the station, and the energy field attempts to infect Leela, but fails. The Doctor wakes up, but is severely disoriented, and Leela prevents him from leaving the TARDIS.

The station commander returns and kills one of the infected crew before running for cover. The surviving invaders lock him in the room and cut off the air supply. The Doctor and Leela leave the TARDIS and explore the station, and as the Doctor encounters the invaders, they mention that he is the nucleus of their new hive, and that pushes him into a possessed state. He and one of the invaders start searching for Leela.

Leela finds Lowe and helps him recover from his hypothermia in the station mess. The Doctor locates them, and one of the invaders rushes in to kill Leela. The commander tries to stop him and fails, but Leela kills him with her knife. As she rushes out, the dying invader infects Lowe. Meanwhile, Leela is nearly ambushed by the Doctor, but the Doctor forces the infection to recede before inducing a healing coma (just like he did three times before).

Leela find Lowe, who dons a set of goggles to disguise his infection and trick Leela into trusting him, and asks for help. The Doctor provides the coordinates for a medical center, and Leela (somehow) pilots the TARDIS there with the Doctor and the commander. The medical team there checks the Doctor in, gets vital information from Leela, and sends the commander to the optometrist.

I did enjoy the funny bit about Gallifrey being in Ireland.

The specialist diagnosing the Doctor, Professor Marius, only gets interested in the case when his robotic assistant reveals that the Doctor is an alien.

Welcome to the party, K9!

The diagnostic team discover the virus and the Doctor wakes up to discuss the case. They determine that the virus feeds on intellectual activity, and that Leela is immune because she operates on instinct and intuition. Meanwhile, in the optical department, Lowe infects his doctor and the pair start spreading the virus around the medical station. Leela tracks down the Doctor, but she is warned off by K9. Marius arrives and tells K9 (whom Marius constructed to replace the dog he left behind on Earth) that Leela is a friend. They examine Leela for an immunity factor, but none is present. Marius begins to operate on the Doctor’s brain, which prompts the virus to crash a shuttle into the medical center. The crash awakens the Doctor and the infected crew assault the operating theater. Marius sends K9 into battle as the Doctor asks him to clone both of the travelers. The clones are effectively photocopies, with all of the experiences and knowledge of the host, that will degrade and expire in short order. The Doctor-clone uses technology from the TARDIS to miniaturize the clones and send them into the Doctor’s body.

“Pleasant journey, Doctor,” says Marius. More like fantastic voyage, right?

The Doctor’s innerspace is a blue-screen wonderland. As they cloned travelers explore, Leela and K9 barricade the operating theater. They face off against the invaders, but K9 is infected. K9 tries to kill Leela, but she dodges and is only stunned, and the cyber-dog reboots himself to eradicate the virus. The invaders storm the operating theater, killing a medic and infecting Marius. A nurse escapes as Marius explains the situation to Lowe and finds K9 and Leela. Meanwhile, Lowe gets cloned and injected into the Doctor.

The Doctor-clone locates the virus nucleus, which tells its story as the Leela-clone eliminates the Lowe-clone. The nucleus stalls for time and, as the clones degrade, it escapes through a tear duct and is enlarged by Marius. It now has control over the macro-world, but allows the Doctor to heal.

Leela disguises herself as a nurse and rescues the Doctor as the infected escort the nucleus to Titan. They take refuge in the TARDIS, which is unable to travel since the dimensional stabilizer is still in the operating theater. K9 goes out and stuns Marius, and the whole group heads off for diagnosis. Leela left some kind of antibody in the Doctor, and he isolates it to create a cure for Marius. The medical team starts mass-producing the cure.

With the cure in hand, the Doctor, Leela, and K9 head for Titan. The infected are developing a resistance to the blaster weapons, and K9’s energy levels are low. The team sneaks in, with K9 drawing the infected away as the Doctor confronts Lowe at the hatching chamber. K9 uses the last of his energy to shoot Lowe, and the infected man falls into the swarm. Having lost the antidote in the battle, the Doctor rigs the fuel tanks to explode as Leela carts K9 back to the TARDIS. The Doctor runs back to the TARDIS, nearly forgetting Leela and K9 before collecting them and escaping just before the base explodes.

It’s really odd to see the Doctor celebrating so much about the destruction.

As the travelers wrap up their loose ends at the medical station, Marius tells them that he is headed back to Earth and that they should take K9. The dog joins the team, and the TARDIS whisks them away.

I was entertained for the most part by this one. It moved pretty quickly, and played with some wacky scientific ideas and the ever-popular epidemic tropes. Plus, K9.

 

Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Image of the Fendahl

 

 

 

 

Timestamp #92: Horror of Fang Rock

Doctor Who: Horror of Fang Rock
(4 episodes, s15e01-e04, 1977)

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A delightfully spooky and claustrophobic beginning to the 15th season.

A bright light streaks across the night sky near a lighthouse at Fang Rock, splashing down in the ocean below. The lighthouse crew – which seems really well-constructed and defined for Doctor Who cannon fodder (spoiler!) – dismisses it. The object, however, does not dismiss them. As an unnatural fog rolls in, the TARDIS materializes near the lighthouse and the lighthouse’s light goes out.

Leela is perturbed that they won’t be touring Brighton because the TARDIS decided on scenic Fang Rock instead. The Doctor, unconcerned about the vacation plans, is interested in how the working lighthouse is dark, and decides to investigate and ask for directions. Leela’s sixth sense kicks in again, and one of the keepers, Ben, is attacked by a creature in the generator room.

The travelers arrive at the lighthouse and introduce themselves before helping to fix the generator. The Doctor looks for Ben while Leela stays with Vince, the youngest of the crew. The light is restored without any assistance from the Doctor, and he discovers Ben’s corpse. The Doctor tells Vince that it was electrocution, but further investigation yields strange clues. The eldest keeper, Reuben, confronts the travelers, presuming that they may be spies for a foreign power.

Reuben tends to Ben’s corpse, Leela goes to hunt the creature, and the Doctor learns about the light in the sky from Vince. Ben’s body somehow moves to the rocks outside, but the crew can’t worry about that as a fast moving sailboat emerges from the thickening fog and runs aground. The Doctor, Reuben, and Vince search for survivors as Leela reluctantly keeps watch over the lighthouse. Leela spots a jellyfish-like creature on the rocks as the crew returns with the survivors: Colonel James Skinsale, a member of Parliament; the yacht’s owner, Lord Palmerdale; and his highly strung secretary Adelaide Lessage. The ship’s coxswain, Harker, arrives later, bearing Ben’s corpse.

Reuben assumes that the Beast of Fang Rock, a local superstition, has returned, adding further atmosphere to this already spooky and ethereal story.

As the Doctor and Leela investigate the rocky shoreline, we find out that Skinsale provided secret information to Palmerdale, which the latter hoped to sell on the London Stock Exchange for a large profit. That’s why they were traveling so fast under such weather conditions. The clues lead the Doctor to conclude that the creature is an alien invader – that the way this show works – and that it is creating the fog as a shield while it prepares to attack. Everyone else on the rocky island, as expected, scoffs in disbelief.

Reuben goes to stoke the boiler as Leela’s sixth sense flares up again. Reuben is attacked and screams, prompting the Doctor and Leela to investigate. Harker follows shorty thereafter and encounters a zombie-like Reuben – which he dismisses as a cranky, tired old man – just before the Doctor and Leela return. Harker and Leela secure the boiler room access door as the Doctor talks with Vince. Vince is being targeted by Palmerdale as an easy mark who will transmit his information to London, and the man and his money duck out onto the observation deck as the Doctor arrives. As Vince and the Doctor converse, the creature scales the exterior of the lighthouse and kills Lord Palmerdale. Meanwhile, Skinsale, who overheard Palmerdale’s offer to Vince, destroys the telegraph to prevent outgoing transmissions.

In his quarters, Reuben is role-playing as a flashlight. Yeah, he’s definitely possessed.

The Doctor hears of Palmerdale’s death and retrieves the body with Skinsale and Harker. The character of Adelaide is reduced from redshirt to apoplectic redshirt. I assume that she’s not a damsel in distress only because the antagonists aren’t taking prisoners. Harker remains in the boiler room to secure the door, but his day is ended as Reuben arrives and kills him with glee. With no one to tend the boiler, the pressure goes too low, and the Doctor and Leela respond only to discover Harker’s body. In a twist, they also find Reuben’s body, and he’s been dead for hours. The aliens are learning about their prey by assuming their form, similar to lycanthropy. The Doctor realizes that in securing the lighthouse, he has locked the danger inside with them all.

Because it can, the Reuben-alien kills Vince, and the Doctor and Leela strategize on how to defeat it. They find a distress beacon relay attached to the generator, and Leela moves everyone to the lamp room as the Doctor searches for the signal modulator. Before the survivors can leave the telegraph room, the Reuben-alien corners them. It kills Adelaide and evades Leela’s attacks. The Doctor sends Leela and Skinsale to the lamp room as he confronts the alien, which he finally recognizes as a Rutan, the foe of the Sontarans.

The Rutan and the Doctor discuss the situation: The Rutan are looking for a fall-back position as they strategically withdraw from the Sontaran fronts, and Earth is prime real estate. Never mind that the Sontarans will bombard Earth to remove the Rutans because the Rutan mothership is nearly here.

The Doctor lures the Rutan to the lamp room where Leela and Skinsale spring a flare-based trap. The fire and heat harm the alien. The Rutan retreats, and the remaining survivors devise a plan to transform the lighthouse into a laser to destroy the mothership.

A Death Star lighthouse? I can dig it.

The Doctor and Skinsale make their way downstairs to retrieve some convenient diamonds from Palmerdale’s corpse while Leela defends the lamp room. Skinsale snags the diamonds and the Doctor selects one, discarding the rest. Skinsale goes after them, and his greed kills him as the Rutan attacks. The Doctor ascends the staircase and Leela fires her weapon, killing the Rutan. The Doctor rigs the laser as the mothership approaches. They arm it and evacuate the lighthouse, running for cover. Leela glances at the blast, which temporarily blinds her, but it disperses, changing her eye color in the process. Which, behind the scenes, is a good thing for actress Louise Jameson and for fans of the hunter-companion.

They depart, leaving behind the corpses of everyone they met on this adventure, as the Doctor recites Flannan Isle by Wilfrid Gibson, another tale of missing lighthouse keepers.

As I mentioned earlier, this was a great exercise in being spooky. Between the foggy and small, isolated island to the claustrophobic lighthouse itself, this story reveled in its unnerving vibe. I loved how well the keepers were developed as secondary characters, but I found the shipwreck survivors to be nothing more than two-dimensional props.

 

Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Invisible Enemy

 

 

 

 

Timestamp: Fourteenth Series Summary

Doctor Who: Fourteenth Series Summary

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The Fourteenth Series had a hello, a goodbye, and an experiment. It also was par for the course for the Timestamps Project.

The first two episodes were a farewell to a loved companion. Sarah Jane Smith was smart and strong, and was very capable. She also had fantastic chemistry with the Fourth Doctor. Her departure was simultaneously sad and humorous – “He blew it!” – but it was a long time coming for the franchise. Elisabeth Sladen’s run was the longest to this point in the franchise, and as amazing as she was, it was time for a change.

The final three episodes were a welcome for Leela, a character who is still settling for me. In some ways, she’s very much like Sarah Jane in her strength and inqusitive nature. She’s also impulsive and quick on the draw, often with fatal results. I’m looking forward to how she evolves over the next season.

The low point, relatively speaking, is the story in the middle: The Deadly Assassin. It was the first (and only) story in the classic series to feature the Doctor on a solo mission, and while it was a story rich in franchise mythology, I didn’t find it to be particularly strong. Additionally, it made clear that the Doctor is too strong a presence to not be balanced by a companion. Or, in years past, companions. The Doctor is a god in a machine, a literal deus ex machina, and his companions humanize him enough to be a relatable and loveable hero.

The reasons that I called this series par for the course of the Timestamps Project is because its score is the average of all of the series to date. That tells me that the franchise is in its stride, but that it also has plenty of room to grow. I hope that it continues to do so.

By the numbers, this series’s performance is exactly the same as the Thirteenth: On par with the Seventh and Tenth, and tied for fifth overall behind the Twelfth, Fifth, Eleventh, and Ninth, in ascending order.

 

The Masque of Mandragora – 4
The Hand of Fear – 4
The Deadly Assassin – 3
The Face of Evil – 4
The Robots of Death – 4
The Talons of Weng-Chiang – 4

 

Series Fourteen Average Rating: 3.8/5

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Horror of Fang Rock

Timestamp #91: The Talons of Weng-Chiang

Doctor Who: The Talons of Weng-Chiang
(6 episodes, s14e21-e26, 1977)

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It’s a story that, in the modern era, is both entertaining and cringe-worthy, but for completely different reasons.

Before we go any further, let’s talk about racism. Doctor Who is no stranger to yellowface, which is using makeup to disguise non-Asian actors in Asian-based roles. The franchise has offended many times (Marco PoloThe Abominable SnowmenThe Daleks’ Master Plan, and Planet of the Spiders), and has subverted or avoided the trope many times as well (The Mind of Evil, The Celestial Toymaker, and Planet of Evil).

The Celestial Toymaker used Asian trappings for the villain, but didn’t go all the way with it. The Mind of Evil used Chinese actors instead of yellowface, but (as the story goes) only because the director thought it didn’t look right aesthetically. Planet of Evil was supposedly going to feature the ship’s captain in yellowface, but the makeup didn’t work quite right.

This story is unique because it does both. It is an offender by placing English actor John Bennett in yellowface, and it adds the extra layer of the Yellow Peril trope. But it also shines a spotlight on these tropes and brings them to the table for discussion.

There are many reasons that this practice was used in the past, and much like the sexism in Star Trek, it is indicative of the era in which these serials were made. That doesn’t excuse the practice, but it provides much needed context for its use.

I wish I could say that we’ve learned from our history, but we haven’t. The practice carries on to this day in many productions across film and television.

Anyway, on with this show.

We start with Magician Li H’sen Chang as he wraps up a performance with his ventriloquist dummy Mr. Sin. He consults with the theater manager, Jago, when he is confronted by a man named Buller who accuses Chang of causing his wife to disappear. When Buller leaves, apparently on his way to talk to the police, Chang and Sin exchange knowing glances. The dummy is alive, and later kills Buller with a knife.

The TARDIS arrives with the Doctor and Leela in Victorian period clothes. Leela hates her costume, but the Doctor wants to show her how her ancestors lived. They stumble into the murder scene where several Chinese men are trying to move the body, and the travelers defend themselves until the police arrive. While the boys in blue admire Leela’s skills, the constables ask them to come to the police station for questioning. Later on, the police find a badly mauled body floating in the river and take it to the coroner for analysis.

While Chang performs the second half of his show (in really bad Chinese speaking imitation) Jago witnesses blood running down Sin’s arm. He files that away for later. After the performance, Mr. Chang arrives at the police station to attend to the Chinese man. There’s a nice callout to subvert the tropes here: “I understand we all look the same.” Chang slips the prisoner a poison pill, which the Doctor determines is highly concentrated scorpion venom, a trademark of the Tong of the Black Scorpion. The Doctor takes charge of the investigation at this point.

In a brief kiss with history, London is being plagued by a series of missing women. The police theorize that it’s Jack the Ripper. Our villain is as good an explanation as any for that series of unsolved murders.

Follwing his instincts about the blood on Mr. Sin’s arm, Jago investigates the dummy and confirms his observation. In a meta moment, he remarks that to his doorman Casey that he was checking to see if the dummy was really a “midget in a suit”; Mr. Sin was played by Deep Roy. After that, he and his doorman Casey go to inspect the theater’s supposedly haunted cellar.

The Doctor and Leela go to the mortuary and talk to Professor Litefoot. The professor is analyzing the body from the river, which turns out to be Buller, and the maulings are indicative of a large rodent.The Doctor, recalling that the Tong’s patron Weng-Chiang is the god of abundance and growth, pursues his hunch to the sewers. He is interrupted by a Chinese man who tries to kill him, but Leela’s janis thorns are faster. They continue to the sewers and attacked by a humongous rat. They escape after using their oil lantern as a pyrotechnic distraction.

Down in the cellar, Jago disproves Casey’s fears of haunting, and discovers a lady’s glove with the monogram EB. After Casey departs for the night, Chang escorts Jago to his dressing room and hypnotizes him, forcing him to forget the night’s events. Afterward, he descends through a secret passage to talk with his master – not the Master, though it should have been – who needs to find the Time Cabinet to stay alive. The missing women have been fueling this shadowy figure, and this entity has powered Chang with telepathy (hence the hypnotism skill). Chang notes that, despite his new powers, he cannot read the Doctor’s mind.

The travelers return to the mortuary. They receive some information about Buller’s activities and agree to join Litefoot for dinner, but the group stops by the theater first. The Doctor stops off, agreeing to meet them later, and talks with Jago. The Doctor hypnotizes Jago, causing his to remember everything he was ordered to forget. They reason out the night’s events, and they determine that glove belonged to Emma Buller, the dead man’s wife. They investigate the cellar and discover a hologram of a skull, which causes Jago to faint.

Litefoot and Leela share dinner, the latter displaying her impeccable table manners. Nearby, Chang, Sin, and their master seek the Time Cabinet. They track it to Litefoot’s home, and Chang sends his master back to the theater to rest. When the shadowy man arrives at the theater, he is spotted by the Doctor. The Time Lord pursues and is nearly killed as the man escapes.

Professor Litefoot investigates the strangers outside his home but is taken down. Leela goes after him, but finds a knife-wielding Mr. Sin. She chucks a knife at the dummy, but it doesn’t stop approaching, so she jumps through a window and pursues Chang’s departing carriage. The breaking glass causes the approaching Doctor to duck, barely dodging a gunshot from Chang. As Leela gives chase, the Doctor tends to Litefoot and they discuss the cryptic Time Cabinet.

Chang spends the night feeding the giant rats and being chewed out by his mysterious master, and the Doctor maps out the sewers and the Fleet River to pursue the missing women and chase the mystery. The Doctor takes an elephant gun as a precaution and enters the sewers. I wonder what he’s going to use that for.

Chang hypnotizes another female victim, which Leela witnesses and pursues to the theater. Chang also snags one of the theater’s cleaning crew, and takes the pair below to his master. Unbeknownst to the magician, Leela has changed places with the woman from the street. The shadowy master places the cleaning woman in a “distillation chamber” and activates it, but Leela interrupts the process by attacking him. She escapes into the sewers, unable to save the drained woman, and the master summons the large rat to pursue her. The master dismisses Chang for his failure to kill the Doctor and for allowing Leela to disrupt the operation.

Two Chinese men, supposedly from the laundry service, exchange boxes at Litefoot’s house. He should have locked his door. Meanwhile, the woman whom Leela replaced wakes up and blames Chang for her predicament. A perplexed Casey watches her leave, and Jago informs him that Scotland Yard has hired Jago as a consultant. Close enough, I guess.

Leela runs from the rat, leading the beast to the Doctor. He kills it with the massive rifle, saving his companion, who is ashamed for not killing the shadowy man. They retreat at the sound of another rat since it will take half an hour to reload the gun. They return to Litefoot’s house where Leela changes clothes and the Doctor identifies the shadowy master as Weng-Chiang.

Leela does look amazing in that dress.

The travelers depart for the theater to confront Weng-Chiang, where they are met by Jago. During the show, Weng-Chiang emerges from his lair and kills Casey, and Chang enlists the Doctor’s help as an audience volunteer. During the Cabinet of Death trick, the Doctor humorously leaves the stage – I’m not sure to think of Chang’s line “The bird has flown. One of us is yellow!” It’s cringe-worthy, but subversive at the same time – so Chang’s assistant takes his place. As the trick wraps up, the show is stopped as Casey’s dead body falls out of the cabinet. Chang flees to Weng-Chiang’s lair, now realizing that his god is not really true, and tells his story to the Doctor and Leela. When Jago enters the lair, Chang runs to the sewers and is eaten by the rats. Weng-Chiang, however, has fled from the theater. The Time Cabinet is responsible for the Weng-Chiang’s deformed condition, which worsens each time he absorbs life energy.

The Chinese “laundrymen” return, aided by Mr. Sin, who arrived in the earlier box exchange. They kill a policeman, knock out Litefoot, and leave with the Time Cabinet. The Doctor and Leela return and see to the professor, and the Doctor deduces that Mr. Sin is the Peking Homonculus, a cyborg from the future that loves carnage. They decide to follow the “laundrymen” to the address on the baskets.

The Time Cabinet arrives at Weng-Chiang’s new hideout, but the key was left behind in the theater. Weng-Chiang forces the man responsible for the oversight to commit suicide.

At the theater, Jago discovers the carpetbag containing the key, and he drops it off at Litefoot’s house for the Doctor. They both return to the theater to keep watch. Meanwhile, the Doctor and Leela infiltrate the Chinese laundry and discover a mauled Chang, waiting for his death and easing his pain with opium. He dies after giving the Doctor to clues: A touch on the shoe and the message to “beware the eyes of the dragon”.

Jago and Litefoot follow some of the Chinese men to Weng-Chiang’s hideout, and they are soon captured. He interrogates them about the key, and after they reveal its location, they are locked away with two women who are to serve as the master’s next meals. They almost escape through a connected dumbwaiter, but are soon recaptured.

The Doctor and Leela return to Litefoot’s home and discover the Cabinet’s key. The Doctor observes that Litefoot has been away for some time, and Leela suggests that they set up an ambush and wait for Weng-Chiang to come searching for the key. He soon arrives and attacks Leela, and is unmasked in the struggle. Weng-Chiang recovers as the Doctor comes into the room, and the masked man offers to trade Leela for the key. Failure will result in her death. The Doctor counters that he will give Weng-Chiang the key in exchange for Jago and Litefoot, and only in Weng-Chiang’s lair. Everyone but Leela heads out, but she ends up following anyway.

At the Tong headquarters, Mr. Sin climbs into the dragon statue and activates a laser cannon, and Weng-Chiang reveals that he is Magnus Greel, a war criminal from the future known as the Butcher of Brisbane. As the prisoners are freed, Mr. Sin opens fire, and the Doctor falls. Chang’s final clues are finally clear: The tongue – Tong headquarters – of his shoe and the eyes – hidden laser cannon – of the dragon. The Doctor, Jago, and Litefoot are locked away as Greel activates the key.

Leela infiltrates the headquarters and attacks Greel, but she is captured by his foot soldiers  and placed in the distillation chamber. In the locked room, the Doctor sets a trap for the guards, and when it explodes everyone runs for safety. The Doctor returns to the throne room and stops the distillation machine, saving Leela. Mr. Sin opens fire on everyone in the room. The Doctor tries to convince Greel to abandon the Time Cabinet since it will cause a massive implosion, but he refuses. Mr. Sin turns the laser on Greel, providing a distraction for Leela who disables the cannon with a handgun. Greel attacks Leela, and the Doctor tosses him into the distillation machine, killing him. Mr. Sin jumps onto Leela, but the Doctor throws the cyborg to the floor and disables it. He then ends the threat by destroying the Cabinet’s key, ending the Zygma Experiment once and for all.

Jago and Litefoot accompany the Doctor and Leela back to the TARDIS, and the travelers depart for their next adventure.

Jago and Litefoot are a hilarious odd couple. I know that there’s a Big Finish series with them, and I may check it out at some point. I’ve already covered the social problems in this serial, but in the One Last Note Department, I’m just glad they didn’t try to incorporate any other parts of the kung-fu cinema era into this story.

Overall, this was entertaining and very thought-provoking.

 

Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”

 

UP NEXT – Fourteenth Series Summary

Timestamp #90: The Robots of Death

Doctor Who: The Robots of Death
(4 episodes, s14e17-e20, 1977)

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This could have been one of those Fox specials from the late 1990s and early 2000s: When Robots Attack!

Really, though, this story could have had such larger implications and deeper meanings, but it stopped just short of the goal line.

The setting is a rock planet with a rolling mining vessel, Storm Mine 4, complete with a pretty nifty video composite effect for the bridge. The vehicle itself crewed by robots who do all the manual labor with humans to make the critical decisions. The TARDIS approaches with Leela being distracted by a yo-yo – a nice moment for her since the yo-yo is actually a rather complex device – before turning to the Doctor with some questions about the TARDIS and their travels – another nice moment that explains how quickly she comprehends the universe around her. The class ends as the TARDIS lands inside the miner vehicle and the Doctor admonishes Leela to leave her disruptor rifle behind as they leave and explore.

What’s missing here is any discussion on Leela forcibly joining the Doctor, or her ability to (accidentally?) start the TARDIS.

The robot crew consists of black “dums”, green “vocs”, and a silver “super-voc”. They conduct a routine scan while their human masters lounge about and find a sandstorm that might stir up a lucrative mineral called lucanol. The crew punching bag, a scientist named Chub, is assembling an instrument package when he is killed by a voc named V45. Meanwhile, vocs detect the TARDIS and remove it from the scoops so they can continue their job, but that poses a problem for the travelers as they try to outrun the oncoming sandstorm. The scoop’s shutters close just in time as the vessel commander, Uvanov, is pressured to abandon the operation and attend to Chub’s murder. Uvanov and Poul investigate Chub’s corpse and find a strange disc, a corpse marker, a device that indicates that a robot is deactivated. Inside the scoop, Leela and the Doctor are discovered by the vocs.

The crew discuss the murder, effectively playing a game of Clue by tossing accusations back and forth as The Doctor and Leela are led to a holding area. The Doctor investigates while Leela is enthused by the futuristic luxury. Super-voc SV7 arrives, asks a few questions, and departs. Shortly afterward, the travelers break out with the sonic screwdriver and go in search of the TARDIS. SV7, on the other hand, informs Uvanov of the stowaways, and the crew suspects that they are the murderers.

Leela wanders off and finds Chub’s body, which the robots haul away. The Doctor finds the TARDIS, then finds another corpse inside one of the mineral hoppers. He is locked inside and the chamber fills with sand, covering the Doctor. He survives with a blowpipe, and when he leaves the chamber, he is restrained. Leela finds a third body, as well as a dum (D84) that can secretly speak, and is soon captured by Uvanov.

I appreciated the fact that Leela stands up for herself quite nicely, especially when Uvanov strikes her.

The travelers are questioned by the crew, which results in a great deal of infighting before Uvanov has the Doctor and Leela confined to the robot storage bay. Poul believes in their innocence, and he frees them so they can track down the real murderer, who the Doctor believes is really a robot.

Those ridiculous costumes are more of a hindrance than anything, but it also shows the class separation between the masters and the slaves. Yes, I said slaves. I could also spotlight an allegory between haves and have-nots.

Anyway, as Poul and the travelers return to the scene of the first murder, a crewmember named Zilda investigates Uvanov’s quarters and proclaims (with abysmal acting skills) over the loudspeaker that the commander is responsible for… something. Poul arrives just in time to find Uvanov bent over Zilda’s body, which prompts Poul to confine the commander. Suddenly, the mining vessel veers out of control, tossing everyone about because the drive links have been destroyed, the engines jammed, and the engineer has been murdered. The overloaded engines nearly destroy the vehicle, but the Doctor cuts the power. The engines stop, but the miner begins to sink in the soft sand and emergency repairs are started.  Within time, the engines are repaired and the vessel gets underway once more.

The Doctor leaves to investigate further, asking Leela to keep an eye on Poul. Poul locks her in the lounge and goes to robot storage where he finds evidence that a robot did kill one of the crew. Poul also loses it at this point. Meanwhile, SV7 contacts a shadowy man who transmits a secret message to the super-voc and refers to him as a brother. Insert a sigh here as the story abandons potentially powerful social commentary for yet another violent cult.

The Doctor finds D84, who reveals that he and Poul are undercover agents for the mining company. The strange shadowy man, now in a golden cowl, reprograms a previously deactivated robot, and we discover that he is Taren Capel, a prominent roboticist attempting to spark a robot revolution. Once the Doctor reasons that Capel is hiding onboard, the Doctor joins D84 on the search. They find the secret robotics lab and evidence that the robots have been reprogrammed.

SV7 hands out murder assignments to the vocs. V5 attempts to kill Leela, but she outwits the robot and escapes to the robot storage bay where she discovers Poul. Acting commander Toos, acting on the Doctor’s advice attempts to round up the human crew on the command deck, but V6 traps her. She calls for help, which D84 leaves to provide. Uvanov tracks the Doctor to the secret workshop, and they’re both ambushed by V4 who has orders to kill the Doctor. Uvanov saves the Doctor just as the power goes out. That causes SV7 to call for reinforcements, which pulls V6 from its murderous task. Leela and D84 tend to Toos, and Leela escorts the commander to the bridge while D84 goes after Poul.

What is this sixth sense that Leela has about impending trouble?

Everyone assembles on the command deck and the Doctor catches everyone up. Poul is suffering from robophobia, and Uvanov recounts a tale of Zilda’s brother, a man who went mad under robophobia and died. Thus Zilda’s earlier accusation against Uvanov.

The Doctor, Leela, and D84 head out to stop the menace as the remaining crew reinforce the bridge and build modified explosives. The crew’s robot custodian, Dask, arrives at the bridge in his true identity, Taren Capel, but Toos refuses to let him in. The Doctor’s team constructs a robot deactivator device (Chekhov’s gun) and set out after Capel.

Meta moment: Capel’s makeup is wacky, and the Doctor agrees.

The Doctor hides Leela and a helium cylinder in a locker just as Capel arrives and stabs D87 with the reprogramming probe. Leela releases the helium as Capel begins to torture the Doctor with the probe. D87 uses its last ounce of strength to trigger the deactivator, sacrificing itself as the rest of the vocs explode. SV7 arrives, unable to recognize Capel’s voice, and kills his master. The Doctor saves the rest by destroying SV7 and ending the threat.

After some humor over Leela’s squeaky voice (and the Doctor’s lack thereof), they depart for another adventure.

I’ve already covered my disappointment over this story’s potential, but it won’t play too much into the scoring because they were my expectations. It’s not entirely fair to expect the writers to write the story exactly to my expectations.

Scoring what was actually on the screen, there were some nice character moments and some really bad acting. There was a distinct lack of suspense in the story overall. We see the robots kill, so we know who the perpetrators are from the go. The introduction of Taren Capel felt tacked on, either as a misdirection to avoid yet another “robot goes bad” story or to tell another “humanity corrupts innocence” tale.

It was an enjoyable story, but it was just slightly higher than average for me. The high three gets a bump to a four.

 

Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Talons of Weng-Chiang

 

 

 

 

Timestamp #89: The Face of Evil

Doctor Who: The Face of Evil
(4 episodes, s14e13-e16, 1977)

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After a solo Doctor story, it’s time for a new companion. We meet her as she is banished for heresy against her tribe’s god, Xoanon. Her father attempts to save her by taking the Test of the Horda in her place, but he dies. She’s getting the royal superhero origin story, but I have to wonder if there are anymore women in her tribe. She’s the only one attending the tribunal, and… well… awkward…

The Doctor is still traveling alone, arriving on a soundstage planet strewn in dead wood. In lieu of a companion, he addresses the camera directly. He runs into the outcast as she is making her way outside the boundary of the village. She is ambushed by men sent by the tribe’s shaman, Neeva, to assassinate her. She takes one down, and is saved by her friend Tomas, who regretfully returns without her. She continues on while, being pursued by a creature, and literally stumbles into the Doctor, who she calls “the Evil One”. Her name is Leela, and the Doctor saves them both from the creatures using a alarm clock. He later discovers that a sonic disruptor that keeps these strange phantoms inside a designated perimeter.

We then get some more backstory: Neeva and Andor are leading the Sevateem in a attack on the Tesh to free their god. Leela fought against this action because it would cost the tribe dearly, but Andor, the tribal leader, believes that it will unite the people.

The Doctor and Leela are discovered by a warrior patrol. He recognizes their hand gestures as the sequence for checking seals on a particular spacesuit and offers himself to the warriors, but leaves Leela behind. He is taken before Andor, who confines him, but this offers the Doctor a chance to see how their tribe is centered around futuristic technology, possibly from a failed space expedition. Leela sneaks back into the tribe and frees the Doctor using Janis thorns, which paralyze and then kill. As they escape, the Doctor tells her that she cannot use the thorns them again. They then encounter a hill with a carving of the Doctor’s face, a Mt. Rushmore-style tribute to the Evil One, but the Doctor cannot remember having visited this place before.

The pair return to the tribe and examine the Shrine of Xoanon. The relics are artifacts from an Earth survey expedition, and a transceiver speaks as Xoanan with the Doctor’s voice. Stunned, he investigates the wall at the edge of the Evil One’s domain and discovers that it is a time barrier. Meanwhile, the tribe attacks the Tesh and half of them are cut down by laser beams. One of the elders, Calib, returns home to find Leela and the Doctor. As the Doctor talks to Calib, the elder attacks Leela with a Janis thorn to stop her from derailing his plan to take control of the tribe. Tomas returns next and the Doctor forces him and Calib to move Leela to a medical analyzer, which he uses to administer an antidote. He distracts the tribesmen as Leela and Tomas attempt to escape, but Andor discovers them and apprehends all of them. The tribesmen debate, which the Doctor scores using tennis rules, and Andor finally sentences the Doctor to the Horda test. A Horda is a creature with vicious fangs that strikes at anything that moves, and the test is surviving a pit full of them by shooting the counterweight at the right moment. The Doctor uses his shooting skills, taught to him by William Tell, and passes the test.

Now free, the Doctor returns to the room of artifacts and discovers that the tribe will soon be attacked by Xoanan. He prepares the tribe for battle, then, with Leela’s help, tracks the source of the transmission at the mountain. The phantoms attack, killing Andor, and the disruptor fire used against them reveals the Doctor’s face.

Inside the mountain, the Doctor and Leela discover a man in a spacesuit and the Doctor’s memory starts to return. They arrive on a ship belonging to the Mordee Expedition, the source of both tribes: The Sevateen are the ship’s former survey team, and the Tesh are the ship’s technicians.  The Tesh discover the pair and, using telepathy, knock Leela unconscious. Xoanan is revealed as an artificial intelligence that the Doctor repaired when he first encountered the expedition, but he forgot to wipe his personality print from the core afterward, and that resulted in the AI having a split personality. The Doctor discovers that Leela is scheduled for disintegration and tries to help her, but he is telepathically knocked out and confined to the machine. He defeats the beam with a mirror and they escape.

While watching her mannerisms and facial expressions, Leela reminds me a lot of Jane Seymour from 1973. Particularly from Live and Let Die.

The Doctor and Leela discover the communications room and the Doctor, speaking as Xoanan, orders Neeva to bring the tribe to the mouth of the mountain carving. Afterward, they head to the ship’s computer room to confront Xoanan. Leela stands guard as the Doctor enters and attempts to shut it down by reasons, but the AI attacks him. While on the run from guards, Leela rescues the Doctor. The computer has electrified the walls in an attempt to stop them, as well as taking telepathic control of the Tesh.

The Sevateem find the entrance to the ship and launch an attack against the Tesh. Meanwhile, the Doctor develops a plan to repair the computer. He also stymies an attempt by Xoanan to take control of Leela. They head to the control room to attempt to repair the computer, but Xoanan commences an overload of the atomic reactors. Xoanan also takes control of the humans, promising that if they destroy the Doctor, they will be free. Neeva interprets the order differently and fires a large disruptor at the face of Xoanan. He is vaporized in the process, but the blast breaks Xoanan’s control just long enough for the Doctor to complete his repairs and reset the computer. The short circuit that ensues knocks out the Doctor for two days.

Once he revives, the Doctor takes Leela to the computer room where they find a repaired Xoanan. The computer admits that it was conducting a eugenics experiment, but now that it is better, it is ready to help both factions find peace and start a new society. The Doctor refuses to involve himself in their politics, and heads for the TARDIS. Leela follows, and when the Doctor refuses to take her with him, she rushes inside the TARDIS and (somehow) starts the dematerialization process.

I’m not yet sure what to think of Leela. She’s certainly a strong female character, which I love, but she’s also impulsive. A lot of that might be her upbringing on this planet among her people, and she might develop more as she explores with the Doctor.

Provided that she lasts that long.

Overall, I wavered between a high three and a low four, so I averaged it out.

 

Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Robots of Death

 

 

 

 

Timestamp #88: The Deadly Assassin

Doctor Who: The Deadly Assassin
(4 episodes, s14e09-e12, 1976)

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This story is an all-around exercise in Tom Baker trying to carry the show by himself, even including a unique introduction.

Through the millennia, the Time Lords of Gallifrey led a life of peace and ordered calm, protected against all threats from lesser civilisations by their great power. But this was to change. Suddenly and terribly, the Time Lords faced the most dangerous crisis in their long history…

Driven by a premonition of the Time Lord President’s assassination, the Doctor returns home. He’s not exactly welcome since he is a convicted criminal – I guess we’re just ignoring the fact that his exile was forgiven? – the Gallifreyans guards plan to arrest on sight. It is, after all, Presidental resignation day, and the Time Lords don’t want any trouble.

We get several bits of new mythology here. First, the TARDIS is a Type 40, and she is obsolete. Second, we get to see the unique chapters and dress of the Time Lords: The Prydonians, of which the Doctor is a member, are devious and wear scarlet and orange; The Arcalians wear green; the Patrexes wear heliotrope; and there are several other “lesser” chapters who don’t get name-checked today.

There’s also the Seal of Rassilon, which we previously saw when it wasn’t the Seal of Rassilon.

The guards force the locks on the TARDIS – that’s a new one for me, since the mythology to date and in the revived series suggested that the lock was impenetrable – and the Doctor sneaks out. He encounters another guard who is immediately killed by an unseen assailant, and the authorities assume that the Doctor is responsible. The Doctor returns to the TARDIS, unaware of a dark figure watching him. The mysterious figure is working for the Master, who looks decayed and worn.

The guards transduct the TARDIS directly into the capitol, which inadvertently allows the Doctor to sneak in under a very formal disguise. At the ceremony, the robed figure takes down a camera operator. He sets up a rifle and surveys the stage through his scope. The Doctor dodges the guards by talking to Runcible, the journalist who is covering the event and refers to regenerations as “face lifts”. The Doctor spots the rifle and bursts through the crowd to the platform. As the President takes the dais, the Doctor takes aim and shoots the president. The guards arrest him shortly thereafter. The president died without naming a successor, and therefore Gallifrey is under constitutional crisis. Chancellor Goth orders both an immediate election to save face on the galactic stage, as well as an immediate trial for the Doctor.

The Doctor explains his premonition, but it is dismissed as impossible. The trial moves swiftly with a strong argument for prosecution, but the Doctor derails the trial by invoking Article 17 and running for president, which (in a moment of plotonium handwavium) guarantees his liberty until the election is over. He is given 48 hours to prove his innocence.

The Doctor inspects the rifle and discovers that the sights are fixed to prevent the shooter from getting an accurate shot. Inspecting the Panopticon, the Doctor finds his shot, which had gone wide. Meanwhile, Runcible reviews his footage from the incident and discovers the cameraman miniaturized inside the camera. The Doctor recognizes it as a tactic of the Master, and realizes that he is due for a final showdown. Meanwhile, Runcible is killed by knife.

Enter: The Matrix. The Master’s biographical data extracts have been deleted from the computer, and the Doctor’s has been tampered with. After a discussion of how the Matrix works – presumably as a repository for brain patterns after Time Lords finish their regenerative cycles – the Doctor deduces that the Master has used it to implant the premonition into the Doctor’s head to draw him to Gallifrey. Sneaky sneaky. The Doctor enters the Matrix to find the Master, and a battle of wills takes place over a rapidly shifting virtual landscape, which taxes both the Doctor’s and the assassin’s physical bodies.

You know, this is a really odd story.

The Doctor’s allies start to believe his story as they watch his physical readings during the Matrix experience, in which the Doctor runs, strategizes, and hides near a random toy spider.

The Master realizes that the Doctor is gaining the upper hand, so he sends an enthralled guard to the Matrix control room to kill the Doctor. The Doctor’s allies stop the threat as the Doctor gains the upper hand and unmasks the assassin: It is Goth. The antagonist tries to drown the Doctor, but the Doctor escapes and leaves the Matrix.

The Doctor and his allies track Goth to the Master’s lair. The Master appears dead – this is one time that I would endorse poking the corpse with stick to verify matters – and Goth is nearly at his end. Goth explains that he found the Master dying on Tersurus, at the end of his regeneration cycle. The Master promised all of his knowledge to Goth if he could return to Gallifrey. The Doctor is cleared of all charges, though Cardinal Borusa puts on his political hat and alters the story to make it more palatable, which makes Goth into a hero.

As if we needed any further evidence as to why the Doctor dislikes his own kind so intensely.

We get a little more mythology here. First, Borusa was the First Doctor’s mathematics instructor at the Academy. Second, Rassilon is established as an ancient Time Lord and founder of Gallifreyan civilization. Third, with repercussions throughout the rest of the franchise, we get the regeneration limit of twelve.

The Doctor presumes that there is more to this whole story, and believes that the secret lies in the ceremonial sash and rod, the keys to the Eye of Harmony, which is the heart of a black hole captured by Rassilon as the source of Time Lord power. That power is hidden under the Panopticon, and the Master plans to use it to restart his regeneration cycle. The Master escapes the morgue, his death a ruse – you really should’ve poked him with a stick –   and secures the sash and rod. He unlocks the Eye of Harmony and begins the process, one which will destroy Gallifrey and several other worlds. You know, go big or go home… or in this case, both.

So, is the Eye of Harmony linked to Omega as well? The lore stated that Omega used the creation of a black hole to give the Time Lords the power of time travel.

At this point, I’m also drawing attention to the Master’s makeup. It is atrocious.

We rush toward the climax as the Doctor pursues and fights the Master, stopping him (with appropriate dramatic tension) just before the last cable is uncoupled. The Master falls through a fissure in the floor as the Doctor stops the chain reaction, literally saving the world.

Cardinal Borusa is appalled at the damage, but congratulates the Doctor on his performance. The Doctor departs, and soon after, the Master does as well in his own TARDIS.

This was a nice experiment, but I was not impressed. The story was pretty bad on its own, and the Doctor desperately needs a companion to even him out. That said, as a primer on Gallifreyan mythology and means to resurrect the Master after so long, this one serves its purpose. It’s also a decent way to keep a nemesis alive after being away for 21 stories, while trying to figure out how to honor Roger Delgado’s performance.

It all settles out to an average score.

 

Rating: 3/5 – “Reverse the polarity of the neutron flow.”

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Face of Evil

 

 

 

 

Timestamp #87: The Hand of Fear

Doctor Who: The Hand of Fear
(4 episodes, s14e05-e08, 1976)

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It’s time to say goodbye, but first… an adventure!

In the prologue, a traitor named Eldrad is sentenced to death by being launched into space. Eldrad’s crimes include the destruction of the barriers that stopped the solar winds from assaulting the planet Kastria. In an attempt to beat the rush before their impending doom, the planetary leaders decide to destroy the space capsule, despite the possibility of survival, and then they evacuate the area and await their fate as the planet dies around them.

Back in present time, the TARDIS materializes in a quarry where blasting operations are underway. Sarah Jane is upset that they are not in South Croydon, but is soon more upset as the crew detonates the quarry and buries her in the resulting rubble. When she is uncovered, she found clutching a fossilized hand as she is taken to the hospital. The hand is recovered, but clutched tightly in her hand is a ring. Eldrad’s ring.

The fossilized hand is examined by the Doctor and a pathologist named Carter, and it is found the be 150 million years old. The Doctor visits the quarry, then returns to the pathology lab. While he is away, Sarah Jane (now possessed by Eldrad) steals the hand and knocks out Carter with a flash from the ring. The Doctor notes the DNA a crystalline form, which is regenerating due to radiation from the microscope, and sets out after Sarah Jane.

There are some great camera angles in this story.

Sarah Jane takes the hand to a nearby nuclear reactor – Doctor Who loves the nuclear reactor sci-fi tropes – and enters the reactor chamber. The hand begins to regenerate and move. The alarms sound throughout the complex as the Doctor and Carter infiltrate the plant. Professor Watson, the senior operator in the control room (who has a random bug on his forehead in one shot) orders a shutdown to remove Sarah Jane from the reactor room. The core near Sarah Jane (magically) won’t shutdown, and she is absorbing a ton of radiation. When the Doctor talks to her over the intercom, she repeats that, “Eldrad must live,” which prompts the Doctor to go after her. Carter, also possessed by Eldrad, follows and tries to stop the Doctor. In the fight, Carter falls to his death.

The radiation reaches “critical” levels as Sarah Jane tries to open the containment area. The Doctor bursts in through a cooling pipe, knocks out Sarah Jane, and takes her to decontamination. The hand escapes and the ring is left behind. Sarah Jane is revived, not remembering any of the adventure so far, and apparently fine after her significant radiation exposure. The Doctor tells the operations team the story of the hand, which they see on the camera, and they send a technician named Driscoll to retrieve it. He finds the ring, becomes possessed, and takes the hand to the reactor core. The Doctor pursues and narrowly avoids being blasted by the ring. Driscoll takes the hand into the reactor core, which could cause a chain reaction and explosion (huh?), and results in the consoles in the control room to explode (huh?).

At the core itself, all of the radiation has been absorbed by the hand in what the Doctor calls an “unexplosion” reaction. Watson calls the RAF for a missile strike to destroy the site and the threat, but the nuclear missiles are absorbed by Eldrad and complete her regeneration.

Insert that animated GIF of Nathan Fillion as Captain Malcolm Reynolds here, because the professor should have connected those dots without any help whatsoever.

The Doctor and Sarah Jane return to the core to confront Eldrad. She explains that she was the architect of the barriers that allowed Kastria to thrive, but they were destroyed in a war and she was betrayed. She asks the Doctor to take her back in time to save her world, but he can only take her to present day Kastria. After she agrees to his terms, Watson tries to kill her with a handgun. Eldrad fights back, but stops as the Doctor adds Watson’s survival as a contingency to their agreement.

Eldrad, Sarah Jane, and the Doctor return to the quarry and use the TARDIS to travel to Kastria. Eldrad tries to take over, but she is powerless inside the TARDIS… for reasons. When they arrive, the planet is desolate and powerless, but Eldrad activates a backup geothermal power supply. As she opens the door to the thermal chambers below to rally her people, she takes an arrow to the chest.

The arrow was a syringe containing an acid that will destroy her crystalline structure. The travelers take her to the regeneration chambers, but are slowed by a series of traps. The chamber regenerates Eldrad into a new, male body, and he reveals that he patterned his previous body off of Sarah Jane. How flattering. He also reveals that he destroyed the barriers in an attempt to take over the throne, and that there was no war. He declares his intention to take over the planet, but is stopped by the revelation that all of his people are long since dead. Eldrad turns his attention to Earth, demanding that the Doctor take him to be their ruler, but the Doctor rejects him. They run and Eldrad pursues, but our heroes trip him over the side a deep abyss, presumably to his doom, but as they say, no body, no death.

The travelers return to the TARDIS, and Sarah Jane laments her life as a companion. Much like in Terror of the Zygons, she’s ready to go home. As she storms off to pack her belongings, the Doctor receives a distress call from Gallifrey and sets a course for South Croydon since he conveniently cannot take her with him. After a touching goodbye, Sarah Jane leaves the TARDIS, only realizing after the Doctor departs that she is nowhere near home.

And here’s where we say goodbye to Sarah Jane. She has been one of my favorite companions because of her energy, wit, and intelligence. I’m going to miss her, but, hey, at least they didn’t kill her off.

 

Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Deadly Assassin

 

 

 

 

Timestamp #86: The Masque of Mandragora

Doctor Who: The Masque of Mandragora
(4 episodes, s14e01-e04, 1976)

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Our heroes made their own adventure this time.

On a tour of the TARDIS, our heroes find the secondary control room. It’s a swanky, intimate affair with mood lighting, wood paneling, and brass rails, and it comes complete with a previous Doctor’s clothes, a previous previous Doctor’s recorder, and an Enterprise viewscreen. On said screen, a swirl of living energy appears which the Doctor calls the Mandragora Helix. He tries to pilot through it, but instead ends up stuck inside it. The pair go outside to investigate – stay in the ship, Sarah Jane! – and dodge a flare of helix energy. Since Sarah Jane left the door open, the flare ends up inside the TARDIS. Unaware of this, the travelers depart the helix.

The TARDIS randomly lands in 15th century Italy, which has a peasant revolt and the death of the Duke as “foretold” by the court astrologer Hieronymous. The Duke’s son Giuliano takes charge of San Martino, but his uncle Count Frederico is plotting to take over while conspiring with Hieronymous. The entire peasant revolt aspect of the plot is forgotten as soon as it is mentioned.

The Doctor reveals that he was not in control of the TARDIS, and Sarah Jane explores the area, happy with some tasty fresh oranges. She is soon captured by some men in robes. One attacks the Doctor and he defends himself, presumably with the Third’s Venusian Aikido. He is soon knocked out and the hooded men escape with Sarah Jane. Meanwhile, the helix energy leaves the TARDIS and attacks a peasant. The Doctor investigates the smoking scene and realizes just what he has brought with him. He is soon intercepted by the Duke’s soldiers, and he distracts them long enough to steal a horse. That escape is short-lived.

Sarah Jane is brought before a priest who plans to sacrifice her to Demnos, the Roman god of moonlight and solstice, as foretold in a prophecy. Not too far away, the helix energy kills a guard.

The Doctor is brought before Count Frederico, and he explains about the helix energy. The court mocks him, and the Count tests him as a potential seer. The Doctor fails the test and is ordered to be executed as a spy. Just as he is to be killed, he uses his scarf to trip the executioner and he escapes into the city’s catacombs. The guards refuse to follow because they fear the followers of Demnos.

I loved how the Dcotor was obviously toying with the guards during the chase. It was very funny.

The cult’s ritual commences, and a purple-clad follower is about to sacrifice Sarah Jane when the Doctor rescues her. As Purple orders the followers to pursue, they are distracted by the helix energy, which they take to be a manifestation of Demnos. Purple, who is really Hieronymous, is chosen as the vessel of the helix energy. Lucky him. The Doctor and Sarah Jane are captured, but are taken to Giuliano, who has examined the remains of the guard who was killed by the helix. Giuliano fears that if the Count succeeds in his plot, all learning and knowledge will be suppressed. The Doctor decides to find some answers to all of the questions surrounding the circumstances.

The Count discovers that Giuliano has called for the area nobles to come to a celebration of his ascension, and the Count orders Hieronymous to kill Giuliano before the nobles confirm the new Duke. The Doctor explains the reason for the helix’s arrival at this time and place: At the end of the Dark Ages, the cult of Demnos provides a ready power base before the dawn of the Renaissance. Giuliano leads the travelers to the catacombs so the Doctor can destroy the temple. The Count is alerted to their presence and plans to remove both of his problems at once. As the Doctor enters the temple, he is assaulted by the helix energy. The guards corner Giuliano and Sarah Jane flees into the catacombs where she is captured by the cult.

There was some nice use of haunted house technology to put up temporary walls against the Doctor as he tries to escape the temple.

The Doctor escapes the temple and fights the guards with Giuliano. The Duke is injured, but the cult’s brethren join the fray and provide a window for the Doctor and Giuliano to escape. Against the priest’s wishes, Hieronymous uses Sarah Jane as bait for the Doctor. He explains that he allowed Giuliano to escape because he has some value left before his death, and then he hypnotizes Sarah Jane to kill the Doctor. She is left in the catacombs for the Doctor and Giuliano to find.

Sarah Jane questions the ability to understand foreign languages. There’s that part of the franchise mythology.

Hieronymous warns the Count that his life is in danger, and the Count exiles Hieronymous from the city. Meanwhile, the Doctor determines that Hieronymous is the leader of the cult and confronts him, stealthily leading Sarah Jane to the scene. Sarah Jane tries to attack the Doctor, but he breaks her trance by reminding her that he is her best friend. The guards come for Hieronymous, and while he escapes, the Doctor, Sarah Jane, and Giuliano are captured.

The fact that Sarah Jane questioned the ability to understand languages informed the Doctor of her trance. It is a “Time Lord gift” that he shares with her.

Hieronymous and his followers are infused with the helix energy as the cult marches on the city. The Count takes the Doctor to confront Hieronymous. The Count unmasks him and discovers that the seer’s face is pure energy. Hieronymous then disintegrates the Count and the guards, but the Doctor escapes disguised as a cult member. He returns to the dungeon and reveals the Count’s fate. The guards side with the Duke, and the Doctor hatches a plan.

The palace is fortified, and the followers drive the citizens from the city. The Duke attempts to cancel the gathering – the titular “masque” – but is dissuaded. The Doctor determines that a lunar eclipse will occur within the next day, fulfilling the prophecy that Mandragora will swallow the moon and signaling the start of the attack on humanity. The Doctor determines that the helix energy is spread thin at this critical point, and determines a method to exhaust it.

I love the running gag of the Doctor wanting to meet Leonardo da Vinci.

The Doctor sets his trap in the temple as the masque commences. He is confronted by Hieronymous, who fires on him repeatedly and drains his helix energy.

“It’s part of a Time Lord’s job to insist on justice for all species.” If only we could all be like the Doctor.

The brethren attack the masque, killing two of the attendees before Hieronymous appears, orders them to stop, and take everyone to the temple. The brethren begin the ceremony at the eclipse, but they are absorbed into the altar. The threat is over as “Hieronymous” is unmasked as the Doctor.

After some goodbyes, the gift of a salami, and the Doctor’s warning that Mandragora will return at the end of the 20th century, he and Sarah depart on another adventure.

And I’m left wondering if our heroes need to walk all the way through the TARDIS to exit from the secondary control room, or if it’s just “timey-wimey wibbly-wobbly”.

 

Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”

 

 

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