Timestamp #90: The Robots of Death

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



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)




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)



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)



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)



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?”



UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Hand of Fear





Timestamp: Thirteenth Series Summary

Doctor Who: Thirteenth Series Summary

Timestamp Logo Third 2


The Thirteenth Series showed us the Fourth Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith in their grooves.

With respect to this project’s reviews, the thirteenth year of the Doctor’s travels series has seen ups and downs, but none of the downs were severe. The high point was definitely Pyramids of Mars, which was a fun adventure with a complex story where the villains actually won until a last minute (almost deus ex machina) save. I would normally dislike a deus ex machina, but Doctor Who is formed from the premise of an unexpected power or event saving a seemingly hopeless situation. the Doctor is, from the human perspective, a god who emerges from a machine. So, it works for me.

The lows were Terror of the Zygons and The Brain of Morbius: Terror of the Zygons felt like a paint-by-numbers romp filled with Scottish stereotypes, and The Brain of Morbius shared the problem of a story built strictly on tropes. Both also used famous monsters to drive the story, but instead of making Frankenstein’s monster or Nessie a clever nod, the routine stories made the monsters almost groan-worthy.

It’s worth noting, however, that neither of them fell below a mid-range grade.

All of that aside, I am still enjoying the dynamic between Tom Baker’s Doctor and Sarah Jane. I admire his whimsy and her strength, and together they make a fantastic team. It’s going to shake things up a bit when she departs in the next series, but from the experiences of this project, it’s also good to shake up the formula from time to time.

By the numbers, this series is on par with the Seventh and Tenth. It is tied for fifth overall, coming in behind the Twelfth, Fifth, Eleventh, and Ninth, in ascending order.


Terror of the Zygons – 3
Planet of Evil – 4
Pyramids of Mars – 5
The Android Invasion – 4
The Brain of Morbius – 3
The Seeds of Doom – 4


Series Thirteen Average Rating: 3.8/5


UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Masque of Mandragora

Book Review: “The Pseudo-Chronicles of Mark Huntley” by Jeff Deck

The Pseudo-Chronicles of Mark Huntley
(580 pages, 2016)

Jeff Deck has returned. Following his previous novel, Player Choice, moved into the paranormal thriller realm, but kept a bit of the technological for spice. Welcome to the world of The Pseudo-Chronicles of Mark Huntley.

My name is Mark Huntley. You know, life was a lot simpler when my biggest problem was how to pay for both rent and beer. Now, I’ve apparently got to stop a secret war between otherworldly forces that threatens all of humanity. Oh, and make sure I don’t get any of my friends or loved ones killed in the process. All this while a demonic weapon inside me may slowly be driving me insane.

This should be fun.

Mark Huntley is a political fact-checker in Washington, DC. As the world rapidly approaches the 2004 Presidential Election, Mark runs headlong into destiny. He starts sensing things that he shouldn’t – auras and flashes, smells and emotions, all related to random people – and he doesn’t know who to tell, or even who to trust. So he starts a blog under a pseudonym and tells the world.

Previously published as a four-part serial, the novel is told in epistolary style as each chapter is a new blog entry. Since the story takes place exclusively from Mark’s point of view, the reader gets to ride a wild roller-coaster of intrigue, humor, paranoia, depression, anxiety, and guilt, all while unraveling the mystery as the story dips and twists. The novel is grounded in Jeff’s experiences since he’s familiar with the DC area, and that adds an air of authenticity to the otherwise alien happenings, and it rapidly escalates from the mystery of one man’s life to the challenge of a small group of chosen (yet reluctant) heroes saving the world.

Even though it comes in at nearly 600 pages, the story is quickly paced and exciting, and I had a hard time putting this one down.

Overall, I give The Pseudo-Chronicles of Mark Huntley four stars out of five.


Disclosure: Jeff provided me a free copy of the novel in exchange for an honest review.



Star Trek at Fifty


Star Trek at Fifty



Happy 50th anniversary, Star Trek!

Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise. It’s continuing mission: To explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before.

My first memories of Star Trek are spending mornings with my parents on weekends watching back-to-back reruns of the original series and Lost in Space. They must have known that they had a fan on their hands when I asked my dad one day if we could construct the Enterprise out of Legos. We didn’t watch much of The Next Generation in first-run syndication, but we watched every one of the movies with the original crew at every possible chance, and I caught up later after Star Trek: Generations and my good friend Ryan McCarthy rekindled my passion for the franchise in the mid to late 1990s. After that, it was almost appointment watching for each series and film.

There was a rough time in my fandom in the era around the end of Star Trek: Enterprise and the debut of the JJ Abrams films, which I credit to a wave of “true fan” negativity that spread virally through the internet. With the resurrection of the franchise under Abrams, I was able to overcome my conflicted emotions and determine that it really didn’t matter what other fans thought. I realized that my fandom is mine alone, and my passions cannot be helmed by the fickle attitudes of the internet.

I often used Star Trek quotes in my essays for school and college, and I patterned my writing style off of the authors I read as I grew up, including so many in the continuing voyages.

Star Trek truly helped form me into the person I am today.


My favorite series is Deep Space Nine, followed by The Next Generation and Voyager in a close second. I truly believe that Voyager gets a lot of undeserved flack for its seven-year run. It had a lot of problems, especially in the strict adherence to the Trek writing formula, but it also returned to the core of the franchise in exploring the unknown. I wanted more conflict between the Starfleet and Maquis crews, and I wanted Voyager to be less pristine after all of the conflicts. They made a big deal out of conserving power and replicator rations, but the ship was nearly always flawless. I always point to the reimagined Battlestar Galactica as an example of what I expected, but with a much lighter story.

Deep Space Nine was unique because it turned the tables on the Trek formula in exploring the human condition by bringing the galaxy’s diversity to the characters. I loved the explorations of faith and religion, as well as the link to faith-based conflict and the American fascination with war. My single contention with DS9 is how the Bajoran story was left unresolved: Instead of ending the series with Bajor finally being admitted to the Federation, the show ends with the resolution of the Dominion War, which was not part of the overall premise.

My least favorite series is Enterprise, mostly because of the chaotic mess that it was. In an added moment of truth, I have yet to sit down and watch the entire animated series.

My top films are The Voyage Home, The Wrath of Khan, First Contact, and Star Trek Beyond. My least favorites are The Final Frontier, Into Darkness, and Nemesis. Between those poles, the order shifts around substantially. The Motion Picture does the most amount of moving because it’s a beautiful picture and among the most Trek of the franchise, but it’s also very slow and deliberate. It is very much a Robert Wise film.

My favorite captain is Sisko because I see a lot of myself in him. He’s emotional and conflicted, but he’s also willing to go against the Starfleet bureaucracy to get things done. Picard and Janeway are close seconds.

My favorite characters are the Prime Universe Spock and Data, though the Kelvin Universe version of McCoy is rapidly climbing the ranks to join them. I admit that Spock and Data have suffered a bit in my eyes with their latter appearances. Without a doubt, my least favorite character is Voyager‘s Kes because of the sheer amount of untapped potential and wasted story in that character. She could have been so much more.

My favorite ships are the Defiant and the Enterprise-D.

I also have two favorite Star Trek podcasts. The first is Women at Warp, which is a podcast that explores the Trek universe from a woman’s point of view. It has helped me to see many aspects of the franchise from a different point of view, and they are always respectful and thoughtful with their analyses. The second is Mission Log, which is an excellent episode-by-episode review of the franchise with some additional supplemental material from the Roddenberry archive. One of my favorite elements of this show is producer Rod Roddenberry’s journey as he comes to terms with his father’s legacy.


I am very excited for the future of the franchise, including the greenlit fourth Kelvin Universe film, and I am happy to see the return of Trek to television with the upcoming Star Trek: Discovery. The future is bright, and it has the potential to inspire future generations as it helped inspire me.

My deepest gratitude goes out to the casts and crews, authors and artists, game studios, and my friends and family for keeping this ship flying for fifty years. May she continue to boldly go for many more.




Timestamp #85: The Seeds of Doom

Doctor Who: The Seeds of Doom
(6 episodes, s13e21-e26, 1976)

Timestamp 085 The Seeds of Doom



Doctor Who meets The Thing? Maybe, when The Thing was Who Goes There?, The Thing from Another World, or even Horror Express.

A science team is digging up a strange artifact which turns out to be a 20,000 year-old lifeform. Meanwhile, back in London – they made it! – Richard Dunbar shows the Doctor photographs of the seed pod. The Doctor worries that it may be a time bomb ready to explode, and he books the next flight with UNIT for the Antarctic.

The videography looks much nicer this time around with the outdoor sequences being filmed on videotape.

The Antarctic science team fears that the Doctor will know nothing about their studies and continues to experiment on the pod as Dunbar visits millionaire Harrison Chase, a man who is on a mission to protect plant life worldwide. Dunbar sells the information to Chase, who then sends his own a representative to the Antarctic.

The pod awakens and stings Winlett, one of the scientists who is working alone –  that’s never a good thing to be in a horror film –  and he is assimilated by the pod. The Doctor arrives and examines Winlett. The scientist’s pulse rate and body temperature are dropping. The Doctor believes that the infection is a complete mutation into a plant form. His worst fears are confirmed when he examines the pod: It will likely result in the destruction of all life on the planet. The Doctor seeks out a second pod since they travel in pairs, and explains that Winlett is changing into a Krynoid, a form of intergalactic kudzu that consumes animal life wherever it goes.

The sound of engines draws the science team outside, presumably to meet the medical team. Instead, it was a private plane with Chase’s men – Scorby and Keeler – on board. The Doctor suggests that the infection may be slowed at its source by amputating Winlett’s arm. After some deliberation, the group leaves to prepare, and Winlett rises from the bed and kills one of the other scientists. Scorby prepares to assassinate everyone at the base, but Keeler doesn’t like the plan, so Scorby coerces him on threat of death. Sarah Jane discovers Moberly’s body and alerts the Doctor and Stevenson. They go out to search for the Krynoid, and Chase’s men take the opportunity to search for the pod. They intercept a radio message about the medical team and call off the dispatch.

The Doctor’s team track the Krynoid to the generator hut and the experimental fuel cell system, but when they can’t find it, they return to the base under the assumption that it has frozen in the subzero conditions. When the Doctor and Sarah Jane return to the infirmary, they are ambushed by Chase’s men, and the Doctor tells them the story. Chase’s men tie them up and interrogate them, and Stevenson tracks them the bunk room. The remaining scientist tries to stop the antagonists, but his rifle has been sabotaged and he is also taken captive, but not before letting slip that a second pod exists. They find the pod and force Sarah Jane to take them to the generator, leaving the Doctor and Stevenson tied up. The Doctor breaks a lantern uses the glass to cut their bonds.

Scorby sets a bomb on the generator that will destroy the entire base and leaves Sarah Jane to die. Keeler tries to stop Scorby, but Scorby forces him to leave with him. The Doctor sets out to find Sarah Jane as Stevenson calls for help, but the Krynoid breaks in and kills Stevenson. It then tracks the Doctor to the generator as he frees Sarah Jane. The Doctor locks the Krynoid in the generator hut and the travelers run. The bomb explodes and destroys the base.

Some time later, the rest of the base’s crew return from their expedition to South Bend to discover Sarah Jane and the Doctor, the MacReady and Childs of this story (even though neither of them are the alien). Chase’s men return home to the estate with the pod, but Dunbar spoils Chase’s joyous moment by reporting that the Doctor and Sarah Jane are still alive.

The Doctor and Sarah Jane return to London and consult with Dunbar and his boss, Sir Colin Thackeray. They then depart for the Botanic Institute, but the driver takes them to a deserted quarry and tries to assassinate them. They stop the driver and find a painting in the car’s trunk that leads them to Amelia Ducat, one of the world’s leading floral artists. She tells them that the painting was bought by Chase, but that she was never paid.

The Doctor and Sarah Jane sneak into Chase’s estate. After they are discovered, the Doctor suggests that they act natural, which in their case means to run. They are captured and taken before Chase who tells them that they will die, but only after a guided tour of the millionaire’s collection.

After an annoying musical sequence that was obviously filler, Chase is informed that the pod is growing. He orders the execution and departs for the lab. The travelers get the jump on Scorby and escape. The Doctor sends Sarah Jane to inform Sir Colin of the happenings before heading back for the pod, but she is readily captured once again. She is taken to the lab where Chase plans to expose her to the hatching pod.

The Doctor jumps in like an action star, beats down the bad guys, and holds them at gunpoint – to the writing team’s credit, they do acknowledge that the Doctor would never use it, but that the bad guys don’t know that – as he rescues Sarah Jane. Meanwhile, the pod opens and attacks Keeler. Instead of calling for the ambulance, Chase has Keeler taken the estate’s cottage for observation.

As the Doctor returns to the lab, he is captured by Scorby and taken to the compost room. Chase is called away as Amelia Ducat arrives and demands her payment. After she negotiates like a champ, he pays her handsomely, and then leaves to oversee the “recycling” of the Doctor. He has the Doctor loaded into the composter and sets it for an automatic delay.

Oh, come on! You know, you’d get away with all of this if you just killed them straight away instead of playing games. What is this, a James Bond movie?

Meanwhile, Sarah Jane sneaks to the cottage and discovers Keeler. He asks for her help, but she refuses in fear that he could complete his transformation at any moment, and she escapes at the earliest convenience and returns to the main house. She intercepts Ducat and asks her to pass the word of what’s happening at the estate. Amelia informs Sir Colin, but they are delayed by Dunbar who returns to the house to rectify his mistake. He tells Sir Colin to contact UNIT if he doesn’t return in the next half hour.

Sarah Jane rescues the Doctor as the Krynoid finishes transforming and Dunbar confronts Chase. Dunbar tries to leave, but is pursued by Scorby. He runs into the Krynoid, and in true Doctor Who fashion, firearms don’t work against it. The Krynoid kills Dunbar just as the Doctor and Sarah Jane arrive, and the Doctor faces off against the creature with a sword. Scorby and the guards arrive and open fire, prompting them all to run and take shelter in the cottage. The Krynoid offers to let everyone else escape in exchange for the Doctor. Scorby almost agrees, but is convinced to make a firebomb instead.

There is a great performance here by Tom Baker as the Doctor gets absolutely furious, then within seconds shifts back to typical Doctor whimsy.

Sir Colin and Ducat return his office and call UNIT as Scorby throws the bomb and the Doctor runs, making it to a car and driving away. Scorby and Sarah Jane take refuge in the main house. Chase has gone to photograph the Krynoid, and it doesn’t attack him. Instead, he has a transcendent experience and comes to understand the Krynoid’s plans, which he considers beautiful.

The Doctor arrives at Sir Colin’s office and convinces Major Beresford (who is standing in for the Brigadier) to take action as the world’s plants become hostile. The Doctor calls Sarah Jane to tell her the news, but the Krynoid cuts the phone lines. They discover that the plants are becoming violent and confront Chase as he communes with his collection. The collection attacks them, but the Doctor and Sgt. Henderson arrive in the nick of time to douse the attacking plants with an experimental herbicide. Chase escapes as the Doctor frees Sarah Jane and Scorby, but Chase’s butler Hargreaves is dead.

The team takes all of the smaller plants outside, and Chase locks them outside with the towering Krynoid. They are saved by UNIT and an impressive laser cannon. The team returns to the house as UNIT assaults the Krynoid, and the Doctor determines that Chase is possessed by the creature. They take refuge in the laboratory, and Chase ambushes Henderson as the sergeant gathers timber to barricade the windows. As Scorby panics, Chase kills Henderson with the composter. Scorby runs from the laboratory and into a pond where the plants drown him. As the Doctor repairs the loudspeaker system, Sarah Jane searches for Henderson and is captured by Chase.

Major Beresford contacts the Doctor, and the Time Lord reveals that they have about fifteen minutes before the Krynoid spreads its influence across all of England. He convinces the major to order an air strike, then goes in search of Sarah Jane, who is about to be composted. The Doctor rescues her, but is trapped in the machine with Chase. The Doctor escapes just in time as Chase returns to the plants in the messiest way possible.

Trapped by the plants, the Doctor rigs a steam pipe to blow a hole in the foliage, and they escape the house as the Royal Air Force blasts the Krynoid into oblivion.

Later on, the Doctor wraps up loose threads with Sir Colin, and then offers to take Sarah Jane on vacation to Cassiopeia. They take flight in the TARDIS, but land in Antarctica and wonder if they’ve already been there or if they’re yet to arrive. Even though it was obviously staged, I loved that last bit of chemistry between these two actors in this season.

There are some very strong characters in this tale with the exception of Chase, who was shallow and very annoying. This story also capitalizes on coming up within weeks of my first viewing of The Thing, which helped make the Antarctic sequences that much better. Overall, this is a high 3 grade, and I always round up.


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


UP NEXT – Thirteenth Series Summary





Timestamp #84: The Brain of Morbius

Doctor Who: The Brain of Morbius
(4 episodes, s13e17-e20, 1976)

Timestamp 084 The Brain of Morbius



Doctor Who meets Frankenstein.

A creature crawls across a Star Trek like planet’s surface, being pursued by a man with a hook for his hand. The hook-handed murderer, a being named Condo, takes the creature’s head to his master, Menhendri Solon. Solon chastises Condo for bringing him an insect head, which will simply not do. He needs a humanoid head.

The TARDIS arrives on the same planet, and the Doctor is angry because the Time Lords dragged them off course. Sarah Jane explores the area and finds an entire field of crashed spaceships, and she decides to look around as the Doctor sulks. Sarah Jane screams as she finds the insect’s body, which is actually one of the Mutts, and the Doctor runs to her aid. The Doctor recognizes the neighborhood and realizes that they are within a couple billion miles of Gallifrey. They head toward a nearby castle as a red-robed woman watches.

The Sisterhood of Karn? I’ve seen them before in the 50th anniversary celebration and a bit later in the Twelfth Doctor’s run. The observer was Ohica, and she reports the new arrivals to High Priestess Maren. Maren suspects that the visitors are linked to the slow death of the Sacred Flame, the source of the Elixir of Life that maintains their immortality. The Elixir is only known to the Sisterhood and the High Council of the Time Lords, but as the supply runs low, they believe that the Time Lords are coming for it. Supposedly, they use it to ease cases of trauma after regeneration.

The Doctor and Sarah Jane arrive at the castle, and Solon is excited because he believes that the Doctor’s head is magnificent and superb. Creeeeeeeepy. The Doctor offhandedly remarks his previous heads, including the Third’s grey one (which Sarah Jane really liked). Solon entertains the travelers, and the Doctor investigates the man’s obsession with various heads.

Okay, look, this whole scene is really awkward. I mean, not just in the writing, but even in the acting, as if the players themselves wanted no part of it.

Condo brings wine and food for the guests, and the Doctor recognizes Solon as a famed neuroscientist who was rumored to join the cult of Morbius, a terrible renegade Time Lord. The Doctor connects all the dots as the drugs in the food and drink take effect on him. Condo takes the Doctor to the surgical area as Sarah Jane, who was faking anesthesia, makes her escape. As she explores the castle, she finds Solon’s Monster, a construct of various parts that is only missing a head.

The Sisters form a seeing circle and discover the TARDIS. They channel their power to teleport the TARDIS to Maren, and after she investigates it, her suspicions deepen that the Time Lords are indeed coming for the Elixir. The Sisters form another circle and teleport the Doctor to their location, inadvertently saving him from the operation. Solon hatches a plan to rescue the Doctor from the Sisters.

The Doctor awakens bound in ropes, and the Sisterhood demands that he confess to the plan. He obviously cannot, and discovers that Morbius was executed and disintegrated by the Time Lords for his crimes of rebellion against the Sisterhood and the alliance their two species share, but he determines that the renegade’s essence survived. Morbius revealed the secret of the Elixir to the cosmos, and they have been deliberately crashing passing starships to prevent anyone from stealing it. The Sisters prepare to burn the Doctor at the stake, and Solon and Condo burst in to save him.

The Sisters (Death! Death! Death! Death!) are pretty much like the Knights Who Say Ni (Ni! Ni! Ni! Ni!) at this point. I’m waiting them to demand that the Doctor bring them a shrubbery.

As Solon negotiates for the Doctor’s head, including offering Condo in exchange, Sarah Jane covertly cuts the Doctor free. The travelers run, but Maren blinds Sarah Jane with her power ring.

Condo angrily confronts Solon for his betrayal. The neuroscientist uses the always terrible “It was just a joke” excuse, but Condo is not swayed until Solon promises to replace the hook with a real arm. As Condo relents and leaves to find an extra arm, Solon sneaks away and consults with the disembodied voice of Morbius. He is interrupted as the travelers arrive and disclose Sarah Jane’s ailment. Solon invites them to the lab, determining that only the Elixir will restore her eyesight, and the Doctor resolves to retrieve it. Solon sends Condo to the Sisters with this knowledge, and Sarah Jane stumbles her way into the secret lab. There she discovers the voice of Morbius, which accuses her of being one of the Sisters. What she doesn’t know is that the voice comes from the renegade’s brain, enclosed in a jar.

<insert sigh here> Someone cracked open the Guide to Writing Horror for Science Fiction and started scribbling notes, didn’t they?

Carrying on…

Solon removes Sarah Jane and then endures a verbal whipping from the Time Lord in a jar. In true Evil MastermindTM fashion, he details his entire plan in a method that protagonist can overhear. Sarah Jane locks Solon in the room and stumbles out of the castle.

Maren distributes the Elixir of Life to the Sisters (from an obviously empty cup, which is one of my biggest pet peeves in film), but there’s only enough for five. The Doctor arrives, but is ambushed after receiving Solon’s note. He explains the situation, but Maren reveals that Solon lied and that the ring’s effect is temporary. Together, they deduce that Morbius could have survived execution, and the Doctor offers to help them if they help him. The Doctor investigates the flame, determines that some soot is choking the natural combustion, and frees it up with a firecracker. The Flame is restored, and they hatch a plan to stop Solon.

Let me get this straight. The Sisters are smart enough to competently negotiate with the Time Lords, recognize a TARDIS, and wield power rings, but they have no idea how their entire elixir production system works? I don’t quite buy it.

Condo finds Sarah Jane and returns her to Solon’s lab. Solon updates Morbius, but a slip of the tongue reveals the Doctor’s identity to the renegade, and Morbius is furious. He believes that the Time Lords have found him and will kill him, and pressures Solon to operate immediately with an artificial brain case instead of an organic head. Condor assists in preparation, but discovers his arm is attached to Solon’s Monster. He attacks Solon, and Solon shoots him. In the struggle, the brain jar is toppled. A frantic Solon presses a blind Sarah Jane into service and completes the operation, not knowing how badly the brain was damaged.

The Sisters arrive with a supposedly dead Doctor, and Solon leaves to answer the door as the Morbius Monster awakens. It doesn’t have any higher functions, so it attacks Sarah Jane (who just regained her eyesight), trashes the lab, and attacks Solon. It goes after the Doctor and Sarah Jane, but a fatally wounded Condor saves them, and the monster storms off into the night. Condor was a good and kind Igor. His death was a sad one.

Solon sets out after the monster with a tranquilizer, and they track it down as it kills one of the Sisters. Solon and the Doctor capture the monster, and Solon takes it back to the lab with the promise of disassembling it and returning the brain to Gallifrey. Solon tricks the Doctor and completes the operation, restoring Morbius to full capacity. The Doctor floods the lab with cyanogen gas, but only Solon is killed since the monster’s lungs are immune to the poison.

Morbius challenges the Doctor to a form of Time Lord wrestling called mindbending. The Doctor falls unconscious as a massive energy feedback drives Morbius from the lab, and the Sisters chase him with torches over a cliff. We don’t know if he survived the long fall and regenerated, and I’m skeptical since “no body, no death”. The Doctor is fatally injured from the mindbending, and Maren provides her share of the Elixir and sacrifices herself to save him. Ohica is left in charge of the Sisterhood with a fresh package of fireworks as the Doctor and Sarah Jane move on to the next adventure.

Okay, first, let’s knock out the questions. During the mindbending, the question was raised of how long the Doctor has lived. There were eight other faces after rolling back through the Third, Second, and First Doctors. Within the scope of the mythology, who were they? They can’t be the Doctor, since Hartnell’s incarnation was clearly defined as the First. So, are they Morbius’s former regenerations?

Also, why did the TARDIS explode out of Karn instead of dematerializing like normal? Was it because of the somewhat unnatural change in position from landing to take-off courtesy of the Sisterhood?

Finally, the overall feeling of the story. There are so many tropes here, and while it was nice to get the backstory on the Sisterhood of Karn, the basis for their existence is really quite shallow. This story overall seemed like an exercise in getting the puzzle pieces down and connecting the dots, and while it flowed well, it didn’t hold my interest as well as some of the other stories in the Fourth Doctor’s run. It just felt, in a tip of the hat to the pseudonym that wrote it, bland.


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


UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Seeds of Doom