Timestamp #139: Vengeance on Varos

Doctor Who: Vengeance on Varos
(2 episodes, s22e03-e04, 1985)

 

It’s a hit-and-miss meta-adventure.

On a rocky red planet dominated by domes, a chained man is being tortured on television. Arak and Etta, our court jesters representing the common man in this play, complain about their mandatory entertainment choices, compulsory voting, and less-than-pleasing TV dinners. The whole thing is very 1984 meets The Running Man (or, if you’d rather for the sake of temporal argument, the novel version). Simultaneously, The Doctor is repairing the console on the TARDIS. Peri questions his skills, remarking on all of the traumatic events since they left Telos. The Doctor even burned dinner! Shortly thereafter, the TARDIS stalls in deep space and strands the travelers.

I enjoyed the parallel between both opening couples.

The dome planet is called Varos, and its governor is negotiating with a fish-slug creature named Sil over the price of the planet’s exclusive Zeiton-7 ore. The discussion ends in a stalemate, which upsets the Varos delegation because they have to announce the unfortunate news on schedule, and that will likely affect an upcoming vote. To complicate matters, the Chief Officer is collaborating with Sil behind the governor’s back. When the governor makes his televised announcement, he is met with a resounding “no” vote – his third consecutive failure – and is subjected to a Human Cell Disintegration Bombardment, which slowly kills the recipient with each dose. The Chief Officer gives the governor a moment to recover while a guard recommends a public execution of Jondar, the prisoner in the dungeon, to boost ratings.

On this week’s episode of Survivor

Peri brings the TARDIS operator’s manual to the Doctor, and they soon discover that the TARDIS has sufficient power but – as we discover through a barrage of technobabble – cannot transmit it since the transitional systems are misaligned. To solve it they need Zeiton-7 (of course), so set sail for Varos. They arrive just before the execution of Jondar, and the TARDIS is mistaken for a hallucination side-effect from the execution method. The Doctor and Peri end up rescuing Jondar – inadvertently executing a guard in the process – and escaping into the depths of the dungeons. They are rescued by Areta (Jondar’s wife) and Rondel (Jondar’s friend, a government official who is evicted from the Big Brother house… er, I mean, killed by the pursuing guards), and navigate back to the TARDIS with their peril-filled journey being broadcast to the masses.

Of course, the TARDIS has been taken by Sil and the governor. Luckily, attempts to open it have failed (which means that the Doctor has finally remembered how the lock works). Meanwhile, the Doctor is separated from the group: The remaining three are arrested, but the Doctor escapes into a desert scene where he nearly succumbs to the virtual heat. He is taken to a separate room to recuperate before being slated for execution by acid bath. The Doctor wakes up and startles the guards, both of whom end up taking a dip in the fatal pool with some oddly comedic music and a James Bond-style quip.

The Doctor’s escape gets stymied by Quillam, the planet’s chief scientist. Meanwhile, the governor decides to execute the Doctor and Jondar in a “good old-fashioned way.” They will be hanged while Areta and Peri are subjected to a cell mutator, but as the noose is slipped over his neck, the Doctor connects the dots and confronts Sil over his extortion of Varos. Sil orders his bodyguards to silence the Doctor by pulling the lever, but the Doctor and Jondar simply fall through the trap doors unharmed. The governor was using the staged event to learn the truth about the Doctor’s presence on the planet, which the Doctor suspected when the cameras were turned off.

In the cell mutator, the women are already being transformed. Sil pushes the Chief to continue the mutations in order to defeat the Doctor, but the Doctor confronts Quillam and stops the experiment in the nick of time by shooting the control panel. The men rescue the women the quartet escapes into the depths of the Punishment Dome after stealing a golf cart. Unfortunately, Peri is captured once again after wandering off.

The golf cart theft scene was unintentionally comedic, but the discussion between the governor and Peri was quite pleasant. Peri is really starting to grow on me. I enjoy her plucky, kind, and curious attitude toward everything.

The Chief and Sil set up one last vote in hopes that the governor will be killed and their alliance can secure control over the ore. The vote is resoundingly no, but Maldak (the guard overseeing the proceedings) saves the governor by destroying the field emitters. The governor, Maldak, and Peri escape into the Punishment Dome and pursue the Doctor, Jondar, and Areta, eventually joining up with them. The Chief and Quillam also pursue the running prisoners, but the Doctor traps them in an ambush with their own arrogance.

Our heroes end up back in the Varos control center to confront Sil, but his own mining corporation betrays his invasion plans when they find a second source of Zeiton-7, removing the corner from the market. The Doctor and Peri depart, Zeiton-7 in hand, and the governor proclaims that the era of injustice, torture, and executions is over.

In the end, the story’s court jesters Arak and Etta are left in confused disbelief over their new-found freedom from the television.

 

The stranded TARDIS part of the story was pretty bad. I liked Peri trying to solve the problem, but I didn’t like the Doctor moping instead of looking for a way out. The commentary on socially-driven entertainment to placate the masses was frighteningly relevant three decades later, and I did kind of enjoy the spin on The Running Man-style execution by entertainment. Some of it was silly, and the setting certainly amped up the dark and violent tone of the show in the John Nathan-Turner era, but the creativity was enjoyable.

It’s always odd when televised entertainment comments on the perils of televised entertainment; one would think that it would be self-defeating, but more often than not, it works on some level. It was decent enough here.

 

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

 

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Mark of the Rani

 

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

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Timestamp #138: Attack of the Cybermen

Doctor Who: Attack of the Cybermen
(2 episodes, s22e01-e02, 1985)

 

After some time off, the Doctor has gotten better.

The adventure begins with two unfortunate sewer workers who find a shiny new brick wall where one should not be. One of them investigates, but the other is attacked by an unknown force.

On the TARDIS, the Doctor is working on the capsule’s circuitry, specifically the chameleon circuit. Peri is concerned that he is over-exerting himself after his recent trauma, but the Doctor disregards her. When she suggests some relaxation he agrees and sets course, but something draws the TARDIS away.

On Earth, stranded mercenary Lytton is planning a heist with some local criminals. One of the cohort, a man named Russell, relays the plan to an outside party under the guise of purchasing explosives. Later on, Lytton’s gang enters the sewers, intending to access the diamond vault from below. As they set up, two policemen patrol nearby.

The production values have improved this season.

The TARDIS stabilizes in the orbit of Halley’s Comet, circa 1985. Peri wants to land, relating the comet’s appearance to certain disaster, but the Doctor disagrees. A sudden distress signal focuses both of them on Earth, the source of the call, and in franchise fashion they decide to investigate. They touch down at 76 Totter’s Lane, and the newly repaired chameleon circuit (eventually) kicks in, disguising the TARDIS as an ornate cabinet.

The Doctor and Peri track the source of the signal and Peri expresses her concerns for the Doctor’s well-being. She’s worried that his mind is not quite right, specifically because he keeps confusing her for past companions like Tegan, Zoe, Susan, Jamie, and even the Terrible Zodin (who?). He reluctantly admits that she may have a point. As they wander the streets of London and return to I.M. Foreman’s scrapyard, two policemen shadow them. The policemen are unimpressed when the TARDIS dematerializes.

In the sewers, Russell hears someone following them, and Lytton orders Payne to deal with the intruders. Instead, the intruders deal with him. Meanwhile, using the TARDIS computers, the Doctor and Peri determine that the signal is being bounced around multiple relays, and the Doctor assumes that someone must be watching the transmitter and waiting for help to arrive. They materialize at the garage where Lytton’s gang entered the sewers, and the Doctor is dismayed that the TARDIS has taken the form of a pipe organ. They are confronted by armed policemen – although they’re likely not real police officers – but the pair dispatches them with ease and enters the sewers.

This Doctor is much more violent, echoing the Third Doctor.

The Doctor and Peri find Payne’s body as they explore. Meanwhile, the thieves encounter the newly built wall and a black Cyberman. Russell runs as the wall opens and reveals many more Cybermen, to whom Lytton readily surrenders. He explains to the Cyber Leader that he tracked the signals to their hidden ship behind the moon, and he offers his accomplice Griffiths as fodder to be assimilated as Cybermen.

Moving to the planet Telos, the Cybermen have slave gangs digging in a quarry. They attempt to escape, but only two make it out alive. Unfortunately, they need three people to fly their escape craft. They head for the Cyber Control complex, using a Cyberman head as a disguise.

Russell finds the Doctor and Peri, revealing himself as an undercover policeman. The Doctor disarms Russell, and at gunpoint, the officer reveals that he was pursuing Lytton. Together, they all head back to the TARDIS. The Cybermen learn of their presence and send a team to find them. The Doctor disables the black Cyberman with a sonic lance, prompting the Cyber Leader to evacuate with Lytton and Griffiths.

When the travelers return to the TARDIS, they find it overrun by Cybermen. I’m guessing that keys and locks are beyond the Doctor now, and he pays for that laziness as the Cybermen kill Russell and take aim on Peri. The Doctor agrees to cooperate to save her, coercing the Cybermen into the agreement by setting a self-destruct sequence, which drives the Cybermen to reveal the Cyber Controller’s survival on Telos. The Doctor sets a course for Telos before being confined with Peri, Griffiths, and Lytton. Lytton begins the info-dump and explains that the Cybermen found a timeship that landed on Telos and now have plans for both it and the TARDIS.

As the one not well versed in all things Doctor Who, Griffiths demands an explanation. Lytton and the Doctor explain that Telos is the adopted home planet of the Cybermen, and that it only came into their possession after they destroyed the native Cryons to take over their advanced refrigeration technology to store their troops after Mondas was destroyed.

After the Doctor sabotages the navigational controls, the TARDIS lands in the catacombs instead of Cyber Control and assumes the shape of a gateway. The Cybermen are attacked by a rogue cyber soldier, one of many who have been driven insane by faulty refrigeration tombs. While their captors are distracted, Peri, Griffiths, and Lytton run. Peri, now in a new (warmer) costume, is rescued by Cryon freedom fighters. Another group finds Lytton and Griffiths and detail how Lytton has been working for them to stop the Cybermen from destroying Telos. Apparently, all he needs to do is steal the original time vessel.

The Doctor is confined to a cold storage room where he meets Flast, a Cryon prisoner. Flast reveals that the Cryons were not completely destroyed and that the Cybermen plan to save Mondas (and rewrite time) by destroying Earth with Halley’s Comet. Peri gets pretty much the same briefing from her new friends. Peri is distraught, but the Doctor is angry, partially because the Cybermen are breaking the laws of time, and partially because the Time Lords were likely responsible for diverting the TARDIS to this time and place to stop them, making him their errand boy once again.

The Cryons costumes are really quite strange, but their swooping fantasy movements are very elegant.

Lytton and Griffiths are intercepted by the two prisoners, who have both been partially assimilated, and the four men join forces in order to hijack the time vessel. They enter a tunnel to Cyber Control, but Lytton is captured en route to the ship. Elsewhere, Flast shows the Doctor a mineral that is highly volatile above freezing temperatures. The Doctor uses it to escape the room and kill the guard, then leaves his sonic lance with Flast (who cannot survive outside the refrigerated room) after she volunteers to detonate the rest of the minerals and destroy Cyber Control. After she sets the bomb, the Cybermen note the Doctor’s absence and kill Flast by exposing her to warm temperatures, effectively boiling her alive.

That was one of the most unique (and sad) deaths on this show in a while.

While the Cybermen torture Lytton to reveal his plan, Peri and the Doctor reunite and make their way to the TARDIS. The Doctor lures the Cybermen inside the time capsule with a dead Cyberman’s distress signal. The new leader of the Cryons, Rost, pressures the Doctor to leave before the bomb explodes, but Peri reminds him that Lytton’s team is still on Telos.

The Doctor moves the TARDIS to the conversion center – the TARDIS takes its normal form this time – where they find a partially assimilated Lytton. Lytton and the Doctor take out the Cyber Controller, but Lytton dies heroically in the battle. The Doctor reflects on his misjudgment of the man as he and Peri leave in the TARDIS and Cyber Control is destroyed.

I enjoyed watching the effort to tie up some of the loose ends in Cyberman mythology, including the return of both Telos and Mondas from the black and white days of the franchise. I also liked the moments of compassion from the Doctor, which were a good shift from the arrogant and pompous attitudes displayed in The Twin Dilemma. It was also a nice twist to use an established villain and turn him into an anti-hero.

The big downside across these two 45-minute episodes was the dump truck of exposition used to drive the plot, but it wasn’t enough to drag it down too much.

 

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

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Vengeance on Varos

 

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

Timestamp: Twenty-First Series and Fifth Doctor Summary

Doctor Who: Twenty-First Series and Fifth Doctor Summary

 

It’s an unfortunate ending to an era.

The Fifth Doctor’s three series run did not perform well in comparison to the rest of the franchise so far, and that’s disappointing considering how much potential the character had. It wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t stellar.

The Twenty-First Series had highs in Warriors of the Deep  and Resurrection of the Daleks, and it had a low in The Awakening. The rest just evened out to the average. Part of that was the companions, Tegan and Turlough, who I never really connected with. Another part was the stories, which has really high body counts and somewhat lackluster execution and resolution.

This series also contained a regeneration, but what is interesting about that is how it shakes out against other regeneration stories. The Fifth Doctor’s regeneration and Sixth Doctor’s premiere both scored a 3, and the last regeneration/premiere story to do that was An Unearthly Child. Everything since then has been either a 4 or 5, leading to an average among those stories of 4.2. I hope this doesn’t bode poorly for the future of the franchise, but there have been stories…

The caveat here is that none of the series so far have been outright bad. The average across all twenty-one series is a 3.6 on a 5.0 scale. The lowest series score is 3.1 out of five, which is smack in the middle. The downside is that is that the Twenty-First Series is tied with the Third and Nineteenth Series (the Fifth Doctor’s first set of stories) for last place.

After Adric left the series, I was optimistic about the series and the Fifth Doctor’s evolution. I wanted to see him run with the role, but the opportunities never came to fruition. More on that in a moment.

 

Warriors of the Deep – 4
The Awakening – 2
Frontios – 3
Resurrection of the Daleks –  4
Planet of Fire – 3
The Caves of Androzani – 3
The Twin Dilemma – 3

Series Twenty-One Average Rating: 3.1/5

 

 

 

If there’s one positive thing to say about the Fifth Doctor, it’s that he was consistent.

If there’s another, it’s that he was a good father figure.

The Fifth Doctor’s tenure brought the franchise back from some of the silliness of the Fourth Doctor‘s run, but it also reduced a bit of the charm. I admired his youth, sensitivity, and honesty. His reserved honor made him an ideal guardian and guide for his companions, and he used his traits to help each of the companions (whether I liked them or not) expand their horizons.

But those traits brought a hesitancy to the character that made him demure instead of advancing the take-charge attitude that the Doctor often embodies. Since he also tended to rush right into danger before observing the conflicts, we also tended to see a higher body count in his stories.

It’s that consistency that hurt his run the most because he never really evolved. Compare him to the two other scientist Doctors, the First and the Third, and you can see a distinct improvement as the character evolves and settles in. The First Doctor started as a gruff nomad but demonstrated a deep capacity to love and care. The Third Doctor’s run was an evolution of the franchise, and he started angry and frustrated by his circumstances before softening once he got his keys back and could satiate his exploratory curiosity.

And that’s why I’m so conflicted about the Fifth Doctor. I admire people who embody ideals like honor, sensitivity, and fairness, and Doctor Who has asked us to celebrate heroes who triumph over brute force and cynicism with love and compassion. But it also asks us to celebrate the capacity to learn and grow, and I don’t know that this Doctor ever really did.

If the First Doctor was a wise grandfather, the Second a sly jester, the Third a secret agent scientist, and the Fourth an inquisitive idealist, then I would call the Fifth Doctor an honorable humanitarian.

 

For scoring purposes, I obviously will not include The Twin Dilemma in the Fifth Doctor’s final tally.

 

Warriors of the Deep – 4
The Awakening – 2
Frontios – 3
Resurrection of the Daleks –  4
Planet of Fire – 3
The Caves of Androzani – 3

Series Twenty-One (Fifth Doctor) Average Rating: 3.2

 

Series 19 – 3.1
Series 20 – 3.3
Series 21 – 3.2

Fifth Doctor’s Weighted Average Rating: 3.20

 

Ranking (by score)
1 – Third (4.00)
2 – Second (3.67)
2 – Fourth (3.67)
4 – First (3.41)
5 – Fifth (3.20)

Ranking (by character)
1 – Second Doctor
2 – Third Doctor
3 – Fourth Doctor
4 – First Doctor
5 – Fifth Doctor

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Attack of the Cybermen

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

Timestamp #137: The Twin Dilemma

Doctor Who: The Twin Dilemma
(4 episodes, s21e21-e24, 1984)

 

He’s the Doctor, whether we like it or not.

After some updated and more colorful credits, we find two twins are playing a game of space backgammon. They are named Romulus and Remus, which is a bit on the nose. The boys move on to a new strategy game when a stranger named Professor Edgeworth materializes before them. After a cryptic but friendly discussion, the trio vanishes.

On the TARDIS, the Sixth Doctor shows off his new looks after regeneration, but Peri is not impressed. This Doctor is more vain and arrogant, readily denouncing his predecessor’s “feckless charm.” Ouch! He goes into the wardrobe to change clothes and has a minor breakdown. He breaks out the Second Doctor‘s fur coat and the Third Doctor‘s maroon velvet jacket, both of which he rejects in favor of a garish technicolor number topped with a cat brooch for luck. Peri remains unimpressed, but she does take time enough to change clothes as well.

Edgeworth and the twins appear on a spacecraft staffed with goat-bird hybrid aliens. The goat-birds take the twins to another room as Edgeworth contacts his boss, a slug-like entity known as Mestor. Edgeworth is tasked with taking the boys to Titan III.

The Doctor, unimpressed with Peri’s style, sets course for a holiday planet called Fiesta 95. He wanted to go to the Eye of Orion but cannot remember the way. Adopting a less antagonistic tone, he asks Peri about her name (which is short for Perpugilliam, and must have been absolute hell for her in American public schools) and recites a poem about a peri (a beautiful fairy in Persian mythology that starts out evil until completing a penance to achieve paradise). He then goes crazy, accuses Peri of being an evil alien spy, and attempts to choke her to death. Peri defends herself with a mirror which, when the Doctor looks into it, causes the Time Lord to recoil.

Seriously, what the hell is wrong with him?

When the Doctor recovers, he doesn’t remember the incident at all. He also doesn’t believe Peri when she tells him what happened. When it finally clicks, he is distraught and decides to enter seclusion as a hermit on Titan III. When he touches the TARDIS controls, the time capsule goes just about as crazy as the Doctor but makes its way to the secluded planet. When the TARDIS shakes violently, the Doctor decides to investigate the cause.

The twins’ father returns home and reports their disappearance. The authorities are concerned about the twins being kidnapped by extraterrestrials and make it their top priority. Apparently, these kids are super important or something. On the ship, the kids attempt to escape by fiddling with the electronics and emitting an erratic signal. The authorities find the ship running under a fraudulent registry, and when they challenge it, the freighter jumps to warp speed (even though it’s not supposed to be designed for that). The jump destroys the authority ships in the process.

Edgeworth, the goat-birds, and the twins arrive on Titan III. Mestor contacts the professor, chews him out for his carelessness, and orders him to set the twins to whatever task they’re there to accomplish. Later on, Edgeworth chides the twins for not working fast enough. They aren’t allowed to use electronic means after the distress signal incident, so they’re working equations by hand. Edgeworth persuades them with tales of Jaconda and Mestor threatens their lives. As they work the mathematics, the twins soon realize that they’re meddling with enough power to destroy a planet.

Peri and the Doctor venture onto the asteroid and find the wreckage of one of the police ships. They find a survivor and the Doctor chastizes Peri for jumping to conclusions. They take the officer back to the TARDIS and Peri calls the Doctor out on his attitude. At that exact moment, the officer springs up and holds the Doctor at gunpoint, threatening to kill him for the destruction of the police squadron. Peri pleads with the officer, and he is soon disarmed after he passes out. The Doctor initially has no desire to provide aid, but Peri persuades him.

While discussing their situation, Peri and The Doctor spot Edgeworth’s building on the scanner. The Doctor coaxes Peri into exploring, even confusing her for Tegan at one point as his mind continues to sort itself out. This incarnation is far more bold and willing to rush headlong into the unknown with a foolhardy flourish. They infiltrate the bunker and are apprehended by the goat-birds, during which the Doctor pretends to be a meek pilgrim who uses Peri as a human shield. They are taken before Edgeworth, maintaining their guise as pilgrims until the Doctor recognizes the man behind the face. Edgeworth is Azmael, a renegade Time Lord whom the Doctor recognizes from an adventure in his fourth incarnation.

The Doctor discovers what Azmael has done and is disgusted. Azmael rejects the Doctor’s help and locks the travelers in the bunker before transmatting to his ship. As the Doctor sets to work in deciphering the lock combination, Peri discovers a time bomb ticking away. The Doctor repurposes a revitalizing modulator chamber as a device that will rewind the user ten seconds. Peri steps in and vanishes and the Doctor follows just as the bunker explodes. They both reappear in the TARDIS console room to find the injured police officer holding his freshly reassembled gun on them.

Okay, so both of these elements are really lazy storytelling. First, Peri hid the gun’s power pack in the wardrobe room, but Officer Lang just happens to change into the one tunic with the power pack in its pocket. That’s way too convenient. Second, the Doctor and Peri have been inside the bunker for much longer than ten seconds. Simply rewinding ten seconds isn’t enough to place them back in the TARDIS, which makes the improvised temporal teleporter a bit beyond normal suspension of disbelief.

On the upside, I did like the callback as the Doctor (who apparently believes in luck now) strokes the cat brooch to compensate for his guesswork and MacGyvering of the revitalizing modulator. On the downside, he’s still being abusive toward Peri by cursing her out for something beyond her control.

The Doctor sets course for Jaconda and then confers with Lang and Peri about the plot, swaying Lang to his side in the process. On Jaconda, Mestor executes a lower-class goat-bird for stealing to feed his family to prove to us that he’s a bad, bad character. Shortly thereafter, the TARDIS arrives in a Jocandan wasteland, which the Doctor eventually realizes is not the beautiful planet he once knew. He also recognizes that it is the work of giant gastropods, prompting him to return to the TARDIS to figure out his next course of action. Reluctantly, he is swayed to move the TARDIS to the palace and accompany Lang and Peri to rescue the twins.

After arriving on the planet, Azmael takes the twins on a tour of the palace, showing off the laboratory and the storeroom of gastropod eggs. Mestor enters and tries to persuade them that their actions are benevolent. Azmael asks Mestor to refrain from monitoring his thoughts and remove his guards. Mestor eventually agrees and departs, and Azmael details his plan to save Jaconda: The star system has three planets, and the two outer planets will become moons of Jaconda – picking up Jaconda’s atmosphere and ecosphere by timey-wimey plot means – and provide more places for the slugs to conquer.

As the travelers navigate the palace, the Doctor offers a Jacondan history lesson by way of pictograms. Shortly afterward, Lang gets stuck in a gastropod slime trail after two of the creatures pass. Of course, it’s a mere matter of plot convenience as no one got stuck in Mestor’s slime trail during the lab visit. The Doctor has another of his childish tantrums and blames Peri for the entire situation, storms off, stumbles into the lab, and attacks Azmael before coming to his senses. The twins reveal that Azmael wasn’t responsible for the bunker’s self-destruct, prompting the Doctor to learn more about the plot surrounding him.

Meanwhile, Lang breaks free and accompanies Peri to find the Doctor. The goat-birds attack Lang and leave him for dead before taking Peri to Mestor. Lang comes to, stumbles into the lab, and tells the story. When the Doctor realizes that Peri is likely going to die, he suddenly (and unconvincingly) grows a backbone of compassion for her.

Lucky for him, Mestor sees no reason to kill Peri. Unlucky for him, he is taken before Mestor.

The Doctor agrees to help Mestor while Azmael restores the twins’ hidden memories. Number-crunching commences, and Azmael reveals his plan to overcome the gravitational stresses by shifting the minor planets into different time zones. The Doctor points out that temporal displacement won’t stop the massive gravitational explosion, and that Mestor must know about the consequence.

Meanwhile, Mestor magically gains access to the TARDIS and sends his minions to do evil within.

The Doctor enters the gastropod hatchery and examines the eggs. He discovers that they are tough enough to survive the solar explosion, and will likely hatch under extreme heat spread throughout the universe through Mestor’s plan. This must be a Star Trek Abrams-style supernova or something.

The twins destroy their notes, keeping only the records in their photographic memories. Peri, Lang, and the twins head for the TARDIS while Azmael (who is on his last regeneration) and the Doctor confront Mestor. The Doctor tries to destroy Mestor with acid, but the slug is protected behind a force field. Meanwhile, Lang stymies an attempt to kidnap the twins. Mestor uses his last resort and projects himself into Azmael, intent on taking over the Time Lord’s body and mind. The Doctor uses a second vial of acid to destroy Mestor’s body while Azmael forces a regeneration to destroy Mestor’s mind.

The act of forcing a regeneration when none were left to him causes Azmael to die. Before he does, in perhaps the most emotionally driving moment of the story, he passes a crystal ring to the Doctor.

Lang removes the now liberated goat-birds from the TARDIS and he offers to remain and assist with rebuilding Jaconda. The Doctor gives him the ring as a badge of office and the travelers say goodbye, setting a course for Earth to take the twins home. Peri confronts the Doctor about his instability, but the Doctor retorts that he has finally stabilized and reminds her that he is an alien, so his methods can be foreign to her.

He is now the Doctor, whether she (or we) like it or not.

 

I know that regeneration stories are hard. Each incarnation of the Doctor is a unique interpretation of the character, and as such, it takes time for the actors and creative teams to settle into their respective voices. It’s why I give the +1 regeneration handicap, and it’s why I can abide by the (nearly meta) admonition from this new Doctor to give him time before making final judgments on his character.

It’s almost as if the creative team from 1984 could see the future. Keyboard warriors of genre fandoms across social media, take note: The Doctor has another lesson for you. One performance is not substantial enough to make a final decision on a character (or a show, for that matter).

That said, I can criticize this story’s Doctor. He is arrogant and rude, but well beyond what the Third Doctor brought to the table. This sixth incarnation takes being a pompous ass to a whole new level. I’m not a fan of this clownish blustering that downplays compassion, abuses his companions, and places them in mortal danger. I would willingly travel with each of the previous five, but I wouldn’t step foot in this Doctor’s TARDIS based on this story.

The story itself was found lacking, particularly with the sloppy writing and consistency errors that I noted earlier. Aside from the touching death of Azmael – which was a missed opportunity that could have revisited the Monk, the War Chief, the Hermit, Morbius, AndredDrax, Chronotis, or even Maxil (which would echo The Enemy of the World) – I didn’t find much to engage with beyond my anger with the Doctor.

I do find the speculative ramifications of Azmael’s death quite fascinating, particularly on how regeneration works near the end of the thirteen life limit. Apparently trying to break the limit on one’s own is far too taxing and doesn’t result in a full regeneration. I also liked the “Doc” callback, a running gag that has touched Tegan and Steven Taylor with another grumpy Time Lord.

 

 

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

 

 

UP NEXT – Twenty-First Series and Fifth Doctor Summary

 

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

Timestamp #136: The Caves of Androzani

Doctor Who: The Caves of Androzani
(4 episodes, s21e17-e20, 1984)

 

Davison deserved better.

The TARDIS arrives in a dry lake bed on Androzani Minor. After a small bout of exploration, Peri and the Doctor question the presence of motor vehicle tracks on an otherwise desolate planet and decide to follow them. While they travel, the Doctor muses about keeping diaries. While they explore the crystalline caves, Peri falls into a web-like substance that stings. Afterward, she asks the Doctor about his lapel celery, which turns purple when exposed to gases in the Praxis range.

Elsewhere, a monster attacks a group of soldiers. The travelers run into the soldiers, are mistaken for gunrunners and apprehended, and are taken to General Chellak. He believes that they are supplying arms to a group of android rebels and will not hear anything about their innocence. When Trau Morgus (CEO of the Sirius Conglomerate) on Androzani Major calls, the general tosses his prisoners into a closet. The communication is tense and tapped by a mysterious third party who thinks Peri is pretty. Morgus is disinterested in the travelers, unemotionally orders their execution, and engages in a little bit of fourth-wall breaking by staring straight into the camera. When more soldiers are attacked, the general orders his second, Major Salateen, to prepare the travelers for execution while he attends to the ambush. The entire squadron is decimated.

The Doctor apologizes to Peri for their predicament while tending to her web-induced rashes and watching the general as the dead squadron is returned to the base. He muses on the background of spectrox, the valuable material the humans are mining. On Androzani Major, Morgus hosts the president of the planet and reveals the nature of spectrox to the audience: It is a powerful drug produced by the bats of Androzani Minor that enhances youth and extends life. The meeting turns to the execution as the Doctor and Peri are lined up before a firing squad, and on the proper count, the Doctor and Peri are shot to death.

Except that they aren’t.

The mysterious eavesdropper, Sharaz Jek, swapped the prisoners for android duplicates. The general and major realize the deception, but cannot report it because it would end their careers. Jek also intends to keep the Doctor and Peri as unwilling companions. Jek owns a considerable share of the spectrox in the caves and can monitor troop movements. He has cost the general hundreds of troops and speculates that his inventory won’t be in jeopardy for another five years. He expects the people of Androzani Major to have rebelled against Morgus by then and wants nothing less than the CEO’s head at his feet. Meanwhile, on the surface, there are troubles among the gunrunners as they fight over failures and lack of pay.

Morgus receives word that one of his mines has exploded. Back in Jek’s caves, the Doctor meets the real Salateen (who was replaced months before) and discovers that the web they encountered earlier is a spectrox nest. Exposure is lethal, and the antidote (the milk of a queen bat) is difficult to find due to the mining operations.

So far, we have the following open threads: The spectrox war (androids vs. humans); spectrox toxaemia; the gun smugglers who are supplying Jek’s android army; a giant monster; and celery.

Stotz, the lead gunrunner, requests a meeting with Jek. Before Jek leaves, he talks to the Doctor and becomes enraged when Peri asks about his mask. The story behind it is gruesome and it hides the burn scars from an encounter with Morgus. After Jek leaves, the Doctor tries to sneak by the androids, which are programmed to kill humans on sight. The Doctor disables the android guards and takes Peri and Salateen back to the TARDIS for supplies. En route, they are ambushed and the Doctor is wounded by an android guard. Salateen saves Peri and abandons the Doctor.

The meeting between Jek and Stotz is less than productive. Stotz threatens to leave the operation, but Jek knows that he can get any number of people to wage his war with his supply of spectrox. Jek returns to his base and finds his captives missing. Meanwhile, the gunrunners meet up with the Doctor. The Time Lord hides and the gunrunners are attacked by another monster. The monster makes short work of the smugglers and the Doctor escapes. Stotz and the survivors find Jek, who reveals that the monster is a bat, and their tense confrontation is broken up by the Doctor. The smugglers are paid and the Doctor is taken captive and tortured for Peri’s location. When the Doctor reasons that Salateen and Peri have returned to Chellak’s base, the smugglers decide to take the Time Lord to the CEO on Androzani Major. It turns out that Morgus is playing both sides against each other. Fearing the president’s discovery of Morgus’s double dealings, the CEO assassinates him.

That combines two of our open threads: The spectrox war (androids vs. humans vs. Morgus and the gun smugglers); spectrox toxaemia; a giant monster; and celery.

Salateen and Peri arrive at Chellak’s base and expose the truth behind the major’s doppelgänger. Chellak develops a plan to remove the android from his ranks. and has no interest in Peri’s illness due to her affiliation with Jek. Salateen reveals the badges that keep humans safe from the androids and the nature of Jek’s wiretapping. The general is displeased, to say the least, but has an idea of how to turn the tide with this intel.

Chellak sends Android-Salateen on a recon mission, during which Jek finds out where Salateen and Peri are housed. Jek sneaks into the base and kidnaps Peri while the Doctor breaks free on the smuggler ship and returns it to (read: crashes it on) Androzani Minor. The Doctor runs from the smugglers and is able to get away as Stotz receives word that Morgus is on his way. The Doctor is only saved by a spontaneous mudburst that drives the smugglers away. When Morgus arrives, he orders Stotz to secure Jek’s supply of spectrox as a nest egg so he can escape the Androzani planets. His assistant has turned state’s evidence and usurped Morgus’s position. Stotz turns on his own crew, gunning them down, and joins Morgus on an expedition into the caves.

Salateen leads an assault misson on Jek’s base. As they come across an android, Salateen thinks that his buckle will identify him as a friendly, but the android opens fire and kills him. The assault team is pinned down but heroically press on. Chellak enters Jek’s base and fights the man, but is forced into the fatal mudburst inside the caverns. The Doctor arrives soon after and tries to revive Peri with the celery (supposedly a powerful restorative on Gallifrey), but is forced into the oxygen-deprived lower caverns after the bat milk. Jek provides him with one oxygen mask and looks after Peri until the Doctor returns.

While the Doctor retrieves the bat milk, Stotz and Morgus storm Jek’s lair. Jek kills Morgus, Stotz kills Jek, and Android-Salateen kills Stotz. The Doctor scoops up Peri and races to the TARDIS as the mudburst destroys Jek’s lair. Once inside, the Doctor dematerializes the TARDIS and gives her the milk before collapsing on the deck.

He says goodbye to Peri, unsure if he’s going to regenerate or not. He sees images of Tegan, Turlough, Kamelion, Nyssa, and Adric encouraging him to survive, and an image of the Master goading him into death. It is Adric — his only companion who died — that prompts him to live, and so he regenerates…

…into a rather brash man who claims to bring change, and not a moment too soon.

 

Where to begin?

This story has consistently been voted as the best in the history of the televised franchise. I don’t know what I missed. Starting with the spectrox war, I really enjoyed the idea of a conflict triangle, particularly when considered against the political atmospheres both now and in 1984. The big problem I have with the largest part of the story is that the narrative was so muddy and poorly paced. The conflict was unclear for most of the story, and while it had the benefit of placing us in the shoes of our heroes, the continued confusion quickly became frustrating.

This wasn’t helped by the acting. Morgus, the fulcrum of the conflict, came across as dull (was he reading his lines from cue cards?) and his incessant need to recap key plot points directly into the camera was distracting and unnerving. This was counterbalanced by Jek’s madness, which was plainly evident in the delightfully creepy portrayal, but the pacing sabotaged the atmosphere surrounding him by chopping up the interesting backstory with the lackluster Morgus and Chellak scenes. Among our heroes, Peri’s performance was still rocky despite it’s potential to become something more, but Peter Davison seemed off, almost as if he didn’t want to be involved anymore.

The spectrox toxaemia offered a good race-against-the-clock element to the story, and this time the frustration worked in the serial’s favor as each side has the potential to cure our heroes, but they refuse to do so because of how they view the Doctor’s allegiances. Politics in a nutshell, and while the plot devices of the inconvenient cure in the conveniently (and overly) hostile lower caves had merit, I felt that the execution was lazy.

Why? Because the Doctor could have gone after the cure at any time after being told about it and survived the story. In fact, it was his own curiosity that got him and Peri involved, and he had no reason to interfere in this conflict. Yes, there is an argument about combatting evil in even the smallest measures of good, but the body count in this story puts a giant thumb on that scale: Every male character in this serial dies, and there are only two survivors.

The red herring plot threads of the giant monster and the celery were annoying. Both of them were misdirections in an already muddled story.

All of that said, I did enjoy the boost in production value with this story, including the unique camera angles in the Doctor’s explosive run across the planetary surface.

I also plan to give the Sixth Doctor a chance to prove himself, but right now his introduction is far too cynical for my tastes.

The final score benefits greatly from the +1 regeneration handicap in this project, but it still doesn’t meet the “greatest story ever” expectations. Which is a letdown because Peter Davison deserved better.

 

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

 

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Twin Dilemma

 

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

Timestamp #135: Planet of Fire

Doctor Who: Planet of Fire
(4 episodes, s21e13-e16, 1984)

 

It’s a strange mashup between a primitive religion theme and an unstoppable menace.

Crossing a barren volcanic landscape, two men in tattered clothes offer up a distinctly Middle Eastern vibe. The cross cuts to two other men discussing matters of faith and pilgrimages in a pristine palace environment further that flavor. The two travelers crest the volcano and find nothing, confirming their belief that the god Logar is a myth. That’s a slightly different pilgrimage than I expected.

Meanwhile, an archaeological expedition led by Howard Foster is dredging the ocean in search of artifacts. They find one with strange triangular markings, which are shared on the younger of the two men in the palace. In fact, the Mark of Logar makes the man a Chosen One, and his queries into his role in society are met with the same answer that has plagued religious challenges since time eternal: TRADITION!

“One day, it will all be clear to you.” Uh-huh. Right.

The Doctor depressively obsesses over the Daleks when robotic screaming from the other room snaps him and Turlough into action. Kamelion has plugged into the TARDIS data banks. Turlough tries to disable the link and picks up a distress signal. Turlough disables the signal by tearing apart the relays in the console (and lies to the Doctor about his role in such). The TARDIS changes course to intercept the signal and the Doctor devises a method to triangulate the distress signal.

As the archaeologists pull into port on the island, we meet a woman named Peri (Howard Foster’s stepdaughter) who is planning to leave on a trip with friends to Morocco. After some tense back and forth, Howard relents and allows Peri to go. Howard unloads the boat but strands Peri as he ferries in the rest of the artifacts. Peri loads her clothes, Howard’s wallet, and the double-triangle artifact into a bag and attempts to swim for shore. Unfortunately, she doesn’t make it far before floundering.

Back on shore, the TARDIS arrives and the Doctor and Turlough examine the artifacts. Turlough returns to the TARDIS and overloads the console, preventing Kamelion from making contact with an unknown entity, presumably a place called Trion. Turlough then sees Peri on the scanner and rushes to her rescue, taking her back to the TARDIS and discovering the triangle-marked artifact. It turns out that Turlough conveniently has the same Chosen One mark on his arm.

After inadvertently stiffing a local restauranteur over a glass of water, the Doctor traces the distress signal back to the TARDIS – specifically, to the artifact – and questions Turlough about the data core inside the mysterious device. As the Doctor labors, Peri has dreams about Howard’s treachery, and Kamelion shapeshifts into Howard’s form. Under his control, the TARDIS dematerializes while Kamelion-Howard interacts with the travelers and Peri.

This whole time, the religious group has been debating over the prophecies of Logar and the revelations of the non-believers who hiked the volcano. The congregation receives a sign from their god. The TARDIS arrives, presumably fulfilling the prophecy of an outsider coming to their civilization. When the Doctor and Turlough explore the area, Kamelion changes again, this time triumphantly celebrating his control of the TARDIS as the Master.

That man has so many lives. He must be part cat.

Peri attempts to escape and fails, though the altercation forces Kamelion to overcome the thrall of the Master for a time. Kamelion uses the time to prepare a message for the Doctor. Unfortunately, the Master’s TARDIS arrives soon after, and the renegade Time Lord reasserts control over Kamelion and forces her (and Peri) to leave the Doctor’s TARDIS. A seismic event causes the Master’s TARDIS to topple, breaking the psychic link and providing Peri the window she needs to run.

Kamelion is unable to lift the Master’s TARDIS, so he returns to the Doctor’s TARDIS with the plan to materialize it inside the Master’s capsule. Luckily, Peri has stolen a component from the console. Kamelion-Master gives chase as Peri makes her way toward the Doctor and Turlough, who have just been sheltered by the non-believers. Kamelion-Master catches her, but Peri forces a standoff by dangling the circuit board over a cliff. She persuades Kamelion to re-emerge and uses the distraction to escape once again, but as the Master resumes control, he is mistaken as the prophesied outsider by the priest from the story’s opening.

The Doctor warns the non-believers that their hiding spot isn’t safe: It is in the same vent tunnels that the impending volcanic eruption will use to release its pressure and magma. The non-believers take the Doctor and Turlough to the congregation where Turlough recognizes the technology. It is from Trion, and potentially from his father’s ship. Turlough convinces Malkon, the Chosen One, to take him to the Place of Fire where Malkon was found. The triangular mark on Turlough’s arm is sufficient to sway Malkon.

Meanwhile, Kamelion-Master arrives and surprises the Doctor as Peri catches up to Turlough and briefs him on what has happened. In a rather tense and perilous sequence, Kamelion-Master orders the sacrifice of the entire congregation as leverage to get the circuit board back. Peri, Turlough, and Malkon arrive to save the Doctor, and while Malkon unsuccessfully stalls for time, Peri and Turlough turn off the flames at the source. Malkon tips off the Doctor and plays dead after being shot, prompting the Doctor to confront Kamelion-Master. The Doctor nearly succeeds in releasing the android from the Master, but Kamelion-Master has the Doctor and the non-believers locked away. When Peri rushes to the Doctor’s defense, Kamelion-Master takes her and the congregation to the Master’s TARDIS. Turlough arrives shortly thereafter, releases the Doctor and the non-believers, and reveals that Malkon may very well be his brother.

The congregation uprights the obvious styrofoam pillar and Kamelion-Master pulls Peri into the time capsule. The Doctor arrives and, after some persuasion of the believers by Turlough, attempts to stop the Master. Unfortunately, the Doctor’s TARDIS has been sabotaged and the Master escapes. Luckily, he hasn’t gone far: The pair arrive in the heart of the volcano and Kamelion-Master coerces Peri to cooperate on pain of death.

It’s a conspicuous dichotomy, but I do like the Master’s dark control room.

Kamelion-Master initiates another seismic event and Turlough loads all of the civilians into the TARDIS. The Doctor discusses Logar with the head priest, Timanov, and learns of the sacred blue flame within the volcano. When Kamelion-Master turns on that blue flame, the congregation takes it as a sign of mercy and retreats to their bunker for celebration. The Doctor grills Turlough for information, but the boy is silent and the Doctor settles for an analysis of the fire chamber. Meanwhile, Peri escapes from Kamelion-Master and takes refuge in the Master’s TARDIS. When she attempts to use the control box to disable Kamelion, she finds a miniature Master hiding within.

Huh?

Peri kicks the box in disgust and knocks it over. That disrupts the Master’s control over Kamelion and causes him to scurry like a rat for safety in the TARDIS console. There he taunts Peri and shorts the circuitry for the TARDIS door, prompting Peri to leave the capsule. He then figures out a way to restore his control over Kamelion.

The Doctor and Turlough discover that the blue flame is fueled by Numismaton gas, which has healing powers. They use it to mend Malkon’s wounds, then they devise a plan to save the people on the planet. Turlough was a Trion political prisoner, but he is willing to risk himself to call for a rescue ship. His captors used this planet as a prison for undesirables, covering their technological control of the volcano with legends and myths, but the pending eruption is too large for the tech to handle.

The Doctor reunites with Peri as he and Amyand (the lead non-believer) make their way to the Numismaton control room. He finds that the Master has already started an irreversible chain reaction, but he is able to slow it for a time. The Doctor swipes components for his own TARDIS, then discovers the Master’s condition inside the control box. It turns out that the Master accidentally shrunk himself and needs the flame to restore his former glory. Kamelion, back under the Master’s control, ambushes the team and forces them to leave.

Amyand dons a fire suit – effectively becoming Logar – and goes for help. Meanwhile, the Doctor conceives a plan to short-circuit Kamelion. The plan works, and Kamelion requests a coup de grâce to end his potential threat. Sadly, the Doctor complies and then continues his work. Amyand arrives at the bunker, convinces the congregation to leave, and gives Turlough the parts for the TARDIS. Once Turlough installs the parts, the TARDIS follows the Master’s TARDIS to the flame control room, but without Turlough onboard.

The blue flame ignites, restoring the Master to his proper form, but the normal flame returns shortly thereafter and (supposedly) destroys the Master. The Doctor and Peri seek refuge in the TARDIS as the eruption begins. It lands near Turlough, who has just received word that his exile is rescinded. Turlough doesn’t want to leave, but both he and the Doctor know that it’s for the best.

After a brief farewell, the Doctor offers Peri the chance to travel with him. After all, she still has three months left on her vacation.

 

Starting with the departures, I’m conflicted. I haven’t liked Turlough from his debut in Mawdryn Undead, and his selfless acts here didn’t ring true to me. It’s almost as if he resigned himself to his fate (and avoided any negative repercussions by pure chance) instead of surrendering himself because it was the right thing to do. He had nothing left to lose, and it seemed like he was using the Doctor as a convenient sanctuary.

Kamelion, on the other hand, was a wasted opportunity. I mean, look at him. The android was virtually unstoppable, and while I enjoyed the Terminator vibe I think that his heel turn and subsequent demise would have had much more meaning if he would have been involved in more than two stories. Otherwise, it’s merely a clearing of the decks before Peter Davison leaves in the next story.

In place of Turlough and Kamelion, the Doctor picks up Peri. I like her strong will and I hope the damsel-in-distress vibe dies off quickly as she settles in.

 

Other than that, this was a fairly strong story hampered by a contrived plot about the incredible shrinking Master. It was good to see him back, and the twist was a nice touch, but there had to be a better way to explain his stature than his foolish tinkering. I also noticed that I had to rewind periodically to sort out the characters because of their uniform costumes, genders, and ethnicities.

 

Next time, we say goodbye once again. It’s hard to believe that we’re already here.

 

 

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

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Caves of Androzani

 

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

Timestamp #134: Resurrection of the Daleks

Doctor Who: Resurrection of the Daleks
(2 episodes, s21e11-e12, 1984)

 

This story gets dark fast and leaves a lot of room to think in the end.

In a disused modern day alley, several men in anachronistic costumes run from police officers and their machine pistols. When the runners (and one innocent bystander) are shot down, they are transmatted to a nearby starship. There are two survivors as the execution squad beams away, and they return to the warehouse to warn others only to find that the time corridor has been closed. They are spooked by a remaining executioner who kills one, but the other (a man named Stien) escapes. The executioner returns to the starship and the crew sets course for a nearby prison station, assuming an attack posture.

Meanwhile, the TARDIS has been careening out of control through a time corridor since the end of Frontios. The danger of destruction is quite real (so says the Cloister Bell), but in moments the time capsule stabilizes and materializes near the murder alley. The travelers set out in search of the time corridor they detected, but instead, they find Stien. They investigate the warehouse, lose Turlough under mysterious circumstances, and find a military bomb disposal squad.

All things considered, can we call the exchange even? I guess not.

The battlecruiser arrives at the prison station and the latter is no match for the starship’s might. The station is invaded by Daleks who make short work of the defending humans, but they are driven back by surprise mines in the corridors. The invading humans flood the airlock with gas and drive the prison staff back, and an attempt to destroy the prisoner the Daleks seek fails. We also find out that Turlough has transmatted to the Dalek ship.

The prisoner of interest is Davros. As the prison crew works to destroy him, they are overcome by the face-melting side effects of the gas and a human raiding party. Back on Earth, the Doctor and the military compare notes before being confronted by a Dalek who traveled through the time corridor. Tegan is injured, and the Doctor advises to shoot for the eyestalk and after the Dalek is blinded, the soldiers toss it out a second-floor window and watch it explode. At this point, the Daleks know that the Doctor is on the battlefield.

Four human survivors prowl the passageways of the prison station in an attempt to mount a resistance, possibly by way of the station’s self-destruct sequence. Meanwhile, Turlough finds the chamber housing the corpses from the story’s prologue and nearly loses his lunch, the Doctor cleans up the Dalek in the alley, and the invaders revive Davros at his prison cell. Davros is incensed to learn that the Movellan-Dalek war did not go well for his children and that the Daleks now rely on human allies to survive. The Movellans developed a virus to attack the Daleks, forcing the Daleks to seek Davros and develop a cure.

On Earth, the soldier watching the Dalek remains doesn’t notice movement under the pieces and parts and only realizes his mistake when the Kaled mutant strangles him. The hunt is on for the murderous wayward blob, which is further complicated by the arrival of an execution squad. On the ship, the Daleks find Turlough skulking, recognize him as the Doctor’s companion, and allow him to roam to use him as bait. Soon after, he passes several stealth checks (good DEX score?) and ends up on the prison station, but is soon intercepted by the resistance survivors.

Those Dalek-inspired helmets for the human invaders are something else.

The Doctor’s team hunt for the Kaled mutant, finding a stray cat before locating the alien and gunning it down after it takes a chunk out of another soldier.

(And, yes, the Doctor is using a gun again so we can put down that old myth. TV Tropes has done some pretty good work on that already. Let’s just say that the Doctor doesn’t use guns often and call it good.)

The Doctor and Stien head back to the TARDIS to investigate the time corridor as the soldier who was bitten by the Kaled goes bonkers. The search for the infected goes south when three Daleks appear in the warehouse and, with help from the execution squad, take everyone hostage. The TARDIS materializes on the Dalek ship, and Stien double-crosses the Doctor. The Daleks move in for the kill, but the Supreme Dalek puts that to a halt. Apparently, the Doctor and his companions are to be cloned (on a bed of bubble wrap nonetheless) and used as an assassin against the Time Lord High Council.

The resistance team finds the self-destruct mechanism and begins working on it. To avoid becoming a martyr, Turlough suggests using the time corridor to escape the blast. Turlough joins resistance member Lieutenant Mercer to scout the path out, but the way to the time corridor is swarming with Daleks, and when they return to the self-destruct chamber they find it under siege. Turlough deduces that Davros is still on the station. He’s right, of course, and the Dalek leader is slowly building an army of humans and Daleks using a mind-control device. The resistance team in the chamber is destroyed and Davros begins an analysis of the virus which has been stored in the warehouse all this time (and explains the location’s importance in the story).

Back on Earth, Tegan and Professor Laird (the military team’s scientist) engineer an escape from the execution squad before they are transferred to the Dalek ship. Tegan escapes as Laird remains behind to sell the bluff. Laird is captured and Tegan is pursued by the executioners for a short time before being captured herself. Laird is killed attempting escape and Tegan is forced into the time corridor. When she arrives on the other side, she finds Mercer and Turlough and begins plotting the Doctor’s rescue.

In the cloning chamber, the Doctor’s procedure is slowed by the emergence of the real Stien’s memories. Stien begins downloading the Doctor’s memories but short circuits as the real Stien emerges. The Doctor and Stien meet up with Tegan, Mercer, and Turlough, and the group returns to the TARDIS after destroying the tapes housing the Doctor’s memories. The Doctor leaves the companions in the safety of the TARDIS and sets out to kill Davros, joined in his reluctant and heavy task by Mercer and Stien.

The Doctor arrives in the lab and takes aim on Davros, but his gruesome task is interrupted by an argumentative distraction by Davros and the re-emergence of Stien’s Dalek programming. With Mercer dead, Stien runs off into the station, leaving the Doctor locked out of the lab and separated from Davros. Back on the TARDIS, the time capsule initiates a time-delayed flight (which the Doctor programmed) through the time corridor to the warehouse (which the Doctor did not program). They arrive in time for an all-out (and one-sided) battle between the Daleks and the remaining soldiers, but they end up snagging a sample of the Movellan virus before seeking refuge in TARDIS. During the battle, the Daleks split allegiances and create two warring factions: The Imperial Daleks led by Davros and the Renegade Daleks led by the Supreme Dalek.

A Dalek civil war cannot end well.

Stien arms the self-destruct while the Doctor returns to Earth and plants bombs on various Daleks before joining the companions in the TARDIS. Back on the station, Davros unleashes the Movellan virus against the Renegade Daleks, killing the Daleks and (in an unforeseen consequence) himself. Similarly, the Doctor introduces the virus into the warehouse, killing every Dalek inside.

The Supreme Dalek contacts the Doctor and promises him that the Dalek race will survive. Before the Daleks can implement this plan, the self-destruct triggers, destroying the station and the docked ship. The threat is over with the exception of the surviving execution squad. Gotta leave room for a sequel, right?

The Doctor and Turlough prepare to leave, but Tegan hesitates. She is disgusted by the massacre and can no longer follow the Doctor in his current mindset. In a heartbreaking farewell, she runs away, and her parting words remind the Doctor of who he truly is. Dejected, he and Turlough depart, and as the TARDIS fades from view, Tegan returns to tell the absent Doctor that she will indeed miss him.

 

“Brave heart, Tegan.” She certainly did have that in this story, as it takes a lot to tell off the Doctor when he’s really screwing things up. My appreciation of Tegan has been up and down through her tenure on the TARDIS, and this story didn’t do a lot by removing her from the plot for a significant portion of the story, but her exit highlighted her strength. She brought heart to the team, and she’ll be missed.

She also highlights a small trend in the show this season. Every one of the stories in the Twenty-First Series have showcased a lot of death, and Warriors of the Deep highlighted the start of the trend with a plaintive plea: “There should have been another way.” Tegan slapped the Doctor with her farewell, reminding him that he can be more. That he should be more.

He’s going to need to be more now that he’s alone with Turlough. I don’t like Turlough.

On the story side, setting aside everything already mentioned, I enjoyed the serial and how well the story was constructed. The plot moved efficiently and kept me engaged. The big downside was the magnitude of the deaths, especially the obviously gratuitous ones like Laird, the innocent bystander in the alley, and the treasure hunter at the docks.

Finally, it was nice to get the ties back to the Doctor’s history – the memory download highlighted Turlough, Tegan, Nyssa, Adric, both Romanas, K9, Harry Sullivan, Sarah Jane Smith, Jo Grant, the Brigadier, Liz Shaw, Zoe Heriot, Jamie McCrimmon, Victoria Waterfield, Ben Jackson, Polly Wright, Dodo Chaplet, Sara Kingdom, Katarina, Steven Taylor, Vicki Pallister, Barbara Wright, Ian Chesterton, and Susan Foreman – which I feel keeps a strong tie through the franchise. All of the other issues aside, it’s nice to have a sense of continuity with the franchise’s title character.

 

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

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Planet of Fire

 

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.