Timestamp #76: The Ark in Space

Doctor Who: The Ark in Space
(4 episodes, s12e05-e08, 1975)

Timestamp 076 The Ark in Space

 

After this one started, I realized that I had seen it before as part of the “greatest hits” one-story-per-classic-Doctor series on Netflix. Just like The Aztecs in that same series, it didn’t make a whole lot of sense on my first watch.

How does it fare this time? You’ll find out shortly.

The TARDIS, sporting a different look (maybe?) with the backlit “POLICE BOX” label, arrives on a space station with people hibernating in stasis tubes. Harry Sullivan is shocked after his first trip in the TARDIS, and amusingly, the Doctor checks gravity with a yo-yo. I’ve missed the whimsy so much since Patrick Troughton. As the team investigates the strange station, Sarah Jane is divided from the group and trapped in a room that is losing oxygen. Harry and the Doctor discover her after she’s lost consciousness, but they also fall into the same trap. Just in time, the Doctor discovers that the cables have been chewed through, and he uses his sonic screwdriver to repair the circuit.

As Sarah Jane recovers, the Doctor and Harry are attacked by a security robot and they seek cover under a table. The Doctor tries to distract the robot with his hat and scarf – created for him by that “witty little knitter” Madame Nostradamus – and finally uses his sonic screwdriver to unfasten the table from the deck and move across the room like a turtle to the security panel. They distract the robot and shut it down.

Meanwhile, Sarah Jane is teleported away and processed by the automated system. As Harry and the Doctor look for Sarah Jane, they find a skulking creature that leaves a slime trail. They discover the processing room, which leads the Doctor to conclude that they are in a cryogenic repository and ultimate human library. A literal ark in space.

Hence, the story’s title.

They discover banks upon banks of suspended humans, as well as the slime trail, and this leads Harry to Sarah Jane, who is also in suspended animation. Harry looks for a resuscitation unit and finds a large dead insect. Shortly afterward, one of the humans revives. Her name is Vira, and she is a First Med-tech. She helps to revive Sarah Jane, and then moves to their leader, Noah. His real name is Lazar, but he is named after the myth of the Biblical Ark. They took to the stars after solar flares threatened the Earth, anticipating only 5,000 years in suspension. Evidently, they slept far longer.

The power fails as Noah is being revived, and the Doctor goes to the control room to restore the systems. He investigates the failure in the solar stacks and finds substantial contamination from the grubs. When Noah comes to, he is concerned that the travelers will contaminate their carefully selected gene pool. He tracks the Doctor to the solar stacks after arming himself. He finds the Doctor in the control room and refuses to believe the Time Lord’s story, and he shoots the Doctor.

A note on Harry: He just doesn’t learn. Sarah Jane has asked him not to call her “old girl,” yet he continues to do so. He also calls Vira the same and touches her shoulder when it’s clearly not desired. The Doctor sees something in him, so I’m giving him a chance, but come on, Lieutenant.

Anyway, Vira traces the slime trail in the hibernation chambers to a capsule once occupied by a technician named Dune. On the other side of the station, Noah goes to the solar stacks as Harry and Sarah Jane attend to the Doctor. Noah finds the broken solar stack chamber, and is attacked by the grub. The Doctor comes to and the travelers follow Noah to the solar stacks, but he intercepts them and escorts them back to the hibernation section.

Vira revives a technician name Libri, who reacts strangely to Noah’s presence as though he saw a creature. Noah leaves the captives to Libri, and then orders a shutdown of the station, claiming to be Dune as well as Noah. The Doctor advises Libri to stop Noah, then investigates Dune’s pod and finds evidence that the dead insect embedded larvae in Dune, just like creepy real-world parasitic wasps, which consumed him and absorbed his knowledge. Libri confronts Noah, but Noah disarms and kills him before revealing that he is metamorphosing into the insect. His hand is covered in painted bubble wrap. In a moment of lucidity, Noah fights the alien presence and transfers command to Vira with an order to get back to the planet as soon as possible. He discloses that the aliens are the Wirrn, and that they will absorb the humans.

Another note on Harry: He calls Sarah Jane a chauvinist for feminism. I’m really starting to dislike him. He’s competent, but he’s an ass.

The Doctor and Vira track down Noah, but he’s nearly consumed by the Wirrn. Vira is saddened because she and Noah were pair-bonded for the new Earth. Meanwhile, Harry and Sarah Jane begin to awaken the crew. Vira wants to awaken everyone and send them to Earth, but the Doctor convinces her to delay until he can stop the invasion.

Harry and the Doctor perform an autopsy/necropsy on the insect, and the Doctor tries to download the Queen’s memories into the station computer. When that fails, he downloads the memories directly into his own mind. As that happens, the Wirrn break into the hibernation chamber and kill one of the technicians. Vira orders the remaining men, Harry and Rogin, to be armed, and they drive the Wirrn back into the ventilation ducts.

The Doctor discovers in the Queen’s memories that she was killed by the automatic robot guard, and the Doctor decides to electrify the station’s infrastructure to defeat them. Trapped in the room by the Wirrn, the Doctor uses the transmat to move everyone to the control room, but it fails after only Harry and Rogin are transported since the Wirrn shut down the power systems. The Doctor braves the station to restore power, but encounters a nearly metamorphosed Noah. He is saved by Vira and Sarah Jane, and the Wirrn explain that they are seeking vengeance since human explorers displaced them from their breeding grounds in Andromeda. They plan to absorb all of the knowledge on the Ark become a superpower, but offer sanctuary for people on board if they leave immediately.

The team devises a plan to electrify the station using the transport shuttle, and Sarah Jane volunteers for the most hazardous task: routing the cable through the ventilation ducts. She gets stuck at one point, and the Doctor provokes her into fighting her way free, after which he praises her. I enjoyed that clever moment.

With the normal routes to the hibernation chamber cut off, the Wirrn attempt alternate entries. The Noah-Wirrn negotiates with the Doctor by holding the oxygen supply hostage. The Doctor appeals to his remaining humanity, but fails. The Wirrn attempt to take the shuttle bridge through the cargo bay, and the Doctor has the team return to the ark and the shuttle take off automatically. The Doctor’s attempt to sacrifice himself to release the locks is thwarted by Rogin who bravely takes his place. The swarm is ejected from the station in the shuttle, and Noah-Wirrn deliberately destroys the shuttle in his last gasp of humanity.

With the shuttle destroyed, the transmat is the only way to get the humans back to Earth, but the Doctor notices that the system is faulted. He, Sarah Jane, and Harry beam down to Earth to fix them as Vira begins awakening the ark.

This one was a fun romp with the typical monster-of-the-week and cliffhanger ending of the early years. Even with Harry’s bone-headedness, it was still enjoyable, much better on this go-round with some franchise context, and a good full intro to this Doctor.

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

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Sontaran Experiment

 

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 #75: Robot

Doctor Who: Robot
(4 episodes, s12e01-e04, 1974-75)

Timestamp 075 Robot

 

It’s never easy changing Doctors, but I think I’m going to like this one.

Things start out with another new title sequence, which is great, but I kind of miss the warp stars. The story itself kicks off with a delirious Doctor who mentions previous adventures as Lieutenant Harry Sullivan, UNIT’s staff physician, takes the Time Lord to the infirmary. Congratulations are also in order as Benton’s been promoted to Warrant Officer. That’s one big wetting-down party.

As the heroes get sorted out, a robot infiltrates a military facility. It kills a dog, so we know it’s bad, and steals top secret disintegrator gun plans. Back at UNIT, Sarah Jane asks the Brigadier for a pass to tour the Think Tank research facility, and as they leave the lab, the Doctor sneaks in, finds his TARDIS key in his predecessor’s shoe, and almost makes it into the TARDIS before Doc Sullivan catches him.

At this point, we get our first really good look at the Fourth Doctor. His eyes are wild and fun, and so it his youth. He reminds me so much of Christopher Eccleston’s Ninth Doctor.

The Doctor tricks Sullivan and ties him up before trying to leave in the TARDIS, but Sarah Jane stops him and discusses the need for him to investigate the mysterious theft. The Doctor, still unstable, almost shrugs off this duty, but he stops as he remembers the Brigadier and Sarah Jane. The Doctor tries various wardrobe options to match his new persona – including a Viking ensemble, a royal outfit, and a clown suit – before settling on his trademark scarf, coat, and hat. After that, the game is afoot.

Sarah Jane arrives at Think Tank for her tour, and the franchise continues to be progressive with a female director, Hilda Winters, at the facility. Sarah Jane doesn’t expect it, and mistakes assistant Arnold Jellicoe for the director. The Think Tank facility has a robotics division, but the only roboticist, J. P. Kettelwell, left in a very public spectacle. As Sarah Jane chases that lead, the Doctor, Sullivan, and the Brigadier set a trap at the next piece for the disintegrator gun. The robot avoids them by burrowing underneath and stealing the part.

Sarah Jane interviews the roboticist, but that lead is a dead end, so she sneaks back into Think Tank and discovers the robot in the lab. The facility’s director claims that the robot, Experimental Prototype Robot K1, is completely for show, and demonstrates that the robot cannot kill based on the prime directive that it can never harm humanity. The First Law of Robotics lives on, at least in a fashion. Sarah Jane is coerced by the director to keep her experience secret. Of course, the first thing she does is tell the Doctor and the Brigadier.

Winters and Jellicoe reset the robot again – hello, modified Zeroth Law! – and send it out after Cabinet Minister Joseph Chambers. The Brigadier decides to send Sullivan on a James Bond-style mission into Think Tank while the Doctor decides to interview Kettlewell. The robot breaks into Chambers’s home, kills him, and steals some documents. The Brigadier, the Doctor, and Sarah Jane discuss the incident and the Think Tank’s association with the Scientific Reform Society, a group that advocates societal rule by the scientific elite.

The robot visits Kettlewell in a disoriented state, explaining that his orders conflict with his prime directive and seeking help. Sarah Jane visits the Scientific Reform Society while the Doctor and the Brigadier investigate Think Tank. Director Winters claims that the robot has been dismantled, and the Doctor uses his scarf to sweep the floor for clues. They are escorted out just as Sullivan arrives disguised as a medical inspector. Kettlewell later calls the Doctor and informs him that the robot is there, but Winters and Jellicoe arrive first.

The dressing of the Scientific Reform Society was a bit on the nose with the Nazi-like uniforms, attitudes, and symbology. They are bad guys. Like, really bad guys.

The Doctor leaves a note for Sarah Jane and Benton, then takes Bessie to meet the professor. The Doctor encounters the robot, who attacks him under orders. The Doctor tries to escape, but the robot knocks him down. It is about to kill him when Sarah Jane arrives and intervenes. K1 recognizes her and enters its logic loop once again, but UNIT arrives and opens fire. It flees Kettlewell’s lab under UNIT assault, and the professor is found tied up in a storage locker.

Sarah Jane tends to Kettlewell, and he tells her of the robot’s construction. It is made from a living metal, but fear not, because Kettlewell has also discovered a virus that can destroy the metal. Kettlewell mentions that he is a member of the Scientific Reform Society, but that he only visited once. Together, they make a plan to sneak Sarah Jane inside.

We also find that a stunning plot convenience – the combined nations of Russia, China, and America have entrusted the locations and launch codes for their nuclear arsenals to Great Britain – is now the key to the entire conflict. The robot stole that information from Chambers, and now Winters and Jellicoe likely have it.

At the SRS meeting, Winters introduces K1 and Kettlewell as allies, which shocks Sarah Jane. Even more shocking is their betrayal, which the Doctor disrupts after incapacitating the guards with his antics and scarf. Kettlewell’s goals are simple: With the Society’s help, he can finally make humanity to stop ruining the environment.

Wait. That’s it? Okay.

Winters orders the execution of the Doctor and Sarah Jane, but the Brigadier and UNIT arrive in explosive fashion. Winters, Jellicoe, and Kettlewell escape with the robot and Sarah Jane, and the antagonists uncover Sullivan when he calls the Brigadier. The entire Think Tank is moved to an underground atomic bunker. UNIT tries to storm the site, but Winters deflects them with the automated defense system. She demands the Brigadier’s surrender within 30 minutes, otherwise she will destroy the world in a nuclear holocaust. Having none of it, the Brigadier sends Benton to destroy the machine gun emplacements, and the Doctor uses his sonic screwdriver to detonate the landmines and open the bunker door. Director Winters arms K1 with the disintegrator gun and sends it out to deal with UNIT, where it kills one soldier and destroys a (toy) tank. That effects cheat makes sense since they spent so much on the visuals and new titles.

The action sequences were nice, but the Doctor’s youthful charm and comedic antics were the highlight. They’re kind of refreshing after the seriousness of Pertwee’s Doctor.

Director Winters tasks Kettlewell with unlocking the launch codes and linking the missiles to a worldwide network. She starts the countdown to launch, but Kettlewell stops it and escapes with Sarah Jane and Sullivan. Sarah Jane tries to reason with the robot, and it almost works, but the programming forces it to fire on Kettlewell, and murdering its creator sends it into a logical shutdown.

UNIT invades the bunker, but Winters has already transmitted the launch commands. The director runs while the Doctor reprograms the computer and stops the countdown. Sarah Jane wanders off and is taken by the robot, who is trying to reason out its logical conflict and decides to destroy humanity per Kettlewell’s desire. On a positive note, it chooses to save Sarah Jane.

The Brigadier wishes that he could meet an alien threat that wasn’t immune to bullets – Thank you, Brig! – and Benton tells the team about the living metal and the virus. The Doctor and Sullivan head to Kettlewell’s lab to find the virus as K1 locks the bunker and restarts the countdown. The countdown is thwarted by the fail-safes for each superpower’s warheads, so K1 takes Sarah Jane to the surface. The Brigadier shoots K1 with the disintegrator, but the plan backfires as K1 grows to immense size.

Note: Insert shark to jump here. The Fourth Doctor can borrow the Ninth Doctor’s leather coat.

K1 King Kongs Sarah Jane to a rooftop for her safety, then engages the UNIT troops in a terrible special effects spectacular. The Doctor and Sullivan arrive with the virus, and drive Bessie to K1’s feet and deploy the virus. The virus shrinks K1, then dissolves it completely.

Back in the lab, Sarah Jane is upset over K1’s destruction. The Doctor offers her a jelly baby to snap her out of her reverie, and then offers to take her away in the TARDIS.

I love his quote here: “There’s no point in being grown-up if you can’t be childish sometimes.”

Doctor Sullivan arrives just as they were about to leave, and he invites Sullivan along. The “bigger on the inside moment” is priceless as the Doctor is off once again.

With the story and the acting alone, this serial was scoring as a high 4 until the entire super robot fight. Even after that, it’s still good. Baker is delightful as the Doctor, and his companions have great chemistry. I settled on a 4 before adding in the regeneration handicap.

 

Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Ark in Space

 

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: Eleventh Series and Third Doctor Summary

Doctor Who: Eleventh Series and Third Doctor Summary

Timestamp Logo Third 2

 

The Eleventh Series bounces back from the slight dip in the Tenth Series, but that’s not without caveats. Two of the stories were easy marks: The Time Warrior was a straight-up 5, and The Monster of Peladon – rest in peace, brave Aggedor – was a solid 4. But each of the other ones in this series took a little, shall we say, extra consideration. Invasion of the Dinosaurs and Death to the Daleks benefitted from optimistic mathematics, but Planet of the Spiders only scored well because of the regeneration handicap and the addition of franchise mythology in an already heavily padded story.

This season heralded the passing of the torch for the Third Doctor’s run: UNIT is phased out more and more as one of the strongest companions so far gets introduced. Sarah Jane Smith is so fantastic, from her journalistic inquisitiveness to her proactivity and fiery nature. She definitely has not let me down.

Out of the Third Doctor’s run, this one was the second highest rated behind the Ninth Series. It’s also the second highest rated for the entire Timestamps Project to date, barely edging out the Fifth Series. But I think a lot of the turbulence for me in this series has a lot to do with one major component of the Third Doctor’s era: Convenience.

 

The Time Warrior – 5
Invasion of the Dinosaurs – 4
Death to the Daleks – 4
The Monster of Peladon – 4
Planet of the Spiders – 4

Series Eleven Average Rating: 4.2/5

 

Timestamp Third Doctor

 

Remember how I referred to William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton as anchors for the audience? I think it still holds here. Jon Pertwee’s introduction ushered in a lot of changes for the franchise, and it meant that the Doctor had to change a bit as well. If the First Doctor is the Wise Grandfather and the Second Doctor is the Sly Jester, then the Third Doctor is the Secret Agent Scientist.

The James Bond influence is strong in Pertwee’s run, from the Lazenby-style ruffles to the ad hoc gadgets and super-powered vehicles. Unfortunately, those efforts to appeal to modern audiences come at the price of adding convenience to the franchise. I wanted to know how often I called out the convenience in the stories, so I searched the Timestamps Project for the term and came up with sixteen hits. Of those, half of them were in the Third Doctor’s run alone.

In The Ambassadors of Death, it was the antagonist’s communicator and a gadget on Bessie. In The Curse of Peladon, it was the plot device that removed the TARDIS as an escape vector and the Time Lord interference that sent the Doctor there. In Carnival of Monsters, it was Jo’s skeleton keys. In Frontier in Space, it was the quick clearing-of-the-stage appearance of the Daleks. In Planet of the Daleks, it was the secret information that the Time Lords provided to the Doctor about the large Dalek force. In Invasion of the Dinosaurs, it was the selective nature of the time bubble machine. In Planet of the Spiders, it was both the Whomobile’s sudden flight mode and the ability of Yates and Tommy to survive a blast that essentially killed a Time Lord.

In the one that I can excuse, The Three Doctors kept an infirm William Hartnell confined to a time eddy.

But that’s still seven occurrences in five series related to one Doctor. Hartnell and Troughton each had four hits on my search, and I’m willing to admit that it’s probably more prevalent, the fact remains that it really stood out during this Doctor’s run. To me, that represents a substantial change in the franchise overall. This isn’t the same Doctor Who as it was under Hartnell and Troughton.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Doctor Who had been running for seven years before the Third Doctor, and those seven years were, for the most part, pretty consistent. Television shows these days are lucky to get three or four years unless they’re medical procedurals (ER, Grey’s Anatomy), crime procedurals (Law & Order, Bones), or Supernatural. Star Treks generally got seven seasons (arguably, four of which were consistent). Babylon 5 ran for five years (and some extras) and Farscape ran for four years (and a miniseries). Closer to the 1960s, the original Star Trek only got three years, and depending on who you ask, it was consistent for two.

With those odds, it made sense that Doctor Who would have to evolve (regenerate) in order to survive. It will likely happen again.

So, what did I think of the character? I liked him, though not as much as the scores would indicate. In my opinion, the Third Doctor’s episodes were generally superior to those of his predecessors, but the character himself suffered from his exile. He was frequently snotty, condescending, and downright rude, and while that made sense to the story, those aren’t character traits that I admire. I loved that he brought science back to the forefront with his constant experimentation and exploration, but he didn’t really start to shine for me until he got his keys back.

He’s a man defined by his wheels – Bessie, the Whomobile, the TARDIS – and that makes him kind of shallow.

And I seriously hope that one of those, the Whomobile, stays in the garage.

The Third Doctor’s run consistently has some of my favorite work in the series, and it scores the highest as a result, but outside of the numbers I still favor the Second Doctor as a character.

 

Series 7 – 3.8
Series 8 – 3.4
Series 9 – 4.8
Series 10 – 3.8
Series 11 – 4.2

Third Doctor’s Weighted Average Rating: 4.00

 

Ranking (by score)
1 – Third (4.00)
2 – Second (3.67)
3 – First (3.41)

Ranking (by character)
1 – Second Doctor
2 – Third Doctor
3 – First Doctor

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Robot

 

 

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 #74: Planet of the Spiders

Doctor Who: Planet of the Spiders
(6 episodes, s11e21-e26, 1974)

Timestamp 074 Planet of the Spiders

 

I don’t like spiders. I’ll try not to let that color my commentary.

Mike Yates, who we haven’t seen since his betrayal of UNIT and the Doctor, is recuperating at a Buddhist meditation center led by a man named K’anpo and his assistant, Cho Je. He finds a secret group in the basement that may be up to no good, so he calls Sarah Jane and they investigate matters. On the way back to the center, Sarah Jane is convinced of the fascinating tale when they get run off the road by an imaginary tractor. The leader of the secret group, Mr. Lupton, meets the cinematic standard of a villain since he physically abuses and bullies Tom, a man with a mental disability.

The Doctor is at a comedy show of some sort with the Brigadier. He’s there to see a psychic, Professor Herbert Clegg, who he invites to UNIT. Clegg is a very powerful clairvoyant, and he submits to some experiments to determine his full strength. One, for example, summons experiences from the sonic screwdriver and displays them on a monitor. During this evaluation, a package arrives from Jo Grant containing the crystal from Metebilis III, which is an odd way to re-gift a wedding present. Professor Clegg has a violent psychic reaction to the crystal, resulting in a fatal fear-induced heart attack. Simultaneously, Lupton’s group summons an intelligent and powerful spider from another dimension, and that spider merges with Lupton’s body. Sarah Jane and Yates witness this event, and she returns to UNIT and relays the tale to the Doctor.

The Doctor gazes into the crystal, sees the hermit who lived behind his childhood home, and relays the story to the Brigadier. Meanwhile, Lupton is driven by the spider to seek the crystal at UNIT HQ. He forces his way in and steals the crystal, which prompts an extensive chase. Lupton steals the Whomobile, so Sgt. Benton, Sarah Jane, and the Brigadier follow in Bessie, while the Doctor provides air support in a small, one-man helicopter. After the whole group breaks some local speed laws, a police officer joins the chase in a moment of levity. After they all stop at an airport, Lupton steals the helicopter, and the Doctor and Sarah Jane continue pursuit in the Whomobile, which (conveniently) can now fly. The ground chase gives way to a water chase involving a hovercraft and a speedboat, which results in a several rather obvious reveals of the Jon Pertwee’s stunt double. When the Doctor finally catches up to the speedboat, Lupton has vanished.

Take a moment and catch your breath.

Lupton apparates back to the retreat and is seen by Tommy, who only has eyes for the crystal and covets it for his collection of “pretties.” As the Doctor and Sarah Jane track Lupton back to the retreat, the Lupton-Spider calls home to the spider community on Metebilis III and conspires to take over Earth. The spider attempts to coerce Lupton through telepathic pain, but Lupton levels up and reverses the effect on the spider. Meanwhile, Tommy steals the crystal and hides it in his cupboard under the stairs.

I found the fact that he lives under the stairs to be quite interesting. It’s part of the Madwoman in the Attic trope, where the socially undesirable member of the house is locked away from public view to save face. In some cases, this person ends up being the hero of the story of a fulcrum to pivot the plot and enable the hero to save the day. Three of my favorite examples are Boo Radley in To Kill a Mockingbird, Scorpius in Farscape, and Harry Potter in the franchise of the same name.

Tommy takes Sarah Jane to look at the crystal, but Sarah Jane overhears Lupton and follows him to the basement. She asks Tommy to relay her plans to Yates and watches Lupton apparate to Metebilis III. She inadvertently follows him and gets captured by a group of humans who are subjects to the queen spider and her society of Eight Legs. The queen just happens to visit the village and Sarah Jane is discovered. The Doctor gives chase in the TARDIS and arrives just as the queen discovers Sarah Jane. The Doctor gets into a fight with the queen’s human guards, and is eventually incapacitated and left for dead as the queen and her retinue depart. During the fracas, Sarah Jane hides in the crowd.

Back on Earth, Tommy gets into an altercation with Lupton’s comrades. He returns to his cupboard and gazes into the crystal, which heals his brain. On Metebilis III, Lupton realizes that he is a only a cog in the overall Eight Leg machine designed to overthrow the queen. Sarah Jane retrieves a machine from the TARDIS to help heal the Doctor, but she is captured by the Eight Legs. One of the indentured humans uses the machine to help the Doctor as Sarah Jane learns the history of Metebilis III from a fellow captive named Sabor. The humans are descendants of a crashed spaceship, and the Eight Legs are spiders that were on the ship and were mutated by the crystals.

The Doctor investigates different types of stones around the human village and finds one that negates the energy attacks of the Eight Legs followers. He infiltrates the spider fortress and is captured, but escapes using techniques learned from Harry Houdini. As the Doctor makes his way to the lair of the Great One, the supreme spider, the queen takes Sarah Jane and confides in her that the queen wants peace with humanity. Sarah Jane agrees to get the crystal if the humans are all released.

The Doctor reaches the lair of the Great One, but she warns him not to go any further due to intense radiation. She wants the crystal, the last perfect crystal of power, but the Doctor doesn’t yield. The Great One telepathically forces the Doctor to march about like a tin soldier (to music very reminiscent of the march of the Cybermen), before releasing him so he can retrieve the crystal. He escapes with Sarah Jane, who has apparently learned how to apparate from the queen, and they return to Earth.

Lupton’s followers open the gateway to the spiders, who transport to Earth. The spiders attack Cho Je and Yate, and then possess the followers. They then attack the Doctor and Sarah Jane, who are saved by Tommy before being taken to K’anpo. During their discussion, K’anpo is very impressed with the Doctor’s knowledge of Tibetan customs, and the Doctor feels that K’anpo is familiar to him.

In the interim, the spiders track the crystal to Tommy, and they fire on him with their Force lightning energy beams. At this point, it’s painfully obvious how much padding this serial has. The recaps in each episode are pretty long, but the last one is the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back with significant re-editing to reveal things that would have spoiled the cliffhanger. I’m sure it was different back in 1974 when the break between episodes was a whole week, but when they’re watched back-to-back, the extensive recaps become painful. Regardless, this whole serial could be cut down into three or four episodes instead of six.

Anyway, the spiders track the crystal to Tommy because Tommy delivered it to K’anpo. At this point, we find out that Sarah Jane is under the control of the queen, who has tricked her to retrieve the crystal. K’anpo and the Doctor free her with the crystal, and the queen dies as she apparates back to Metebilis III. In a twist, K’anpo is revealed as the hermit from the Doctor’s childhood. He is a Time Lord as well, but chose not to follow the path of others like the Doctor, having regenerated and left Gallifrey to live in Tibet. Cho Je is merely a projection of K’anpo’s mind.

Here we are with some important mythology points: We learn the name for regeneration, as well as getting another reference to the Doctor stealing the TARDIS and running from Gallifrey.

The Doctor communes with K’anpo and realizes that he must take the crystal to the Great One. His greed for knowledge and his theft of the crystal set all of this in motion, and only he can stop it by facing his fears.

Outside, Tommy is resisting the spider lightning, so Lupton’s followers channel power from the spider council on Metebilis III and use it to attack Tommy. He resists the first blast, and Yates dives in to take the second. The followers burst into K’anpo’s chambers just as the hermit tells the Doctor how to apparate. The followers shoot K’anpo before running for the basement, but the Doctor is too quick for them. He returns to Metebilis III, but is betrayed by the villagers who are under the influence of the spider council. The Doctor easily convinces the council that he will return the crystal to the Great One alone, and they allow him to leave. Afterward, the Eight Legs kill Lupton for his insolence.

Back on Earth, Yates and Tommy have (conveniently) survived, the former being protected by his compassion, and the latter by his innocence. Given that the same blasts force K’anpo to regenerate into Cho Je, I think that Yates and Tommy should have died. It certainly would have given Yates a bit of redemption after his betrayal.

The Doctor enters the lair of the Great One, who desires the perfect crystal to complete a telepathic weapon that will saturate the universe with her mind. She takes the crystal and puts it in place, but the device overloads and destroys her and the Eight Legs civilization. The Doctor escapes, but is weakened from the large dose of radiation he absorbed.

Three weeks later, the Doctor is still missing. As the Brigadier and Sarah Jane discuss the Doctor’s absence, the TARDIS materializes. The Doctor falls out of the TARDIS, just as he did when he first arrived, after being lost in the time vortex. He has received a fatal dose of radiation and is dying. He says his goodbyes to Sarah Jane, and then regenerates.

Tucked into his farewells is the phrase “Where there’s life, there is hope,” which comes from the Roman play Heauton Timorumenos, but also has roots all over mythology. It’s a universal theme, and very relevant to the character of the Doctor, a being who brings hope everywhere he goes spanning lifetime after lifetime.

Overall, I had a hard time with this story. If it were presented on its own, I’d score it as a 2. It’s far too spread out and padded, especially in the recaps, but it gains some salvation in the ties into the franchise’s mythology, especially for reaching into our hero’s childhood once again. Adding a point for those ties and another for the regeneration handicap, and this one comes to a total of 4, but I still think that it’s a pretty bad way for the Third Doctor to end his era.

 

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

 

UP NEXT – Eleventh Series and Third 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 #73: The Monster of Peladon

Doctor Who: The Monster of Peladon
(6 episodes, s11e15-e20, 1974)

Timestamp 073 The Monster of Peladon

 

The Doctor returns to Peladon, and that means we get more Aggedor! Well, kind of.

As this serial gets rolling, I hadn’t noticed before now that the opening credits have a glitch. When the Third Doctor transforms into a silhouette and joins the wormhole effect, the zooming leaves an artifact in the lower left corner of the screen until the Doctor Who logo appears. I can’t un-see it now.

Anyway, back to Peladon. Three miners are moving a device called the sonic lance when they are attacked by something called the “Spirit of Aggdeor”. It’s no surprise that the miners are afraid and refuse to work any longer, and it’s also no surprise that it’s time for the Doctor to arrive. Right on cue, the Doctor brings Sarah Jane to Peladon to show her “one of the most interesting places” he knows, and they are almost immediately apprehended.

They are taken before the queen, the daughter of the king we saw on the Doctor’s last trip to Peladon, who is working with the Federation delegates to keep mining production moving. Our travelers arrived in the height of war between the Federation and Galaxy Five, and their appearance correlates with fears of enemy spies being implanted in the Federation. It’s been fifty years since the Doctor was last on Peladon, but the queen knows the legends of the Doctor, and his life is saved by old friend Alpha Centauri, who vouches for the Doctor.

Sarah Jane is fiery. So awesome!

The miners are extracting a mineral for the war effort, and are upset with their way of life which hasn’t improved in the last fifty years. Their leadership is split between Gebek (who negotiates with the queen for improvement) and Ettis (who relies on violence, including taking over a Federation armory), and they have some unintentionally hilarious hairstyles.

After the Spirit attacks again, the Doctor appeals to the queen to let him investigate before she takes rash action against the rebels. The queen sends her champion with the Doctor to investigate the last site of the Spirit’s appearance when Ettis sets off an explosion. The Spirit appears, kills the champion, and then vanishes. Gebek uses the sonic lance to free the Doctor, who escapes just before the Spirit attacks again, and the Doctor and Gebek strike a deal for the good of Peladon to continue the investigation. The Doctor promises to convince the queen to improve conditions and the miners can get back to work. As the guards attack, the miners and the Doctor escape together.

Sarah Jane has gone to find the Doctor and gets lost, tripping a defense system near the refinery after seeing someone sneaking about inside. She is rescued by Alpha Centauri and Eckersley, a human miner. Meanwhile, Chancellor Ortron (mirroring High Priest Hepesh from the last Peladon adventure) convinces the queen that the Doctor is in league with the miners, and recommends that the Doctor be executed.

Ettis attacks Eckersley and forces Alpha Centauri and Sarah Jane to open the armory. After Alpha Centauri sounds the alarm, Ettis escapes with Sarah Jane, who then is captured by the palace guards. Ortron orders her taken to the temple and pins the rebellion on her and the Doctor. He throws them both into the pit to be disposed of by the real Aggedor.

Oh, Aggedor, I have missed you.

The Doctor uses the “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” lullabye on Aggedor, which works just like it did fifty years before, and they are released by the queen. Thank the Maker that the queen is finally standing up for herself! She asks the Doctor to have Gebek meet with her and discuss the miners’ grievances. The Doctor departs on his mission, but asks Sarah Jane to remain and advise the queen in how to stand up for herself. Her advice: “There’s nothing ‘only’ about being a girl.”

Yes! She’s like Jo turned up to eleven.

Gebek tries to rally the miners to a peaceful situation, but Alpha Centauri has requested Federation military support, which may exacerbate the situation. As the Doctor gets ready to assuage that problem, Ortron orders the Doctor to remain in the Citadel, and when he tries to sneak out to meet with Gebek, Ortron has him arrested. Alpha Centauri and the queen lobby for his release, but Ortron declines. The queen orders that Sarah Jane is to remain free, and Ortron agrees since, as a female, Sarah Jane cannot be a problem.

When Ortron talks about the Doctor’s “rebel friends,” he rolls the R and enunciates much like Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin in Star Wars: A New Hope. It must be part of classical British acting classes.

Sarah Jane relays the Doctor’s message to Gebek, whose men have just secured the sonic lance by force. She later confers with the queen in the presence of Alpha Centauri and Ortron on how to dissuade the incoming Federation troops, who (by procedure) cannot be recalled once summoned. Sarah Jane heads for the dungeon to release the Doctor, but Gebek offers to go in her stead. Once free, the Doctor accompanies Gebek to the refinery as the miners set up the sonic lance and prepare to lay siege on the Citadel. During all of that, Alpha Centauri contacts the Federation troops, who sound a lot like Ice Warriors, and gets an update on their deployment.

Ortron puts the plan in action by appealing to the miners to return to work and promises that after the troops leave, the queen will listen to their grievances. They agree, but are immediately attacked by the Spirit. As they run, the Doctor finishes hotwiring the refinery door and reveals two Ice Warriors.

Wait. Aren’t the Ice Warriors supposed to be friendly on Peladon? Not anymore, it seems. They take the Doctor and Gebek captive and impose martial law on Peladon. All of the players are taken to the throne room, and the Ice Warrior commander, Azaxyr, summarizes the entire affair so that he has a clear picture. He returns the miners to work under Peladonian armed guards: If the miners fail to work, they will be killed, and if the miners and guards fail to follow the plan, the Ice Warriors will execute the hostages they have taken as collateral. The Ice Warriors claim to be a Federation force operating under wartime rules of engagement.

Ettis and his miner army storm the throne room to rescue Gebek, but are immediately slain by the Ice Warriors. Only Ettis escapes, and Azaxyr decides to execute the Doctor, but is convinced by Sarah Jane, Alpha Centauri, and Eckersley that only the Doctor can convince the miners to return to work. After the Ice Warriors leave to inspect the worksite, the Doctor reasons with Sarah Jane that the figure she saw in the refinery must have been the Ice Warrior guard Sskel, and that Azaxyr and Sskel must have been on the planet before the Federation troops arrived.

Sneaky, sneaky.

The Doctor returns to the throne room and asks the miners to return to work, but the Peladonians are united as a whole against the Ice Warriors. So he asks them to pretend to work until he can solve the problem, and they agree. The miners return to work as asked: They cooperate with Azaxyr exactly as they did with Ortron. Meanwhile, the Doctor raises the temperature in the mines to weaken the Ice Warriors and give the miners a fighting chance against them. The miners attack, but Gebek learns of Ettis’s plan to destroy the Citadel with the sonic lance. The Doctor goes after Ettis while Gebek keeps Sarah Jane safe, but Sarah Jane is captured by Sskel and interrogated by Azaxyr.

The Doctor fights Ettis and is defeated, but when Ettis tries to activate the sonic lance, a self-destruct circuit — one that Azaxyr enabled when he detected the rebels moving the machine into position — destroys the machine. Ettis is killed, and the Doctor is presumed dead. Azaxyr returns the mines to normal temperature and disables the ventilation system. The Doctor wakes up from the explosion and returns to the mines. He catches Gebek up on the situation, and the Doctor heads to the refinery to restore ventilation.

Sarah Jane stages a diversion to free the queen, Ortron, Alpha Centauri, and herself from the throne room, but only Alpha Centauri and Sarah Jane escape. Ortron is killed in the attempt while trying to protect the queen. Alpha Centauri and Sarah Jane take refuge in the communication room where the ambassador sends a general distress call and Sarah Jane discovers that Eckersley is conspiring with Azaxyr to corner the market on the minerals and ship it all to Galaxy Five. Eckersley is also controlling the Spirit of Aggedor, which is a matter projection of a statue with a directional heat ray. Sarah Jane sees the Doctor on the screen and runs to join him at the refinery.

That’s two serials in a row to use the combination of a galactic emergency, essential minerals, and cornering of markets to leverage power.

Eckersley and Azaxyr return to the Citadel, and Sarah Jane distracts the refinery guard long enough for the Doctor and Gebek to incapacitate him. Azaxyr discovers Alpha Centauri in the communications room, and the ambassador is sent back to the throne room where Azaxyr intimidates the queen and Alpha Centauri reveals the truth about Eckersley and Azaxyr. The ambassador is forced to reveal Sarah Jane’s whereabouts, and Sskel is dispatched to apprehend the team at the refinery. The Doctor defeats the Ice Warriors at the refinery door with the Spirit of Aggedor, and Sskel returns to Azaxyr.

Gebek rallies the miners and the guards while the Doctor controls the Spirit from the refinery, but Eckersley amplifies the security system until it drives Sarah Jane out of the refinery and overpowers the Doctor. The miners storm the Citadel with help from the Spirit of Aggedor. Sarah Jane returns to the Citadel and holds Eckersley at gunpoint until he disables the security system. He disarms her when she sees the unconscious Doctor on the screen, and Eckersley locks her in the communications room.

The miners storm the throne room to find Azaxyr holding the queen at gunpoint. The miners lay down their swords, but then attack the Ice Warriors hand-to-hand and kill them all. The queen sends Alpha Centauri to send a message to the Federation, where the ambassador frees a morose Sarah Jane who goes to the refinery. Meanwhile, Eckersley takes the queen hostage.

The Doctor wakes up, having placed himself in a sensory withdrawl trance, and shocks Sarah Jane. He mocks her for her concern, but they return together to the throne room and learn of the queen’s peril. The Doctor dispatches the real Aggedor like a bloodhound, and the creature finds and kills Eckersley. Sadly, it dies in the assault, and the Doctor mourns his friend’s death.

I mourn as well. I’m going to miss that critter.

A short time later, the Doctor, Sarah Jane, and the queen are gathered in the throne room where Gebek is named as the new chancellor and Alpha Centauri brings news of Galaxy Five’s surrender. As the Doctor and Sarah Jane leave, she ribs him over the queen’s offer to remain as her advisor, and he playfully pushes her into the TARDIS as they head off to the next adventure.

 

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

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Planet of the Spiders

 

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.