Timestamp #91: The Talons of Weng-Chiang

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyway, on with this show.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leela does look amazing in that dress.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overall, this was entertaining and very thought-provoking.

 

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

 

UP NEXT – Fourteenth Series Summary

Timestamp #90: The Robots of Death

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

Timestamp #89: The Face of Evil

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Provided that she lasts that long.

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

 

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

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Robots of Death

 

 

 

 

Timestamp #88: The Deadly Assassin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You know, this is a really odd story.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It all settles out to an average score.

 

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

 

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