Timestamp: Fifteenth Series Summary

Doctor Who: Fifteenth Series Summary

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The Fifteenth Series was a stumble.

It’s hard to watch the series take a tumble, especially one so severe as this. The first two episodes were strong with Horror of Fang Rock and The Invisible Enemy turning in fantastic performances. The next three, however, were exercises in great moments immersed in terrible execution. Image of the Fendahl – a title that still gives me issues when I try to type it out – took the show to a bleaker, darker place than it had previously been, which was a shock. The highlight was Louise Jameson’s acting, which seemed to blossom when she stopped wearing contact lenses.

After that, The Sun Makers and Underworld both did what science fiction does best: They each explored elements of the human condition through existential metaphor. Sadly, they used the metaphor as a mallet to bonk the viewers on the head with the message. The Sun Makers built a soapbox to expound on Robert Holmes’s anger about the tax system, and Underworld basically retold The Face of Evil with a veneer of the Greek myths and a lot of terrible blue screen work.

Once again, the only thing that really saved those stories for me was Louise Jameson’s performance.

And that’s why The Invasion of Time was shocking. The story was smart and the performances were sharp, but the ending stole the perfect score by creating a “Leela falls in love and wants to remain on Gallifrey” subplot in about thirty seconds, and it made no sense. She helped save the planet, but she’s still an alien, and the Doctor’s tenure as president was (supposedly) lost in the de-mat gun’s explosion.

But the franchise has never been strong on writing out companions, has it?

Looking at the numbers, the last time a series scored this low the Sixth, which was the final regular season for the Second Doctor. It’s also the second to worst, just ahead of the Third Series.

 

Horror of Fang Rock – 4
The Invisible Enemy – 5
Image of the Fendahl – 2
The Sun Makers – 3
Underworld – 2
The Invasion of Time – 4

 

Series Fifteen Average Rating: 3.3/5

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Ribos Operation

Carrie Fisher (1956-2016)

She was the first to show me that a princess could save the day, both in fiction and reality.

She used her talents to entertain and educate, both on the screen and on the pages, and used her battles to show us all how to recognize and defeat our personal demons. She was sharp and acerbic, could disarm internet trolls in seconds, and proved that no matter the adversity, you can always make a comeback.

She will always be royalty to me.

 

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Timestamp #97: The Invasion of Time

Doctor Who: The Invasion of Time
(6 episodes, s15e21-e26, 1978)

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Duplicitous Doctor is delightful.

Somewhere in deep space, the TARDIS is parked on an alien ship. The Doctor negotiates with the ship’s crew as Leela and K9 keep the TARDIS running. Leela tries to use the scanner, but the Doctor disabled it to prevent her interfering. The Doctor signs a contract granting him complete control over the Time Lords, returns to the TARDIS, and departs. Leela takes a dip in the TARDIS swimming pool to pass the time.

On Gallifrey, the Time Lords detect the incoming TARDIS, but they cannot determine who it is, so they increase security. The TARDIS materializes and the guards, led by Commander Andred, arrive with orders to arrest the pilot and destroy the capsule. The Doctor emerges and demands to be taken to Chancellor Borusa.

Leela is on Gallifrey? How can she be there but Sarah Jane could not?

Upon meeting with Borusa, the Doctor claims his legal right as President of the Council of Time Lords. He is very gruff and brusque with the Time Lords, who are unaware that every interaction is being watched by the mysterious aliens. The Doctor selects his Presidential chamber, including 20th century décor and lead-lined walls, and orders that Leela be given proper accommodations.

Once the Doctor in inaugurated, he will be connected to the Matrix, the repository of Time Lord knowledge and history. The ceremony proceeds, but once the circlet is placed on his head, the Doctor collapses in pain. He is attended to by the surgeon general, although Borusa wants him arrested (which cannot happen to the President under law), and taken to the Chancellory to rest. Leela is taken away for questioning in the matter, and when she arrives at the Chancellory, the Doctor recovers and has her expelled from the Citadel since aliens are not allowed there. Leela runs to evade capture.

At this point, everything’s playing out as if the Doctor is completely betraying Leela.

Borusa tries to call the Doctor’s bluff, but the Doctor tells him that as long as Leela remains at large, Gallifrey is in danger. Borusa leaves the Doctor rest, after which the Doctor dons his normal attire and escapes the Chancellory. He hopscotches his way to the TARDIS with Leela in pursuit, but he locks her out and then shares a secret plan with K9. While on the run, Leela stumbles into the space traffic control room and meets the operator, Rodan. Together, they note that a massive warship is approaching the planet, but Rodan assures Leela that it cannot harm them so long as the planetary transduction barrier remains in place.

The Doctor leaves the TARDIS and returns to the Chancellory just in time to meet with Castellan Kelner, who has been watching the Doctor’s adventure the entire time. Meanwhile, a guard unlocks the TARDIS, releasing K9 who stuns the guard for his trouble. K9 disables the transduction barrier, allowing the warship to approach and three aliens to materialize in the Citadel as the Doctor laughs an evil laugh.

The aliens are called the Vardans, and the Doctor entered into an alliance with them some time ago. He asks Borusa to meet him in his chambers later, and tells the Vardans that it is only a matter of time until he retrieves the Great Key. When he reaches his quarters, he explains everything to Borusa, their secret maintained by the lead-lined walls of the room. Leela was banished to protect both her and the secret. Leela convinces Rodan to join her in the Wastelands, which she believes to be part of the Doctor’s plan. The run into Andred, who lets them go but stays behind to face the invasion and keep tabs on Castellan Kelner. In the Wastelands, the duo encounters a tribe of Gallifreyan outsiders led by Nesbin. These tribe has rejected Time Lord society and live in the wild.

The Doctor and Borusa leave the chambers and meet with Kelner and the Vardans. The Doctor begins his act: He has Borusa placed under house arrest and directs Kelner with tracking and expelling trouble-making (potentially rebellious) Time Lords. The Doctor returns to the TARDIS where K9 is interfacing with the control panel. He places the circlet on the robot dog’s head, giving him access to the Matrix. Andred, in an attempt to defend his home, enters the TARDIS and corners the Doctor, threatening to assassinate him.

K9 stuns Andred before continuing his analysis. When the guardsman comes to, he realizes that his weapon is ineffective. The Doctor leaves Andred with K9 and discovers that Kelner’s men have eliminated Andred’s force. He returns to the TARDIS and explains things to Andred: The TARDIS shields them from the Vardans, and the Matrix has been invaded. The Doctor modifies Andred’s helmet to shield the guardsman from the Vardans, then constructs a plot to disable the remaining force field around Gallifrey. The downside is that only Rassilon has the power to do so, but the upside is that his being lives on in the Matrix.

Kelner and the Vardans discuss the Doctor’s erratic behavior and begin to plot against him. Meanwhile, Leela organizes the rebel tribe to stage an assault on the Citadel. The Doctor returns the Vardans and tries to earn back their trust by opening the planet to attack. He opens a hole in the shield directly above the Citadel, and a spacecraft approaches as three humanoids materialize in the Panopticon. As the hole opens, K9 leads Andred to the Presidential chambers and Leela leads the tribe to the Citadel. The Doctor returns to his chambers, prompting the Vardans to place Kelner in charge and order the Doctor’s execution, but K9 traces the Vardan signal back to its source and places their planet in a time loop.

Presuming that they have won, the Doctor, Leela, Andred, and the tribesmen converge on the Panopticon and being to celebrate, but their joy is short-lived as three Sontaran soldiers appear and take aim on the group. Well, that escalated quickly.

I did like how the Doctor immediately surrendered to save the assembled innocents.

The Sontarans used the Vardans as pawns to dismantle Gallifrey’s defenses. The Doctor hides his true identity as the Sontarans search for him, and Borusa works behind the scenes to provide a distraction. The Doctor’s group scatters while Kelner remains behind to polish boots with his tongue. The Doctor, Leela, Rodan, Andred, and Nesbin – basically, the power players in this plot – run to the Presidential Chambers and find Borusa. Hot on their heels, the Sontarans begin to assault the door, which Borusa had previously reinforced with titanium. Escaping through a secret exit, the group (now including K9) moves to Borusa’s office. The Doctor sends everyone onward to the TARDIS, then asks Borusa for the Great Key of Rassilon, the literal key to ultimate Time Lord knowledge. Borusa attempts to deceive him, but in the end surrenders the key to the Doctor, making him the first president since Rassilon to hold it.

On the way back to the TARDIS, Nesbin is killed, but with his last ounce of strength he takes down a Sontaran. The Doctor and Borusa retreat to the TARDIS with Sontarans in pursuit, and the Doctor entrusts the Great Key to Leela’s protection. As the Sontaran commander forces Kelner to widen the hole in the planetary shield, the Doctor works with Rodan to seal it. The overrides for the shield are controlled from the TARDIS, so Kelner sabotages the stabilizer banks and sends the time capsule hurtling toward a black star. The Doctor overrides the stabilizers, but that leaves the TARDIS stuck in state until the override can be, well, overridden.

Kelner gains access to the TARDIS, and the Sontarans pursue the Doctor’s group through her labyrinthine interiors. Which, in this incarnation, appear to be a series of industrial tunnels and eclectic rooms. In the workshop, the Doctor tasks a hypnotized Rodan as K9’s assistant, including possession of the Great Key, while he distracts the invaders. The Doctor’s group finds Borusa at the swimming pool, and he joins the running distraction. When Andred is inadvertently wounded, Leela takes him and Borusa back to the workshop. The Doctor meets up with them, and finds that Rodan and K9 have constructed a de-mat gun, the ultimate weapon of the Time Lords that erases its targets from all of time. The Doctor pursues the Sontaran commander to the Panopticon, where the warrior plans to destroy the Eye of Harmony, which will destroy Gallifrey. The Doctor uses the de-mat gun on the explosion, which removes the commander from time, destroys the gun, and wipes the Doctor’s memory of the entire event.

The Doctor used two different guns in this story. I really need to start a tracker of some sort.

With the day won, the now resigned President gets ready to depart, but Leela and K9 decline to follow. Leela has fallen in love with Andred, even though aliens are not welcome on Gallifrey, and K9 remains to look after her. As the Doctor flies on to his next adventure, his former companions mourning his newfound loneliness, he pulls a box out of storage: K9 Mark II.

This serial had some really good plotting and acting. It was great to see the Doctor playing such a powerful role in saving his home. I really wish that he hadn’t had the entire thing erased from his brain since the important part to forget was the de-mat gun.

It’s also time to say goodbye to Leela. Louise Jameson is a great actress, but Leela wasn’t my favorite companion. Granted, Sarah Jane is a hard act to follow, and Leela saved a couple of stories in her run. I will miss her.

The big downside to this story: The patched-in love story for Leela. It just appears as a quick method to eject her from the TARDIS, and that drags the grade down from a glowing top score to a solid four.

 

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

 

UP NEXT – Fifteenth Series Summary

 

 

 

 

Timestamp #96: Underworld

Doctor Who: Underworld
(4 episodes, s15e17-e20, 1978)

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There’s so much blue screen that, after this, the Star Wars prequels are gold.

The TARDIS is putzing about in deep space. The Doctor channels his inner da Vinci as Leela plays with the control console. We still haven’t answered the question as to whether or not she can actually pilot the blue box, but she flips a switch and the TARDIS stops. Coincidence? Fate? Sixth sense? Whatever the cause, she thinks she broke something, but the Doctor says that the TARDIS stopped because it reached the edge of the cosmos. K9 chimes in that they are not alone, which is accurate since a ship is falling into a nearby spiral nebula. The Doctor sets a course and they materialize inside the wayward craft.

At this point, I have seen so much Doctor Who that sets are starting to blend together. I know that I’ve seen this bridge before, but I can’t exactly place it.

The crew of the ship, the R1C, recognize the materialization sound as the technology of the gods. The TARDIS and her crew are in the ship’s cargo hold, and the Doctor determines that this is a ship from Minyos, a planet from the other side of the universe. The Time Lords once tried to help the Minyan society, but were rejected when the Minyans destroyed their world 100,000 years before this story. This led to the Time Lords developing their non-interference policy – the source of much Gallifreyan hypocrisy – and the Minyan survivors revile them for the catastrophe.

I’m trying really hard to avoid a Despicable Me franchise reference here. If there were bananas in this story, however, I’d be over the top.

The travelers escape the cargo bay and head for the bridge. Their arrival upsets the crew, and a “pacifier” is used to quell the hostility. Captain Jackson explains to the Doctor that the R1C has been searching for a missing ship that holds their genetic banks, the P7E, for 100 centuries. They have been surviving by regenerating like the Time Lords, but their ship is failing after so long underway. The Minyans ask if the Doctor understands how that feels, and he remarks that it is unpleasant.

Did the Time Lords alter the Minyan people somehow to give them regeneration? There was a technological component to it, almost like an impulse to start it, but the last time the Doctor regenerated, he needed the same push from K’anpo. Either the Time Lords gifted them the power, or I’m seriously beginning to wonder if the Gallifreyans are a future evolution of humanity. Not canon, I know, but still.

The Doctor hooks K9 into the helm, and the robot dog pilots them out of the spiral nebula. The detect the P7E and follow her track back into the nebula. They survive the journey, but become buried as the ship attracts a large amount of debris. They use the ship’s weapons to punch through the accumulating rock, but it damages their own ship.

And this makes no sense. But that doesn’t stop the plot (as it is) from moving on.

They break free and follow the signal to a soft planet that is forming from the debris. They crash into the planet and the shock causes a tunnel to collapse, disrupting some slave workers called Trogs. Guards are dispatched to pacify the slaves, lording over them with claims of heresy. The accused heretic’s son, Idas, runs from the guards.

Have I mentioned how much blue screen work there is in this one?

The Minyans open the airlock and blast through the rock into the tunnels, detecting signs of intelligent life. The crew leaves the ship after telling the travelers to stay behind, so the Doctor and Leela naturally follow and explore. They find Idas and lead the guards away before doubling back to find the boy inside the R1C‘s airlock. The ship’s crew explore the tunnels, and one of them, Herrick,  encounters a guard. The guard shoots, but the crewman reflects it with his shield and kills the guard. The overseer blocks the tunnel and fumigates it, effectively reducing the Trogs to the level of cockroaches.

The Doctor learns about the Trog myths from Idas, including legends of the Sky Gods (the Minyans have those too!) and the Seers who rule on behalf of the Oracle. They soon detect the fumigation gas, and the Doctor goes out to stop it, but he is overcome in short order. Nevertheless, he was successful as the gas recedes and back-flushes the system, overcoming the guards at the brig. Meanwhile, the crew frees Herrick.

When the Doctor returns, Idas tells him about sacrifices at the Citadel, which is the punishment his father Idmon will endure for heresy. The Doctor tells K9 to find Captain Jackson while they save Idmon. Idas warns them of dragons at the entrance, but Leela makes short work of these automated defenses. They enter the planet’s core, which has null gravity, and descend to the Citadel. They are soon captured.

The sacrifice is to be accomplished by using the flame from the (ironically named) Lamp of Life to burn a rope and drop a sword (of Damocles, despite the incorrect usage) onto the victim. The Oracle, a disembodied mechanical voice, begins the ceremony. The Doctor’s group is brought to the sacrificial altar and are sentenced to death, but Idas sparks a rebellion by moving his father at the last second. Jackson and the crew arrive as the Doctor’s group flees. Herrick remains to guard their escape and is captured.

So. Much. Blue. Screen.

Such. Terrible. Special. Effects.

The free slaves explain their lives of labor, and the Doctor determines that the Trogs are really the descendants of the P7E‘s crew. They decide to seek out the Oracle by hiding in mine carts, but they accidentally fall into a rock crusher. The Doctor and Leela hold on to the edge by their fingertips – a literal cliffhanger look how clever – and the R1C crew rescues them, holding back the guards while the travelers continue their quest.

The Seers torture Herrick, but do not believe his story despite the scanners indicating that he is telling the truth. They remove their masks, revealing mechanical faces. The Seers determine that the Oracle is worth more than the genetic bank, and offer them to the R1C crew if they agree to leave. Captain Jackson concurs.

The Doctor, Leela, and Idas locate the Oracle, which is yet another megalomaniacal computer (which sounds like Gozer from Ghostbusters).  The Doctor deduces that the Oracle is programmed to protect the genetic banks at all costs, so he steals them, which brings the might of the Oracle’s guards upon them as they flee. They are trapped in a deliberate “skyfall” cave-in, but are rescued by K9.

“Gratitude is unnecessary. Speed is vital.” Nice.

K9 stops the R1C‘s departure as he detects the trap: Herrick’s prize is really a pair of fission grenades capable of destroying a small planet. It’s a bit late for Chekhov’s gun, but there it is. The Doctor takes the grenades back into the tunnels and hands them over to the guards. After Leela frees the Doctor, the travelers return to the R1C with all of the Trogs in tow. As the ship departs, the grenades explode and destroy the planet, causing a shockwave that pushes the ship out of the nebula. The ship sets course for the new Minyan homeworld as the TARDIS departs for the next adventure.

Doctor, if I may: Speaking from an era where pop culture references permeate pretty much everything, if you have to explain the reference, the effect is ruined.

The story’s premise is decent enough – it should be since it’s effectively a rehash of The Face of Evil – but the execution is terrible. The Oracle computer was a lackluster and impotent villain (particularly when compared to WOTAN, BOSS, and Xoanan), the villain’s mechanical minions (sorry) were never explained, and the plethora of parallels to the Greek myths (mostly Jason and the Argonauts) was a bit (or a lot, really) heavy-handed. At least it gave the writers a reason to reach way back into Doctor Who history with the Trojan Horse. Finally, all of that badly executed blue-screening was painful on the eyes. It was probably a great technical achievement for the time and the budget, but it was hard to watch because there was just so much of it.

Louise Jameson added a little bit of saving grace with her humorous recovery from the pacifier ray — “Who did it? I’ll kill them!” — but, sadly, it was really the only humor to be found in this story. The rest of the jokes and gags fell flat.

I give the dodgy science a pass because, over the duration of the Timestamps Project, the science in Doctor Who has been dodgy more times than I can count. It’s a hallmark of science-fiction in this era.

I was tempted to give this one the lowest possible grade, but this one was still better than both The Web Planet and The Celestial Toymaker.

Though not by much.

Thank Louise Jameson.

 

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

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Invasion of Time

 

 

 

 

Timestamp #95: The Sun Makers

Doctor Who: The Sun Makers
(4 episodes, s15e13-e16, 1977)

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This story is an allegory about something. It seems almost as certain as death, but paid annually. I just can’t put my finger on it. I suppose it will come to me eventually.

On Pluto, a man named Cordo receives word that his father has died. Strangely, he is relieved, and has his “death taxes” ready for payment to Gatherer Hade. Cordo discovers that death taxes have been raised, and unfortunately, he has nothing more to give. The gatherer increases Cordo’s working hours to compensate, leaving him with no time to sleep.

In the TARDIS, the Doctor is playing chess against K9 and Leela. They land on Pluto, and the Doctor is amazed to see that it has been terraformed with vast cities and breathable atmosphere. Leela spots Cordo about to jump off one of the buildings, and together they stop him.

Hade is informed of an airspace violation and illegal landing. Overjoyed at the revenues, he heads out to arrest the perpetrators and discovers the TARDIS. The Doctor, Leela, and Cordo run to avoid the gatherer and avoid being sent to the correction centers, which are apparently very bad. Cordo mentions the “undercity” and rumors of tax evaders and outlaws live, and the travelers offer to accompany him. In short order, they find the outlaws.

Trivia: Pluto has six suns, which the Doctor determines are in-station fusion satellites. This title inspiration never really comes to bear on the plot again.

Meanwhile, K9 gives up on waiting for the Doctor and leaves the TARDIS. The dog makes his way through the city, and Hade and his aide Marn watch the progress. The outlaws give the Doctor a task by Mandrel, the outlaw leader: He is to take a Consumcard to the Consum Bank with Cordo. If he doesn’t return by a certain time, they’ll kill Leela. As the Doctor and Cordo set out, they encounter K9. Since Hade and Marn are watching K9 on the tracker, they also discover the Doctor, who they presume is an arms smuggler. Hade decides to go to the palace and warn the Collector.

The Doctor and Cordo reach the bank and attempt to deposit the Consumcard. Unfortunately, the Doctor is trapped in the booth which fills with gas. He is apprehended, but Cordo escapes. The Doctor wakes up in the Correction Center with another prisoner, Bisham, who inadvertently shares just how much freedom is restricted in this civilization, including the use of a gas in the atmosphere to increase anxiety and decrease will. During their discussion, the Doctor sabotages the circuitry, which electrocutes their guard. As the Doctor’s time runs out, Mandrel orders Leela to be seized, but she fights back. Cordo returns with news of the Doctor’s capture, and Leela tries to rouse the rebels to fight with her. In the end, only Cordo accompanies her to rescue the Doctor. The duo find K9, and the dog accompanies them on their journey.

Hade and the Collector discuss how to suppress the supposed uprising. The Collector promises half of his guard to assist in exchange for a five percent increase in taxes to cover the cost. As workers fix the reprogramming circuitry, the Doctor is freed by Marn. He leaves his bag of jelly babies with Bisham, and Marn escorts the Time Lord to see Hade. The gatherer pays him the value of the forged Consumcard and forgives the offense, obviously in an attempt to instill a false sense of security in the rebels. Marn also places a tracker on the Doctor as he leaves.

Leela, Cordo, and K9 break into the Correction Center and find Bisham. They all leave to continue tracking the Doctor, who has returned to the undercity and Mandrel’s gang. Mandrel is convinced that the Doctor is a spy for the gatherer, and Leela’s group is maneuvered into a trap. Leela has K9 spring a trap of their own and the group escapes, but Leela is shot and apprehended in the attempt. She is taken to the Correction Center for medical attention, and the Collector orders her to be brought to him when she has recovered.

Mandrel attempts to torture the Doctor for information, but he is rescued by Bisham and Cordo. The three of them plan an insurrection with Mandrel’s gang against the Company. Strangely, they have no idea what the Company does or where their money goes. The Doctor tricks the trackers with a footage loop of him walking the same path.

Leela is brought before the Collector, who learns of the Sevateem and the TARDIS. He dismisses Leela and researches the Time Lords, then informs Hade of the Doctor’s true identity. The Collector orders Leela to be publicly executed, and issues a bounty on the Doctor, dead or alive, to be paid out by Hade. The commander of the guard visits Leela in the Correction Center and taunts her with news of her execution. That guy’s gonna get a taste of her knife, isn’t he?

Marn and Hade follow the false scanner trail and discover the trick. Meanwhile, the Doctor’s team takes control of the vapor towers, the nerve center for the city’s power. They learn of Leela’s pending execution by steaming, a particularly gruesome death, and K9 offers to traverse the pipes and disable the system. The Doctor then crawls to the condenser and rescues Leela, but his efforts are betrayed by an inadvertent call from Mandrel.

The rebels are clearing the atmosphere of the mind-altering gas, and the Doctor decides to take over the Collector’s public video system and announce the rebellion to the world. The Collector is informed that some of the workers are refusing to work, a side-effect of the atmosphere purification, sending the leader into a fervor.

The Doctor and Leela break into the palace and, after a rather humorous hypnotism sequence, begin to explore the Collector’s systems. They discover the Company vault and crack it, but as Leela rushes in, she is knocked unconscious by a security field. The public video system broadcasts a message that the rebellion has taken over, and in the face of a mob, Marn joins the rebels. On the roof, Hade confronts a group of workers and is tossed over the side for his trouble.

The Collector returns to the palace and the Doctor sits down for the typical fourth episode exposition. The Collector is an Usurian, and his species made a deal with the humans: In exchange for a colony on Mars to save humanity, the Usurians taxed them to the extreme. Once Mars was exhausted, they moved the operation to Pluto, and once this operation is over, the Collector plans to abandon them and move on. It’s a plan of galactic domination through business instead of war.

The Doctor inadvertently awakens the hypnotized guard who provides a distraction for the Collector to unveil his Doomsday contingency plan: A sprinkler system filled with poison that will kill every human almost instantly. Luckily, Leela distracts the guard with a knife to his shoulder, then stops the Collector from throwing the switch. As the rebels storm the palace, the Collector reverts to his natural form (a lump of seaweed) that is easily stopped.

With the threat stopped and the day saved, the travelers head back to the TARDIS. Leela and K9 pick up their chess game once again, and the Doctor flips the board by throwing the TARDIS for a loop. With mock sincerity, he apologizes and offers to start the match again.

It was a simplistic but straightforward story, but a little too on the nose with the commentary.

 

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

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Underworld