Timestamp #109: Shada

Doctor Who: Shada
(6 episodes, s17e21-e26, 1980/1992)

timestamp-109-shada

 

The lost (and reconstructed) episode of the color era.

Before the story begins, Tom Baker takes us on a tour a Doctor Who museum that I would have loved to visit. From this point forward, the episode is split between the filmed portions from 1980 and, where the footage wasn’t shot, narrations by Tom Baker in 1992. Now, given the events of The Day of the Doctor and that the linking narrations are given by Tom Baker as the Doctor, I think it could be reasoned (in fan canon at the very least) that this story is being told by the Curator.

The story begins at a think tank in space. One of the hive’s minds awakens and drains his comrades using the computer that they were all attached to before setting a quarantine message and stealing the hard drive. After he leaves, the rest of the hive wakes up and stumbles around like zombies. Moving to what looks like relative present day, a man named Chris Parsons pedals to Cambridge and arrives at the door of Professor Chronotis, an older gentleman with the TARDIS in his office, and asks for a particular book on carbon dating. He leaves in a hurry with a stack of books as the professor reads The Time Machine.

Not too far away, the Doctor and Romana are punting on a river while (unbeknownst to them) being observed by the man from the think tank. The Time Lords hear a strange babbling of voices as they decide to return to the professor’s office. On the way, they encounter Mr. Wilkin, a man who remembers the Doctor’s previous three visits over the last three decades. The Doctor jokes that he was at Cambridge one other time in a completely different body, and the reaction establishes Wilkin as the comic foil for the duration. The Time Lords arrive in the professor’s office where he discloses to Romana that he is a retired Time Lord and offers them tea. The Doctor tells the professor that they came at his summons, but the professor says that he didn’t send the signal. While the Think Tank Man arrives in Cambridge, demands to know where Chronotis works, and is rebuffed by Wilkin, the professor remembers that he summoned the Time Lords to help find the missing book. The book, now in the possession of Chris Parsons, is written an alien dialect, and when Chris tries to analyze it, the tome smokes and glows, burning the student on contact.

The Think Tank Man, looking ridiculous in his sun hat and flowing silver cape, hitches a ride with a stranger. Thankfully, Tom Baker tells us that the man’s name is Skagra and that he used his sphere to knock out the driver before taking over the car and driving to his cloaked spaceship in a field. Kind of like Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, but without Spock and whales.

The professor explains that the missing book is The Worshipful and Ancient Law of Gallifrey, dating from the era of Rassilon. The Doctor is beside himself: The book is one of the powerful artifacts, and the professor stole it from the Panopticon Archives upon his retirement. As Time Lords past and present continue to search the professor’s library, Skagra absorbs massive amounts of data about the Doctor, then contacts his superiors on a carrier ship to set plans in motion.

The Doctor and Romana briefly discuss Salyavin, a Gallifreyan criminal, before Chronotis scrounges up Chris Parsons’s identity from his spotty memory. The student has left the book with his girlfriend Claire (who initially looks a lot like Sarah Jane) while he researches the book’s origins. The Doctor sets out to find Chris as Skagra returns to Cambridge. As Romana looks in the TARDIS for some milk for their tea, Skagra arrives in contemporary clothes and asks for the book. When Chronotis refuses to yeild the book, Skagra uses the sphere to attack the professor.

The Doctor arrives at the lab and examines the book with Claire, determining that it is 20,000 years old. Meanwhile, Chris returns to the professor’s office as Romana and K9 examine Chronotis. The professor has had part of his mind extracted, resulting in severe mental trauma. Romana sends Chris into the TARDIS for a medical kit while she tends to the professor, placing him on life support with the kit. Sadly, he is in a vegetative state, but he does send a message in Gallifreyan morse code warning them of the spheres, Skagra, and Shada before dying and vanishing. Fortunately for them, the information that Skagra extracted did not show Chris’s identity. Unfortunately, Skagra intercepts the Doctor and the book. The Doctor is pursued through Cambridge by the sphere, losing the book in the chase. Skagra retrieves the book, but the Doctor is captured by the sphere and it starts to drain his mind.

There was some really good situational humor during the chase – The Doctor asks the No Cycling sign to pardon him for cycling in its vicinity – as well as good production as the sphere actually knocks over a pedestrian in the hunt.

Romana arrives in the TARDIS and rescues the Doctor. They return to the professor’s offices just after the man disappears – presumably because he was on his last regeneration – and the Doctor vows vengeance. K9 begins scanning for the sphere as the Time Lords and Chris wait in the TARDIS. Meanwhile, the sphere consumes a fisherman for no particular reason.

Claire heads to the professor’s offices with a printout just as the TARDIS dematerializes in pursuit of the sphere. They arrive in the field where Skagra’s ship is located, and Skagra welcomes the group aboard before taking them prisoner. Skagra reveals that he was only interested in the professor’s mind, not in killing him. He demands that the Doctor decode the book, but when the Doctor refuses the sphere attacks him. In their cell, Romana, K9, and Chris look for a way out. They can find nothing, and even K9 cannot blast out. The robotic dog does detect the voices, including a new addition in the Doctor’s voice. Romana is transmatted from the cell and forced by the once more fantastically dressed Skagra to pilot the TARDIS.

Claire runs from the office, revealing to Wilkin that the book is absorbing energy before returning to the office to wait. While searching the rooms, she inadvertently sets off an explosion that results in a time vortex filling the space.

The Doctor awakens on the ship and reveals to the vessel’s computer that since he was playing dumb, the sphere only copied his mind. He convinces the ship that he is dead to secure freedom for him and his companions, and it replies by shutting off the air supply. Chris and K9 are pacing in their cell when they are transmatted into the corridor, prompting the ship to restore the oxygen supply. Meanwhile, the TARDIS arrives on the Krarg carrier ship. She watches as one of the crystalline beings is born, listening as Skagra tells her that he needs a Time Lord to decipher the book. The Doctor pilots Skagra’s ship into space and it dematerializes like a TARDIS as he boosts the power. Unbeknownst to our heroes, a hidden Krarg forms in the shadows.

Claire awakens inside the offices to discover Professor Chronotis. The office is a TARDIS, Claire has activated it, and the capsule restored him in the accidental temporal convergence. The book is revealed to be the key to Shada, a Time Lord prison.

Back on the carrier, Skagra plows through the Doctor’s memories but is unable to crack the code. As the Doctor’s ship arrives at the Think Tank, he and Chris board the ship, and (on the carrier) Skagra and Romana retreat to the Doctor’s TARDIS. As Skagra turns the pages and continues his study, the TARDIS operates, and he deduces that turning the last page will unlock the code.

The Doctor and Chris discover the aged members of the Think Tank, and the Doctor connects Chris to the machine. This restores the Think Tank members, and the lead scientist, Caldera, explains the group’s history with Skagra. Skagra intends to use his intellect to dominate humanity by merging everything into himself, but needs Salyavin to do so. After the Doctor learns this, he is interrupted by K9, who has been holding back the fully formed Krarg. The crystalline creature attacks the group, but in the process it destroys the central computer column. In the smoke, the Doctor, K9, and Chris escape to the Skagra’s ship and escape just in time. Sadly, the Think Tank members die as their ship explodes.

The professor’s TARDIS is wedged between two irrational time interfaces, and Chronotis and Claire attempt to fix the capsule. The retired Time Lord telepathically focuses on Claire’s mind and transfers his knowledge into her. Meanwhile, Skagra’s ship arrives at the carrier, and in the attempt to rescue Romana, the Doctor and Chris end up inside the professor’s TARDIS. In the ensuing discussion, the seeds are sown to reveal Salyavin’s true identity. As they talk, Skagra pilots the Doctor’s TARDIS to Shada using the book and start searching for Salyavin. The Doctor and Chronotis fix the professor’s TARDIS and follow to Shada.

Skagra starts the revival process in the prison, but cannot find Salyavin. The two Time Lords arrive and Chronotis reveals that he is Salyavin. Skagra attempts to drain Salyavin’s mind, but K9 slows him down by blasting the sphere. The fragments of the sphere latched onto the prisoners and the newly arrived Chris, and the brainwashed horde advanced on the Doctor. K9 attempts to slow them down, but is deflected by a Krarg. The Doctor uses the distraction to escort Romana, Claire, and K9 to the professor’s TARDIS. As the Doctor attempts to find a solution, Romana reminds him that all of the captured minds are in the melting pot, including the Doctor’s.

Skagra dispatches his legion throughout the universe to advance the revolution. The Doctor, Romana, and Claire use the professor’s TARDIS to generate a force field as they pursue Skagra in the Doctor’s TARDIS, capturing the phone box in the time vortex. The Doctor attempts to pass through to his TARDIS, but an accident deactivates the force field and throws the Doctor into the vortex. He ends up in a closet inside his TARDIS and formulates a plan.

The professor’s TARDIS arrives on the carrier ship as the Doctor struggles for control of the joint mind. Romana destroys the Krarg generator, defeating the crystalline creatures. Seeing that he has lost, Skagra retreats his ship, but the computer incarcerates him after deciding to serve the Doctor. The group restore the stolen minds and returns the prisoners to Shada. After calling the Time Lords on Gallifrey, it is discovered that Salyavin covered his escape by erasing the memory of Shada from the collective Time Lord memory, including stealing the key.

The TARDISes return to Earth, where Salyavin will supposedly continue to live in his absent-minded persona of Chronotis. The return of the professor’s offices stumps Wilkin, who has summoned a policeman to report the “stolen room,” as the professor entertains his guests to tea.

Overall, this was a highly enjoyable romp. I appreciated the linking narrations as a reconstruction (of sorts) of this lost episode, but they did lack a bit when it came to the action and battle sequences. I was a bit confused about the Salyavin being allowed to remain in retirement instead of being imprisoned once more. I mean, yes, he did help set things right, but he’s still a convicted criminal who escaped and set this entire course of events into motion. Perhaps it’s a measure to keep him out of the reach of Skagra, who is still trapped on his starship?

 

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

 

UP NEXT – Seventeenth Series Summary

 

 

 

 

Timestamp #108: The Horns of Nimon

Doctor Who: The Horns of Nimon
(4 episodes, s17e17-e20, 1979-1980)

timestamp-108-the-horns-of-nimon

 

Doctor Who does mythology once again, and they do it just as well as before. Which, if you’re keeping score, is not well at all.

A Skonnan starship cruises through space. The crewmen grouse about how aged and overwhelmed their equipment is, but, hey, once Nimon fulfills his promise, they will revel in their restored glory. That will happen once their cargo, a batch of children, are delivered. Even before the co-pilot drank the stupid juice, I knew that this crew would attempt delivery at all costs. Lo and behold, the co-pilot simply cannot wait the extra twelve hours, so he overtaxes the engines to make it in half the time. The resulting overload kills the pilot and strands the ship in deep space.

Predictable.

Not too far away, the Doctor, Romana, and K9 are making modifications to the TARDIS. The Doctor expects the time capsule to be motionless in space, but they have stopped in the gravitational field of a black hole. Since the Doctor has shut down console room, the Doctor rigs the force fields and extends them to the nearby Skonnan ship. But first, they collide with it.

You know, I like my silly humor in Doctor Who, but I groaned at the mouth-to-snout resuscitation of K9. It did not work.

The team spacewalks down their makeshift bridge and enters the Skonnan ship. They find a storage room of radioactive crystals and the children that are intended as a sacrifice for Nimon. One of them is Seth, the Prince of Aneth. The Time Lords send K9 back to the TARDIS and are soon discovered by the Skonnan co-pilot. They also observe that the gravity is steadily increasing.

On the Skonnan homeworld, the leader/scholar/priest/overlord named Soldeed is informed of the goings-on and decides to inform Nimon. That whole thing feels like a televangelist in charge of a mega-church. The Nimon is (effectively) a sentient minotaur.

The Doctor and Romana set to work trying to save everyone from the impending black hole. The Doctor returns to the TARDIS as Romana (with her own custom sonic screwdriver!) works on the starship. After Romana completes her work, the co-pilot pulls away and resumes his course, stranding the Doctor and the TARDIS. Within moments, a rogue planetoid bears down on them, caught in the gravity well, ending the boring first episode.

The Doctor sees their situation is hopeless and says his farewells to K9. The “first prize” ribbon for the best dog ever was just about as funny as the earlier mouth-to-snout gag. The Doctor has a last minute revelation and bounces the TARDIS off the planetoid, freeing them from the gravity well. He begins repairs on the TARDIS so he can pursue the Skonnan ship.

Back on Skonnan, Soldeed is scolded by Nimon, and the minotaur repeats already established story details: The contract will not be completed until the shipment arrives. Once we get past this immense plot padding, we find out that Seth is destined to destroy the Nimon, and his father is waiting for Seth’s victory with a vast celebration.

It’s at this point that I understood where this was headed. Aneth is Athens, Seth is Theseus, Nimon is Minos, Crinoth is Corinth, and the last time Doctor Who tried to directly adapt Greco-Roman mythology, we had Underworld.

Adding to the padding, the Doctor is having trouble fixing the TARDIS. The time rotor shorts out with a series of comedic sound effects. Someone whack the showrunner with a wet trout already.

The starship arrives at Skonnan, and Soldeed is unnerved to find Romana among the crew. The co-pilot attempts to frame the Time Lady for all of the problems, but Soldeed sees through his flimsy cover story and sends him to Nimon for punishment. He then sends the children and Romana as tributes. The co-pilot, Romana, and the tributes roam the ever-shifting maze leading to Nimon’s lair in the city’s Power Complex. The maze exists for no reason other than the minotaur of myth lived in a labyrinth.

The Doctor, meanwhile, finally rigs a patchwork repair and sets course for Skonnos. The Doctor arrives in the town square – he bemoans always being the target of guns, phasers, and blasters – and asks to be taken to the Skonnan leader. He is escorted to Soldeed, gains some information, and then escapes into the labyrinth. He keeps track of his progress using green star stickers, however they disappear into the walls. A ball of twine might have worked better.

Romana and the tributes find the previous sacrifices in an Ark in Space cryogenic storage chamber. The co-pilot forces them into Nimon’s lair, but Nimon executes the co-pilot for his previous failure before turning on Romana and her charges. The Doctor arrives, waving a red scarf (¡olé!) to tempt the horned beast, and Romana takes the opportunity to escape with Seth and Tika (a young woman who idolizes Seth). As they meet up with the Doctor and formulate a plan, Nimon loads the radioactive crystals and into a reaction chamber. The Doctor’s group finds a radio room and reasons that the entire complex is a large positronic circuit. He calls for K9 to assist, but the robotic dog runs into Soldeed as the overly dramatic leader analyzes the TARDIS. K9 is immobilized and captured, and the Doctor presumes that the black hole is a gateway through hyperspace.

Nimon arrives in the radio room, forcing our heroes to hide as he begins to transmit, an act that draws Soldeed into the labyrinth to investigate. Nimon opens a portal to reveal a pod containing two more of his kind. His plan is obviously invasion.

The Doctor sends Romana to investigate the capsule as he tries to figure out the portal mechanisms, but he accidentally sends her with the capsule through the hyperspace tunnel. As he attempts to reverse it, Soldeed arrives and shoots the mechanism. As he takes aim on the Doctor, Seth stuns him, and the Doctor begins repairs. As he works, Soldeed comes to and escapes with a melodramatic laugh. On the other side of the cosmos, Romana arrives on a planet chock full of minotaurs and a chase ensues. She is soon saved by Sezom, Crinoth’s version of Soldeed but with less televangelism. He tells the tale of how Crinoth was overrun by the Nimons, a story that parallels the current troubles on Skonnos.

Seth and Tika are separated courtesy of the labyrinth, and she is soon captured by Soldeed and the Nimons.

The Doctor repairs the damage and transmats another pod, but it is full of Nimons. He sends it back, and the angry minotaurs set their contingency plan in motion. It appears that they have drained the planet of energy and must move on before the planet dies. The contingency is a one-shot: They can convert the matter into energy and force the pod through the hyperspace window, but it will destroy the planet. Sezom gives Romana his staff and a quantity of jesonite to supercharge it. They use it to disable the guard at the capsule, but Sezom is killed while providing Romana a chance to escape. The Nimons interrupt the Doctor’s repairs and accidentally bring Romana back. When she arrives, she tosses the jesonite to Seth, and he uses it to stun two of the Nimons.

K9 comes around and forces Soldeed’s assistant to free him from the lab, arriving in time to stun the last Nimon and help seal the hyperspace window. Seth and Romana start to free the cryogenically suspended tributes, and as Soldeed arrives, they confront him with the truth. He activates the reaction chamber with the radioactive crystals before Seth shoots him, setting off a chain reaction that will destroy the complex. K9 leads the entourage through the labyrinth as the Nimons give chase, but they don’t escape before the Horns of Nimon go up in a stunning conflagration.

Back on the TARDIS, Romana and the Doctor watch as Crinoth explodes and the tributes head home. The Doctor muses about being glad that the ship is painted white and points at the painfully obvious premise of the story before joking with Romana and closing the adventure.

The Nightmare of Eden was mediocre. This one was downright painful.

 

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

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Shada

 

 

 

 

Timestamp #107: Nightmare of Eden

Doctor Who: Nightmare of Eden
(4 episodes, s17e13-e16, 1979)

timestamp-107-nightmare-of-eden

 

We’ve been told since 1971 that drugs are bad. Maybe we should add vicious alien teddy bears to that list?

The cruise liner Empress, drops out of warp into orbit of Azure. All seems well until Captain Rigg realizes that the coordinates are wrong, and as the Empress phases back into real space, she collides with the Hecate. The two ships are fused together, and the navigator, a man named Secker, is useless in the emergency.

The TARDIS arrives at the collision site. The Doctor, Romana, and K9 make their way to the Empress‘s bridge where the two captains are arguing about their losses. The Doctor believes that he can separate the ships, and he and K9 accompany Secker to the power unit. Secker sneaks away and the Doctor follows, discovering that the crewman is under the influence of vraxoin, a deadly drug. While the Doctor worries about that development, Romana and the commander of the Hectate, Captain Dymond, meet with Tryst and Della, two zoologists on an expedition who have a crude matter transference device called the CET. Inside the device are several miniature habitats, similar to the device last seen by the Third Doctor and Jo in Carnival of Monsters.

The Doctor reports back to Captain Rigg with his findings, and Rigg points out that the Doctor’s cover story has some holes. A suspicious Rigg points the Doctor to Tryst for clues about the drugs while he searches for the wayward Secker. As Rigg and the Doctor continue making their way to the power unit, Romana plays with the matter transference device and sees a human face in the trees during the Eden simulation. Coincidentally, Tryst and Della lost a crewmember on the real Eden recently.

Rigg and the Doctor hear a scream and discover Secker in an area of matter flux between the two ships. Rigg takes the crewman to the infirmary as the Doctor returns to the cabinet where the drugs were stored. Unfortunately for the Doctor, a mysterious man shoots him and steals the drugs from his pocket. Also unfortunate, Secker dies from his injuries.

Meanwhile, Romana and K9 locate the Doctor and learn of his assault. Romana also explains what she saw in the CET, and the Doctor sends her to investigate further while Rigg, the Doctor, and K9 continue on to the power unit. While Romana is investigating, something knocks her out, and when the Doctor’s group cuts through a wall, they discover a monster behind it. K9 repels the creature and the Doctor seals the hole before revealing Secker’s addiction to the captain. Rigg and the Doctor return to the bridge and scan the ship for vraxoin, but the results are negative.  They make plans to separate the ships.

Della finds the unconscious Romana and helps her recover with a drink. When Rigg arrives, someone spikes the drink meant for Romana, and Rigg accidentally takes it instead. Rigg returns to the bridge as the Doctor constructs a device and takes K9 to find Romana. In the lounge, Romana tells the Doctor about her experience. Tryst arrives and the Doctor coerces the zoologist into deactivating the device.

The Doctor returns to the bridge and coordinates with Romana and Captain Dymond to separate the ships. They fail, and the Doctor encounters a hip-looking stranger when he tries to find K9. The stranger runs and the Doctor pursues, eventually catching up to him at one of the unstable areas. As they enter the area, the stranger changes into a monster.

Captain Rigg, under the influence of the drugs, accuses the Time Lords of being the drug smugglers. Romana goes in search of the Doctor and encounters the Doctor and the monster at the unstable area. An unseen person shoots the creature, driving it back into the mists, and the Doctor reveals an unexpected prize from the encounter: A radiation wrist band. As they head back to the lounge, Romana explains the captain’s state of mind.

Tryst and Della activate the CET again in a quest to determine if their former crewmate was the smuggler. Tryst finds the Doctor and explains his investigation, speculating that Della is the smuggler. The Time Lords are called to the bridge where the find Azurian Empire Customs officers who question them about their involvement. They discover traces of the drugs on the Doctor’s clothes, and the Time Lords escape before they are arrested. They head to the lounge, tune the CET machine to Eden, and jump into the projection. The customs officers pursue them to the lounge, but don’t think to investigate the projection. Tryst also discovers that the selector switch is missing and that he cannot turn off the machine.

While inside, the Time Lords discuss the logistical problems with the machine before being trapped by a man-eating plant. The Doctor frees them biting its root. They proceed deeper into the Eden projection and are attacked by a monster. Stott, the missing crewman from Tryst’s expedition, saves them from what he calls Mandrels, and provides refuge. He explains that he was left behind, but was able to escape into the CET. He’s also an agent of the Space Corps’ Intelligence Section, and has come to believe that Secker was involved with the smuggling ring. The trio leave the simulation and find K9 in the power unit, and the Time Lords set to work freeing the ships.

The mandrels leave the projection and attack the passengers, and Customs Officer Fisk is appalled at the captain’s disregard for the passengers’ lives. The mandrels also converge on the power unit, and one attacks the Doctor. K9 saves him as Stott stands around. The Doctor claims that the monster is dead, but it’s obviously breathing. As Stott holds off the creatures, the Doctor continues his work.

Fisk arrests Captain Rigg, and orders that the Doctor and Romana are to be apprehended. If they resist, they will be shot. Meanwhile, Tryst pleads that the mandrels not be killed. Why is that, you ask? We’ll find out in short order as K9 takes his position at the Doctor’s device, Romana and Stott head for the bridge, and the Doctor finishes his work on the power unit. The stunned mandrel wakes up and attacks, but the Doctor’s trap electrocutes it. The monster turns to dust, or more accurately, vraxoin crystals. Smuggling drugs in teddy bears, huh?

Romana reaches the edge of the projection and sends Stott back to help the Doctor as she continues on. She reaches the bridge and is attacked by Rigg as he demands more drugs.  She is saved by Fisk as he kills the captain, but he then turns his weapon on her. He orders her not to touch the controls, but she does anyway, and the ships start to shake as they separate. In the chaos, the Doctor vanishes and Romana escapes.

With the ships separated, Dymond requests permission to leave orbit, but Fisk declines as he needs a witness. Romana finds Della, informs her that Stott is alive, and asks her about their history. She reveals that Tryst told her that Stott had died.

The Doctor wakes up on the Hecate and discovers a laser with a direct line of sight to the Empress. He digs into the computer and finds evidence that Dymond is involved in the smuggling operation, then stows away on Dymond’s shuttle as the captain heads back to the cruise liner. He enters a healing trance to survive the trip without atmosphere.

The Doctor is reunited with Romana and K9, but two armed guards ambush them and take Della prisoner. The Doctor asks Romana about the laser and she explains that it could send a CET crystal. Since Tryst and Dymond are the smugglers, they could transport the drugs through the mandrels in the projection. Della confronts the smugglers as the customs officers find the Doctor, but Stott points the officers in the right direction. A mandrel attacks Tryst and Dymond, and they stun it before shooting Della and destroying the Empress‘s control console.

The smugglers fly over to the Hecate as the Doctor lures the mandrels back into the CET. Romana rebuilds the CET to transport the Hecate into the machine, and the smugglers are arrested in short order. The Time Lords make their farewells to Della and Stott, and then set out on an expedition to return the rest of the CET’s occupants to their proper homes.

There’s not much more to say about this adventure than that it was average. Nothing terrible, but nothing extraordinary. Just mediocre.

 

 

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

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Horns of Nimon

 

 

 

 

Timestamp #106: The Creature from the Pit

Doctor Who: The Creature from the Pit
(4 episodes, s17e09-e12, 1979)

timestamp-106-the-creature-from-the-pit

 

With apologies to Edgar Allan Poe, “Death! Any death but that of the pit!”

On a jungle planet, a group of people sacrifice a man by tossing him in a pit. On the TARDIS, Romana is decluttering, K9 is reading The Tale of Peter Rabbit with the Doctor, and WHAT THE FRESH HELL IS THAT VOICE?

No joke, that’s exactly what I wrote in my show notes. I grew to accept it – I didn’t get used to it, but merely accepted that as much as I want to, I cannot change it – but can we have John Leeson back now? Please?

After the emergency transceiver picks up a distress call and the TARDIS diverts to the jungle planet. The Doctor and Romana venture out and discover an enormous eggshell made of metal. The shell is transmitting the signal that the TARDIS detected. The Doctor is trapped by vines under the control of a group of men. They release him and order his execution, but a woman stops them. She explains that the vines are wolfweeds, and that they are in the “place of death,” aptly named because anyone traveling there is sentenced to death.

The Doctor and Romana are taken to see Lady Adrasta, and en route the Doctor warns that they are being followed. The group is ambushed by men who fight the swordsmen with clubs. They take Romana, but the wolfweed group refuses to pursue. The lower-tech group seem interested in metal content, and since Romana has none, they decide to kill her. As they deliberate, the wolfweed group arrives at Adrasta’s palace, where the Doctor attempts escape before being confronted by Adrasta. She discusses the egg with the Doctor, and agrees to search for Romana in the meantime. Back at the bandit camp, Romana logics her way out of the situation and takes charge of the men, tricking them into signaling K9 with the dog whistle.

The Doctor takes interest in a plate in Adrasta’s throne room as she asks about the egg shell. He presumes that it is screaming in pain for help, and disagrees with the Lady’s engineers about the source of the egg. Since one of the engineers failed to make the observations that the Doctor did, he is taken to the pit for execution. The Doctor is taken as a witness.

K9 arrives at the bandit camp, stuns the lead bandit, and rescues Romana. Together they track down the Doctor, arriving just after the execution. K9 stuns one of the guards into the pit, but is quickly overcome by the wolfweeds. The Doctor escapes by the most unthinkable way: He jumps into the pit. Romana notes that the Doctor is just below the edge of the pit, hiding from Adrasta. The Lady takes Romana and K9 (who is wrapped in a guaze cocoon) back to her palace. As Adrasta leaves, she kicks dirt into the pit, unwittingly knocking the Doctor from his perch.

Back at the palace, Adrasta reveals that metal is valuable and precious on the planet, and orders K9 disassembled for his parts. Romana agrees to help Adrasta if she doesn’t harm K9. She claims that K9 holds the information Adrasta seeks about the egg, and that only Romana can operate him.

In the pit, the Doctor explores the caverns and finds the creature. The creature is a large cube with a tentacle, and I assume that the production budget was blown for a trip to Paris and the Dalek premiere. Anyway, as he evades it, he discovers a man in hiding. The man, astrologer Organon, takes the Doctor to a safe space. He was once thrown into the pit for a mistake, but escaped and has been surviving on scraps intended for the creature.

The pit used to be a network of mines, but they are now abandoned. The only remaining mine is owned by Adrasta, and she owns all the metal on the planet. The creature closes in on the Doctor and Organon as they discuss their options. Organon uses his candle to burn the tentacle, and the creature retreats. They decide to explore the caverns to examine the creature.

Romana attempts to escape with K9, but she is stopped. Adrasta interrogates K9, and the robotic dog reveals what he knows of the TARDIS. They decide to use it to control all of the metal, and plan to press Romana into service as a pilot. Adrasta decides to destroy the creature first since she no longer needs it, and she takes K9 to destroy it. Everyone in Adrasta’s court, including the Lady and her prisoners, enters the mine on the hunt.

Everyone in the caverns converges on the creature, and as the Doctor gets a closer look, it attacks him. The guards attack as they fall back, but the creature seals the chamber. The Doctor is unharmed, and Organon and the guards attempt to break through.

Since the palace is empty, the bandits decide to distract the guards and ransack the place. In quick succession, the bandits assault the palace, Adrasta orders K9 to destroy the barrier, and the Doctor explores the mines and attempts to befriend the creature. The creature draws a picture on the wall, and it has the same symbol as the barricade and the plate in Adrasta’s throne room. Simultaneously, the bandits raid the throne room, including said plate, but are forced to retreat into the mines as more guards approach. They are soon hypnotized by the plate as it glows, and they carry it into the depths, which is fortunate because the Doctor agrees to retrieve the plate for the creature.

Romana, Adrasta, and K9 arrive at the barricade. Adrasta is surprised to see Organon, but maintains her attention on the task at hand and orders Romana to kill the creature if K9 can break the seal. Unfortunately, K9’s efforts only result in strengthening the seal. Fortunately, in Douglas Adams fashion, the Doctor breaks through from the other side.

Adrasta holds the Doctor as the Lady sends Romana, K9, and some guards to attack the creature. They cannot find the creature, and when they report back to Adrasta, the Lady inadvertently reveals that it is a Tythonian. The Doctor tricks Adrasta by stunning the guards with K9 and a mirror, and as she attempts to escape the oncoming creature, the bandits arrive with the plate and place it on the creature. The plate enables anyone touching it to communicate with the Tythonian. It’s name is Erato, and it is the Tythonian ambassador to the planet Chloris. It arrived fifteen years prior to negotiate a deal to exchange metal for chlorophyll, which is the Tythonian food source. The egg was its spaceship, and since Adrasta hoarded the planet’s metal, she cast the ambassador into the pit.

Hearing the truth, Adrasta’s people turn on her and force the Lady to communicate with the ambassador. It corroborates her story and then settles the score with her.

The Tythonian’s starship’s engine is concealed in the fragments in the mines, of which the Doctor stole a piece to prevent the ambassador from escaping before negotiating a deal and saving both their worlds. The bandits, fearing that a sudden influx of metal will reduce the value of all metal on the planet, plan to corner the market by stealing everything they can find. The Tythonian reveals that, as a failsafe if the ambassador did not return, her people have sent a neutron star to obliterate the planet. The ambassador plans to build a new ship within the hour, which prompts the Doctor to devise a plan to stop the neutron star and save the planet.

Wait, what? That doesn’t seem like a good negotiation technique at all. I get the impression here that the writers didn’t know how to wrap this up so they threw a neutron star in the mix for fun.

Adrasta’s adviser, Karela, hides the shell, kills the bandit leader, and tries to convince the rest of them to join her as she takes Adrasta’s place. The Doctor arrives and reveals the truth of the matter, and when Karela refuses to surrender the shell, the Doctor forces her hand by destroying the metal. With the shell returned, Erato constructs a new ship and works with the Doctor to construct an aluminum shell around the neutron star. The TARDIS is nearly destroyed, but the neutron star is neutralized and sent hurtling into deep space.

The Time Lords return to Chloris and deliver a trading contract, pushing the planet into a mutually beneficial future with Organon as its leader, before whisking away to the next adventure.

Hopefully it’s better than this one. It was lacking all around, and not even Douglas Adams and his trademark humor could save it.

Also, I’ll ask again: Can we have John Leeson back now? Please?

 

 

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

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Nightmare of Eden

 

 

 

 

Timestamp #105: City of Death

Doctor Who: City of Death
(4 episodes, s17e05-e08, 1979)

timestamp-105-city-of-death

 

The Doctor has been to Paris before, but this time he took the camera crew.

The story starts on a rocky, desolate plain where a spider-like ship is attempting to take off. An alien pilot argues with his control team, then begins lifting off before distorting in time and space and then exploding. Transition to Paris in 1979 where the Doctor and Romana are on vacation, taking in the view from the iconic Eiffel Tower before retiring to a local restaurant. While there, Romana attracts the attention of a local artist, but a time distortion changes her face to a broken clock, literally signifying a crack in time.

Completing the setup trifecta at a nearby château, Professor Kerensky is petitioning his employer for more money to perform his experiments. Count Carlos Scarlioni agrees, but notes that he will need to sell more of his rare book collection to earn more money. The Count is obsessed with the professor’s work and demands results now.

The Doctor chalks up the time slip to their frequent travels and takes Romana to see the Mona Lisa, partly as an example to Romana that computers cannot produce art like living beings and partly to show her one of the great treasures of the universe. Romana is unimpressed. Another time slip occurs, and the Doctor collapses. He is assisted by a stranger – who is, as he points out, carrying a gun – before leaving the museum. The trenchcoat man follows, as does a darker man (after being prompted by a woman) who seems a bit more sinister. The Time Lords go to another café where Romana reveals that they have been followed. The Doctor shows her a micromeson scanning bracelet – an advanced piece of technology for a Level Five civilization – that he lifted off the woman at the Louvre. The trenchcoat man arrives and orders the Time Lords inside at gunpoint.

The woman at the Louvre is married to the Count, and the Doctor is mugged for the bracelet by the sinister fellow and a cohort. The trenchcoat man, a detective named Duggan, includes them in his investigation of the Count, the rise of precious paintings on the market, and a plot to steal the Mona Lisa. As the Countess orders the trio to be brought before the Count, two new henchmen arrive to take them away. She goes to find her husband, but the Count is behind a locked door. As he removes his face, he reveals his true identity as one of the aliens from the prologue.

The Time Lords and Duggan are shown to the Countess – “I say, what a wonderful butler. He’s so violent!” – and the Doctor tries to disarm the tension through tomfoolery, but the Countess has none of it. Ramona solves the puzzle box containing the scanning bracelet, which commences a quick discussion with the Count and Countess over the peculiar trinket before the group is imprisoned.

That entire exchange was so much fun. It restores the Fourth Doctor to his original whimsical nature that has been declining since Sarah Jane’s departure.

The Doctor attempts to escape, but his sonic screwdriver is on the fritz. After Duggan applies a little mechanical agitation, the sonic unlocks the door. The Time Lords take the opportunity to investigate the laboratory – Romana had remarked earlier that the geometry of the room suggested some hidden spaces – as Professor Kerensky arrives and conducts a temporal experiment. The Doctor and Kerensky discuss the nature of his experiments – at one point, the Doctor reverses the polarity – and as the Doctor sees the alien creature from the prologue in the time bubble that the experiment has created, Duggan knocks out the professor. Meanwhile, Romana discovers an area in the cellar that has been walled off for centuries.

Upstairs, the Count and Countess conduct a walkthrough of the Mona Lisa’s theft via the bracelet’s holodeck setting. He entrusts the bracelet to the Countess and announces that they will perform the heist for real within hours.

Back in the cellar, the Doctor breaks into the walled off area with a little help from Duggan’s brawn, and they discover several genuine versions of the Mona Lisa. Counting the one hanging in the Louvre, there are seven versions which coincide with seven buyers lined up to purchase the painting. They are interrupted by the Count who, after a small discussion, is knocked out by Duggan. They also knock out the Countess and escape the château. Romana looks after Duggan as the Doctor takes the TARDIS to Renaissance Italy to see Leonardo daVinci. The master is nowhere to be found, but the Doctor encounters a Captain Tancredi who looks a lot like the Count in the future.

At the Louvre, Duggan and Romana trip an alarm and are forced to flee. Meanwhile, Kerensky awakens and finds the vault of Mona Lisas. He tends to the Count, who appears to be living events in modern day Paris and Renaissance Italy simultaneously. In the past, Tancredi explains to the Doctor that he is the last of the Jagaroth, a species that was nearly destroyed four hundred million years ago. During the escape attempt in the prologue, Tancredi’s original self was fractured across time. The captain is also very intrigued by the TARDIS and how the Doctor travels. Tancredi leaves the Doctor under guard and leaves to collect torture tools, but the Doctor escapes and, understanding how Tancredi is duplicating the Mona Lisa in the past, marks the canvasses with messages to the future. His escape attempt is stopped as Tancredi returns.

Kerensky begins to understand his role in the whole affair as Romana and Duggan (literally, in his case) break into the café. The professor cannot believe the scope of the Count’s vision, calling it monstrous and too expensive. On cue, the Count’s henchman arrives with the Mona Lisa from the Louvre, which is worth around $100 million. The seven of them will easily fund the plan.

Real world trivia: That value comes from an assessment of the painting on December 14, 1962. Accounting for inflation, the 2016 value is around $790 million. That’s a lot of time bubbles.

In the past, Tancredi interrogates the Doctor, who reveals that he is a Time Lord. The Doctor asks how the Jagaroth splinters communicate across time, but is deflected. Back in the present, the Count is hearing voices and, after bragging about all of accomplishments, asks the Countess to leave as all of his splinters enter a stupor. The Doctor escapes as the twelve splinters proclaim that the centuries dividing them shall be undone, and realizes the importance of the Time Lords in his plan.

The Doctor returns to the present day as Romana tries to puzzle out how the Count can travel in time. Romana and Duggan leave the Doctor a note before heading for the château. The Doctor receives news of the art theft at the Louvre, then retrieves the note at the café. He follows them to the château where the Count has Romana and Duggan at gunpoint. The Count interrogates Romana about time travel and shows her to the laboratory under threat of destroying the city should she give him any trouble. As a demonstration, he uses the experiment to kill Kerensky through accelerated aging, then offers to do it to the entire city unless Romana can stabilize it. She attempts to bluff her way out, but the Count calls her on it by threatening to kill Duggan. The Count wants to return to where his spaceship is in time and prevent himself from taking off.

The Doctor arrives and is captured. He engages the Countess in a debate about being willfully blind before being escorted to the laboratory, and the Countess begins to ponder on the Doctor’s words. The Doctor tries to stop the Count – his plan to save his people will erase all of history – but the Jagaroth locks them all away and orders their execution. The Count goes upstairs and is confronted by his wife. At the business end of a gun, he explains everything to her, then kills her with the bracelet.

Romana reveals that she has rigged a trap in the Count’s time machine, but the Doctor knows that the trap is not sufficient. They break out of the cell just in time for the Count (now Scaroth) to use the machine, so the Time Lords and Duggan use the TARDIS to follow.

The travelers arrive in what will become the Atlantic Ocean, and the Doctor realizes that the explosion that splintered Scaroth was also the catalyst for the birth of the human race. Scaroth attempts to stop the launch, but Duggan capitalizes on the running gag of him using strength to solve his problems by punching out the Jagaroth. Scaroth is catapulted forward in time where his butler accidentally kills him by throwing something at the newly arrived alien. The time machine explodes, and the threat is over.

The only version of the Mona Lisa to survive the blast is one painted over the Doctor’s “this is a fake” messages. They have a quick laugh about the value of art before the Time Lords depart for their next random adventure.

From what I can gather, this is one of the most beloved serials in the franchise’s history. It’s easy to see why, given the beautiful cinematography of Paris and the relatively tight story. The antagonist is Julian Glover, last seen in Doctor Who as King Richard the Lionheart, but also in some of my faves as General Maximillian Veers, Walter Donovan, and Aris Kristatos, among so many other roles. It has a humorous cameo from John Cleese as an art critic analyzing the TARDIS. It has the return to whimsy for the Fourth Doctor. But it also has that side trip to Renaissance Italy that, while necessary to explain the Jagaroth threat, really slows down the narrative.

I settled on a high three for this one, which I rounded up based on the custom of these reviews. It’s a fun serial, but I don’t hold it in the high regard that many do in fandom.

 

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

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Creature from the Pit