Timestamp #118: Four to Doomsday

Doctor Who: Four to Doomsday
(4 episodes, s19e05-e08, 1982)

Timestamp 118 Four to Doomsday

 

This time, I begin to wonder if the Doctor would be better off without companions.

After a long, elegant, establishing shot of a starship model that might make Admiral Kirk drool, the story turns to our heroes as the TARDIS materializes with a bong. Despite the apparent perks of knowing the TARDIS has stopped, I have two questions: First, how long has that bong been around, and second, how soon will it go away?

The Doctor is trying to return Tegan to Heathrow Airport but a magnetic field shift has dragged them off course.  In a move that would have deeply upset his first incarnation, the Doctor takes a quick stroll (with a funny helmet) to check things out in lieu of using the scanners. As he pokes about, a floating robot watches him, feeding information to a hidden watcher. The Doctor, always savvy, knows that he’s being surveilled.

Tegan is eager to leave because Heathrow awaits, prompting Adric to turn on his charm. And by charm, I mean a blatant display of sexism (“That’s the trouble with women: Mindless, impatient, and bossy.”) and ageism (Nyssa’s only a girl, so Adric’s sexism can’t possibly apply to her, right?). The Doctor returns to the TARDIS (just before anyone (including me) can load the wunderkind into the nearest airlock) and gathers the team so they can go exploring. Tegan almost decides to stay behind, but refuses to give Adric the responsibility/power of holding the spare TARDIS key.

The team all don the crazy “space-pack” helmets and off they go: Nyssa is enthralled with the tech and the Doctor examines the surveillance robot. When a door opens, the Doctor takes Tegan (and both TARDIS keys) to explore the rest of the ship, leaving a temperamental Adric to watch over Nyssa.

Was it being stuck in the metaphorical fridge during the last adventure, Adric? Was that what made you so annoying this time?

The Doctor and Tegan arrive in the presence of three beings: The Monarch, Enlightenment, and Persuasion. They are beings from Urbanka, from a distant galaxy than our own, and are familiar with Earth having been there 2,500 years prior. As they discuss Earth fashion in Tegan’s time, Adric leaves Nyssa for a brief moment and the Trakenite disappears. A panicked Adric takes this news to the Doctor, and the trio leave the Urbankans for a dining room where they find their wayward companion.

The Monarch investigates the TARDIS, but is dissuaded when he cannot pick the lock. Meanwhile, the travelers are joined by an ancient Greek man, an Aborigine, a Mayan, and a Mandarin, all representing their various cultures from various points in human history. They are soon joined by two humanoids, dressed in clothing similar to the sketch that Tegan provided to the Urbankans, who bring word that the travelers are invited to complete the voyage to Earth with them on the ship. Shockingly, they identify themselves as Enlightenment and Persuasion.

Over the meal, the Urbanakans reveal their mission: They are traveling to Earth on a mission of resettlement, carrying three billion survivors after their planet was destroyed. After the meal, the travelers are shown to their quarters where the Doctor defeats the Monarch’s surveillance before discussing their situation. They deduce that the Urbankans have visited Earth four times, each time taking a sample of the human species and making the 4,000 year round trip. This trip is the last, presumably to settle on the planet.

The Doctor breaks the lock on their quarters with his sonic screwdriver, and the team explores the ship. Tegan and the Doctor are separated from Adric and Nyssa, are each pair discovers groups of humans built from members of each of the four representative’s cultures. One room houses a series of cultural demonstrations, a second a hydroponics bay, and a third a cold computing room with minimal oxygen and entranced workers with strange discs on their hands. Adric and Nyssa find another room where a Greek soldier who was mortally wounded during the cultural display is miraculously healed, but they are soon taken captive by the Monarch.

The Greek representative, Bigon, summons the Doctor and Tegan with the promise of information, and they converge on the travelers’ quarters. The philosopher explains that the Doctor’s estimated timetables are off: Each time the Urbankans have visited Earth, their voyage has sped up. He also reveals that they only living matter on the ship (presumably, excluding our heroes) is that in the plant nurseries. The tribes of humans are, in reality, all androids.

Both teams of travelers learn this secret from separate sources. A select few of the androids (including the Urbankans) operate independently in both body and mind, but those with the discs only have motive power. Nyssa and Bigon call those units slaves, but the Monarch rejects this. He is trying to save humanity from their mortality, after all. Bigon foresees human extinction through strip-mining of the planet, but Adric buys into the vision of peace, prosperity, and replacement body parts. The boy is also downright rude to Nyssa, rejecting her opinion as silly and immature.

Adric, showing off as the smartest boy in the room, unwittingly explains all of the Doctor’s secrets to the Urbankans, and the Monarch asks the boy to solicit a tour of the TARDIS from the Doctor. However, he detains the skeptical Nyssa and allows Enlightenment to hypnotize her. Meanwhile, the Doctor, upon learning that the Monarch also has plans to meddle in time through superluminal travel, accompanies Bigon on a fact-finding mission, leaving Tegan behind in the quarters. She has an altercation with Adric before leaving the room and heading for the TARDIS, hell-bent on attempting to escape.

Yeah, she’s getting annoying too.

The Doctor and Bigon find Nyssa in one of the processing chambers, which download a subject’s consciousness before turning them into fertilizer for the greenhouse. Luckily, they rescue her, but at the cost of an informant reaching the Monarch with news of Bigon’s treachery. As the Doctor and Bigon plot, Adric and Persuasion arrive simultaneously, the latter ordering the Doctor’s execution and an effective lobotomy for Bigon. Nyssa saves the Time Lord by shorting out the slavery discs with the sonic screwdriver and a pencil, and as Adric rejects the Monarch, Persuasion takes the Doctor, Nyssa, and Adric to the throne room. There, the Doctor is ordered to stop interfering, and the Monarch takes Nyssa hostage.

Back in the TARDIS, a panicked Tegan attempts to pilot the craft away but only gets as far as the space near the ship, effectively removing the escape route. Meanwhile, under the cover of the cultural celebration, the Doctor finally sets Adric straight and explains the Monarch’s plan. The pair spark a revolution with the help of the sentient androids, a freed Nyssa, and a newly restored Bigon. As they plan is put in motion, the Doctor attempts to retrieve the TARDIS, but his plan is stalled by Persuasion. The Doctor saves Adric from Persuasion by tearing out the android’s circuit board and tossing it into space. Enlightenment also tries stopping the Doctor, but Adric stops her in the same manner. The Doctor uses a cricket ball to propel himself to the TARDIS, which he then pilots back onto the ship. The Monarch strikes back, trying to kill the travelers by shutting down life support, by they survive with the space-packs and shipboard pressure helmets.

The team head for the TARDIS but are intercepted by the Monarch. The Doctor splashes the Urbankan with the same compound that was planned for the human race, causing the Monarch to miniaturize because (conveniently) he had never been fully converted into an android. Before the travelers depart, the Doctor also reveals that the Monarch’s time travel plan was fatally flawed, and the humanoid androids decide to take the ship to a new world and establish new lives.

With everything said and done, the TARDIS dematerializes and heads for Heathrow. En route, Nyssa collapses, setting up a plot point for the next story in a way that we haven’t seen since the First Doctor .

Thus ends a paint by numbers adventure. There were a few interesting twists in the story, but it felt haphazard as if the writers were tossing everything at the wall to see if it would stick. After the last few adventures of being strong and independent, Tegan is poorly characterized in this one as selfish and “hysterical.” As much as I despise using that term to describe any woman, it fits this story’s portrayal of Tegan: Her fear and panic over what she sees as unnatural combined with her impatience toward getting home, and that led her to snap at the Doctor, make rash decisions about trying to pilot the TARDIS, and (inadvertently?) knock Adric on his tuchus. Her overwhelming emotions are driving her to lose control, and it’s way out of character from what was established in Logopolis.

In a similar vein, Nyssa and Adric were also poorly treated. Nyssa was effectively a prop and Adric has become a chore to watch. His lucky-can-do-no-wrong character has plummeted into the abyss of cockiness and arrogance, and his blatant chauvinism isn’t helping any. Of the three, Nyssa’s my favorite, but she needs more than to be the hot potato.

Sadly, this was an average story, but the characters (both in portrayal and writing) dragged it down. If I was the Doctor at this point, I’d jettison the writing staff, deposit both Tegan and Adric somewhere, and take Nyssa on an awesome adventure. Because frankly, she’s the only one of the companions who isn’t outright irritating me.

 

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

 

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Kinda

 

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

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4 thoughts on “Timestamp #118: Four to Doomsday

  1. Unfortunately this is the season where they had the wonderful idea that to increase drama there has to be lots of conflict in the TARDIS. It didn’t help that they were between script editors at this point, with Chris Bidemead leaving after season 18 and while he wrote Castrovalva to start out this season, there was no unifying force at the helm to really make this story coherent. It also probably doesn’t help that this was the first Peter Davison story recorded although the second one shown. Everyone’s still trying to figure out the dynamic.

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