Timestamp #127: Terminus

Doctor Who: Terminus
The Black Guardian Trilogy, Part II

(4 episodes, s20e13-e16, 1983)

 

The trilogy gets stuck in the mud.

Picking up right where we left off, Turlough is wandering the corridors of the TARDIS, sabotaging the time capsule at the Black Guardian’s guidance. A skeptical Tegan stumbles across him and resists his charms while escorting him to his quarters. Coincidentally, they once were Adric’s.

Two production notes: First, in close-up, Tegan’s makeup is a bit excessive. Second, this is the first story to call the round things “roundels.”

Tegan leaves, carrying the caduceus necklace from her first encounter with the Mara, and vents to Nyssa. Meanwhile, Turlough continues his nefarious task, removing the space-time element from the main console and inducing a fracturing of the TARDIS. The effects of the temporal fracturing are quite well done. Nyssa is trapped in her quarters, and as a skull forms on the door, she has no choice but to go through. As the door closes, the Doctor jams it open and follows Nyssa through to the new spacecraft beyond. The Doctor explains that this is a failsafe in case the TARDIS becomes unstable. Moments later, Tegan follows, and later (under orders from the Black Guardian) so does Turlough. The door closes behind him.

The Doctor finds Nyssa as two space pirates explosively board the ship and head to the bridge. Their breach point is sealed by what looks like Great Stuff foam, and the pirates discover that this is the wrong ship. They take the Doctor and Nyssa hostage as the pirate ship rockets away, but the Doctor convinces them to work together as the ship automatically begins docking procedures at Terminus Inc.

As Turlough and Tegan search the ship, they encounter a robot (from which they run) and a locked room with an occupant who cries for help. The door opens a crack and robed arms reach out for Tegan. Turlough saves her and they rush for the doorway to the TARDIS, but it phases in and out of reality. As the ship begins to dock, the doors open and the robed figures swarm. One of the pirates panics, proclaiming that the ship is a plague ship, and the occupants have something called Lazar’s disease.

Turlough and Tegan take shelter under the deck plates, but the force of the marching passengers jams their exit in place. They search for another way out as the Doctor and Nyssa accompany the pirates to the bridge. The Doctor searches for a solution as Nyssa stumbles, obviously infected, and finds the pirate Olvir hiding behind a chair. Nyssa coaxes him out, and he explains what he knows of Terminus and Lazar’s disease. The station supposedly offers a cure, and the Doctor discovers that the station is at the center of the known universe.

Tegan and Turlough come across an armored figure who orders the robot to sterilize the ship. They sneak away and continue the search for a way out as another guard searches for the source of rising readings of some sort. Meanwhile, the ship begins sterilization by pumping noxious gas through the crawlspaces occupied by Tegan and Turlough. The Doctor’s party search for the TARDIS, and Nyssa and Olvir encounter the robot. After Olvir inadvertantly touches her and Nyssa inexplicably takes off her skirt, the robot takes Nyssa to the armored guards. The armored guards want their hydromel – which is in our world is another name for tasty, tasty mead, but in this story is an antifreeze-colored vaccine – and take Nyssa to the rest of the infected on Terminus. The lead guard, Eirak, sends a wolf-creature called the Garm to search for the errant guard as the Doctor and Kari (the other pirate) search for Olvir and Nyssa, eventually ending up the station as well.

Tegan and Turlough keep hanging out in the crawlspaces, safely out of reach of the plot. It seems that Fifth Doctor-era writers had a hard time writing for an ensemble. The travelers eventually escape, but their contribution to the story is still minimal.

The Doctor and Kari explore Terminus, finding a guard named Valgard who knocks down Kari and attacks the Doctor. Kari retrieves her gun and shoots the guard, leaving him stunned as the pair escape into a forbidden zone… the same one where the errant guard went before. Deep in the bowels of the station, Nyssa has achieved clothing once again but loses hope as the guards ignore her and leave her with the infected, presumably to starve to death. She is soon taken for treatment.

Eirak discovers that part of the hydromel shipment is merely colored water and receives a report from Valgard about his encounter with the Doctor and Kari. Valgard challenges Eirak’s leadership, which Eirak offers in exchange for the stowaways. Meanwhile, Olvir steals a set of armor and sets up a decoy to deflect attention from his presence.

The Doctor and Kari come across Bor, the errant guard. He is burned by radiation, and the Doctor offers to carry some scrap metal as they continue to the station’s engines. The engines are damaged and are leaking radiation, and Bor is trying to build a shield with the scrap. If the engine were to explode, it would somehow affect the entire universe. Supposedly, it already has some time prior, introducing a Doctor Who explanation for the Big Bang. The discussion is interrupted by Valgard and the Garm. The former attacks the Doctor but is stunned as the latter returns Bor to the safe zone, which is where a bound Nyssa is looking worse for wear. Fortunately, Olvir is there to rescue her. Unfortunately, his attempt is stymied by the Garm, which is immune to the pirate’s blaster. The Garm takes Nyssa into the radiation zone, and Olvir follows. He battles Valgard as the Garm takes care of Nyssa.

Turlough takes his leave of the Tegan and requests help from the Black Guardian. After a hint, he dives back into the crawlspace, still offering nothing to the story but getting a terrible shock for his efforts. Seriously, dude, the panel said “NO TOUCH.”

The Doctor and Kari find the station’s control room and reason out exactly how Terminus created the Big Bang: The station is a time ship, and the pilot dumped the fuel from the malfunctioning engine. The resulting explosion propelled the ship forward in time, killing the pilot but jumpstarting the universe. A second explosion would destroy the universe, and the computer has already started the procedure. Thanks, Turlough.

Tegan and Turlough notice that TARDIS door is becoming more solid, so they keep poking at the bypass switch. When the computer announces the ship’s movement, Tegan runs to the control room as Turlough finishes his work and reboards the TARDIS. In the engine compartment, a wounded Valgard reveals that he was once a pirate like Olvir, trained by the same commander. Olvir refuses sympathy and leaves in search of Nyssa, and once the younger pirate is gone, Valgard retrieves a gun and pursues.

The Doctor and Kari try to stop the procedure, but lack the strength to move the proper control switch. They seek out the Garm, who is escorting Olvir to Nyssa. Nyssa awakens in a barren chamber, fully cured but once again in nothing but her skivvies. Why exactly is she spending this adventure in her delicates? Anyway, she figures out that the radiation could cure all of the infected if properly applied.

The Doctor summons the Garm, who then saves the day by stopping the fuel dump. The Doctor disconnects the computer from the control console, then fulfills the Garm’s wish for freedom by smashing the creature’s control box. The Doctor and Kari race to finish the engine shutdown procedure but are interrupted by Valgard. The guard is ambushed by Nyssa and Olvir, and Nyssa bargains for his help by offering a refined process to supply hydromel. That would free the guards from the Terminus Corporation’s control forever.

I recommend yeast, honey, and good clean water.

Eirak returns, prompting to Valgard to remind the leader of their deal. While the guards chat, the Doctor puts plans in motion to wrap up the adventure, but there is one more wrinkle that he did not anticipate: Nyssa wants to remain behind and spearhead the Lazar recovery. After tearful goodbyes, the Doctor and Tegan return to the TARDIS.

Meanwhile, Turlough has been tortured by the Black Guardian for his insolence. He has marching orders: Kill the Doctor!

And that leads me to the overwhelming problem with this story. It’s supposed to be the next story in a three-part revenge tale, but we don’t really make any headway at all with the Black Guardian’s plans. Turlough, the corporeal arm of the Black Guardian’s will, spends pretty much the entire story in a crawlspace with Tegan. While this (hopefully) sets up Tegan as the foil for Turlough’s plans in the conclusion, at no point does he make an attempt on the Doctor’s life except for the opening gambit.

Which, when you think about it, neuters the Black Guardian. Either he’s incompetent as an omniscient being because he didn’t know about the TARDIS failsafe, or he’s faking it and not really that all-knowing to begin with.

Setting aside the trilogy, I also have issues with the story. Terminus, the name being an obvious clue, is supposed a for-profit hospital for victims of the Lazar plague from which no one ever returns. If that’s the case, how are they still operating? Word has obviously spread that the Lazar victims, whom the Terminus Corporation demonizes, don’t come back, so why keep funneling money to them? Where are the regulators? Where do they keep the bodies? I’m missing something here, and that impacts my enjoyment of the story.

Finally, Nyssa. She has been one of my favorite companions in the franchise so far because she’s smart, capable, and independent. Her farewell suits her character because she’s sacrificing herself to help countless others. She’s doing the right thing, and she learned that lesson from the Doctor. The sad part of the tale is that this story does everything it can to objectify her. I can understand that she starts the story without a blouse because she’s working in her quarters, and I further understand when she has to leave half-dressed because it’s an emergency. I can even understand the logical leap of leaving a clue for the Doctor. It’s a huge leap, but sure, whatever.

What I don’t understand is why she needed to spend the rest of the story in her shift rather than getting a new costume from the wardrobe department, even if it was the equivalent of surgical scrubs. Logically, do the rest of the cured people end up in the blank room in their underwear or naked? Again, we don’t know, so based on the evidence, I see an attempt to symbolically strip down Nyssa to her most vulnerable state, but it backfired for me.

I’m really going to miss Nyssa. Her departure leaves the Doctor with two companions that I don’t particularly like, and while I like the idea of a Trojan Horse companion whose goal is to kill the Doctor, the execution has been lacking so far. I feel that there are tough times ahead.

Between watching the serial and finalizing this write-up, I spent a lot of time trying to land on a score. Nyssa is a big bright spot for this story, but there’s just so much to overcome between the mediocre and the infuriating. Sadly, it ends up at the lower of my two options.

 

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

 

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Enlightenment

 

 

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.

Advertisements

5 thoughts on “Timestamp #127: Terminus

  1. I agree with you concerning Nyssa. She’s been a favourite companion of mine, probably in the top 5. However, to add to your thoughts, I felt her departure was really abrupt. This era of the Doctor really lacked any sort of process when it came to people leaving. Most of the departures felt kind of like: “Well, bye!” Nyssa’s leaving matched this.
    As a fan, I was gratified by her treatment in the Audio Adventures of Big Finish. Not only do they do justice to her character, they expand it and she almost becomes 4 dimensional (in a literary sense).
    Thank you for your great blog! Keep it up!

  2. Enjoyed this one. Terminus is usually held up as one of the better serials during this era. Saward’s vision of a run-down future once again rears its head, and a lot of people liked that sort of dark depiction. But yeah, the Black Guardian using Turlough never seemed well thought out. Honestly, isn’t there a better cat’s paw in all of time and space?

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s