Timestamp #133: Frontios

Doctor Who: Frontios
(4 episodes, s21e07-e10, 1984)

 

Base under siege… again.

An expedition is studying minerals underground when the mine shaft collapses around them, killing the team (and colony) leader, Captain Revere. Chief Orderly Brazen, head of security for the colony, swears the remaining members to secrecy. His scientific officer, Mr. Range, fervently disagrees.

On the TARDIS, the Doctor is fidgeting, including obsessing over the placement of the hatstand. The time capsule drifts into orbit of Frontios, home to the survivors of human civilization after the Earth collided with the sun. The Doctor refuses to set down, fearing contamination of the civilization since it is on the edge of Gallifreyan knowledge, but the TARDIS is forced down by a meteor shower. The same meteor shower has bombarded the surface, and soon enough the travelers are engaged to help the injured. The Doctor is taken aback by the primitive state of the colony, and he asks Mr. Range to not speak of his influence on their society. Word of unidentified attacks piques the Doctor’s interest and he tosses aside the non-interference policy to lend a hand.

Word of the TARDIS’s arrival makes its way to the colony’s leader, Plantagenet (Captain Revere’s son, presumably named for the House of Plantagenet), and he muses that it may the beginning of a prophesied invasion.

Tegan and Turlough note that the TARDIS interior has deformed, but the Doctor doesn’t pay attention to their concerns. Tegan and Turlough offer to help solve the medical bay’s lighting problem with help from a colonist named Norna. The plan is to break into the nearby crashed colony ship and steal a jar of acid to amplify the chemical lights. They are interrupted by Plantagenet and Brazen, but after they leave the trio sneak into the ship.

Range explains their history to the Doctor: After the ship crashed, their technology was destroyed and the survivors spent the ensuing decade tilling the fields until the bombardments began. Plantagenet joins the discussion and expresses his doubts, and the Doctor warns that the constant paranoia will destroy what’s left of the colony. As a new series of bombardments begin, the trio of thieves bring the acid jar to the medical area and the Doctor suggests that they should depart, leaving the colonists to their own fates. Unfortunately, the bombardment strikes the TARDIS. All that is left is the hatstand in the rubble of the destroyed time capsule.

Wait… what?

Well, then.

The travelers are reeling from their loss, but are brought back to reality by the firing squad that surrounds them. Norna jumps to their defense, suggesting that if the Doctor is an invader, then he should remain alive to reveal the mystery of the bombardments. The colonial leadership decides to kill the Doctor until Turlough steps in with the hatstand to defend the Time Lord. The leadership relents and the Doctor agrees to analyze the meteorites and solve the mystery, but as Plantagenet attacks Turlough, he collapses and clutches his heart. The Doctor recognizes the symptoms of a glancing blow by a meteorite and has the man taken to the medical center.

The colonists have never seen a hatstand? Really? Okay.

Tegan learns more about the colony, including the existence of Retrogrades (those who have abandoned the colony) and the predilection of the orderlies to shoot the deserters on sight. She also notes a set of secret files labeled “Deaths Unaccountable,” but Range forbids her from looking at them. The Doctor and the medical team arrive and use the new lighting system as a defibrillator. The man is saved, and the leaders are more trusting.

Norna and Turlough analyze the meteorites and discuss why digging underground is forbidden. Turns out that the planet is hungry. Turlough notes that the samples are dated after the closure of the quarry, so he starts snooping about. He and Norna take a trip into the tunnels from the serial’s opening scenes and find that the rock is “moth-eaten.” Further in, the rock turns slick and polished, and as the pair explore they are followed by two creatures.

The Doctor and Range return to the research room, leaving Tegan with Brazen in the medical room. When Tegan accidentally mentions the unaccountable files, Brazen breaks into the files and moves to confront Range. Meanwhile, Tegan finds Plantagenet on the ground, but when she leaves to find help, he is pulled into the soil. Just outside, the colonists are becoming restless and starting to loot the colony ship, and Tegan takes the opportunity to escape from Brazen. She returns to the colony ship and follows the Doctor and Range into the tunnels.

Turlough remembers something about “Tractators,” which he screams to the Doctor and Range before entering a catatonic state. The Doctor and Tegan go ahead and find a group of the creatures holding Norna in a gravity field. They spot the Doctor and drag him in as well, but Tegan saves them by using her chemical lamp as a fiery distraction. Tegan takes Norna to safety while the Doctor investigates the Tractators. Tegan and Range race off to help the Doctor, but the Doctor and Tegan are snared in another gravity field. The Doctor repeats Tegan’s trick to free them.

Range returns to Norna, watching as Turlough continues to babble. It turns out that the Tractators invaded his homeworld, and the rantings are the ancestral memory bubbling to the surface. Range and Norna escort him to the surface. Topside, Brazen breaks free and finds Orderly Cockerill looting. He is escorted out of the colony ship to the waiting Retrogrades, but Brazen does nothing to help him when the Retrogrades attack for the rations Cockerill stole. His body is pulled into the soil without a word from his fellow looters. Brazen meets up with Range at the entrance to the quarry, and Range’s group is arrested.

The Doctor and Tegan witness Cockerill being pulled below the surface, and the presence distracts the Tractator and disrupts Cockerill’s disappearance. Since he supposedly defied the hungry earth, the Retrogrades start to admire him.

Upon questioning, Range reveals that his records are evidence of the myth that Frontios buries its own dead. Brazen overhears Turlough’s rantings, and the pieces all come together: Revere and Plantagenet may still be alive because the Tractators need living minds. Underground, the Doctor and Tegan discover that the Tractators are sentient and intelligent, but it’s unclear why they are tunneling.

The lead Tractator, Gravis, confronts Plantagenet, waiting for their old extractor driver’s mind to die before replacing it with the human’s. As Brazen leads a team (guided by a captive Range, followed later by Turlough who takes Range’s place) into the tunnels, Gravis sends the extractor as bait to lure the Doctor. When it catches up to them, it is being driven by the enslaved mind of Captain Revere.

Gravis knows of the Doctor by reputation and is intrigued by Tegan’s accidental reveal of the TARDIS (or what’s left of it). The Tractators have been stranded on Frontios for five centuries and are eager to get on their way. The Doctor convinces Gravis that Tegan is an android (thus, saving her from being installed in the extractor) and learns that the Tractators are responsible for the bombardments and the original crash of the colony ship. Plantagenet is almost installed in the extractor, but the Doctor frees him thanks to a distraction from Tegan and Turlough. They all nearly escape, but Turlough is mesmerized by the machine and inadvertently traps Brazen in its clutches.

That boy is an idiot.

Luckily, Brazen is able to run the machine out of control and destroy it. Using the information that the team has gathered, the Doctor concludes that the Tractators are building a gravity drive so they can pilot the entire planet like a starship. They also learn that there is a second excavator machine, because redundancy. It also has a new pilot thanks to all the humans running about in the caves.

Topside, Norna is attacked by a Retrograde, saved by Cockerill, and learns of her savior’s armed revolution with his new followers. Cockerill ties her up, but she breaks free and informs the revolutionaries of the threat below.

Tegan discovers that the walls of the TARDIS are growing in the cave system, which helps when the team is chased into the console room. It’s non-functional but serves as a suitable distraction to isolate Gravis from the rest of the Tractators courtesy of his desire to leave the planet. The Doctor tricks Gravis into reassembling the time capsule, an act that places the occupants into the TARDIS’s dimensions and severs the Gravis’s psychic link to his own kind.

The Doctor and Tegan drop the Gravis on the uninhabited moon of Kolkokron. Upon their return, they gift Plantagenet with the hatstand in exchange for his silence in the Doctor’s interference. When they dematerialize, the TARDIS malfunctions and is pulled toward the middle of the universe, setting up the next adventure.

This was an okay base-under-siege story. We get some background on Turlough (though I still couldn’t care less about the character), a new bit of trivia about how the TARDIS can be destroyed and reassemble itself, and some decent action with a new (if somewhat underwhelming) enemy. Also, the Doctor breaking out the spectacles to investigate the machine was fun.

The big problem I had was the loose thread of Cockerill and the Revolutionaries (there’s a band name for you), who were warned about the threat underground but were never seen again in the story. That’s a bit sloppy.

 

 

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

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Resurrection of the Daleks

 

 

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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Timestamp #132: The Awakening

Doctor Who: The Awakening
(2 episodes, s21e05-e06, 1984)

 

A new adventure starts by showing us that “it’s just a joke” often isn’t.

A schoolteacher named Jane Hampden is being harassed by English civil war re-enactors. She thinks they’ve taken things too far, but Sir George and his band blow off her concerns because she just doesn’t get it.

You know, despite all the anger in fandom over the Thirteenth Doctor, it’s pretty obvious that Doctor Who has been pretty progressive for quite a long time.

The Doctor is taking Tegan on a special trip to visit her grandfather, but the TARDIS is acting strangely. When they materialize, they find a man in a crumbling structure, but the man runs away. Based on the man’s clothing, the travelers have arrived in the 17th century, but the TARDIS coordinates read as 1984. As our heroes explore, smoke pours from a crack a wall. They don’t see it, and neither do they see the re-enactors who round them up and take them to Sir George.

Sir George’s retinue informs Tegan that her grandfather is missing, and she angrily storms out. After having her purse stolen, she sees flashing lights and the ethereal image of an old man before being rescued by Turlough. After the Doctor sneaks away, Sir George sends his men to find the travelers based on Tegan’s grandfather. After all, “something strange but wonderful” is coming to the village.

The Doctor pursues a man carrying Tegan’s purse back to the church, and in short order, Tegan, Turlough, and the Doctor join forces with Will Chandler, a supposed 17th-century peasant. As the Doctor convinces Will of the truth of his temporal dislocation, Tegan and Turlough return to the TARDIS and see the flashing blue lights again. They are soon captured while searching for the Doctor, and Tegan is forced to adopt the role of Queen of the May.

Will and the Doctor discover a hidden passage from the church to the manor, conveniently decorated with the face of something called Malus. They join up with Jane, who is being pursued, and hide from Sir George’s forces. While in hiding, they find a sample of tincalvic, a metal mined by the Tereleptils on the planet Raaga for the people of Hakol. Hakol is a place where psychic energy is harnessed, and the metal is part of a spacecraft or probe. As they return to the church, they discover a large face emerging from the crack in the wall, and after surviving a psychic projection from the Malus, they escape to the tunnel.

En route, the Doctor talks to Jane about the Malus, which is feeding off the psychic energy of the war games. The Doctor fails to convince Sir George to stop the war games, and Sir George orders Colonel Woolsey to execute the Doctor’s team. Woolsey disobeys by switching sides and collaborating with the Doctor to stop the threat. Meanwhile, Turlough encounters Andrew Verney, the man who discovered the Malus and was imprisoned by Sir George to keep it secret.

So, the Doctor places himself on the front lines of the Queen of the May celebration, and Woolsley delivers a mockup of Tegan to draw off the soldiers. Verney and Turlough break out of their cell, while the Doctor collects Will, and everyone converges on the church to battle the Disney Imagineer façade that is the Malus.

The Malus fights back by draining all the psychic energy from the villagers to battle the Doctor, but the energy is wasted when a random redshirt runs in and is decapitated by projected soldiers. Sir George, completely under the thrall of the Malus, confronts the Doctor. The Doctor logics his way into Sir George’s head and the battle between good and evil disarms the leader. In a surprise move, Will pushes the helpless man into the gaping maw of the Malus. The Doctor says cold-blooded murder is okay, but we all know that it’s really not.

The Doctor shepherds the whole lot to the TARDIS and takes off just in time as the church collapses around the self-destructing Malus. The Doctor makes arrangements to put everyone back in their proper places, and Tegan convinces everyone to convince the Doctor to stay in the village for a while. After all, they came to visit her grandfather, and Mr. Verney is right there.

Nothing says family reunion like running for your lives, right?

This one was a compressed evil alien versus the village scenario, and it was just okay. The team is working well together (which is good) but the narrative took a lot of shortcuts to fit the two episode limit (which is bad). I usually don’t mind the special effects, but the face of Malus was particularly laughable. What wasn’t funny was the Doctor excusing cold-blooded murder. That’s not in character at all.

 

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

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Frontios

 

 

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.

Timestamp #131: Warriors of the Deep

Doctor Who: Warriors of the Deep
(4 episodes, s21e01-e04, 1984)

 

Welcome to the dark ethical corner.

We last saw the Silurians and the Sea Devils in the Third Doctor’s era, and now they’re teaming up to attack an underwater base. From the opening and the title, I assume that’s where the base was, but there are armed guards in the passageways. Are armed incursions that frequent despite being isolated by high pressure water?

Anyway…

A Silurian submersible triggers the base’s sensors but disappears soon after. The commander launches a probe to investigate, ready to fire missiles at their enemy on a moment’s notice, but the probe is destroyed. The Silurians are investigating the fate of their Sea Devil brothers (presumably the ones who were entombed when their underwater base was destroyed back in the Third Doctor’s era), curious as to why the latter have not woken up after so long. They find the sleeping Sea Devils and awaken them from their slumber.

On the TARDIS, the Doctor is driving and Turlough announces his decision to remain aboard for the near future. The Doctor is skeptical of this decision (as am I) but informs the lad that they are headed to Earth and that he should inform Tegan. When they materialize, they find themselves in Earth orbit and under the guns of a sentry satellite. The TARDIS dodges the sentry’s weapons and materializes in the sea base’s engineering section. Being the Doctor and crew, the travelers explore the area and the Doctor determines that they have arrived in another cold war era in Earth’s history. While exploring, they trip a security alert and run for the TARDIS.

Ensign Maddox, a young and inexperienced officer who temporarily replaced an officer who was killed in a freak accident, is nervous about going to war. After the probe is destroyed, the station commences a missile run, and Maddox freezes under the pressure. After being coerced into the sync chair, the missile run is revealed to be a simulation and Maddox collapses. The ensign is taken to the infirmary where he is declared unfit for duty, but the medical staff (Doctor Solow and an officer named Nilson) suggests reprogramming the young officer’s brain. The commander releases the sensitive reprogramming disk to their custody before returning to the bridge. We also discover that Solow and Nilson are working for the enemy as a freshly rebooted Maddox is returned to duty.

En route to the TARDIS, the Doctor sets the station’s reactor to overload as a distraction, but they are discovered by the roving security teams. The Doctor defends his companions, an act that sees him falling off the catwalks into the waters below as they run away. The Doctor takes the opportunity to swim into a nearby hatch.

What’s with that one guard knocking senselessly on the wall?

The Silurians, led by Icthar, and the Sea Devils, led by Sauvix, hatch a plan to attack the seabase. Meanwhile, Turlough is captured, the Doctor dons a guard’s uniform, another set of guards miss their disrobed comrade lying in a passageway, and Tegan meets up with the Doctor. The “what have you been eating” joke was a little funny, but only once in the two-minute span that it was repeated.

Turlough spills what he knows about the Doctor and the TARDIS, but before he is taken away for a mind probe, he is rescued at gunpoint by the Doctor. Meanwhile, the roving guards find the TARDIS and walk right in (oh, for the love of…!), establishing a tentative trust between the travelers and the base commander. This trust is tested when the Silurian battlecruiser approached the base and the commander opens fire against the Doctor’s recommendation. The Silurians turn the energy beam back on the base with their deflectors, opening a way through the base’s defenses.

The Doctor harbors a lot of regret about the Silurians, who he calls a noble species who only wanted to live in peace. He tries to persuade the commander to his cause but is interrupted by the Silurian forces as they attack with a creature called the Myrka (which is pretty much a seaweed-clad space pantomime horse). While the base is distracted, Solow and Nilson activate Maddox’s programming, forcing him to work for them as they sabotage the base.

Tegan and the Doctor are trapped in the airlock as the Myrka smashes through the inner door. The commander orders the airlock to be sealed, locking Tegan and the Doctor inside with the Myrka. Turlough runs from the guards, who then take station as the Doctor and Tegan fight the Myrka. Turlough ends up on the bridge and coerces the crewman to cycle the door. The Doctor and Tegan escape, but the Myrka jams the door with its leg, escaping into the base and wreaking havoc.

At Airlock Five, Commander Vorshak and the Doctor confer with considerable confrontation. The Doctor enacts a plan to stop the Myrka as the Sea Devils breach the airlock and push back the human defenders. As the commander’s team seals the corridor bulkhead, Turlough arrives and is pressed into service with his rifle. The Sea Devils burn through the bulkhead, and the commander heads for the bridge to call for help, an act that will reveal the base’s location to the world.

The Doctor’s team assembles an ultraviolet radiation beam projector in the Myrka’s path. Meanwhile, Doctor Solow leaves the bridge with Maddox’s disc, intent on delivering it to her superiors, but contact with the Myrka (and an ill-fated karate kick) end her journey in short order. The guards return the disc to Vorshak, which clues him into the nefarious schemes afoot. He returns to the bridge, confronts Nilson, and discovers Maddox tearing the computers apart. Vorshak tries to stop Maddox, and Nilson disables Maddox with his controller. Back in the corridor, the Doctor kills the Myrka with the ultraviolet beam, looking somewhat sad about the necessity.

Vorshak questions Nilson, but the traitor gets the drop on the commander (and the Doctor and Tegan as they report in). Maddox comes to his senses and draws his sidearm, but Nilson kills him with the control box. After a brief scuffle, Nilson takes Tegan hostage and leaves the bridge with the promise that once he leaves, the base will be destroyed. The Doctor receives word that the intruders have taken Turlough and security officer Bulic hostage, prompting him to pursue Nilson, catching up to him at the ultraviolet generator. Tegan distracts Nilson, and the Doctor blinds him with the beam. Nilson stumbles into the Sea Devils and they kill him, then they take aim on the Doctor and Tegan but the situation is temporarily defused when the Doctor identifies himself. Tegan is ushered to the holding cells while the Time Lord is reunited with Icthar.

The Doctor negotiates with Icthar, but the Silurian is jaded by the last two attempts at peace and plans to instigate mutually assured destruction among the humans so that the Silurians can take the planet. Icthar forces Vorshak to start the launch process while Tegan and Turlough spearhead an escape and rescue attempt. In the escape attempt, the Doctor joins the human survivors and infiltrates the chemical storeroom. A Sea Devil inadvertently triggers a hexachromite leak and is dissolved. The human soldiers suggest using it on the invaders on the bridge, and the Doctor angrily dismisses the proposal, opting for a non-lethal solution. Unfortunately, a missile alert warns them that launch is imminent and the Doctor decides to follow the lethal recommendation.

Sauvix finds the group and threatens the Doctor’s life. Officer Preston sacrifices herself as Bulic gasses the Sea Devil, and the team continues to the bridge. The Doctor pleads for peace one last time, but the Silurians and Sea Devils fight until the gas overtakes them. Tegan gives them oxygen while the Doctor syncs with the computer, stopping the missile launch at the last moment. In the process, the commander is fatally wounded by Icthar, who is then killed by Turlough.

The day is saved, but the price is high. The Doctor, in a mix of anger and sorrow, looks upon the carnage and remarks, “There should have been another way.”

 

At its core, this was a decent base invasion/chase story. I enjoyed seeing the noble Silurians and Sea Devils again, and despite a little padding and the large amounts of violence, this tale was quite good. I did appreciate the Doctor sticking to his values until it was proven by the Silurians that there was no other way, and I’m glad to see the message of intellect and romance triumphing over brute force and cynicism shining through.

We haven’t seen it in a while, and it has an added power here: The Doctor obviously keeps the message in his hearts, but today he failed to achieve it… and it’s tearing him apart.

 

 

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

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Awakening

 

 

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.