Timestamp: Nineteenth Series Summary

Doctor Who: Nineteenth Series Summary

timestamp-logo-fourth-fifth

 

From second best to last place in the span of seven stories.

The Eighteenth Series was remarkable in how it essentially redeemed the Fourth Doctor’s run, coming in tied for silver and even besting that era’s premiere season. The Nineteenth Series saw that high bar, tried to vault it, but face-planted on approach. There were two high points – The Visitation and Earthshock – and one that only appeared high because of the regeneration handicap. In reality, Castrovalva joined Kinda and Time-Flight as average, and the highs were pulled down by Four to Doomsday and Black Orchid.

Unfortunately, that drags everything right back to average.

 

I have some hope for future series with the removal of Adric (who has been a thorn in my side from his introduction) and the rise of Nyssa and Tegan as proactive companions. I am also optimistic based on the Fifth Doctor’s continued evolution. I’ve liked what I’ve seen from his character, and I’m eager to see how he grows (provided that he is given room to run).

I wish there was more to say, but there’s not much more beyond my already apparent disappointment. This series ties the Third for last place.

 

Castrovalva – 4
Four to Doomsday – 2
Kinda – 3
The Visitation –  4
Black Orchid – 2
Earthshock – 4
Time-Flight – 3

Series Nineteen Average Rating: 3.1/5

 

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Arc of Infinity

 

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 #123: Time-Flight

Doctor Who: Time-Flight
(4 episodes, s19e23-e26, 1982)

Timestamp 123 Time-Flight

 

This is what happens when supersonic goes supertemporal.

A Concorde is completing a trans-Atlantic flight to London when it disappears without a trace. On the TARDIS, the travelers have wrapped up the loose ends from Earthshock but not the grief from Adric’s sacrifice. Tegan asks the Doctor to go back and save him, but the Doctor cannot because it would unravel human history. He tells them that Adric died in the same way as his brother Varsh by giving his own life for those of others. Each the travelers mourns in their own way as the Doctor sets course for the Great Exhibition of 1851, but temporal turbulence from the Concorde incident forces the TARDIS to materialize initially over the runway at Heathrow and then inside a terminal. The Doctor rushes out and makes contact with airport security, using his UNIT credentials to get involved in the Concorde mystery.

Tegan tells Nyssa that, in the 1980s, police boxes have gone the way of flower power. She seems to forget that she actually stopped near one before joining the Doctor in Logopolis, which takes place only a year in the relative past. While both parts of her idiom are technically correct (and phased out around the same time), canonically police boxes are still around.

The Doctor has the TARDIS loaded onto another Concorde to repeat the first flight’s route and plan. The second plane falls into the same time-warp as first, but land at a place similar to Heathrow. The façade is broken when Nyssa spots a pile of skeletons and the travelers (and Concorde crew) discover that they have landed 140 million years in the past. Tegan spots the other Concorde, and with it a crashed spacecraft and a citadel in the distance.

The crew of the first Concorde, under control of an alien being unfortunately designed to look like the oriental mystic stereotype, take the TARDIS to the citadel. When crewmen from the second Concorde interfere, they are taken away by creatures that look like melted wax and soap bubbles. The Doctor is also captured by these beings, known as Plasmatons (blobs of protein in the atmosphere assembled into humanoid form), but is soon released. They encounter Professor Hayter, a passenger on the first flight whose work has trained his mind to evade the illusion.

The mystical alien realizes that Nyssa can detect his influence and encases her in a plasmatic shell. Tegan stays with Nyssa while the Doctor, Hayter, and Captain Stapley continue on. Hayter and Stapley work on freeing the entranced humans while the Doctor explores the caves and finds his TARDIS and the alien, who goes by the name Kalid. The Doctor deduces that Kalid is not the source of the psychic energy, but rather a conduit.

As Hayter and Stapley free the enslaved humans, Kalid focuses on stopping them, which frees Nyssa. Nyssa and Tegan continue to the citadel as Kalid attempts to force the Doctor to cooperate by menacing the Concorde groups. The ladies come across an apparition of Adric, but deduce that it is not real. Kalid continues his attempts to stop them with visions of the Melkur and the Terileptil, but the women rebuff each before coming to a futuristic tank-like device which they hit with a large rock. The act disrupts the psychic energy and reveals Kalid’s true identity: He is the Master.

After the destruction of Castrovalva, the renegade Time Lord was stranded in this time period and needs a new source of power for his TARDIS. He forces the Doctor to surrender the TARDIS key and steals the craft, intending to move it to the sanctum where the ladies disrupted the sarcophagus. The Doctor and Hayter find the newly freed humans from the future and task them with breaking into the sanctum. The Doctor discovers the Master’s TARDIS, which is where the remaining humans are being kept, and that the Master is looking for the source of the time-warp, which is centered on the sanctum. Once they break through, the Doctor and Hayter discover that there is something alive in the sarcophagus. Turns out that it is the entire Xeraphin race, once thought destroyed in the Vardon-Kosnax War. Nyssa nearly sacrifices herself to be a mouthpiece and conduit for the Xeraphin, but Hayter takes her place instead.

The Master rematerializes at the control room thanks to the Doctor’s earlier override of the coordinate controls. Stapley tries to sabotage the TARDIS, but he only helps the Master after being caught. The Master takes several control boards before sending the TARDIS into the atmosphere to hold position over the citadel.

The Xeraphin manifest as Anithon, who explains that they came to Earth to revive their race, but radiation poisoning forced them into hibernation. The Master arrived and tried to harness their power for his TARDIS, and the act resulted in a split between good and evil within the Xeraphin. The avatar splits into the good Anithon and evil Zarak, and the latter works with the Master to transport the sarcophagus to the evil Time Lord’s TARDIS.

The Master’s TARDIS takes off, and the Doctor’s TARDIS arrives with help from an avatar of Professor Hayter. Once the travelers are free of the sanctum, the Doctor deduces that the Master doesn’t have enough power to leave the area. Nyssa pilots the TARDIS with the Concorde crew to the planes while Tegan and the Doctor track down the Master. They all converge on the Concordes where the Master’s TARDIS has changed into the other plane but cannot leave due to Stapley’s sabotage. The Doctor negotiates terms, exchanging two operational planes, a functional TARDIS, and all of the humans for one part that the Master needs.

Everyone leaves prehistoric Earth. The serviceable Concorde ferries the twentieth-century humans, Nyssa, and the Doctor to London, with the TARDIS giving the plane the boost it needs to return home. The TARDIS materializes nearby, and the temporal limiter that the Doctor surrendered to the Master comes with a small catch: The Master’s TARDIS tries to materialize in the exact space-time coordinates as the Doctor’s, but ends up getting bounced to modern-day Xeriphas, where the Doctor hopes that the newly revived Xeraphin will keep the Master (and his newly fried temporal circuits) busy for some time.

The Doctor and Nyssa leave in the TARDIS, content in the assumption that Tegan is back where she wanted to be. Unfortunately, her expression tells a different story.

This was an average story bouyed up by the travelers. The companions work well together, and without Adric to share the spotlight, both women get a good chunk of the action and plot. Additionally, I’m really starting to see the attraction to Peter Davison’s Doctor and his continued fatherly evolution. The only negative is the acting, where there a few spots that still fall flat with the Fifth Doctor’s character.

Overall, this was a decent way to end the Fifth Doctor’s freshman series, but there’s still plenty of room to grow.

 

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

 

UP NEXT – Nineteenth Series Summary

 

 

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 #122: Earthshock

Doctor Who: Earthshock
(4 episodes, s19e19-e22, 1982)

 

It wasn’t seeing him blown to bits. It was the silence at the end.

On Earth, a squad of soldiers led by Lieutenant Scott climb a hillside in a search for a missing science team. Professor Kyle, the lone survivor, accompanies them. The team descends into a cave system to continue the search. During the search, they are stalked by two shadowy figures and communications jamming.

In the TARDIS, the Doctor is reading Black Orchid (which has to be more exciting than the actual episode) and consoles a depressed Adric. The boy feels that he is not a valuable member of the team, and he asks to return to his home in E-Space. One might say that some of Adric’s woes are self-induced, but the Doctor avoids that minor detail by proclaiming that he cannot calculate the coordinates. After a heated exchange, Adric begins to make the calculations himself. The Doctor pilots the TARDIS to the cave system so he can take a break from Adric, who in turn has a few choice insults for the Time Lord.

The Doctor, Nyssa, and Tegan examine the fossils in the cave walls and wax philosophically about the fate of the dinosaurs. Above ground, the squad’s scanner technician guides the search team to the Doctor’s position. Below ground, the shadowy figures pick off members of the team one by one, reducing them to steaming piles of goo. The figures do not appear on the scanner, probably because they aren’t alive.

When the soldiers intercept the Doctor, Nyssa, and Tegan, Lieutenant Scott accuses the Doctor of killing the squad members. After they uncover a metal hatch, the figures attack, and the Doctor identifies them as androids. The professor recognizes them as the beings that killed the science team. One of the androids identifies the Doctor, and its leader, a Cyberman, orders it to destroy everyone.

We haven’t seen the Cybermen since the Fourth Doctor and Sarah Jane faced them. This is a way different Cyberman than we’ve seen before. They’re a bit bulkier, have actual moving mouths, and are more verbose, emotional, and evolved.

The Doctor deduces that the androids are guarding the hatch, and working with Adric (who has left the TARDIS to look for the other travelers), the soldiers destroy the androids. The Doctor opens the hatch to reveal a bomb, which he disarms after taking everyone to the TARDIS and jamming the countdown signal. Through the remains of the androids, the Cybermen spot the TARDIS and understand who they are facing through a tour of previous encounters.

The Doctor pilots the TARDIS to the source of the bomb’s arming transmission, taking the soldiers because the ask to finish the job. En route, Adric and the Doctor make amends, and the boy decides to remain with his friends. The TARDIS arrives on a freighter in space, and the Doctor and Adric take a tour. The freighter is being inspected and replenished, and even though they are due for a bonus after they finish delivery, the crew’s morale is low since several of their number have gone missing.

The Doctor deliberately exposes himself to the security cameras, and the Cyber-Leader reveals to the audience that he has agents on the ship. All combined, the travelers are discovered and Captain Briggs sounds the alarm. A crewman named Ringway and two security guards pursue the intruders, but the guards are killed. Their screams draw the Doctor and Adric, who are confronted by Ringway at gunpoint and taken before the captain. The pair is interrogated by Captain Briggs before helping them to trap down a sudden power loss, which is related to the Cyber-Leader and his personal guard taking control of the ship, which is where they’ve been all along. Meanwhile, Lieutenant Scott, Tegan, and the soldiers search for the Doctor.

The Cybermen massacre the security teams, and the Doctor finally sees who he’s up against. The situation is exacerbated by Ringway’s revelation that he is working for the Cybermen. Ringway takes the bridge team hostage, but Adric, Briggs, and the Doctor incapacitate the traitor. Adric and the captain conclude that all 15,000 cargo containers likely carry Cybermen, which is bad since the cargo ship is heading for Earth. Meanwhile, the Cybermen use a thermal lance to penetrate the bridge security doors. Just as the door gives way, the Doctor reinforces it with antimatter, and the invading Cyberman is fused with.

Lieutenant Scott’s team destroys a Cyberman and critically damages a second. The damaged unit crawls to the Cyber-Leader just as the remaining bridge hatch is blown open. The Doctor meets the Cyber-Leader face to face, and Ringway is executed for not accounting for the soldiers on the TARDIS. The Cyber-Leader activates his army, filling the ship with Cybermen ready to invade Earth.

The Cyber-Leader turns the freighter into a missile aimed at Earth, intending to stop an interplanetary conference that plans to unite several civilizations against the Cybermen. Meanwhile, Tegan continues her reign of Ripley-like badassery by stalking through the cargo hold, armed with a Cyberman cannon, but is soon captured and taken to the bridge. The rest of Scott’s team make it back to the TARDIS, disabling a pursuing Cyberman patrol in the console room. Professor Kyle is killed in the crossfire.

The Cyber-Leader provokes the Doctor by threatening Tegan’s life to manipulate the Time Lord’s emotions. He leaves two Cybermen on the bridge with the crew and Adric to observe their emotions on impact, and then takes Tegan and the Doctor to the TARDIS to observe the impact from space. Scott and his team leave the TARDIS to search for the missing travelers and end up liberating the bridge. The captain suggests abandoning ship, but Adric sets to work on the unlocking the helm controls. Instead of stopping the ship, he inadvertently pushes it into time-warp. As the freighter barrels back through time, the Cyber-Leader orders the Doctor to land the TARDIS on the ship, but the Doctor cannot do so.

The captain orders the bridge crew to abandon the ship, but Adric slips out of the escape pod at the last second and breaks the final encryption code. On the TARDIS, our heroes realize that they’ve traveled back 65 million years and that the freighter is about to be the extinction event that kills the dinosaurs and paves the way for human evolution.

As Tegan distracts the Cyber-Leader, the Doctor grinds Adric’s badge for mathematical excellence into the Cyber-Leader’s chest unit. As he dies, the leader fires on the TARDIS control console, but falls to the floor as the Doctor fires the killing shot into the Cyberman’s chest. The damage to the console prevents the Doctor from rescuing Adric, and one critically damaged Cyberman destroys the freighter’s helm console.

Adric rides the freighter to the surface, ending his journey with the Doctor in a blaze of glory.

And even though I didn’t like him much, I shed a tear for his heroic exit.

 

With that powerful ending, it’s actually a little difficult to figure out where to go from here.

Overall, I enjoyed this story. It was well-written, even though it was slow in the beginning episode. The characters continue their ascent in the Fifth Doctor’s era, with Tegan stepping up with a touch of recklessness and the Doctor continuing his fatherly approach. Unfortunately, Nyssa was sidelined for a considerable portion of the story. And then there’s Adric.

Adric was far less annoying in this story, which is a good way to go out. He had his temper tantrum at the beginning which drove the plot, but he acquiesced and apologized before being the key that literally saved the world. He joins the small list of companions to die while traveling with the Doctor – the other two are Katarina and Sara Kingdom, both from The Daleks’ Master Plan – and his death was just as chilling but, in my opinion, more heroic. His arrogance was his downfall since nothing changed between him leaping out of the elevator and crashing into Earth, but his drive and motivation are something I admired.

Even though I knew it was coming – it’s very difficult to avoid spoilers around critical touchstones like this thirty-five years after the fact – the ending was still very emotional. Mind you, it doesn’t erase the problems I had with the character, but it does put a positive cap on his journey and growth.

 

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

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Time-Flight

 

 

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 Special #4: The Thirteenth Doctor

The Thirteenth Doctor
Announced: July 16, 2017

 

Jodie Whittaker is the Thirteenth Doctor.

Take a moment, consider it, and scream as you see fit. I know I did.

Source: BBC

It should be no surprise that I support this move. If it is, then you really haven’t been reading the Timestamps Project. All throughout my journey with Doctor Who, from every new series episode to the (approximately) 150 distinct reviews and analyses of the classic serials, I have wholeheartedly embraced the morals, messages, and meanings in each, and critiqued how their impact relates to my values and expectations. Because of that journey, encompassing the canon of regeneration, representation in fandom, and the reputation of the character and franchise itself, Jodie Whittaker’s casting is music to my ears, heart, and soul.

 

Regeneration

At a later stage, Doctor Who would be metamorphosed into a woman. Don’t you agree that this is considerably more worthy of the BBC than Doctor Who’s presently largely socially valueless, escapist schlock? This requires some considerable thought – mainly because I want to avoid a flashy Hollywood ‘Wonder Woman’ because this kind of hero(ine) has no flaws – and a character with no flaws is a bore.

Sydney Newman, creator of Doctor Who

 

As the concept of regeneration has evolved throughout Doctor Who‘s history, it has been discussed more and more as a lottery.  The Fifth Doctor remarked that the trouble with regeneration was “not knowing what you are going to get.” The Ninth Doctor seemed surprised by his appearance in Rose, and each incarnation since has enthusiastically explored their new teeth, hair, and legs (as did the semi-Time Lord River Song, who apparently needs more jumpers). Even the War Doctor, a critical touchstone between the classic and new eras, lamented the shape of his ears as he moved on.

Throughout the 53-year history of the franchise, we have plenty of evidence that regeneration means more than simply shifting around inside a similar matrix. Most recently, longtime nemesis The Master changed genders into Missy (Series Eight, Series Ten), and in the middle, we had the Gallifreyan General’s regeneration from an old white male to a younger black female (Hell Bent).

Source: BBC

Similarly, we had River Song, who regenerated from a white girl in New York City to Mels, then to River Song (Day of the Moon, Let’s Kill Hitler). Both Maya Glace-Green and Nina Toussaint-White are women of color, which means that Melody Pond/River Song shifted skin colors during regeneration. As far as we know, both of her parents come from white families, so it seems that DNA input has no bearing on a Time Lord’s appearance.

Upon his regeneration from the Tenth Doctor, the Eleventh Doctor was momentarily concerned that he had become a woman, which indicates that gender shifts are possible (The End of Time). But the largest piece of evidence that we have is the Corsair, a Time Lord friend of the Doctor’s whom he had known across several lifetimes, two of which were female (The Doctor’s Wife).

But these are all “nu-Who” examples, so they’re tainted with some kind of twenty-first century social justice warrior progressivism, right?

Not really.

Romana’s regeneration from Mary Tamm to Lalla Ward in Destiny of the Daleks took viewers on a regeneration merry-go-round, including at least one complete “species” shift. She was still a Time Lord underneath, but her blue-silver Fifth Element skin was definitely not human-based. Ergo, Time Lords aren’t limited to human forms. Also, behind the scenes, the concept of a male-to-female regeneration has been discussed since the 1980s by Tom Baker (the Fourth Doctor) and Sydney Newman (the creator of the show).

Source: BBC

Based on the canon evidence, it’s apparent that a gender-change during regeneration is no big deal.

 

Representation

Because it’s got that cross-generational appeal, which few other things have. It’s not a working-class thing, it’s not a middle-class thing. The competition winner from Doctor Who Magazine was on set today, a 15-year-old girl. When I was a kid, 15-year-old girls didn’t watch Doctor Who.

David Tennant, the Tenth Doctor

 

Representation matters.

Sure, the Doctor has been a hero to viewers – and, by extension, readers and listeners – of all types for over a half-century. But that doesn’t compare to having a hero who more closely represents you in the spotlight.

Luke and Anakin Skywalker wielded lightsabers for a collective 40 years, but Star Wars: The Force Awakens unconditionally showed girls that they could too with the new hero Rey. In Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Jyn Erso showed girls that they could save the day without being Jedi. Star Wars: The Clone Wars brought us Ahsoka Tano, a massive fan favorite, and voice actress Ashley Eckstein developed an entire business around the underserved female fan base.

The Star Wars franchise showed minorities that they had a place in the galaxy – with Lando Calrissian, Mace Windu, Finn, Poe Dameron, Cassian Andor, Baze Malbus, Chirrut Îmwe, and Bodhi Rook. The galaxy far far away is still heavy with men, but at least it’s diverse.

Supergirl and Wonder Woman put feminine heroes front and center in a golden age of comic book properties that focused mostly on men. The silver screen’s history with female-led comic book movies in the last thirty years was sparse and disappointing (Supergirl, Elektra, and Catwoman, just to quote the big ones). Marvel also helped with Black Widow’s increased screen presence, but their first movie with a strictly female lead (Captain Marvel) is still years away.

Star Trek put young women in the captain’s chair with Kathryn Janeway, just as it inspired young black men with Benjamin Sisko. Before them was Uhura, who inspired astronaut Mae Jemison and actor Whoopi Goldberg, both of whom are also Star Trek alums.

Just like their male counterparts, women deserve to have role models that they can admire and emulate. At its core, science fiction is all about telling stories about the human condition, through metaphors. It’s about exploring ideas and possibilities, often times from a new point of view. Doctor Who is science fiction, and it adheres to the same Asimov maxim as any other successful sci-fi property: “Individual science fiction stories may seem as trivial as ever to the blinded critics and philosophers of today, but the core of science fiction, its essence, has become crucial to our salvation, if we are to be saved at all.”

Until Jodie Whittaker, the only major female heroes we had seen in Doctor Who were companions. As much as I love seeing them take charge of a situation, they still operate under the protection and guidance of the Doctor, who has been a male character despite the ability to not be. The Doctor leads the charge against evil, goes toe-to-toe against the bad guys, and outwits and outsmarts even the most brilliant traps and plans. Nothing in that description requires the character to be a man. It only needs to speak to us.

As genre fans, we seek stories about the human condition that touch us and inspire us. We seek the messages – the salvation – that they offer. In the case of the Doctor, to paraphrase Steven Moffat, we ask for it through a call box and get it through two hearts.

Both men and women talk about it. Both men and women run fan tracks and conventions about it. Both men and women embrace it.

Salvation isn’t exclusive, just as the Doctor’s love is not exclusive. It must represent us all or we all lose.

 

Reputation

Tonight’s show is a little different.
Tonight’s show is about a man who’s not really a man.
He’s a doctor, but he’s not really a doctor.
Like Doctor Phil, but awesome.
Most people in the United States of America have not heard of him.
He’s just like me in that regard.
Who is he? He’s The Doctor!

In 1963 the BBC premiered a show about an alien who traveled through space and time to combat the powers of evil.

Sid the Rabbit: He’s a force for good in an otherwise uncertain universe.

You are correct in your summation of his character my profane rabbit friend.

Geoff the Robot Skeleton: Ooh, tell me more!

The show has been running in Britain almost fifty years,
with many different actors in the role of The Doctor.

Wavy Rancheros the Alligator/Crocodile: The Doctor doesn’t die he just regenerates.

The crocodile alligator speaks the truth.
One thing is consistent though and this is why the show is so beloved by geeks and nerds.
It’s all about the triumph of intellect and romance
over brute force and cynicism.
Intellect and romance over brute force and cynicism!

And if there’s any hope for us in this giant explosion in which we inhabit then surely that’s it.
Intellect and romance triumph over brute force and cynicism!

Craig Ferguson, November 2010

 

Confidence. Bravery. Compassion. Cunning. Curiosity. Intellect.

Those traits have been attributed to the Doctor over the years, from many sources. As Jennifer Hartshorn put it, none of them are gender-specific. But in some corners of Doctor Who fandom, they have become so through tradition. The problem with tradition, however, is that it leads to the argument that the status quo cannot change because it’s the way things have always been.

Speaking from an American point of view, I know how dangerous “it’s the way things have always been” can be. Take a look at any minority and notice how their rights suffer until the outcry drowns out the privilege of clinging to tradition. Pure and simple, saying that the Doctor doesn’t need to be a woman is only a simpler way to state that the Doctor needs to be a man. Based on everything else we’ve discussed here, we know that the Doctor doesn’t need to be a man to showcase the traits and attributes of the character.

I know that change is difficult, but Doctor Who has shown us at least twelve times that change is inevitable. That number is even higher if we count every companion that has come, gone, and even died on the Doctor’s watch. Even the upcoming Christmas Special appears to be dedicated to reminding the Doctor (in two incarnations) that change cannot be stopped.

And it’s not just changing for sake of change. It’s change we’ve seen coming for years. Every time the sci-fi side of this deus ex machinia fairy tale pops up and asks “what if,” it signals that science fiction is fulfilling its mission. The writers correctly asked “what if” years ago, and next year we get the answer.

The biggest problem I see with a female lead on Doctor Who is how writers and producers treat female characters in television. If Chris Chibnall’s team can make it work, Jodie Whittaker’s acting will shine.

Doctor Who will return. The fight against brute force and cynicism will continue. If you choose not to continue the journey, that’s up to you. Fans, like companions, have come and gone, and it’s not the first time that fans have left because the show was “ruined” by a studio decision. If you choose to leave, I will miss you, and I will even forgive you. But I will continue on with the journey and hope that one day you will be back.

But I will carry on with the message in hand. Because it’s what the Doctor would do.

 

Source: @aroonio on Instagram – follow hyperlink for original image

 

It’s like when you’re a kid. The first time they tell you that the world’s turning and you just can’t quite believe it ’cause everything looks like it’s standin’ still. I can feel it; the turn of the Earth. The ground beneath our feet is spinnin’ at 1,000 miles an hour and the entire planet is hurtling around the sun at 67,000 miles an hour, and I can feel it. We’re fallin’ through space, you and me, clinging to the skin of this tiny little world, and if we let go…

That’s who I am.

–The Ninth Doctor, Rose (2005)

 


UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Earthshock

 

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 #121: Black Orchid

Doctor Who: Black Orchid
(2 episodes, s19e17-e18, 1982)

Timestamp 121 Black Orchid

 

It’s more like Doctor Who and the Case of the Missing Drama.

The TARDIS materializes in 1925 at the Cranleigh Halt rail station through a really well-done effects sequence. Tegan is finally onboard with traveling with the Doctor, and the two non-Terran companions learn what a rail station is. A chauffeur gathers the travelers, claiming that the Doctor was expected, and drives them to a cricket match.

Our heroes meet Lord Charles Cranleigh, who joins the chauffeur in staring mouth agape at Nyssa, and the Doctor justifies his wardrobe by winning a cricket match. Tegan is really into it, but Nyssa and Adric (along with this humble watcher) have no idea what’s going on. Regardless, the Doctor’s stellar performance earns them a trip to the house to meet the rest of the family (“Doctor who?“). They also meet Lord Cranleigh’s fiancée, Ann Talbot, who is the spitting image of Nyssa.

Spoiler: It’s a convenient plot point that never warrants an explanation.

Tegan takes notice of a black orchid in a display case, which stands as a memorial to the Lady Cranleigh’s missing son George, an explorer and botanist. Ann was to marry George, but after his disappearance, she was engaged to Charles. The group finish their cocktails (or lack thereof for Nyssa and Adric) and retire to their rooms to prepare for the night’s costume ball. During all of this, a mysterious figure in gentleman’s attire unties himself and skulks about, eventually stealing the Doctor’s party costume and trapping the Time Lord in the house’s secret passageways.

We also learn at pointed (and pretty much useless) bit of information about the Nyssa-Ann pair: One of them has a mole on their shoulder. They use the circumstances to dress in identical costumes as a joke.

Adric, on the other hand, wears his badge for mathematical excellence on his costume. Because of course, he does.

The festivities proceed as the Doctor explores the house and its secrets, but the mysterious figure arrives at the party and invites Ann to dance. They end up back inside the house, and the stranger attacks Ann and kills a servant. After Ann faints, the stranger puts her in a bed and returns the costume to the Doctor’s room. At this point, we finally see his disfigured face.

The Doctor discovers a body in a cupboard, then encounters Lady Cranleigh and her servant Latoni, an Amazonian with a stretched lip. After seeing the dead body, everyone agrees to keep the whole affair silent. The lady and Latoni then go to the room containing Ann; the young woman races to Lady Cranleigh (believing it all to be a dream) while Latoni gathers a length of rope to detain the stranger.

Lady Cranleigh and Ann converge at the site of the murdered servant at the same time as the Doctor, and the Time Lord is framed for the murder and assault. The Doctor attempts to prove his innocence with the hidden body, but the cupboard is now empty. The Doctor’s inadvertent cover story is blown as the (medical) doctor the family was expecting calls with his regrets, and the Time Lord is taken into custody. He asks the police sergeant to stop at the rail station to show everyone a vital piece of evidence, but the TARDIS is missing. Once the group arrives at the police station, they discover the TARDIS (a police box that no key will open), and everyone piles in, casting light on the Doctor’s story.

At the house, the mysterious stranger breaks free of his bonds, strangles Latoni, and sets fire to the room’s door. The Doctor pilots the TARDIS to the manor as Ann learns a disturbing truth. We have it confirmed minutes later as Lady Cranleigh admits that the stranger is really George. He was caught in the Amazon and cut apart by a tribe for disrupting their sacred black orchids, but was rescued by Latoni’s tribe and returned home. Unfortunately, George bursts into the parlor and kidnaps Nyssa, set on being with his former fiancée. The Doctor and Charles rush to the rescue, and when all is said and done, Nyssa is saved and George is killed by accident.

After the funeral, in gratitude for everything the travelers have done, the Cranleigh family give the companions their fancy dresses from the party. They also give the Doctor a gift in George Cranleigh’s book, Black Orchid.

On the upside, the plot moved quickly with little filler. On the downside, it was utterly predictable once the orchid and George’s disappearance were laid out. After that, it became a somewhat painful short story that played on a train car full of Doctor Who tropes. It had no drama and no tension. It was just there.

What saves this serial is the acting and characters. While the Doctor was pretty much relegated to the background, the companions stole the show: Adric’s typical annoyance was nowhere to be found; Tegan was enjoying herself; and Sarah Sutton got a chance to really shine in a dual role, which she played as two individual characters with distinct styles. I’m seriously in awe of her range and skills after this story.

On a sad note, this is the last of the historical (non-science fiction/fantasy) serials in classic Who.

All told, Black Orchid really benefits from rounding up.

 

 

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

 

UP NEXT – Timestamp Special #4: The Thirteenth Doctor

 

 

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.