Timestamp #112: Full Circle

Doctor Who: Full Circle
(4 episodes, s18e09-e12, 1980)

Doctor Who

 

A funny thing happened on the way to Gallifrey.

The first chapter in the E-Space Trilogy kicks off with our traveling Time Lords tying up loose ends. They drop off “Clark Kent” and set course for Gallifrey, but Romana doesn’t want to go. She’s addicted to the adventure, despite only being tasked with helping resolve the Key to Time crisis. Luckily for them, the TARDIS passes through an indescribable phenomenon and ends up in E-Space, an alternate universe.

There is a village nearby where humanoids are living an agrarian lifestyle, however the TARDIS scanners show that the Time Lords should be on Gallifrey. As the Time Lords troubleshoot the TARDIS, a senior villager known as a Decider investigates strange eggs in the river fruits. Among the villagers are a group of rebels called the Outlers who steal from the village to survive outside the community. One of the Elites in the village, a boy named Adric, is petitioning for membership in the rebel group to join his brother Varsh. To prove his worth, he must steal some river fruit for the Outlers. During his attempt a strange phenomenon called Mistfall begins, and the First Decider (and keeper of the System Files) orders the villagers into the Starliner, a derelict starship bordering the community. Despite not having the entire village aboard, the Deciders order the ship sealed to protect those inside.

Adric takes the opportunity to complete his task, but he is chased by the First Decider. During the pursuit, the Decider falls and is pulled into the river. Adric tries to save him and fails, but is left with a message: “Tell Dexeter we’ve come full circle.” Hey, it’s the title!

Adric runs through the forest and stumbles into the TARDIS. The Time Lords tend to the boy, who recovers unbelievably fast, and the Doctor investigates the marshes with K9. A group of Swamp Thing creatures emerge from the murky waters and stretch their fins, prompting the Doctor and K9 to retreat. After watching them from seclusion, the Doctor tasks K9 with following them while he attempts to make contact. Romana gives Adric a homing beacon, and he returns to the Outlers only to lead them to the TARDIS. The rebels hold Romana hostage and take over the ship. Meanwhile, Login, the father of Keara (the only girl in the Outler group) becomes a new Decider. Thus another conflict is born.

The Doctor returns to find the TARDIS missing. It has been taken by the Marshmen to a nearby cave, an act that throws everyone off balance inside and defuses the hostage situation. When K9 tracks the TARDIS to the cave, he is immediately beheaded by the Marshmen. With help from the Outlers, Adric and Ramona deduce that the TARDIS is being set up as a battering ram against the starship.

With nowhere else to go, the Doctor heads for the Starliner and gains access with his sonic screwdriver. Of course, the absent-minded Time Lord leaves the hatch open, and an inquisitive Marshman child follows him into the ship. They are both eventually captured, and the Deciders experiment on the child much to the Doctor’s displeasure.

When the Marshmen leave the cave, Romana’s group leaves the TARDIS to investigate but are attacked by a cluster of spiders. Adric accidentally locks Romana out and dematerializes the TARDIS, and the Time Lady is bitten. The TARDIS materializes on the Starliner in front of the Doctor, and he and Adric return to the cave to collect K9 (sans head), a dead spider, and an enthralled Romana. By the time he returns to the ship, the Deciders have pardoned the rebel children and Dexeter has started a lobotomy on the Marshman child. As Dexeter cuts into the child, Romana screams from her room on the TARDIS and, telepathically, the child reacts by killing the scientist and (eventually) itself.

A now incensed Doctor turns on the Deciders and reveals their duplicity: The Starliner has been ready to leave the planet for centuries but the farce of repairing it for the great journey has continued because no one knows how to pilot it. Chagrined, the Deciders provide the Doctor tools to analyze the spiders, but his investigation is interrupted when the enthralled Romana leaves the TARDIS and opens the emergency exits, releasing the Marshmen upon the starship.

While the Doctor and Adric search for Romana, they put the pieces together. The spider and the Marshman child share DNA, the invading Marshmen are more inquisitive than violent, and Adric’s wounds healed quickly. The Doctor finds Romana (and K9’s head) and returns to the lab to continue his research. After the Marshmen invade the ship’s control room and mortally wound the new First Decider, he adds another piece of the puzzle: The villagers have never been anywhere but the planet.

Oh, boy.

The Marshmen invade the lab, but the Doctor’s team is able to drive them back with pure oxygen. Ramona arrives and Adric stuns her with a blast of oxygen, providing the Doctor a chance to administer a serum and reverse the infection. After she recovers, the secret is finally revealed: The villagers are descended from the Marshmen, who in turn descended from the spiders. The Marshmen killed the original crew 40,000 generations ago and evolved to take their place. They have indeed come full circle.

While driving the Marshmen away and sealing bulkheads to isolate them, Varsh is killed, leaving Adric with no surviving family. Meanwhile, the Doctor and the remaining Deciders crank up the oxygen levels and drive the Marshmen off the ship. They convince the Doctor to help them learn to fly, and he sets them on the right course before leaving on the TARDIS with a new image translator courtesy of Adric to continue their voyage.

Little do they know that their benefactor has also stowed away on the TARDIS.

The location shoots added some depth to this story, and complemented the improved story and pacing. That isn’t to say that the latter elements were perfect, since the plot seemed rather thin in the first half because of all the setup. Luckily it picked up a bit in the second. The callbacks to Leela and Andred, as well as Romana’s origins on the show.

Unrelated to the final score, Full Circle – Part One is effectively my birthday episode since it is the closest to my date of birth.

 

 

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


UP NEXT – Doctor Who: State of Decay

 

 

 

 

Star Wars, Celebrations, and Wristbands

Star Wars, Celebrations, and Wristbands

 

For fans, the Star Wars Celebration conventions have become a pilgrimage. Since 1999, the gatherings have been used to celebrate movie releases and anniversaries around the world, drawing approximately 30,000-40,000 fans per event.

This year, the eighth show in the United States (the twelfth overall) was held in Orlando, Florida over Easter weekend. The big-ticket panels were a celebration of A New Hope‘s fortieth anniversary and a sneak peek at the upcoming Star Wars: The Last Jedi, but aside from the buzz and excitement flooding social media, there was also anger, frustration, and disappointment.

Why? Because the convention is stuck in the 20th century.

The 2017 convention hosted the headline events in three venues: The Galaxy Stage, the Celebration Stage, and the Behind-the-Scenes Stage. The events were held live in the Galaxy Stage, located in the Valencia Ballroom, and live-streamed to audiences in the Chapin Theater (Celebration Stage) and room W304 (Behind-the-Scenes Stage).

In order to get access to these events, attendees needed wristbands, which were only available by queuing the nights before and sleeping in the convention center. Star Wars fans love lines, and have since the first film premiered in 1977, but the frustrations and anger came in how the convention organizers handled the overnight waiting period. After starting their convention camping trip at 8pm, some fans were promised through a loudspeaker announcement at 1am that everyone in line was guaranteed seats in the Galaxy Theater for the 40th anniversary panel. When it came time for their wristbands, they got screwed by line jumpers.

Based on other accounts on Twitter and Facebook, this experience is far from isolated. Here’s the thing, though. In 2017, there is no need for it.

The wristbands were also used for the other panels on the Galaxy and Celebration Stages, and attendees were able to receive two wristbands per day by choosing their top two panels across both stages. Tickets went on sale on May 25, 2016, and pre-orders were handled through the Celebration website. ReedPOP, the convention organizer, had contact information for each purchase.

Upon purchase, ReedPOP could set up simple accounts for each ticketholder, and when the schedule is finalized, ReedPOP could require each ticket holder to log in and set their Galaxy/Celebration panel priorities. Wristbands could be issued by a lottery system, and could be picked up at registration with the event badges.

Seats could be assigned, or they could be given on a first-come-first-serve basis with a queue for each panel.

No overnight camping. No line-cutting. No frustration for attendees who are paying hard-earned money to have a good time.

 

Now, let’s take it a step further.

Star Wars fans are incredibly social. Let’s say that I want to see The Last Jedi panel with my friends from various podcasts or fan groups. ReedPOP could set up the ticketholder accounts to allow grouping, and those groups would be entered in the seat lottery as one entity. The groups could be limited to twenty seats to prevent an entire group from having an unfair advantage.

 

Now, let’s go one more step.

Not counting YouTube viewers, the big-ticket events were presented to 10,264 people, or about twenty-five percent of a 40,000-person assumed attendance. According to the Orange County Convention Center (OCCC), the Valencia Ballroom can seat 6,000 people, the Chapin Theater can seat 2,643, and W304 can seat 1,621. It’s also a fair assumption that most (if not all) of the attendees want to see panels like the Star Wars 40th and The Last Jedi. So why not expand the seating and use the streaming capabilities to serve more fans?

Based on the stage schedules, ReedPOP had reserved eight additional rooms for scheduled events. Those rooms – W300, W303, W306A, W307, W308, W310, and W312 – house 2,600 extra seats. They could only be used for the headline panels because they’re slated for other purposes throughout the day such as podcasts, educational panels, and screenings, but for the headline panels that brings us to thirty-two percent, and virtually exhausts the West Concourse of the OCCC.

If ReedPOP could secure access to North and South Concourses, both of which are attached to the West Concourse by skybridges, they could easily open streaming access to every attendee, including ticketholders who purchase their badges at the show. The North and South Concourses can house 32,111 people each in theater mode, reaching 64,222 total.

The North and South Concourses may be a bit of a financial stretch for only two to three hours over two days, but there is another possibility in the connected hotels. Both the Rosen Centre and the Hyatt Regency Orlando are connected to the OCCC by skybridges, and both have substantial meeting capacity. Rosen has 4,000-seat capacity in their Grand Ballroom, 1,888-seat capacity in the Executive Ballroom, and 1,500-seat capacity in the Junior Ballroom, leading to a total of 7,388. The Regency has 3,120-seat capacity in their Plaza International Ballroom, 1,040-seat capacity in the Orlando Ballroom, and 832-seat capacity in the Florida Ballroom, leading to 4,992 seats total. Together, they reach 12,380.

Using the hotel ballrooms, the 10,264-seat base jumps to 22,644. If the extra West Concourse rooms are used, we come to 25,244. Between the two, around sixty percent of the audience could attend the headline panels.

 

Of course, at this point it’s time to answer the question: Why do I care?

I have wanted to travel to Celebration since they started in 1999, but I have never had the opportunity to do so. But, I’ve also been a bit spoiled by Dragon Con, a 70,000-90,000 attendee convention where lines are limited to one or two hours for big ticket panels. I’m not keen on waiting in lines for hours and hours to see a panel when there are no other options, especially when there is so much more to do at the convention. This whole logistical miscalculation has me reconsidering Celebration on the whole.

I’m also a Star Wars fan and convention attendee who has sleep apnea and uses a CPAP machine to sleep each night. That would prevent me from “camping out” on a concrete floor, and would also require me to be awake for 24-36 hours at a shot. While Celebration has a disability contingency that allows someone to pick up wristbands on my behalf, that’s not something I’m going to ask my wife to do for me.

Finally, that’s two nights of hotel room rental where I’m not actually using it. That’s a lot of money.

I don’t expect this blog post to be an end-all solution to Celebration 2017’s queuing woes, but it certainly shows that there is room for creative problem solving. A conflict obviously exists, and it’s evidently driving fans away. The question is what is more important to ReedPOP and Lucasfilm/Disney: Money or fans.

ReedPOP should seriously consider ditching the overnight queuing and remove a source of friction from the only official Star Wars convention that our fandom has. Celebration should live up to its name and celebrate what we love. Celebration shouldn’t include anger, frustration, and disappointment, and it certainly shouldn’t start off with it.

Timestamp #111: Meglos

Doctor Who: Meglos
(4 episodes, s18e05-e08, 1980)

timestamp-111-meglos

 

Time loops have momentum problems.

Time loops have momentum problems.

Time loops have momentum problems.

Annoying, right? So why did the showrunners think it would hold my attention without irritating me?

In the TARDIS, the Time Lords are repairing K9. Romana puts the TARDIS into a hover over the planet Tigella to avoid any sudden movements during the procedure, and the Doctor reminisces about his last experience on the planet. We’ll see this again.

On the planet below, a transformer blows resulting in a severe casualty for a community that lives below ground. They are the Savants, and are in conflict over an item called the Dodecahedron, a sacred item for the Deon sect of their culture, and the religious leader named Lexa refuses to let them touch it, enter the power room where it resides, or venture above ground. Stuck in the middle of the impasse, Zastor, the leader of the community, sends for the Doctor.

Two notes: First, Lexa looks familiar. It’s good to see Jacqueline Hill again, and she is just relishing this role. Second, the Savants share the same hairstylist as Prince Adam of Eternia and the Romulan Sela.

On a desert world, a ship lands to reveal a party of bounty hunters, including a Clark Kent-style human in a business suit. The human is stunned, and this crew brought him to the world for a reward. A mysterious structure rises from the sand, revealing a door which the party enters. Beyond, they meet Meglos, a giant sentient cactus and the only survivor of the planet. Meglos tasks the bounty hunters with stealing the Dodecahedron, which he claims was constructed on the desert planet and is far more powerful than the Tigellans realize. As Meglos and the human are placed in adjacent chambers for some kind of procedure, the bounty hunters scheme to steal all of the valuable technology within, but Meglos traps them in the structure and forces them to execute his plan. The procedure transfers Meglos into the human, notably changing the human’s skin into something more cactus-like. Meglos then traps the Time Lords in a time loop and assumes the Doctor’s identity. They set course for Tigella.

Time loops. Why did it have to be time loops?

Lexa finally relents and allows the Doctor to visit, but only if he swears allegiance to the Deons. Zastor is upset with the decision, but errs on the side of diplomacy when the bounty hunters ship arrives and the Meglos-Doctor inspects the city. Meglos-Doctor takes the oath, and then sells them on the idea that it is too dangerous for anyone but him to inspect the Dodecahedron. Shortly afterward, Meglos-Doctor steals the Dodecahedron.

The Doctor and Romana break the time loop (thank the maker) by repeating the events within the loop, setting up a destructive interference pattern. They then proceed to Tigella and head for the city, but Romana is waylaid by some bell plants and K9 is sent to find her. The Doctor arrives in the city as his arrest order goes out, stumbles into some guards, and is taken prisoner.

K9’s power runs low, so he returns to the city. Of course, without the Dodecahedron to power it, the city shares a similar fate. Meanwhile, Romana follows a trail of scorched vegetation to find the bounty hunter ship only to encounter the crew and an overacted order to kill her. Romana stalls them by promising to lead the crew to her ship, parading them in circles through the jungle, and snaring them in the bell plants.

While in hiding, Meglos struggles to keep the Clark Kent human in check. In Superman III-style – okay, okay, but that bomb of a movie has its moments – it is fighting his control.  After the Doctor convinces the Savants that he is the victim of a doppelgänger, Meglos kidnaps engineer Caris and convinces her to follow him. As the Doctor and Zastor investigate the Dodecahedron’s whereabouts, the Deons stage a revolution and send all of the non-believers to the surface. Lexa keeps the Doctor and prepares him for sacrifice.

On the run from the bounty hunters, Romana finds K9 stranded in the undergrowth. She barely makes it inside the city and is trapped in the airlock, but she’s safe from the bounty hunters for a moment before they break down the door. As Meglos is plagued by the human he absorbed, Caris takes him hostage, but he breaks away and joins the bounty hunters outside the city. Romana joins forces with Caris to search for the Doctor, who is about to be crushed by a giant stone. They find Zastor and Deedrix, and the four rush to the power room just in time to prevent the sacrifice.

Meglos and the bounty hunters return to Zolfa-Thura, the desert planet from earlier. The Doctor wonders why they would go there until Romana reminds him of the screens on the surface. They head for the TARDIS, and a dying bounty hunter takes a shot at Romana. Lexa steps in front of the bolt, giving her life for the Time Lords and ending Jacqueline Hill’s roles with the franchise. In all seriousness, that woman was such a class act.

When Meglos buries the Dodecahedron inside the perimeter, the screens amplify its power into a Death Star-type of superweapon. Since Dantooine is too remote to make an effective demonstration, the bounty hunters choose Tigella as the test for their new tool of terror. The Doctor leaves Romana, K9, Caris, and Deedrix with the TARDIS as he attempts to stand in for Meglos and stall the countdown. The bounty hunters decide to capture Meglos and operate the weapon themselves, and they end up capturing both the cactus and the Time Lord. Trapped in the same cargo hold, the Doctor informs Meglos that he changed the target’s coordinates to Zolfa-Thura. Meanwhile, the rest of the travelers rescue the pair, presenting an opportunity for Meglos to abandon his humanoid form and slither away.

The travelers and the sacrificial human run for the TARDIS, which has a bit of trouble dematerializing but finally does so before Zolfa-Thura is disintegrated. The Time Lords return everyone to their proper places, but the Tigellans will have to live on the surface now since the Dodecahedron was destroyed. As they get ready to take the Clark Kent human home, they get an urgent message: Gallifrey needs their help.

You know, I enjoyed this one. Except for that stupid time loop sequence that consumed most of the first episode. Carve that out and restore the momentum, and this serial could have sung.

Instead, it merely meets the average.

 

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

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Full Circle

 

 

 

 

Timestamp #110: The Leisure Hive

Doctor Who: The Leisure Hive
(4 episodes, s18e01-e04, 1980)

timestamp-110-the-leisure-hive

 

It’s a new season with new credits and a new theme! A so very ’80s theme.

We open on a windy beach with a long, long, loooong panning shot that reveals a snoozing Doctor and a disgruntled Romana. In her frustration, she throws her beach ball in to the ocean and K9 tries to fetch it. The robot dog’s head explodes removing him from the story for the time being. Dammit, Romana!

At least he had the right voice again.

Another jarring change: The Doctor’s new outfit is a lot of burgundy and purple. I’m not as keen on it as his original costume.

The source of Romana’s frustration is that the Doctor missed the opening of Brighton Pavilion, mostly because he is still using the randomizer to avoid the Black Guardian, and she suggests an alternative: Argolis, home of the Leisure Hive.

The leaders of the Leisure Hive, a group with amazing hair and makeup, are experiencing financial straits and that is causing discord among them. An Earth businessman offers a way out, but it involves a buy-out by Argolin enemies known as the Fomasi. That causes further discord both among family – Chief Executive Morix’s son Pangol despises the idea – and opens the door for the Fomasi to take advantage of the radioactive wastes beyond the Hive’s walls. During the negotiations, Morix dies from old age.

At this point, I was impressed with the production values. They have improved with this serial, from the filming and scene blocking to the music. It feels very 1980s sci-fi, and it’s a style that carried into productions like Red Dwarf and remained prevalent for a long time in TV sci-fi.

The Doctor and Romana arrive in time to watch a demonstration of the Hive’s newest technology, the tachyon recreation generator. A demonstration goes awry, tearing a volunteer limb from limb. As they watch and debate the sciences, a reptilian cuts into the wall and infiltrates the Hive. As the Doctor and Romana investigate the incident, the new chairman, Mena, requests to see them. It is a case of mistaken identity as Mena is expecting an Earth scientist named Hardin. The Time Lords try to run for the TARDIS as security is alerted about their presence, but the Doctor ends up inside the tachyon generator and is apparently torn apart as a reptilian hand activates the machine.

The image is a cliffhanger and an illusion, revealed as the Doctor slips out the back of the device at the start of a new episode. The Time Lords are captured and taken to Mena for questioning as the actual Earth scientist that the chairman was waiting for arrives. Based on their proven expertise, Mena asks the Time Lords to assist in the tachyon experiments, which are an attempt to rejuvenate the Argolin surface by reversing the flow of time. The radiation causes the Argolins to age rapidly, and has also caused their sterility. Their race is dying.

The big fly in the ointment is that the Earth scientists have been faking their results, and they are very hesitant about involving the Time Lords for dear of discovery. Romana injects herself into the experiment, and Hardin’s partner Stimson ventures off to find the Earth businessman. Instead, the man finds the businessman’s corpse before becoming one himself in short order. The Doctor is snooping around when he found by the supposedly dead businessman and is framed for the Stimson’s murder. So, three options: 1) Businessman Brock is a doppelgänger; 2) Businessman Brock’s corpse is a doppelgänger; or 3) I’m watching The Walking Dead three decades early.

Romana and Hardin are able to make the experiment work, but just as they leave to deliver the good news to Mena, the experiment catastrophically fails. Pangol orders one more test, this time on the Doctor. He agrees, but as the experiment begins Romana finds the remnants of their previous attempt. The Doctor exits the booth, and he has aged several hundred years instead of getting younger. The aged Doctor looks a lot like Donald Sutherland in The Hunger Games franchise.

That’s some really bad science by Romana and Hardin since they didn’t check their results fully before declaring success.

The Time Lords are imprisoned by Pangol, driven by the Doctor’s pending charges for murder, and are fitted with collars that limit the places that they can visit. Pangol uncovers the fraud by the human scientists, and Hardin asks for leniency to continue since he and Romana were so close. Mena allows this, but not Romana’s help. The human is on his own.

As they sit in their cell, the Doctor notes to Romana that Pangol is the only young Argolin at the hive. They are soon freed by Hardin using a borrowed security key, and the they piece together that the machine is not for recreation but for re-creation.  Clever word play, and it comes into the calculation as Pangol sways Mena to turn down the Fomasi offer, claiming that he will rebuild Argolis because he is the first of the new children from the generator. It’s a sort of cloning machine.

Romana goes into the machine since she has more years to spare than the Doctor, and while inside, she encounters an alien. Using the security feeds, Pangol notices that the Time Lords are meddling with the device, and plans to age the occupant by two thousand years. Luckily, the alien, a Fomasi, rescues Romana and reveals a device that was stopping the rejuvenation experiments. The Time Lords escort the Fomasi to the boardroom, where the alien reveals Brock’s true face: The businessman is a Fomasi.

Which we already knew for the most part.

The good Fomasi goes further, unmasking all of the Fomasi in the room and explaining their presence. Brock’s team represents the West Lodge, dissidents of the Fomasi government who were trying to buy out Argolis and foment war. The good Fomasi apprehends the dissidents and makes plans to take them home for trial, the ever skeptical Pangol interferes by destroying their ship upon takeoff.

The Time Lords and Hardin return to the lab and discover that the device from the machine is missing. The Doctor retrieves the randomizer from the TARDIS and installs it in the generator. Pangol dons the Helmet of Theron, a holy artifact, and duplicates himself many times over in the machine. Since the Doctor was in the machine as well, the clones turn out to be images of the Doctor. The process restored the Time Lord, and the clones are unstable and short-lived. As they start to vanish, Hardin takes the ailing Mena to the generator to rejuvenate her, but Pangol pushes by. The process turns Mena into a young adult and Pangol into an infant.

I was impressed by David Haig. He really sold Pangol’s insanity.

After the Doctor stops the machine, the good Fomasi returns, having been kicked out of his shuttle before takeoff. The Argolins and Fomasi begin their discussions again, and the Time Lords depart for that overdue holiday.

I was entertained by this serial, despite several padding moments. I was very disappointed in the lack of K9, especially after John Leeson returned. It came down to a high three grade, and I’m keen on rounding up.

 

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

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Meglos

 

 

 

 

Timestamp: Seventeenth Series Summary

Doctor Who: Seventeenth Series Summary

Timestamp Logo Third 2

 

The franchise is in a bit of a slump.

The Fourteenth Series was strong, even with a farewell to a beloved companion, the welcome of another companion, and a slight stumble with The Deadly Assassin. The Fifteenth, Sixteenth, and now Seventeenth have all been well below that mark, and they have all been at about the same level.

So what happened?

Tom Baker was still the Doctor. The companions shifted from Leela (Louise Jameson) to Romana (Mary Tamm and Lalla Ward). Neither of these elements has stood out as a problem to me. Sure, I liked Leela more than Romana, but neither version of Romana has been objectionable.

What about behind the scenes issues? Series Fourteen had Philip Hinchcliffe producing episodes with Robert Holmes editing. Series Fifteen brought in Graham Williams to produce and added editor Anthony Read, and Robert Holmes was gone by Series Sixteen. Douglas Adams took over script editing for Series Seventeen.

And, after reading up on Graham Williams, that seems to be the linchpin. Hinchcliffe’s era was controversial due to the horror and violence elements, and Williams was asked ordered to tone it down, which he did by injecting more humor. He also had budget cuts, industrial (labor) problems, and friction with Tom Baker.

By the look of things, all three of these troubled seasons should have worked. The problem comes with stories like Image of the Fendahl, Underworld, The Power of Kroll, The Creature from the Pit, and The Horns of Nimon, all of which dragged like anchors on their respective seasons. To be fair, they’re still not bad sets – in fact, they’re all still above my average of a 3.0 grade – but they aren’t up to the standards set within the Fourth Doctor’s run by Series Twelve, Thirteen, or Fourteen.

Now for the highlights of this set: Destiny of the Daleks, City of Death, and Shada were great. They flowed well, were beautiful to watch, and kept me engaged. They were fantastic headers and footers for the series.

In the middle, there’s Romana. Back in the Sixteenth Series Summary, I noted that she wasn’t a stellar companion because she was written as the Doctor Redux. That hasn’t changed, and in fact, it’s gotten worse as Romana becomes more experienced. Lalla Ward is great, just like Mary Tamm was, but the chemistry is wasted in the writing.

Somewhere near the back of the pack is poor K9. I love the character, but the new voice has to go.

By my scoring, the Seventeenth Series is tied with the Fifteenth and Sixth for third to last place. It beats out the Sixteenth and the Third.

I dislike repeating myself, but I’ll do it anyway: I’m really hoping things turn around.

 

Destiny of the Daleks – 5
City of Death – 4
The Creature From the Pit – 2
Nightmare of Eden – 3
The Horns of Nimon – 2
Shada – 4

 

Series Seventeen Average Rating: 3.3/5

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Leisure Hive

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