Timestamp #117: Castrovalva

Doctor Who: Castrovalva
(4 episodes, s19e01-e04, 1982)

Timestamp 117 Castrovalva

A new season, a new Doctor, but first, a recap. Behind the scenes, it had been a year since Logopolis, so we get a quick review of the Fourth Doctor’s final moments before it’s off to the races.

The companions try to get the new Doctor back to the TARDIS, but they are captured by guards at the Pharos Project. The Doctor is loaded into an ambulance as the companions are frisked, but Tegan and Nyssa steal the ambulance and escort the Time Lord to the TARDIS.

The Master arrives in his TARDIS, stuns the guards, and leaves Adric in a suspicious state. The ladies get Adric to the Doctor’s TARDIS where the boy pilots the craft away without even a word of thanks. Upon hearing Tegan and Nyssa talk about the Doctor’s quest to reach the Zero Room, Adric follows the Time Lord and finds him playing Theseus with his scarf and clothing. The Doctor is cycling through his previous incarnations and companions. Something appears to be wrong with the regeneration.

But why? Is it because the Fourth Doctor did whatever it was with the Watcher? Or was it the traumatic nature of his demise?

Actually, I blame the Time Lords. The first regeneration went perfectly fine with just a little bit of recuperation afterward. After they forced the Second Doctor’s regeneration, every one since has been dicey.

Tegan and Nyssa discover a “TARDIS Information System” and try to control the craft. When they discover that their flight is pre-programmed and that they cannot crash, they enter the TARDIS corridors and pursue the others.

As Adric wanders off on his own, the Doctor stumbles across a mirror, tries on a recorder for size, and finally discovers his new uniform. This incarnation fancies cricket. Upon hearing the Zero Room door cycle, he rushes off and finds Tegan and Nyssa. Together, they find the Zero Room, a place completely isolated from the universe where the Doctor’s brain can heal without interference. As he drifts into a healing trance, he explains each companion’s role as he heals: Tegan is the party’s coordinator, Nyssa is the technical expert, and Adric (with his badge for mathematical excellence) is the navigator who will help bridge the disconnect between the new Doctor and the old.

Adric appears to them and reveals that the Master has set a trap with him as the bait. The real Adric is… somewhere (I presume the Master’s TARDIS), and the one on their TARDIS is a projection. Nyssa heads for the Console Room, noting a rising temperature in the corridors. The Cloister Bell sounds and the Doctor tries to leave the Zero Room but he collapses. Tegan returns him to the room before joining Nyssa, and together they discover that the Master has set their course for the Big Bang. The Doctor arrives, but is thrown to the deck in the turbulence. A convenient roundel opens, emptying a first aid kit onto the Doctor, and an automated wheelchair arrives – both of which presumably acts of the TARDIS to help her companion – and the Doctor finishes his journey to the Console Room. With his companions, along with an adrenaline boost from the emergency at hand, he helps save the craft by reconfiguring the TARDIS interior to generate thrust.

The trouble is that he lapses back into a coma before explaining how to select which rooms to delete.

As the TARDIS flies closer and closer toward destruction, the companions delete a quarter of the interior at random and they are saved. On the Master’s TARDIS, Adric tries to conceal their victory, but the Master is able to burn through the boy’s mental blocks.

The downside to the companions’ solution is that the Zero Room was among the jettisoned spaces. The companions find a suitable substitute with Castrovalva, where Tegan (crash) lands the TARDIS on its side in the nearby forest. Nyssa helps the Doctor construct a Zero Cabinet and, after changing into a more functional wardrobe, joins Tegan in carrying the Doctor into the wilds of the planet.

Along the way, they lose the wheelchair and Nyssa’s ion bonder, forcing them to carry the Cabinet by hand. Unbeknownst to the ladies, they are being watched from the nearby brush. Tegan spots the castle of Castrovalva and the companions attempt to seek help. When they return to the Zero Cabinet, they find it empty with a small pool of blood nearby.

The companions track the blood trails but are soon ambushed by the warriors who were pursuing them earlier. They spot the Doctor, who is also following the blood trail, but he doesn’t recognize his name. The Doctor is taken captive by one set of warriors while another retrieves the Zero Cabinet, but once inside the walls of Castrovalva, they are revealed as middle-aged intellectual hunters rather than warriors, led by a librarian named Shardovan. The blood trail was from a wild pig, the night’s main course. The Doctor is counseled by an elder named Portreeve, and is offered a meal, a tonic, and a place to sleep.

The companions scale the rocks to Castrovalva, taking the long way around, and are shown the Doctor before being seen to their own quarters. Meanwhile, as the Doctor sleeps, Adric emerges from the shadows and skulks about.

Come the morning, Nyssa directs the locals to take the Zero Cabinet to the Doctor’s quarters. There, she finds a projection of Adric who directs her to keep the Doctor in Castrovalva until his regeneration is completed. The image breaks up, and the Master is satisfied that his machinations will proceed uninterrupted.

Tegan and Nyssa are shown to the library to research telebiogenesis while Portreeve shows the Doctor important events since the Time Lord’s arrival. During the display, the Doctor realizes that he’s missing a companion, but he can’t remember who it was. A delightful young girl helps jog his memory, and the Doctor demands the story from Nyssa and Tegan. The Doctor tries to leave the town, but finds that he cannot as the space is folding in around itself. It’s a space-time trap, which is forcing the Doctor into a relapse, and someone has taken the Zero Cabinet.

The Doctor remains in his quarters while the companions search for the Cabinet. He finds a clue in a book and asks for more. He also asks the town doctor, Mergreave, to the describe the geography of Castrovalva, but is dismayed when the doctor locates his own pharmacy in four distinct locations within the town map. He tests another townsman and gets the same result, and coupled with the fact that the books appear to be forgeries, he determines that Shardovan is behind the events.

The companions find the Zero Cabinet, deliberately hidden by the townsfolk, and return it to the Doctor. He climbs inside and asks to be carried to the Portreeve, enlisting the assembled townsfolk. At one point, Shardovan is drawn away and confronted by none other than the Doctor about the nature of the civilization. The Zero Cabinet arrives in the Portreeve’s chambers, and it is revealed to be filled with the stacks of books by the elder, who is really the Master in disguise. Castrovalva is nothing more than a fiction entered in the TARDIS database by the evil Time Lord.

The Doctor and Shardovan sneak in through a back way and convince the other town leaders to help stop the Master. He pulls aside the tapestry to reveal that Adric wasn’t being held on the Master’s TARDIS but in Castrovalva itself all along. Shardovan sacrifices himself to free Adric, and the Master escapes into the fireplace, which is his TARDIS. Everyone tries to escape the space-time trap, but only Adric can see the way out since his mind created it. The Master, also unable to leave, tries to force his way out but is stopped by the townspeople as Castrovalva collapses in upon itself.

The Master defeated himself.

The Doctor and his companions return to the TARDIS, and with the revelation that the instructions Tegan used to pilot the craft were also a fabrication, they climb aboard and set sail.

Wait. What? The “TARDIS Information System” was a fabrication? So, how did the Master conclude that the Doctor wouldn’t finish configuration dump of the TARDIS and not delete the Zero Room?

The rest of the Master’s plan makes sense to me except for that one point.

As for the rest, I’m not totally sold on this Doctor. The story was okay, but nothing special, and I’m glad that the companions were able to carry the plot while the Doctor finished baking. Well, they carried it to a degree; Tegan and Nyssa were instrumental in saving the day and the Doctor, but the whole story was in exchange for effectively fridging Adric (and his badge for mathematical excellence) for the entire story.

Without the +1 bonus for a regeneration episode, this would be nothing more than an average story.

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

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Four to Doomsday

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 #3: A Girl’s Best Friend

A Girl’s Best Friend
(1981)

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After closing out the Tom Baker era of Doctor Who, it felt appropriate to spend another 1980s adventure with two of his iconic companions.

After a set of trippy opening credits, we come to a cult ceremony where two goat-headed figures are leading a chant against a heretic: Sarah Jane Smith’s aunt Lavinia. We last heard of her in The Time Warrior.

Lavinia is packing for a lecture tour in America, but has a box that arrived a long time ago addressed to Sarah Jane. Sarah Jane has been working abroad as a reporter and arrives too late to meet up with Lavinia, but luckily her aunt left the crate behind. She gets delayed by her aunt’s ward, Brendan Richards, and his surprise arrival at the train station. He reveals that Lavinia’s absence is awfully sudden. Suspicious, even.

Sarah Jane retrieves Brendan and returns to her aunt’s house to meet Bill Pollock, Lavinia’s partner in a local market garden who lives in the east wing of the house. The man is awfully standoffish and rude toward Brendan, and their discussion is interrupted by a suspicious call from Juno Baker, a friend of Lavinia’s. Pollock leaves shortly afterward, leaving Sarah Jane and Brendan a chance to open the crate.

Inside is K9. Mark III to be exact.

And since K9 joined the Doctor after Sarah Jane’s departure, she has no idea what it is. Luckily, K9 fills in the details: He was sent by the Doctor as a gift in 1978 with his fondest love. So, he’s been in the crate for two or three years.

I’d wonder where the Doctor found time during the search for the Key to Time to build and send K9, but he’s a Time Lord. He has nothing but time.

 

 

Brendan is very curious about K9’s workings and origins – “Who is the Doctor?” followed by the only logical response, “Affirmative” – and Sarah Jane follows the leads on her aunt. Lavinia was disliked in town because of her outspoken views on local witchcraft. While Sarah Jane talks with Juno, Brendan runs an analysis on the local soil and K9 thwarts an abduction attempt on the young ward by George Tracey and his son Peter, both of whom are tied to the coven. Of course, Tracey is Lavinia’s gardener, and he arrives the next morning to inspect the resultant damage in the garden. Later that night, Peter succeeds in abducting Brendan and cutting the phone lines.

Sarah Jane is suspicious of Tracey and hides K9 in the gardener’s house. The robotic dog overhears plans to sacrifice Brendan for the coven, forcing Sarah Jane and K9 to investigate. Of course, she is unable to involve the local police because she cannot explain her actions or K9’s presence, and none of the locals believe her story about witchcraft. While she continues to investigate, Peter is inducted into the coven, and K9 explains that they have only a few scant hours before the winter solstice occurs.

In the nick of time – the countdown was more annoying than tension-building – K9 and Sarah Jane save Brendan and unmask the cult members, revealing the leaders as Pollock and Lily Gregson, the postmistress of the village. The reason that Sarah Jane never got her aunt’s telegraphs was that the two of them stopped them from getting out, fueling Sarah Jane’s suspicions about Lavinia’s disappearance. Luckily, Sarah Jane gets a Christmas call from her aunt to sort things out while K9 learns how to sing We Wish You a Merry Christmas.

So, it’s not a terrible story, but not a great one. It was nice to see Sarah Jane once again and K9 one last time in the classic era, and it was a good way to close out the Fourth Doctor’s adventures. I think the stories would have gotten better if the series had been picked up, but as a pilot, this tale was cute but weak.

 

As with the other specials, this rating won’t count toward anything since this isn’t an official Doctor story, though it does provide me things to think about when I move into the multiple spinoff television series at some point.

 

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

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Castrovalva

 

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: Eighteenth Series and Fourth Doctor Summary

Doctor Who: Eighteenth Series and Fourth Doctor Summary

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Doctor Who pulled out all the stops to say goodbye to a legendary lead.

The Eighteenth Series bounced back from the doldrums of the Fourth Doctor’s last three years, and it bounced high. It started well with The Leisure Hive, carried well through the E-Space Trilogy (Full Circle, State of Decay, and Warriors’ Gate), and then hit the gas with The Keeper of Traken and Logopolis.

In fact, the only low point was Meglos, and that was still an average performance.

This series was a combination of tying off threads while setting up the weavers of the future with Adric, Nyssa, and Tegan. I already discussed my feelings on Romana in the Timestamp for Warriors’ Gate, and I’m okay with the three new companions. I love Tegan’s brashness so far, but I’m apprehensive about Adric and Nyssa. My biggest fear is that they are included on a “children’s show” in order to engage children, and while that’s not necessarily a bad thing, Adric seems to be out Wesley Crushering Wesley Crusher. In the first and second seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation, child prodigy Wesley Crusher often saved the day by figuring out a problem that a ship full of trained professionals couldn’t reason out, many times by subverting the command structure in a blantant statement that adults are too locked in their ways.

It certainly wasn’t the first time Gene Roddenberry played with that trope, but I digress.

Adric is being painted as an incredibly lucky or intuitive boy. He has come to the right answers before the Doctor (and Romana) multiple times, and often because of taking a random action instead of reasoning out the solution. He pilots the TARDIS (a baffling act to begin with) by the flip of a coin.

I hope that aspect of his character mellows in the Fifth Doctor’s run, or is at least mitigated by Nyssa and Tegan.

Out of the Fourth Doctor’s legendary run, this series was the highest rated, barely beating out the first of his seven-year set. In terms of the franchise so far, this one ties the Fifth Series at third, coming in behind the Eleventh and Ninth Series.

The Leisure Hive – 4
Meglos – 3
Full Circle – 4
State of Decay –  4
Warriors’ Gate – 4
The Keeper of Traken – 5
Logopolis – 5

Series Eighteen Average Rating: 4.2/5

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We have had the Wise Grandfather, the Sly Jester, the Secret Agent Scientist, and now we have the Whimsical Warrior. In fact, the Fourth Doctor is summarized in something he told Sarah Jane in his first adventure:

There’s no point being grown-up if you can’t be childish sometimes.

The Fourth Doctor was, in part, an evolution of the Second and Third Doctors. He was playful and capricious, but also fueled by righteous anger at injustice in the universe. The last seven years (mostly) ditched the James Bond tropes and focused on making each story an adventure, adding fun back into the mix by dialing back the Jon Pertwee seriousness. The character kept the arrogance (and some of the rudeness) from the past two incarnations, which brought us closer to the trope of the Doctor being the smartest man in the room.

For better or for worse, of course. It gets annoying when each story is solved by the Doctor pulling out a fact that only he knew – preventing the audience from being able to solve the mystery on their own – but it makes the stories like Logopolis where the companions actively drive the adventure so much more sweet.

But there are caveats in my joy with this incarnation. Frankly, I think he overstayed his welcome.

Back in the Third Doctor’s Summary, I discussed the balance between longevity and consistency in television series. Doctor Who has obviously been evolving in its eighteen years to this point, often at the sake of consistency with canon and tone. What’s interesting with that in mind is taking the Fourth Doctor’s run as a subset and watching how it mirrors long-running television series. It started strong in the first three years, changed things up, languished as it struggled to get back to the golden days, hit refresh, and then ended on a strong note.

Just like how Doctor Who had to evolve (regenerate) leading into the Third Doctor’s run in order to survive as audiences grew, it had to do so again. The results weren’t so good as the years went on. From some of the classic Whovians I’ve spoken too, the road to recovery from here was long and arduous.

Some even claim that the show never really recovered before classic Who ended.

In terms of pop culture, Tom Baker’s run left a significant mark. These seven years were a starting point for many people, and the combination of the TARDIS, jelly babies, companions, and that iconic scarf are touchstones that link with the barest thought of Doctor Who to this day.

I even have a handmade scarf in the process of being knitted for Dragon Con.

Even despite the drop in quality over the years, the Tom Baker era of Doctor Who was fun and exciting. I see a lot of myself in the Fourth Doctor, and even though he’s not my favorite, he made a distinct impression on me. It’s easy to see why he has a spot in so many hearts within fandom.

That said, I’m ready for a change of pace.

By the numbers, the Fourth Doctor ties with the Second Doctor in second place. By overall gut feeling, he’s at third. Patrick Troughton is just that hard to beat in my heart.

Series 12 – 4.0
Series 13 – 3.8
Series 14 – 3.8
Series 15 – 3.3
Series 16 – 3.2
Series 17 – 3.3
Series 18 – 4.1

Fourth Doctor’s Weighted Average Rating: 3.67

Ranking (by score)
1 – Third (4.00)
2 – Second (3.67)
2 – Fourth (3.67)
4 – First (3.41)

Ranking (by character)
1 – Second Doctor
2 – Third Doctor
3 – Fourth Doctor
4 – First Doctor

Okay, I know, I know, we’re in the middle of a loose trilogy. I’m interrupting the flow by doing this, but now is a great time to close off this era of Doctor Who by visiting Fourth Doctor companions Sarah Jane Smith and K9 one more time.

After that, it’s back to the mission to defeat the Master with a new Doctor.

UP NEXT – Special #3: A Girl’s Best Friend

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 #116: Logopolis

Doctor Who: Logopolis
(4 episodes, s18e25-e28, 1981)

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It is the end of the Fourth Doctor, but the moment has been prepared for.

A restless Doctor paces in thought inside the Cloister Room, a new and expansive set, pondering decay and entropy. He decides that instead of returning to Gallifrey and facing inquiries on why Romana decided to break Time Lord law and get involved in affairs of the universe, he should let “a few oceans pass under a few bridges” and head to Earth. He also plans to repair the chameleon circuit by materializing around a police box and measuring it in thirty-seven dimensions. His musings on the procedure are interrupted by the Cloister Bell, a signal of impending universal catastrophe.

On Earth, that real police box that the Doctor wants to use is replaced with a TARDIS. The police officer who was actually using it is killed. Nearby, we meet Tegan, a forgetful flight attendant. She is being driven to the airport by her Aunt Vanessa when her car gets a flat right next to the killer police box. She decides to fix it herself and avoid asking for help, and the women don’t notice when the Doctor’s TARDIS arrives, barely missing the target. The Doctor adjusts and the bad box appears in the console room. Meanwhile, Tegan notes that the spare tire is also flat, but does not notice the pure white figure studying them from across the road.

The TARDIS’s instrumentation fails due to a gravity bubble, forcing the Doctor to leave and investigate. He sees the ladies fixing the car and the white figure before returning to his console room. Once inside, he enters the police box and discovers that it is another TARDIS with a dark console room and the original police box inside. So we have a TARDIS within a TARDIS once again.

As Tegan decides to call for help, she enters the Doctor’s TARDIS just as the dark TARDIS dematerializes. As a result, she is trapped alone inside the Doctor’s TARDIS. The Cloister Bell sounds once again and Tegan investigates. Meanwhile, Vanessa follows her into the police box and finds the Master.

The Doctor and Adric investigate the police boxes, finding themselves in a near-infinite loop. The Doctor breaks out to find the police investigating Vanessa’s car, and inside it they find miniaturized versions of the original police officer and Vanessa herself.

The officers believe that the Doctor is responsible for the strange situation, and the Time Lord offers to accompany them to the station until Adric stages a diversion and they both run for the TARDIS. Upon hearing the Cloister Bell, they attempt to dematerialize but cannot leave Earth. The Doctor reconfigures the TARDIS interior by jettisoning Romana’s old room, and he sends Adric to answer the Cloister Bell while pilots the ship.

Where does Romana’s room go? Into the vortex of time and space? Recycled into the multi-spatial geometry of the TARDIS?

The bell stops as Tegan enters the Cloister Room, so Adric turns back, but Tegan encounters the other TARDIS. The Cloister Room becomes downright creepy as the Master laughs maniacally. She attempts to find her way out as the Master’s TARDIS dematerializes and rematerializes as a tree.

The Doctor reveals that he has a message from Traken, through which he deduces that the Master has killed Tremas. He knows that they cannot continue to Logopolis if the Master’s TARDIS is still within his own, so he decides to materialize under the Thames River and flush the TARDIS out. Unfortunately, he misses and lands on a nearby jetty instead. The white figure appears and beckons, telling the Time Lord that he must continue on to Logopolis. When they arrive, Tegan bursts into the console room and the Doctor declares that, based on what he has learned from the mysterious figure, he and his companions must part company. Meanwhile, the Master’s TARDIS vanishes from the Cloister Room and reappears outside, taking the form of a column.

The Doctor and his companions meet with the lead Logopolitan, the Monitor, and ask for his help with the chameleon circuit. As the Monitor works and passes the calculation on to the rest of the Logopolitans, the Master begins to kill them one by one. The Doctor recognizes the Central Register (the hub of Logopolis) as a replica of the Pharos Project from Earth, an attempt to contact alien life, before taking the calculation to the TARDIS. He locks Tegan and Adric out, then inputs the figures, but since they were disrupted by the murders, the TARDIS shrinks by half. While the assembled crowd (and the mysterious white figure) watches, Nyssa arrives thanks to “a friend of the Doctor’s.”

I kind of want the half-scale model of the TARDIS.

The Logopolitans take the TARDIS to be analyzed as the Master jeers from a secluded location. They use sonic projectors to stabilize the TARDIS as the Monitor tracks down the errors in the calculation, which they isolate to the murdered analysts. Tegan shows the corrected calculation to the Doctor through the scanner while Adric and Nyssa track down the Master; Adric believes that the white figure is the Master, while Nyssa wants to find her father. The Master uses the latter to his advantage by attracting the young woman and using a bracelet to control her.

The TARDIS is restored through the revised calculations, and the Doctor emerges shaken but unharmed. He reveals Vanessa’s death to Tegan and vows to stop the Master no matter what it takes. The Doctor retrieves his companions and encounters the mysterious white figure, whom Nyssa reveals is the “friend of the Doctor’s” who brought her to Logopolis.

The writing worked for me here. I honestly thought that the Master was the “friend” who brought Nyssa as a distraction. This twist was intriguing.

The Master wheels the sonic projectors into the calculation centers and activates them, silencing all of the calculating Logopolitans. The Master holds them for ransom until the Monitor explains why they replicated the Pharos Project on the planet. The Doctor arrives, revealing that the Master is not Nyssa’s father, and revealing that Logopolis is the cornerstone over the causal nexus. As Adric tries to reposition the projectors, the Master forces Nyssa to choke Adric until Tegan restores the devices. The Master attempts to demonstrate that his control is temporary, but the damage is done: Logopolis is dead.

Wow. I’m actually impressed with the evil here. It wasn’t direct action that destroyed a planet, but it’s still evil nonetheless.

The Master tries to use Nyssa to kill the Monitor, but the entropy has spread to his controls. Nyssa is freed from her bracelet, and the Monitor explains that since the universe has long since passed the point of heat death and is on its way to collapse, the Logopolitans have been opening temporary voids to channel the entropy into other universes. One such void is like the one that sent the TARDIS to E-Space. The Master’s interference has collapsed the voids and put the universe back on course to death. To save it, the Doctor allies with the Master – much to his companions’ chagrin – and sends his companions into the TARDIS. Tegan, however, disobeys and leaves as the TARDIS dematerializes, piloted by the mysterious white figure outside of all spacetime.

The Doctor and the Master seek out the Monitor, who reveals a plan to make the voids permanent. Before he can transmit the information to another universe through a void, he is consumed by the entropy. The Master attempts to run, but is covered in collapsing rubble. The Doctor and Tegan take the research and escape using the Master’s TARDIS, rescuing the cad along the way. They arrive at the real Pharos Project on Earth to send the information through one remaining void.

On the Doctor’s TARDIS, the mysterious white figure tasks Adric to pilot the TARDIS to the Pharos Project. As he works, Nyssa watches the entropy wave destroy part of the universe, including her home of Traken. The TARDIS arrives on Earth moments later.

Poor Nyssa.

The Doctor and the Master feed the program into the computers, but the transmission antenna needs to be properly aligned. The companions distract the guards as the two Time Lords make their way to the antenna, but the Master double-crosses the Doctor and uses the antenna to transmit a message of domination instead of one of salvation. If they do not acknowledge his rule over the universe, he will send the signal to close the void and destroy everything. The Doctor runs to disconnect the cable that could transmit the signal to close the void, and as he hangs on for dear life, he sees visions of his enemies: The decaying Master, a Dalek, the Captain, the Cyber-Leader, Davros, a Sontaran, a Zygon, and the Black Guardian.

The Master escapes, and the Doctor falls.

It is the end for him, and he is accompanied to his death by visions of Sarah Jane, Harry Sullivan, the Brigadier, Leela, K9, and Romana. The Doctor is not troubled by this however, and he smiles, for the moment has been prepared for as the mysterious white figure arrives. He is the Watcher, and has been some form of the Doctor all along. The Watcher melds with the Doctor, and the Time Lord regenerates.

The ending was a bit rushed. I would have liked more explanation about the Watcher and his meaning. As it stands now, it’s a plot convenience on the order of the Third Doctor.

But, those complaints are small potatoes in comparison to the positives. I loved how the companions truly carried this story. I also loved how the Doctor gave his life to save the universe. It can’t happen with every story, but they are much more powerful when he is willing to make that sacrifice.

So, yeah, this is a top story even without the handicap I give to regeneration stories.

 

Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”

 

UP NEXT – Eighteenth Series and Fourth Doctor 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 #115: The Keeper of Traken

Doctor Who: The Keeper of Traken
(4 episodes, s18e21-e24, 1981)

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An old face gets a new face.

Finally back in N-Space, the Doctor and Adric travel near the Mettula Orionsis system, a place known for its universal harmony. In a move that surprises the Doctor, the TARDIS falls into orbit around Traken and an old man appears in the console room. He is the Keeper of Traken, he has taken control of the TARDIS, and he is dying soon and will need to pass his powers to a successor. He asks the Doctor to come, but warns him of danger in the form of a Melkur, a supremely evil creature that was trapped in a garden and turned into a calcified statue. The creature has a fan: A woman named Kassia seems smitten by it.

You know, Adric has an uncanny knack for the TARDIS controls. Is he supremely intelligent and learning how to pilot the blue box, or is he just getting lucky like he did in Nowhere?

Flash forward to present day where Kassia is marrying Consul Tremas, a man who has been blessed as the next Keeper. Kassia is relieved of her self-imposed burden of tending to the Melkur, and Tremas’s daughter Nyssa is prophesied to take up the task. After the ceremony, Kassia returns to the garden to bid farewell to the Melkur, and it speaks to her in a single ominous word: “Soon.”

In the morning, the Doctor and Adric review the Time Lord’s logs (the latter being far more confused about them than the former) to see if he has ever visited Traken. On the planet below a dead body is found under mysterious circumstances. Kassia organizes a meeting of the planet’s consuls and, believing that the event was a murdered, declares that the Fosters (the local guards) be armed. The consuls are unsure.

The Doctor and Adric arrive on the surface and investigate the Melkur. After some wandering about, they are surrounded by armed Fosters. They are taken before the consuls, who have just voted to summon the Keeper and are surprised to discover that their leader has summoned the Doctor to appear before them. The consuls send Proctor Neman and his Fosters to verify the Doctor’s story by visually sighting the TARDIS, but the Melkur shoots red light from its eyes and the craft vanishes before the Fosters arrive.

Wait… what?

The consuls summon the Keeper for his advice. As the Doctor asks him to verify the story, the Melkur arrives. The Keeper declares that infinite evil has invaded the sanctum and disappears, and the assembly draws the conclusion that the evil is the Doctor.

To quote another famous doctor, oh boy.

Kassia declares that the travelers are agents of the Melkur before dramatically fainting. The Doctor, believing in more a scientific reasoning for the events, offers to help Tremas scan the area. Consul Tremas offers them asylum under his privilege, which means if the travelers are at fault, Tremas will share their fate. As they investigate the strange energy fields, the Melkur continues to rampage through the courtyard, and Kassia discovers the corpses in its wake. She hides the bodies before the consuls find them, but the Doctor finds evidence anyway before asking for breakfast. As they eat, Kassia consults with the Melkur, and after the meal, the Doctor and Tremas search for the TARDIS while Adric and Nyssa analyze the data.

The consuls gather in secret to discuss Tremas’s actions and analyses. When it is revealed that Consul Seron also knew of the studies, the assembled consuls suggest that Seron should enter rapport with the Keeper instead of Tremas. Kassia reveals this to the Melkur, receives a special band as a token of its allegiance, and is commanded to be its eyes and ears in the court. Unbeknownst to her, the Melkur is being controlled from a remote location. She leaves the grove through a secret passage, unknowingly witnessed by the Doctor and Tremas.

The Doctor detects a time cone around the TARDIS which has displaced it in time. As he moves off with Tremas to investigate it, Nyssa and Adric attempt to enter the grove, but Nyssa is pulled aside by the consuls. Adric finds the Doctor and Tremas, and they move to a secluded location to discuss the young man’s findings. Adric has found readings consistent with a TARDIS, but not with a Type 40. They are interrupted by Seron’s attempt at rapport, which is successful but disrupted by Kassia as she kills the consul with her new laser vision. She declares the travelers and Tremas as agents of the Melkur, and they are forced to flee into the grove. The Doctor reveals the TARDIS against the protests of the Melkur, but before they can get inside Kassia stuns Tremas and the travelers are captured by the Fosters.

The trio are taken to a cell and the consuls are clamoring to resolve who will be the next Keeper since both candidates are now ineligible. Kassia consults with the Melkur who states that Tremas will only continue to live if she continues to serve, and that she must be the new Keeper. On a similar line of thought, the captives discuss the situation and come to a similar conclusion. Since a non-Trakenite cannot touch the Source, one would have to do so through a Traken native. As such, Kassia sways the remaining consuls to her cause.

Nyssa forces her way into the cell block by stunning Proctor Neman and the guards, then frees the captives. Nyssa leads them through the Sanctum as Kassia and the consuls find a recovering Proctor. As the Fosters close in, Tremas leads them all to his quarters, which is the last place that the guards would presumably look. There, the Doctor asks for the master plans for the Source Manipulator, the device that harnesses the Source for the Keeper. After some soul searching, Tremas provides them.

Meanwhile, Kassia reports her failure to the Melkur and is forcefully reminded of her task. Because the universe has a quirky sense of timing, the Keeper enters the last phase of his life, and the transfer of power must occur at the Keeper’s last breath. The consuls summon Kassia for the ceremony.

The Doctor, Adric, Tremas, and Nyssa converge on the TARDIS but are ambushed by the Fosters. At that moment, the Keeper enters his death throes and a storm rages across the planet. Kassia arrives and takes the title of Keeper, allowing the Melkur to touch the Source through Kassia. Inside the Melkur, a hideously scarred form taunts the Doctor, and as the Time Lord’s group leaves the grove, the statue disappears with the sound of a TARDIS.

Ah, yes. We know who this great evil is, don’t we?

The Doctor rushes to the Sanctum to prevent the final transfer of power, but it is too late. The Doctor sends Adric and Nyssa to the TARDIS as a screaming Kassia is enveloped in an energy field and the Melkur materializes on the throne. The Melkur summons Proctor Neman and orders the two remaining consuls, Tremas, and the Doctor confined to quarters. Meanwhile, Adric and Nyssa try to prepare the TARDIS for departure, but the engines are blocked. Adric explains a plan of last resort: Melkur can be defeated by destroying the Source.

Tremas and the Doctor discuss their options. They don’t have the five Consular control rings, but they do have the Source Manipulator plans so there is a chance. Unfortunately, the Melkur knows of the plans and sends Neman and his fancy new control band to retrieve them. When Tremas refuses, the Melkur materializes and forces them to relinquish it. Before fading away in weakness, Melkur destroys the scroll. Afterward, the Doctor ambushes the Proctor and the guards and steals the rings they hold. The Doctor and Tremas head to the Sanctum and attempt to break the Source Manipulator’s source code.

While they work, Adric and Nyssa construct their last resort device and install it at the Source. Melkur also arrives and stops the Doctor three digits shy of success. Tremas attempts to key in the remaining code, but Melkur stops him and forces the former consul to kill Proctor Neman with his own weapon. The Melkur outlines its plans for domination and reveals its true identity after taking the Doctor to its deepest sanctum.

The Melkur is the Master. The statue is his TARDIS.

The Doctor kindly offers to put him down like an rabid dog, but the Master restrains him. The Master reveals that he is on his last regeneration and near death after their battle on Gallifrey, and he plans to steal the Doctor’s mind and use the Source to extend his life beyond the regeneration limit. At the right moment, the Source is disrupted and the Doctor is able to escape the Master’s TARDIS and disconnect him from the Source. Consul Luvic leaps onto the throne to continue the line of Keepers, and the Doctor and Adric take their leave.

All seems well as harmony returns to Traken, but Tremas feels compelled to investigate a newly arrived clock. The consul touches it and it opens to reveal the Master. The evil takes over Tremas’s body and steps back inside the clock, a TARDIS he had hidden inside his old one, before dematerializing.

Nyssa returns to the Sanctum, but her father is nowhere to be seen.

The stage is set with this wonderful story. Next week, the Doctor falls.

 

Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Logopolis

 

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 #114: Warriors’ Gate

Doctor Who: Warriors’ Gate
(4 episodes, s18e17-e20, 1981)

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Romana bids the Doctor farewell on a timey-wimey wibbly-wobbly adventure.

The adventure opens on a bay full of hibernating beings, the universe’s slowest countdown, and a batch of Kilroy Was Here graffiti. The crew in charge of the ship is trying to escape wherever they are through a time rift, but they fail. One of the crew, a feline creature with psychic capability, visualizes the TARDIS. From the start, the story establishes a sense of authenticity, from the graffiti to the joker crewmen who are mocking the proceedings. I knew guys like that in the Navy. Hell, I knew pretty much this entire crew in the submarine force.

The feline creature is being escorted below when he breaks free of his captors and runs. A crewmember named Lane sees him, but can’t find the words to make the report. On the TARDIS, Adric flips a coin and punches a random button, an act that drags the TARDIS into the same space as the running creature and the stranded spacecraft. A place called Nowhere.

Okay, seriously, why is this kid fiddling with the console?

The TARDIS doors open and the creature boards the craft, phasing between timelines with an energy of time winds that burns out the console and K9. The creature phases into the TARDIS’s timeline and identifies himself as Biroc (a shadow of his past and their future), warns them of the people that are following him, and then runs from the craft. The Doctor pursues, leaving Romana, Adric, and K9 behind to determine that this place where the coordinates are all zeroes is the intersection between E-Space and the “normal” N-Space universe.

The stranded crew detects the TARDIS on their scanners and investigate, chancing that the new arrival will have parts to fix their burned out warp drive. Since underway waits for no man, they venture into the void and try to break into the TARDIS. Romana decides to confront them, leaving Adric in the TARDIS and covertly signaling to him before leaving with the stranded crewmen. Adric soon follows with a debilitated K9, and eventually goes it alone after K9 experiences significant computational errors.

This new companion is not winning any popularity contests with me. Go back for the dog.

The Doctor catches up with Biroc at a dusty and cobwebbed medieval dining hall, but Biroc disappears through a mirror. The Doctor, on the other hand, has a close encounter with armored skeleton wielding an axe. During the cat and mouse, they are joined by a second warrior and the Doctor tricks them into destroying each other.

On the stranded starship, the crew determine that Romana is a time-sensitive, and they force her into the navigation chair. She is able to conjure the destination image so she is left in the chair despite the risks to her mental well-being. The crew sets out on foot for the castle on the monitor, which happens to be the same building where the Doctor is investigating the skeletons and their secrets. K9 arrives as the Doctor discovers that the skeletons – the Gundans – are machines built by human slaves of the cat creatures – the Tharils – to fight against their masters. The masters fled through a Gateway, and the Doctor uses K9 as an alternate power source to keep the Gundans awake long enough to find out that there are three of these Gateways. His investigation is halted when the crew arrives, prompting one of the Gundans to destroy the other and escape through the mirror. The crew chases the Doctor and K9, but the Time Lord escapes through the mirror. On the other side of the mirror, he finds Biroc, who explains that the Doctor could pass through because he was touched by the time winds. K9 can follow when the time is right, but when he does, he will be trapped on that there permanently.

That does not bode well. Regardless, the Doctor follows Biroc on a blue-screen journey to a strange mansion.

Back on the ship, two crewmen revive a hibernating Tharil with a massive electric shock. The dazed and confused Tharil navigates to the bridge and finds Romana trapped in her chair, and though she thinks it is there to harm her, the creature attempts to set her free. The Tharil hides as the crewmen arrive in pursuit.

K9 accompanies the crew back to their ship, but is tossed out. This provides Adric, who has been navigating Nowhere through flips of the coin, a chance to sneak aboard and stumble into Romana. Rather, she stumbles into his hiding spot. The hiding spot, a large piece of machinery, is wheeled outside the ship where the pair encounter K9. The robot dog is investigating the apparent shrinking of Nowhere and is screaming warnings, which draws crewmen who capture Romana. She is immediately rescued by the Tharil, who is named Lazlo, and he takes her to another timeline.

The crew take the machine, a giant laser, back to the mirror Gateway. While they set up the laser, they witness Romana and Lazlo pass through the mirror. The pair walk to the mansion and as they travel, Romana notes that Lazlo’s injuries are healed. When they arrive, they find the Doctor dining with Biroc and a group of Tharils, but the mood turns sour when a Tharil assaults one of the human slaves. The Tharils turn on the Doctor, and when the room is stormed by the Gundans to start the revolution, the Doctor and Romana are whisked back to the present and the stranded crew.

I feel bad for the actress who was the playing the slave. When the Tharil strikes her, he backhands her square in the left breast. That had to hurt.

The Doctor explains to the ship’s captain that only time-sensitives can transit the mirrors, and K9 arrives with news that the super-massive dwarf-star alloy that comprises the ship’s hull is driving Nowhere’s destruction. The Doctor deduces that the crew are slavers who trade in time-sensitives, and as the crew holds him at gunpoint and demands the secret to the Gateways, Biroc concedes that the Doctor was right and advises him to do nothing. He is saved by Adric, who arrives and uses the laser as a distraction.

He is one lucky kid. Please tell me he’s not the Most-Important-Companion-In-The-Universe.

In a panic, the slavers attempt to blast through the mirrors and fail. They then use the ship’s engines, an act that will inadvertently destroy everything. The captain orders the remaining Tharil slaves to be rapidly awakened, hoping that at least one of them will survive the process to navigate them home. The process does not work. Unwilling to leave while the slaves are still on the ship, the Time Lords try to sabotage the engines. They are soon discovered by the captain, and then rescued by Biroc and transported back to the TARDIS. Meanwhile, Lazlo frees the remaining Tharils and kills their keeper.

What was with Romana hitting the captain with a clipboard? Seriously.

Romana takes the opportunity to leave the Doctor and the TARDIS, taking K9 with her through the mirror to help the Tharils. She can offer time technology and the Tharils will help her travel throughout E-Space and free all of Biroc’s people. As the ship engages the engines, the TARDIS dematerializes, and the slave ship explodes. The TARDIS returns to normal space and leaves Romana and K9 to start their new quest.

This story was one of mind-bending science fiction with a social justice element. The best part was that, instead of playing the “slavery is bad” trope straight, this story twists it by having the original captors becoming oppressed and realizing that they were in the wrong. Biroc learned a lesson that helped shape the story going forward. I liked that aspect immensely.

The only major fault I can find is that the ending was really rushed. Doctor Who hasn’t been strong to this point in saying goodbye to companions, and this is no exception.

Of course, that leads me to thoughts on Romana. In both the Seventeenth Series Summary and Sixteenth Series Summary, I wrote about how she felt like another iteration of the Doctor. The Doctor Redux, if you will. I still come back to the thought that Romana has steadily gotten worse as the character becomes more experienced. Don’t get me wrong, Lalla Ward is a great actress, just like Mary Tamm, but the chemistry is wasted in the writing and the behind the scenes tension between the lead actors. Frankly, I think she overstayed her welcome.

I think that if the Key to Time arc would have had a stronger emphasis on developing Romana as a Time Lord, maybe even as a conduit to channel the Doctor’s nature to the rest of Gallifrey by having her take a position of power in the post-The Invasion of Time civilization. President? Maybe. But definitely something where she and Leela can knock the rest of the Time Lords down a peg or two.

If wishes were horses, right?

 

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

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Keeper of Traken

 

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 #113: State of Decay

Doctor Who: State of Decay
(4 episodes, s18e13-e16, 1980)

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“The Doctor is not weaponless. He has the greatest weapon of all: Knowledge.”

Beneath a protective castle with village dwellings huddled like ducklings round their mother, it is the time of selection, and Captain of the Guard Habris is instructed to choose well. The best in the village are pulled aside by the village elder Ivo, and Habris chooses from among them. He also chooses the elder’s son, leaving the man and his wife distraught. Out in the cosmos, the Doctor and Romana continue their search for another path out of E-Space. K9 detects the planet from the opening scenes, and away they go.

The castle looks like a rocket – Can they possibly telegraph the twist any more heavily? – which matches with K9’s assessment of high technology on the planet. The Time Lords go exploring while K9 guards the TARDIS and Adric skulks about. They arrive as Ivo and Habris argue, and his request to meet a scientist is met with fear and alarm. When the Time Lords leave, Ivo pulls out a hidden radio unit and spreads the word to someone named Kalmar.

Ivo reports back to the king, queen, and court adviser – the Three Who Rule, with makeup consideration provided by The Rocky Horror Picture Show – with news of the Doctor and Romana. The adviser, Aukon, sends his bat servants to find them. In the interim, the Time Lords are surrounded by what look like Dungeons & Dragons druids who lead the travelers to Kalmar and a cave full of technology. Unfortunately, scientific knowledge is forbidden on the planet, and the penalty for knowledge is death. Everyone works in the fields as soon as they are able.

The Doctor fixes the gear in the cave and it displays information about the Earth cargo vessel Hydrax, its mission, and its crew. The three officers – Captain Miles Sharkey, Navigator Lauren MacMillan, and Science Officer Anthony O’Connor – bear a striking resemblance to the Three Who Rule. The Doctor decides to meet them, and Kalmar sets them free. As they make their way through the forest, Aukon’s bats attack!

Ah, the time honored tradition of swinging rubber bats on a fishing pole around your actors.

As the bats depart, Habris arrives and ushers the Time Lords to the court of the Three Who Rule. The king and queen entertain the Time Lords – the dialogue is clumsy: “We know everything here,” but, seconds later, they admit that they don’t know why the Time Lords are there – and provide a venue for a discussion on class politics. The Doctor tests a theory by toasting Romana, breaking her glass and cutting her thumb. Strangely, the king and queen are entranced by the blood. The discussion continues as Romana and the Doctor muse of the reverse evolution of the planet’s society: A literal state of decay.

*ding* There’s the title.

After the Doctor mentions the Hydrax, Habris arrives to ferry the king and queen to the Time of Arising. They leave the Time Lords alone in the throne room, and our heroes put the pieces together. Lo and behold, the castle is the missing ship. They explore the ship and track a strange thumping noise to a cargo bay. Inside, they discover a collection of exsanguinated corpses. Their blood is being stored in the fuel tanks. Proceeding deeper, they trace the fuel lines into the cave network beneath the castle.

At this point, it is time to catch up on the Adventures of Adric.

Adric attempts to leave the TARDIS but is stopped by K9. After a minor twist of logic, he is allowed to leave on his own. Adric makes his way to the village and is caught trying to steal food. The elder and his wife take him in for the night as a surrogate for their son. Adric passes the time by working for his benefactors, and as they explain their lives on the planet, he recommends insurrection. In a surprise move, Habris arrives for another bout of selection, this time by Aukon who selects Adric because the boy is an alien. Aukon takes Adric to the queen and king in the caves beneath the castle. Aukon wants to use Adric for his plan, and convinces his co-conspirators to follow along. Adric, strangely, is silent for this whole affair.

Back to our normally scheduled plot.

The Time Lords explore the caves, musing on legends of vampires throughout time and space. It all comes together when they find Aukon in the Resting Place, his domain as a vampire. Aukon tries to convince the Doctor to join him, offering the knowledge of the Great One – “he who brought us here” – on how to leave E-Space, but the Doctor is not swayed. Aukon reveals that Adric will be the first of the chosen ones, leaving the Time Lords distraught that he is here and not on his home planet. Aukon unleashes all of psychic power on the Doctor, but Romana throws a stalagmite at him, the vampire releases his grip. Discovering that they are Time Lords, Aukon declares them the enemy, and they are surrounded by the Three Who Rule. The Time Lords are selected as a sacrifice and taken to a cell.

The Doctor reminisces on the teachings of his old hermit mentor, including a tale of a war between Gallifreyans in the Age of Rassilon and a race of vampires who simply vanished. A standing order remains: If the Vampire King is found, he must be destroyed.

I imagine that the entire “you’re wonderful” moment in the jail cell must have been a bit awkward given the real-life conflict between the two leads.

A member of Kalmar’s rebellion, Tarak, has gained access to the castle and is searching for the Doctor. He frees them, but Romana refuses to leave until she finds Adric. They decide to split up: The Doctor heads for the TARDIS to read up on the Vampire King while Romana searches the inner sanctum. Meanwhile, Ivo approaches Kalmar for help avenging his son’s death, but the rebel is unsure.

The Doctor seems to know Count Dracula. Maybe he’s having flashbacks to the Dracula-bot in The Chase?

Romana finds Adric near the sleeping king and queen, and as she shakes him free of his trance, the royals awaken and kill Tarak. With the guard’s blood now stale and flat (and a seeming inability of Romana and Adric to run away), they ensnare our heroes for a more lively feast. Aukon blocks their joy by taking them as sacrifices for the Time of Arising. He needs their energy to leave E-Space and pillage the universe.

The Doctor moves the TARDIS to Kalmar’s cave and appeals for the insurgent’s help. Kalmar is unswayed until he sees the image of the King Vampire, Aukon’s great Chosen One. After that, he’s all in. The group plans their assault, and the Doctor puts K9 (and his nose laser) in charge of the army. They storm the castle: K9’s army keeps the guards at bay, Ivo confronts Habris for the death of his son, and the Doctor ascends the rocket and launches a scout ship. Meanwhile, Romana is enthralled and prepared for sacrifice, including bats swooping in to bite her. Adric tries to fight for her, but he is stopped and removed from the altar.

The Doctor’s scout ship lifts off, angling for the stars, but as the Vampire King arises from the depths, the rocket changes course and plunges into the creature’s heart and killing it. The Three Who Rule turn on the Doctor, but without the King to sustain them, they rapidly age and crumble to dust. The Doctor ties up loose ends by setting up the Hydrax’s computers for Kalmar’s use while Ivo apologizes to K9 for doubting the robotic dog. The Time Lords depart, continuing their search for a way out of E-Space and promising to take Adric home.

Two additional highlights: First, I loved the Three Wise Monkeys (“see no evil, hear no evil, say no evil”) salute by the villagers. It was a perfect encapsulation of their attitudes toward the mysteries surrounding their very existence. Second, K9 on the throne made me laugh, but I did wonder how he got up there.

The big negative here is Adric. The character is wasted in this story. I mean, in the Romana era of the franchise, K9 has usually taken the short straw with minimal screen time, but the newest companion is nothing but a narrative prop in this tale.

That said, State of Decay landed with a high three rating. I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt.

 

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


UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Warriors’ Gate

 

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.