Timestamp Special #5: Real Time

Doctor Who: Real Time
(6 episodes, 2002)

It seems appropriate to visit the one visual Big Finish Sixth Doctor tale after saying farewell to Colin Baker’s live-action television portrayal.

After a brief reprise of the Third Doctor‘s opening credits, we are reintroduced to the Cybermen as they search the rooms surrounding a large ball called the Chronosphere. Two humans emerge after the patrols pass and send a “doctor” (who was connected inside the sphere) to the past, potentially destroying their timeline.

On a starship called the Cassius, an officer named Kruger talks to Professor Osborne on the state of the planet below. Two teams have disappeared in two days, but their disappearance has stymied the search teams. During the debrief, the professor and his team are engulfed by a wave of temporal energy and disappear, exactly on schedule with the last two events. They also witness a Cyberman as they vanish.

On the planet, the TARDIS overlooks a camp and pyramid-shaped temple. Evelyn Smythe and a third survey team are digging into the mystery with the help of the Doctor (as requested by the authority called Central) because of the Cyberman sighting. Evelyn and Doctor Reece Goddard discuss the Doctor before settling in for a chat about the history of Cybermen.

Inside the temple, the survey team and the Doctor are studying the hieroglyphs printed on the walls of a large chamber. This version of the Sixth Doctor is more conservatively dressed and far less pompous, and he helps the team unlock a few secrets of the building’s architecture. Together, they decide to open a sealed door and examine the wall beyond. The team leader, Nicola Savage, is adamant and eager to find her missing colleagues, but the Doctor and the rest of the team are hesitant and cautious. As they argue, the door opens on its own accord and exposes an extra-dimensional space beyond. The Doctor warns the team not to mess with the membrane covering the entrance, but the scientists don’t listen and they Savage is pulled through. After the lights go out, half-converted Cybermen (including Savage) emerge and threaten to assimilate the rest of the team.

Evelyn and the administrative team in the camp muse about the subcutaneous bio-trackers that keep tabs on everyone on the survey team – except Evelyn, the Doctor, and the allergic Goddard – and how Savage’s signal has blipped off then on. Their discussion and debate are interrupted by the Doctor and the partial Cybermen. The Cybermen cannot recognize the Doctor in his sixth form until Evelyn inadvertently reveals him, and they demand that he follow them into the portal to meet the Cyber Controller and turn over the TARDIS. The portal itself leads to the Chronosphere chamber from the story’s opening.

The Doctor puzzles over Cyber Savage’s ultimatum: She plans to kill the survey team if the Doctor doesn’t comply, but the Doctor notes that the threat is impotent since he sees a handful of lives as insignificant against the survival of the universe. He also deduces that the Cyber Controller didn’t build the temple, but instead is using it after the previous occupants have long since gone.

Cyber Savage reveals a critical key to the audience: The Cyber Controller is interested in an heir to its power, and the Doctor (along with his knowledge of time travel) is the perfect candidate. That’s an interesting idea. Anyway, Administrator Isherwood offers to betray the Doctor by making a duplicate key, and the Cybermen agree with the plan. The Doctor doesn’t think it will work, and he confirms it by watching the Cybermen struggle with basic logic as they try to carry the TARDIS into the temple. They are usually more intuitive than that.

After consulting with the Cyber Controller, Cyber Savage provides the Doctor with the history of the situation and a demand to provide sanctuary from the impending temporal wave inside the TARDIS. The Doctor also figures out the plan to assimilate him and travel back to the origins of the temple. The Doctor confronts Isherwood over his plans for the TARDIS, then develops a plan to prevent the Cyber Controller from communicating with Cyber Savage. Evelyn and Goddard enter the ruins with scientist Carey, but there are two problems: First, Carey has an implant so he can be tracked; Second, Evelyn has potential knowledge of TARDIS operation. The Doctor has no choice but to go after them, but the Cybermen catch them first and take them to the Cyber Controller. Carey is assimilated in a most gruesome fashion, and Evelyn is faced with a future as the new Controller.

Cyber Savage stands in the Doctor’s way as he tries to pass through the portal, prompting the Doctor to debate her with empathy. Cyber Savage responds with force and logic, driving the Doctor to relent. Cyber Savage uses this to her advantage later by tricking the Doctor by manipulating his empathy for her prior humanity.

Meanwhile, Goddard confronts Isherwood and his plan to take time travel for his own uses. On the other side of the portal, Evelyn discusses empathy with the Cyber Controller and makes some headway through logic and reason.

The Doctor figures out Cyber Savage’s deception before she succeeds in securing the TARDIS, and the Time Lord uses the distraction to confront Goddard. The Cybermen have ignored him so far, and the Doctor wants to know why. Goddard is a Cyberman from the future (sort of), and his technology is based on Time Lord knowledge, which the Doctor will inevitably yield.

Nice twist!

In 1927, the Cybermen unleashed a virus on Earth that transformed humans into cybernetic hybrids. Goddard was one of the few who survived and joined a rebellion to reclaim the planet, and his research has brought him to this point. The ability to travel in time has allowed the Cybermen to completely conquer the universe and Goddard (who was the doctor in the time sphere) us trying to stop the origins of the Cyber-verse using a counter-virus.

The downside: This creates a time paradox.

The Doctor tries to stop Goddard, but the hybrid knocks him out. The scientists see this happen, but Cyber Savage cannot see Goddard. Unable to explain the event, Cyber Savage kills Renchard while torturing him for the truth and then takes Isherwood to the portal. Goddard and the Doctor follow, but the Doctor is ambushed by a Cyberman. Goddard kills it with the counter-virus and they proceed, but the transition through the portal destroys most of the counter-virus. Once through the portal, the Doctor makes a few changes to the hieroglyphs.

I love the point/counterpoint of the clashing moralities between the Doctor and Goddard.

As Evelyn’s assimilation begins, the Cyber Controller demonstrates to Ishwerwood how the portal negatively affects the organics under the cyber armor. The Controller finds the Doctor and begins to reason out the existence of Goddard, and a slip of the tongue from Isherwood leads to a change in the Cyberman algorithms, making the young scientist is visible to the enemy. The Cyber Controller finds the virus and questions the Doctor’s morality around it, calling back to Article Seven of the Time Lord Constitution and the laws against genocide.

Goddard assures the Cybermen that he will use the counter-virus even if the Doctor will not, and the Doctor negotiates with the Cyber Controller over the TARDIS as Cyber Savage analyzes the counter-virus. Cyber Savage finds that the counter-virus will only help them and sends Isherwood and Goddard for assimilation.

In the assimilation chamber, Evelyn’s transformation stops as the overseeing Cyberman has a human epiphany of emotions. After the Cyberman leaves, the Cyber Controller notes the irregularity and reactivates the chamber. The Cyberman engages Cyber Savage, and the Doctor and Goddard use the distraction to gain the upper hand. Goddard kills Cyber Savage, then delivers a coup de grâce to Isherwood as the former administrator shares a secret with him.

The Doctor finds Evelyn and frees her from the conversion chamber, but Goddard arrives and reveals the secret: Evelyn is carrying the original virus, engineered from the counter-virus and completing the paradox that the Doctor warned of. Goddard defeats the Cyber Controller and opens the faceplate, revealing Evelyn’s face beneath as the being dies and the temporal wave washes over them both.

The Doctor and Evelyn reach the TARDIS, the former unaware of the terrible burden the latter carries. Evelyn is weary and a deeply respectful Doctor takes care of her as he sets course for a cliffhanger: The TARDIS hurtles toward Charles Lindbergh‘s historic flight in 1927 and the birth of the Cyber-verse.

This was a decent story with some great twists, and it operated almost like the reconstructions of the First and Second Doctor‘s eras. The downsides are numerous, including far too many close-ups on random bits, such as the cat brooch (which emotes as the Doctor does) and Cyber Savage’s cyber-crotch. It was also far gorier than previous stories and maintained the Fifth and Sixth Doctor era tradition of large body counts.

That said, the big positive is a better representation of the Sixth Doctor himself. This Doctor shucked the cynicism and abusive attitude while maintaining his standoffishness. He has really grown up, and I would have liked to see this Doctor for a season on the actual show.

Next up, our journeys with the Sixth Doctor come to a close with another non-canon tale.

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

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: A Fix with Sontarans

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

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Pop Culture Download: April 1, 2018

Pop Culture Download: April 1, 2018

 

On the Docket

The 2018 Hugo Award Finalists have been announced. The winners will be announced on Sunday, August 19. – [Tor]

Powerhouse television producer Steven Bochco has died at the age of 74. – [THR]

Funko is introducing a horror/occult line of cereal, including Freddy Krueger, Elvira, and Beetlejuice. – [Bloody Disgusting]

Colin Trevorrow has been tapped for a third Jurassic World film. – [Variety]

Keith DeCandido continues his 4-Color to 35-Millimeter: The Great Superhero Movie Rewatch with the first Sam Raimi Spider-Man film. – [Tor]

Read More »

Timestamp: Twenty-Third Series and Sixth Doctor Summary

Doctor Who: Twenty-Third Series and Sixth Doctor Summary
The Trial of a Time Lord

 

It was a decent defense against an indictment of the franchise.

After the Twenty-Second Series, it was hard to imagine where Doctor Who could go. It was presumably harder to fall further, but the loss of goodwill for the Sixth Doctor was hard to overcome. The Twenty-Third Series split that difference.

The Trial of a Time Lord started strong with a story that put both the Doctor and his performance on trial. In universe, it essentially sidelined the Doctor and made him face his own demons. In the meta sense, it served to analyze the John Nathan-Turner era and the Sixth Doctor’s abuses on the whole. By the time we reached the end though – as noted in The Ultimate Foe – the logic of the season arc fell apart.

Setting aside my problems with the treatment of the Artifacts of Rassilon and related ephemera, you have the High Council of Gallifrey committing muder (and potentially genocide) to hide their secrets. This is despite their previously established rules against meddling in affairs outside their borders. We also have the mind-bending plot of a later Doctor trying to kill one of his predecessors in order to survive, despite the Grandfather Paradox that is immediately presented if the Valeyard leaves the bubble of the Inquisitor’s space station.

I also noted how the Valeyard was a decent villain in the beginning, but was reduced to “Master Lite” in the end. The reintroduction of the Master in the final chapter de-fanged the Valeyard and highlighted the comparison between the two.

The good news is that this season was a recovery from the awfulness of its predecessor. The bad news is that it’s still not enough on the whole. The average was a 3.0 on a 5.0 scale, placing The Trial of a Time Lord as second to last ahead of the Twenty-Second Series, but just behind the three-way tie of the Twenty-First,  the Third, and the Nineteenth Series.

 

The Mysterious Planet – 4
Mindwarp – 3
Terror of the Vervoids – 3
The Ultimate Foe –  2

Series Twenty-One Average Rating: 3.0/5

 

 

 

The Sixth Doctor was wasted potential.

I get what the showrunners were trying to do with the question of what happens if a regeneration goes bad, and while it was ambitious, it was hamstrung by The Twin Dilemma. If that story had started the Twenty-Second Series instead of ending the Twenty-First, maybe the idea of watching the Doctor’s inherent goodness overcoming a life-altering setback would have had legs. But if I was watching in real time in the 1980s, I might have quit there. I certainly would have after The Two Doctors, Timelash, Revelation of the Daleks, and Mindwarp.

Especially after Revelation of the Daleks.

I know that Peri is not well-liked as a companion, but the Sixth Doctor’s abusive attitude toward her was simply unacceptable. Capping it with a vicious exit in Mindwarp, coupled with a reaction from the Doctor that was completely against his opinion of her in the past, made me wonder just how far this era could fall. It seems that choking her in The Twin Dilemma was just the beginning.

 

Before we go any further – and the fact that I even have to clarify this baffles me – my criticisms are of the Sixth Doctor, not of Colin Baker himself. My less than stellar reviews of the entire Sixth Doctor era have garnered a bit of flak from some fans who think that I’m attacking the actor, and that is about as far from reality as it gets. From all accounts, Colin Baker is a wonderful man, and I would love to meet him and (yes, really) even thank him for his time on the show. The decline of the franchise, the character’s cynicism, and the antithetical scripts were not his fault. Colin Baker did the best he could with the vision he was presented, and the way that he was treated after the Twenty-Third Series was disgusting.

Before the Twenty-Third Series was transformed into the Trial of a Time Lord, it was supposed to be a series of six stories spread across thirteen to seventeen episodes: The Nightmare Fair would have brought back the Celestial Toymaker; Mission to Magnus would have been Sil’s return after Vengeance on Varos and the return of the Ice Warriors after eleven seasons of franchise hibernation; Yellow Fever and How to Cure It would have brought back the Autons, along with the Master and the Rani; The Hollows of Time would have reintroduced the Tractators; and The Ultimate Evil and The Children of January would have stood alone, presumably with new enemies to thwart.

After the Twenty-Third Series was transformed into a fourteen-part arc – let’s be honest, it was a gimmick to save the show after the near cancellation and eighteen-month hiatus following the Twenty-Second Series – the BBC fired Colin Baker in the middle of filming without his knowledge. They invited him back for a final four-part story to regenerate the Sixth Doctor into the Seventh, but (rightfully so) he declined. He counteroffered with another full season with a regeneration at the end, but the BBC turned him down.

I would have liked to see what Colin Baker’s vision for a more mature Sixth Doctor was, and I may go hunting for the available stories in the coming years. Just like with Season 6B, I have another rabbit hole to dive into, but I can’t afford to do it just yet. For this very reason, I will be exploring two other Sixth Doctor visual stories that sit outside of televised canon with Real Time and A Fix with Sontarans as Timestamps Specials before moving into the Twenty-Fourth Series.

But no, I’m not being critical of Colin Baker himself, just of the character he played and the situations presented during his run. To suggest otherwise is silly at best, and frankly borderline offensive.

 

Following tradition, if the First Doctor was a wise grandfather, the Second a sly jester, the Third a secret agent scientist, the Fourth an inquisitive idealist, and the Fifth Doctor was an honorable humanitarian, then the Sixth Doctor would fall as the squandered cynic.

 

It doesn’t bring me any joy to say it, either.

 

Series 21 (The Twin Dilemma) – 3.0
Series 22 – 2.5
Series 23 – 3.0

Sixth Doctor’s Weighted Average Rating: 2.73

 

Ranking (by score)
1 – Third (4.00)
2 – Second (3.67)
2 – Fourth (3.67)
4 – First (3.41)
5 – Fifth (3.20)
6 – Sixth (2.73)

Ranking (by character)
1 – Second Doctor
2 – Third Doctor
3 – Fourth Doctor
4 – First Doctor
5 – Fifth Doctor
6 – Sixth Doctor

 

As noted before, the project will detour here with Real Time and A Fix with Sontarans before jumping back into things with Time and the Rani.

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Real Time

 

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.

Pop Culture Download: March 25, 2018

Pop Culture Download: March 25, 2018

 

On the Docket

Toys R Us founder Charles Lazarus has died at the age of 94. Coincidentally, it was just days after the company announced that it was liquidating its stores in the United States. – [CNN]

The Marvel News Desk channel on YouTube has compressed the Marvel Cinematic Universe into a twenty-minute video in preparation for next month’s Avengers: Infinity War. – [YouTube]

Deadpool 2 has a new trailer, one that definitely earns a red band. – [YouTube]

H. Wayne Huizenga, founder of the now defunct Blockbuster Video, has died at the age of 80. – [THR]

Disney Music Group is remastering the single-disc soundtracks for the first six Star Wars films – A New HopeEmpire Strikes BackReturn of the JediThe Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith – for release on May 4th. The remaining two-disc complete soundtracks for Episodes II and III are still missing in action. – [StarWars.com]

Keith DeCandido’s 4-Color to 35-Millimeter: The Great Superhero Movie Rewatch continues with a look at the first cinematic outing for the Incredible Hulk. – [Tor.com]

Read More »

Timestamp #147: The Ultimate Foe

Doctor Who: The Ultimate Foe
The Trial of a Time Lord, Parts XIII-XIV

(2 episodes, s23e13-e14, 1986)

 

It’s time for closing statements.

Picking up at the Doctor’s inadvertent admission of genocide, the Doctor charges that the Matrix has been tampered with so the Inquisitor calls upon the Keeper of the Matrix to testify. The Keeper denies the possibility on grounds that the Key of Rassilon is required to enter the database, and only senior Time Lords have access to the keys. Neither the Valeyard nor the Inquisitor is swayed.

Something sounded fishy here, so I waded back into the archives. The Invasion of Time calls out the Great Key of Rassilon, the literal key to ultimate Time Lord knowledge. So are all of these senior Time Lords holding Lesser Keys of Rassilon, and if so, what is the difference if they all lead to the same Matrix, arguably the source of all Time Lord knowledge?

Outside the station, two pods arrive and travel down the fancy corridor of light. They open to reveal Sabalom Glitz and Mel – though neither knows how they arrived at the station – and they barge into the courtroom to offer a defense for the Doctor. On cue, their mysterious benefactor is revealed as the Master, communicating to them from the depths of the Matrix.

First, this whole arc just got a lot more deus ex machina.

Second, it turns out that a Key of Rassilon can be duplicated. Looking back on The Invasion of Time and the (admittedly assumed) purpose of the Great Key and the “lesser” keys, this really makes me wonder about the Artifacts of Rassilon. Possession of the Sash, the Key, and the Rod could lead to absolute power and a Time Lord dictatorship, and if the keys are so easily duplicated then why hasn’t someone attempted a coup with a Gallifreyan 3-D printer?

The Time Lords in attendance do not recognize the Master (which is surprising given how often the High Council has interacted with the Master and/or sent the Doctor to stop him), but the Master seems to have a deep interest in the Valeyard and a strong desire to see him lose. The Inquisitor allows Glitz to testify and the rogue reveals that the mysterious box he was searching for contained secrets of the Time Lords. The sleepers – the inhabitants of Ravalox, then known as Earth – somehow gained access to the Matrix and were siphoning secrets into the box for later use, and the Gallifreyan High Council drew Earth out of orbit, initiated the fireball, and renamed the planet to protect the information.

Yikes. The Doctor’s enemy in this story is own people?

The Master reveals that the Valeyard was charged to tamper with the trial evidence in exchange for the rest of the Doctor’s regenerations. You see, the Valeyard is the Doctor… or rather the amalgamation of the Doctor’s darker impulses from somewhere between his twelfth and final incarnations.

The Doctor’s real enemy is himself.

The Inquisitor agrees that the trial must consider this new evidence, and the Valeyard flees into the Matrix. The Doctor and Glitz pursue him, landing in a warped recreation of Victorian-era London. The Doctor is attacked by a rain barrel, but he is saved by Glitz. The rouge hands the Time Lord a note from the Master pointing them toward a place called The Fantasy Factory. As they approach, Glitz takes a harpoon to the chest.

The Matrix is a place where logic has no hold, and we’re back to The Deadly Assassin.

In the courtroom, the Master testifies to the court that everything they saw was true with minor adjustments to cast doubt on the Doctor. He also reveals that Peri’s fate in Mindwarp was a lie. She is serving as a queen at the side of King Yrcanos, thus providing a great sigh of relief from your humble reviewer. The Master hopes that the Valeyard and the Doctor will destroy each other and leave him free to pillage the universe, and he suggests that the High Council be made to answer for their crimes.

Reasonable.

In the Matrix, we find that the Valeyard’s attack didn’t roll high enough to defeat Glitz’s armor class, and the rogue is convinced to help the Doctor and escape the computer. They enter The Fantasy Factory and meet Mr. Popplewick, a rather stuffy bureaucrat who loves his red tape. The Doctor rushes past the front desk to the proprietor’s office only to find a more officious version of Popplewick. The procedure is sacrosanct!

Before the Doctor is allowed to proceed, he is forced to sign over his remaining regenerations to Mr. J. J. Chambers – the Valeyard – in the event of his “untimely” death. Within moments, he is whisked away to a bleak beach where hands attack from beneath the sand and draw him down, reminiscent of the quicksand traps that permeated much of ’80s television and film adventures. Glitz adopts the role of reliable sidekick and tries to rescue him, but the Doctor overcomes the trap by sheer willpower, pretty much invalidating any amount of physical peril going forward. After a round of taunting from the Valeyard, the evil Time Lord forces the Doctor and Glitz into a nearby hut with a cloud of nerve gas.

The twist: The hut is the Master’s TARDIS. The Master explains that the Valeyard has to be stopped because he has none of the Doctor’s morality, leaving him eviler, more powerful, and a huge threat. The Master tricks the Doctor by putting him in a catatonic state and leaving him as bait for the Valeyard. The Master’s Tissue Compression Eliminator proves useless against the Valeyard and the pair is forced to retreat. Meanwhile, Mel somehow arrives in the Matrix and escorts him out of the Matrix and back to the courtroom.

Mel testifies in the Doctor’s defense, offering footage from Terror of the Vervoids as evidence. The Inquisitor is not swayed, sentencing the Doctor to death. The Doctor accepts the verdict with surprising calm, and we find out that this is yet another Matrix illusion. Outside the Matrix, the real Mel is incensed, prompting her to steal the Key of Rassilon and enter the Matrix. She intercepts the Doctor, but he chides her because he knew it was a ruse based on her digital doppelgänger’s testimony. Together they enter the Fantasy Factory in pursuit of the Valeyard.

The Master charges Glitz, first via failed hypnosis then with a treasure chest, with finding the Ravalox Matrix box. Glitz finds the memory tapes and Mr. Popplewick while the Doctor discovers a list (in his own handwriting) of judges from his trial. Together, they force Popplewick to take them to the Valeyard, but Glitz trades the Doctor for the memory tapes, which he then passes to the Master.

The Doctor reveals Popplewick to be the Valeyard in disguise. He further discovers a maser device aimed at the courtroom, ready to kill the assembled Time Lords as a last resort. The list of names was a hit list. He dispatches Mel to evacuate the courtroom.

In the real world, Gallifrey is collapsing into chaos. The High Council has been deposed by a civilian revolt, and the Master takes the opportunity to seize control. The attempt is stymied when he loads the Ravalox drive into his TARDIS console and it freezes both the Master and Glitz in the Matrix.

Mel tries to evacuate the courtroom while the Doctor destroys the maser using a feedback loop. The surge strikes the Valeyard, knocking him down as the Fantasy Factory explodes. The Doctor returns to reality and learns of Peri’s true fate. The Inquisitor offers the presidency to the Doctor, but he declines, instead offering it to her. He also suggests that the Master should be punished but that Glitz can be reformed.

Leaving his fate up to the Time Lords means that the Master will be back. No doubt.

Mel and the Doctor depart with a quip, and the Doctor nearly abandons Mel at the hint of carrot juice in their future. Instead, they board the TARDIS and take off for points unknown. Meanwhile, the Inquisitor dissolves the court and orders the Keeper to repair and reinforce the Matrix.

Unbeknownst to anyone in attendance, the Keeper is the Valeyard in disguise.

 

As part of the Trial of a Time Lord arc, The Ultimate Foe provides a decent enough resolution, bolstered by the revelation that Peri survived and is living a good life. She did look a little sad, but I assume that it’s the weight of her role as leader. I can’t imagine that she actually missed the Sixth Doctor after all the abuse he has subjected her to, but she might miss the thrill of the adventure.

On its own, the story of The Ultimate Foe is fairly weak. The introduction of the Master weakens the power of the Valeyard and turns this “dark Doctor” into “Master Lite”. The disguises, the logical trickery, the drive to steal regenerations and kill the Doctor… all of it is just a rehash of the Master’s various machinations. The resolution also points out a massive plot hole: If the Sixth Doctor dies with regenerating, there can’t be a Twelfth Doctor or beyond. The Valeyard cannot exist unless he remains outside of time, and if he does stay outside of time then what is the point of all that power?

On a series continuity note, I did enjoy the call back to the Doctor’s dislike of the nickname “Doc”. We’ve seen it at least three times before: The Time Meddler, The Five Doctors, and The Twin Dilemma.

On a project note, this is the first time that an incarnation’s finale doesn’t get the regeneration handicap. This wasn’t intended as the final story for Colin Baker, and he doesn’t even begin the regeneration process in this story.

 

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

 

UP NEXT – Twenty-Third Series Summary

 

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

Pop Culture Download: March 18, 2018

Pop Culture Download: March 18, 2018

 

On the Docket

Doctor Stephen Hawking, world-renowned theoretical physicist and cosmologist, has died at the age of 76. – [BBC]

Mark Hamill has been honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. – [Variety]

Lynda Carter of Wonder Woman fame will be honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame next month. – [Syfy]

The trailers have been released for Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, Mary Poppins Returns, Christopher Robin, and Avengers: Infinity War. – [In order on YouTube: 1, 2, 3, 4]

Keith DeCandido’s 4-Color to 35-Millimeter: The Great Superhero Movie Rewatch continues with the sort of sequel to the Christopher Reeve era of Superman with Superman Returns. – [Tor.com]

Read More »

Timestamp #146: Terror of the Vervoids

Doctor Who: Terror of the Vervoids
The Trial of a Time Lord, Parts IX-XII

(4 episodes, s23e09-e12, 1986)

 

The Doctor is given a brief recess to mourn Peri’s death before being allowed the privilege of his own defense.

This episode of Time Lord Theater delves into the Doctor’s future. The dark introduction focuses on the mining planet Mogar in 2986 AD, galactic liner Hyperion III, a shipment of minerals, and murder.

As the passengers get checked in and settled on the cruise liner, an elderly man named Kimber spots someone he recognizes as an investigator named Hallett. The other passenger corrects him, stating that he is a mineralogist named Grenville, but Kimber puts on his conspiracy hat and his belief begins to spread like wildfire. A trio of scientists – Professor Sarah Lasky and her colleagues – are disturbed by this news. Nothing shady going on there, right?

On the TARDIS, the Doctor is working out with a companion named Mel.

Now, Mel’s very presence removes all of the dramatic tension surrounding the trial. If Mel comes from the Doctor’s future from this perspective, then it logically follows that he has a future after this trial! Ergo, he isn’t executed and is allowed to travel again.

Second, where does Mel come from? After the demise of Peri, Mel feels like a replacement to fill a quota.

The Time Lord gags down some carrot juice as their passage is detected by the cruise liner. They soon pick up a distress call from the cruise liner, sent by a mysterious figure who just incapacitated the communications officer, and they materialize in the cargo hold. Mel wants to rush into danger, but the Doctor is concerned since the distress call was sent directly to them. They are soon apprehended by security officers and taken before the ship’s captain, one Commodore Travers, whom the Doctor has met before on a previous (untelevised) adventure. Travers denies sending the distress call and is skeptical of the Doctor’s presence. He gives them quarters after refusing to let them leave the ship.

Something evil is brewing down in the cargo bay among the scientific experiments. Meanwhile, Mel develops a plan to solve the mystery: The Doctor will ask about while Mel investigates the passenger spaces. She ends up in the gymnasium and receives a secret message. She relays this message to the Doctor and they head to Cabin Six for the rendezvous. There they find a wrecked room, evidence of a fight, and the seeds used in the scientific experiments.

The room and missing boot belong to Grenville, who apparently has just been vaporized in the waste disposal unit. The Doctor presumes that their adventure is over, but Mel is not convinced. In the courtroom, the Doctor claims that the memories have been tampered with. The Valeyard points to it as more evidence that he is reckless and endangers companions needlessly, but the Doctor continues in hopes of proving him wrong.

Aside: Do you want some particularly pointed commentary on the John Nathan-Turner era of Doctor Who? Look no further than “Why it is that every time you appear on the scene, people begin to die?”

 

Returning to the episode already in progress…

Mel investigates the hydroponics center, the focus of the scientific experiments. The unfortunate communications officer is killed in a freak accident, something emerges from one of the alien pods, and Mel screams.

Goodness, does she scream.

The guards arrive on the scene and Mel is taken to Travers. After she leaves, the other guard is killed, but both corpses vanish. Travers summons the Doctor and interrogates Mel, and they all come to the conclusion that something nefarious is happening on the Hyperion III. The Doctor and Mel take the seeds they found to Professor Lasky, but she claims that the Time Lord stole them. After they sort out the circumstances, Mel and Lasky geek out over the seeds while the Doctor watches aghast.

In response to the deaths on board, Travers alters course to arrive on Earth 72 hours earlier. Unfortunately, this will take them closer to the Black Hole of Tartarus. The Mogarians protest, coupling the danger with the politics of mining their home bare.

In the courtroom, the Valeyard objects to the politics, but the Doctor points out that he’s missing the forest for the trees.

 

Returning to the episode already in progress…

One of the Morgarians collapses after having a beverage, and the Doctor removes the being’s faceplate (despite objections that oxygen will kill the alien) to reveal Grenville. Or rather, Hallett, proving Kimber right. Grenville’s death was staged to remove a threat to his cover story. The Doctor only knew that Grenville was not a Morgarian because the undercover alien did not use his translator to speak.

This event prompts the Doctor to take a more active role in matters. He and Mel investigate the trashed hydroponics center as the scientists conspire in the gymnasium. Meanwhile, poor Kimber is killed by one of the plant creatures in his cabin, and our travelers witness Lasky leaving an isolated room. The Doctor sets off the fire alarm to distract the guards, then he and Mel take a look in the quarantined cabin. We’ll just assume for the sake of fiction that smoke masks can also filter pathogens. They discover a human-plant hybrid, and Mel screams.

Goodness, does she scream.

The hybrid tells the Doctor to stop Lasky before the scientists arrive and usher the travelers out. The scientists are escorting the hybrid, one of the lab aides, back to Earth in order to help her after being infected by a freak accident. The discussion is interrupted by the guards, who apprehend the Doctor for setting off a false alarm.

The Doctor is taken to Travers and he explains what he found. Elsewhere, an attendant raises the alarm about Kimber’s disappearance and Mel finds evidence of plant interference in his cabin. The plant creatures are using the ventilation system to move around the ship and systematically kill each passenger. Mel discovers this and records their discussions, but is abducted shortly thereafter and dumped in a refuse container. Coincidentally, the Doctor comes in after this and finds the recording. He runs after the waste bins and stops Mel from being killed in the waste disposal unit, but the recording disappears in the interim.

The Doctor heads to hydroponics as Mel investigates the stewardess. In the courtroom, the trial stops as the Matrix shows the Doctor destroying the communications center, which the Doctor disputes. He’s trapped in a logical quandary: If he stops because the evidence has been tampered with, he gives up his right to defense, but if he continues then he’s subject to being incriminated by the faulty recordings.

Regardless, he chooses to continue.

 

Returning to the episode already in progress…

Mel is interrupted by one of the plant creatures, but she is able to hide in time. Down in hydroponics, scientist Bruchner rebels against Lasky and knocks her out. He steals a weapon and takes over the bridge, changing the ship’s course for the black hole in order to destroy the threat. The bridge has been flooded with marsh gas by the plant creatures, now known as Vervoids, but the Morgarians are able to brave the gas and the save the ship.

The victory is short-lived as they turn the tables and mutiny with security chief Rudge. The Doctor signals Mel and she is able to escape with a small group as the Doctor, Lasky, and Travers are taken to the ship’s lounge. Mel’s group is able to take the bridge back by killing the Morgarians with water, but the Vervoids are still tearing through the ship. Mel rescues the Doctor and crew from the lounge, and the Doctor is given permission to search bow to stern for the missing audio tape. Rudge escapes, but is soon taken by the Vervoids.

The Doctor finds the tape on the scientist Doland, but it has been wiped. The Doctor figured it would be, but confirms what he already suspected about Doland’s involvement in the rise of the Vervoid menace. The scientist’s confession is overheard by Travers and Doland is arrested. On the way to the brig, he is abducted by the Vervoids.

On the bridge, the Doctor discovers the Vervoid plot to kill all animal-kind and the assembled team of Lasky, Travers, and Mel conclude that cooperation with the plants is impossible. Back to the courtroom, the Doctor presents this as evidence that he wasn’t meddling but instead working on a direct request for help from Travers.

 

Returning to the episode already in progress…

The chemicals needed to create an herbicide have been taken by the Vervoids, and a direct appeal from Lasky fails. Mel and the Doctor escape into the ventilation ducts, stumbling across the corpses of everyone who has died so far. It’s effectively a compost heap. They return to the bridge and develop a plan to defeat the plants using vionesium, a rare metal from Mogar (and therefore, in the cargo hold) that can release extreme light and carbon dioxide. This will simulate a passage of time and accelerate the life cycle of the plants.

Because science?

The Doctor and Mel get the metal and deploy it – Mel screams… Goodness, does she scream – and the threat is ended as the Vervoids become leaves on the wind. With that, the travelers bid their farewells and depart.

In the courtroom, the Inquisitor recognizes that the Doctor saved the universe from a major threat. The Valeyard, on the other hand, spins the events to paint the Doctor as a genocidal maniac.

And the trial continues…

 

I liked the Doctor a bit more in this one since he was a bit more heroic and less abusive. Mel wasn’t terrible aside from the screaming. Aside from that, the story was average with a few science-fiction conceits to keep the plot rolling.

Aside from that whole timey-wimey lack of tension due to evidence of the Doctor’s future.

Bonus: Professor Lasky was played by Avenger and Bond Girl Honor Blackman. She is a powerful actress and a world treasure.

 

 

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

 

 

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Ultimate Foe

 

 

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.