Timestamp #158: The Curse of Fenric

Doctor Who: The Curse of Fenric
(4 episodes, s26e08-e11, 1989)

 

Barkeep, a round of your deepest franchise mythology, if you please.

Two inflatable dinghies are rowed to shore by a detachment of soldiers. By their uniforms, they look like Soviet soldiers. Between them and the talk of Germans, we must be in the midst of World War II.

Elsewhere, Ace and the Doctor stroll in to a top secret naval facility and are soon captured at gunpoint by the Royal Marines. They talk their way out of the confrontation and continue on, arriving at the office of Dr. Judson. The Doctor ingratiates himself by noticing the Prisoner’s Dilemma on the board, and while Ace distracts him with an understanding of logic puzzles, the Doctor forges two letters from the Prime Minister and the Head of the Secret Service authorizing their presence on the base. They find an empty set of bunks and Ace goes to sleep.

The Soviet soldiers wash ashore but cannot find their sealed orders. Meanwhile, the camera is focused on an underwater dragon statue with a great sense of foreboding, and the Doctor is wary of eyes watching the base from the darkness. A Soviet soldier finds the orders, which contain Judson’s photograph, but he’s soon killed.

As morning dawns, the Doctor and Ace arrive at the local church as Reverend Wainwright finishes his sermon and talks with Miss Hardaker and her two charges. Ace talks to the girls, evacuees from London’s East End, but later joins the Doctor as he and the reverend seek out Judson. Ace notes the lack of security surrounding the church’s silver, but the reverend is unafraid based on the Viking superstitions. Judson is studying Viking inscriptions using the ULTIMA machine. Presumably, such a machine must be similar to the Enigma of our reality. Ace hears a mechanical sound, but the Doctor dismisses it as organ bellows before they leave Judson to his work.

Elsewhere, Base Commander A. H. Millington (surrounded by Nazi paraphernalia!) analyses some super secret documents before staring curiously at a chess board. The last time we saw a chess board was in Silver Nemesis.

The Doctor and Ace spot a headstone in the Viking graveyard that is sinking, and the pair decide to walk at Maiden’s Point, the same place where Ace was to meet her new friends. Miss Hardaker forbids her charges from visiting the site due to local superstition, and the Doctor and Ace find the (previously) sealed orders packet. The Doctor takes them to the base while Ace remains behind with a warning to stay out of the water. The girls arrive anyway and go for a swim, but Ace does not join them. The girls later find a strange treasure on the beach but reject it when it tingles in their hands. As they leave for home, a sniper nearly kills them but holds his fire when they veer away.

The Doctor finds Wainwright in the church and shares his hunch that some of the transcriptions have already been translated. Sure enough, the reverend’s grandfather did translate some of them, but Wainwright regrets it. The inscription speaks of a dragon ship, stolen treasure, and the curse at Maiden’s Point. The Doctor worries about Ace, but that worry recedes when she arrives. They head for Judson’s lab and show him the translation – on the beach, the sniper throws the tingly treasure into the ocean where it is caught by a mysterious hand – then peek in on the Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRNS) listening station.

Ace meets a baby named Audrey: She’s in love with the baby, but is turned off by the name since Audrey was her mother’s name too. Millington arrives and orders Kathleen (the baby’s mother) to remove Audrey within 24 hours or be dismissed from the service. The Doctor and an angry Ace leave and stumble into Millington’s office, which is a perfect replica of a Nazi cipher room. The Doctor notes that Judson and Millington were classmates before noticing the chessboard with intrigue.

There’s so much foreshadowing in this section of the episode, but it’s done so well.

Millington discusses the Viking translations with Judson, revealing the “Curse of Fenric” – *ding* – which he believes to be nigh. On the beach, the Doctor and Ace find a piece of treasure, a Soviet corpse, and a whole lot of rifles pointed right at them. The soldiers take the travelers to their commander, Captain Sorin. The Doctor tends to another soldier who touched the treasures and is delirious before leaving. The Soviets ambush a British patrol soon after.

Judson continues to decipher the inscriptions, an act that causes more to spontaneously write themselves on the crypt walls and awaken the corpses in the deep. The Doctor and Ace return to the crypt as Judson reports to Millington and receives orders to use the ULTIMA to work on the walls (despite it being needed for the war effort). The travelers investigate the new inscription, then discover a hidden passage and Millington. The commander shows them a natural source of lethal poison, a chemical weapon that could end the war. The Doctor waxes philosophically about the well of Hvergelmir, a place in Norse mythology where serpents spew their venom over the roots of Yggdrasil. Millington is impressed by the Doctor’s knowledge and offers to show him all the rest of the caverns. The Doctor accompanies Millington, but Ace stays behind with a distraught Wainwright. The reverend is having a crisis of faith.

Millington and the Doctor arrive at ULTIMA, where the commander and Judson reveal that (1) they intend to let the Soviets steal the machine because (2) it is carrying a load of the poison. The Doctor then tours the chemical weapons facility and watches a demonstration where only a few drops kill a cage of doves. To his horror, Millington intends to use the contents of the ULTIMA as a time bomb, set to go off when the Soviets decrypt the word love in a coded message.

In the crypt, a wall shakes loose of its own accord and reveals an urn. The soldiers working there ignore it and seal off the room. On the beach, the girls run into the ocean fully clothed – Miss Hardaker took their bathing suits during a hellfire and brimstone sermon about disobeying her – and are swallowed by a mist.

Nothing good can come of either event.

Millington (mindlessly sketching the mysterious urn) orders the base communications cut off from the outside world – an odd move, to be sure – and that all chess sets are burned. It seems that the latter are quite significant. The Doctor questions the chess set order as the soldiers remove them from the women’s bunkroom, and Kathleen asks the Doctor about his family. The Doctor replies that he doesn’t know, and Kathleen presumes that the war is to blame. She says it must be terrible, and the Doctor apprehensively agrees.

Curiouser and curiouser.

On the beach, the girls emerge as pale creatures with claws who lure a Soviet soldier to his death, then return to Miss Hardaker’s residence and kill her. The Doctor returns to Judson’s lab to find the researcher obsessed by the carvings. The Doctor leaves to talk to the girls as Ace helps Judson unlock the inscription using a logic diagram. The Doctor and Ace find Miss Hardaker’s corpse as the girls move on to Reverend Wainwright, who tries to dissuade the girls (who he believes to be vampires) before the Doctor and Ace interfere. The trio race back to Judson’s lab to stop him from decrypting the inscriptions, but they are too late. The vampire creatures rise from the ocean as Millington revels in his victory. He believes that when the chains of Fenric are shattered all of its power will be his.

He’s a bit verkelmpt when he realizes what he’s done, but I can’t tell if it’s regret or joy.

The Doctor explains that the creatures are Haemovores, mutations from humanity’s far future. Ace rushes off to check on Audrey and Kathleen while the Doctor puts plans into motion. The Doctor, Ace, and Wainwright retreat to the church and research. Ace finds the abandoned urn while Wainwright discovers the descendants of the Viking settlers, linking it to the curse of Fenric making its way through the generations. The Haemovores attack the church, and Ace tries to escape but is cut off. Luckily, the Soviet soldiers come to her aid, but their bullets only slow the creatures instead of killing them. Inside the church, the Doctor is able to drive them off by the power of his faith: He recites the names of his former companions, projecting a psychic power through his his faith in their love for his quest.

Everyone but Sorin retreats to the crypt – the captain needs to tend to his troops – and blow their way into the toxin facility. Ace reveals the urn as she tries to mix up more explosives, but the Doctor recognizes it as the treasure at the source of the curse. They are intercepted by Millington at the end of the tunnel and the commander leaves the Soviet allies for dead, much to the Doctor’s dismay. Millington takes the urn and the research to Judson, then confronts and arrests Sorin when the Soviet captain arrives to negotiate.

Oh, it was joy that overwhelmed Millington earlier. Definitely joy.

Ace returns to Kathleen, consoling the woman when she receives word of her husband’s death. She then confronts the Doctor, understanding that the Doctor knows all of the secrets behind this threat. The Doctor speaks of an ancient evil that has existed since the birth of the universe, one that has gone by many names, but this time it is called Fenric and trapped in the urn. His darkness is on full display here.

The third episode ends in rapid fire: Ace distracts the guards while the Doctor frees Sorin; Wainwright faces off against the girls, but his faith is too shaky and he is killed; and Judson is hit by an energy bolt from the ULTIMA as lightning strikes the dragon ship. The crippled scientist rises on his own legs with a declaration: “We play the contest again, Time Lord.”

The Doctor faced off against this evil before, trapping it in the shadow dimension for seventeen centuries by pulling bones from the desert, carving them into pieces, and posing a challenge that it failed. It teleports away and meets with the Haemovores while Millington has the Doctor and Ace taken before a firing squad. They’re freed by a sudden Soviet assault as Millington revels in the prophecy over a chess board. The Doctor says that he needs a chess set of his own to stop the threat, so he and Ace make their way to the commander’s office. Meanwhile, the girls summon the Ancient One from the depths.

Probably not that Ancient One, but similar in appearance nonetheless.

Ace and the Doctor find the chess set, but it’s rigged with poison gas and explosives. They dive into a bunker as the building explodes (and hits the camera in the process). Luckily, they save the genealogical research, which jogs Ace’s memory: Kathleen has a chess set. As the bullets fly and the Soviets discover the chemical weapons, the travelers make their way to the bunk rooms. The Soviet and British soldiers join forces to stop the chemical threat, and the Doctor secures the chess set and takes it to the chemical weapons bunker while Ace guards Kathleen and Audrey, discussing the spooky house in Perivale.

Fenric has his nurse killed as the remnants of the WRNS detachment are turned into Haemovores. He then orders the Ancient One to deliver the poison into the ocean and kill the rest of the Haemovores. More of the creatures break into the bunkroom, causing Ace and Kathleen to flee to a nearby car. Ace tells Kathleen to take Audrey to 17 Old Terrace in London, home to Ace’s family in this time. Kathleen drives off, offering Ace a photo of Audrey in parting. Ace turns to face the girls, who then melt away.

Body count: A lot.

Fenric finds the Doctor and challenges him to the contest. One move on the chess board will win. In the ULTIMA lab, Millington faces off against the remaining Soviet soldiers and loses, taking a fatal shot. The Doctor confers with the Ancient One, persuading him that Fenric’s plan to poison the ocean will only destroy the Haemovore future. Sorin arrives to kill Judson, but since the captain’s lineage descends from the Vikings, he is touched by the curse. Fenric jumps into Sorin.

Unfortunately, Ace figures out the winning move but doesn’t know that Fenric has taken over Sorin, so she unwittingly shares the solution with the enemy. Fenric wins the game and turns on Ace, revealing that baby Audrey is Ace’s mother, and Ace is touched by the curse. Ace’s faith in the Doctor stops Fenric and the Ancient One, so Fenric gives the Doctor a choice: Surrender or he will kill Ace with the poison gas. The Doctor tells Fenric to kill Ace.

What?

The Doctor reveals that he knew that Fenric was coming back when he saw the chess set in Silver Nemesis. Fenric says it was even before that, all the way back to Dragonfire and the time storm that took Ace from her home, but the Doctor knew even then how important she was. In a twist, the Ancient One takes Fenric to the poison testing chamber and unleashes the gas, forcing the Doctor to run with Ace. As the evil threat goes boom, he apologizes profusely to Ace, explaining that he had to break her faith in order to free the Ancient One and end Fenric’s curse.

Diabolical but clever.

Ace and the Doctor return to the beach where she faces her emotions by jumping into the water. When she emerges, effectively baptized and renewed, her fear and anger are gone. The travelers embrace, their wounds and rift healed, and head off to their next adventure.

 

That was a gorgeous story. It opened a ton of space and let Ace and the Doctor – as well as Sophie Aldred and Sylvester McCoy – spread their wings. It was also tightly crafted and flowed well, expertly employed vampire and religious mythos without being trite, and capitalized on franchise seeds sown since Dragonfire. The body count was high (typical of the era), but if this had been the classic finale, it would have been a good place to end the journey.

 

Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Survival

 

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

 

 

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Timestamp #157: Ghost Light

Doctor Who: Ghost Light
(3 episodes, s26e05-e07, 1989)

 

Welcome to Gabriel Chase.

In the depths of a gothic manor’s basement, a mysterious figure in a solid cage is fed dinner and the Times. The Reverend Ernest Matthews arrives, as does the TARDIS. Ace emerges from the bad parking job into a laboratory (or a nursery), and the Doctor refuses to tell her where they’ve landed. The house staff leaves – “Heaven help anyone who’s still here.” – and locks the door behind them. The clock strikes six and the spookiness ramps up with new servants emerging from the walls.

The Doctor and Ace explore, finding a radioactive snuff box with the initials RFC engraved upon it. Its owner, Redvers Finn-Cooper, is missing in the house, but another explorer is here to find him. This new player pulls an elephant rifle on the Doctor, but seeing his own reflection reveals him to be Finn-Cooper, driven insane. Elsewhere, head housekeeper Lady Pritchard and the owner’s ward Gwendoline encounter the ornery reverend, then retrieve the explorer as the butler Nimrod (a literal Neanderthal) invites the Doctor and Ace to meet with the reverend and Josiah Samuel Smith, the owner of the house.

This story is all over the place. It’s goofy. It’s wacky. It’s chaotic.

It’s frustrating.

Everyone’s going crazy over Ace’s late 1980s fashion, so she is taken away for proper period clothing. Locked in a room, a straight-jacketed Finn-Cooper is exposed to his glowing snuff box, but everyone is driven away from the scene by the occupants of the house. Everyone gathers for dinner as Nimrod opens some kind of control room and is subsequently stricken down by an unseen force.

Ace (looking good in her new fancy duds) figures out that she knows Gabriel Chase from her time in Perivale. It is the house that she burned to the ground in 1983 after sensing a dangerous evil presence. The Doctor brought her here, much to her anger, to understand the horrors that she sensed. As the Doctor presses, Ace runs for the cellar.

Lady Pritchard knocks out the reverend as Smith solicits the Doctor for help in ridding the house of the evil. In the cellar, Ace finds the control room and the incapacitated Nimrod before being attacked by two zombie-like husks, and as the first episode ends I still have no idea what in the world I am even watching.

The Doctor discovers a human in suspended animation, nestled among the insect collection. In the cellar, Nimrod comes to Ace’s defense as the mysterious cell is being opened. In the battle, Ace and Nimrod end up facing off and breaking the light in the wall. The Doctor escapes from the house staff by using his radiation monitor as a mock gun and taking the lift to the cellar with Smith as a captive. Once there, the Doctor figures out that the cellar is a stone spaceship and Smith is an alien of some sort. The Doctor turns the table on Smith and inadvertently frees Control, the being in the cell. As daylight breaks, Smith and the house staff retreat upstairs with the reverend as the master of the house evolves into another husk,

Oh, and Smith transforms the reverend into an ape and places him on display.

The Doctor revives the suspended human, Inspector Mackenzie, while Ace gets some sleep and breakfast before joining the Doctor and Mackenzie just before dark. Nimrod tells a a tale of worship and the light as Control skulks about the house The Doctor puts all the pieces together as the light in the cellar wall, an egg of some sort, hatches. Ace and the inspector explore the attic, finding Smith, Pritchard, and Gwendoline frozen as statues. As the Doctor moves the clock to six, the statues and house awaken, and Control exits the lift followed by a bright burst of light.

The light belongs to an alien surveyor who came to Earth thousands of years before to catalog all life on the planet. It completed its task and collected samples (incluiding Nimrod), it went into hibernation. While Light hibernated and Control was imprisoned to serve as the “control” subject in the scientific observation, Smith mutinied against Light, trapping the surveyor and evolving into a Victorian gentleman. He intended on using Finn-Cooper’s relationship with Queen Victoria to assassinate the monarch and take control of the monarchy.

Light is angry that his catalog is incomplete due to evolution over the millennia, so he decides to eradicate all life on the planet. He kills off a maid, Gwendoline, Pritchard (Gwendoline’s missing mother), and the inspector while Ace fights for her life several times over and Control evolves into a Victorian woman.

The Doctor maneuvers Light into a logic trap, suggesting that the surveyor has not only evolved, but also missed several creatures of myth in his audit. In the end, Smith is imprisoned as the new “control” while Control, Fenn-Cooper, and Nimrod take the alien spacecraft on an exploration of the universe. Light, on the other hand, is dispersed into the house itself, becoming the evil presence that Ace encountered in 1983. When the Doctor asks if she has any regrets, Ace says she should have blown the house up instead.

“Wicked,” the Doctor says, drawing this house of horrors to a close.

 

There is a good story buried in this serial, but the plot is so convoluted and twisted that the narrative path is lost in the weeds. It sheds light on Ace’s character and backstory, and it builds on the Doctor’s mystery and simmering darkness. There’s also a lot to be said for a story that dumps the viewer into the narrative world without guidance, but the good ones guide the audience to understanding and resolution. This one capitalized on frustration in chaos, and that hurt my experience.

 

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

 

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Curse of Fenric

 

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 #156: Battlefield

Doctor Who: Battlefield
(4 episodes, s26e01-e04, 1989)

 

The final classic season begins with an old trope and an old friend. We begin with retired Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart shopping for trees with his wife, reminiscing on his days with UNIT. Elsewhere, a familiar-looking sword glows with unearthly light as Brigadier Winifred Bambera and her UNIT soldiers conduct military exercises in the country.

On the TARDIS, the Doctor is tracking a distress signal from Earth that has saturated all of time and space, across the boundaries that divide one universe from another. The TARDIS arrives at the source of the signal, three years in Ace’s relative future. Ace and the Doctor hitchhike with archaeologist Peter Warmsly after the new Brigadier bypasses them. As they drive to a nearby battlefield dig, several armored knights crash land from space. The Doctor and Ace infiltrate the UNIT nuclear missile site with old identification cards, one belonging to Liz Shaw. Bambera confiscates the passes, but one soldier remembers the Doctor from Lethbridge-Stewart’s days.

A space knight investigates the TARDIS exterior while the Secretary General calls Lethbridge-Stewart to tell him about the Doctor’s arrival. Bambera takes the Doctor and Ace to a nearby hotel where they can find accommodations. She then spots the TARDIS and walks into the middle of a battle between the space knights.

At the hotel, Ace meets Shou Yuing, a fellow explosives enthusiast, while the Doctor converses with blind psychic innkeeper Elizabeth Rowlinson. Bambera (and Warmsly) end up at the hotel as Lethbridge-Stewart dons his uniform one more time.  The Doctor and Warmsly talk about the scabbard, which has psychic energy and is linked to a strange woman in a crystal ball.

The battle propels the knight into the hotel’s brewery, driving our heroes to investigate. They find the knight, who is a human named Ancelyn who claims that the Doctor is Merlin. The distress call was Excalibur’s Call and placed the planet in the middle of a war that doesn’t belong in this dimension. As the quartet tries to leave, they are ambushed by Bambera (who tries to apprehend them) and the enemy knights (who try to kill them).

The Doctor tries to negotiate, but Bambera is quick to the trigger. The enemy leader is Mordred, and he warns the Doctor of his mother’s (Morgaine, who has waited twelve centuries) coming reckoning. The enemy retreats, the Doctor’s party retires to the hotel, and Bambera and the knight do the ritual dance of dominance.

Using a brother sword to Excalibur, Mordred conducts a ritual to link his home dimension to modern Carbury. The scabbard on the wall launches toward the lake, Mordred is swimming in Highlander-era fantasy, and Morgaine crosses into our dimension. She calls to the Doctor telepathically, and when he refuses her, she declares war on their “last battlefield.”

In the morning, the Doctor and Ace visit Warmsly’s dig, finding a marker that reads “dig hole here” in the Doctor’s handwriting. Ace blows open the hole and they descend into the ground. As Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart arrives in Carbury, Morgaine attacks his helicopter. The pilot sets it down successfully, although Lieutenant Lavel is injured, and Lethbridge-Stewart sets out for help. He soon encounters Morgaine and her army, and after a discussion, they part ways honorably. Lethbridge-Stewart commandeers Shou’s car.

In the underground tunnel, Ace and the Doctor enter a strange room that obeys the Doctor’s commands. He presumes that the place was built by Merlin, and that he could possibly be Merlin in his own future. The facility is really a spacecraft for traveling between dimensions, and it contains King Arthur (in suspended animation) and Excalibur. Ace accidentally draws Excalibur, releasing an automated defense system. Ace runs the wrong direction and ends up trapped in an airtight chamber that fills with water. The Doctor manipulates some controls and continues to battle the defense system as Ace is ejected to the surface of the lake, echoing the Lady of the Lake legend as she emerges with Excalibur. She passes the sword to Ancelyn, Bambera, and Warmsly as Shou and Lethbridge-Stewart arrive.

In a touching reunion, Lethbridge-Stewart goes into the ship and saves the Doctor, and the duo return to the surface. Meanwhile, Morgaine orders her troops to find Excalibur and kill any who stand in the way. At the inn, Mordred taunts the innkeepers and lusts after Lieutenant Lavel as his mother arrives. Morgaine kills Lavel after extracting military knowledge from her mind, and rewards the innkeepers for their treatment of her son by restoring Elizabeth’s sight.

The hero party returns to the hotel – the women and modern military leaders bristle under Lethbridge-Stewart’s ways – surviving an assault along the way. There, they find that the locals are being evacuated, though Warmsly and the Rowlinsons require a little psychic convincing from the Doctor, but Ace and Shou slip away in the organized chaos. The Doctor and Lethbridge-Stewart hit the road (in Bessie!) to find Ancelyn and Bambera and defend the missile convoy. They leave Ace and Shou at the hotel, armed with a piece of chalk to draw a circle of protection. The former Brigadier also reveals some new hardware from UNIT, including armor-piercing rounds for Daleks, gold rounds for Cybermen, and silver rounds just because. Ace and Shou draw the circle and take refuge as an ethereal darkness falls around them, and Morgaine tries to draw them out with psychic games before summoning a demonic creature.

The missile site is a battlefield with UNIT facing Mordred’s troops. As Ancelyn and Mordred engage each other, the Doctor stops the confrontation but is surprised to learn that the battle was a distraction to allow Morgaine to seek the sword. She stands over Ace and Shou with her summoned creature, the Destroyer. Mordred offers a trade – the captives for Excalibur – but the Doctor succumbs to rage and threatens to decapitate Mordred if Morgaine does not surrender. Morgaine calls his bluff and the Doctor yields, but Lethbridge-Stewart steps up in his stead. Morgaine is unswayed, restarting the battle as the Doctor and Lethbridge-Stewart put Morded in the car and race to the hotel.

Morgaine figures out that she cannot breach the chalk circle, but the Destroyer can. All it needs to is to be freed from its silver shackles. The Destroyer brings the hotel down around the ladies, and Mordred escapes. Morgaine flees with Excalibur and the Destroyer, receiving news that her army has been decimated. The Doctor and Lethbridge-Stewart pursue Morgaine into her portal, and Ace follows with the box of silver bullets shortly afterward. Lethbridge-Stewart is tossed aside by the Destroyer but the Doctor reclaims Excalibur. Morgaine frees the beast as an angry Mordred arrives, and the two return to their realm. The Doctor, Lethbridge-Stewart, and Ace regroup, and the Doctor prepares to face the Destroyer with the silver bullets. Lethbridge-Stewart stuns the Doctor, claiming that he is more disposable than the Time Lord, and faces off with the Destroyer. Three shots of silver later and the creature explodes, but Lethbridge-Stewart escaped with a promise that he is done with all of this.

Morgaine and Mordred kidnap Bambera and attempt to launch the nuclear missile. In the spacecraft, the Doctor, Lethbridge-Stewart, Ace, and Ancelyn restore Excalibur and try to release King Arthur, but a note from the Doctor reveals that the king died in battle. The good news is that they can still stop the missile. The Doctor faces off against Morgaine and appeals to her honor, compelling her to stop the missile’s countdown. She wants to face Arthur in combat, but news of his death devastates her.

Ace jubilantly destroys the spacecraft and the Doctor renders Mordred unconscious. Mordred and Morgaine are turned over to UNIT as our heroes retire to the Lethbridge-Stewart estate. The ladies take Bessie on an adventure while the men are left to chores and cooking supper.

 

This was a good (if final) adventure in the classic era with the Brig, and I enjoyed the references from his era to tie the legacy together. He’s back in fantastic form here for his finale, and it really buoys up a story that could have otherwise drown in tried and once true but now tired story tropes. I mean, I groaned when I saw that this was an Arthurian myth tale, and some of the obvious symbolism (Ace as the Lady of the Lake, for example) drew more of them from me.

I did love seeing Ace bond with Shou over their common attraction to explosives. I also love McCoy’s flourishes and gags that counter his growing darkness. Finally, in a reach back to near the beginning of the franchise, I did enjoy seeing Jean Marsh back in action once again. This time she was Morgaine, but way back when she was once Sara Kingdom.

I settled around a 3.5 rating for this one, and I look forward, so this story takes advantage of rounding up.

 


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

 

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Ghost Light

 

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: Twenty-Fifth Series Summary

 Doctor Who: Twenty-Fifth Series Summary

 

A stunning jump as we race toward the classic finish.

The Seventh Doctor’s second outing was a major step up, which was an important move for the show’s silver anniversary. It has also made me really love Sylvester McCoy’s wit and humor. Remembrance of the Daleks was a great start, and while Silver Nemesis was effectively Remembrance Redux, it was still fun. Even the average stories kept me entertained, and there didn’t seem to be a stinker in the bunch.

The John Nathan-Turner problems remain, and they’re likely to stick around for McCoy’s senior season, but at least the actors and stories were able to enlighten and entertain, overcoming the production.

Overall, this season ends up in a five-way tie for fifth place, joining the ranks of the Seventh, Tenth, Thirteenth, and Fourteenth seasons. The Third and Fourth Doctors are good company to be in.

 

Remembrance of the Daleks – 5
The Happiness Patrol – 3
Silver Nemesis – 4
The Greatest Show in the Galaxy –  3

Series Twenty-Five Average Rating: 3.8/5

 

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Battlefield

 

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 #155: The Greatest Show in the Galaxy

Doctor Who: The Greatest Show in the Galaxy
(4 episodes, s25e11-e14, 1988-1989)

 

It’s an awfully meta moment in the late 1980s: The Greatest Show in the Galaxy gets rhythm, and we “ain’t seen nothing yet.”

On the TARDIS, the Doctor is trying to learn how to juggle while Ace (clad in the Fourth Doctor‘s pre-burgundy scarf) looks for her rucksack and Nitro-9. An automated probe materializes in the console room and delivers junk mail: an advertisement for the psychic circus. The Doctor wants to go and the advertising drone goads Ace (who is obviously scared of something) into joining him.

Something sinister is afoot at the circus: Two performers (Flowerchild and Bellboy) are on the run from a clown in a hearse. A rude sandwich eating biker named Nord and our heroes join the mix as well, and the Doctor and Ace are warned away from the circus by a roadside saleswoman. Flowerbell and Bellboy split up, and Flowerbell ends up at an abandoned bus and killed by the robotic conductor. Bellboy is found by the clowns are returned to the circus.

Nord turns down the Doctor’s request to join him, and the travelers are nearly run down by the clown on the road. They encounter Captain Cook and Mags, two more intergalactic travelers questing for the circus, and join them for tea. Ace and Mags find a buried robot, which comes to life and attacks the party, but is defeated by Ace. They carry on to the bus and are attacked by the conductor robot. The Doctor defeats the robot and parts company with the other travelers, disgusted by the captain’s cowardice.

A new player joins the mix: A well-dressed young man on a bicycle.

Nord, Captain Cook and Mags, and the Doctor and Ace arrive at the circus. Mags witnesses Bellboy being punished for his treachery, but her screams are electronically silenced by the ringmaster. Ace can still hear the screams and is hesitant about entering the tent, but the Doctor presses on. Ace’s fear is revealed: She suffers from coulrophobia, the fear of clowns. Based on the ticket-taker’s reaction to the clowns, Ace’s fear may be well-founded.

The Doctor and Ace find a seat in the darkened attraction, which isn’t hard since the place is nearly deserted: The only other party is a family of parents and a single child. The Doctor tries to engage them in small talk, but they’re almost robotic. The show starts with nearly the same rap as before, but one change is that the Ringmaster selects the Doctor to join as a volunteer performer. The Doctor rushes forward in glee and Ace gets trapped by clowns, and the lead clown is intrigued by Flowerbell’s earring, which Ace found at the bus. Ace runs and is pursued by this insane clown posse.

The Doctor is reunited with Captain Cook, Mags, and Nord, but soon realizes that this is a trap and he’s fallen right into it. Captain Cook tricks Nord into performing next. Meanwhile, Ace sneaks back into the circus tent and eavesdrops on the fortune teller and ringmaster talk about the state of the circus. She is given away by the chirping of drone kites and runs from the clowns, encountering a captive Bellboy. It’s revealed that Bellboy built the robotic clowns and only he can repair them. Ace is soon captured again and imprisoned in the clown repair facility.

Nord goes on stage and his performances are judged by the family. When he fails, he is disintegrated, an act that is witnessed by Mags and the Doctor. As the BMX rider, Whizz Kid, is selected to join the captives, the Doctor and Mags escape and find a series of catacombs to explore. They find a deep pit with a large eye (the same eye on the kite drones) at the bottom, but they are captured by the clowns and Captain Cook. Mags notices a symbol that resembles the phases of the moon, and the her reaction provides a distraction for the Doctor to escape.

When the clowns in the repair trailer attack, Ace defends herself until they stop and collapse. Bellboy emerges from the shadows and, noting the earring, learns of Flowerchild’s fate. He tells Ace that Flowerchild made the kites, something of beauty perverted into something sinister, and gives Ace the controller for the robot she defeated earlier. Elsewhere, the Doctor continues to unravel the mystery behind the circus and frees Ace and Bellboy from the trailer. We also discover that Deadbeat, the street sweeper, was once someone named Kingpin.

The clowns return Captain Cook and Mags to their cage, and Captain Cook snaps at Whizz Kid’s admiration of his exploits. He soon turns about and exploits the kid, moving him up in the queue to save the explorer’s own skin. The kid is soon killed for his failure, and the captain is a truly despicable man.

The Doctor, Ace, and Kingpin set out for the pit while Bellboy stays behind the distract the chief clown. Meanwhile, the fortune teller communicates with the eye through her crystal ball, telling it that more will come to feed it and they’ll keep everyone away from the bus. At the pit, the Doctor’s party uncovers the same link. The Doctor sends Ace and Kingpin to investigate the bus while he distracts the circus in the ring. The Doctor suggests that he, the captain, and Mags work together to upset the balance of the game, and Mags coerces the captain into agreeing.

Once in the room, Captain Cook turns the tables by ordering the crew to shine “moonlight” on Mags. The woman transforms into a werewolf, weirdly explaining her reaction to the moon symbols earlier. After a brief show by Cook, during which the Doctor discovers that the audience members are avatars of the eye in the pit, Mags turns on the captain and kills him. Mags and the Doctor are removed from the ring, but as the family demands more entertainment, the ringmaster and fortune teller are forced to perform. They fail and are consumed.

Ace and Kingpin search the bus, not knowing that the clowns have repaired the conductor. Ace tries to open a lockbox and is ambushed by the robot. During the scuffle, the box is broken open and Kingpin finds the rest of his eye pendant inside. His mind restored, he helps Ace defeat the conductor. Together, they head back to the Doctor.

Mags runs off to meet Ace and Kingpin as the Doctor confronts the eye in a psychedelic sequence. He ends up back in the ring, but now it is an ancient arena. The Doctor greets the family as the Gods of Ragnarok, a force he has fought for some time, and the trio demand more entertainment from their captive. The Doctor runs through a series of conjuring tricks to distract them.

Ace, Kingpin, and Mags end up the massive robot and use it to defeat the clowns. They return to the pit as the Doctor continues his performance, pursued by a reanimated Captain Cook. Cook steals the medallion and Ace knocks it into the pit, forcing it to materialize at the Doctor’s feet. The Doctor uses it to deflect attacks from the gods and destroy the arena around them. The Doctor doffs his hat in salute and returns to the circus, calmly strolling out of the tent as it explodes behind him.

He reunites with Ace, leaving Kingpin and Mags to start a new entertainment venture. He politely declines the offer to join them, citing the adventures that ahead. Besides, in a clever plot twist, he finds circuses to be rather sinister.

 

It was a decent adventure, and while the Doctor’s feelings about circuses are awfully convenient, I did enjoy watching Ace confront her fears to save the day. The werewolf subplot was kind of crazy, as was the Gods of Ragnarok twist, but they both did away with the treacherous Captain Cook. That guy was one of the first characters in this franchise that I have actively despised in a long time.

 

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

 

 

UP NEXT – Twenty-Fifth Series Summary

 

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

 

 

Timestamp #154: Silver Nemesis

Doctor Who: Silver Nemesis
(3 episodes, s25e08-e10, 1988)

 

We open in South America, 22 November 1988, on a scene of Nazis trying to kill parrots with arrows. A similar scene plays out in 1638 Windsor, England – though without the Nazis, naturally – as a woman tries to kill a pigeon with a bow and arrow. She retreats to a dark room where a mathematician is working on a calculation while the woman prepares poison-tipped arrows. Back in 1988, the Nazi addresses a room of soldiers, heralding the birth of the Fourth Reich before retrieving a silver bow and leaving on a plane.

In Windsor, the mathematician informs the woman – Lady Peinforte – that according to the calculation, the Nemesis comet will return to Earth and land in the spot where it originated on 23 November 1988.

It seems that the Nazis and Lady Peinforte are on a collision course.

The Doctor and Ace are relaxing to the smooth sounds of Courtney Pine when the Doctor’s alarm goes off, but he can’t remember why. The performance ends, Ace gets an autograph, and the pair is ambushed by snipers.  The travelers escape by diving into the river. Later on, they dry out on the riverbank while the Doctor ponders the alarm, knowing that it means a planet somewhere is about to be destroyed. Moments later, the Doctor finds out that the planet in question is Earth. He remembers that he set the alarm in 1638, and they travel in the TARDIS to Windsor Castle’s basement in search of the silver bow.

Lady Peinforte and her assistant use magic fueled by the mathematician’s blood to travel through time, landing in the present day as the Nemesis crash lands on Earth. The Nazis and Lady Peinforte converge on the crash site, but the Nazis decide to bide their time until the site cools down. At the site, Lady Peinforte watches as the police radios stop working and a mysterious gas chokes the officers.

In the castle’s basement, the Doctor and Ace find an empty case and a prophecy: The bow originally disappeared in 1788, and unless it is kept in its case, the rest of the statue to which it belongs will return and destroy the world. The Doctor and Ace travel to 1638 and Lady Peinforte’s cottage and start to unravel her mystery. The Lady originally sculpted the statue, depicting herself, out of a silver metal that fell to Earth near her home. The travel forward again to Windsor Castle and join a tour group before sneaking away into the royal apartments and encountering Queen Elizabeth II. They are apprehended and escape, finding a painting of Ace that has happened yet for them, and eventually end up in the TARDIS.

The Nazis, Lady Peinforte, and the travelers all converge on the crash site. They are joined by a mysterious spacecraft that reveals a group of Cybermen. The Cybermen recognize the Doctor as the three aggressor parties open fire on each other and our heroes take refuge in the crash site. The Doctor and Ace steal the silver bow and escape, leaving the silver arrow in Lady Peinforte’s hands and the Nemesis statue unguarded.

The Doctor and Ace travel back to 1638 where the mathematician’s corpse has disappeared and the chess pieces have moved. The Doctor burns a note and they leave. As they return to present day, he explains to Ace that the validium metal was created on ancient Gallifrey by Omega and Rassilon as a form of ultimate defense. Some of it escaped from Gallifrey and landed on Earth, which the Doctor returned to space. They use the bow to track the other pieces.

They find the Cybermen and jam their transmissions with Ace’s jazz tape. They later find a pair of muggers who were defeated and strung up by Lady Peinforte. The Lady herself takes her assistant Richard to his own grave, and then into the castle where the Cybermen hold the statue, which is apparently her own grave. The Cybermen engage the Lady and Richard at the tomb as the Doctor and Ace destroy the Cybermen ship. The Nazis find the Cybermen and strike a deal, but they don’t understand that the Cybermen will kill them anyway.

The Doctor and Ace discuss the cyclical nature of the Nemesis comet and how each time it comes around, bad things happen in Earth’s history: In 1913, the First World War was about the erupt; in 1938, Hitler annexed Austria; and in 1963, President Kennedy was assassinated. The double their efforts to scan for a Cybermen fleet in space and they find it.

The Nazis arrive at the tomb and drive Lady Peinforte away through Richard’s cowardice, leaving the Nazis with the arrow and statue. The Nazis try to doublecross the Cybermen, but one of the Nazis betrays his leader (De Flores) and they are captured for processing. Meanwhile, the Doctor and Ace arrive at the tomb as the tape ends, presenting the bow to the Nemesis statue as the Cybermen re-establish contact with their fleet. The Doctor and Ace run with the bow, forcing the statue to follow them.

They travel back to 1638 and the Doctor makes another move on the chess board. Ace asks who originally brought the metal to Earth and what is really going on, but the Doctor remains silent as they leave for the hangar where the comet is stored. The Nemesis statue arrives and the Doctor gives it the bow. Soon enough, the Cybermen arrive and Ace battles them with a slingshot and gold coins from 1638.

The Nazis break free from their processing, revealing it to be a ruse the entire time. Meanwhile, Lady Peinforte and Richard hitch a ride with an American woman to Windsor. The woman descends from the 17th century Remington family, whom Peinforte refers to as thieves and swindlers. In fact, Dorothea Remington was killed by poison.

As Ace singlehandedly decimates the Cyberman army, the Doctor loads the statue back into the comet and sets the rocket’s course to the cyber fleet. At one point, Ace is trapped by three Cybermen and only one shot left, but she ends up forcing them to shoot each other. The Doctor talks with the statue, removing the bow and avoiding its questions about mission and purpose. The Doctor and Ace defeat the remaining Cybermen, but De Flores arrives and takes the bow. He is upset that the Nemesis will not speak to him, but he meets his end as the Cyber Leader guns him down.

Lady Peinforte arrives and faces off with the Doctor and the Cyber Leader, and Peinforte asks Ace a question: “Doctor who?” Who is the Doctor and where does he come from. The Doctor relents and passes the bow to the Cyber Leader, defusing Lady Peinforte’s attempts to reveal the Doctor’s secrets with the Cybermen’s apathy regarding them. All the Cybermen want is to transform Earth into Mondas. The bow ends up in the comet with the statue and the Doctor launches it, but not before Lady Peinforte hurls herself into the capsule with the Nemesis.

The comet races toward the fleet and destroys it, confounding the Cyber Leader and leaving an opening for Richard to stab the remaining Cyberman with the last arrow. Ace and the Doctor return Richard to 1638 where Ace figures out the Doctor’s gambit: He originally placed the statue into orbit to lure out the Cybermen and destroy them. As they listen to an impromptu concert, Ace asks the Doctor about his past, but the Doctor puts a finger to his lips and listens to the music instead.

 

Overall, this was a fun 25th anniversary adventure with a lot of moving parts. I’m glad they made the callback to Remembrance of the Daleks to keep continuity rolling. I am intrigued by this “Cartmel Masterplan” idea that mystifies and deepens the Doctor, but I’m cautious and hoping that it doesn’t make the Doctor menacing. Not knowing everything about the Doctor is good, but making him have a dark agenda (potentially one of wiping out his enemies rather than simply defeating them) won’t work for me.

 

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

 

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Greatest Show in the Galaxy

 

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 #153: The Happiness Patrol

Doctor Who: The Happiness Patrol
(3 episodes, s25e05-e07, 1988)

 

“Happiness is nothing unless it exists side by side with sadness.”

A woman walks down a melancholy corridor and is approached by a man who offers to help with her suffering. He invites her to a secret place where people share their sadness, but when she accepts his offer he reveals himself: Silas P of the Happiness Patrol, Undercover Division. As the “killjoy” is arrested, the Doctor and Ace arrive in the TARDIS, musing about the invasion of the dinosaurs, unimpressed with the “lift music” and artificial happiness filtering through the city.

Silas P is awarded for his stellar work, but his superior is also suspicious about his ambition. Elsewhere, our travelers explore the city and encounter Trevor Sigma, a man thoroughly unimpressed by the Doctor’s college nickname of Theta Sigma. Ace wanders off and finds a bench riddled with bullet holes, prompting the Doctor to get them arrested. They find members of the Happiness Patrol painting the TARDIS pink, and are apprehended for lack of identification. The Doctor is taken away as a spy while Ace is forced to audition for the Patrol.

The Doctor and Ace find a killjoy named Harold V, a terrible joke writer formerly known as Harold F (minion to colony leader Helen A, the superior from before). Their guard warns the Doctor that while this place isn’t a prison, he would be killed if he crosses the perimeter line. I simply love the sight gag here as the Doctor guides his foot away from the line with his umbrella.

Helen A rules a society where sadness is outlawed. Under her rule, any emotion other than happiness (even in clothing) is punished by the Kandy Man, an unseen party who experiments on the captives. As an example, a killjoy is executed by being enclosed in a metal pipe and drown in strawberry-flavored fondant. As Ace and the Doctor plot an escape, planning to take Harold with them, Helen kills her former servant by remote fatal electric shock. They locate a go-kart, disarm the bomb that would have prevented their escape, and use it to (slowly and comedically) drive away. Ace is re-captured, providing a chance for the Doctor to escape.

Ace meets Susan Q, a secretly depressed member of the Patrol. After a heart-to-heart discussion, Susan gives Ace the key to their room, allowing her to escape. Unfortunately, she is captured again soon. On the streets, the Doctor encounters an undercover Silas, but a blues player named Earl Sigma – the appellation “Sigma” means visitor – helps the Time Lord to escape. Unfortunately, the Patrol finds Silas in his dark garb and executes him accordingly. The Doctor and Earl infiltrate the Kandy Man’s lair, but they too are captured.

Ace is marched by gunpoint back to her audition while the Doctor and Earl are strapped down for torture. The Doctor appeals to the Kandy Man’s insecurities, learns about his methods of executions, and traps him in a sticky puddle of lemonade. The Doctor and Earl escape with a quip into the pipelines and encounter a gang of creatures. These creatures, driven underground by human settlers, lead the duo to safety and Trevor Sigma. Earl splits off on his own as Trevor and the Doctor visit Helen. The Doctor learns all about Helen’s population control measures and confronts her.

Ace is reunited with Susan after the Patrol discovers her duplicity. Susan is taken away for execution and one of the pipeline creatures frees Ace. Helen releases her dog-creature Fifi into the pipeline to deal with the annoyance, but Ace subdues the threat with a can of Nitro-9. They then travel through the pipes to Susan’s execution.

The Doctor reunites with Earl and learns of a protest and the snipers that have them pinned down. The Doctor confronts the snipers and disarms them with their own morality. He then returns to the kitchens to deal with the Kandy Man, unsticking the being from the floor in exchange for a flow diversion that saves Susan’s life. The Doctor then resticks the Kandy Man and escapes.

Helen puts Ace back on track for Patrol auditions, and the Doctor is drawn to the show by posters in the streets. The Doctor asks Earl to bring the protestors as a citizen comes to mark another audition poster with “RIP.” It seems that the penalty for failing the audition is death. The Doctor retires to a set of stairs in the Forum with Trevor Sigma (before the auditor leaves the planet) to discuss a list of disappearances under Helen’s rule.

Helen sends a freshly healed Fifi into the pipes to chase the people who live there. Back at the stairs, Ace and the Patrol arrive and the Doctor defeats the Patrol with happiness and joviality among the protestors. The Doctor, Ace, and Susan take the Patrol’s security vehicle, leaving the Patrol to fight among themselves, and enter the pipes to deal with Fifi. The Doctor rallies the pipe-dwellers and lures Fifi with Earl’s harmonica, using the howls and music to stop Fifi with a crystalized sugar collapse.

Helen orders the Kandy Man to find the Doctor, but the odd being reports that the Doctor and Ace have just arrived. Together, they force the Kandy Man into the pipes as Susan and Earl start destroying loudspeakers across the city. The pipe-dwellers infiltrate the kitchen and flood the pipes with fondant, destroying the Kandy Man.

Watching her empire topple, Helen packs a bag and prepares to flee the planet. Unfortunately for her, her shuttle is stolen by her husband Joseph and the Kandy Man’s former assistant Gilbert. Helen tries to escape into the city, but the Doctor confronts her. All Helen wanted was for her people to be happy… for her society to be happy. The Doctor challenges her, explaining that happiness and sadness are two sides of the same coin and must live side-by-side for the health of society. Helen starts to storm off but sees Fifi’s corpse on the bus bench where the whole adventure began. There, she breaks down in tears.

With Earl and Susan in charge, Ace and the Doctor board the freshly repainted TARDIS and depart, knowing that now happiness will truly prevail.

 

First, we have a fun adventure with good acting from our heroes and a pastiche of villainous tropes from the bad guys. The Kandy Man is, well, something else.

But, let’s carve away the candy coating veneer.

Setting aside the commentary against Margaret Thatcher and her politics – there are a plethora of reviews that discuss this parallel – this is a decent discussion about governments and seats of power trying to quell dissent and unrest. All too often, we see leaders (world, community, religious, etc) trying to head off complaints about social justice by claiming to the public that everything is fine and pressuring protestors into silence.

The lesson we learn here from the Doctor is that happiness is important, but it’s not free. The price is strife through conflict and every emotion that goes with it. Happiness isn’t a guarantee, but rather something we all must work for.

 

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

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Silver Nemesis

 

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.