Timestamp #130: The Five Doctors

Doctor Who: The Five Doctors
(Twentieth Anniversary Special, 1983)

 

“I am being diminished, whittled away piece by piece. A man is the sum of his memories you know, a Time Lord even more so…”

After a heart-touching introduction by the First Doctor, we find the Fifth Doctor – To save on confusion, I’m going to call them by number right out of the gate – putting the finishing touches on a brand new control console, and I actually kind of like it. The team is relaxing at the Eye of Orion, taking some time away from the rush of their recent adventures. The tranquil atmosphere has something to do with a bombardment of positive ions, and the Doctor agrees with Tegan that they can vacation for a little while.

Elsewhere, a black-gloved hand fiddles with controls and activates a scanner. On the screen is none other than the First Doctor (though not quite the genuine article due to an obvious need for recasting). A black Phantom Zone-like two-dimensional triangle swoops down and scoops up the Time Lord, an act that causes the Fifth Doctor considerable pain. The First Doctor is reduced to an Eaglemoss figurine and placed on a crystalline display.

Next up, we’re taken to UNIT HQ where Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart is talking to his replacement, Colonel Crighton, when the Second Doctor arrives. The Time Lord has arrived to attend the Brig’s farewell speech and is unhappy with the renovations at UNIT HQ. He and the Brigadier take a walk, reminiscing over the Yeti, the Cybermen, Omega, and the Terrible Zodin (okay, not so much that one) before they too are swept into the Phantom Zone and turned into toys.

On to the Third Doctor, who is trying to outrace the spinning triangle in Bessie. He fails.

Tegan and Turlough escort the Fifth Doctor to the TARDIS, where he tells them that he must find his older selves to stop whatever is chewing at his soul. Meanwhile, back on Earth, Sarah Jane and K9 puzzle over the danger that the robotic dog detects. Sarah Jane ignores his concerns and heads to the bus for her daily schedule. She’s later consumed by the mysterious triangle.

The Fourth Doctor and Romana are punting down the river at Cambridge, just like they did in Shada. It’s a clever re-use of footage, really. Anyway, they are also taken, which causes the Fifth Doctor to collapse, but not before he sets the coordinates. The Fifth Doctor fades in and out before the TARDIS lands, and the mysterious figure adds models of Tegan, Turlough, and the Fifth Doctor to the display.

On Gallifrey, the Inner Council has convened, comprised of a newly-regenerated President Borusa, High Chancellor Flavia, and the Castellan. Shockingly, they admit the Master for a conference. The Inner Council offer a pardon for his long list of crimes and a whole new regeneration cycle in exchange for one act: He is to rescue the Doctor.

Surprise!

The First Doctor wanders an angular cave of mirrors, joined in a surprise appearance by Susan. (There were cheers from this Whovian. I’ve missed her.) The pair run as a Dalek (we haven’t seen them in a while!) rounds a corner and opens fire. The place is known as the Death Zone, an arena-like place on Gallifrey where beings from across the universe were sent to battle for amusement before the time of Rassilon. The Council sent two representatives who did not return. They attempted to send the Doctor, but all of his incarnations have vanished from the timeline. All of them (except the Fourth because Tom Baker had reasons) have been deposited in the Death Zone. Inside the Zone, the First Doctor and Susan trick the Dalek into a mirrored dead end. It fires and the reflected beam destroys the creature, revealing the mutant within the armored casing. Through a hole in the wall, they see the tower of the Death Zone and decide to investigate.

Elsewhere, the Second Doctor and the Brigadier tangle with Cybermen and the Third Doctor reunites with Sarah Jane as he rescues her from a terrible fall. As the First Doctor and Susan wander, they find the Fifth Doctor’s TARDIS and meet Tegan, Turlough, and the Fifth Doctor. The First Doctor spearheads introductions all around and then tasks Tegan with fetching refreshments. She objects, but the Fifth Doctor asks her to humor the oldest of the Doctors. After all, he used to get a bit tetchy. Meanwhile, the Master is sent into the Zone with the Seal of the High Council (to prove his credentials) and a transmat recall device. He is soon found by the Third Doctor and Sarah Jane, but the reunion is broken up by laser fire. The Master runs one direction while the Third Doctor and Sarah Jane go another, but without the aid of Bessie who took a direct hit to the engine.

The Fifth Doctor sets the TARDIS coordinates for the Dark Tower, a place that supposedly holds the tomb of Rassilon and is the current destination for all of the Doctors and companions. The Fifth Doctor, Susan, and Tegan set out on foot to disable the force field around it so the First Doctor and Turlough can move the TARDIS to its doorstep. Meanwhile, the Second Doctor and the Brigadier go in through the cave system beneath the tower, the Third Doctor and Sarah Jane encounter Cybermen, and the Fifth Doctor’s team encounters the Master. The last event is watched by a squad of Cybermen, who rush the Time Lords and stun the Master. The Fifth Doctor sends Susan (who twists her ankle) and Tegan back to the TARDIS before using the transmat recall to return to the capitol. The First Doctor decides to take up the Fifth Doctor’s task, and Tegan joins him. Amusingly, the First Doctor still has a great deal of resentment at being addressed as “Doc.”

The Fifth Doctor confers with the Inner Council about who has control of the time scoop and the Cybermen. He uncovers a homing beacon inside the recall device, surmising that someone led the Cybermen to the Master to attack the Doctors. Borusa has the Castellan, who originally gave the device to the Master, arrested and his office and quarters searched. Meanwhile, the Master makes an arrangement with the Cybermen, who then converge on the TARDIS.

The Third Doctor and Sarah Jane encounter a Raston Warrior Robot, a perfect killing machine, halting their progress until it passes. Luckily, the Cybermen approach and engage the Raston, providing a diversion for our heroes to escape (with the Raston’s supplies). In the caves, the Second Doctor and the Brig find a Yeti, which they evade before finding a door to the Dark Tower. It is unlocked, so a trap must lie beyond.

In the Citadel, a chest containing Black Scrolls of Rassilon, forbidden knowledge from the Dark Times, is found in the Castellan’s quarters. The Castellan is taken away for interrogation but is shot dead (without regeneration) en route. The Fifth Doctor is forbidden by Borusa from returning to the Death Zone. Flavia is tasked with taking care of the Fifth Doctor, and they discuss the possibility that the Castellan was not the traitor.

At this point, all three entrances to the Dark Tower are in use. The Third Doctor and Sarah Jane zipline across to the upper entrance, the Second Doctor and the Brigadier are in the basement, and the First Doctor and Tegan use a biometric entry coder to open the front door. The Master follows through the main entrance with the Cybermen. Interestingly, the First Doctor does not recognize his former classmate. The Master tricks the Cybermen into a death trap, but the CyberLeader survives until the Master tricks and kills him with a Cyberman blaster. The Master passes the trap, followed by the First Doctor and Tegan who survive by using π. Stay in school, kids… math can save your life.

The Third Doctor and Sarah Jane descend toward the Tomb of Rassilon, but the closer they get, the more psychic energy pushes back on Sarah Jane. The Third Doctor scouts ahead and finds former companions Mike Yates and Liz Shaw. Similarly, the Second Doctor encounters Zoe Heriot and Jaimie McCrimmon, but in both cases, the former companions are only specters designed to impede progress toward the heart of the tower. Once the Doctors understand that the companions are mere illusions, they disappear with chilling screams. The First Doctor is unaffected since, at his age, he has nothing left to fear.

The First, Second, and Third Doctors, along with their current traveling companions, finally arrive at the tomb. After a series of reunions, the Doctors decipher the Old High Gallifreyan language of mathematical symbols to discover that whoever wears Rassilon’s ring shall achieve immortality. The First Doctor is troubled by the last line in the text: “To lose is to win and he who wins shall lose.” The Master arrives shortly afterward and threatens the Doctors, but he is sucker-punched by the Brigadier and tied up by Tegan and Sarah Jane.

The Fifth Doctor goes to confer with Borusa, but the president is nowhere to be found. The Doctor discovers that the Harp of Rassilon is a musical key. The key unlocks a chamber where the figurines (including one of the Master) are being overseen by Borusa, the true mastermind of this scheme. The president is not satisfied with leading Gallifrey for all of his lifetimes, but instead want to be immortal and President Eternal. He plans to use the Doctors to clear the path and traps, leaving the way open for him to claim the prize. When the Fifth Doctor refuses to help, Borusa uses the power of the Coronet of Rassilon to compel his cooperation.

Politicians, right?

The Third Doctor reverses the polarity of the neutron flow on the control console, and with the forcefields down around the Tomb of Rassilon, the TARDIS engages autopilot and moves to the tomb with Susan and Turlough. The movement is just in time as the Cybermen detonate a bomb to destroy the TARDIS, but they miss. Soon, the Fifth Doctor and Borusa arrive via transmat to claim the prize. The first three Doctors combine their psionic powers to break the telepathic hold, and as the Fifth Doctor is freed, the voice of Rassilon issues a challenge to Borusa. The First Doctor convinces Rassilon to surrender the ring to Borusa, and the president’s desire is granted: The faces that line the plinth come to life, for they are those who have previously sought immortality, and Borusa becomes one of them.

Rassilon offers immortality to the Doctors, but they decline in exchange for the chance to go back to their respective timestreams. The Fourth Doctor is restored to Shada, and the Master is restored with the promise that his sins will find their punishment in due time. As the Doctors says their farewells, the First Doctor (smugly) explains that he convinced Rassilon to give Borusa the ring because he finally understood the riddle: It was a trap set by Rassilon to weed out the more selfish of their people because they were a danger to civilization. Each set of Doctors and companions boards the TARDIS in order and the TARDIS splits through a form of temporal fission to return them their proper homes.

Chancellor Flavia arrives and tells the Doctor that he is due back to the Citadel. Since Borusa has been disqualified, the High Council has decided that the Doctor shall resume his duties as Lord President. He orders Flavia back to the Citadel, telling her that she has full authority until he arrives in his TARDIS. After ushering Tegan and Turlough aboard, he sets a course and dematerializes, stunning his companions by announcing his intention to not take office.

“You mean you’re deliberately choosing to go on the run from your own people, in a rackety old TARDIS?”

“Why not? After all, that’s how it all started.”

 

All in all, this was a wonderful story to celebrate a significant milestone. I was curious, so I looked at scripted entertainment television across the United States and United Kingdom and came up with a short list of shows to reach twenty years by 1983: Coronation Street, Guiding Light, As the World Turns, General Hospital, The Wonderful World of Disney, Romper Room, Search for Tomorrow, Captain Kangaroo, and The Edge of Night. There were also a couple of semi-scripted children’s shows like Blue Peter and The Sooty Show, but the fact remains that, in a world dominated by soap opera longevity, Doctor Who was the only science-fiction drama reach that mark.

Yeah, they deserved this party.

I was very pleased to see so many of the companions back in action, even if their cameos were short. While I would have loved to see Liz, Zoe, and Jamie get into the mix, the saying holds true that too many cooks spoil the broth. It was clever, however, to subvert nostalgia with the canonical circumstances of The War Games. I appreciate that level of attention to detail.

I did miss having Tom Baker in the mix, which would have drawn The Five Doctors down to four if it hadn’t been for Richard Hurndall. From what I gather in fan circles, his involvement as the First Doctor is sometimes disparaged, but I thought he did a fantastic job. Mixing his performance with the archival footage at the beginning (effectively bringing us two First Doctors) was a nice touch and a beautiful tribute to the beginnings of this franchise.

Finally, that wonderful musical mix over the end credits to tie the eras together: C’est fantastique.

 

Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”

 

 

UP NEXT – Twentieth 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.

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Timestamp: Nineteenth Series Summary

Doctor Who: Nineteenth Series Summary

timestamp-logo-fourth-fifth

 

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

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

Unfortunately, that drags everything right back to average.

 

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

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

 

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

Series Nineteen Average Rating: 3.1/5

 

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Arc of Infinity

 

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

Timestamp: Eighteenth Series and Fourth Doctor Summary

Doctor Who: Eighteenth Series and Fourth Doctor Summary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Series Eighteen Average Rating: 4.2/5

timestamp-fourth-doctor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fourth Doctor’s Weighted Average Rating: 3.67

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

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

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

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

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

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

Timestamp: Eleventh Series and Third Doctor Summary

Doctor Who: Eleventh Series and Third Doctor Summary

Timestamp Logo Third 2

 

The Eleventh Series bounces back from the slight dip in the Tenth Series, but that’s not without caveats. Two of the stories were easy marks: The Time Warrior was a straight-up 5, and The Monster of Peladon – rest in peace, brave Aggedor – was a solid 4. But each of the other ones in this series took a little, shall we say, extra consideration. Invasion of the Dinosaurs and Death to the Daleks benefitted from optimistic mathematics, but Planet of the Spiders only scored well because of the regeneration handicap and the addition of franchise mythology in an already heavily padded story.

This season heralded the passing of the torch for the Third Doctor’s run: UNIT is phased out more and more as one of the strongest companions so far gets introduced. Sarah Jane Smith is so fantastic, from her journalistic inquisitiveness to her proactivity and fiery nature. She definitely has not let me down.

Out of the Third Doctor’s run, this one was the second highest rated behind the Ninth Series. It’s also the second highest rated for the entire Timestamps Project to date, barely edging out the Fifth Series. But I think a lot of the turbulence for me in this series has a lot to do with one major component of the Third Doctor’s era: Convenience.

 

The Time Warrior – 5
Invasion of the Dinosaurs – 4
Death to the Daleks – 4
The Monster of Peladon – 4
Planet of the Spiders – 4

Series Eleven Average Rating: 4.2/5

 

Timestamp Third Doctor

 

Remember how I referred to William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton as anchors for the audience? I think it still holds here. Jon Pertwee’s introduction ushered in a lot of changes for the franchise, and it meant that the Doctor had to change a bit as well. If the First Doctor is the Wise Grandfather and the Second Doctor is the Sly Jester, then the Third Doctor is the Secret Agent Scientist.

The James Bond influence is strong in Pertwee’s run, from the Lazenby-style ruffles to the ad hoc gadgets and super-powered vehicles. Unfortunately, those efforts to appeal to modern audiences come at the price of adding convenience to the franchise. I wanted to know how often I called out the convenience in the stories, so I searched the Timestamps Project for the term and came up with sixteen hits. Of those, half of them were in the Third Doctor’s run alone.

In The Ambassadors of Death, it was the antagonist’s communicator and a gadget on Bessie. In The Curse of Peladon, it was the plot device that removed the TARDIS as an escape vector and the Time Lord interference that sent the Doctor there. In Carnival of Monsters, it was Jo’s skeleton keys. In Frontier in Space, it was the quick clearing-of-the-stage appearance of the Daleks. In Planet of the Daleks, it was the secret information that the Time Lords provided to the Doctor about the large Dalek force. In Invasion of the Dinosaurs, it was the selective nature of the time bubble machine. In Planet of the Spiders, it was both the Whomobile’s sudden flight mode and the ability of Yates and Tommy to survive a blast that essentially killed a Time Lord.

In the one that I can excuse, The Three Doctors kept an infirm William Hartnell confined to a time eddy.

But that’s still seven occurrences in five series related to one Doctor. Hartnell and Troughton each had four hits on my search, and I’m willing to admit that it’s probably more prevalent, the fact remains that it really stood out during this Doctor’s run. To me, that represents a substantial change in the franchise overall. This isn’t the same Doctor Who as it was under Hartnell and Troughton.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Doctor Who had been running for seven years before the Third Doctor, and those seven years were, for the most part, pretty consistent. Television shows these days are lucky to get three or four years unless they’re medical procedurals (ER, Grey’s Anatomy), crime procedurals (Law & Order, Bones), or Supernatural. Star Treks generally got seven seasons (arguably, four of which were consistent). Babylon 5 ran for five years (and some extras) and Farscape ran for four years (and a miniseries). Closer to the 1960s, the original Star Trek only got three years, and depending on who you ask, it was consistent for two.

With those odds, it made sense that Doctor Who would have to evolve (regenerate) in order to survive. It will likely happen again.

So, what did I think of the character? I liked him, though not as much as the scores would indicate. In my opinion, the Third Doctor’s episodes were generally superior to those of his predecessors, but the character himself suffered from his exile. He was frequently snotty, condescending, and downright rude, and while that made sense to the story, those aren’t character traits that I admire. I loved that he brought science back to the forefront with his constant experimentation and exploration, but he didn’t really start to shine for me until he got his keys back.

He’s a man defined by his wheels – Bessie, the Whomobile, the TARDIS – and that makes him kind of shallow.

And I seriously hope that one of those, the Whomobile, stays in the garage.

The Third Doctor’s run consistently has some of my favorite work in the series, and it scores the highest as a result, but outside of the numbers I still favor the Second Doctor as a character.

 

Series 7 – 3.8
Series 8 – 3.4
Series 9 – 4.8
Series 10 – 3.8
Series 11 – 4.2

Third Doctor’s Weighted Average Rating: 4.00

 

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

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

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Robot

 

 

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 #74: Planet of the Spiders

Doctor Who: Planet of the Spiders
(6 episodes, s11e21-e26, 1974)

Timestamp 074 Planet of the Spiders

 

I don’t like spiders. I’ll try not to let that color my commentary.

Mike Yates, who we haven’t seen since his betrayal of UNIT and the Doctor, is recuperating at a Buddhist meditation center led by a man named K’anpo and his assistant, Cho Je. He finds a secret group in the basement that may be up to no good, so he calls Sarah Jane and they investigate matters. On the way back to the center, Sarah Jane is convinced of the fascinating tale when they get run off the road by an imaginary tractor. The leader of the secret group, Mr. Lupton, meets the cinematic standard of a villain since he physically abuses and bullies Tom, a man with a mental disability.

The Doctor is at a comedy show of some sort with the Brigadier. He’s there to see a psychic, Professor Herbert Clegg, who he invites to UNIT. Clegg is a very powerful clairvoyant, and he submits to some experiments to determine his full strength. One, for example, summons experiences from the sonic screwdriver and displays them on a monitor. During this evaluation, a package arrives from Jo Grant containing the crystal from Metebilis III, which is an odd way to re-gift a wedding present. Professor Clegg has a violent psychic reaction to the crystal, resulting in a fatal fear-induced heart attack. Simultaneously, Lupton’s group summons an intelligent and powerful spider from another dimension, and that spider merges with Lupton’s body. Sarah Jane and Yates witness this event, and she returns to UNIT and relays the tale to the Doctor.

The Doctor gazes into the crystal, sees the hermit who lived behind his childhood home, and relays the story to the Brigadier. Meanwhile, Lupton is driven by the spider to seek the crystal at UNIT HQ. He forces his way in and steals the crystal, which prompts an extensive chase. Lupton steals the Whomobile, so Sgt. Benton, Sarah Jane, and the Brigadier follow in Bessie, while the Doctor provides air support in a small, one-man helicopter. After the whole group breaks some local speed laws, a police officer joins the chase in a moment of levity. After they all stop at an airport, Lupton steals the helicopter, and the Doctor and Sarah Jane continue pursuit in the Whomobile, which (conveniently) can now fly. The ground chase gives way to a water chase involving a hovercraft and a speedboat, which results in a several rather obvious reveals of the Jon Pertwee’s stunt double. When the Doctor finally catches up to the speedboat, Lupton has vanished.

Take a moment and catch your breath.

Lupton apparates back to the retreat and is seen by Tommy, who only has eyes for the crystal and covets it for his collection of “pretties.” As the Doctor and Sarah Jane track Lupton back to the retreat, the Lupton-Spider calls home to the spider community on Metebilis III and conspires to take over Earth. The spider attempts to coerce Lupton through telepathic pain, but Lupton levels up and reverses the effect on the spider. Meanwhile, Tommy steals the crystal and hides it in his cupboard under the stairs.

I found the fact that he lives under the stairs to be quite interesting. It’s part of the Madwoman in the Attic trope, where the socially undesirable member of the house is locked away from public view to save face. In some cases, this person ends up being the hero of the story of a fulcrum to pivot the plot and enable the hero to save the day. Three of my favorite examples are Boo Radley in To Kill a Mockingbird, Scorpius in Farscape, and Harry Potter in the franchise of the same name.

Tommy takes Sarah Jane to look at the crystal, but Sarah Jane overhears Lupton and follows him to the basement. She asks Tommy to relay her plans to Yates and watches Lupton apparate to Metebilis III. She inadvertently follows him and gets captured by a group of humans who are subjects to the queen spider and her society of Eight Legs. The queen just happens to visit the village and Sarah Jane is discovered. The Doctor gives chase in the TARDIS and arrives just as the queen discovers Sarah Jane. The Doctor gets into a fight with the queen’s human guards, and is eventually incapacitated and left for dead as the queen and her retinue depart. During the fracas, Sarah Jane hides in the crowd.

Back on Earth, Tommy gets into an altercation with Lupton’s comrades. He returns to his cupboard and gazes into the crystal, which heals his brain. On Metebilis III, Lupton realizes that he is a only a cog in the overall Eight Leg machine designed to overthrow the queen. Sarah Jane retrieves a machine from the TARDIS to help heal the Doctor, but she is captured by the Eight Legs. One of the indentured humans uses the machine to help the Doctor as Sarah Jane learns the history of Metebilis III from a fellow captive named Sabor. The humans are descendants of a crashed spaceship, and the Eight Legs are spiders that were on the ship and were mutated by the crystals.

The Doctor investigates different types of stones around the human village and finds one that negates the energy attacks of the Eight Legs followers. He infiltrates the spider fortress and is captured, but escapes using techniques learned from Harry Houdini. As the Doctor makes his way to the lair of the Great One, the supreme spider, the queen takes Sarah Jane and confides in her that the queen wants peace with humanity. Sarah Jane agrees to get the crystal if the humans are all released.

The Doctor reaches the lair of the Great One, but she warns him not to go any further due to intense radiation. She wants the crystal, the last perfect crystal of power, but the Doctor doesn’t yield. The Great One telepathically forces the Doctor to march about like a tin soldier (to music very reminiscent of the march of the Cybermen), before releasing him so he can retrieve the crystal. He escapes with Sarah Jane, who has apparently learned how to apparate from the queen, and they return to Earth.

Lupton’s followers open the gateway to the spiders, who transport to Earth. The spiders attack Cho Je and Yate, and then possess the followers. They then attack the Doctor and Sarah Jane, who are saved by Tommy before being taken to K’anpo. During their discussion, K’anpo is very impressed with the Doctor’s knowledge of Tibetan customs, and the Doctor feels that K’anpo is familiar to him.

In the interim, the spiders track the crystal to Tommy, and they fire on him with their Force lightning energy beams. At this point, it’s painfully obvious how much padding this serial has. The recaps in each episode are pretty long, but the last one is the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back with significant re-editing to reveal things that would have spoiled the cliffhanger. I’m sure it was different back in 1974 when the break between episodes was a whole week, but when they’re watched back-to-back, the extensive recaps become painful. Regardless, this whole serial could be cut down into three or four episodes instead of six.

Anyway, the spiders track the crystal to Tommy because Tommy delivered it to K’anpo. At this point, we find out that Sarah Jane is under the control of the queen, who has tricked her to retrieve the crystal. K’anpo and the Doctor free her with the crystal, and the queen dies as she apparates back to Metebilis III. In a twist, K’anpo is revealed as the hermit from the Doctor’s childhood. He is a Time Lord as well, but chose not to follow the path of others like the Doctor, having regenerated and left Gallifrey to live in Tibet. Cho Je is merely a projection of K’anpo’s mind.

Here we are with some important mythology points: We learn the name for regeneration, as well as getting another reference to the Doctor stealing the TARDIS and running from Gallifrey.

The Doctor communes with K’anpo and realizes that he must take the crystal to the Great One. His greed for knowledge and his theft of the crystal set all of this in motion, and only he can stop it by facing his fears.

Outside, Tommy is resisting the spider lightning, so Lupton’s followers channel power from the spider council on Metebilis III and use it to attack Tommy. He resists the first blast, and Yates dives in to take the second. The followers burst into K’anpo’s chambers just as the hermit tells the Doctor how to apparate. The followers shoot K’anpo before running for the basement, but the Doctor is too quick for them. He returns to Metebilis III, but is betrayed by the villagers who are under the influence of the spider council. The Doctor easily convinces the council that he will return the crystal to the Great One alone, and they allow him to leave. Afterward, the Eight Legs kill Lupton for his insolence.

Back on Earth, Yates and Tommy have (conveniently) survived, the former being protected by his compassion, and the latter by his innocence. Given that the same blasts force K’anpo to regenerate into Cho Je, I think that Yates and Tommy should have died. It certainly would have given Yates a bit of redemption after his betrayal.

The Doctor enters the lair of the Great One, who desires the perfect crystal to complete a telepathic weapon that will saturate the universe with her mind. She takes the crystal and puts it in place, but the device overloads and destroys her and the Eight Legs civilization. The Doctor escapes, but is weakened from the large dose of radiation he absorbed.

Three weeks later, the Doctor is still missing. As the Brigadier and Sarah Jane discuss the Doctor’s absence, the TARDIS materializes. The Doctor falls out of the TARDIS, just as he did when he first arrived, after being lost in the time vortex. He has received a fatal dose of radiation and is dying. He says his goodbyes to Sarah Jane, and then regenerates.

Tucked into his farewells is the phrase “Where there’s life, there is hope,” which comes from the Roman play Heauton Timorumenos, but also has roots all over mythology. It’s a universal theme, and very relevant to the character of the Doctor, a being who brings hope everywhere he goes spanning lifetime after lifetime.

Overall, I had a hard time with this story. If it were presented on its own, I’d score it as a 2. It’s far too spread out and padded, especially in the recaps, but it gains some salvation in the ties into the franchise’s mythology, especially for reaching into our hero’s childhood once again. Adding a point for those ties and another for the regeneration handicap, and this one comes to a total of 4, but I still think that it’s a pretty bad way for the Third Doctor to end his era.

 

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

 

UP NEXT – Eleventh Series and Third Doctor Summary

 

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

 

 

Timestamp #73: The Monster of Peladon

Doctor Who: The Monster of Peladon
(6 episodes, s11e15-e20, 1974)

Timestamp 073 The Monster of Peladon

 

The Doctor returns to Peladon, and that means we get more Aggedor! Well, kind of.

As this serial gets rolling, I hadn’t noticed before now that the opening credits have a glitch. When the Third Doctor transforms into a silhouette and joins the wormhole effect, the zooming leaves an artifact in the lower left corner of the screen until the Doctor Who logo appears. I can’t un-see it now.

Anyway, back to Peladon. Three miners are moving a device called the sonic lance when they are attacked by something called the “Spirit of Aggdeor”. It’s no surprise that the miners are afraid and refuse to work any longer, and it’s also no surprise that it’s time for the Doctor to arrive. Right on cue, the Doctor brings Sarah Jane to Peladon to show her “one of the most interesting places” he knows, and they are almost immediately apprehended.

They are taken before the queen, the daughter of the king we saw on the Doctor’s last trip to Peladon, who is working with the Federation delegates to keep mining production moving. Our travelers arrived in the height of war between the Federation and Galaxy Five, and their appearance correlates with fears of enemy spies being implanted in the Federation. It’s been fifty years since the Doctor was last on Peladon, but the queen knows the legends of the Doctor, and his life is saved by old friend Alpha Centauri, who vouches for the Doctor.

Sarah Jane is fiery. So awesome!

The miners are extracting a mineral for the war effort, and are upset with their way of life which hasn’t improved in the last fifty years. Their leadership is split between Gebek (who negotiates with the queen for improvement) and Ettis (who relies on violence, including taking over a Federation armory), and they have some unintentionally hilarious hairstyles.

After the Spirit attacks again, the Doctor appeals to the queen to let him investigate before she takes rash action against the rebels. The queen sends her champion with the Doctor to investigate the last site of the Spirit’s appearance when Ettis sets off an explosion. The Spirit appears, kills the champion, and then vanishes. Gebek uses the sonic lance to free the Doctor, who escapes just before the Spirit attacks again, and the Doctor and Gebek strike a deal for the good of Peladon to continue the investigation. The Doctor promises to convince the queen to improve conditions and the miners can get back to work. As the guards attack, the miners and the Doctor escape together.

Sarah Jane has gone to find the Doctor and gets lost, tripping a defense system near the refinery after seeing someone sneaking about inside. She is rescued by Alpha Centauri and Eckersley, a human miner. Meanwhile, Chancellor Ortron (mirroring High Priest Hepesh from the last Peladon adventure) convinces the queen that the Doctor is in league with the miners, and recommends that the Doctor be executed.

Ettis attacks Eckersley and forces Alpha Centauri and Sarah Jane to open the armory. After Alpha Centauri sounds the alarm, Ettis escapes with Sarah Jane, who then is captured by the palace guards. Ortron orders her taken to the temple and pins the rebellion on her and the Doctor. He throws them both into the pit to be disposed of by the real Aggedor.

Oh, Aggedor, I have missed you.

The Doctor uses the “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” lullabye on Aggedor, which works just like it did fifty years before, and they are released by the queen. Thank the Maker that the queen is finally standing up for herself! She asks the Doctor to have Gebek meet with her and discuss the miners’ grievances. The Doctor departs on his mission, but asks Sarah Jane to remain and advise the queen in how to stand up for herself. Her advice: “There’s nothing ‘only’ about being a girl.”

Yes! She’s like Jo turned up to eleven.

Gebek tries to rally the miners to a peaceful situation, but Alpha Centauri has requested Federation military support, which may exacerbate the situation. As the Doctor gets ready to assuage that problem, Ortron orders the Doctor to remain in the Citadel, and when he tries to sneak out to meet with Gebek, Ortron has him arrested. Alpha Centauri and the queen lobby for his release, but Ortron declines. The queen orders that Sarah Jane is to remain free, and Ortron agrees since, as a female, Sarah Jane cannot be a problem.

When Ortron talks about the Doctor’s “rebel friends,” he rolls the R and enunciates much like Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin in Star Wars: A New Hope. It must be part of classical British acting classes.

Sarah Jane relays the Doctor’s message to Gebek, whose men have just secured the sonic lance by force. She later confers with the queen in the presence of Alpha Centauri and Ortron on how to dissuade the incoming Federation troops, who (by procedure) cannot be recalled once summoned. Sarah Jane heads for the dungeon to release the Doctor, but Gebek offers to go in her stead. Once free, the Doctor accompanies Gebek to the refinery as the miners set up the sonic lance and prepare to lay siege on the Citadel. During all of that, Alpha Centauri contacts the Federation troops, who sound a lot like Ice Warriors, and gets an update on their deployment.

Ortron puts the plan in action by appealing to the miners to return to work and promises that after the troops leave, the queen will listen to their grievances. They agree, but are immediately attacked by the Spirit. As they run, the Doctor finishes hotwiring the refinery door and reveals two Ice Warriors.

Wait. Aren’t the Ice Warriors supposed to be friendly on Peladon? Not anymore, it seems. They take the Doctor and Gebek captive and impose martial law on Peladon. All of the players are taken to the throne room, and the Ice Warrior commander, Azaxyr, summarizes the entire affair so that he has a clear picture. He returns the miners to work under Peladonian armed guards: If the miners fail to work, they will be killed, and if the miners and guards fail to follow the plan, the Ice Warriors will execute the hostages they have taken as collateral. The Ice Warriors claim to be a Federation force operating under wartime rules of engagement.

Ettis and his miner army storm the throne room to rescue Gebek, but are immediately slain by the Ice Warriors. Only Ettis escapes, and Azaxyr decides to execute the Doctor, but is convinced by Sarah Jane, Alpha Centauri, and Eckersley that only the Doctor can convince the miners to return to work. After the Ice Warriors leave to inspect the worksite, the Doctor reasons with Sarah Jane that the figure she saw in the refinery must have been the Ice Warrior guard Sskel, and that Azaxyr and Sskel must have been on the planet before the Federation troops arrived.

Sneaky, sneaky.

The Doctor returns to the throne room and asks the miners to return to work, but the Peladonians are united as a whole against the Ice Warriors. So he asks them to pretend to work until he can solve the problem, and they agree. The miners return to work as asked: They cooperate with Azaxyr exactly as they did with Ortron. Meanwhile, the Doctor raises the temperature in the mines to weaken the Ice Warriors and give the miners a fighting chance against them. The miners attack, but Gebek learns of Ettis’s plan to destroy the Citadel with the sonic lance. The Doctor goes after Ettis while Gebek keeps Sarah Jane safe, but Sarah Jane is captured by Sskel and interrogated by Azaxyr.

The Doctor fights Ettis and is defeated, but when Ettis tries to activate the sonic lance, a self-destruct circuit — one that Azaxyr enabled when he detected the rebels moving the machine into position — destroys the machine. Ettis is killed, and the Doctor is presumed dead. Azaxyr returns the mines to normal temperature and disables the ventilation system. The Doctor wakes up from the explosion and returns to the mines. He catches Gebek up on the situation, and the Doctor heads to the refinery to restore ventilation.

Sarah Jane stages a diversion to free the queen, Ortron, Alpha Centauri, and herself from the throne room, but only Alpha Centauri and Sarah Jane escape. Ortron is killed in the attempt while trying to protect the queen. Alpha Centauri and Sarah Jane take refuge in the communication room where the ambassador sends a general distress call and Sarah Jane discovers that Eckersley is conspiring with Azaxyr to corner the market on the minerals and ship it all to Galaxy Five. Eckersley is also controlling the Spirit of Aggedor, which is a matter projection of a statue with a directional heat ray. Sarah Jane sees the Doctor on the screen and runs to join him at the refinery.

That’s two serials in a row to use the combination of a galactic emergency, essential minerals, and cornering of markets to leverage power.

Eckersley and Azaxyr return to the Citadel, and Sarah Jane distracts the refinery guard long enough for the Doctor and Gebek to incapacitate him. Azaxyr discovers Alpha Centauri in the communications room, and the ambassador is sent back to the throne room where Azaxyr intimidates the queen and Alpha Centauri reveals the truth about Eckersley and Azaxyr. The ambassador is forced to reveal Sarah Jane’s whereabouts, and Sskel is dispatched to apprehend the team at the refinery. The Doctor defeats the Ice Warriors at the refinery door with the Spirit of Aggedor, and Sskel returns to Azaxyr.

Gebek rallies the miners and the guards while the Doctor controls the Spirit from the refinery, but Eckersley amplifies the security system until it drives Sarah Jane out of the refinery and overpowers the Doctor. The miners storm the Citadel with help from the Spirit of Aggedor. Sarah Jane returns to the Citadel and holds Eckersley at gunpoint until he disables the security system. He disarms her when she sees the unconscious Doctor on the screen, and Eckersley locks her in the communications room.

The miners storm the throne room to find Azaxyr holding the queen at gunpoint. The miners lay down their swords, but then attack the Ice Warriors hand-to-hand and kill them all. The queen sends Alpha Centauri to send a message to the Federation, where the ambassador frees a morose Sarah Jane who goes to the refinery. Meanwhile, Eckersley takes the queen hostage.

The Doctor wakes up, having placed himself in a sensory withdrawl trance, and shocks Sarah Jane. He mocks her for her concern, but they return together to the throne room and learn of the queen’s peril. The Doctor dispatches the real Aggedor like a bloodhound, and the creature finds and kills Eckersley. Sadly, it dies in the assault, and the Doctor mourns his friend’s death.

I mourn as well. I’m going to miss that critter.

A short time later, the Doctor, Sarah Jane, and the queen are gathered in the throne room where Gebek is named as the new chancellor and Alpha Centauri brings news of Galaxy Five’s surrender. As the Doctor and Sarah Jane leave, she ribs him over the queen’s offer to remain as her advisor, and he playfully pushes her into the TARDIS as they head off to the next adventure.

 

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

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Planet of the Spiders

 

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 #72: Death to the Daleks

Doctor Who: Death to the Daleks
(4 episodes, s11e11-e14, 1974)

Timestamp 072 Death to the Daleks

 

Sometimes you get to go to the beach, and sometimes you get enslaved by xenophobic mutants in armored cans bent on galactic domination.

The Doctor and Sarah Jane are getting ready for a sandy vacation when the TARDIS loses all power and crashes. Main power, backup power, battery power, all of it gets drained away. Luckily, the Doctor has a kerosene lantern to light the way and they pair goes outside to investigate, but when Sarah Jane returns to the TARDIS to change out of her swimsuit, the Doctor gets pursued the planet’s natives. Sarah Jane returns and looks for the Doctor, but only finds a blood-stained lamp. Sarah Jane is pursued by the aliens and discovers a city with a large pulsing light. The city is a holy shrine, and trespassing is punishable by death. Of course, Sarah Jane is discovered and captured.

It’s a somewhat clever device to keep the travelers engaged on the planet: The TARDIS is utterly useless at this point.

The Doctor escapes captivity and encounters a Marine Space Corps expedition. The planet is Exxilon, and the expedition commander was gravely injured by the Exxilons. The humans are in search of parrinium, which is abundant on Exxilon and desperately needed to treat a plague. On their way to harvest it, their ship also lost power and crashed.

I did note that the human expedition badges look like a sideways version of the insignia from Star Trek: The Motion Picture. It’s probably just coincidence.

On cue, another ship arrives. The expedition mistakes it for a rescue mission, but it is actually a Dalek ship. The Daleks disembark and try to exterminate, but their weapons are disabled by the energy drain. The combined stranded groups consider forging an alliance since the Daleks are also seeking the parrinium. The allied team returns to the mining dome, but are ambushed en route, and the Exxilons kill one of the humans and a Dalek before taking the entire group into custody.

When they arrive at the Exxilon camp, the Doctor saves Sarah Jane from being sacrificed, but is in turn sentenced to die for his actions. The Daleks negotiate terms with the High Priest, which the humans presume are for everyone’s release. Back on their ship, the Daleks who remained on board replace their ray weapons with projectile weapons, and those Daleks arrive and take over the Exxilons. The Doctor and Sarah Jane escape into the tunnels, which is where something is lurking that will complete the interrupted sacrifice. The Daleks enslave the Exxilons for mining the parrinium, and the humans are to hunt a renegade group of Exxilons in exchange for the minerals they need, as well as hunting the Doctor and Sarah Jane.

Smart Daleks. They keep evolving as the franchise carries on, as they also now move under psychokinetic power.

The Doctor investigates a tunnel as Sarah Jane waits, where she is approached by one of the renegade Exxilons. The Doctor discovers a strange tentacle that looks like the Martian eyestalks from 1953’s War of the Worlds, and it strikes at him. He evades until a Dalek arrives, which provides him a chance to escape. The renegade Exxilon offers them refuge from the patrols, and they agree.

The Doctor was actually cheering the tentacle’s destruction of the Dalek. What was that about abhorring violence?

The renegade Exxilon, Bellal, tells the tale: The civilization was once very technologically advanced, including travelling in space. Thousands of years ago, the Exxilons built the enormous city, which the Doctor thinks might be one of the Seven Hundred Wonders of the Universe. The city became sentient and drove the Exxilons out, and the Exxilons gradually degenerated into their current primitive society which worships the thing that destroyed them. Bellal and Gotal are from another, much smaller faction which wishes to destroy the City. The Daleks also plan to destroy it so they can escape the planet, which they will do by force with explosives.

The Dalek-human alliance begins to fracture as the Exxilons are not mining fast enough. After another root comes to the surface through a body of water and kills an Exxilon and a Dalek, the Daleks move the mining operation.

Bellal describes several images from the city walls, which the Doctor has seen before on a temple in Peru on Earth. He’s not saying that it’s aliens, but maybe ancient astronauts? He decides to infiltrate the city, and tells Sarah Jane to get the humans ready for takeoff when the beacon is disabled. If he fails to return, she must leave with the humans. Two Daleks also attempt to infiltrate the city, causing Bellal and the Doctor to flee through a secret doorway. The path forward is via a series of logic, mental acuity, and intelligence tests. The Daleks are in pursuit by way of the same tests.

The Doctor and Bellal reach the city’s brain after passing the tests, but the city attempts to prevent the Doctor’s meddling by creating antibodies. He completes his modifications as the pursuing Daleks arrive, and the antibodies attack the Daleks as the Doctor and Bellal escape.

Sarah Jane finds the human camp and works with Jill Tarrant, one of the expedition members, to exchange the full mineral sacks with ones full of sand. A Dalek discovers that Jill has escaped, and instead of sounding the alarm, it self-destructs from the sheer guilt of its failure. As the Daleks load their ship, the beacon is destroyed by the explosives team and power is restored. The Doctor, Sarah Jane, Jill, and Bellal are all captured, but instead of killing them, the Daleks leave the group to die when they infect the surface with the plague. They plan to use their mineral supply to corner the market and take over the weakened powers of the universe.

No one expects Galloway, however, who kept one of the Dalek explosives and suicide bombs the ship. The remaining humans wait with the parrinium for rescue, and the city dies and melts away. The Doctor laments the loss of such a wonder.

This was along the same lines as Invasion of the Dinosaurs in that it was a decent enough story, and even with some sketchy effects, it holds its own to reach a high 3 mark. Again, I round up.

 

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

 

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Monster of Peladon

 

 

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.