Monthly Archives: August 2013

Logopolis

The second law of thermodynamics states that entropy will always increase within isolated systems. Doctor Who states that the Universe reached the point of total breakdown some time ago, and it’s only thanks to the race of Logopolitans opening up the Universe to outside pockets of spacetime using the computational power of their minds, that we’re all still here to talk about it. Now, I’ve been a fan of sci-fi since my teens, but I must confess, I’ve never known a TV show to tackle such big ideas on such a regular basis. Granted, it makes mistakes and it’s often a bit silly, but I applaud the effort.

That neon logo is so outrageous it could get arrested by the Logopolice. (Sorry.)

That neon logo is so outrageous it could get arrested by the Logopolice. (Sorry.)

It’s also remarkable how it portrays these Universe-shattering events through a lens of the ordinary. This serial does look a bit cheaply made, in part due to half of it being set on Earth, on the side of a road, inside the Tardis, or in an alien facility that just happens to have been modelled on an exact duplicate of a radio telescope control room on Earth. But, for what it’s worth, I enjoyed the down-to-Earth nature of it and felt it was a fitting conclusion to the season. In particular, visiting the site of one of the last blue police boxes in the country in 1981 feels appropriate.

A nice model of the Logopolis landscape.

A nice model of the Logopolis landscape.

It’s also amusing how such a big event type story has such innocent beginnings, as the Doctor only intends to take his Tardis for a spruce-up, having spent much of the first episode talking to Adric about entropy, the chameleon circuit and police boxes. The Master preempts his plans by disguising his Tardis as another police box, leading to another brilliant Tardis-inside-Tardis sequence, and in the process picking up another stowaway in Tegan, the aussie air-stewardess.

The Doctor forms a temporary alliance with the Master, as portrayed by Anthony Ainley. Hints of Roger Delgado, but much more subdued.

The Doctor forms a temporary alliance with the Master, as portrayed by Anthony Ainley. Hints of Roger Delgado, but much more subdued.

With Nyssa returning from Traken, we have an excess of companions now. They don’t play much of a part in this story and feel superfluous, but I guess the foundations are being laid for the new Doctor’s stories.

Of the three companions, Tegan is potentially the most interesting, or at least the most human (literally), although her introduction slows the early pace of the story.

Of the three companions, Tegan is potentially the most interesting, or at least the most human (literally), although her introduction slows the early pace of the story.

Speaking of the new Doctor, this is of course Tom Baker’s final serial. While I will shortly lay down some thoughts on his epic run of seven seasons, for now I will say that his exit was dignified and without theatrics. Interestingly, he knew it was coming. So did I, of course, but the presence of the ‘Watcher’ was an unexpected twist on the regeneration process. Admittedly, I did twig early on that he was probably a future incarnation of the Doctor, but I expected a scooby-doo “mask reveal” scene, not what actually turned out to be a sort of ghostly extra life that absorbed into him. Thinking about it, that doesn’t really make much sense.

The actual regeneration sequence is elaborate, going from Tom Baker's face to a mask, to a made-up face and finally to a smiling Peter Davison.

The actual regeneration sequence is elaborate, going from Tom Baker’s face to a mask, to a made-up face and finally to a smiling Peter Davison.

And won’t somebody please think of the entropy? Did the giant satellite dish fix the Universe? Will Logopolis rebuild itself? Is it necessary any more? Don’t get me wrong, if there is a place for Universe-ending storylines, a season finale is probably it – but please don’t set up something that you can’t resolve before the time’s up. Then again, maybe the new fresh-faced fifth Doctor will clean up the Master’s mess. Here’s hoping!

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The Keeper of Traken

With the E-Space ‘trilogy’ behind me, I am now very much aware that I am coming to the end of an era, as I watch the last of Tom Baker’s episodes as the Doctor. I figure things are going to end for him one way or another on Gallifrey, but before they get there, there is first an urgent matter to deal with on a peaceful little planet, whose leader (Keeper) is coming to the end of his life and reign.

The power of the Traken empire and its 'source' is implied early on, as the eldery Keeper is able to appear within the Tardis to ask the Doctor for help.

The power of the Traken empire and its ‘source’ is implied early on, as the eldery Keeper is able to appear within the Tardis to ask the Doctor for help.

This story could have been pretty boring, consisting as it does of a woman talking to a statue for much of it. But then the unmistakable sound of another Tardis materialising transforms it into an intriguing reunion between the Doctor and an old nemesis. The Master hasn’t been seen since his appearance in The Deadly Assassin, and I totally didn’t expect him to turn up again here. It’s funny how dropping an old face into a story can make all the difference, rather than cooking up a brand new villain, the all-powerful ‘source’ being an ideal goal for his huge ambition, as he seeks a way to escape death yet again.

The Master attempts to steal the Doctor's body. Freaky.

The Master attempts to steal the Doctor’s body. Freaky.

Unlike his previous appearance, the Master’s face is a little more human here, albeit disfigured and burned, so he is able to have some decent banter with the Doctor without having to talk through a mask. I guess it’s a shame that it doesn’t last very long, as with Adric’s help, the source is disrupted and the Master’s power is lost, but I was pleased that he assumes a new body at the end and escapes. As a symbol of relentless determination across time and space, the Master is undoubtedly one of the best adversaries in this series. Using him sparingly like this, and without announcement, works very well.

The statue design is kind of cool, I suppose.

The statue design is kind of cool, I suppose.

Otherwise, yeah, the story was okay. Nothing special, a bit too much po-faced ritual, melodrama and blandness. If it wasn’t for the Master turning up, I would have been pretty bored. Tom Baker’s Doctor continues to elevate everything to a pleasingly watchable level, and Adric actually did something useful this time.

Warriors’ Gate

I don’t think I’ve ever been quite so confused watching Doctor Who before. After three parts, I still had no idea what was actually going on. Lion-faced people, a magic mirror, fragments of a castle in a contracting universe, robotic suits of armour, something about “time winds”, a crew of layabouts in a ship made from something that seems like it should be important but on top of everything else the story is throwing at me, just washes over me in a haze of “buh?”

All that remains of the Tharil's castle, in the void. I guess. To be honest, I have no idea.

All that remains of the Tharil’s castle, in the void. I guess. To be honest, I have no idea.

It’s only in part four that things start to make sense. The lion-faced people are time-sensitive beings who are abused by traders as slaves to pilot their ships through the time streams. They live in the space between dimensions, a sort of no-man’s land. They were apparently a bit nasty in the past, keeping human slaves themselves. The stuff with the mirror? No idea. The best I can say is that it looked pretty cool. Some of the direction is very nicely staged, particularly the slow tracking shot through the ship at the start (someone was a fan of Alien, I take it?). There’s an otherworldly vibe about the whole thing, eerie sounds, a sense of mystery, and the story at least tries to be a bit cerebral, teasing you with time effects. Unfortunately, I don’t think it makes any sense. What was the bit with the coin toss all about? Something about 50/50 chances? What does it even mean? What? WHAT?!!

It's the Firefly class ship Serenity... no, wait.

It’s the Firefly class ship Serenity… no, wait.

Admittedly, it probably is a story that benefits from repeat viewings, but that is beyond the scope of this project; each episode gets one chance, and with Warriors’ Gate, that chance was spent with me scratching my head and failing to follow what was happening. I can’t even imagine what it must have been like to watch it in four weekly instalments back in 1980. Baffling, I’d guess. For me, it was just boring.

Lane and Royce provide some bumbling humour.

Lane and Royce provide some bumbling humour.

So, Romana is staying behind with K-9. Given she didn’t want to return to Gallifrey, that’s understandable, but the nature of her departure is very spur-of-the-moment and strange. No stranger than anything else that happens, mind you. I suppose I grew to like Romana, but I maintain she has been a non-entity, little more than a mirror for the Doctor, or a mentor for K-9, with little character development of her own. She could have been a role model for Adric, but now that’s not going to happen. And K-9? Well, if he doesn’t come back as another incarnation (Mk.3, anyone?) then I will miss that little metal dog. As for E-Space? I’m glad to see the back of it.

Romana and K-9 leave with Biroc to help them free the slaves or something. Also they're in a black-and-white photo for some reason.

Romana and K-9 leave with Biroc to help them free the slaves or something. Also they’re in a black-and-white photo for some reason.

State of Decay

I dislike it when alien cultures are portrayed as Ye Olde Earthe, but in the case of State of Decay, at least there is an attempt to justify it. Having been pulled into e-space thousands of years ago by an ancient giant vampire, three human astronauts have become immortal, lords over a village of peasants, their rocket ship towering above them all. Denying knowledge and science under penalty of death, a small group of rebels learns in secret, and then the Doctor arrives to help things along.

The Earth ship, Hydrax, now a castle, symbol of power... and mighty projectile weapon.

The Earth ship, Hydrax, now a castle, symbol of power… and mighty projectile weapon.

There’s a real danger with doing a horror story like this that it will end up being corny. Unfortunately, I think State of Decay suffers in that respect. The vampire lords look and act in a stereotypical vampire fashion, with pale-faced stares and the power to hypnotise mortals. There’s ritual sacrifice yet again (yawn), the imagery is gothic and clichéd, with rubbish-looking bats swooping about. The subplot with the villagers is pretty boring, and newcomer Adric’s part in the story feels like it was written in as an afterthought (and it probably was). At this point, Adric is basically pointless – an irritating character who does nothing of any use. By contrast, Romana and the Doctor’s scenes play out naturally and they have developed a rapport. It’s a shame Romana is caught and has to play the damsel role at the end, but the story is one big cliché anyway.

"Oooh, ve're wampires! I vant to suck your blood!"

“Oooh, ve’re wampires! I vant to suck your blood!”

But the resolution is wonderfully ridiculous, as the Doctor uses the old rocket ship as a gigantic stake through the heart. Some of the imagery is also quite dark, with tubes of blood feeding the vampire, bodies drained of all life, and finally the vampire lords decaying and falling to the floor in a pile of dust. I liked that.

The Great One rises from his slumber. Remarkable timing, I must say.

The Great One rises from his slumber. Remarkable timing, I must say.

There’s also an attempt to fit a fantastic legend into the story, of how all vampire tales are based on these creatures, which the Time Lords battled many ages ago, destroying them with mighty “bow ships”, until the last of its kind disappeared, never to be seen again (until now). It’s just a story, admittedly, but it sets off the imagination. It’s probably for the best, then, that we don’t get a good glimpse of the creature itself. Just a (rubbish-looking) image on a scanner screen and then a giant hand rising from the ground.

The rebels use Ceefax to identify the Hydrax crew.

The rebels use Ceefax to identify the Hydrax crew.

Both this serial and the last have dealt with very similar themes: civilisations that have stagnated or regressed; names that have been changed beyond recognition; or purposes lost to time. Perhaps this is a feature of e-space, but if so, I feel there is more that can be done with it than a vampire story. I’m hoping for something a bit better next. Oh, and drop that kid Adric back home as soon as possible, thanks. Or just leave him anywhere. Or kick him into space. You know, whatever’s quickest.

"Hello, I'm Adric. I'm going to eat your food, complain about things and then fail to rescue to Romana."

“Hello, I’m Adric. I’m going to eat your food, complain about things and then fail to rescue to Romana.”

Full Circle

The silly humour of the past couple of seasons seems to have virtually disappeared now, as this next story goes full circle (as it were!) back to its darker sci-fi roots. Tom Baker is still a delight and still makes the odd witty quip, but it almost seems like he’s a beacon of light in a story that features horrible marshmen killing people, spiders jumping onto people’s faces and even K-9 being beheaded!

The marshmen emerge from the misty swamp. Brrr!!

The marshmen emerge from the misty swamp. Brrr!!

Indeed, there is some imagery in Full Circle that would have scared the wits out of kids watching this back in the eighties, such as the sequence where those marshmen rise from the misty swamp waters at the end of part one, eerily reminiscent of a scene from The Sea Devils. The marshmen are a somewhat more frightening prospect, however, with their pig-like grunts and stretched skin. Up close, however, they do just appear to be men in crude rubber suits.

A lot of this serial was filmed outdoors, lending it a natural style.

A lot of this serial was filmed outdoors, lending it a natural style.

Some more things I liked about Full Circle. Firstly, the concept of descendents of a civilisation carrying out ongoing repairs of their ship, unaware of what they’re really doing – that has definite hints of The Face of Evil to it, only these people aren’t savages, just epic procrastinators. Secondly, the holy books being called the System Files, it has a modern computing feel to it. Is it a coincidence that one of the characters is called “Login” (log in)? Was that even a known term back in 1980 or am I reading too much into it? Thirdly, there is some actual character development for Romana! Well, I say “development” – at best, she’s sad for a little while as she expresses her desire to not return to Gallifrey, which gives us the first hints of her motivations. Fourthly, some of the music in this story is really nice; there’s a flute like motif that plays every so often, with hints of the theme tune to it. It’s sort of synthy but tranquil. Lastly, I suppose the twist about what the marshmen really are is kind of clever. It’s always more interesting when monsters aren’t just monsters.

A possessed Romana opens the airlock to let the marshmen inside.

A possessed Romana opens the airlock to let the marshmen inside.

But there are a few things I felt were a bit disappointing. At the start of the story, the Doctor and Romana are en route to Gallifrey. When the accident happens, I almost expected them to have arrived in the past, with the natives being pre-civilisation Gallifreyans, in some sort of Genesis of the Time Lords type story, and then I was let down when it wasn’t. I also feel that the cycle of the spiders, marshmen and the natives could have been explored better. Why, for instance, would spider bites brainwash the natives (and Romana) into obeying them? The spiders were hidden inside the river fruit, which could have been a cool twist where they are routinely let inside the starliner and start turning all the people into marshmen, starting a new cycle that way or something. It didn’t quite happen like that.

Just what the Tardis needs, another know-it-all wunderkind!

Just what the Tardis needs, another know-it-all wunderkind!

Finally, I really didn’t take to any of the youngsters. Adric in particular is a bit of an annoying character who serves no real purpose, and it would appear that he’s sticking around, while the Tardis is still trapped in the exo-space dimension. Still, anything that freshens up the dynamic of the show is fine with me.