Saturday, May 25, 2013
Unexpectedly I find that I like and enjoy Logopolis. I had some prejudice going in, linking it to The Keeper of Traken in my mind, and since I discovered that my vague dislike of Traken was justified I assumed the same would hold true for Logopolis. I am happy to report, Gary, that this is not so.
The story itself is superfluous. I don’t even mind that Tom Baker’s last serial is only fair to middling. Tom Baker does not need to go out in a big bang. Tom Baker’s seven year tenure as the Doctor is big bang enough. Tom Baker can stand on his Doctor Who laurels and just let this last story play out.
The plot is a bare bones Master‘s plan to control the universe backfires on him and he must team up with the Doctor to set things to rights ala those many Master stories of the Pertwee era. Along the way Logopolis ties in several key elements of the preceding serials, including the idea of entropy, CVEs, and Traken. What I like about this no frills approach is that it provides plenty of time to set up the regeneration.
The bulk of the first half of this serial is devoted to the Doctor and Adric alone in the TARDIS and to introducing the audience to Tegan, destined to become the Doctor’s new companion.
Let me start with the Doctor and Adric. The Doctor is in a reflective, almost somber mood as he considers the rapidly aging state of the TARDIS. “The more you put things together, the more they keep falling apart,” he tells Adric. Following the Doctor around like a loyal puppy dog, Adric provides just the right sort of innocuous note, asking questions and prodding the Doctor along in his musings.
Starting in the ivy-covered Cloister Room, peeking in at Romana’s abandoned bedroom (“I suppose we’re going to miss Romana”), and ending in the Control Room, the Doctor rambles in his mind from the TARDIS (“wheezing like a grampus”), to Romana (“She has broken the cardinal rule of Gallifrey; she has become involved, and in a pretty permanent sort of way.”), to Earth (“my home from home”) to Britain (“the one place where we can find these blue boxes”), to Logopolis (“a quiet little planet”), to the totter’s yard where it all began, and back even further to Gallifrey where he “borrowed” the TARDIS “on a sort of finders-keepers basis.” The Doctor is reliving his past and at the same time looking ahead (“still, the future lies this way”).
In looking ahead, the Doctor decides he must fix the broken Chameleon circuit of the TARDIS, and that means visiting Earth to get the correct dimensions of a proper police box and then on to Logopolis.
Visiting Earth leads us (and the TARDIS) to Tegan. I like that we have a chance to meet Tegan, getting to know her as she bickers with her Aunt Vanessa over a flat tire and chats about her new job as an airline stewardess. It is all ordinary day sort of stuff, until she enters the TARDIS looking for assistance that is. It is reminiscent of our first companions’ entry into the Doctor’s life; Barbara and Ian going through their routine school day, their concern for a student sending them on a mission that ends in the TARDIS. Echoes of Doctor Who past reverberating in this transitional serial.
Her confused mind trying to make sense of what she sees (“there must be intelligent life at the end of this lot”), Tegan wanders deeper into the TARDIS looking for the crew of this strange vehicle she has stumbled into. Meanwhile the Doctor and Adric find themselves in a “dimensional anomaly” of police box within police box, TARDIS within TARDIS (the Master’s TARDIS having disguised itself as a police box and having materialized in the same spot as the Doctor’s). When Tegan finally rushes back into the Control Room to come face to face with the Doctor and Adric it is too late. The TARDIS has left Earth behind and Auntie Vanessa has been shrunk by the Master: “That settles it. She’s got to come with us.”
I have to say, Gary, that I was never the biggest fan of Tegan, but of the three--Tegan, Adric, and Nyssa--she has the most personality, and in watching her introduction in Logopolis I find that she adds some much needed interest to the proceedings. The reaction of the Doctor upon first realizing she is on board is priceless, and I love how he takes Adric aside with, “Who is she? Where did she come from? What are we going to do with her?” The Doctor peppering his companion with questions for a change. Tegan is a surprise who temporarily shocks the Doctor out of his dour funk.
Tegan is remarkably adaptable. Yes she is startled and bewildered by the TARDIS, the Doctor, and the alien world around her, but she doesn’t waste time. “When am I going to get an explanation for all this?” she demands. “Do you really feel up to an explanation?” the Doctor enquires doubtfully, but Tegan’s “I’ll try” proves her to be up to the mind-boggling truth. I think I am going to like this rather blunt and straight forward new companion.
“Listen, the Doctor’s my ticket back to London Airport, so I’m going after him,” Tegan tells Adric and Nyssa. I find it rather curious, however, that Tegan is following the pilot and not the transport. I would think the TARDIS would be a more sure bet for her, seeing as she barely knows the Doctor.
But then, many of the elements of the plot are rather inexplicable, like why is the Master on Earth and how did he know the exact spot where the Doctor would materialize? (I don’t quite buy the Doctor’s explanation of “He’s a Time Lord; in many ways we have the same mind.”) And what is the Doctor thinking in trying to flush out the Master? How exactly is that going to work? And if his intent is to have the water rush into the TARDIS, why does he stand against the doors as if to keep the water out? And how is fixing the Chameleon circuit going to help him at this dire time?
I can set all that aside, though. As the Doctor says, “This is life; nothing’s sure.” The Doctor gets his measurements and he’s off to Logopolis and all of the questions are swept aside.
The ideas of Logopolis and the Logoplitan science of Block Transfer Computation are fascinating. I don’t understand any of it, it smacks of sorcery, but it is fascinating. An entire planet of men intoning calculations, “creating solid objects through pure mathematics.” It is a somewhat dry and dusty planet; I can’t help wondering why they don’t chant themselves up some trees and grass, maybe a woman or two. They could at least conjure up some comfortable furniture to sit on as they endlessly drone away. “We are a people driven not by individual need but by mathematical necessity,” the Monitor explains to Tegan when she questions the sweatshop nature of the work. If the Doctor wasn’t concerned about the TARDIS and the Master and the closing CVE, he might very well look into this whole “they have no need to smile” claim.
I also find it a tad farfetched that just a minute or two of Logopolitan silence results in the destruction not only of Logopolis and its citizenry but of the entire universe. Wouldn’t the Time Lords have something to say about this? Was this perhaps a result of the Doctor’s premature destruction of the Key to Time? That was a season long the-universe-is-on-the-brink-of-chaos-and-needs-to-be-saved peril that the Time Lords instigated; where are they in this new (or is it the same?) crisis?
“Never guess . . . unless you have to. There’s enough uncertainty in the universe as it is.”
Uncertainty abounds, but we can always count on the Doctor. Even if he is a subdued Doctor preparing for the inevitable and teaming up with the Master.
“I can’t choose the company I keep!” Saddled with three companions (Nyssa having mysteriously shown up on Logopolis) who have forced their way into his life, the Doctor faces universal annihilation unless he can work with the Master to undo the harm that evil genius has unleashed.
This sends the Doctor and Master back to Earth and the Pharos Project where magically a few brief seconds of transmitting the Logopolitan mystery code saves the universe. If the code was cracked and ready to use, and if it only took those few brief seconds, why didn’t the Logopolitans do it themselves when they had the chance? And how does the Master think he can hold the universe hostage when it only took those few seconds and apparently now the danger is past?
But none of that is important. The only thing that really matters in Logopolis is that “it’s the end; but the moment has been prepared for.”
“It’s the end.” A pensive Tom Baker recalling companions and memories; purging himself in some ways, much like he tried to flush the Master from his TARDIS; jettisoning Romana’s room, attempting to fix the Chameleon circuit. A weariness shows through, the years having taken their toll. The ominous Cloister Bell beckons and he does his best to ignore it. But he can’t ignore the Watcher. “What lies ahead is for me,” he tells the Monitor. The TARDIS is littered with companions, yet he never seemed more alone.
“But the moment has been prepared for.” The Watcher looms over the proceedings, the mystery man in white.
Tom Baker clings to the last seconds of life. Flashes of enemies and companions consume him. Then he reaches out as the Watcher approaches. Reflections of the past and promises of the future in our present serial of Logopolis. Old enemies and new companions. A bittersweet moment.
“He was the Doctor all the time.” He was, is, and will be the Doctor. Peter Davison.
Posted by Jenny Strigens at 8:13 AM
Monday, May 20, 2013
The Keeper of Traken always leaves a slightly bitter taste in my mouth. Partly because I know Tom Baker is not long for this Doctor Who world and partly because it is the start of average and less than average companions. But it’s more than that.
To start, I find the marriage between Tremas and Kassia to be unsavory. It’s not the age difference, and it is only slightly due to the fact that I can’t quite separate the actor (Anthony Ainley) from his Master incarnation to come. Mostly it is because I sense absolutely no love between these two. It doesn’t help that the cumbersome and voluminous costumes they are forced to wear keeps them at arm’s length at all times. Also, neither one seems anxious for the honeymoon. And then there is the fact that Kassia immediately betrays her husband once the ceremony is over. She claims it is to keep him from becoming Keeper so that he will remain with her, but I don’t buy it. And if they both knew Tremas was slated to become the next Keeper and the current Keeper was on his last legs, why did they get married? How could Tremas in good conscience wed Kassia, much less court her to begin with?
If this had been a relationship of long standing, if the marriage had taken place even a year or two earlier, I could buy into the story. But since I cannot believe in Tremas and Kassia as a couple, Kassia’s motivation falls apart as does the rest of the plot. This is merely the Master’s evil having wormed its way into Traken and into Kassia thus aiding him in his goal of gaining ultimate power and control of the universe. Ho hum.
The Keeper of Traken would have been better if it either committed to the good vs. evil theme or not submitted it to us as a false pretense. Instead it wants us to believe that Kassia really has a “purity of spirit” and that she truly thinks that “this will all come to good in time.” And it wants us to believe that Traken is a society of “universal harmony” and that it is “so full of goodness that evil just shriveled up and died.” It wants us to believe all that. But it plays out in a much different way.
“It’s a pity about that poor chap having to sit for thousands of years in a chair.” Yes, a pity. And for what does he do it? For a society that is stratified, open to corruption, greed, bribery, superstition, and dissension. For a society of peace and prosperity that feels the need for numerous guards and that has an arsenal of weaponry on hand at a moment’s notice. For a society that executes prisoners with no evidence or trial. “Magnificent”? “A small price to pay”? Not in my book.
Given this, it is no wonder the Master is able to take over. The only question is why did it take him so long?
“A lot of the time you don’t really make sense,” Adric tells the Doctor. “Oh, you’ve noticed that have you?” the Doctor replies. “Well, I mean, anyone can talk sense. As long as that’s understood, you and I are going to get on splendidly.” I have understood that about the Fourth Doctor ever since Robot. He doesn’t really make sense, but anyone can make sense. It is the nonsense that makes sense; the Doctor’s lateral thinking, his diagonal thinking. We expect that.
A Doctor Who story, however, should make sense. It should be true to the parameters it has set for itself. It can create a world out of nothing that defies logic and we can suspend our disbelief to accept it, but once it has created that world it needs to adhere to its own boundaries. If it has created a world of universal harmony, peace, and prosperity, it can’t then treat it like any ordinary flawed society; a society in which a young girl can without hesitation bribe a guard and when he refuses her offer, shoot him down without compunction (even if the weapon is only set to stun); a society in which a loyal and respected Consul can be so easily called into question based on hearsay only; a society in which a discontented crowd of citizens can gather due to superstitious rumors.
“I thought you might appreciate it if I gave you the impression I knew what was happening. We could panic, of course, but where would that get us?”
OK, Doctor. I won’t panic. Where would that get me?
If I am to accept the premise of this story, Traken is a pure and righteous union of souls, and if greed, corruption, bribery and the rest has taken hold, it is only due to the malevolent nature of the Melkur (aka Master) that has slowly seeped into the fabric of society during this dangerous time as the Keeper’s life wanes. What we are witness to is the end product of this long process, the universal harmony has been compromised and the transition so gradual that the citizenry has hardly noticed.
But why hasn’t the Keeper noticed? Why hasn’t the Keeper warned his Consuls? What good is the Keeper’s power if he can’t control the spreading evil? Why has the Keeper felt the need to call in the Doctor but then never informed his Consuls? “The Keeper knows our situation,” Consul Seron says. “He’ll speak when the time is right.” But he never does.
“If I knew everything that was going to happen, where would the fun be?”
OK, Doctor. I’ll calm down. I’ll stop asking questions and let the fun proceed.
But the thing is, Gary, there isn’t much fun in the proceedings. It is not dull; I have to say that for it. There is plenty of action and intrigue, and it is all very interesting in concept. But the concept is not justified.
“Time reveals everything, Adric.”
Time reveals that evil is attracted to this pure and righteous planet but calcifies and disintegrates, all except for one Melkur, as this evil is so dubbed, that has lasted for years and has been tended faithfully by the virtuous young Kassia. This Melkur’s evil is so powerful that it has infected the now grown Kassia, feeding her fears of losing her beloved Tremas and persuading her to all kinds of evil, including accomplice to murder and the betrayal of her husband, all in the hope of saving her husband from the honor of becoming Keeper so that she can selfishly keep him by her side. Along the way, however, she ultimately agrees that her husband’s life is forfeit as he has become a danger to the Melkur’s plan, and she herself becomes Keeper, but only for the briefest of time since the Melkur destroys her and takes her place in the Keeper’s chair. Discovering that Melkur is actually the Master, the Doctor and Adric, with the help of Tremas and his daughter Nyssa, sabotage the Source to keep the Master from gaining control of the Traken union.
The Master seeking to gain ultimate power, pure and simple. Kassia was never believable as a pure and simple soul; the story should have reveled in her evil side and been done with it. Doctor Who abounds with disreputable humanoids seeking to use an evil power for their own ends and this could have been another glorious example added to the long list. Of course, it would have been a much better story if Kassia truly was a pure and simple soul, if Traken truly was a harmonious union; but since neither of these is even attempted by the resulting narrative the easier way should have been chosen. (Perhaps if Nyssa had been the one corrupted. . . .)
“With the Source out of control, nature, they say, reverts to destructive chaos.”
I’m shaking my head, Gary. This is just another reason why I don’t much care for or have much sympathy for Traken. What, the Keeper keeps Mother Nature in check for his thousands of years on the chair? No thunder storms, no hurricanes, no tidal waves, no earthquakes? And then when he is in his death throes all hell breaks loose? You can dam up the river, but when the dam breaks, look out. And when you try to dam all the forces of nature and all of the evil of the world knowing full well that all of this is dependent on the frail body of a Keeper who sits in his chair for thousands of years . . . well, I’ll let the Doctor say it:
“Its limitless organizing capacity refined to a single frame and obedient to the will of your Keeper. A great achievement, Tremas, and a great temptation to people less principled than ourselves.”
“Yes, the thought has occurred to me,” Tremas replies. But then, “Come, the grove is this way.” So what? Who cares? A trifling matter. I’ve thought about it. But why think about it?
Why, Tremas? Maybe because it is the reason your whole world is falling apart around you? Maybe if you didn’t rely on this ‘Source’ for your harmony; maybe if you didn’t place the responsibility of living on the frail shoulders of a single man in a chair for thousands of years; maybe if you gave it some thought; maybe you would have a loving wife by your side instead of a mad woman bent on destroying you and all you stand for.
Sorry, Gary. I didn’t know until now how much I really dislike this whole Traken thing.
“Still, what can’t be cured must be endured.” OK, Doctor, I’ll endure it.
“That’s the silliest thing you ever said.” Thank you, Adric.
“Don’t listen to me. I never do.” Thank you, Doctor. Just the right note of nonsensical logic I needed at this point.
The Keeper of Traken does have one notable thing going for it—it reintroduces a viable Master to Doctor Who. At the end of his generations and in a state of decay, the Master, through the power of the Source, is able to take over the body of Tremas; and Anthony Ainley makes an admirable successor to the late great Roger Delgado.
That’s about all I have to say about The Keeper of Traken, Gary. It is interesting, it doesn’t bore me, but it just leaves a bad feeling behind. And with only one more Tom Baker story to go that is a real pity.
Posted by Jenny Strigens at 3:10 PM
Friday, May 17, 2013
“You can’t get worse than the back of beyond.” The back of beyond is where the Doctor, Romana, Adric, and K9 find themselves, lost in E-Space with the TARDIS registering zero coordinates (“Ponder on that”) and outside the TARDIS doors nothing but a blank, stark white world of nothingness caught “between the striations of the continuum.”
In walks Biroc, a time sensitive Tharil, “a sort of leonine mesomorph” who is of a race that uses its “power for those who travel on the time winds.”
Biroc: “The shadow of my past and of your future.”
Doctor: “The shadow of his past . . .”
Romana: “And of our future.”
Biroc leads them to the gateway. “There are three physical gateways and the three are one.”
If none of it makes any sense, Gary, well, that’s Warriors’ Gate for you. Lots of interesting concepts floating around that are difficult to pin down.
That’s where the equally stranded space crew is so brilliant. All of these fascinating details of time winds and gateways and striations and past and future, and then you have the ordinary voice of Everyman cutting through it all and grounding us in the every day. The mundane, blasé world of a weary space crew as they apathetically go through their routines, more interested in their lunch than in the terribly real danger that surrounds them.
The very nature of their business (slave trading) has jaded them. Their casual callousness is horrifying and humorous in turns. The goldbricking duo Aldo and Royce, the grim realists Lane and Packard, the sneering cynic Sagan, and the marvelously mad Rorvik; each one is fully realized and enriches our story.
“It’ll all end in tears, mark my words.”
This crushing sense of doom pervades Warriors’ Gate, as it has since the TARDIS initially entered E-Space. First the stagnation of the starliner in Full Circle, then the devolving society in State of Decay. Now, as the TARDIS stands at the brink of the gateway, the very dimensions are contracting around them: “Imminent danger of mathematical vanishing.”
A layer of oppressive paralysis permeates our story and our marooned crew gives in to it while their captain (Rorvik) fights a futile battle against it.
After hearing a rundown of all the damage to his ship (“Well of course we’ve got damage! How bad?”) Rorvik turns to Packard for his report on the instrumentation. “What do you want me to say?” a resigned Packard shrugs as he gestures to the blown out equipment before them. Rorvik continues beating his head against this brick wall, however, and with each defeat he becomes more determined and more maniacal.
Bragging on his crew: “These are the lads with all the answers.” Seeking confirmation: “Isn’t that right lads?” Tepid response. He doesn’t give up. “Isn’t that right lads!” he demands.
Trying to get things done: “Now listen, I’m only going to say this once.” Explaining the peril they face: “Listen!” Outlining his plan: “Will you listen when I’m talking!” His crew more interested in their sandwiches. He gets out his blaster: “This is very serious. We are in a terminal situation. A dead end.”
His attempts with the Doctor are equally frustrating. “I don’t believe you and neither do my men. Do you, men?” Lackluster agreement. (“A hungry bunch.”)
The MZ doesn’t work; he goes for the back blast. “Don’t give up lads.” Against all warnings (“The back blast backlash will bounce back and destroy everything.”). He proceeds with his plans. “I say it’s the only way out of here.”
And then the full blown meltdown:
“Run, Doctor. Scurry off back to your blue box. You’re like all the rest. Lizards when there’s a man’s work to be done. I’m sick of your kind. Faint-hearted, do-nothing, lily-livered deadweights. This is the end for all of you! I’m finally getting something done!”
It is a thing of beauty to behold.
For all of his determined scurrying, Rorvik’s crew is more on the right track: “Do nothing, if it’s the right sort of nothing.” They have the “do nothing” part down pat. They just don’t have the “right sort of nothing” hammered out yet.
The Doctor is close to it when he first arrives with his I-Ching theory (“I don’t know what I’m doing; I’m just following intuition.”), and at least this sets Adric harmlessly off on his own coin-tossing path through the story. The Doctor and Romana, too, go off in pursuits of their own.
“What if the Doctor and I went different ways?”
Romana has her own path to follow. She has to be her own Romana. “It’s all going to be fine,” she tells Adric. “I’m fully qualified.” And so when Rorvik, Packard, and Lane show up at the TARDIS (Lane: “It’s a ship.” Packard: “What, for midgets?” Lane: “Or a coffin for a very large man.”) Romana follows them back to their disabled ship to find out what they are up to. What she finds is the disturbing truth that they are slave traders, profiting on the sale of Tharils to serve as navigators of the time winds.
It is disturbing, and the banal brutality of it all is driven home when they seize Romana in the belief that she too can serve as a time navigator.
Packard: “Are you sure she’s a time sensitive?”
Packard: “Oh. Because if she isn’t, she’ll be burned to a frazzle.”
Lane: “That’s how you tell.”
Romana survives the ordeal and is freed by a Tharil. She is first hand witness to the Tharil present.
“The weak enslave themselves, Doctor. You and I know that.” A sentence bridging Tharil past and present. While Romana has found the present, the Doctor discovers the past.
“The masters descended out of the air riding the winds and took men as their prize, growing powerful on their stolen labors and their looted skills.”
The Doctor has found the great banquet hall; he has found the Gundan; he has found the mirror.
“We are Gundan. We exist to kill. Slaves made the Gundan to kill the brutes who rule.”
It is a vicious cycle. “The weak enslave themselves.” Once the enslavers, now the enslaved. “So you’re the masters the Gundan spoke of?” Tharils feasting on their plunder served by the slaves stolen out of time and space. “They’re only people.”
Disturbing truths, past and present. The enslavers and the enslaved. “The weak enslave themselves.”
So what of the future?
“The shadow of my past and of your future.” Romana’s future. “A moment to choose.”
Choosing to remain in E-Space, Romana offers her services to Biroc and the newly freed Tharils off of the stranded ship to liberate all Tharils enslaved throughout E-Space. K9 remains as well. Damaged by the time winds, K9 can only exist unharmed behind the mirrors.
“That’s something we’ve got to do, don’t you think?” While I admire Romana’s decision, I have to question, why the Tharils? Of all the slaves in all the worlds, why the Tharils? Because they were there, I suppose. They were there and she was there and it was the “moment to choose.” She didn’t want to go back to the boring life of Gallifrey, and so she chose. “Why believe Biroc?” Adric asked at the beginning. “Because he was running,” Romana replied. To the runner goes the victory, I guess. Another time, another place, another runner . . . .
Rorvik has destroyed his ship and crew in his mad moment of backlash. Romana and K9 have departed. (“Will Romana be all right?” “All right? She’ll be superb.”) The Doctor and Adric remain. “Do nothing.” The way out of E-Space. “Nothing. Well, that’s something.”
“Do nothing, if it’s the right sort of nothing.” Warriors’ Gate is just the right sort of nothing, and that’s something.
Here’s hoping this little bit of nothing reaches you, Gary. As the Doctor would say, “One good solid hope is worth a cartload of certainties.”
Posted by Jenny Strigens at 6:09 PM
Monday, May 13, 2013
“There are vampire legends on almost every inhabited planet.”
State of Decay is a return to the gothic glory days of old. “Protective castle; village dwellings huddled like ducklings round their mother; typical medieval scene.” Creepy rulers; frightened peasants; swarming bats. The Selection; the Wasting; the Arising. “A feeding system for something that lives on human blood;” a society that has evolved backwards; “a sociopathetic chasm.”
“I’ve never seen such a state of decay.”
The one gripe I have with this story is Romana. She’s OK to start, but once we get into the horror gothic of it all she is just plain boring. This story cries out for a Sarah Jane Smith. Someone who is brave and intelligent and resourceful, like Romana, but someone who also has some character and personality. In fact, throw out Adric and Romana both—Sarah Jane is all you’d need.
But alas it is not to be.
Actually, I rather like Adric in the first half of this. He has a sort of boyish charm as he cleverly outwits K9 and then sneaks into the peasant village. (I have to say, however, that Adric has established himself as a rather pathetic food thief as first evidenced in Full Circle when he drops the river fruit upon being recognized.) His brief encounter with Marta is touching, although this is mainly due to Marta rather than Adric. Too bad Marta isn’t given more screen time—she would have added some depth to the peasant uprising, more so than what her husband provides.
Romana, too, starts out well, asking pertinent questions, offering relevant observations, applying her considerable knowledge to the problems at hand. She is even quite endearing as she works out the names—Sharky, MacMillan, O’Connor to Zargo, Camilla, and Aukon—the Law of Consonantal Shift as defined by the Brothers Grimm.
But then the two of them, Adric and Romana, are captured by the deadly trio, Zargo, Camilla, and Aukon, and I just lose interest in them. They are bland captives as they sit passively with their hands feebly tied in front of them. I never sense any real peril for either. If Adric had been sincere in his conversion to the dark side things might have been a bit more interesting, but his lame attempt at acting is laughable and ultimately goes nowhere.
For a vampire story, it is not the action that holds my interest (there is very little), but it is the working out of the mystery that compels me. That is what the Fourth Doctor is good at.
“It’s quite a technocotheca you’ve got here.” (“Doctor, what’s a technocotheca?” “I don’t know. I think it’s some sort of museum.”)
The discovery of Earth technology on a planet in E-Space; a society that is sinking backwards into primitivism; the association of names and faces from the Earth ship to the current rulers twenty generations later; all clues leading the Doctor onward.
Onward and to the tower and to Aukon, Camilla, and Zargo.
Aukon—Science Officer Anthony O’Connor. “Power, Doctor. It is the only reality.”
Camilla—Navigational Officer Lauren MacMillan. “Yet flesh and blood has its place.”
Zargo—Captain Miles Sharky. “Why am I still afraid?”
In typical Doctor Who style, with just a very few lines entire back stories are understood.
O’Connor, the ambitious. MacMillan, the lustful. Sharky, the insecure.
From the three, the Doctor works to the one. “When the bodies were counted, the King Vampire, mightiest and most malevolent of all, had vanished, even unto his shadow, from time and space.” This is a very effective scene. Just the Doctor and K9, the TARDIS and the ancient Record of Rassilon. The Doctor reading of the mighty battle; of bowships and vampires; of “the misty dawn of history, when even Rassilon was young.”
And the full story is revealed. The King Vampire, speaking through O’Connor, lured the ship Hydrax into E-Space, giving eternal life to the three officers as they now prepare for the Arising and the promise of power, breeding their crew through the generations to serve and to feed on, but also searching in vain for minds worthy to share in their future glory of swarming back into N-Space and spreading devastation across the universe.
It is all very simply and believably done. The makeup and elaborate costumes alone on our terrible triad speaks volumes. The looks, gestures, and briefest of lines tells the rest of the tale. The sudden onset of night, the wind in the trees, the bats overhead, the medieval castle and village all add to the atmosphere of gloom. Like the great black and white Bela Lugosi Dracula of old, the dark mysteries of the mind are far more terrifying than the graphic rending of flesh.
Too bad a pasty faced Romana serenely laid out on a slab is offered up as our sacrifice. She looks like the blood has already been drained from her body.
The villagers storming the castle is disappointing as well. Perhaps if this had occurred at night with blazing torches and a pitchfork or two it would have helped. Instead we get some playacting of villagers and guards going at it with sticks, the guards falling over with little resistance, and K9 sitting atop the throne to give the order to retreat.
Also, what should have been a climactic scene of the peasant Ivo confronting the guard Habris is a complete letdown. Again, this would have been so much more effective if Marta had been allowed her sweet justice.
Speaking of Habris and as an aside, I do love Aukon’s response to Habris when he states the guards are outnumbered and will surely be killed: “Then die. That is the purpose of guards.”
Wrapping up the ending, though, I do like that the King Vampire is never shown in its entirety. Given the history of giant Doctor Who monsters, this is probably for the best. The huge hand emerging from the earth before being speared by the rocket is sufficient. And the final aging and disintegration of Aukon, Camilla, and Zargo is terrific.
“Knowing’s easy,” the Doctor says to start out our story. “Everyone does that ad nauseam. I just sort of hope.” I love this quote, Gary. It is so typical of Tom Baker’s Doctor, even now as he is winding to a close.
And so as I wind to a close I send this out to you dear Gary, sort of hoping . . .
Posted by Jenny Strigens at 2:19 PM
Saturday, May 11, 2013
Full Circle—the start of the E-Space Trilogy. I had vague memories of not being overly fond of the E-Space Trilogy, for the most part because it introduces Adric and I have never been keen on Adric. Also it is the beginning of the end for Tom Baker, and it is this trilogy that I most associate with Romana Mark II, my least favorite of the Fourth Doctor’s companions (excluding Adric since I most associate him with the Fifth Doctor).
But as I started this viewing I was pleasantly surprised. The quality has returned to the show. Some of the previous serials might have been fun to watch, but the production standards just were not up to Doctor Who par. Full Circle, on the other hand, has top notch writing, acting and design, including the rubber suited monsters. Even Adric isn’t that bad, and Lalla Ward as Romana, who has been hit or miss for me, puts in a decent performance. I especially like when she is infected by the spider. She does evil well.
The E-Space Trilogy in many ways is the story of Romana and her desire for freedom. “I don’t want to spend the rest of my life on Gallifrey,” she laments to the Doctor when the Time Lords summon the two of them home. I don’t blame her.
“You can’t fight Time Lords, Romana,” the Doctor tells her as she sulks in her room, which is a fantastically ornamented set that perfectly suits the TARDIS. “You did, once,” Romana reminds him. “Hmm. And lost,” he replies.
Fortunately for her the TARDIS traverses a CVE (Charged Vacuum Emboitment) and they are now trapped in E-Space. They are at the exact coordinates of Gallifrey, but they are not on Gallifrey. They are on Alzarius. They are in E-Space.
The adventure takes off and Gallifrey is forgotten, for now. Romana has a reprieve.
“Tell Dexeter we’ve come full circle.” With his dying words Decider Draith provides the clue to the mystery of the starliner, the mistfall, the marshmen, the spiders, and the starliner citizens. The very clue the Doctor needs to put it all together. “We’re all basically primeval slime with ideas above its station.”
Full circle. “From spiders to marsh creatures and beyond.” Evolution. I can’t help thinking, Gary, that ‘full circle’ implies the circling from beyond back to spiders. A de-evolution. Instead it seems to be referring to the spiders hatching and the marshmen emerging, which occurs every 50 years and therefore would have been within the experience of Draith and several of the other citizens of the starliner, including the remaining Deciders Nefred and Garif.
Every 50 years Alzarius is taken away from its sun resulting in ‘mistfall’ and the emergence of the spiders and marshmen once the cooling process sets in. The Doctor and Romana have entered E-Space and landed on Alzarius just at this precise moment. And it seems to me that mistfall happens very quickly and without warning. Since this is an established pattern, wouldn’t the Deciders at least have been prepared for it? Do they not have any astronomers on hand to predict such things? After 40 generations on this treadmill, much less 40,000 generations (or is it 4,000—a bit of discrepancy between Romana and the Doctor, but I’ll defer to the Doctor), wouldn’t they be prepared for this moment?
But these are incidental Doctor Who questions that get swept aside with the engrossing story that is unfolding. And that is a sign of a good Doctor Who script. It might have gaping holes in the logic, but who cares?
“Why can’t people be nice to one another, just for a change?” That is an interesting question the Doctor poses. Why can’t people be nice to one another? Just for a change? In Doctor Who, if you have swamp creatures emerging and overrunning your ship you attack them, no questions asked. Even if it is “only a baby one.”
“Oh, how odd. I usually get on terribly well with children.”
The scenes between the Doctor and this marsh baby are extremely touching, and when the Doctor is struck from behind just when he is gaining the trust of this scared and lonely child we feel the full force of the tragedy.
“Dexeter!” The Doctor is aghast when he discovers the fate of this poor creature. “That’s not scientific understanding; it’s cold-blooded murder.” Doctor Who often pits science against religion, but atrocities committed in the name of science are just as heinous as those committed in the name of religion, and Doctor Who has the integrity to acknowledge this.
“Dexeter, please stop! You’ve no right. Please!” Simple and moving.
“Why can’t people be nice to one another, just for a change?”
“You Deciders allowed this to happen,” the Doctor accuses when both Dexeter and the marsh baby are dead. And he is right. “One might argue that Dexeter was overzealous,” the Deciders offer in defense. “Not an alibi, Deciders!” The Doctor will have none of it. “You three are supposed to be leaders.”
But these Deciders are indecisive. In fact the entire spaceliner colony is an exercise in futility. Endlessly replacing perfectly sound parts: “And the fraud of perpetual movement. The endless tasks going round and round. The same old components being removed and replaced.”
For a race that has evolved from creatures with “rapid cellular adaptation” and “amazing powers of adapting to new situations” these starliners are excessively static. They have absolutely no progress to show for their 40,000 generations. Even if it is only the 40 generations their legends tell of, their stagnation is mind boggling. (“Too much patience goes absolutely nowhere.”)
The most unforgiveable part is that their true heritage is known by the First Decider but for some inexplicable reason this is kept from the rest. Dexeter is working blind. “Let science illuminate your inner knowledge,” Dexeter pleads with Decider Draith to no avail. Yet Draith’s dying words are for Dexeter: “We’ve come full circle.” I really don’t understand the willful ignorance on the part of the Deciders, especially in the face of their encouragement of Dexeter in his search for answers.
And whether 40 or 40,000, no one in all of these generations has questioned why it is taking so long to prepare for the embarkation? And only a handful of teens rebel against the endless and meaningless rote that passes for life aboard the starliner? And I’m sorry, but even if only 40 generations have passed since the starliner crashed, am I really to believe that everything is still in perfect working order? Although all the parts have been endlessly replaced and kept in repair, after such a long time there surely would be rust, corrosion, wear and tear. And come on, after all those years they couldn’t figure out how to fly the thing?
Sorry, Gary. I didn’t realize until now how many unanswered questions I had. I always get caught up in the story and let most of these things go by with only a slight shrug.
Because it is a good story, nicely paced with great locations and interesting characters depicted by a solid group of actors. The rebellious teens, or Outlers as they are called, are of special note. Varsh, Keara, or Tylos—any one of them would have made a great new companion for the Doctor. Instead we wind up with Adric.
“Of course I’m better than you,” Adric tells the others. “I’m an Elite.” I rather like this blunt honesty on his part, but I still maintain that any one of them is better than Adric.
“I think I’ve pulled the wrong lever.” Adric the boy genius never seems to get it right.
Between the Doctor and Romana, though, there is the need for a more traditional companion who doesn’t always know what’s going on.
“These short trips don’t usually work,” the Doctor explains to Adric as he tries to reverse course on Adric’s “wrong lever” incident. “And the chances of reversing a short trip are even more remote. Still, here’s hopping.”
And then there is K9.
“Did you find K9’s head?” Poor K9. “We always seem to be repairing him,” Romana says. I have to say that K9’s head is put to most effective and amusing use in this.
In the end, the marshmen are left to their mash, the starliner finally takes off, and Adric stows away on the TARDIS. At least he brings along an image translator so the Doctor can confirm that they are in fact trapped in E-Space. It is a well-rounded story with lots of layers and depths that overshadow the more nonsensical aspects.
And so I send this out, Gary, hoping it finds its own CVE to make its way to you . . .
Posted by Jenny Strigens at 8:47 AM
Monday, May 6, 2013
I know I’m going to like Meglos from the start with this exchange:
Doctor: “First things first?”
Doctor: “But not necessarily in that order.”
What’s not to love about Meglos? A giant cactus monster, bumbling space pirates, a doppelganger Doctor, the Dodecahedron—no one seems to know what exactly the Dodecahedron is and nor do I; I just love saying it, Dodecahedron—and Barbara. Barbara! I keep expecting the Doctor to do a double take. Talk about your doppelgangers.
There are a few problems with Meglos, quite a few actually, but I think a giant talking cactus overrides them. I mean, any show that has the audacity to use a giant talking cactus as its monster is allowed a little latitude.
Let me start with the Tigellan society. It is a simple enough dichotomy between the scientific Savants on one side and the religious Deons on the other with Zastor in the middle acting as leader and mediator. However Zastor does very little leading and the Deons are clearly in control. Zastor never makes a decision, all he seems to do is preside over bicker sessions between the Savants and Deons and in the end everyone does what the Deons dictate and I’m not really sure why. Lexa (Barbara!), leader of the Deons, is the de facto leader of Tigella; Zastor is a joke; the Savants, led by Deedrix, are all discontented talk and no action.
The Dodecahedron (what a great word) is the source of power for the Tigellan underground city and worshipped by the Deons. Nobody other than the Deons are allowed to even view the Dodecahedron, although the Savants have figured out a way to harness its energy even in the face of this handicap. The Savants are constantly arguing the need to study the Dodecahedron, especially since its output has become somewhat unreliable. Seeing as the life of their city depends on it, I would think the Savants would press their point more forcefully. After all, they have guns and it doesn’t appear that the Deons do. Perhaps the guards on duty are also Deons. When Lexa (Barbara!) stages a coup and has Zastor and the Savants tossed out the guards do her bidding. But why would the Savants and Zastor hand this authority over to the Deons in the first place?
Then there is the whole underground dwelling thing. Granted, the planet surface is infested with “lush, aggressive vegetation” but surely the Savants at least could devise a way to deal with it. After all, the Doctor, Romana, the bumbling space pirates, and Meglos all wander about Tigella with little trouble. Occasionally one of them gets attacked by a bell plant, but it seems relatively easy for them to get free. And in the end, with the loss of the Dodecahedron, the Tigellans are forced up top and don’t have a problem with the transition. So much for the decades of preparation Deedrix predicted would be needed to re-inhabit the surface.
But what does any of this matter when we have a doppelganger Doctor walking around? A doppelganger Doctor who occasionally sprouts green spikes?
Meglos, our giant cactus, is the sole survivor of Zolfa-Thura, “a great civilization blown away to sand and ashes.” Meglos has been hiding out underground for what must have been a very long time. At one point he mentions returning below for another thousand years but later he mutters something about ten thousand years. At any rate, why did it take him so long to act? But then, cacti are a long-lived, slow growing plant so perhaps it was only a blink of an eye to a Zolfa-Thuran.
Once he does ascend, Meglos employs a band of space pirates, or as they are called, Gaztaks, to obtain a body, one that is a “male Caucasian around two meters tall” for him to inhabit. I guess it is easier for a humanoid body to move around than it is for a cactus. I’m not sure why the specifics, but so what? The human snatched by the Gaztaks is perfectly played as the ordinary man on his way home from work who is suddenly snatched by space pirates and whisked off to another planet only to be inhabited by an alien cactus.
Once transferred to this rather bewildered human, Meglos has the ability to shape shift, and since he has intercepted a message from Zastor to the Doctor (apparently the Doctor had been to Tigella 50 years previous and therefore knows Zastor) Meglos decides to impersonate the Doctor. But not before trapping the Doctor and Romana in a chronic hysteresis (time loop) to avoid complications. (I love saying chronic hysteresis almost as much as Dodecahedron.)
I have to say, Gary, that the way in which the Doctor breaks the chronic hysteresis is ingenious, especially since he only has the few moments at the end of the loop before it cycles over to work things out. I’m sure Romana is everlastingly grateful to the Doctor for freeing them or she would have to go through eternity in her ridiculous beach costume that she still hadn’t changed since Brighton. However once they are released she promptly changes into one of the most hideous outfits yet, so perhaps she plain just has bad taste in clothes and wouldn’t have known any better.
Romana does have rather a good time of it once they reach Tigella running the space pirates around in circles, taking advantage of the anticlockwise rotation of the planet.
Brotadac: “What’s she talking about?”
Grugger: “Rotation, direction, revolving.”
I do have to say, though, that when Romana is stressed or distressed in the slightest she comes out with a most pathetic succession of cries, whines, whimpers, grunts, pants, and screams.
The Doctor, meanwhile, runs into his own trouble when he enters the city after his doppelganger Meglos has waltzed off with the Dodecahedron from under the Tigellans’ noses. The Dodecahedron, it seems, did not descend from the heavens as a gift from the god Ti as Lexa (Barbara!) believes, but is actually a great power source developed on Zolfa-Thura and Meglos intends to return it to his home planet where he will utilize the amplification of the great Screens of Zolfa-Thura to use the Dodecahedron to conquer and destroy through the universe. Yes, the story does devolve into your typical egomaniacal villain wanting to take over the universe. What a single sentient cactus wants with the universe I don’t know and don’t care. Who am I to question a talking cactus?
Meglos’ undoing is his reliance upon the Gaztaks. Being a cactus does have its limitations and Meglos therefore needs the Gaztaks to do most of his dirty work even though they are constantly scheming to double cross him. In the end all it takes is a punch in the stomach and they lock him up along with the Doctor for good measure. Meglos has already shown them how to use the equipment controlling the screens and the Dodecahedron, although what they do not know is that the Doctor has tampered with the controls and they are preparing to blow themselves up rather than their intended target of Tigella.
It is a very simple story, really, and not very inspired. However the “lush, aggressive vegetation” of Tigella is impressive and Brotadac--he who covets the Doctor’s coat--is hilarious. Also the moments when the possessed human tries to escape from Meglos are effective as the Doctor/Meglos pulls the struggling man back into himself.
Earthling: “Let go of me! You’ve no right.”
Meglos: “Quite right, but academic.”
And when the Earthling is finally released at the end we have some wonderfully underplayed comedy as he worries about what the wife will think.
Tom Baker does a great job with the dual roles; with the subtlest change in demeanor we know which is which, even when he’s not green. And I like the science vs. faith aspect, one that is used a lot in Doctor Who. In Meglos Lexa (Barbara!) gets the best of it: “Believe? A word too large for their small minds.” And “Faith dwells in the deeds, Zastor, not in the words.” But it is Zastor who puts his finger on it when he describes the Doctor: “The Doctor has the maturity to respect many points of view.” And so too Doctor Who. The show might pit science against religion often, but Doctor Who is itself the perfect blend of knowledge and faith, and Meglos is a flawed but fun entry in the canon.
Zastor has another description of the Doctor, and it is this I want to close with: “He sees the threads that join the universe together and mends them when they break.”
I send this out, Gary, into the threads of the universe . . .
Posted by Jenny Strigens at 7:05 PM
Friday, May 3, 2013
I want to like The Leisure Hive, I really do, and I have to say that each time I watch it I’m not completely bored, just not very interested. It is a story full of red herrings and dead ends that run around in circles to little effect.
Because I don’t have much investment in the story my mind wanders over nagging questions and random observations. Such as, I don’t much care for the Doctor’s new ensemble, and why oh why does Romana insist on running around in that ridiculous beach costume when they have left Brighton behind? I normally don’t pay close attention to the incidental music, but because my mind is wandering I can’t help but find it odd at best. Then I think, for a place billed as a leisure hive there doesn’t seem to be a lot of leisure going on. There are no chairs, lounges, sofas, not even any artwork to look at. All the visitors seem to do is stand around for an hour and a half watching a science demonstration and listening to a lecture. A couple of lucky guests do get to play a game or two of non-gravity squash, but who in their right mind is going to pay good money and waste precious vacation time on such a place? No wonder Argolis is going bankrupt.
Then there are the logistics of the place itself. Romana begins to recite the tragic history of Argolis with unwarranted delight while she and the Doctor are still at Brighton, and we get the rest of the story from a more properly somber Mena later in the hive. As a result of a war that lasted all of 20 minutes, Argolis is laid waste and left with a deadly atmosphere. All of this happened 40 years ago and the surviving Argolins have dedicated their remaining lives and their protective hive to peace and understanding. And oh yes, they have developed a new science called tachyonics. Now my questions are these: If the war lasted only 20 minutes resulting in a deadly atmosphere, how could they build the hive? Did they have lots of suicidal workers who did as much as they could before succumbing to the killer air? Where did the rest of the Argolins hang out in the mean time? And when exactly did they develop this new science? I would assume such a thing would take time, yet it seems to have sprung up over night, much like the hive, immediately after the war.
Once my mind stops wandering over these questions I do take note of the exquisite costumes and makeup on the Argolins before roaming off again.
Why, I wonder, does Stimson object to the Doctor’s presence for Hardin’s experiment but not Romana’s? And what exactly is he doing in the background, slowly making his way to the exit by degrees and turns? He looks like a windup toy that is winding down. And why the heck does he throw his glasses down on the ground while briskly walking through the hall? What exactly is Stimson’s game anyway? Is he running a scam? He knows Hardin’s experiment is a fake but doesn’t seem to care if Hardin perfects it or not. Why is he financing it? There is no indication that the Argolins (who are facing bankruptcy) are going to pay for the experiment. What is Stimson up to? He appears to be in league with Brock, put to what purpose?
An awful lot of questions for a character who comes and goes in a flash with no seeming purpose other than to get himself murdered and the Doctor in trouble for that murder (“His scarf killed Stimson” “Arrest the scarf then.”).
I come out of my reverie again long enough to be touched by Hardin’s concern for the rapidly aging Mena only to veer off once more.
Romana proves immensely helpful to Hardin, but then how is it that she gets so careless? How can she in good conscience submit the Doctor to the time experiment without having watched their test through to its conclusion? And then I have to question, how is it that this time experiment that is designed to roll back time ends up actually aging the Doctor? Yes, I know the experiment goes awry, but the test with the hourglass did successfully reverse time rather than accelerate it. I’m not sure what exactly happened to the hourglass when things went wrong, but it didn’t appear to be a result of the reversal of the process. Shouldn’t theoretically the Doctor emerge as a baby rather than an old man?
I start paying attention again because the Doctor’s old man makeup is quite good and he really does a splendid job of it. “I’m sick of being old,” a subdued Doctor sighs after only a few moments. His body might be weak but his mind remains active. “And then the name of the thing. Has that struck you?” he asks the younger and livelier Hardin and Romana. “Recreation Generator. Re-creation.”
Then I get lost in this whole world of tachyonics and the musings take over. Like I wonder what those red plastic dummies are that are scattered about the place. And does anybody remember or care that Visitor Loman’s body was horrendously torn apart by the tachyon cabinet? And why is it that Brock, who is really a Foamasi traitor in disguise, is the only one who shows any concern when Morix dies? Even Morix’ own wife Mena sweeps his death aside with no more thought than “He did his duty. I automatically become Chairman in his place.” In fact, other than an obviously smitten Hardin, the fake Brock is the only one who expresses any feeling when Mena deteriorates before their eyes. For a murderous saboteur Brock is surprisingly compassionate. But then as the Doctor says, “One must always accept the unexpected.”
My thought processes continue along the lines of Brock. We discover he is a Foamasi in disguise working with fellow undercover criminal Klout. Yet both of these are accounted for in their human masks when we are shown a Foamasi sabotaging the hive. OK, so this is a colleague, but why does no one spot a big green scaly Foamasi roaming about the halls? And why does no one think to round up any of these stray Foamasi betrayers that still might be lurking about the place? And if Brock is working to undermine the hive, why his interest in helping Hardin perfect his time experiment? By the way, what’s with the rather lame close up reaction shots of individual faces while Brock and Klout are unmasked? As for the Foamasi government, I assume he misspoke and meant to say he is with the Foamasi government and not the Foamasi government. But why, knowing he was going to Argolis and would eventually need to communicate with its people, why would he not bring his own voice synthesizer along?
But Brock, the Foamasi, Stimson, and Hardin are all ultimately sidelined as villains or potential villains when the big reveal is unleashed. Again I have to compliment the makeup and costumes at this point. Pangol is rather impressive in his Helmet of Theron as he marches to his victorious future. And he has such a beautiful cherub face and deep dark eyes. But really, why all the fuss? Why is everyone so desperately afraid of Pangol and his army of petulant boys on a dead planet with no weapons or ships? And what business is it really of the Doctor and Romana, the petty politics of this piffling planet to paraphrase an earlier story?
Of course the Doctor does have to get young again, which he does miraculously when he emerges in multitudes out of the Recreation Generator. I don’t know if it is because my mind wandered so much or if it is just inexplicable, but I really have no clue what happens at the end, what with the unstable tachyon Doctor/Pangol images and the de-aging of Mena and Pangol. I don’t know if it is the work of Hardin, Pangol, Romana, or the Doctor, or a combination thereof. I also don’t know if any of the results were intended or just happy accident.
All I know is that I come out of my reverie in time to hear the Doctor and Romana discuss leaving the Randomizer behind: “There’s been enough randomizing on this job.” As for the threat of the Black Guardian: “Some galactic hobo with ideas above his station.” Romana reminds the Doctor that they were supposed to be on holiday and my mind flashes back to that agonizingly long opening pan over the chairs of Brighton beach and I scream, ‘No! Don’t go back there!’ I needn't worry: “Well then, I’m going to be very glad to get back to work.”
Thank you, Doctor. I’ll be glad when you get back to work myself. So I’ll send these rambling thoughts out, Gary, and hope for something more coherent next time.
Posted by Jenny Strigens at 7:50 AM