It’s possible to tell from the opening few minutes that this one is going to give us a something of a bumpy ride. The modelwork is shot on videotape, rather than film, which would become a more regular occurrence as the series moved into the eighties. Compared to the model shots from City of Death it looks much less impressive (something which Colin Mapson, the visual effects designer admitted to) but he had no choice in the matter. Money was tight and since it would take several hours to record these scenes on videotape compared to about four days on film, it was an obvious cost saving.
Our first sight of the interior of the Empress, a space cruise-liner, doesn’t offer many surprises. Like many spaceships down the years it appears to have been cobbled together with whatever was at hand (I’m sure many of the instrument panels had played sterling service in other Doctor Who’s and Blakes’ 7’s).
If the visual aspect is a little lacking, then there’s still a nice hard-SF concept at the heart of Bob Baker’s only solo script for the series. After emerging from hyperspace, two spaceships collide with each other, which is just the sort of problem the Doctor relishes ….
With a wobbly production, what you really need is a strong guest cast. Hmm. David Daker is his usual solid self as Rigg, the captain of the Empress, whilst Lewis Fiander’s turn as Tryst is somewhat hampered by his decision to employ a comedy Germanic accent. This means that he mangles various words in a way that is supposed to be amusing, but really isn’t. There are two points of view with Fiander – either he sabotaged the story by overacting or he breathed life into a fairly routine script. I tend to favour the former over the latter, but there’s some undeniable pleasure to be gained from his wonky performance.
Tryst is a zoologist who has gone from planet to planet with his invention, the CET machine (the Continuous Event Transmuter). It doesn’t just record what it sees though, it scoops up whole sections of planets and stores them as electromagnetic signals on an event crystal inside the machine. The Doctor’s less than impressed with this electronic zoo.
Tryst’s assistant is Della, played by Jennifer Lonsdale. It’s not really her fault, as Della’s rather underwritten, but Lonsdale doesn’t really put a great deal of life into her performance. But I guess anybody standing next to Tryst would tend to be overshadowed.
What we’re really waiting for is the reveal of the monster and it doesn’t disappoint. The episode one cliffhanger must be one of the funniest in the show’s history as a Mandrel pops his head through a hole in the wall (although I’m not sure that laughter was the intended effect). As seen below, in still shots they can look rather menacing, but when they’re called upon to move it’s more problematic ….