The Doctor’s meeting with Dojjen is this episode’s key scene. Dojjen explains exactly how the Mara can be vanquished – the Doctor needs to find the still point. “The still point is within yourself, nowhere else. To destroy the Mara you must find the still point”.
Earlier we were told that Dojjen had set off for the hills some ten years earlier to prepare for the day that the Mara would return. Given this, why didn’t he go back with the Doctor? Presumably he was confident that the Doctor was the right man for the job (and it also saved having to pay Preston Lockwood to appear in the studio scenes).
Although this episode was subject to some considerable editing, particularly at the end, the ceremonial section drags somewhat (even though it was originally much longer too). This is not necessarily a criticism though – the ceremony should be somewhat tedious and formal and the longer it’s dragged out, the more tension is created.
Eventually we get some acknowledgement from the Doctor that he’s concerned about Tegan. When mentally conversing with Dojjen, his priorities are saving Tegan first and destroying the Mara second.
Janet Fielding sits out a portion of this episode, as she did in the previous one. With Lon acting as the main conduit for the Mara’s plotting since the start of episode three, Tegan was left with little to do except pop up occasionally to menace the unfortunate showman Dugdale (Brian Miller). But she does get a nice scene at the end of this episode, pleading with the Doctor to help her. “Help me, Doctor. What’s happening to me? Please, look at me, Doctor. I need your help”.
But the Doctor know this isn’t Tegan – it’s still the Mara speaking through her – so continues to press until (apparently) the Mara is destroyed once and for all. The story ends with a distraught Tegan being comforted by the Doctor (a rare example of Davison’s Doctor having a brief moment of physical contact with one of his companions). Sadly, this moment is rather curtailed due to the overrunning issues – which is why it was decided to carry the discussion about the demise of the Mara into the first few minutes of the following story, Mawdryn Undead.
Snakedance is a slightly more conventional and a little less compelling story than Kinda, but it’s still full of interest. It has a stagey and unreal feel at times – for example, both the cave interior and exterior don’t look at all convincing – but it’s the story concepts (the notion that evil is contained within us all) and the performances which matter the most. Unlike the Great Crystal, Snakedance has a somewhat flawed beauty, but a beauty nonetheless.
After Lon is taken over by the Mara, it’s notable that his general attitude and appearance doesn’t change at all. Compare this to Tegan, whose voice drops several octaves whilst her character also undergoes a radical adjustment (showing amusement at the distress of others).
In plain story terms it’s not hard to understand why. Since Lon still has to interact with both his mother and Ambril, it would rather give the game away if he was cackling evilly in the corner. But possibly Bailey missed a trick by not submerging Tegan’s possession – in a different version of the script she could have appeared to be her normal self until a suitably dramatic point of the story (a cliffhanger, no doubt).
Since Snakedance has a fairly similar story structure to Kinda – the Mara doesn’t attempt to make a full, physical manifestation until the end of episode four – this means a certain amount of running on the spot has to be done until we reach that point. This is far from unusual in Doctor Who (unless you have a very episodic story like The Keys of Marinus) but Snakedance is still powering along with character development, so what we see here never feels like padding.
John Carson continues to impress and Martin Clunes also seems to feed off Carson’s quality playing (their two-handed scenes are something of a treat). The Mara needs the Great Crystal in order to make a dramatic reappearance and Ambril is the one who can facilitate this. It doesn’t take long for the Mara (presumably through the thoughts of Lon) to work out a way to tempt Ambril – a previously undiscovered cache of previous artefacts.
For Ambril, who has dedicated his life to cataloguing the treasures of the past, the prospect is a mesmerising one. This is seen most clearly at the moment when Lon causally teases him about their value and importance. Ambril’s face takes on a wistful expression as he wonders how many there are (“lots?”) which then switches to anger as Lon doesn’t give him a straight answer. For the normally servile Ambril to lose his temper, it’s plain that something extraordinary has happened.
Christopher Bailey’s lyrical powers can be seen in this evocative excerpt from Dojjen’s diary. “Where the winds of restlessness blow, where the fires of greed burn, where hatred chills the blood, here in the Great Mind’s Eye, here in the depths of the human heart, here is the Mara”. Although it’s not just a piece of fancy dialogue, as it also serves as a pointer to the way the story will develop.
And where’s the Doctor been all this time? Locked up and slightly frustrated. Here, he explains to Nyssa precisely what the problem is. “The lock is extremely primitive. It’s practically a museum piece. There’s no electronic impulse matrix to decode, no sonic microcircuit to disrupt. Crude mechanical six barrel movement, key operated. Primitive but adequate. Well, it’s more than adequate, actually, because the key is what we don’t have”.
But although the Doctor is restrained, he’s still able to begin to understand how the Mara will return thanks to some vital information supplied by Chela. It’s possibly not unintentional that the Doctor is shown to be just as active behind bars as he would have been if he’d been at liberty. At this point in the story he’s operating as a Victorian/Edwardian “thinking detective” – someone who could find a solution to a seemingly imponderable mystery without having to leave the comfort of their armchair.
It appears that the locals enjoy Punch & Judy just as much as we do – albeit with a twist (their version has a snake instead of a crocodile). The sight of the puppet snake menacing Mr Punch is no doubt a sly nod back to the less than perfect snake which made an appearance at the end of Kinda (a larger puppet, on sticks, makes an equally amusing later appearance).
Nyssa continues to be pro-active, but her attempts to help only lead her to the same cell occupied by the Doctor. Once that happens the Doctor seems to lose his impatience to escape (which is transferred over to Nyssa). Possibly the most telling moment occurs when Nyssa frets that the longer they’re incarcerated, the greater the possibility that the Mara will destroy Tegan. The Doctor looks a little guilty, but doesn’t answer.
If this episode’s cliffhanger proves one thing, it’s that Sarah Sutton wasn’t one of the series’ natural born screamers …..
In Kinda, it seemed like the Mara could only possess one person at a time – moving from Tegan to Aris, for example. Snakedance is able to improve on that, as Tegan/Mara is able to corrupt Lon.
This makes sense – since Tegan spends the story possessed by the Mara she requires a confederate to talk to (she could spend it soliloquising but that would probably get somewhat tiresome rather quickly). The fact that Lon is a man of status doesn’t hurt though – this means he would be able to open doors that are closed to others.
Martin Clunes’ performance is often seen as something of an embarrassment, but there’s no reason why it should be regarded as so. Lon isn’t as deep a character as, say, Hindle, but Clunes doesn’t disgrace himself.
But it’s John Carson who really impresses. This episode has one of my favourite Snakedance moments – the six faces of delusion – in which the Doctor manages to demolish Ambril’s superiority with almost indifferent ease. True, it’s hard to believe that Ambril would never have considered the possibility that the ceremonial headdress which features five carved faces would only display six when worn, but given Ambril’s intractability, maybe it’s not too unreasonable after all.
The Doctor continues to be a thorn in Ambril’s side, but since the Doctor is babbling on about death and destruction it’s possibly not surprising that nobody (except young Chela) takes him seriously. But it is rather refreshing that we’re halfway through the story and still the Doctor is positioned as an outsider. This isn’t unique (it’s very late in the day during Frontier in Space before anybody listens to him) but usually by now he’s managed to convince someone of his bona-fides. The early run of the new series, with its psychic paper, made this even less of a problem, but Snakdance takes us back to a time when the Doctor couldn’t simply stroll into any situation and simply take control.
Christopher Bailey didn’t find Kinda to be a very satisfying experience. Mainly this was because his theatre background had made him accustomed to working in a collaborative environment – whereas television (particularly series like Doctor Who) were much more compartmentalised. So once his scripts were finished the production pretty much carried on without him (something which he regretted).
But the fact that Kinda passed through the hands of three script-editors – Christopher H. Bidmead, Anthony Root and Eric Saward – probably didn’t help either. In contrast, Bailey only had to deal with one script-editor during the creation of Snakedance – Saward – although it’s hard to imagine it was a great meeting of minds.
Saward favoured accessible and straightforward action adventure tales and Bailey …. didn’t. Snakdance is therefore something of a hybrid – with the voices of both Bailey and Saward on show. This wasn’t unusual for Doctor Who (the script-editor often had a considerable input into the stories commissioned) but it’s possibly more marked in Snakedance, given Bailey’s unusual style.
Saward’s influence can be seen right from the start. He disliked the fact that Bailey had written lengthy scenes and so elected to cut them up – chopping and changing from one to another. This didn’t work at all, since it spoilt the dramatic flow from scene to scene. Too often we leave one location at an inopportune time in order to witness an equally brief and unsatisfying moment elsewhere before returning to our original point.
This is Snakedance‘s main drawback, but as the story progresses it becomes less of a problem. This is either because the story becomes more engrossing, and therefore the narrative jumps are more tolerable, or simply because they decreased.
After a brief shot of a man we later learn is called Dojjen (Preston Lockwood) the action switches to the TARDIS. When Nyssa enters the console room, wearing a new dress which the Doctor totally fails to notice, there’s a definite sense of change and development. This was rare for Doctor Who companions during the 1960’s – 1980’s. They tended to arrive fully-formed (or at least as formed as they’d ever be) and would remain largely in a state of stasis until they left.
There are exceptions. Jo becomes slightly less dizzy and more capable during the later part of season ten (although this may simply have been a case of Letts and Dicks laying the ground for her imminent departure) whilst Ace would have even more of a pronounced story arc as she travelled from girl to woman.
Nyssa’s development is less substantial, but it’s there all the same. With longer hair and new clothes (even if they’re not very flattering) she seems to be more confident and able to confront the Doctor head-on. It’s only annoying that after spending most of S19 not doing much at all, Nyssa becomes a more interesting character just at the point in which she’s almost on her way out.
The TARDIS is usually a place of sanctuary. Occasionally (The Mind Robber, for instance) this is reversed, but more often than not it’s the place where the monsters can’t reach. So this makes Tegan’s trauma – menaced by the Mara in her dreams – all the more unsettling. Also slightly perturbing is the way that the Doctor roughly questions her (or at least as rough as Davison’s Doctor tended to be). As with his inability to praise Nyssa’s new look, this could just be a cause that he’s preoccupied, or you may wish to believe that he’s still a little upset at the way Tegan barged back into the TARDIS at the end of Arc of Infinity!
When watching the first episode of Kinda, it was possible to guess which of the characters would support the Doctor and which would oppose him. In Snakedance it’s not so clear cut. Tanha (Colette O’Neil) and Lon (Martin Clunes) are both powerful people – the wife and the son of the Federator respectively – but the reason for their presence isn’t obvious to begin with. Tanha operates like a senior member of the Royal Family – she has ceremonial duties to perform and will always carry them out to the best of her ability (even if she sometimes has trouble in maintaining interest) whilst Lon is a junior Royal. He doesn’t appreciate his privileged position, finding it to be restrictive, and therefore amuses himself by being less than diplomatic.
Flitting between the two is Ambril (John Carson). As a noted archaeologist and a learned researcher into ancient Mannusan history, he should be the Doctor’s ally. With the Doctor concerned that the Mara plans to make a return to this universe via Tegan, Ambril could supply vital information. But Ambril is close-minded, pompous and disinclined to listen to anybody else.
So as episode one ends, the Doctor and Nyssa are separated from Tegan and somewhat lacking in allies. Meanwhile, there are definite signs that the Mara has returned ….
The Mara may be somewhat malevolent, but it’s clearly only as effective as the person it currently occupies. So maybe Aris wasn’t possibly the right person to jump into (had it chosen Hindle, no doubt the world of the Kinda would have ended up as a smoking ruin in double-quick time).
Although the possessed Aris talks a good fight (“The Not-we must be driven out and their dome destroyed!”) it’s plain that he doesn’t have a clue how to achieve this. His solution – to build a fighting machine out of wood – makes this plain. This is another part of the story which some have found fault with in the past, but it makes complete sense – Aris is operating strictly under his own terms of reference. The Mara may possess him, but apart from granting him the gift of voice it doesn’t seem able to furnish him with any insight or knowledge.
Meanwhile back at the Dome, Hindle hasn’t got any saner. When the Doctor returns, he’s told by Sanders that they’ve been having fun. Davison’s delivery of the line “Have you? Oh, good. There’s nothing quite like it, is there?” is immaculate.
Hindle’s madness culminates in one of Simon Rouse’s signature moments (one of many throughout the four episodes). After the Doctor inadvertently breaks one of his cardboard figures, Hindle is inconsolable. Sanders tells him that it can be repaired with a spot of glue, but Hindle thinks otherwise. “You can’t mend people, can you.”
The DVD production subtitles then help to explain why (as Hindle lunges for the destruct button) the Doctor wraps his hands around Hindle’s mouth (in the original script, Hindle was going to issue a verbal command to one of his pliant Kinda servants). Quite why they didn’t change this I’m not sure, but it doesn’t really matter as it makes the melee rather messy (as it should be – the Doctor shouldn’t be that good a fighter).
The Box of Jhana then becomes a healing device (which it hadn’t previously). Once Hindle opens it, the balance of his mind is restored (an “everyone lives” moment of redemption which the original series didn’t often tend to in go for). This again poses some unanswered questions though – if Hindle had been sane, would the box have driven him mad? And since the effect on Sanders was only temporary (by the end of the story he’s quite his old self too) why didn’t the missing members of the team regain their senses? Or maybe they did, and they’re still wandering dazedly around the forest, hopelessly lost.
This final installment is where the wheels (of life, sorry) start to come off slightly. The fact the episode was underrunning somewhat meant that several filler scenes had to be shot later and inserted into the completed material. They’re not a bad fit, but the sight of Adric and Tegan standing in a corridor talking isn’t terribly dramatic.
During S18 Christopher H. Bidmead was ruthless in cutting any flab out of the scripts, meaning that often they didn’t get much beyond twenty minutes. But possibly that was more acceptable for a Saturday timeslot (where traditionally programmes had never started on the hour or half-hour) than for weekdays (where they always tended to).
We then have the appearance of the snake. I don’t think it’s that bad, although giving Matthew Waterhouse the line of wonder (“It’s fantastic. Where does it draw its energy from? It’s incredible.”) doesn’t help. If you want someone to sell a slightly dodgy effect, then Mr Waterhouse might not have been the best choice.
Provided you can disregard some of the production missteps (and if you can’t, then Doctor Who 1963 – 1989 really isn’t the show for you), Kinda is impressive stuff. It may have nonplussed many younger fans (and possibly the rest of the audience) back in 1982, but it’s a story that’s only got better with age. I’d certainly take it over the whizz-bang antics of Earthshock any day.
It does seem astonishing that Kinda ended up bottom of the 1982 DWM Season Survey poll. Although it’s easy to argue that Kinda’s theme and subtexts wouldn’t have necessary engaged the (I assume) largely teenage readership of the magazine (no surprises that the straight-ahead thrills of Earthshock were much more to their tastes) it does appear that contemporary Doctor Who fandom also regarded Christopher Bailey’s story with less than open arms.
Although Kinda did have its supporters, some fanzine reviews at the time were also fairly negative and you do get a sense that those who praised the story were well aware they were ploughing a rather lonely furrow. The puppet snake was then and will probably forever be a source of irritation and embarrassment for a section of the audience, although it’s never bothered me (and for those who still haven’t learnt to forgive, forget and love the snake, they can always use the nice CGI option on the DVD).
Initially Kinda seems to be operating on fairly normal lines. The concept of a planet where the seemingly primitive indigenous population face unwelcome and seemingly technologically superior visitors is a familiar Sci-Fi trope whilst the fact that Sanders (Richard Todd) and Hindle (Simon Rouse) are decked out in vague military uniforms (and in Sanders case, a pith helmet as well) means that the parallels to the British Empire are as obvious as they’re unsubtle.
In their early scenes, the characters of Sanders and Hindle operate as familiar archetypes. Sanders is bluff and gruff (albeit with a faint sense of humour) whilst Hindle comes across as a humourless by-the-book martinet. The third member of the team, Todd (Nerys Hughes) possesses a questioning nature, thereby providing her with an overview that the others (especially Hindle) lack. Given her scientific background this isn’t surprising though (especially since the hand of Christopher H. Bidmead was on the tiller – at least initially).
So it’s clear that when the Doctor enters their world he’s going to have one ally (Todd) and one adversary (Hindle) with Sanders possibly wavering in-between these two positions. Numerous Doctor Who stories feature an authority figure who complicates the Doctor’s progress, but whilst Hindle certainly fulfils this standard role it’s his highly unstable nature which is strikingly original.
The first discordant note is struck after he demolishes Todd’s laboratory in a fit of pique. It’s a very childish act which nobody in their right mind would have carried out (so serves as an early pointer that all is far from well with him). After Sanders heads out into the jungle, leaving the Doctor, Adric and Todd at his mercy, it’s not certain precisely what will happen next …
When Bailey was originally commissioned, Nyssa wasn’t part of the TARDIS crew, hence the reason why she’s written out (bar brief topping and tailing appearances). This is a shame, as with a spot of rewriting she could have taken on many of Todd’s responsibilities (both are questing scientists after all). But Nerys Hughes formed such a good rapport with Davison that it’s impossible to complain about the way things turned out.
Kinda is often referred to as Tegan’s story, although it’s striking how minimal her involvement is. If you added up all her scenes during the first two episodes it’s doubtful they’d reach five minutes, she spends episode three asleep and only comes to life again during the final instalment where she returns to fulfilling her more traditional companion duties (and is consequentially less interesting than previously).
In this first episode she’s trapped in a strange netherworld, menaced by the mysterious Dukkha (Jeff Stewart). And even though Tegan only features in a handful of scenes, they’re all deeply unsettling.
TEGAN: Am I dreaming you, is that it?
DUKKHA: Are you?
TEGAN: Or imagining you?
TEGAN: Then I can abolish you, can’t I?
(Tegan closes her eyes then opens them again.)
DUKKHA: Puzzling, isn’t it? And by the way, one thing. You will agree to believe in me sooner or later. This side of madness or the other.
Terminus is a story where every main creative element (writing, acting, music, direction, etc) is just slightly off. None of the elements are particularly bad in themselves, but the cumulative effect produces a curiously static story that fails to impress.
I want to love it, because I love Stephen Gallagher’s previous script, Warriors’ Gate, but Terminus is a very different story. Whereas Warriors’ Gate was an impressionistic tale with several different levels of meaning, Terminus has a very clear narrative drive.
It could be that Gallagher was attempting to make a satirical point concerning the private company, Terminus Inc., who have a contract to process and cure people with Lazar’s disease. In the early 1980’s, the debate about private healthcare versus the NHS was rumbling on. Is Terminus Inc. a sideswipe at private healthcare providers? It’s possible, although it’s not particularly clear.
What does seem clear is that Terminus is an incredibly inefficiently run company. If nobody is ever cured, surely people would eventually realise this and not continue to pay them and send their infected relatives? If they exist to make a profit then surely it would be in their interest to cure as many people as possible, but they don’t seem to have much success with this.
Into this setup, come the Doctor and his companions. Just as the script is a little off, so none of the regulars is particularly well served by the story. It does start brightly though, with a well acted scene between Tegan and Turlough, Tegan is very suspicious about Turlough, rightly so as it turns out. They remain together for the remainder of the story, but once they’re on Terminus they do little of consequence and their importance to the narrative fades.
Terminus is Nyssa’s final story and Sarah Sutton is moved a little more centre stage, but she’s much less effective when not partnered with Davison’s Doctor. Several stories this year saw Davison and Sutton teamed up, and they worked together very well, but Nyssa fades somewhat when she’s working with the drippy Olvir or the cuddly Garm.
If you mention Olvir (Dominic Guard) then you have to mention fellow pirate Kari (Liza Goddard). Their appearance in episode one is memorable, but for all the wrong reasons. They’re supposed to be hardened space pirates, but the capes and boots somewhat negate this. Olvir’s lashings of mascara don’t help either. It’s tempting to suppose that they were two of the worst pirates ever, so their boss took the step of marooning them on the first spaceship he saw.
With Tegan and Turlough crawling around the infrastructure, achieving very little, and Nyssa waiting for a cure, that leaves the Doctor, who also has very little to do in the story. He spends a large part of it working on the mystery of the creation of the universe – but this is presented so baldly that there’s no particular interest generated. For example, when Davison announces (at the end of episode three) that the universe is in danger, it’s difficult to really care – it’s just a rather limp cliffhanger.
The Garm looks rather silly. Gallagher had intended that it should never be seen in full – only its silhouette and his glowing eyes – but he’s here, in all his shaggy-dog glory.
And Roger Limb’s music is fairly horrific. I love the majority of the Radiophonic Workshop’s contributions during S18 – S23, but Terminus is the exception that proves the rule. Sounding rather like a series of random notes, it doesn’t create atmosphere, it merely irritates.
There were numerous production problems with this story, which are fairly well documented and all these helped to contribute to the end result. But there are some highlights, like Peter Benson as Bor, who seems to be acting in a different story from everybody else.
Terminus is a story that it’s difficult to imagine anybody ever reaches down from the shelf on impulse to watch. It’s one of those (like Underworld) that you struggle manfully through whilst engaged on a sequential rewatch and breathe a sigh of relief when it’s over and happier times (Enlightenment) are ahead.
There’s several notable things about Mawdryn Undead (such as the return of the Black Guardian and the introduction of Turlough) but let’s be honest – for most of us it’s all about The Brig.
Nicholas Courtney holds a unique place in Doctor Who history. No other actor played the same character opposite six of the first seven television Doctors and there would be several post-Battlefield appearances as well. Such as Dimensions in Time (oh dear), Downtime (quite good really) and a last hurrah opposite Elisabeth Sladen in The Sarah Jane Adventures.
Before we move on to look at Mawdryn Undead, I would heartily recommend the audiobook of his memoirs, A Soldier In Time, produced by Big Finish. There’s plenty of time spent discussing Doctor Who of course, but by far the most interesting section is devoted to his childhood and his early years as a struggling actor. Courtney’s familiar Doctor Who stories (“five rounds rapid”, “they were all wearing eyepatches”) are part of Doctor Who folklore, but where A Soldier In Time really excels is in showing us something of the real man. Let’s take a quick look at Babelcolour’s lovely tribute (which I can never watch without getting a little misty-eyed) then we’ll turn our attention to Peter Grimwade’s second script for the series.
It seems that Mawdryn Undead was originally planned with Ian Chesterton in mind, which makes sense, as it’s possible to imagine Chesterton in later years teaching at a boys school. But for whatever reason it was redrafted for Lethbridge-Stewart. It had been eight years since the Brigadier had appeared in Doctor Who, with only one of his stories repeated during this time (The Three Doctors in 1981) and for many, including myself, this would only be our second opportunity to see him in action. But we all knew how important he was to the series (both through DWM and also by reading about his earlier stories in Target Books’ series of novelisations).
Initially, we’re presented with a somewhat broken-down and dispirited Brigadier which is a far cry from the resolute, man of action of the Pertwee era. Like much of the story, there’s something of a NuWho feel about this, as it’s impossible to imagine any regular character during the 1960’s or 1970’s being put under the microscope in such a way, whereas it’s much more likely to happen today.
Lethbridge-Stewart seems to be suffering from some deep-rooted trauma, as he doesn’t remember either the Doctor or the TARDIS. Eventually the Doctor manages to break through, which leads us into a gloriously nostalgic clip-fest. This was a regular feature of the early JNT years (there were similar examples in Logopolis and Earthshock). You had to be there, but at the time this was so incredibly exciting. The notion of being able to even see, let alone own, every Doctor Who story in existence was almost beyond imagining so these brief clips were tantalising glimpses into an unknowable, magical past.
Courtney’s wonderful in these scenes, they give him so much more to work with than he’s ever had before. And just as we’ve grown used to this Brigadier, we’re introduced to another (from six years earlier). This is a pre-breakdown Brig, much closer to the character we saw in, say, Terror of the Zygons. The two Brigs (one from 1977 and the other from 1983) become central to the story, and the consequences of time travel is another element of the story which is NuWho flavoured.
The original series rarely used time travel as part of the story. The TARDIS mainly existed to drop the Doctor and his friends off somewhere and would take them away at the end of the story, although there were exceptions of course. In The Time Meddler, Steven and Vikki discuss what would happen if the Monk succeeded in changing history – would their memories of events just change and would they even realise that they had? In The Ark we see the results of the Doctor’s actions, when the TARDIS returns to the Ark several hundred years after his last visit. Dodo’s cold triggered a chain of events that led to the Monoids taking control and subjugating the humans.
Perhaps the story with the closest link to Mawdryn Undead is Day of the Daleks. In Day, two separate times become connected, which means that the events of the present are inexorably linked with the future. Something similar happens here, with the crux of the story resting on the connection of the two Brigadiers.
In retrospect, it’s not difficult to understand why time travel didn’t feature in more stories during the original series. Once you’ve uncorked that particular genie, it’s impossible to get it back into the bottle. For example, at the start of Time-Flight, Tegan asked the Doctor why they couldn’t land the TARDIS on the freighter and rescue Adric before it crashed into the Earth. The real reason was that Matthew Waterhouse’s contract was up and it wasn’t renewed – but the moment you introduce the idea that all the Doctor has to do to solve matters is to nip back in the TARDIS, you’re on very shaky ground.
The Paul McGann TV Movie (or as I prefer to call it, Grace 1999) has a particularly bad example of this, when Grace is brought back to life. When life and death are not absolute (and the new series has often been guilty of this – how many times have the dead been resurrected?) the narrative has to suffer.
As I said earlier, there are a few other notable things about Mawdryn Undead. Firstly, Mark Strickson is introduced as Turlough. It’s interesting that JNT decided to introduce another male companion so soon after Adric. The heyday of the male companion was in the 1960’s where they generally performed the strong-arm stuff that the Doctor was either unable (Hartnell) or unwilling (Troughton) to do. Later on, as Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker were able to handle their own action, the likes of Harry ended up as something of a third wheel.
During his first three stories, Turlough has an interesting story arc – he’s an agent of the Black Guardian and has been ordered to kill the Doctor. Even before he’s recruited we can clearly see he’s a bit of a wrong ‘un, so his presence in the TARDIS will certainly shake things up. Strickson’s very good here as he would be during his brief run on the programme. After the Black Guardian trilogy he’s very often sidelined, but whenever he’s given something to do (Frontios, for example) he delivers the goods.
The next item of interest is the return the Black Guardian. I love Valentine Dyall and could listen to his voice forever – butthe Black Guardian is a really rubbish villain. Although the threat of the Black Guardian had hung over The Key To Time season, he only appeared in one short scene. And a problem with the Black Guardian trilogy is that after we’ve seen him pop up once and threaten Turlough with dire consequences if he doesn’t kill the Doctor, then we’ve seen everything he can do.
You’ve also got to wonder why the Black Guardian, charged with creating universal chaos, should be concerned with destroying the Doctor. And why he couldn’t recruit somebody better than Turlough. Surely there must be more efficient killers out there?
Whilst the Doctor, Nyssa and Tegan are busily interacting with the Brigadier and Turlough the main plot is taking shape. Unusually, there’s a very low level of threat for the Doctor and his friends. Mawdryn and his friends are criminals (they stole regenerative equipment from Gallifrey, although how they got past the Transduction Barriers is anyone’s guess) but they don’t actively wish anybody any harm – they just want to die. The debate about assisted suicide carries on today and it’s surprising to see it addressed some thirty years ago in Doctor Who.
The Doctor could help (but this would mean surrendering his remaining regenerations). He declines, although changes his mind later on when he discovers Nyssa and Tegan have been infected. Luckily for everyone, the two Brigadiers chance to meet at just the right moment with the result that Mawdryn and his friends are able to die, Nyssa and Tegan are cured and the Doctor remains a Time Lord.
A quick mention for David Collings as Mawdryn. He’s sometimes hampered by the make-up and costume but he’s very compelling as the weary, resigned scientist locked into an eternal life of torment. It’s easy to see why so many people would have liked to see him play the Doctor (check out his appearances in Sapphire and Steel, where he plays Silver in a very Doctorish way).
Season 20 could have just loaded each story with classic monsters and it probably would have worked quite well. But I’m glad that they didn’t and instead there’s a wider range of stories and themes of which Mawdryn Undead is a fine example.
Although Kinda had somewhat bemused Doctor Who fandom in 1982, it was popular with both the general audience and the Doctor Who production team, so a sequel always seemed likely.
Script Editor Eric Saward was also keen for another story featuring the Mara, as it would provide Janet Fielding with another meaty role. Saward had quickly grown to appreciate Fielding’s performance as Tegan and when interviewed by DWB in the mid 1980’s he felt that the series would have been stronger if Davison’s Doctor had only had Tegan as a single travelling companion: “If we’d just had Janet and Peter the contrast would have been excellent — critical, curious, tenacious — all the element I think make a strong and insightful companion against a weaker, much more vulnerable Doctor. Tegan was the best companion not just because of good writing, but because of Janet Fielding’s skill as an actress. Her performances in Christopher Bailey’s scripts confirmed that.”
Whilst Snakedance resembles a traditional Doctor Who story much more than Kinda did, it’s still quite unusual. Unless you count the Mara at the end of episode four, nobody dies and whilst the plot does develop in a linear way there’s still a considerable amount of time to debate the nature of evil. As with Kinda, Bailey’s Buddhist beliefs are very much to the fore.
And like Kinda, Bailey would select the names of several characters from various languages. For example, Tanha is a Buddhist term that means “thirst” and Chela is derived from a Hindu word meaning “slave” or “servant”.
Snakedance is also quite similar to Kinda in that whilst Janet Fielding does get the chance to shine, she’s also off-screen for quite some time (particularly in episode three). This gives a welcome chance for Sarah Sutton to enjoy more of the limelight. As with Arc of Infinity, Nyssa spends the majority of the story with the Doctor and there’s a very interesting, slightly bickering relationship, that develops. Nyssa was the most underwritten companion of S19 and it’s only a pity that finally she’s beginning to show more promise just when her days are numbered.
Peter Davision is wonderful in this story. For me it’s one of his three best performances as the Doctor, along with Frontios and The Caves of Androzani. From the opening scene, he seems to have much more of a sense of urgency than in recent stories, as he pushes Tegan hard (too hard for Nyssa’s liking) to remember her dreams. Later, he spends much of episode three locked up, firstly by himself and later with Nyssa. And whilst some of the other Doctors would be pacing up and down and desperately trying to find a way out, there’s a lovely sense of calm about Davison in these scenes – he doesn’t seem to be doing much, but that’s the mark of a good actor.
It’s also noteworthy that he spends most of the story unable to make people believe that he’s anything but a raving madman, since in most Doctor Who stories the Doctor tends to get welcomed into the fold fairly quickly (Kinda is a good example of this, whilst Frontier In Space is, like Snakedance, a relative rarity where we see the Doctor as an outsider for the majority of the yarn).
A key man that the Doctor needs to convince is Ambril (John Carson). But although Ambril is an expert in antiquities, he has little time for the Doctor’s doom-mongering, but the Doctor probably doesn’t help his cause in the following, wonderful, scene –
(A ceremonial helmet with a crest of five faces is on a display stand.)
AMBRIL: Now take this, for example. It dates from the middle Sumaran era and unusually is mentioned quite specifically in the Legend. Oh, there can be no doubt. The reference is to the Six Faces of Delusion. Now count. One, two, three, four, five. You will observe there are five faces, not six as the Legend would have it. Now, my point is this. I do find it quite extraordinarily difficult to take seriously a Legend that cannot even count accurately. Of course, artistically speaking, it’s an entirely different matter. The piece is exquisite. An undoubted masterpiece.
DOCTOR: What is it?
AMBRIL: Hmm? Head-dress.
DOCTOR: Try it on.
DOCTOR: Try it on.
AMBRIL: Certainly not. Whatever for?
DOCTOR: Please. I want to show you something, then I’ll go and leave you in peace.
AMBRIL: Very well.
(Ambril puts on the headdress.)
DOCTOR: Now, count the faces again.
AMBRIL: Do as he says.
CHELA: One, two, three, four, five.
DOCTOR: And one makes six. The sixth Face of Delusion is the wearer’s own. That was probably the idea, don’t you think?
AMBRIL: Get out! Go on, get out!
John Carson’s performance is beautifully judged and must rank as one of the best Doctor Who guest-star performances. There were plenty of bigger names that guest-starred in Doctor Who, but few were as good as Carson. He’s a major reason why this story works so well.
The rest of the cast are equally good though. Snakedance has a fairly small group of characters, which helps to ensure that all of them have room for some decent scenes. Colette O’Neil is perfect as Tahna, the bored wife of the Federator, forced to listen to endless tedious speeches by Ambril about the history of Manussa. Although Martin Clunes’ performance does tend to crop up on “before they were famous” type series, he’s fine as Lon, the bored son of the Federator. Jonathon Morris gives a fresh-faced vigor to the role of Chela and Brian Miller (Mr Elisabeth Sladen) has a lovely turn as the showman, Dugdale.
Which leaves Preston Lockwood as Dojjen. He doesn’t have much to say (at least not out loud) but he’s in one of Snakedance’s key scenes as the Doctor submits to a snake bite in order to discover how he can destroy the Mara. And unlike many Doctor Who stories, the Mara can’t be destroyed with a gun or an explosion, something quite different needs to be done –
DOJJEN: No, look into my eyes. You have come this far. You must not now give in to fear. Look.
DOCTOR: It’s the poison. The effect of the poison.
DOJJEN: Fear is the only poison.
DOCTOR: Fear is.
DOJJEN: Ask your question.
DOCTOR: How, how can, I must save Tegan. It was my fault, so how, how can. Destroyed. How can the Mara? It was my fault.
DOJJEN: Steady your mind. Attach to nothing. Let go of your fear.
DOCTOR: What is the Snake Dance?
DOJJEN: This is, here and now. The dance goes on. It is all the dance, everywhere and always. So, find the still point. Only then can the Mara be defeated.
DOCTOR: The still point? The point of safety? A place in the chamber somewhere. Where?
DOJJEN: No, the still point is within yourself, nowhere else. To destroy the Mara you must find the still point.
This excerpt helps to highlight that Snakedance is something unusual. For those who prefer monsters and explosions it might seem a little tame, but I’d take this over the empty heroics of Earthshock any day. If one were being picky, then you could say that Manussa is not the most convincing of planets – it looks incredibly stagey (the entrance to the cave for example, is very artificial). In the end though, I don’t really think this matters, as it’s the script and characters that are important and not the visuals.
It’s a great shame that Christopher Bailey never wrote for the series again, but at least we have Kinda and Snakedance. Not only two of the best Doctor Who stories of the 1980’s, but two of the best Doctor Who stories, period.
Doctor Who celebrated its 20th anniversary in 1983, so it’s quite understandable that it would have been dipping heavily into past continuity. Arc of Infinity is a case in point – we return to Gallifrey and the Doctor is menaced again by Omega, who last encountered the Doctor ten years earlier.
Quite how many people had been eagerly awaiting a rematch between the Doctor and Omega for all those years is debatable. True, The Three Doctors had been repeated in 1981, so Omega wouldn’t have been totally unfamiliar to its current audience, but he’s maybe not the most obvious baddy to bring back.
The return to Gallifrey promised much, but alas it’s not very impressive. I think their over-reliance on soft furnishings is the problem. Obviously, Time Lords need to sit down (although it’s difficult to imagine the Time Lords from The War Games ever relaxing in a comfy chair) but Gallifrey should be a little more imposing.
We meet another Borusa, but Leonard Sachs doesn’t match the performances of either Angus Mackay or John Arnatt. It’s not Sachs’ fault – he was a fine actor, but his timing and delivery (due to age) was just a little off.
Much better was Michael Gough as Hedin. The story tries to halfheartedly hide the identity of the traitor helping Omega, but it’s so obviously Hedin that you wonder why they bothered. Perhaps Gough would have made a better Borusa and Sachs could have played Hedin?
Colin Baker (and his impressive helmet) makes his Doctor Who debut here. You’d be hard pressed, watching this story, to predict that he’d be playing the Doctor in a year or so, obviously he must have been much more entertaining off-screen, since Maxil is a fairly thankless role.
With Tegan apparently absent, this leaves more of a chance to develop the relationship between the Doctor and Nyssa. Peter Davison has never made any secret of the fact that he would have been happy with Nyssa as his sole companion – and in the early part of this story you can see how that would have worked.
Tegan’s about though, and she follows her cousin by getting nobbled by Omega’s pet Ergon. The Ergon looks silly in the publicity stills and even sillier when moving. The fight between the Doctor and the Ergon in episode four is fairly jaw-dropping.
Stephen Thorne didn’t return to play Omega, instead it was Ian Collier. Although I have a lot of respect for Thorne (and his audiobook reading of The Myth Makers should be in everyone’s collection) his Doctor Who villains did tend to SHOUT a lot, so I’ve got no problem with Collier’s more restrained performance.
That’s once you’ve got over the mental Image that it’s Stuart Hyde inside Omega’s costume.
So we have the return of an old enemy and we’re back on Gallifrey, but the story just feels rather dull and uninteresting. It’s not really bad, just a little bland. As I’ve said, there’s no mystery about the identity of the traitor and although the Doctor’s been sentenced to death, it’s very hard to make this work in story terms. It’s incredibly obvious that the Doctor isn’t going to die, so even when he’s apparently executed we know he’s alright really.
There’s the prospect of overseas location filming to give the story a lift though and I love the initial shot, mainly for the fact that we hear an organ playing “Tulips from Amsterdam” in the background, just in case we didn’t twig where we were!
Amsterdam is heavily featured in the final episode when the Doctor and his friends pursue Omega through the streets. There’s some nice touches here, particularly when Omega is seen enjoying the sights and sounds of the city.
Hedin was certain that Omega only wanted to return to our universe so he could live in peace. The Doctor believes that Omega is mad and would threaten Gallifrey, but who is right? As the Doctor destroys Omega it’s hard not to feel sorry for him. There should have been another way.
Solid, but unspectacular, there’s nothing particularly wrong with this story but nothing that noteworthy either. Much better was just around the corner though.
Time-Flight is a bit of a mess. What it lacks in terms of budget and visuals it also lacks script-wise, so that we’re left with a pretty disappointing season finale.
It starts promisingly enough with episode one, which features Doctor Who’s most expensive ever product placement – Concorde. The location filming at Heathrow and the use of a real Concorde certainly adds a certain something.
The wheels fall off in episode two though. The prehistoric location doesn’t look great, mainly because it features incredibly obvious painted backdrops.
And just when you think things couldn’t get any worse, Kalid is revealed to be …. the Master! I’ve already written about the Ainley Master’s propensity for dressing up, in my post on Castrovalva but at least there was some logic to his cosplay in that story, since he was expecting the Doctor to turn up.
Here, there’s no such excuse, so why on earth did the Master decide to dress as an Oriental magician? Wisely, the script doesn’t dwell on this, presumably hoping that the audience won’t dwell on it either.
After escaping from Castrovalva, the Master found himself trapped on prehistoric Earth. By a remarkable coincidence, at exactly the same time the Xeraphin also become stranded in exactly the same place. The Master attempts to tap the power of the Xeraphin, but finds them difficult to control since they’re a gestalt intelligence whose good and evil sides balance each other out.
The Xeraphin are the most interesting part of the story, but they’re rather underdeveloped. Dropping the Master from the story would have allowed more time to feature them, but as it is we don’t really care about them since they’re painted so sketchily.
This is probably the least involving of all the stories featuring Ainley’s Master, but much better was to come over the next few years. For all its faults, The King’s Demons has a good explanation for the Master’s “small time villainy” and Planet of Fire is a story that is certainly lifted by Ainley’s performance.
If the visuals are sometimes disappointing and the script doesn’t really engage, then it’s just as well that the actors manage to make something out of pretty much nothing. By now the regulars are working well together and the loss of Adric has only served to give both Tegan and Nyssa more to do. After some dodgy performances earlier in the season, Fielding and Sutton have established a good partnership and they both have a good rapport with Davison’s Doctor.
The guest cast have their moments too. Richard Easton (Captain Stapley), Keith Drinkel (Flight Engineer Scobie) and Michael Cashman (First Officer Bilton) all seem to be enjoying themselves. None of the parts are that interesting, but all three actors help to give the story a much needed lift.
The main guest star was Nigel Stock as Professor Hayter. Stock had been a familiar face on British television and film for several decades (he was probably best known for playing Dr Watson alongside Douglas Wilmer and Peter Cushing in the BBC’s 1960’s adaptations of the Sherlock Holmes stories) and he brings a touch of class to the story. Professor Hayter, like the rest of the parts in the story, wasn’t a very rounded character but Stock does his best with what he’s been given.
Time-Flight ends on a cliff-hanger as Tegan’s left behind at Heathrow. Will she ever see the Doctor again? I guess we’ll have to wait until the next story to find out.
If you don’t fancy watching Time-Flight (or if you have and need cheering up) then this fab video by Farmageddon (aka Michael J. Dinsdale) should be just what, ahem, the Doctor ordered.
Time has maybe not been too kind to Earthshock. In 1982 it was a clear fan favourite, voted as the best of the year in every story poll. But over the years its popularity has dipped a little, possibly because when you take away the impact of the Cybermen’s return the rest of the story does seem to be a little hollow.
The Cybermen’s last appearance was in Revenge of the Cybermen some seven years earlier. In 1981, Cyber co-creator Gerry Davis submitted a story outline on spec entitled Genesis of the Cybermen. There isn’t any evidence to suggest that the story was ever seriously considered for production, or that the submission was even acknowledged, which upset Davis.
Speaking a few years later, he expressed dismay at his treatment: “I’ve had one in mind for a long time which is a Genesis of the Cybermen story and I’d love to do it. But every time I turn around and go back to America I find Nathan-Turner’s commissioned another Cyber-script and I’m not even invited to do it. It wasn’t very pleasant to be snubbed like that.”
When Christopher Priest’s script The Enemy Within proved to be unworkable, this left a hole in the S19 schedule that was ultimately filled with a new Cybermen adventure. Eric Saward was keen to write the story and although the script-editor wasn’t generally allowed to commission themselves, a solution was found. Anthony Root, who had briefly worked as script editor earlier in the season, was credited as Earthshock’s script editor although there’s no evidence that he actually did any work on it.
The first episode or so is set in some very nicely lit studio caves and concerns what we later learn to be a bomb, guarded by two androids, who have been programmed to kill anybody who gets too close.
The bomb has been planted by the Cybermen who intend to use it to destroy the Earth. They aren’t too disappointed when the Doctor deactivates it though, as they have a back-up plan (a rather impressive back-up plan it has to be said, almost as if they knew the bomb wouldn’t work).
This transports the Doctor and his friends to a deep space freighter where they encounter a rum bunch of characters. Ringway (Alec Sabin) is a traitor who has sold out to the Cybermen and is cursed with poor dialogue, such as: “I’m tired of your snide remarks and bullying ways”. Given this, it’s not surprising that the character never comes alive, but he’s not the only one.
Scott (James Warwick) is a bluff, gruff soldier who is drawn pretty broadly. Warwick chooses to intone each line with such deadly earnest that the performance often teeters on the edge of parody.
And then there’s Beryl Reid as Briggs. Doctor Who has often cast against type, many times with great success (Russell Hunter in Robots of Death and Nicholas Parsons in The Curse of Fenric, for example). Reid is a little more of a stretch but she’s not too bad, even if she sometimes seems to be a little lost.
There’s no denying the impact that the return of the Cybermen had in 1982, but this is about all the story has going for it. The plot is a little wooly at times (something Saward could often be guilty of). Perhaps the best example of this is when the freighter starts to travel backwards in time in episode four. How is this possible? Anything’s possible, says Adric, when you have an alien machine overriding your computer. Hmm, okay.
There’s certainly a place for this type of story in Doctor Who. The Caves of Androzani managed to combine a high level of action/adventure but also had rich chacterisation. Earthshock has the action, but the characters simply don’t engage.
The story did make the brave move of killing off a companion, as Adric dies in a futile attempt to stop the freighter crashing into the Earth. This is another shock in the story, but like a whodunnit when you know the identity of the murderer, the shocks lessen when the story is watched again, so that ultimately Earthshock feels somewhat less than the sum of its parts.
Black Orchid is a fairly simple tale, but there are some plot flaws, particularly in episode two, which impact the story.
It was the first two-parter since The Sontaran Experiment in 1975 and there are times when it’s easy to see why this wasn’t a regular format for the show. On occassions a little more time would have worked to the benefit of the story such as in the opening sequence, when we see in quick succession a man being murdered, somebody who looks like Nyssa sleeping whilst a mysterious man spies upon her and then we see someone tied up on a bed.
It’s the same person – George Cranleigh – who killed the man, spied upon the girl and is tied up on the bed, but although there’s a cross-fade between the second and third sequence this isn’t particularly obvious. A little more time spent on the opening could have made this much clearer.
The TARDIS has landed in the 1920’s where, thanks to a case of mistaken identity, the Doctor takes part in a local charity cricket match (he is, of course, an expert at the game) and is later invited, along with his companions, to a party at Cranleigh Hall.
Sarah Sutton gets the chance to play two parts, as well as Nyssa she’s also Ann Talbot (who is engaged to Lord Cranleigh). The split-screen shots work very well, although some of the sequences when her double is also in the frame are less convincing.
The party is quite a sight. It was recorded in October and as might be expected the weather wasn’t terribly kind. There’s strong wind in virtually every scene and they clearly had some rain as well, but they do their best to convince us it’s a glorious summers day.
The mysterious man in the attic Is a very tidy chap. After taking the Doctor’s fancy dress costume, killing a servant and carrying off Ann, he then returns the costume to the Doctor’s room. This is so the Doctor can then put it on and be misidentified by Ann as the murderer.
With the Doctor suspected of murder and taken off to the police station, things look bleak. Ideally it would have been good for the Doctor to prove his innocence by uncovering some clues, but instead he shows the TARDIS to the police, which does the trick. This is a rather lazy piece of writing and indeed the whole trip to the police station is a little unnecessary, it would have been better if everyone had stayed at Cranleigh Hall until the truth was uncovered.
Eventually the identity of the mysterious man in the attic is revealed to be George, the elder brother of Lord Cranleigh. George Cranleigh had been engaged to Ann before his disappearance some years previously and he carries off Nyssa in a case of mistaken identity. There then follows a rather odd sequence. George Cranleigh has started a fire and has taken Nyssa to the roof. The Doctor and Adric run up the stairs but decide it’s too hot to follow them.
Everybody goes outside, then the Doctor goes back inside and does follow them this time (what had changed?). He also makes the point that Nyssa’s life would be in danger if George realised the girl wasn’t Ann. So what’s the first thing he does when he confronts George? Tells him that the girl isn’t Ann! Poor George, who didn’t seem to have had much of a life, then plummets to his death, so that this particular family secret is brought to a conclusion.
Black Orchid has some very decent guest actors (Barbara Murray, Moray Watson, Michael Cochrane) and it chugs along nicely, but the flaws in the plot are a bit of a problem. If you want an expanded take on the story then Terence Dudley’s novelisation (available as an audiobook read by Michael Cochrane) does help to fill in the background and make the story feel more coherent.
Although Antony Root was only attached to the Doctor Who production office for a few months as a temporary script editor, he made one important decision that would shape the course of the series for several years to come.
One of the scripts Root worked on was The Visitation, by a writer new to Doctor Who – Eric Saward. Root was impressed with the script and when John Nathan-Turner asked him if had any ideas about who would be a good permanent script editor, Root suggested Saward.
Eventually the JNT/Saward partnership would implode in spectacular fashion when Saward quit the series in 1986 (during production of The Trial of a Time Lord) taking his script for the final episode with him. I’m sure we’ll come back to the troubles between the two of them in future posts, but for now let’s take a look at Saward’s debut script.
By his own admission, he hadn’t followed the series very closely for some years, so The Visitation does feel like a little bit of a throwback to a previous era. It bears some resemblance to the likes of The Time Warrior and The Masque of Mandragora, both of which featured aliens interfering in Earth’s history. The Time Warrior is the closest fit, since that story was also concerned with a stranded alien using human labour to achieve his goals.
I’ve previously touched upon the difficulties in writing for three companions. So far this season, Castrovalva put Adric In the background and Nyssa only made a token appearance in Kinda. All four regulars appear throughout The Visitation and after the opening sequence Saward only features two other main speaking parts (Richard Mace and the Terileptil leader) which does help matters.
But even this doesn’t hide the fact that Adric is very much surplus to requirements. After escaping from the Manor House in episode three, he spends part of the episode hanging around the TARDIS with Nyssa before deciding to go and look for the Doctor. He quickly gets captured by the villagers and is taken away (very slowly it has to be said). Eventually he escapes and makes his way back to the TARDIS. Therefore in the course of an episode or so, he’s done very little of consequence. But a solution to the overcrowded TARDIS was just around the corner.
Nyssa’s sub-plot (building a device to destroy the Terileptil’s android) isn’t terribly interesting but it does give her something to do. That leaves Tegan, who is closest to the action during the story. But it’s clear that Saward is most interested in his own creation, Richard Mace,
It’s a feature of Saward’s scripts that they often feature characters (such as Lytton or Orcini) that you sometimes feel he would be happier writing about, without that pesky Doctor always getting in the way. Richard Mace is the first example of this, as he gets many of the best lines. And like Kinda, Peter Davison benefits by linking up with a guest actor for a good part of the story (Nerys Hughes in Kinda and Michael Robbins here).
If the majority of the story is quite traditional, with few surprises, then the opening is a little different. We’re introduced to the inhabitants of the Manor House, who we assume will feature in the story, but after this scene we never see them again and their fate is only confirmed during episode three. They’ve been disposed of by the Terileptil leader (played by Michael Melia).
Given the heavy mask, Melia’s performance isn’t particularly subtle and it’s a shame that his voice wasn’t treated – since he sounds like a man speaking through a heavy mask. But although the design of the costume is a little crude, it does have some nice animatronic touches, such as an impressive curling lip.
The Terileptil’s plan to wipe out all of humanity does recall Tom’s line from Terror of the Zygons when he queries whether the Earth isn’t just a bit too big for only six Zygons (and there’s only three Terileptils!).
Overall then, The Visitation is a good story with a strong guest performance by Michael Robbins. If it feels a little insubstantial then that’s probably due to the small number of main characters. The villagers never tend to say much apart from “kill the strangers” which means that we don’t have a great deal of perspective about the world outside the Manor House. But it’s a decent enough story midway through a solid season.
Like Warriors’ Gate, Kinda was written by someone new to television and required a substantial rewrite before it was of broadcast standard. And while Christopher Bailey, like Steve Gallagher before him, had a very clear vision of what he wanted to achieve, there had to be a comprise between his original story concept and what script editors Christopher H. Bidmead and Eric Saward required from him in order to produce a Doctor Who story.
Bailey approached the Doctor Who production office in 1980 with a story outline entitled The Kinda. The inspiration for The Kinda was derived from Ursula K. Le Guin‘s 1976 novel The Word for World Is Forest.
Le Guin’s novel is set several hundred years in the future and concerns a human colony which has been established on the planet Athshe. Athshe is an unspoilt paradise which the humans regard as rich for exploitation. The Athsheans appear to be docile and primitive and have a culture based on “dream-time” in which they share their thoughts.
Although Kinda does superficially resemble this brief outline, Le Guin’s novel develops in quite a different way as some of the humans, particularly Captain Davidson, enslave large portions of the Athsheans and his cruelty eventually results in a revolt from the Athsheans with a considerable loss of life.
In Kinda nobody dies (except Panna, and as her knowledge and experience were passed over to Karuna, it’s debatable if we can regard this as a “death”). The disappearance of three of the expedition party (Roberts and two others) prior to the TARDIS crew arriving is more of a mystery and is never explained. Hindle (Simon Rouse) does, like Davidson in Le Guin’s novel, enslave some of the natives and poses a considerable threat to them, but unlike Davidson, Hindle is redeemed.
Christopher H. Bidmead was very impressed with The Kinda. For him, it was exactly the sort of intelligent science fiction he was always striving to find. Bailey was commissioned to provide a full story breakdown in summer 1980. He was briefed to include two companions (as this was before Nyssa was added to the crew) and as Tom Baker hadn’t yet decided to quit, it was written with the fourth Doctor in mind.
Bidmead found plenty of interest in the story breakdown but was well aware that a great deal of work needed to be done in order to turn it into a Doctor Who story. One major problem was that it lacked any villains – instead the conflicts came from the various choices and temptations faced by the characters. One of Bidmead’s first recommendations to Bailey was to make the Mara much more of a tangible, corporeal presence.
Although rehearsal scripts had been delivered by August 1980, it was clear that it wouldn’t be ready in time to form part of S18, so it was deferred until S19. By this time Tom Baker had been replaced by Peter Davison and a third companion, Nyssa, had been added to the mix. And by early 1981, Eric Saward was now in the script editors chair and he continued to work with Bailey on the scripts.
One early decision made by Saward was not to ask for the scripts to be rewritten in order to include Nyssa. It was felt that her absence would benefit the story as it would allow the other characters more room for development.
Thanks to Bidmead’s input, episodes one and two were in a workable shape but episodes three and four still required a substantial amount of work. For example, Saward would later comment that he always had a great deal of difficulty in getting Bailey to understand the importance of including a strong cliff-hanger at the end of each episode.
Saward’s major contribution to the script was the ending, where the Mara is drawn from the body of Aris and banished from Deva Loka forever. Bailey understood in the end that dramatically the serial needed such a conclusion, originally he had written something much more low-key.
Eventually, filmable scripts were delivered and John Nathan-Turner assigned Peter Grimwade to direct. Although they were later to have a spectacular falling out, at the time Grimwade was one JNT’s favourite directors. He had already directed Full Circle and Logopolis and would direct Earthshock towards the end of S19. Grimwade would also pen three stories for Davison’s Doctor – Time-Flight, Mawdryn Undead and Planet of Fire.
Grimwade was able to assemble an impressive cast, headed by Richard Todd. Todd had been one of the major stars of British cinema during the 1950’s (probably best known for The Dam Busters) but the decline of the film industry in the 1960’s meant he had spent more time acting on the stage during the 1970’s and by the early 1980’s he had also instructed his agent to look for interesting television roles.
Nerys Hughes was a familiar television face, thanks to her ten-year stint on The Liver Birds. Following the end of that series she had found other television work harder to come by, so this was a welcome role for her to re-establish her profile.
Mary Morris had had an extensive career in film, stage and television. For fans of British telefantasy though, she was probably best known for her roles in A For Andromeda and The Prisoner.
Simon Rouse was still a number of years away from his defining role as DCI Meadows in The Bill, but he was in good company in Kinda, as several other Sun Hill regulars such as Jeffrey Stewart (Dukkha) and Graham Cole (member of the Kinda tribe) were also present.
The decision was made to shoot the entire story in the studio. Although this meant that the forest would occasionally look a little stagey it worked quite well, although there were some problems. Early on it became clear that the movement of the TSS machine and the cameras caused the covering of leaves to be swept away and revealed the studio floor underneath. For later days, more leaves were brought in, but the floor can still be seen at various times during the story.
Story-wise, Kinda is interesting in that there are two main plot-threads (Hindle’s madness and the Mara crossing over in to the real world via Tegan/Aris) which run totally independently of each other. Both of the plot-threads offer the same possibility of destroying the Kinda and starting again the wheel of life as described by Panna in episode three.
As episode one begins, we see Adric and Nyssa playing draughts outside the TARDIS. The fact that Adric is easily able to beat her is a clear indication that she is not herself. The Doctor rigs up a delta wave augmenter in order to allow her to have 48 hours worth of uninterrupted sleep whilst the Doctor, Adric and Tegan explore their new surroundings.
As happens so often in Doctor Who, the three are very quickly separated. The Doctor and Adric end up at the Dome whilst Tegan sleeps alone under the wind chimes. One intriguing aspect of the story is how events are repeated. For example, when Tegan enters the dreamscape she encounters two old people playing chess which mirrors the same scene between Adric and Nyssa. Are the people in Tegan’s dream her subconscious representations of Adric and Nyssa?
As Tegan is offered a way out of her nightmare by Dukkha (which like many of the names in Kinda has a Buddhist translation, this one means suffering or anxiety) the Doctor and Adric meet the survivors of the survey team. They seem to be all quite recognisable archetypes – Sanders is the uptight leader and a stickler for discipline, Hindle is the rigid security officer who probably believes he should be in charge and Todd is the scientist with probably the best grasp on the reality of the situation. Two of these three will change dramatically during the course of the story.
Sanders decides to solve the mystery of his three missing team members and ventures into the forest. There he meets Panna (wisdom) and Karuna (compassion) who offers him the Box of Jhana (meditation).
The properties of the Box of Jhana do seem to change during the story. At this point it’s designed to send a message to the humans in order to bring them to the cave so that Panna can explain about the wheel of life and why they must leave Deva Loka.
The only problem with this is that the Box of Jhana can only be opened safely by a woman. Since five of the six members of the survey team were probably male, this is a bit awkward. Why Panna couldn’t visit the Dome and leave a more straightforward message is a plot-hole that is never explained.
When Sanders opens the box he regresses to childhood, although this is only temporary. Eventually he re-emerges as a whole and better-adjusted person than he seemed to have been at the start of the story. Hindle becomes dangerously psychotic so that when he looks into the box it resets the balance of his mind. The Doctor concludes that the Box of Jhana is a Kinda healing device, which is somewhat different from the start of the story when it was designed to send a message. Perhaps it does both at the same time?
Tegan is still trapped in her dreaming and agrees to let the Mara (the personification of unwholesome impulses) take over her body. Janet Fielding’s three previous broadcast stories had all been somewhat problematic for her character and Kinda is the first time that she’s been allowed to really act. But given that this is seen as a Tegan-centric story, it’s a little surprising that she doesn’t have all that much screen time.
All of her key scenes are in the first two episodes, although if you added up all the sequences in the dreamscape then they wouldn’t run for too long. Her re-emergence into Deva Loka, now possessed by the Mara, is another stand-out moment (but again it’s a fairly short scene). She’s then pretty much absent for episode three and only rejoins the narrative in the last episode. But this is definitely a story where quality outweighs quantity and what she does is certainly memorable.
Matthew Waterhouse has more screen time and spends a large amount of the middle part of the story sharing three-handed scenes with Richard Todd and Simon Rouse. The story of Waterhouse offering the vastly experienced Richard Todd tips on acting is legendary, but Waterhouse doesn’t fare too badly against these two quality actors.
At the start of the story we know perfectly well what sort of character Sanders is. We’ve seen his type in countless films, books and television programmes before (indeed, his name is a direct lift from the British empire yarn Sanders of the River). So his return to the Dome as a wide-eyed childish innocent is a major jolt.
By far the most difficult role in the story is portrayed by Simon Rouse. Doctor Who has portrayed mad and unbalanced people before, but none quite like this. It’s a tour-de-force performance.
Eventually the Box of Jhana is delivered to somebody that can understand the message and Dr Todd and the Doctor venture out to find Panna. With Tegan isolated for much of the story and Adric teamed up with Sanders and Hindle this leaves the Doctor and Todd together.
Nerys Hughes worked very well with Davison, indeed she could have made a very interesting companion. There’s certainly more of a connection between the two of them than there has been between the Doctor and Adric, Nyssa and Tegan in his first few stories.
The Kinda, like many of the civilisations seen in S18, exist in a form of stasis. Panna explains to Aris, the Doctor and Todd why the presence of the Dome and the Mara threatens the Kinda’s idyllic existence –
PANNA: Please. What are you going to do?
ARIS: We shall destroy the dome. The Not-we must be killed. This is our duty.
PANNA: You fool, you blind male fool. Do you think it ends there?
ARIS: We shall be free.
PANNA: Of course not. It doesn’t end there. That is how it all begins again, with a killing. It doesn’t end. That ends as it has always done, in chaos and despair. It ends as it begins, in the darkness. Is that what you all want?
DOCTOR: Did you see the design on his arm?
TODD: What design?
PANNA: The sign of the snake.
DOCTOR: Yes, that’s right.
PANNA: It is the mark of the Mara, the evil ones.
TODD: Doctor, I really think we should …
DOCTOR: What do you know of the Mara?
PANNA: It is the Mara who now turn the wheel. It is the Mara who dance to the music of our despair. Our suffering is the Mara’s delight, our madness the Mara’s meat and drink. And now he has returned.
The Mara (in the body of Aris) doesn’t, it has to be said, seem to pose much of a threat. The Kinda lack any weapons and Aris’ decision to build his own TSS Machine (from wood) might work symbolically but is no match for the real machine even when piloted by the inexperienced Adric.
Hindle is a much more immediate threat, but luckily he opens the Box of Jhana just in time, which solves that problem. This only leaves the job of extracting the Mara from Aris and banishing it from Deva Loka.
With the help of the Kinda, the Doctor traps the Mara within a circle of mirrors. As he says: “No Mara can bear the sight of its own reflection. It must recoil from itself. Understandably, don’t you think, given it’s nature.”
The plan works, although for some the sight of the puppet snake is a major problem. Luckily there is now a CGI snake option for those that object to the original.
After its initial transmission in 1982, Doctor Who fandom was split over the merits of this story. Let’s look at some of the differing opinions.
“Kinda was by far the most mind-taxing story of the season, [but] despite the complex nature of the story I thoroughly enjoyed watching it — every moment was brilliant.”
(Michael Emmerson, Views, News and Reviews)
“The one feature cursed by all and sundry though was that wretched snake. With its balance of good and bad scenes Kinda was good, but not, like so much of this season, excellent.”
“I felt Kinda was an exceptionally good story, but it lacked something. I regret having to put it last in the DWAS poll, but the other stories far surpassed normal standards.”
(Tim Westerman, Laseron Probe)
“Kinda was one of the most visually striking stories since the Hinchcliffe era. Television is a visual art, but it is a rare treat to see work of such high artistic quality.”
(Simon Lydiard, Skaro)
The 2014 DWM poll ranked it at number 63 out of 241 stories, which is fairly respectable. It probably should be higher, since for me it’s an exceptional story that manages to transcend the limitations of the studio environment to produce a story of some depth. It’s certainly a story that repays multiple rewatches in order to discover the various different layers of meaning contained within.
I like Four To Doomsday. It’s by no means perfect, but there’s plenty of good things that balance out the elements that work less well. Let’s start by looking at some of the positives.
Stratford Johns as Monarch. I’ve written here about how much I enjoyed the first series of Softly Softly: Task Force, and one of the major strengths of that series was Stratford Johns’ performance. So if you ever fancy seeing what he looks like when he’s isn’t dressed like a frog then the DVD is well worth getting.
Although encumbered by the make-up, Johns is still able to bring a real personality to Monarch. At times charming, but also able to change to murderous rage in an instant, it’s a lovely guest performance.
Tony Burrough’s sets. Whilst Four To Doomsday wasn’t the first story to feature sets with ceilings, there was a real novelty to this at the time, as it allows what otherwise would be fairly static and dull corridor scenes to be lit much more interestingly. And all of the sets look pleasingly solid, there’s no S17 wobbling sets here.
Philip Locke as Bigon. The ending to episode two may lack a little, effects wise, but his final line as he holds up the printed circuit that contains his personality and reason is still compelling.
Roger Limb’s score. It’s a shame that there wasn’t an isolated soundtrack on the DVD (and the fact that there was an iso track for his frankly awful Terminus score demonstrates that there’s no justice in the world).
Peter Davison. This was Davison’s first recorded story, but you wouldn’t know that from his performance. Some have claimed that he plays the Doctor somewhat differently here, but I can’t really see it. He’s totally confident and able to hold his own against the scene-stealing Stratford Johns.
So. that’s the good, what about the bad?
Adric and Tegan. Both aren’t at all well served by the script. It was a feature of his stories that Adric would sometimes pretend to side with the baddies (State of Decay, Castrovalva) but here he swallows Monarch’s claim that he’s the saviour of humanity hook, line and sinker even though he knows that Nyssa is in danger. Any way you try to rationalise it, this is an amazing display of gullibility that does the character no favours at all.
This was only Janet Fielding’s second recorded story and whilst much better was just around the corner (Kinda), here (particularly in episode three when Tegan hysterically tries to take off in the TARDIS) she’s not given much in the script to latch onto and therefore doesn’t come over very well.
Terence Dudley’s script is a mixture of the good and bad. The basic plot doesn’t make a great deal of sense. It’s hard to imagine that the likes of Lin Futu and Bigon would be able to persuade the peoples of Earth that Monarch means them no harm, but for what other reason has he taken them onboard? Also, Bigon tells us that he can’t rebel due to his programming, but Lin Futu is able to replace Bigon’s personality chip (surely a rebellious act?) and then Bigon is quite capable, like the other leaders, to happily incite rebellion.
In my post on Castrovalva I mentioned how there was an air of the Hartnell era about that story and this is certainly also present in Four To Doomsday. Terence Dudley had directed a S18 Story (Meglos) but if you’d told me that prior to that he hadn’t watched the series since about 1965 I would have believed you.
It’s very possible to imagine the first TARDIS crew stepping into Monarch’s ship and expressing amazement at the technological wonders contained within. Whilst 1960’s Doctor Who sometimes had a pessimistic view of science (The Daleks, Planet of Giants, etc) in general there was a fairly positive vibe that scientific progress was a good thing. But as the early 1970’s dawned this was replaced with a more consistantly downbeat tone (Colony in Space, The Mutants, The Green Death, etc).
And just as in Marco Polo, where everybody settles down for a story from Ping Cho, here we see the action stop in both episodes two and four whilst a whole host of different cultures entertain us. This does help to slow down the pace of episode two to an almost glacial level, but like most of Four To Doomsday there’s something strangely compelling about the whole mise en scène.
And that’s much like the whole of Four To Doomsday. As I said at the start, it’s got problems (particularly in the characterisations of Adric and Tegan) but there’s an earnest charm about it that has always appealed to me.
As soon as Peter Davison had been announced as the Doctor there was speculation as to how he would play the part. JNT believed that he had cast a “personality” actor, similar to Jon Pertwee or Tom Baker, so assumed that Davison would effortlessly inject his own persona into his portrayal.
Davison was less sure that he was that sort of actor and so went back to the tapes to study his predecessors. Castrovalva has some obvious nods to past Doctors (particularly in the first episode) but going forward what Davison seemed to mostly draw upon were elements from the Hartnell and Troughton incarnations.
Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker’s Doctors tended to automatically dominate proceedings, whereas Hartnell and Troughton might stay a little more in the background before emerging with the solution. Davison’s Doctor would also, like Troughton’s, be happy to play the fool in order to lull people into a false sense of security.
If elements of his portrayal harked back to Hartnell and Troughton, then having three companions was another link back to the 1960’s. However this worked better then than it did in 1982, for several reasons.
Firstly, as the 1960’s series ran virtually all year round, a larger regular cast helped to fill the gaps when one of the lead actors took a holiday. The stories also tended to be longer, therefore there were more opportunities to split the narrative between the Doctor and his companions.
But possibly the most obvious reason why the dynamic of the Doctor/Ian/Barbara/Susan worked so well was down to how each character operated within the structure of the series as it was during S1. To put it somewhat crudely, the Doctor provided the scientific know-how, Ian provided the practical know-how, Barbara was the moral centre and Susan screamed and needed rescuing.
Somewhat of a rough generalisation, but in essence that was how things worked. The S1 Doctor was mostly motivated by a desire to return to the safety of the TARDIS and if he helped anybody along the way it was often incidental. It was Barbara and sometimes Ian who most often tried to help others (or interfere as the Doctor would say, in The Aztecs for example).
Over time the Doctor would take over the characteristics of Ian and Barbara, so that by the early 1970’s the Doctor only needed a single companion – to ask questions, scream and be rescued (again, to put things slightly crudely).
The problem of the overcrowded TARDIS was obviously picked up during the scripting of S19, so in Castrovalva Adric takes a back seat which allows Nyssa and Tegan to take the lions share of the action. Nyssa then sits out Kinda so that Adric and Tegan can enjoy a more substantial role in proceedings.
Christopher H. Bidmead obviously loved the concept of the TARDIS and the first episode and a half are set within the ship. During this time we see flashes of the Doctor-to-be from Davison and Nyssa and Tegan’s friendship starts to develop.
Whilst the Doctor is weak and vulnerable for much of the story, particularly in the opening couple of episodes, there’s enough signs to demonstrate that Davison already has a good grasp on the part (although this story was actually recorded fourth). His character wouldn’t really emerge until the end of episode four, but it’s a confident enough performance.
Unlike Patrick Troughton or Tom Baker, Davison could never take a so-so script and turn in a performance that would help you to ignore the average material. But give him a good script and a well written character (Frontios, Androzani) and he would deliver the goods.
Once the TARDIS crew enter Castrovalva then the story really begins to motor. There are fine performances from Frank Wylie (Ruther), Michael Sheard (Mergrave) and Derek Waring (Shardovan) and the dialogue has a pleasing, lyrical nature. It’s maybe a shame that they didn’t pitch up here an episode earlier.
Michael Sheard was always such a dependable performer, both in Doctor Who and in general, and there’s a typically good performance from him in this story as Mergrave. This is complimented by Frank Wylie and together they make a nice double-act.
Most interesting of all is Derek Waring as Shardovan. There’s a clear sense of misdirection at play here as everything is directed to make the audience believe that he’s the villain (he’s dressed in black for example whilst the Portreeve is dressed in white) but he turns out to be a man struggling with the concepts of reality and illusion.
As for the Master, Anthony Ainley has a bit of a sticky wicket. In the first few episodes he’s stuck in a cupboard and forced to share numerous two-handed scenes with Matthew Waterhouse – a difficult task for any actor. He then gets to indulge in a bit of dressing up as the Portreeve. The Master’s love of disguises would reach a peak in The King’s Demons, for which I find it difficult to find adequate words to describe the full majesty of his performance. Once I reach that story I promise to try though!
He’s more restrained as the Portreeve, but it still begs the question as to whether it was designed to fool the audience or the Doctor and his friends. It’s hard to imagine that the audience wouldn’t have failed to notice it was Ainley dressed up, so let’s be generous and assume that the Doctor didn’t twig because of his post-regenerative state and the atmosphere of Castrovalva affected Nyssa and Tegan’s senses.
Apart from the Master’s dressing up games, it has to be said that this is one of the most bizarre and convoluted schemes he’s ever been responsible for. It’s therefore possible to posit that somewhere between The Deadly Assassin and The Keeper of Traken the Master went completely, totally, mad. This would explain the incredibly over-elaborate plan he’s concocted here.
Somehow he knew that the Doctor would die in Logopolis, knocked up a duplicate Adric with block transfer computation, switched him for the real one, got the faux Adric to programme the TARDIS to fly back to Event-One, and if that failed to destroy the ship then the TARDIS would journey onto the non-existant Castrovalva, as well as inputing information about the planet in the TARDIS data-bank. Faux-Adric only flicks a few buttons on the TARDIS console, but it’s enough to do all this. Clever, that!
Then the Master creates a whole world, down to the smallest details, in order for what exactly? His great plan seems to consist of nothing more than a wish to prise open the zero cabinet so he can take one last look at the Doctor before killing him. Couldn’t he have just killed him on Earth? It would have saved a lot of bother.
Ainley’s performance when the Master is attempting to open the zero cabinet with a poker is a little embarrassing, although maybe that was what they were aiming for, as it clearly shows the Master’s grip on reality has gone completely. But the final shot of the Master, as he’s pulled back in the city by the Castrovalvans, is very well done – it has a suitably nightmarish quality.
Overall then, Castrovalva is a decent opening story for Peter Davison with some good guest performances. It wraps up the plot threads from S18 and allows a fresh start for the further adventures of the new Doctor and his young group of companions.
And so after seven long years it all came to an end on a set cobbled together from leftover pieces from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Top of the Pops.
Tom Baker still casts a long shadow over Doctor Who – he was voted No 1 in the DWM 2014 poll which is a fair indication that his support amongst older fans remains secure whilst many younger ones have also succumbed to his charms. If there’s one certainly, it’s that in five or ten years time Matt Smith will have slipped from the No 2 position but Tom Baker seems indomitable at No 1, ready to outsit eternity you might say.
Is Logopolis a good story to bow out on? Yes, pretty much. It’s by no means perfect, but it does give Tom some good moments whilst also moving into place the line-up that would accompany Peter Davison through S19.
Introduced in this story is Tegan (Janet Fielding). An unwilling traveler at first, to put it mildly, Tegan would take several stories (probably until Kinda) before she really settled in. In Logopolis, this may be partly be because she’s much more broadly Australian than later on, when her accent is notably toned down, or it could be that from Kinda onwards she was simply a better written character.
Like Adric and Nyssa, Tegan joins the Doctor after a close relative is murdered – coincidence or a definite story plan, I wonder?
Both Nyssa and Tegan have lost loved ones at the hands of the Master who makes a full appearance here, in the guise of Anthony Ainley, following his brief appearance at the end of The Keeper of Traken.
Christopher H. Bidmead seemed to hold the opinion that the Delgado Master simply wasn’t evil enough, so the Ainley Master has notably less charm than the Delgado incarnation. But this does seem to fundamentally misunderstand the role of the Master during the Pertwee era.
Whether by accident or design, Pertwee’s Doctor largely ended up as a moral, rather humourless figure, so Delgado’s Master was allowed to have all the charm and wit that the Third Doctor rarely showed. Remove this aspect from the Master and there’s little left. But the Doctor and the Master do enjoy a little byplay in Logopolis, such as this scene –
MASTER: The Pharos computer room.
DOCTOR: Yes. I envy you your TARDIS, Master.
MASTER: Excellent, Doctor. Envy is the beginning of all true greatness.
(A technician returns to the room. The Master points a device at him. The Doctor snatches it away.)
MASTER: It’s the lightspeed overdrive, Doctor. You’ll need that to accelerate the signal from the transmitter.
DOCTOR: I’m so sorry. I thought you meant to shoot him.
MASTER: Oh, Doctor. You can explain.
DOCTOR: Ahem. Good morning. Good evening.
(The Doctor notices the Master now has a weapon in his hand and drags the technician’s chair aside before the Master can fire)
DOCTOR: He’s unconscious.
MASTER: Never mind. I feel we’ve been spared a very difficult conversation.
The return of the Master wasn’t the only link to the Pertwee era. Possibly it was the influence of Barry Letts as executive producer that saw several lifts from Third Doctor stories (the radio telescope as seen in Terror of the Autons and the Master’s TARDIS inside the Doctor’s TARDIS from The Time Monster).
Barry Letts was also on hand to read the scripts and offer his advice, although often it wasn’t taken. He wasn’t happy, for example, with the Master’s line that although Tremas was dead his body remained useful, feeling that the concept of an animated corpse was rather disturbing. He also queried the rather large plot hole concerning the lash-up job that the Doctor and the Master made at the Pharos Project to save the Universe.
What would happen to the Universe, asked Letts, if the Pharos Project switched it off? This is quietly forgotten at the end of the story and the impact of the imminent death of the Universe is rather swept under the carpet.
Letts also disliked the concept of the Master broadcasting his threats to the entire Universe. How, he reasoned, could they respond? Still, he wasn’t alone in pointing out how idiotic that was!
But whilst the script does feel somewhat bitty in places, there is a definite sense of impending doom as the Doctor finds himself shadowed at every turn by the Watcher. And despite the end taking place in a hastily cobbled together set made from bits and pieces from other programmes, it’s a sequence that still (particularly for those of a certain age) resonates today.
Doctor Who would go on, but Tom Baker would be a very hard act to follow.
Although some may view The Keeper of Traken as simply a prelude to Logopolis and the confrontation between the Doctor and the Master, there’s enough of interest in Johnny Byrne’s story to ensure it’s a good yarn in its own right.
Like the majority of S18, Traken was subject to a heavy re-write by Christopher H. Bidmead (and I do like the theory that later script editor Eric Saward was unaware of this and wondered why Byrne’s subsequent stories lacked the quality of this one).
One notable amendment was the revelation that Melkur was actually the Master, although this doesn’t really affect the story too much as it’s only discovered at the end of the story. Indeed, if you view Traken as a Master story then you could come away disastisifed, despite Geoffrey Beever’s brief but impressive turn.
But taking the story on its own merits and not worrying about how it fits into wider Doctor Who continuity, what we have is a tale that seems to hark back to the Hartnell era. The Doctor and Adric’s early encounter with the Keeper paints an idyllic picture of a whole series of planets free from war and hatred –
KEEPER: I fear that our beloved world of Traken faces disaster.
ADRIC: Universal harmony, you said.
KEEPER: The Doctor does not exaggerate. Since the time of the Keepers, our Union has been the most harmonious the universe has ever seen. Does the boy not know of this?
DOCTOR: Oh, he’s not local. E-space, wasn’t it?
KEEPER: How vain one can be. I thought the whole universe knew the history of our little empire.
DOCTOR: Yes. They say the atmosphere there was so full of goodness that evil just shriveled up and died. Maybe that’s why I never went there.
KEEPER: Rumour does not exaggerate, Doctor.
We’ve been here before, as this seems like how the Conscience Machine operated in The Keys of Marinus. Presumably the Source Manipulator works in a similar way and it’s impossible not to conclude that it must somehow sap the will as a complete lack of anger or aggression doesn’t seem at all natural.
In Marinus the Doctor concluded that human beings weren’t meant to be controlled by machines but there’s no such statement here as by the end of the story Luvic (from an increasingly short-list of possibilities) steps into the breach to maintain the status quo.
If the story has a feel of the Hartnell era, then the Shakespearean-style production design could be another nod to this. We don’t quite have characters speaking in iambic pentameter, as in The Crusade, but it’s close.
Production-wise, Traken is a studio-bound world that looks somewhat artificial and theatrical although it’s possible to argue that this is intentional as maybe they were attempting to replicate the look of the then current BBC cycle of Shakespeare productions.
Margot Van der Burgh (from The Aztecs) is another link back to the Hartnell era and she, like the rest of the cast, plays it dead straight – there’s no S17 goofing around here. Sheila Ruskin as the doomed Kassia is very good as is Anthony Ainley as Tremas. His performances as the Master can best be described as variable, but he’s restrained and subtle as Tremas.
Sarah Sutton gives an acceptable performance as Nyssa, although you’d be hard pressed to predict that she’s automatic companion material, as plenty of one-off characters in the past have had much more potential. But there was clearly something in the scientific nature of Nyssa that caught the attention of both Bidmead and JNT. A pity, then, that incoming script editor Eric Saward would have much less interest in developing scientific themes, hence Nyssa would have a reduced role to play, particularly once Tegan was installed in the TARDIS.
As the Doctor and Adric leave Traken all seems well, but a final confrontation awaits the Doctor in a cold and lonely place …