Season 18 (Sept 23 - Oct 6)

September 23: The Leisure Hive Parts One & Two
September 24: The Leisure Hive Parts Three & Four
September 25: Meglos Parts One & Two
September 26: Meglos Parts Three & Four
September 27: Full Circle Parts One & Two
September 28: Full Circle Parts Three & Four
September 29: State of Decay Parts One & Two
September 30: State of Decay Parts Three & Four
October 1: Warriors' Gate Parts One & Two
October 2: Warriors' Gate Parts Three & Four
October 3: The Keeper of Traken Parts One & Two
October 4: The Keeper of Traken Parts Three & Four
October 5: Logopolis Parts One & Two
October 6: Logopolis Parts Three & Four

September 23: The Leisure Hive Parts One & Two

Wow, lots of changes going on as we enter season 18; a brand-new starfield title sequence (complete with new neon tubing-style logo) and a brand-new arrangement of the theme tune (in a higher, more triumphant key) -- something that's been essentially the same (give or take a few tweaks here and there) since 1963.  And so, immediately after this exciting new intro, we get... ninety seconds of slow panning across a beach.  Er... yes.  It even has Tom Baker snoring over the shot as we linger over beach chairs and changing tents before we finally see the new version of the TARDIS; it's not that different (the roof is stacked again, for one thing), but they've finally attached the door handle that's been missing since the last redesign, for The Masque of Mandragora.  And look, the Doctor has a new outfit, primarily in shades of burgundy.  The coat and scarf are really quite nice, but this is also the debut of those damn question marks that are going to plague the Doctor for the rest of the '80s -- here, they're stuck on the points of his collar.

So, new titles, new TARDIS, new outfit, old voice for K-9 in the brief moments he has on screen before he stupidly heads into the sea to get shorted out (but hooray! John Leeson is back)... and new incidental music, as it turns out.  Instead of the familiar sounds of Dudley Simpson, we get synthesizers from the BBC Radiophonic Workshop (and Peter Howell in particular -- the man who also redid the theme tune).  It's a bold new sound for the show, and one that's honestly quite welcome; not to disparage Dudley Simpson at all, but it is nice to have some fresh blood.

The whole thing also looks different too.  The leisurely (sorry) pace that characterizes the first couple of minutes of the show continues throughout.  This isn't an action-packed, frenetic story; instead, first-time (and last-time, as it would turn out) Doctor Who director Lovett Bickford chooses to use lots of slow-yet-constantly moving shots to give things an almost sensuous feeling (well, as much as a story about plant people running a tourist haven while fending off a takeover from reptile people can be sensuous) -- and this is aided by lots of handheld shots and unusual (for Doctor Who, at least) framings, with extreme close-ups and out-of-focus foreground elements often the order of the day.  Plus, set designer Tom Yardley-Jones has (presumably at Bickford's request) elected to put ceilings in most of the sets.  This means both that Bickford gets a lot more low-angle shots, and that even the lighting is different as a result, which just continues to add to the feeling that a new and different stylistic change has occurred.

Of course, the problem with these first two installments of The Leisure Hive is that there's not actually much going on story-wise.  We learn a bit about the Argolins and their Leisure Hive, and about the war that led to the downfall of their race ("How long did the war last?" the Doctor asks Chairman Mina as they look out over the radioactive wastes of Argolis.  "Twenty minutes," she replies.  "As long as that," says the Doctor, somewhat impressed), and we know that something (almost certainly a Foamasi) is skulking about the Hive causing problems and killing people.  Oh, and there's an Earth scientist named Hardin who's playing about with experiments involving tachyonics (a real theoretical field involving faster-than-light particles) and time.  And that's about it.  There are so many elegantly-paced shots and camera moves that it occasionally feels like they're trying to make up for the slight plot, and with Tom Baker and Lalla Ward both firmly reined in as far as humor goes, it does come across sometimes as rather dull.

Still, two great cliffhangers: the first shows the Doctor apparently being torn apart and in agony (something of a shock for those who'd become used to the untouchable Doctor of recent seasons), and then, after an experiment in tachyonics gone wrong, his coming out of the Recreation Generator cabinet looking incredibly old and decrepit.  The superhuman Doctor is, it seems, a thing of the past...

September 24: The Leisure Hive Parts Three & Four

One of the more striking things about the second half of The Leisure Hive is that part two's cliffhanger, with the Doctor now incredibly old, isn't immediately reversed at the start of part three.  No, instead they leave the Doctor as old and wizened for an episode and a half.  It's a bold move, and while you might have reason to be worried about essentially sidelining the Doctor for that long, given how little was going on in the first two parts, these two episodes fortunately pick up the pace and provide a good deal more in terms of incident.   Pangol starts getting bloodthirsty, declaring that a new Argolis will dawn that will once again be war-like (apparently he missed the lesson about the futility of war that all his fellow Argolins learned), and our heroes start to wonder why Pangol looks twenty-five when the Argolins became sterile forty years ago.  We also get a great lead-in to the cliffhanger, as we're finally introduced to a Foamasi that the Doctor then takes to the Argolin boardroom, and part three's cliffhanger gives us possibly the best literal unmasking we've seen on the show yet, as the Foamasi removes Brock's face to reveal another Foamasi.

Romana and the aged Doctor talk with a Foamasi. (The Leisure
Part Four) ©BBC
That unmasking is hampered somewhat by the follow-up sequence in part four, where we get a lot of shots of Foamasi being undressed and revealed, and we learn that there is no way such (frankly) fat creatures could have fit into fake human skins.  And there's some stuff about independent Foamasi parties trying to buy Argolis under the legitimate government's beak that's apparently related to gangsters in some way (famously, "Foamasi" is an anagram of "mafiosa", which is close enough to "mafioso"), but this is honestly so far down in the mix that it's difficult to notice, even when you know about it.

No, part four is all about Pangol revealing that the experiments in tachyonics have led to successful cloning techniques that mean Pangol can make an army of himself, which leads to his now-explicit warmongering -- including blowing up the departing Foamasi shuttle.  It's reasonably exciting, even if we learn early on that the Doctor has thrown a spanner in the works and created tachyon images (as seen in the first episode) instead of long-lasting clones, and that this process has also de-aged the Doctor.  Nevertheless, the dying Mena is taken into the Recreation Generator along with Pangol, and a revitalized Mena emerges with a baby Pangol to lead Argolis into a better future.  And the good Foamasi are okay!  ("You mentioned Foamasi?" the ambassador says -- a line that's oddly popular in fandom.)  Everything can be left in safe hands as the Doctor and Romana depart.

The difference between seasons 17 and 18 is one of the most startling style shifts in all of Doctor Who, and the new direction is made abundantly clear in The Leisure Hive.  Not only does this look and sound unlike anything we've seen and heard on the show before, but it also strikes a significantly more serious tone than what we've been used to.  It's a little too unengaging as a story in its own right to be a real success (the action is lopsided and Pangol's actions, while striking, aren't built up as the threat they probably should have been), but in purely aesthetic terms The Leisure Hive impresses.  A qualified success, then, and one that makes us interested to see what happens next -- is this a fluke or the shape of things to come?

September 25: Meglos Parts One & Two

Meglos doesn't look quite as strikingly different as The Leisure Hive did -- hardly surprising, given all the work Lovett Bickford put into it -- but enough of the changes are carried over to make it clear that, no, The Leisure Hive wasn't a fluke; this is how things are going to be now.

Yet Meglos is a bit of an odd story; while there continues to be some new technical trickery used here (The Leisure Hive introduced Quantel, which allowed digital manipulation of the video, Meglos introduces a technology called Scene Sync, where two cameras move in sync with each other -- in other words, you can now pan across CSOed backgrounds without the actors appearing to slide around), the actual storyline seems rather perfunctory.  We get two storylines, both of which we're introduced to in the middle of events -- the Gaztaks (aka space pirates) have kidnapped a human and brought him to the planet Zolfa-Thura for some reason, while the civilization on the nearby planet of Tigella is on the brink of collapse.  This latter plot seems mainly to provide a rather tedious argument about science versus religion -- particularly since neither side's views are presented in any sort of interesting manner, but instead consist of each side literally shouting at the other.

But holy hell, it's Jacqueline Hill, not seen on the show since 1965!  And not as Barbara this time, but as Lexa, the leader of the Deons (the religious side).  It's a first for the show, bringing back one of the stars in a different supporting role (and a last for the show, as John Nathan-Turner decided he only wanted old stars back in their former roles111), and Hill is very good as the unhappy Deon leader.  She's certainly a lot more watchable than any of the Savants (the scientist side), who're all wearing blonde wigs that make them look like Sela, the Romulan-human daughter of an alternate universe Tasha Yar from Star Trek: The Next Generation.  Crawford Logan, as Deedrix, only seems capable of sarcasm and angry yelling at the Deons, and while Colette Gleeson, as Caris, is rather better, she doesn't get much screen time in these first two episodes.  Zastor (as played by Edward Underdown) often looks like he can't quite believe he has to try and mediate between these two sides instead of just sending them both to their rooms.

And while all this is going on, the Doctor and Romana are in the TARDIS, initially fixing K-9 but then caught in a "chronic hysteresis" (because apparently "time loop" doesn't sound exciting enough for the new scientifically-minded script editor, Christopher H. Bidmead) that's been caused by Meglos of all people -- Meglos being the cactus that the Gaztaks brought the human to Zolfa-Thura for.  Meglos apparently has the ability to affect time, yet he's relying on the grubby Gaztaks for help.  Oh, and it seems he can shape-shift (with the human's help), turning into the Doctor at the first cliffhanger.

The cactus part of Meglos is breaking through his Doctor form.
(Meglos Part Two) ©BBC
So part two involves Meglos impersonating the Doctor in an effort to steal the Dodecahedron, the source of Tigella's power, while the real Doctor is stuck in a time loop which is escaped from in an incredibly silly manner.  You can sort of see what they were going for with the mention of phase cancellation, but as shown it's really astonishingly stupid, as both the Doctor and Romana ham their way through a recreation of the beginning of the time loop in order to cancel out the hysteresis.  It also means that our heroes are sidelined from the action for the vast majority of these first two episodes, which means that lots of things are happening without their knowledge.  Still, it does mean that Tom Baker gets to play the baddie, as Meglos-as-the-Doctor, and it does look like he's enjoying it ("I, swear allegiance to Ti?" he says in a very un-Doctor-like manner after Lexa tells him he needs to do so to see the Dodecahedron) -- although I'll bet he was less happy about the spiny make-up required at times.

So these first two episodes are best summed up as a bit fun but ultimately inconsequential-feeling, and while there are some good moments (such as Zastor's description of the Doctor: "He sees the threads that join the universe together and mends them when they break"), it's hard to truly stay engaged with this story.  Let's hope things pick up in parts three and four.

September 26: Meglos Parts Three & Four

For some reason these episodes are getting shorter and shorter; not only are parts three and four both around 20 minutes long, but the cliffhanger reprises are getting longer too -- there're two full minutes of footage from part three at the start of part four.  And then the whole thing ends early, meaning that the last episode of Meglos only has 15 minutes of new footage.

The real Doctor listens to Lexa's accusations. (Meglos Part Three)
And yet even with this there's still padding; Romana leads the Gaztaks around in circles in part three, and there's some stuff with the two Tom Bakers (one the Doctor, the other Meglos) wandering around the screens of Zolfa-Thura in part four.  Part three in particular feels like one great big stalling moment; other than the Doctor working out that he has a doppelgänger and Lexa taking over, the episode is waiting for Meglos to leave the city and get on with the main plot.  Even the part of the plot that should be really dramatic (the Deons are staging a revolution and driving all the non-Deons out onto the inhospitable surface!) feels more like a damp squib, and it doesn't help that it's apparently undone three minutes into part four.

Fortunately Tom Baker is still worth watching, and his performance as Meglos is very good, full of nuances that we don't really expect from Tom.  It's a tribute to his skills that you're never in doubt as to whether you're watching Meglos or the Doctor, and he's just about the most watchable thing in a story that often feels pointless.  Things happen on Tigella just so that something happens, rather than for a good reason.  Oh sure, there are nice moments here and there, but too often things occur in such an undramatic manner (witness, for instance, the death of Lexa in part four, which feels so arbitrary and meaningless that it verges on insulting) that it's hard to care.

When Gareth Roberts was writing "The Lodger" for the eleventh Doctor, in one draft he apparently had the main villain be Meglos, with the joke being that the Doctor had completely forgotten who he was.  That's sort of the position of this story in fandom ("oh right, that story does exist"), and it's not hard to see why.  It's not a story that's been written with any real intent in mind beyond (barely) filling four episodes; the direction is more workmanlike than inspired, and there's no drive or passion behind the writing -- new writers John Flanagan and Andrew McCulloch seemingly more interested in writing in generic clichés of the sort of thing they think should be in Doctor Who rather than anything personal.  In fact, it goes further than that.  In the past there have been stories that haven't worked for one reason or another, but it's generally felt like there was at least some care and style going into the writing, even when it was Terry Nation just turning in another Dalek tale.  Meglos, however -- despite the efforts of the cast and the actual production crew -- feels like the first serial that has contempt for its audience, interested more in the paycheck at the end than in anything in the story; all too often, it feels like "eh, good enough".

September 27: Full Circle Parts One & Two

Big news in contemporary terms: the day before Full Circle Part One aired is the day it leaked that Tom Baker was leaving the series.  The fourth Doctor is now on borrowed time...

It was, coincidentally, during the making of Full Circle that Baker decided not to return for an eighth season -- but that's not a commentary on the serial itself, which (at least on the basis of these two episodes) is one that's generally firing on all cylinders.  There's a cleverness and momentum about the script that makes it very entertaining, and there's also a sense of drama that was missing from the last two stories.  Romana's unhappiness at being summoned back to Gallifrey is understated but affecting, and the main scenario at play on Alzarius -- the coming of Mistfall -- is nicely compelling too.  Mistfall, much like Alzarius in general, is presented in an interesting way, and writer Andrew Smith makes a good move by having a band of rebellious Alzarians, the Outlers, remaining outside the Starliner, as this means that there are people for Romana to interact with outside the ship while the Doctor is inside.  The main outsider Alzarian, Adric, is passable -- some moments are a little wooden, but Matthew Waterhouse also has a few rather good moments: his waking up in the TARDIS, alarmed about Mistfall, is one such moment.

Mistfall is treated well, as I mentioned before, and not only is it presented as a serious concern for the locals, but it's filmed in an effective manner as well -- all the bubbling mist that hangs over the place at the end of part one and all throughout part two looks fabulous.  Plus, it really helps sell that first cliffhanger, as the Marshmen rise from the water.  The Marshmen also look great, and there's some fine acting going on from the people inside; the Marshchild that follows the Doctor inside the Starliner is especially good, and the fact that the Doctor can see that the Marshchild is terrified but harmless is another great moment.

Really, Tom Baker in general gets to be very good here, even in exposition scenes with K-9. And his first meeting with the Deciders is also great: "Why can't people be nice to one another, just for a change?" the Doctor says, after noting that the Marshmen dragged Decider Draith under the water.  "I mean, I'm an alien, and you don't want to drag me into a swamp, do you?   ...You do."  Romana fares less well: she maintains her cool under pressure, after the Outlers attempt to hijack the TARDIS, but the cliffhanger to part two involves her trying to defend herself from some large spiders by grabbing a riverfruit (a type of melon), only for a spider to hatch out of it and attack her.  Which might be excusable if she hadn't just witnessed a bunch of spiders hatching out of other riverfruits.  And K-9 does well for a bit, but then he enters a cave and loudly announces his presence to the Marshmen, which leads to one knocking his head clean off.

But overall, it's an entertaining story and a compelling script.  If the last two episodes are like this, then Full Circle will be something special indeed.

September 28: Full Circle Parts Three & Four

Adric and the Doctor check on Romana in her room. (Full
Part Three) ©BBC
Full Circle continues to impress in its last two parts, as we learn more about Mistfall and the Alzarians.  There's also some drama with Romana being infected and somehow linked telepathically with the Marshmen.  Well, the Marshchild, at least.  It's genuinely distressing, seeing Dexeter beginning his scientific operation on the unanesthetized Marshchild over the Doctor's protests ("That's not scientific understanding, it's cold-blooded murder!"), and while it's a bit difficult to feel bad for Dexeter when the Marshchild breaks free and kills him, it's much more affecting when the Marshchild sees the image of the Doctor, the only person who showed it any kindness, and electrocutes itself breaking the screen in an effort to get to him.  This would be something of a feat even if it were a person, but the fact that it's someone who looks like a monster makes it even more impressive.

But then Full Circle is full of moments like this, deaths that seem to mean more than just cannon fodder for the Marshmen.  Varsh's death is obvious a crucial moment for Adric, as Varsh is the only family he has, but even a death like Tylos's, where he's killed while saving one of the technicians, is treated as something meaningful.  Compare this with Lexa's death in Meglos and the difference is clear.  All the characters in Full Circle matter.

All this and a good plot too.  The stuff about Romana being taken over is primarily just to provide a reason for the Marshmen to successfully enter the Starliner, but the stuff with the Deciders and with the Doctor, as the Doctor works out that the Starliner has been ready to leave for centuries, and that the people inside the Starliner are in fact descended from the Marshmen (and look like the Terradons because they adapted to live in the Starliner) is both entertaining and interesting, and even the E-Space set-up for the next couple stories leaves the viewer curious.  It's a very well-written story, and at no point do you feel less than satisfied with its development.

Up to this point, season 18 has had a distinctive new style, but it hasn't quite had stories to match.  Full Circle feels like the first time that the new style comes through in the storyline as well as the visuals.  Add in the fact that Andrew Smith was seventeen when he wrote this, and Full Circle becomes even more impressive.  This is a story by someone who understands the show and who's in sync with the more serious direction that Nathan-Turner and Bidmead are looking for, and it's directed by another newcomer (well, as far as the Doctor Who directing chair goes) in the form of Peter Grimwade, who's able to make this all dynamic and smooth.  The end result is an excellent story that finds the new production team beginning to hit their stride.

September 29: State of Decay Parts One & Two

Welcome back to Terrance Dicks, who hasn't written for the show since 1977's Horror of Fang Rock -- which was itself a last-minute replacement for his vampire tale The Witch Lords.  And this story is in fact that same Witch Lords script, dusted off and reedited for the current TARDIS team.  The upshot is that for the first time in a while, we get another Gothic horror-style story.

Well, except that this is now being edited by scientifically-minded Christopher H. Bidmead, which means that there's a tension between fantasy and science in this story, with the Three Who Rule holding back the development of the peasants by forbidding any sort of scientific knowledge.  Bidmead was reportedly very unhappy with the more fantastic elements and kept stripping them out, only for director Peter Moffatt to keep putting them back in.  But the final result is a good balance between the two positions, with the more horror/fantasy elements placed in opposition to the peasants' attempts to acquire forbidden knowledge.

Another advantage this story has is that the production team has made a concerted effort to rein in Tom Baker and Lalla Ward, which means that there's a seriousness to events that probably would have been missing a year before.  The danger that the Three Who Rule represent is much more palpable as a result, and when combined with the moody direction from Moffatt, the result is a compelling story.

It's not perfect, of course; there are some draft artifacts from earlier incarnations that get some emphasis (namely that the Three in the tower protect the peasants from something called the Wasting) before being completely forgotten (so good luck figuring out what the Wasting is about), and there's also Adric.  He's stowed away, it seems, and worryingly, his first scene shows that he can't even walk across the TARDIS console room convincingly, instead smiling fatuously and deliberately looking at nothing as he jauntily strides across the room.  It's a cringe-inducing moment, and while it doesn't seem to be the norm for the remainder of Adric's scenes in these first two episodes (in which he veers from acceptable to quite good), it doesn't exactly endear him to the audience. 

But his interaction with the script is actually quite limited thus far, and it's far more interesting to watch the Doctor and Romana, as they discuss Grimm's law and the implications of language change in regards to the crew's original names and that of their descendants112, and then go about exploring the tower (which is actually an Earth vessel called Hydrax, which, weirdly, seems to have left in the 1990s), discovering some nasty things along the way.  All the bats, stored blood, and general oddities of the three leaders have brought the Doctor to some unpleasant conclusions: "Do you know, it just occurs to me; there are vampire legends on almost every inhabited planet. ... Creatures that stalk in the night and feast on the blood of the living.  Creatures that fear sunlight and running water and certain herbs.  Creatures that are so strong they can only be killed by beheading, or a stake through the heart."  And while they're trying to work out why they can hear a giant heartbeat down at the base of the tower, they're confronted by Aukon, the chancellor member of the Three Who Rule, in the cliffhanger to part two.  "You are in the resting place," he says.  "I am Aukon.  Welcome to my domain."

September 30: State of Decay Parts Three & Four

Camilla and Zargo hold Romana and the Doctor while Aukon listens
to the Great One. (State of Decay Part Three) ©BBC
This story really does an excellent job of evoking the mood of an old Hammer horror film while still retaining that scientific grounding that Bidmead prefers.  The Three Who Rule themselves are wonderful, looking like they've stepped out of a medieval castle, and the impending rise of their master, the Great One (not the leader of the Metebelis spiders), is treated as a cause for great concern, and it's not hard to imagine a version of this story during the Hinchcliffe years (or, indeed, as the opening story of season 15).

It's unlikely that there would have been quite such an emphasis on technology in that older version, though; the sequence with the Doctor telling Romana the legend of the Great Vampires would have probably remained the same (and can we just pause for a moment to talk about how wonderful it is when Tarak enters their cell to rescue them and smacks the Doctor in the face?  I'm still not sure how much of that was intentional and how much was accidental, but it makes me laugh every time I see it), and there would have been similarities with the stuff in the TARDIS and the Record of Rassilon, about how the king of the Great Vampires disappeared, but one wonders if the climax of the story -- the idea of using one of the Hydrax's scoutships as a giant stake -- would have been at all like what we get here.  And there's also the matter of using the old Hydrax scanner to see what the Great Vampire looks like, but probably the less said about that less-than-successful effect the better.  But those Record of Rassilon scenes are a nice touch, by making the Great Vampires into a threat that even the Time Lords took very seriously -- which means that they must be a grave threat indeed, and as viewers we put the king of them in the same category as Sutekh or the Fendahl ("If it escaped into our universe," the Doctor says at one point, "billions of lives would be lost").

Part four isn't quite as good just because it's concerned more with tying things up rather than continuing the mood.  There's also the odd subplot where Adric seems to be going over to the vampire side but not really, which just doesn't feel properly motivated in either the set-up or the execution.  And, finally, there's the way in which the Doctor builds up K-9 as "a very useful tool.  Armoured.  Immune to hypnotism. ... And a dead shot with a nose laser," only for K-9's appearance to be met with dubious looks and something of a "sad" cue from the music.  The show's not taking him very seriously anymore, is it?

However, the attack on the tower is pretty well staged, and the shots of the Great Vampire being "staked" by the Hydrax scoutship are surprisingly well done (particularly given the earlier shots of the vampire on the scanner).  And the deaths of the Three Who Rule are horrifying and effective -- it might be the best "turned to dust" effect we've ever seen on the series.

It's well-written and -directed, and the mash-up of styles (Dicks's older, Hammer horror-tinged approach, and Bidmead's more serious, scientific one) works very well, setting the vampires up as ancient powers preventing scientific knowledge and progress from blooming.  To be honest, it's hard to find much of anything really at fault with State of Decay.  So far this E-Space story arc has turned up trumps for the show.  Can they keep it up?

October 1: Warriors' Gate Parts One & Two

You can tell right from the start that this is going to be something special; the slow pan around the "cargo" hold of Rorvik's ship, and then down the (graffitied) corridors and up to the bridge, shows that, if nothing else, Warriors' Gate will be a lot more interesting to look at than other shows -- the obvious comparison is with the look of The Leisure Hive.

But then the script really begins, and we see that just as much care has gone into the writing as into the direction.  The crew of Rorvik's ship seem much more realistic than other crews we've seen, with unenthusiastic cheers and problems going wrong with their navigation -- thanks to a leonine man strapped down in a chair.  The end result is a ship thrown through (into?) a time rift and ending up nowhere -- a problem that the crew of the TARDIS also face...

Warriors' Gate is full of striking imagery -- or at least these first two episodes are: the leonine man, Biroc, is constantly shown as a series of images (not unlike a flip-book) rather than with smooth movement ("He's out of phase," Romana says, as Biroc operates the controls of the TARDIS) -- as is the coin that one of the crew tosses right as they go into the time rift (less convinced about the zoom-in, though, which just ends up being a blocky, low-resolution digital blob); everything outside the TARDIS is a very effective white void; and the place where Biroc heads (followed by the Doctor) is a ruined stone structure that appears, like the TARDIS, to be bigger on the inside -- and that interior is as atmospheric a set, with lots of dusty cobwebs and abandoned furniture, as anything you might hope to see.  And not only that, but this story is full of great dialogue too: "We'll burn that bridge when we come to it"; "And why believe Biroc?" "Because he was running"; "All the gateways are one"... even the mundane dialogue seems to have an extra bit of sparkle to it.

Lane, Rorvik, and Packard examine the TARDIS. (Warriors'
Part One) ©BBC
All this and an interesting storyline as well, with the mystery of the gateway combining with the casual villainy of Rorvik and his crew (particularly their treatment of the Tharils and of Romana) to create an engrossing couple episodes.  That white void and the gateway provide an interesting backdrop for two episodes that are, essentially, all about trying to get out of this place -- the Doctor is more interested in learning the secret of returning to N-Space than in the story of how the Gundans overthrew the Tharils long ago, but we the viewers are just as interested in both.  This is also Matthew Waterhouse's best performance yet -- he seems much more at home interacting with K-9 and behaving naturally with Romana than he does pretending to betray our heroes or delivering know-it-all dialogue (so maybe making his character a wunderkind was a bad move).

And while the first cliffhanger isn't anything too special, that second one is fantastic: the Doctor disappears inside a mirror, while Romana, still strapped into the chair that Rorvik left her in, is menaced by a badly-burned Tharil (thanks to Aldo and Royce's accidental electrocution while waking it up -- another example of casual villainy, as they don't care about bonuses the way the rest of the crew does if the Tharils are killed, as they're "on the all-in contract").  If that doesn't get the audience tuning in next week, I don't know what will.  (And what do you know, there was a 1.6 million increase in viewing figures between parts two and three.)

October 2: Warriors' Gate Parts Three & Four

This story continues to impress, both in terms of the script and the visuals.  It looks gorgeous, with the inspired use of Tharils and Time Lords moving through black-and-white photographs, and the script is incredibly clever -- the scenes near the end of part three, which show the Tharils' empire at its height, mixed with their cobwebbed decline, are an intelligent example of scripted interlocking scenes brought to life by dynamic direction (and the touch of the Doctor in part three knocking over the over-flowing goblet that he had previously righted in the future is a fabulously subtle one) -- plus it gives us that great cliffhanger where the Doctor, who'd been previously with the Tharils just before the Gundans had attacked, suddenly finds himself back in the present, surrounded by Rorvik and his men.

The script also does clever things by making the wounded Tharil (Lazlo, according to the credits) friendly towards Romana, and by using the mirror as a gateway only for the Tharils (who've learned how to "travel on the time winds") and those they allow to pass with them.  Thus it's not a gateway that Rorvik can use, even though he's seen the Doctor pass through.  The portrayal of Rorvik's people (where he has to keep yelling at them to pay attention to him, while they're more focused on lunch) is also really well done; none of your well-oiled Star Trek-esque crews here, but a somewhat unruly bunch of slavers.

And it all comes together so well in part four, as the Doctor and Romana try repeatedly to stop Rorvik from destroying everything (which he's already doing by having an incredibly dense ship in the gateway), only to be repeatedly told by Biroc to do nothing ("It is done").  This means that we get some great scenes, such as the Doctor taunting Rorvik's crew with the MZ and the Doctor and Romana's futile efforts to stop Rorvik from initiating a backblast (because, as Romana puts it, "The backblast backlash will bounce back and destroy everything!"), which even allow Rorvik to get in some mad ranting ("I'm finally getting something done!").  Then there's the moment where Lazlo rescues all the imprisoned Tharils after killing Sagan -- who really has been quite ruthless in his attempts to revive a Tharil for navigational purposes, but who nevertheless dies in a surprisingly shocking way: it might be the open-mouthed scream left unvoiced, but it's quite a brutal death.  And, atypically for Doctor Who but entirely in keeping with this story, the Doctor and Romana finally realize that the solution really is to do nothing -- "if it's the right sort of nothing", as the Doctor puts it.

Biroc and Romana watch the TARDIS depart. (Warriors'
Part Four) ©BBC
And at the very end, Romana decides not to travel on with the Doctor, but to help the Tharils free their enslaved brethren instead.  It's a bit sudden a departure (although there is some set-up in the story, particularly in part one), but it feels right, and the dialogue we get is so much better and neater than any more emotional, drawn-out scene would have been.  "What a moment to choose!" the Doctor cries.  "But it is, isn't it?" Romana replies.  "A moment to choose."  And so the Doctor gives her K-9 (who will presumably be repaired on the other side of the mirror) and the TARDIS leaves as Rorvik's backblast does indeed destroy everything.  "Will Romana be all right?" Adric asks afterwards.  "All right?  She'll be superb," the Doctor replies with a grin.  And farewell to K-9, a prop that the show has clearly become increasingly less fond of (witness K-9's treatment throughout season 18, and note that Warriors' Gate -- a story that includes him failing to shoot Rorvik and has Packard chucking him bodily out of the slaver ship -- is his best story of the season), but which is nevertheless still endearing.  Doctor Who has clearly moved on and outgrown the tin dog, but for much of the audience it just won't be the same without him.

It's a script that sparkles with class and wit (some great lines from parts three and four: "One solid hope's worth a cartload of certainties"; "Soon we won't be better off than that chap over there [indicating an ancient skeleton].  When the pickles run out"; "You've seen our past, you've seen our present.  You were right.  We abused our power.  But judge whether we've not suffered enough." "As you said, the weak enslave themselves." "The time of our enslavement is over"; and so many more), and it's beautifully directed by Paul Joyce (his only directorial job of Doctor Who, largely for the same reasons Lovett Bickford only directed The Leisure Hive113).  Chris Bidmead must have been thrilled to get a story like this, both poetic and scientific, as it's everything he's been trying to achieve this season.  It's frankly astonishing that this story isn't more highly regarded in fandom (115th out of 241 in the most recent Doctor Who Magazine poll), but that's okay; it will just take time, as more people discover (or rediscover) this gem of a tale.  The rest of us already know that Warriors' Gate is utterly fantastic.

October 3: The Keeper of Traken Parts One & Two

It's been commented on before, but the opening moments of The Keeper of Traken really do feel more like a fairy tale than like what we've come to expect from the show.  The sudden intrusion of the Keeper (played by Denis Carey, allegedly as a sort of apology for Shada not going through), and his recounting of previous events on Traken, is played more like a gentle narrator than an unwelcome presence, and even the Doctor treats him deferentially.

But what's perhaps more impressive is that this fairy tale feeling persists throughout these first two episodes.  The deal that Kassia has seemingly made with the Melkur is that of an innocent corrupted by evil, rather than anything more pragmatic, and the whole meeting of the Consuls feels pleasantly at a distance from reality.  This is not the same style of writing that we had in Warriors' Gate, but here it works.  This is the story of how corruption came to the perfect world of Traken (where "the atmosphere there was so full of goodness that evil just shriveled up and died"), and the light fantasy feel makes this a compelling tale with a touch of inevitability about it.

The acting is generally good all around, with everyone slipping easily into this mode of storytelling -- it seems like Matthew Waterhouse gets better and better, and here he seems quite at home with Tom Baker's Doctor.  Denis Carey is really good too, playing an old man who is nevertheless recognizably different from his portrayal of Professor Chronotis in Shada, and Anthony Ainley does a good job of playing a kind yet keenly intelligent man -- note the way in which he's constantly watching everyone around him, and the way he lights up when he learns that the Doctor is a scientist.  Oh, and look; John Woodnutt is in this too, being as good as ever.  I'd forgotten that.  Sheila Ruskin is somewhat less successful as Kassia, but really, she's doing exactly what the script needs her to do, so she can't really be faulted for that.  And it's not exactly a performance, but the Melkur is a gorgeous piece of design, isn't it?

And lest you think that Christopher H. Bidmead has relinquished his "more science less fantasy" position, we find that there is in fact a scientific underpinning to the goings-on on Traken -- Tremas is unabashedly a scientist, and we learn that all the magical things we've seen are the result of a piece of bio-mechanical engineering called the Source.  It's a bit more uneasy a balance than in, say, State of Decay, but it still just about works.  The fantasy doesn't end up overwhelming the science, but neither does the science overwhelm the fantasy, and that's a good thing.

Plus it gives that second cliffhanger ("It is done, Melkur."  "Oh no, Kassia.  It is only beginning") an additional edge, as it reenforces the feeling of inevitability, of a fairy tale land's downfall thanks to evil.  It will be interesting to see if the next two episodes can maintain that feel.

October 4: The Keeper of Traken Parts Three & Four

These two episodes don't feel quite as magical as the first two: there's more of a focus on the science-y side of things, and because there's not enough of the fantasy elements to compensate, it does feel a bit lopsided.  Oh, and apparently we get a different motivation for Kassia's actions: it's not simply because of the Melkur's influence, but because she doesn't want to lose Tremas to the Keepership.  (That said, I'm willing to acknowledge that maybe this reason was in the first two parts and I just missed it, and so maybe it's not as casually mentioned as it seemed to me.)  Nevertheless, this makes Kassia one of those more frustrating adversaries that the Doctor faces from time to time, the person who is 100% committed to carrying out this evil plan and cannot be persuaded otherwise, and who seems to constantly be thwarting any plans the Doctor may be making.

Fortunately for our heroes, Tremas's daughter Nyssa is still free and able to overpower some of the Fosters (aka guards) and free the Doctor, Adric, and Tremas, which leaves them able to make plans to stop Kassia, and therefore the Melkur, from acquiring the full power of the Source.  They fail, of course, and after a quick reveal of who's actually inside the Melkur statue (a person who kind of looks like the Master from The Deadly Assassin; it's genuinely unclear if this was supposed to be an "aha" moment or not, as the reveal doesn't really matter, plot-wise -- is this for the benefit of long-time viewers, or just to give Geoffrey Beevers some screen time?  But while we're here, let's take a moment to appreciate the view through the Melkur's eyes, which aren't exactly the same as each other and thus actually look like stereoscopic vision), we see Kassia assume the Keepership, only to be replaced (in the cliffhanger to part three) by the Melkur.

The still-decaying Master brings the Doctor inside his TARDIS.
(The Keeper of Traken Part Four) ©BBC
This leads to an odd scripting choice in part four, and that's how all the Trakenites (except for Tremas and Nyssa) seem to be completely okay with the Melkur being the new Keeper; no protests, no cries of "How can this be?!", just acceptance.  "Ok, guess a thing that came to Traken and was calcified because it was evil is totally fine as the supreme ruler of the entire Traken Union."  They can't all believe the Melkur's "No, it's cool, the last Keeper told me (and not you) that it would be me" speech, can they?  But in any case, the Melkur has all the power, but he can't quite use it yet, which gives Tremas and the Doctor time to stop him.  Only they don't quite succeed, and the Melkur takes the Doctor inside himself, to be revealed as the Master.  He doesn't look as horrifyingly disfigured as last time, does he?  And someone's decided to paint teeth on his lips, with the result almost never looking like what was presumably intended.  But the basic conceit is nice, even if he and the Doctor hardly get a chance to exchange more than a few words before Adric and Nyssa's independent bit of Source sabotage spells the end of the Master's plan.  Traken is safe, and even the Source is okay now, with a new Keeper in the form of the young Consul with the low opinion of himself (the last time he was offered the Keepership, he said, "Oh, I do not have such greatness about me").  All, it seems, has been set to rights.

Except then we get a bizarre tag scene where Tremas is paralyzed by the Master's grandfather clock, while the Master comes up behind him and gives him such a great big bear hug from behind that he fuses with Tremas's body (and I defy you to come up with a better explanation for what we see).  "A new body at last," says the rejuvenated Master (as played by the same actor as Tremas, Anthony Ainley), and off he goes as well.  It doesn't pay to name your children anagrams of the word "master", it seems.

But other than that tag, The Keeper of Traken has been a delightful stroll of a story.  It's pitched at just the right balance between fantasy and SF, and while the reveal of an old enemy threatens to overbalance things (and make this story seem More Important (in fandom terms) than it sets out to be), said reveal doesn't really happen until the last seven minutes, which leaves plenty of time to enjoy everything that's come before.  It looks gorgeous, it's well-acted (again, this is Matthew Waterhouse's best performance yet), and there's enough lyricism in the writing to leave you with a smile.  The Keeper of Traken is best remembered as a suitably charming tale.

October 5: Logopolis Parts One & Two

It's the beginning of the end for the fourth Doctor, as I watch the first two episodes of his final story.  There's definitely a theme of endings running through these two parts, as the Doctor (somewhat more somber than usual) reflects on the unstoppable force of entropy.  But we get some firsts, as well: it's the first time we hear the Cloister Bell (that toll of doom that persists into the 21st century version), and the first time we hear the TARDIS's (broken) ability to disguise itself as being the result of the chameleon circuit.  And it's this circuit that arguably sets these events in motion, as the Doctor resolves to fix it by measuring a real police box and taking the dimensions to a place called Logopolis, where the locals there can help the Doctor fix the problem.

But despite this feeling of somberness and decay, it doesn't really seem to affect the Doctor himself until halfway through part two, and before that he seems more or less his usual self.  He does seem awfully worried about the gravity bubble that results from materializing around the police box that's actually a TARDIS (the Master's TARDIS, in fact; it's not made 100% clear, but it's not exactly a big secret either), though, and while we've seen something of this sort before in The Time Monster (where the Master's TARDIS is inside the Doctor's and the Doctor's is inside the Master's), it hasn't been as fully explored as here, with some memorable imagery of TARDISes inside TARDISes.  (And note that they've pulled the old seasons 14-17 TARDIS prop back into service for this: you can tell by the windows and the lack of a door handle, among other things.)

There's also the stuff about the Master being back ("So he did escape from Traken"), and, as About Time points out, the Watcher figure is likely meant to be a bluff, to make us think that that's in fact the Master (even though the last shot of The Keeper of Traken spoils this).  But we're back to shrinking people as a method of killing.  And while all this is going on, an Australian air hostess named Tegan Jovanka, of all things114, accidentally wanders into the TARDIS and spends the better part of two episodes trying to find her way back out again.

There are still some nice moments -- I like the part where the Doctor and Adric brace themselves against the TARDIS doors, expecting the Thames to rush in and flush the Master out, only to find they've landed on a barge instead of in the river, and the weary way in which the detective knocks on the police box's door, fully expecting the Doctor and Adric to be inside, is understated genius.

But once the Doctor meets up with the Watcher on the bridge, there is a real sense of inevitability about the proceedings ("I've just dipped into the future.  We must be prepared for the worst," the Doctor tells Adric), as the Doctor heads to Logopolis.  Of course, even with that there's still time for a terrible pun (after Tegan asks about her aunt, whom the Doctor has seen the shrunken corpse of, the Doctor replies that he's seen "a little of her"), but still, on to Logopolis, where mathematics is the all-important language of the universe.  But the Master is wreaking havoc on the planet (having hitched a ride in the Doctor's TARDIS), and Nyssa, from the last story, is there too for some reason.  And then the cliffhanger (which seems to show the Doctor planning on leaving Adric and Tegan behind on Logopolis) instead focuses on a problem with the Logopolitans' calculations: the TARDIS is rapidly shrinking...

October 6: Logopolis Parts Three & Four

Nyssa, Adric, the Monitor, and Tegan look on as the Master and
the Doctor discuss forming an alliance. (Logopolis Part Three) ©BBC
The first half of this episode is really about setting up the second half; while we get the sense that the Doctor is in danger, it's more about introducing those sonic projectors that "create a temporary zone of stasis", so that the Master can use them later on.  There's also the discovery that the Master has been fouling up the working of Logopolis, introducing errors into the code they're working on (and I'm entertained at this point every time, when Tegan shows the corrected code to the Doctor on what is clearly a printer test page).

But what's most interesting about Part Three is how, after the Master introduces a temporary halt to the workings of Logopolis, the Monitor becomes incredibly distressed.  And we soon learn why: this isn't a temporary halt -- Logopolis has ceased completely.  The Monitor then goes on to explain that the universe has actually passed the point of impending heat death, but that they'd been staving off the entropy by opening voids to other universes (such as the Charged Vacuum Emboitment that took the TARDIS into E-Space) -- in effect, turning the Universe from a closed system to an open one.  But they hadn't finished their work when the Master intervened, and now entropy is taking over.  It's a complicated idea in some ways, but it's also quite imaginative in others, and the way that the death of the universe is heralded not by explosions and fire but by total silence is really clever indeed.  It also means that the situation is serious enough for the Doctor and the Master to work together to fight it, by implementing the nearly-complete program the Logopolitans had devised.  It's a big moment -- so much so that it actually forms the cliffhanger, as the Doctor shakes hands with the Master after scolding his companions ("I've never chosen my own company," the Doctor berates them -- something that's true for this incarnation for every companion except Sarah).

Part four is about racing to save the universe using the Pharos Project on Earth (since Logopolis is dead and crumbling to dust, and even the Monitor perishes in a really well-done effect) -- but while the Doctor and the Master are doing that, the Watcher has taken Nyssa and Adric out of time and space, where they can see the effect of the "entropy field" as it destroys huge parts of the universe (thus putting this story in the running for all-time highest body count), including Nyssa's home world of Traken.  This is a scene designed to try and make this abstract concept of entropy into something concrete, and at this it succeeds: we're not dealing with the idea of places dying so much as we're confronted with it, by witnessing the destruction of a planet we've just been visiting.  The Keeper, the Fosters, the Consuls...they're all gone.  It's amazing Nyssa copes as well as she does.

Tom Baker (with a little help from Adrian Gibbs) regenerates
into Peter Davison. (Logopolis Part Four) ©BBC
But of course, it's all leading up to the final moments of the story, where the Doctor, after having saved the universe by permanently opening a CVE, has to stop the Master from holding the universe ransom by threatening to close the CVE by pulling out a cable, even though he must know it will mean his death (he's been receiving foreshadowing, remember).  That flashback sequence as he dangles from the cable, of some of the villains he's fought as the fourth Doctor, is really nice and not something we've seen on the show before.  And of course, it's followed by the Doctor's fall (accompanied by an electronic "scream" from the music) and then a flashback of all his companions, as well as the Brigadier.  Then one final, gorgeous line from the fourth Doctor -- "It's the end.  But the moment has been prepared for" -- and the regeneration starts, thanks to some help from the Watcher (interesting how it's been 18 years and the production team still doesn't want to take the idea of regeneration for granted -- though, admittedly, they haven't had one since 1974), and we're greeted by the youthful face of the new, fifth Doctor, Peter Davison.  The whole sequence of the fourth Doctor's "death" is done so stylishly well, while hitting all the right thematic notes -- it may be the best regeneration sequence the show has done to date115.

Logopolis is a story about endings. There's the big theme of entropy and decay, realized in both large ways (the death of the universe) and little ways (the TARDIS's crumbling), but there's also the theme about how compromises have to be made for the greater good, with the Doctor working with the Master, the Logopolitans using technology... even Tegan swallowing her pride to roll a flat tire to the garage (even if she only makes it twenty feet).  This paints a bleak picture throughout the story, but it feels entirely appropriate for the fourth Doctor's swan song.  There's a sense in which the entire season, which has been all about decay and change in some ways, has been leading up to those final moments, where even the Doctor isn't immune to change and death.  It's probably unintentional, but it does give Logopolis an extra sense of inevitability.  But this final fourth Doctor story is done so well, with such care and style, that even without this extra edge it would still be a triumph.  Writer Christopher H. Bidmead and director Peter Grimwade have defied everyone's expectations (including Tom Baker's) by giving us a story that's both monumental in its importance (this is the clearest example ever of the entire universe genuinely being at stake) and quiet in its ambitions.  It neatly straddles those two positions, and the final result is gorgeous.

They had a rocky start, but season 18 has ended up being one of the stand-out seasons of the entire show.  This was a season that promised all sorts of changes, and in general it delivered.  John Nathan-Turner managed to rein in Tom Baker, to the show's benefit, and Chris Bidmead has brought a new direction to the show's stories, with an emphasis on science over fantasy and a reduction in the amount of humor in the show.  The last five stories of this season have all been winners and have amply shown that this approach has paid off.  The ratings may not reflect it (but then they haven't been reflecting this all season, hovering instead around 6 million or so -- this shows that a) the public wasn't terribly excited to see more Tom Baker shenanigans, and b) rival network ITV has finally found a decent competitor for Doctor Who, the US import Buck Rogers in the 25th Century), but this is a show with a new vitality, ready to tackle the 1980s head-on.  Of course, whether it actually follows up on that promise is a different story for another time...

And so we say farewell to Tom Baker, the fourth Doctor and the longest-serving actor in the role (probably ever).  His indelible mark on the programme is still felt (with his long scarf remaining emblematic of the show even today), and even while I find myself looking forward to Peter Davison I know that I will miss Tom Baker quite a bit.  Baker is undeniably one of the best actors to take on the role; we can quibble about some of his later seasons, but there are large parts of Tom Baker's tenure that are held up as bona fide classics, and that's due in no small way to the man himself.  Baker has always been larger-than-life, and that's a quality that served him well, as his portrayal of an alien being who occasionally finds himself at right angles to humanity, but nevertheless is interested in exploring and enjoying himself, is utterly wonderful, and there's never a moment where he's not worth watching.  The show will, for better or worse, be in his shadow for the rest of its original run.

But before we move on to Peter Davison's full debut, it's time to take a slight detour toward Doctor Who's first ever spin-off: the hour-long K-9 and Company...


111 A policy that's continued thus far in the 21st-century version -- allowing both for Billie Piper technically playing a different character (but one that's meant to look like Rose Tyler) and for the deliberate ambiguity of the identity of Tom Baker's character in "The Day of the Doctor".
112 It's a good thought, but there are some anomalies if we take seriously the Doctor's suggestion that this is Grimm's law at play -- it would be incredibly strange, for instance, for the [k] in "Sharkey" ([ʃa:ki]) to become the [g] in "Zargo" ([za:go]), as that's the exact opposite direction of the law (in which voiced stops like [g] becomes voiceless like [k]).  Still, at the very least it shows that someone (likely Bidmead) was thinking about this topic, and maybe it caused kids to look up Grimm's law, in the spirit of the best Hartnell historicals, and thus introduce them to the broader idea of language change.  Well, I looked it up, at least.
113 Which, as my brother pointed out, I didn't actually explain.  Both Lovett Bickford and Paul Joyce, interested in providing a new dynamic look for the show, ended up falling behind schedule as a result of their directorial choices -- in Bickford's case, an additional (and expensive) studio block had to be booked.  This didn't happen on Warriors' Gate (possibly because it had happened on The Leisure Hive), but the result instead was, it seems, an increasingly tense production that was visibly taking its toll on Joyce -- and at one point apparently production assistant Graeme Harper took over a great deal of the work.  The visuals on both stories would seem to justify the problems (Nathan-Turner was pleased with how they both turned out), but nonetheless neither director was asked to return to the show.
114 Tegan is a Welsh name, while Jovanka is the name of a Slavic nymph.  Allegedly, producer John Nathan-Turner was trying to decide between the two when script editor Christopher H. Bidmead saw the two names and mistakenly thought it was a first and last name.
115 Though Eccleston to Tennant is also a strong contender.