Season 20 (Oct 21 - Nov 1)

October 21: Arc of Infinity Parts One & Two
October 22: Arc of Infinity Parts Three & Four
October 23: Snakedance Parts One & Two
October 24: Snakedance Parts Three & Four
October 25: Mawdryn Undead Parts One & Two
October 26: Mawdryn Undead Parts Three & Four
October 27: Terminus Parts One & Two
October 28: Terminus Parts Three & Four
October 29: Enlightenment Parts One & Two
October 30: Enlightenment Parts Three & Four
October 31: The King's Demons Parts One & Two
November 1: The Five Doctors

October 21: Arc of Infinity Parts One & Two

Season 20 opens with some shadowy Time Lord figure making a deal with someone unfamiliar, displayed in a negative image (you know, like a Dalek extermination effect).  So it's going to be a Gallifrey story, I guess.

And it seems they've decided to make this some sort of mystery/suspense story, so we get lots of shots of shadowy figures and first-person-from-the-culprit's-point-of-view scenes.  This is fine (even if it's aping The Deadly Assassin somewhat), but there's a lot of technobabble going on to support the mystery (biodata, Quad magnetism, temporal bonding), which instead has the effect of taking you out of the mystery rather than pulling you in.

Still, it's nice to see Nyssa interact with the Doctor without anyone else in the TARDIS to take up screen time, and we see a genuine affection there of the sort that wasn't really present in TARDIS scenes during season 19.  It's a welcome change, and there's also a feeling that Nyssa has grown up a bit.  Although the fallen hatstand in the console room seems to suggest that little time has passed between Time-Flight and this, it's hard to reconcile that with the easier and stronger relationship.  Maybe the hatstand just fell over again.

There's also some stuff in Amsterdam with young tourists, but, while somewhat interesting, it's hard at this stage to really see how it ties in with the Gallifrey stuff, beyond the fact that the same person seems to be responsible for both Colin's "death" and the Doctor's attempted abduction/takeover.  Although there is that weird chicken creature, the Ergon, to watch.  Actually, I don't mind the Ergon as much as the rest of fandom seems to; it's not a total success, but you can sort of see what they were going for, and I don't think it looks that bad, especially if they were going for "weird" rather than "scary" (mind, if they were going for "scary" then it is a failure).

But look!  It's Colin Baker as Commander Maxil!  Which wouldn't normally be anything of particular note, except that Colin Baker is going to go on to become the next Doctor (not that anyone knows that yet).  Here he's quite ruthless -- although he doesn't seem actually evil -- in the pursuit of his duties.  Maybe the Doctor upset him at some unseen point before this story, since his reactions over the Doctor are much more extreme than anyone else we see.  And Borusa has regenerated yet again, it seems.

Maxil and the Doctor in the TARDIS. (Arc of Infinity Part Two)
Part two shows us why we're really supposed to care about the Amsterdam stuff: Tegan's back (well, that was fast).121  She's now unemployed and sporting a pixie cut, and it turns out that Colin the now-possessed tourist was her cousin (thus getting her involved in the story).  So she and Colin's friend Robin go around trying to convince the police that there's a problem while Gallifrey gets on with executing the Doctor, so that the thing that tried to bond with him ("the Renegade", according to the credits) is unable to do so.  The Renegade is composed of antimatter, you see, and if the bond were successful there would be a tremendous explosion as matter and antimatter mixed.  Although you'd think the Renegade would have thought of that and would have plans to prevent killing itself.

But yes, this episode seems to just be marking time for large portions: Tegan learns about Colin and that's about it, while the Doctor is sentenced to execution (only the second time this has happened -- the first being Morbius, presumably) and waits around for it to happen.  And that's largely it for plot purposes.  Yes, there are some complications, and we learn that it must be someone on Gallifrey who's working with the Renegade in order to use the Doctor as a candidate for temporal bonding, but that's it.  It does lead to a good cliffhanger, though, as the Doctor is led to the execution chamber and then appears to be vaporized -- although not before the Renegade has bonded with him...

October 22: Arc of Infinity Parts Three & Four

I take back what I said last time about the Ergon; while it's not bad from a distance in poor lighting, up close in bright white lights it's really quite an appalling costume.  It looks really cheap, and the fact that you can see the holes in the neck where Malcolm Harvey is looking out does it no favors whatsoever.  Not that the other effects are that much better; the matter converter's beam and disappearing effect is quite nice, but the Matrix is rather disappointing with its shimmering black with odd white lines look -- we're a long way away from The Deadly Assassin's surreal landscape.  And I don't think much of Omega's costume either.

But anyway...  Part three is all about revelations.  The Doctor's not dead!  Hedin is the traitor!  The Renegade is Omega!  Er... bringing back a one-time villain from ten years ago doesn't seem like a great move (even allowing for the fact that The Three Doctors was repeated in November 1981 as part of BBC2's Five Faces of Doctor Who season), and Arc of Infinity makes few concessions to anyone who doesn't remember/know about Omega.  Not that it really matters, I suppose; all you need to know is that Omega really wants to take over the Doctor's form and enter our universe, and that This Is A Bad Thing, because Omega is made up of antimatter and thus will create a huge explosion when he interacts with matter.  Again, how has Omega not considered this problem?  Moreover, no one on Gallifrey seems willing to work with Omega, to come up with a safe way for him to transfer over; they'd much rather annihilate him and be done with it.

Omega's body begins to break down in Amsterdam. (Arc of
Part Four) ©BBC
It's a decent enough episode, but the story really becomes worthwhile in part four, due in no small part to Peter Davison's performance as Omega-in-the-Doctor's-form.  All the stuff leading up to that is suitably tense and dramatic, but once Omega achieves transfer and Peter Davison takes over, it's simply wonderful.  Davison plays the role like someone experiencing the world for the first time, taking in all the sights and wonders that he's been denied for so long.  The moment with the child in front of the calliope, where he looks at the child and smiles, somewhat uncertainly, is so magical that you find yourself rooting for Omega, even though he's ostensibly the villain of the piece (and he has just killed a groundskeeper).  And the scenery is quite gorgeous; the Amsterdam location (the second time Doctor Who has filmed abroad) is used quite effectively and adds a sense of scope to the proceedings.

But of course it can't last; the transfer is unstable, and the Doctor is forced to dispatch Omega with a matter converter so that a huge explosion doesn't take place.  The universe is saved, and Tegan is free to travel with the Doctor again.  Although I can't tell if that final shot, where the Doctor smiles and then his face falls, is because the camera didn't cut away soon enough, or if the Doctor is meant to be somewhat less than enthusiastic about the prospect of traveling with Tegan again...

I can't decide if Arc of Infinity ultimately works or not.  It's never less than entertaining, but there is a bit of a sense of the author's hand behind things; there's a good deal of technobabble floating around to make the story do whatever is necessary, and it's never really made clear what the main problem is.  There's some handwaving about antimatter, but that's treated as if that's enough, and the threat Omega (allegedly) poses is thus frustratingly vague.  It is, however, a story that works a bit better the second time around; if you already know that the Renegade is Omega, then you can have some fun with the motivations and the casual callbacks to facts we learned in The Three Doctors.  But taken in context, Arc of Infinity is something of an unmotivated adventure, and while it's enjoyable enough while it lasts (and again, Peter Davison really is impressive as Omega), it's hard to dispel the sense that this is all rather irrelevant.

October 23: Snakedance Parts One & Two

"Well?" Nyssa asks the Doctor as this story opens, having changed out of her usual velvet clothes into a hideous new outfit of a white and blue striped shirt with a different striped skirt (predominantly dull purple, green, and red), worn over a pair of burgundy shorts.  The Doctor, wisely, doesn't reply.

Other than some awkward exposition to bring anyone who didn't see Kinda up to speed, these first couple episodes of Snakedance are really well done.  It's a sequel to Kinda, albeit on the planet of Manussa instead of Deva Loka.  Manussa was the planet from which the Mara ruled over the Sumaran empire until it was overthrown by the Federation five hundred years earlier, and it seems the Mara is keen to retake Manussa through Tegan.  Manussa, by the way, looks gorgeous -- the bazaar set in particular is a great riot of colors and nooks and crannies.

It's not just the set design, though: the script is filled with fantastic characters, all aided by an excellent guest cast.  Lon, the Federator's son, has the purest motivation ever, boredom, and while there's nothing actually evil about him, there is a slightly sadistic and mischievous streak -- note the way in which he casually tosses that priceless artifact to Ambril.  As everyone knows, this is Martin Clunes's first television work (before he became the star of Men Behaving Badly and Doc Martin), and he's magnificently good here, both when he's being indolent and when he's been possessed by the Mara.  And I really like how he goes to the house of mirrors with Dugdale (played by Brian Miller, who's also Elisabeth Sladen's husband) because he's so impressed by the audacity of someone summoning him that he wants to see who would dare do such a thing.  And John Carson pitches his performance as Ambril perfectly, being both somewhat insufferable when he's lecturing others on Sumaran history and realistically dismissive of the Doctor's wild claims (for which he has no proof) -- the sarcastic rejoinder to the Doctor's cry to cancel the ceremony celebrating 500 years of Mara-free rule ("Yes, I'll cancel the whole thing.  At once") being a particular delight.

In fact, this is just about the only time in the series that we get a look at how the Doctor must seem to others.  Manussa appears to be a relatively stable and free society, happily going about its business, when the Doctor appears on the scene declaring tales of doom and destruction if he's not heeded.  And since he has no proof (Tegan having run off and then succumbing to the Mara, who's in no hurry to reveal itself), he really does look like a crazy person, even though we the audience know better.  Mind, flashes of the Doctor we know still shine through: I love the Six Faces of Delusion bit, as the Doctor points out the obvious to the academic Ambril, who has examined the piece so closely that he missed the actual point of the headdress.

These two episodes ultimately feel like they're building to something big, as the Mara marshals its power and prepares to strike.  That second cliffhanger is weird, though: I guess it's supposed to be worrying that Lon is speaking with Tegan-as-the-Mara's voice?  But we already know Lon has been taken over, so I'm not sure what we gain from this.  But never mind; this doesn't detract from what's gone before, and so far what's gone before has been excellent.

October 24: Snakedance Parts Three & Four

The Doctor and Nyssa discuss the Little Mind's Eye crystal.
(Snakedance Part Three) ©BBC
One of the impressive things about part three is that this is the episode where the Doctor works out the backstory of the Mara -- despite being locked in a cell for the majority of the episode -- through a combination of Dojjen's journal (the previous director's, given to the Doctor by Ambril's assistant Chela) and Nyssa's working through the properties of the crystal -- concluding that it must be man-made with no imperfections of any kind (not even distortions from gravity), an incredibly advanced technique from a people who now appear to be too primitive to be able to perform it.  Therefore, the Manussans were once very advanced, but when they made the Great Crystal (aka the Great Mind's Eye) in order to harness their mental powers, they brought the Mara into being, leading to the downfall of their civilization and the rise of the Sumaran Empire.

Of course, while the Doctor and Nyssa are locked up, the Mara is making plans for its return.  Curiously, though Lon is clearly in the thrall of the Mara, he still seems to retain some semblance of his old self (unlike Tegan), and while he's being controlled by the Mara, it's not actually living inside him.  But he's fascinatingly manipulative with Ambril, who ultimately seems willing to let Lon use the Great Crystal during the Defeat of the Mara Ceremony, even though a) it's expressly forbidden, and b) he's seen some weird stuff inside the cave full of artifacts -- like Dugdale doing his barker routine to no one in particular.  Incidentally, it's the "expressly forbidden" part that seems to convince Chela to release the Doctor, who's the only one who's been warning of dangers while Ambril is continually dismissive of the possibility.  And incidentally, I really like the incorporation of the Mara into the Punch and Judy show -- it's a really nice touch.

Part four has two moments that are really wonderful.  The first is the Doctor's interaction with Dojjen, who's gone off into the hills to become a snakedancer.  The telepathic conversation they share (thanks, it seems, to a snake bite) is enigmatic and charming, with some great lines, such as "Fear is the only poison" and "The still point is within yourself ... To destroy the Mara you must find the still point."  I also like how the Doctor takes full responsibility for Tegan having succumbed to the Mara; it's a nice touch.

The second moment is the ceremony itself; there's something pleasingly elegant about the (obviously well-known) lines spoken during it: "I offer you fear in a handful of dust", "I offer you despair in a withered branch", and so forth.  Plus, the way in which Lon causes the ceremony to go off the rails is really well done ("What do you mean, [the crystal has] hidden depths?  Where are they?  Show them to me.  It's just a fake.  Your whole ceremony is a fake"), and the reveal of the Mara is a lot better than it was in Kinda.  It's a significantly more convincing snake.  The defeat of the Mara here is also better than it was in Kinda -- there's nothing here about mirrors, but instead it's about one man's refusal (the Doctor's) to submit to fear, to instead find the still point inside and thus disrupt the Mara's power.

Snakedance is a much more accessible story than Kinda was, and I think that's a real strength, for while Kinda was fascinating in its use of metaphors and imagery, Snakedance has much of the same feel while telling a more coherent tale.  There are also some brave elements to this story (making the Doctor seem like a crazy outsider, for instance), and the whole thing coheres thanks to the sterling directorial work of Fiona Cumming.  I've already mentioned the excellent work that Martin Clunes and John Carson have put into this, but I haven't mentioned Janet Fielding, who finally gets a chance to really let loose as the possessed Tegan.  It's a frightening performance (even more so because we're familiar with how Tegan usually is) and one that Fielding takes full advantage of.  All this and a great script make Snakedance easily one of the standouts so far of Peter Davison's tenure.

October 25: Mawdryn Undead Parts One & Two

It opens with a really bratty schoolboy named Turlough who goes around endangering others and generally not caring about if he lives or dies.  "I don't think I'd really care if I were [dead]," he says after getting in an accident and looking down on the scene, in an unbelievably early '80s computer-generated vortex.  He's there courtesy of the Black Guardian, who wants Turlough to kill the Doctor -- "one of the most evil creatures in the universe," the Guardian tells Turlough -- and in exchange the Black Guardian will take Turlough away from Earth (Turlough's not a native, it seems).  Oh, and it seems that the maths teacher at Turlough's public school122 is one Brigadier Alastair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, last seen in 1975's Terror of the Zygons and now retired from UNIT.

Into this somewhat unusual setup the TARDIS arrives, caught in a warp ellipse along with some sort of luxury spaceship.  The warp ellipse has immobilized the TARDIS, so while Turlough is being manipulated by the Black Guardian into a position near the Doctor, the Doctor himself (now apparently sporting mini-mutton chop sideburns) is trying to locate the ship's transmat beam (last operated six years earlier) so that the TARDIS can leave.

Turlough's introduction to the Doctor is pretty great, by the way; he enters the TARDIS while the others are out, and while he's checking out the TARDIS the Doctor rushes in, before looking slowly at Turlough.  The Doctor seems quite willing to trust Turlough; Tegan doesn't, although there doesn't seem to be any reason for her not to.  "Nobody from Earth is just going to walk into a transmat capsule," she complains.  "As you did into the TARDIS on the Barnet bypass?" Nyssa asks pointedly.  Of course, in this case Tegan is right (not that she knows that), and after the Doctor releases the transmat beam down on 1983 Earth, the TARDIS briefly materializes and then is gone again, and while the Doctor tries to figure out what went wrong, Turlough lifts a big rock and prepares to kill the Doctor.  "In the name of all that is evil, the Black Guardian orders you to destroy him now!" the Black Guardian cries, which rather ruins the whole "you're doing the universe a favor by killing an evil man" excuse. 

Part two is primarily about three things: first, the Doctor's renewed relationship with the Brigadier; second, the badly injured Doctor that Tegan and Nyssa find; and third, the storylines in the two different timelines (1983, where the Doctor is, and 1977, where Tegan and Nyssa are).  That first thing is handled rather well; I like the idea of an amnesiac Brigadier who doesn't remember the Doctor or any of his friends or the events he shared (so, what did he think he did at UNIT all those years?), and the way in which the Doctor lifts the Brigadier's mental block is quite lovely, with all those sepia-tinted memories flooding back.  I also like the way the subsequent storyline ties in with the third point, with us seeing what Tegan's doing with the 1977 Brigadier (quickly identifiable by the moustache he's sporting that the '83 version lacks) at the same time the 1983 Brigadier remembers what happened and tells the Doctor about it.

That second point is less successful; does anyone buy that that's supposed to be the Doctor?  (Mind you, my wife bought it...for about fifteen seconds, by her reckoning.)  It's more entertaining how the not-actually-Doctor (as played by David Collings) leaves smears of the body paint he's wearing everywhere -- and if you look, you can see Janet Fielding's hands are just covered with the stuff after she drags him inside the TARDIS.  But even though it's less successful, it ends up being the driving force behind much of the episode, and while we learn that he's actually Mawdryn, not the Doctor (thus explaining the story's title), there's also some intriguing stuff about him becoming a Time Lord.  And his appearance at the end of the episode, when the '77 Brig enters the TARDIS, is quite horrific, with his pulsing exposed brain...

October 26: Mawdryn Undead Parts Three & Four

The two Brigadiers just avoid meeting each other. (Mawdryn
Part Three) ©BBC
While the first two parts of Mawdryn Undead were interested more in the interwoven timelines, these two episodes are concerned more with the idea of assisted suicide, filtered through an SF lens.  Of course, it takes a bit of time to get to that point (since it ends up being the cliffhanger to part three -- "It would be the end of me as a Time Lord!" the Doctor exclaims upon hearing of Mawdryn's wish for the Doctor's help in letting them die), and so part three is filled with a decent amount of wandering the luxury spaceship, combined with some more attempts by Mawdryn to convince Tegan, Nyssa, and the '77 Brigadier that he's the Doctor (even though we the audience know he's not).  It's entertaining, but it's not, strictly speaking, doing much in the way of plot advancement.  We learn that Mawdryn has seven compatriots on board, and that Turlough is still doing the Black Guardian's bidding (although he seems quite reluctant to actually kill the Doctor; most of his plans seem to involve trying to strand him instead), and that there are two Brigadiers on board, and should they meet, the result will be catastrophic.  And that's really about it.

Part four deals more with the assisted suicide subplot, albeit in a manner which coerces the Doctor into helping them; he's not particularly keen on giving up his remaining regenerations to free Mawdryn and his fellows from their unending regeneration cycle (which they're suffering from thanks to some pilfered Gallifreyan technology), but when it turns out Nyssa and Tegan are infected with the same problem as Mawdryn, the Doctor feels he has little choice but to grant the poor fellows their wish.  It's not a situation that's explored with any complexity, but the fact that they're even bringing up euthanasia at all is somewhat surprising.  Of course, thanks to a deus ex machina (the two Brigadiers meeting at exactly the right moment, shorting out the time differential and supplying the power needed to cure Nyssa and Tegan and end the eight travellers' lives -- this event, incidentally, is why the '83 Brigadier had amnesia at the beginning of the story) everyone gets what they want without the Doctor no longer being a Time Lord, but it's interesting that the Doctor was willing to go through with it -- and it's nice that Tegan thanks him for that.  And although Turlough was unable to kill or strand the Doctor, he's apparently going to get another chance, as he joins the TARDIS crew at the end of the story (although there's the moment where Turlough discovers that his Black Guardian communication crystal is cracked -- is he free of the Black Guardian's influence now?).

On the whole, Mawdryn Undead is a success.  It's nice to have such a small stakes story (it's not the universe at risk, it's just eight people with a simple request), and there's enough going on otherwise (the return of the Brigadier, the Black Guardian's delayed revenge over the events of 1978's The Armageddon Factor, the mingling of the two time periods) to keep the audience happily entertained.  Even the inclusion of the Brigadier feels right, even if he is a maths teacher -- the story originally called for Ian Chesterton to be the returning character, but the Brigadier slots in surprisingly well.  It's not a "big" story, but it's not trying to be (as opposed to, say, Arc of Infinity, which does want to be a "big" story but fails at it).  There may be a section of fandom who wish this story had never happened (albeit for the wrong reasons123), but they can be safely ignored.  Mawdryn Undead is a charming tale.

October 27: Terminus Parts One & Two

Nope, looks like Turlough is still working with the Black Guardian -- and the cracked crystal has been repaired too.  Tegan is still incredibly suspicious and distrustful of Turlough, although again there doesn't seem to be a good reason for it beyond "hey, Turlough's working for the villain, so someone has to be against him."  It's not very satisfying as a result, and it doesn't make Tegan come off very well.

But it's actually Turlough's efforts to destroy the TARDIS ("I am ready to lift you away," the Black Guardian tells Turlough -- the words "yeah, right" come to mind) that lead to the main storyline, as the TARDIS latches onto a nearby spaceship to save itself from breaking up.  Nyssa heads through the doorway that appears, and the rest of the story so far is about what she and the Doctor discover.  (Tegan and Turlough spend the end of part one and all of part two trapped in some ductwork beneath the floors of the ship.  It's about as thrilling as it sounds.)

I do like the slow realization, near the end of part one, that this ship isn't simply carrying standard cargo, but instead plague victims, and so the two raiders, Kari and Olvir, learn not only that they've been abandoned on a ship by their captain, but that it's a ship full of diseased people.  Or, as Olvir memorably puts it at the end of part one: "This is Terminus!  Where all the Lazars come to die. We're on a leper ship! We're all going to diiiiiiie!!!"  And we learn in part two that Nyssa has also contracted the disease and is thus forcibly separated from the others.

Of course, it turns out that there are other people aboard Terminus.  The ones looking after the Lazars are the Vanir -- but rather than being like the Norse gods of their namesake, these people are a sickly lot, dependent on a drug called hydromel and looking little better than the patients they're handling.  I do like the look of their armor though, with its skeletal motif -- but there are also some small little touches (a snake head here, a dragon there) that add some character to the look.  And people tend to look down on the Garm, but, glowing red eyes aside, I've always found it to be a reasonably convincing character.  The Garm is certainly imposing; it's huge in every direction, and the idea of its being a servant of the weak-looking Vanir suggests that they must have some hidden strengths.  And we get to find that out in part two's cliffhanger, as one of the Vanir attempts to throttle the Doctor -- with hands around the throat this time, rather than the usual Shoulder Rub of Doom.

There are other nice touches scattered throughout these two episodes; the skull motif on the transport ship, the transparent colored blocks that represent computer chips (rather than the standard "bits of circuitry" we usually get around this time), and all the different colored strips that show that the Forbidden Zone has been slowly getting larger (presumably as the radiation contamination increases).  It's been a slow build, but thus far Terminus has been an intriguing story.

October 28: Terminus Parts Three & Four

In a way, you sort of feel bad for Janet Fielding and Mark Strickson; with one exception, their actions have no bearing on anything going on in the main plot -- it's as if writer Steve Gallagher didn't know what to do with Tegan and Turlough, and so shunted them off to do their own, not very exciting thing.  The only thing they do that's related to the main plot is when Turlough pulls some wires, trying to get the door to the TARDIS to reappear, and sends an electrical surge through the transport ship into Terminus, triggering an automatic fuel jettison.  Everything else they do is padding.  Mind you, there are some good moments in said padding: "If ever you had to kill someone, could you do it?  Could you?" Turlough asks Tegan thoughtfully at one point.  "No," Tegan replies.  "I don't know.  If it was important... to save my friend, to defend myself."  "But cold-bloodedly?" Turlough persists.  "You're weird, Turlough," she says.  "What a subject to bring up at a time like this."  Looks like Turlough is continuing to have second thoughts about his deal with the Black Guardian.

Terminus's dead pilot, the Doctor, and Kari in Terminus's control
room. (Terminus Part Three) ©BBC
Terminus's main storyline is content to move along without Tegan and Turlough, however, and it remains quite entertaining.  There are actually two storylines on Terminus itself: one involves the Doctor and Kari learning about the origins of Terminus, and the other is about Nyssa's treatment at the hands of the Vanir and the Garm, and Olvir's efforts to rescue her.  There's also another subplot regarding the leadership of the Vanir, and how they're in thrall to a faceless company that sends them drugs and patients, that neatly ties in with the Nyssa plot.  That Nyssa plot, involving her being cured of Lazar's disease, is more interesting for the way it shows us how Terminus is supposed to work than for any other reasons -- that said, the fight scenes are reasonably good and Sarah Sutton does a fine job of showing Nyssa in distress and then cured, with a new purpose in life as a result.

The Doctor's plotline has more of a bearing on events in terms of threat level, as he and Kari make some interesting discoveries about Terminus -- due in part to Bor, the Vanir who went into the Forbidden Zone in part one and made some unpleasant discoveries of his own.  Bor is probably the best of the all the Vanir, concerned far more with the possibility of another of Terminus's engines exploding than with anything else, including his own safety.  Of course, this means that he's contracted radiation sickness from being inside the Forbidden Zone so long -- "Short-term memory's the first to go," he tells the Doctor -- but he still remembers enough to tell the Doctor how to find the control room.

I really like the idea of Terminus being inadvertently responsible for the Big Bang by jettisoning its unstable fuel, leading to the explosion that created the universe -- and that's why Terminus appears to be at the exact center of the universe.124  It's a "big" idea in an otherwise small-scale story, but it never feels out of place here.  In fact, it leads to some intriguing thoughts, which are never really explored but are still tantalizing to think about: if Terminus created the universe, what was there before?  Is the Garm from the original ship or was it brought aboard?  Plus it gives added impetus for the danger faced in the cliffhanger to part three and much of part four: if the jettisoned fuel the first time around was enough to create the universe, jettisoning the fuel a second time would be powerful enough to end everything.

But while there are big ideas driving the plot, the resolution is ultimately on a personal level; the Vanir wish to be free of the company and run Terminus on their own; the Garm is willing to save the universe in exchange for its freedom (to put it crudely); and Nyssa is cured and wants to help.  This last one is the big one, because it means that Nyssa has decided to leave the TARDIS.  Tegan is, predictably, unhappy about this ("She'll die here," Tegan says), but the Doctor seems accepting of the decision -- and, rather sweetly, Nyssa gives him a farewell kiss on the cheek.

Terminus is a story that often gets a lot of grief from fandom, but it's honestly hard to see why.  There are a few questionable moments here and there, and some design decisions that don't work, but the core of the story is solid, and there are a lot of entertaining parts to a well-written script -- and one that seems to have had most of its plot bugs worked out ahead of time (not always the case at this point in the show's history).  It's a story that strikes a fine balance between big ideas and small interpersonal relationships, and it does so in a suitably compelling fashion.  Something of an overlooked gem, then.

October 29: Enlightenment Parts One & Two

Well, it only took twenty years, but Doctor Who finally gets its first female writer for the show in the form of Barbara Clegg.  (Remember, by all accounts Lesley Scott did no actual work on The Ark.)  And so far, what she's written has been really wonderful indeed.  I like the slow build in part one, as the TARDIS arrives on a sailing ship that nevertheless has some oddities about it: the crew don't remember signing up, there are wetsuits for the crew, and the officers are decidedly peculiar.  And it's interesting how the officers are similar yet different from each other: none of them seem to be terribly good at understanding people, but where Captain Striker is incredibly calm and collected, First Officer Marriner comes off as incredibly creepy in his pursuit of Tegan.  Of course, they all seem to know what our heroes are thinking before being told, which might be extremely good anticipation or something else entirely.  And then it all leads into that gorgeous first cliffhanger, where we learn that this sailing ship is in fact a spaceship, racing against a number of other sailing ships from Earth's history through the blackness of space...

There are some great moments throughout these first two episodes, of which that first cliffhanger is only one.  There's also the interaction between the Doctor, Turlough, and the crew -- the crew's mistake of thinking the Doctor is in fact the ship's cook, and Turlough's cackling joy when the Doctor figures this out, is a particular highlight; the way the Doctor wants to finish his dessert before heading off after dinner; Turlough's decision not to kill the Doctor, in defiance of his deal with the Black Guardian ("I can't kill him!" Turlough cries), which leads to his desperate attempt to get off the ship, in the second cliffhanger, after the Black Guardian tells him he'll never leave Striker's ship; the nature of the Eternals, and their dependence upon Ephemerals -- those who live in one time and place -- and Striker's dismissal for the Time Lords ("Are there lords in such a small domain?"), even as he acknowledges that the Time Lords are more than mere Ephemerals; the way the scenes on deck are shot on film, suggesting location filming in an impossible locale...  Enlightenment is filled with things like this, which add to a sense of groundedness even as we're told this is an unreal situation.

So there's been some fabulous acting and some sterling writing, and the whole thing looks beautiful as well -- so kudos to director Fiona Cumming, designer Colin Green, and costumer Dinah Collin for their work on that front.  It's all especially impressive when you consider that this story was plagued by the same sort of industrial action that killed Shada and nearly ended The Invasion of Time.  The whole thing is beautiful and a joy to take in -- it'll be good to see what's in store for the final two episodes.

October 30: Enlightenment Parts Three & Four

The first two episodes of Enlightenment were set primarily on Striker's ship (the Shadow, according to the name on the lifebuoys), while the latter two split their time evenly between the Shadow and the Buccaneer, a 17th-century Spanish galleon.  Wrack, the captain of the Buccaneer, seems far more lively than any of the other Eternals we've seen -- but maybe that's because she's doing her best to emulate a pirate captain, as opposed to, say, Striker's English "stiff upper lip" approach.

However, the standout performance here has to be from Mark Strickson.  Turlough spends the entirety of these two episodes aboard Wrack's ship (well, once the Buccaneer scoops him up from his jump overboard), and he spends all that time being devious and conniving.  "Your mind is divided, confused, hard to read sometimes," Wrack tells Turlough, "but one thing is clear in it always.  Greed."  But Mark Strickson (who hasn't exactly started this story as the most subtle actor) turns it up in an extremely entertaining performance.  "I heard the power that speaks to you!  I heard it, and I know the voice," Turlough wheedles to Wrack, in an effort to save his neck.  "He speaks to me as well.  I serve him, as I wish to serve you."  It's tremendous fun, and it's a tribute to Strickson's abilities that, until the final moments of part four, you're never quite sure which side he's on.  Is he, for instance, actually betraying the Doctor in part four by claiming the Doctor's a spy?  Even though Turlough and the Doctor had a conversation about staying aboard the Buccaneer, and the fact that the Doctor seems sufficiently convinced by his intentions ("I think he wants to prove himself.  At least, I hope so," the Doctor tells Tegan), you're still not certain if he's going to side with the Doctor or the Black Guardian.

The Black Guardian and the White Guardian, ready to present
Enlightenment. (Enlightenment Part Four) ©BBC
But then these two episodes, at their heart, really are about Turlough, and while there are other incidents along the way (Tegan being frozen in time so that Wrack can plant a deadly jewel on her, the destruction of another vessel due to Wrack, Marriner's desire to be with Tegan -- "You are life itself," he tells Tegan.  "Without you I am nothing.  Don't you understand? ... I am empty.  You give me being.  I look into your mind and see life, energy, excitement.  I want them.  I want you.  Your thoughts should be my thoughts.  Your feelings, my feelings."  "Wait a minute," Tegan says.  "Are you trying to tell me you're in love?"  "Love?" responds Marriner, confused.  "What is love?125  I want existence"), none of them are the focus of the story the way Turlough is.  And so the resolution ultimately comes down to him: as he helped sail the winning ship to the prize of Enlightenment, and as the Doctor isn't ready for Enlightenment, he's entitled to a piece of Enlightenment.  And thus Turlough is presented with a choice: does he take the diamond, as well as power and all the other things he would get from the Black Guardian, or does he spare the Doctor's life?  In the end he makes the right decision, giving the diamond to the Black Guardian, who disappears in flames:
WHITE GUARDIAN: Light destroys the dark.  I think you will find your contract terminated.
TURLOUGH: (discarding the now-blackened communication crystal into the fire) I never wanted the agreement in the first place.
DOCTOR: I believe you.
TEGAN: You're mad.
TURLOUGH: What I've said is true.
TEGAN: You believe him because he gave up Enlightenment for your sake.
DOCTOR: You're missing the point.  Enlightenment was not the diamond.  Enlightenment was the choice.
Enlightenment brings an end to the Black Guardian trilogy, and while the White Guardian warns of a third encounter, to date this hasn't happened yet (unless Missy in series 8 is actually the Black Guardian...).  It's a satisfying conclusion, one that sparkles with energy and charm.  There's hardly a word or design choice out of place (well, except for the giant flashing VACUUM SHIELD OFF sign in Wrack's ion chamber, but I guess you can't have everything).  Imaginative and clever, Enlightenment is one of the best stories of the Davison era.

October 31: The King's Demons Parts One & Two

I have to wonder: was anyone fooled by "James Stoker" (as the Radio Times billed him) as Sir Gilles Estram?  Yes, he's wearing a ginger beard and a false nose, but it doesn't really disguise Anthony Ainley's features -- and it doesn't help that he has a reasonably distinctive voice, even if he is speaking in what I assume is intended to be a French accent.

The unfortunate side effect of this is that you spend almost all the first episode waiting for the Master to reveal himself, which doesn't actually happen until the cliffhanger.  (Although kudos to them for the actual shot -- the blurring between the two versions of the Master's face is whatever, but they do a really nice job of matching the body shot, such that you have to actively look to see when the changeover happens.)  And, unfortunately, there's not much else to go on for the duration.  Something's up with King John, that much the Doctor deduces (since he's supposed to be in London that day, according to history), but there's little else in the way of clues as to what's going on, beyond additional reinforcement of "this king is an imposter".  Still, the jousting is entertaining to watch, and the swordfight between the Doctor and "Sir Gilles" is half decent.

But no, part one (which is also Doctor Who's 600th episode -- 600 episodes!  Now that's a milestone) is all set-up, and then part two is almost all wrap-up, as this is only a two-part story.  The reversal by the Master (where he changes out of the Sir Gilles make-up and reappears as the Master), where he convinces them that it's the "king's demons" (the TARDIS crew) that have been adversely affecting King John, is rather nice -- even if you have to wonder why Lord Ranulf doesn't recognize the Master as the unmasked Sir Gilles, who was then shoved into an (anachronistic) iron maiden which disappeared.  And while the Doctor calls the Master's plan of altering history so that King John is deposed and thus never signs Magna Carta "small-time villainy", it's still potentially a big change, as Magna Carta is quite an important document (even if it wasn't at the time, as King John almost immediately got Pope Innocent III to declare it null and void and refused to obey it himself).  That said, it's not clear what the Master hopes to gain from this plan, other than amusement.

Turlough, Tegan, the Doctor, and Kamelion. (The King's
Part Two) ©BBC
But ultimately this story comes down to a battle of wills between the Doctor and the Master over a shapechanging alien appropriately named Kamelion.  Kamelion is genuinely a robot that they've got someone off camera programming, and it's sort of effective here, even if it's not as good as they probably would have liked (and by all accounts was a nightmare to work with). But as Kamelion in the story is controlled by psychokinetics, it comes down to that aforementioned battle (shot rather well, it should be noted), which then ends when the Doctor transforms Kamelion's appearance into that of Tegan and pulls her inside the TARDIS.  Kamelion, it seems, is going to be a new companion, despite Tegan's (rather worryingly close-minded) objections.  (Don't hold your breath though; Kamelion was such a pain to work with -- not least because one of the people who developed him, Mike Power, died tragically in a boating accident not long after filming on this story was completed -- that he won't show up again until his swansong, Planet of Fire.)

It's only two episodes, so it might be unfair to judge it by the same standards as stories that have more time to develop, but The King's Demons is a rather slight affair.  For all the talk about Magna Carta, it's hard to get the sense that any of this actually matters.  Still, at least it looks decent, and the direction is good as well.  But ultimately, The King's Demons just feels like a throwaway tale, and a less-than-stellar way to technically end season 20.126  Maybe if the industrial action hadn't killed Eric Saward's Dalek script The Return we would have had a more effective season closer, but as is what we get is limp.

Season 20 itself hasn't been the most effective of seasons.  Producer John Nathan-Turner told us that, while it wasn't intentional, season 20 would feature an element of the show's past in every story.   This might be part of the problem.  There's a tendency here to focus more on the past than on the future, but the issue is that too often there doesn't seem to be enough of a story to support those elements.  What we get instead are a series of small scale threats, stories that are charming in their own way but don't stand out much from the crowd.  The greater fluctuations in ratings this season (a lot less stable than season 19, and generally lower as well) seem to indicate that the audience hasn't been terribly impressed either.  There's nothing that's really terrible this season, but too often there's a sense that nostalgia is enough to carry them through -- even if the nostalgia evoked isn't terribly strong in the first place.

But before we reach season 21, there's one more blast of pure nostalgia left, in time for Doctor Who's twentieth anniversary...

November 1: The Five Doctors

Special and 25th anniversary edition DVDs
Twenty years!  That's quite an achievement for a show, and what better way to celebrate than with a party, just in time for the show's twentieth anniversary?  (Well, two days late if you were in the UK, but some places in the US got it on 23 November -- the first time Doctor Who had its world premiere somewhere other than the UK.)

It's not a big, deep story, but what The Five Doctors lacks in nuance and intricacy it more than makes up for in sheer entertainment.  It starts with a perfectly chosen William Hartnell clip from The Dalek Invasion of Earth (thus properly representing Hartnell, who died in 1975), and moves from there into the best kind of nostalgic fun.

It's a simple plot, to be sure -- each Doctor is pulled out of his time stream and sent on a quest in the heart of Gallifrey, in search of a way to fix whatever's going on and get everyone back where they're supposed to be.  It's as simple as that, but writer Terrance Dicks gives each of the Doctors and their companions plenty of things to do.  And while they often act more like caricatures of themselves than how they actually were, it's still quite thrilling to see Jon Pertwee and Patrick Troughton back in action.  As for the first Doctor... Richard Hurndall is, perhaps wisely, not doing a William Hartnell impersonation -- there's little here in the way of "hmm"-ing and lapel grabbing -- but is instead choosing to give his own take on the first Doctor's personality.  It's occasionally a bit too severe, lacking the twinkle that Hartnell would have provided, but Hurndall does a decent job with what he's given.

It's also quite fun to see past companions and friends, though it's perhaps not quite as impactful as it might have otherwise been, given that we saw the Brigadier earlier this season and Sarah Jane in K-9 and Company a couple years earlier.  But it's an absolute genuine delight to see Carole Ann Ford as Susan again, and her reunion with her grandfather (even if it's not the same actor) still resounds with feeling.  The cameos from other companions are also nice -- it might have been more exciting to have seen larger parts for Mike Yates, Liz Shaw, Jamie, and Zoe, but even the small moments they get are fun.127  And while some of the returning baddies are also reduced to cameos (the Dalek, the Yeti), the Cybermen and the Master are both put to good use.  This is in fact probably Anthony Ainley's best performance as the Master -- he's both full of fun ("If I may be seated?" he asks the High Council after sitting down, and the way he deals with the third Doctor is also very entertaining) and sufficient villainy, even if he's removed from the action by the end of the story.

The first, fifth, third, and second Doctors react to Rassilon.
(The Five Doctors) ©BBC
It's not just pure nostalgia, though; it may be a simple plot, but it's still filled with great moments that aren't steeped in the past: the brand-new look for the TARDIS console; the use of the Castellan as a red herring (and it's fun to listen to Paul Jerricho's odd line choices -- "No, not the mind probe" is the best known version, but, as About Time mentions, there's also the way he delivers an interrupted line as if it's a full sentence ("...are unanimous!")); the Raston Warrior Robot is a great creation, and the way it takes care of that group of Cybermen is very well done; and while the revelation that President Borusa is the villain comes out of left field (as he's never shown any signs of being power-mad before), it's nevertheless handled quite well -- and the sight of Rassilon, and his method of handling those seeking immortality, is also quite clever.

But let's be honest: the most impressive thing about The Five Doctors is how it gives each of the four Doctors more or less equal screen time (since Tom Baker decided not to participate -- but the use of the then-unseen Shada footage is a smart move to still get him in there), and yet Peter Davison still comes across as the star of the show.  He's the main mover behind the events -- it's he who uncovers Borusa as the traitor and arranges with the first Doctor the plan to get everyone back to where they should be -- but even when he's in the background you still get the sense that this is his show.  "I'm definitely not the man I was.  Thank goodness," he says at the end, and you agree with him.

It's a fun-filled romp, full of all the things you love about Doctor Who, and while it's steeped in the past (right down to the old theme tune in the end credits -- although, since the new theme is in a different key, that means the original version sounds really odd, as it's been transposed up to be in that newer key), that past isn't required viewing to enjoy this (I should know; I watched this story over and over as a kid while knowing little about the other Doctors' stories and was incredibly entertained every time).  There's also a sense of coming full circle at the very end; after Chancellor Flavia (seemingly the only surviving High Council member) appoints the Doctor as Lord President, the Doctor appoints her as deputy and flees Gallifrey.  "You mean you're deliberately choosing to go on the run from your own people in a rackety old TARDIS?" Tegan asks him.  "Why not?" the Doctor replies.  "After all, that's how it all started."  As the show began, so it means to go on.  Even though this really isn't the same show that started in 1963, there's nevertheless a sense of continuity that runs through everything -- so while this isn't really a show about exploring strange new environments anymore, the basic core of who the Doctor is and what he does has been more or less constant.  As a final look back before moving on, as well as a story in its own right, The Five Doctors is a glorious success.


121 To be fair, Tegan's departure was never intended to be permanent, but rather a cliffhanger to sustain interest over the season break.  Except it sure looks like a departure and not any sort of cliffhanger at all, but never mind.
122 Remember, in England a public school is, somewhat confusingly, a type of private school.
123 All right, let's tackle the big one: assigning dates to the UNIT stories.
     When the UNIT stories were first conceived, the assumption was that they were taking place some 5-10 years in the future.  So The Invasion was supposed to be 1975 (at least, according to the continuity announcer before Episode 1), Spearhead from Space 1976 or so, and so on -- hence Sarah Jane's otherwise bewildering comment in Pyramids of Mars about being from 1980.  However, while this may have been the guiding philosophy of the production team, it's never actually stated anywhere in the programme proper (Pyramids of Mars aside), and there are enough hints in the broadcast episodes to suggest an earlier '70s date (i.e., 1-2 years in the future) -- although, again, nothing definitive, and there's sufficient leeway to keep both sides happy.
     The real problem comes with Mawdryn Undead.  By 1983, the UNIT stories were already looking a bit vintage and thus were more or less placed in the "early '70s" category in the view of the contemporary production team -- and so this story has the Brigadier retired by 1976 and teaching at a public school, even though that contradicts the "late '70s" approach that the Pertwee team was going for.  For some reason, even though the year is explicitly and repeatedly stated on-screen in Mawdryn Undead, this is still a hugely controversial issue in some circles, and some fans are incredibly unwilling to go against the Letts' team's original intentions, despite the on-screen evidence -- to the point that they're still making jokes about it (see, among others, 2008's "The Sontaran Stratagem" and 2013's "The Day of the Doctor").
     (Although while they're making jokes about it, nevertheless things like The Sarah Jane Adventures (explicitly in the same continuity as Doctor Who) are going around reinforcing the early '70s dating -- see, for instance, the SJA episode "Whatever Happened to Sarah Jane?", which establishes that Sarah was thirteen in 1964, and then note that she gives her age as 23 in Invasion of the Dinosaurs.)
     However, looking at the evidence objectively, it's pretty clear that placing the Pertwee stories in the early '70s works without any real insurmountable problems (or, at least, without any problems that aren't also confronted by late '70s dating -- the British Space Programme doesn't really fit with either time period), while going with late '70s dating requires you not only to pretend Mawdryn Undead never happened, but also to believe that a number of real world events (e.g., Britain switching to decimal currency and the death of Mao Zedong) happened differently in the Doctor Who continuity.  In short, early '70s dating simply makes more sense, and we can move on to something more productive, like trying to work out when the Russell T Davies stories are actually set.
124 That said, I know that the Big Bang wasn't an actual explosion and that the universe doesn't actually have a center.  But it's still a nice big idea.
125 Baby don't hurt me
Don't hurt me
No more
126 I say technically because the next story, The Five Doctors, was made with season 20 funds, but didn't air until some eight months later.  Still, for organizational purposes I'm counting it as part of season 20.
127 While we're here, though, let's take a moment to address something that's often brought up as a mistake but doesn't actually seem to be.  It's often commented on that the second Doctor's reasoning for knowing that Jamie and Zoe aren't real (that they know who he is) is flawed, as the Time Lords left Jamie and Zoe with the memory of their first adventure with the Doctor -- so therefore they should know who the second Doctor is anyway.  But this is more a problem with the way the Doctor explains his reasoning -- the actual realization for him seems to be that they know who the Brigadier is, which (correctly) neither of them should remember.