The drugs trade is a strange topic for Doctor Who to cover. It’s not like they haven’t used serious real life sources before, but with this being a family show, I was worried it was going to turn into some sort of mawkish, overtly moral message. Instead, it was merely one of a number of diverse elements in a complex and engrossing story. The drug itself looks like tremendous fun, and the scenes of characters under the influence were very funny, not least because the navigation officer looked exactly like Limmy.
The serial has a strange, sprawling structure, with The Doctor jumping back and forth from one problem to another, getting distracted before he can finish fixing them. His priorities were constantly changing between separating the ships, the drug smuggling and the projector, all while evading both Mandrels and being arrested by Don Brennan. As such there’s a frantic pace and a suitable level of tension throughout.
As for the Mandrels, I was expecting the worst when even the DVD booklet pointed out that they were shit. I do wish they didn’t editorialise like that, as I’m sure it affects my perception of the episodes. I thought they were absolutely fine – for the most part, they were only seen it glimpses, which masked the faint whiff of cheapness. Even towards the end when we saw them in their full glory, they didn’t strike me as being bad enough to classify amongst the worst ever. I was far more distracted by the Doctor being attacked by a giant fanny plant at one point.
But the monsters were pretty much just there to tick a box, as the main appeal of the story comes from the pleasing whodunnit aspect in trying to work out who’s a complete shit and who isn’t. I was leaning towards Della having been behind the whole thing, and everyone else merely being her pawns, particularly when The Doctor and Romana so emphatically dismissed any notion of her being involved, for no discernible reason. In the end, you could tell Tryst was a baddy just from his accent and glasses, but Dymond had me fooled.
Other notes: I enjoyed the stuff with the crystals and the projector – it was a cross between the Miniscope from Carnival of Monsters and the Red Dwarf episode Timeslides. K-9’s new voice was a little less annoying than last time, but it’s still jarring to hear anything other than John Leeson. Romana II is a lot more screamy than her predecessor, although she still retains her intelligence and practical skills. It’s a shame that her and The Doctor have been separated so frequently in the last couple of stories, as I’m slightly losing the sense of friendship and flirtiness established in Paris.
I’m starting to become vaguely aware that I’m hurtling towards the end of an era. This season has whizzed by, and the next serial sees us step foot into the 80s – the decade with more Doctors than producers. I feel like a little shake up is welcome at this stage, if for no other reason that it’s hard to remember what the show was like without Tom Baker. But then again, I don’t want his reign to ever end, because it will move me ever closer to the point where I’ve run out of old Doctor Who to watch, and that makes me sad.