This is the first serial in ages where the line-up of regulars hasn’t changed in some way, and therefore the first fair test of a slightly more settled new dynamic. It just about passes, but I have my reservations. It works well when they need to split into pairs and explore, and also when they come back together and compare notes, which is an effective way of doing the exposition.
Having so many combinations of pairs to choose from also helps to keep it varied. While last time it was Nyssa and Tegan kicking arse as independent women, the combos here gave us the dysfunctioning adults (Doctor and Tegan) and the curious children (Nyssa and Adric). Monarch treating them as such helped to shape the plot; with the serials running into each other once more, these things give the show a much more character-driven vibe.
The downside of this is that the behaviour of the characters is often dictated by what the plot needs them to do, and there’s little consistency in the way they’re written. I still don’t really know who Nyssa is, after four stories. Adric suffered the most this time, acting like a sexist prick at the start just to create conflict, and developing an annoying habit of being incredibly gullible, which leads to him spilling all The Doctor’s secrets to any giant frog who’ll listen.
This has always been one aspect to him, but he seems to be suffering from having two more likeable companions around; all the negative traits are being pushed onto him. There’s also rarely enough for everyone to do, which was also an issue back when it was Ben, Polly and Jamie vying for airtime. In this serial, this results in Nyssa being continually kidnapped and/or hypnotised, and Tegan locking herself away in the TARDIS for two episodes for no good reason.
This serial had a bit of a pacing problem, with the first three episodes being predominantly talky and explainy, with all the direct action taking place in the last part. The atmosphere was nice, and Monarch was a very enjoyable villain, but you just find yourself waiting for everything to kick off. The Doctor doing a spot of bowling practice in space is too little too late.
It sounds like I hated this one, but I didn’t – in a funny way, it reminded me of an old historical, where the situation is unveiled to the audience extremely slowly, and the plot pauses every now and then so we can watch the natives dancing and/or fighting. It was perfectly fine, it was just so slow. But hey, at least these days the non-white characters are played by non-white actors, including Burt Kwouk, pleasingly.
Here’s a thought: rather than them being robots, what if they’d have all been Zygons, looking to assimilate on Earth like they would over thirty years later? Then you could have Bigon The Zygon.