Logopolis

It’s the end. After more than six months of nearly nightly Fourth Doctor episodes, I’ve reached the end of Tom Baker’s tenure. It’s weird. I remember saying around the turn of the year that he’s so good in the role that I just wanted to watch all his stuff immediately. Now that I’ve seen it all, it’s less emotional than I thought it would be. Instead of eulogising the Fourth Doctor, I feel more like talking about how brilliant this serial was.

There are so many great moments of joy, right from the start. The TARDIS materialising around an actual police box! The Master’s TARDIS inside The Doctor’s! The tissue compression eliminator! This sense of fun then gives way to a much darker vibe, which is equally as brilliant. The Watcher is a great addition, providing an ongoing sense of doom and foreboding, for audience and characters alike. Thanks to him and the first appearance of the Cloister Bell, The Doctor knows throughout that he’s about to die. Chilling.

Meanwhile, the companion roster is growing even further. Unlike the usual drill of The Doctor picking people up at the end of a standard adventure, Tegan’s introduction is much more along the lines of the modern series – we see her going about her daily life and even meet a member of her family, before she stumbles across the TARDIS. Then even that is given a dark twist, as she learns her aunt has been killed by The Master.

Meanwhile, Nyssa just gets dropped off by The Watcher in the middle of the story; neither new companion seems to have much say in the matter. Her story is even more tragic. Not only does she see her home planet get destroyed, but the man responsible is a zombie version of her father. Our first proper taste of Ainley’s Master is promising, but with some caveats. He plays the dialogue very well, but I do wish he’d stop chuckling to himself every few seconds. It’s seems a little too “look at me, I am being evil”; the character needs a bit of ambiguity to really work.

Still, accidentally triggering the destruction of the universe, collaborating with The Doctor to fix it, and then trying to use it all as an opportunity to gain absolute power is so very him. The stakes were very high here, as they should be in any self-respecting regeneration story, let alone the one for this Doctor. I liked how both TARDISes were integral to the plot, with The Doctor making several trips during the course of the story, providing a different feel to the usual routine of landing in one place and The Doctor fixing everything from there. Seems like ages since we’ve been on contemporary Earth too, and it’s astonishing that Tegan is the first contemporary human companion since Sarah Jane.

Meanwhile, something quite strange has happened – I’m beginning to not hate Adric. It helps that he’s now incredibly useful to The Doctor, which he’s managed to become whilst dialling back on the smugness. His relative level of experience compared to Tegan and Nyssa makes him a co-lead at times here, although still nowhere near Romana levels. I remain to be convinced that having so many companions is a good idea, but I’m open-minded, and am looking forward to seeing how it all pans out next season.

This was a serial that had a huge job to do, but did it incredibly well. The mentions of Romana and K-9 at the beginning were interesting, and all part of the long farewell. The flashbacks at the end were a nice touch, closing the door on an unbelievably long era. Tom has been in the chair for so long that you almost forget that other people are allowed to play The Doctor. This isn’t a good thing – the success of the show hinges on its ability to change – so it’s undoubtedly about time for him to bow out. I’ll miss his unpredictable yet consistent brilliance, but I’m looking forward to seeing something new.

And he couldn’t have asked for a more suitable send-off. Up until now, this season has been hard to get a grip on, but now that it’s over, you can see how well constructed it all is. The E-Space Trilogy has much more reason to exist now that there’s an explanation for the CVE that lead The Doctor there, and all the entropy stuff tied up nicely. It feels like there’s been a proper plan for this run of serials (even more so than The Key To Time); it’s neat, and very modern.

This serial was so much better than I remembered, although the very last line – “he was The Doctor all the time!” – is just as daft as I’d remembered. But sod it, Paddy Kingsland’s music incorporating the signature tune at the moment of regeneration is glorious enough to smooth over any tiny imperfections.

RATING: 10

SEASON AVERAGE RATING: 8.43

  • Seasons/Series watched: 18 of 35
  • Stories watched: 115 of 263
  • Individual episodes watched: 553 of 826

But before I see the new guy in action, a short pause for the all too brief return of two old friends…

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The Keeper of Traken

I’ve watched this one before, along with the next two serials, thanks to the New Beginnings boxset – as with The Key To Time, I bought it due to the appeal of watching a continuous story unfold over several episodes. I remember all the big things that happen, which isn’t surprising considering they’re some of the biggest things in the show’s history, but none of the little details.

For instance, I was surprised when Nyssa was left behind at the end, considering I know for a fact that she’s in Logopolis. It’s odd, and I’m looking forward to (re-)discovering how and why she joins the crew full time. As of right now, I don’t have any particularly strong opinions on her based on this serial. She seems pretty handy to have around, and she works well with Adric, although I’m not sure I’d have picked her out as a potential companion on the strength of her debut.

It was tricky to know what to make of her father too. I didn’t trust him at first, but I can’t tell whether that was deliberate, or just because he has the same face as Anthony Ainley. However, once he was on the run with The Doctor and Adric, he simply became a great one-shot companion, and it’s a credit to Ainley that he can play loveable just as successfully as he plays evil. Tremas is great; so much more than just a body for The Master to take over.

Yes, The Master is back, and I’m very happy about this. It’s been so long since he was a regular part of the series that his return comes across as a breath of fresh air, rather than an attempt to recapture past glories. He looks a lot better than his last appearance even in his emaciated state, and the slowly-building, fleeting glances are very effective. I kind of wanted him to reveal himself a little earlier, but that’s just because I knew it was coming and I’ve missed him so much.

And ultimately, the story had enough going on to justify delaying the inevitable for as long as possible. There was an interesting framing device, effectively filling in the backstory on VT in order to get to the action quicker. Traken is a very interesting place, and Melkur would still be a great villain even if he didn’t turn out to be an even greater villain in disguise.

It’s interesting to compare it to Utopia, which does a lot of the same things – spending the majority of the running time telling a seemingly standalone story which doesn’t quite add up, leaving a few clues for the characters and viewers to pick up on, before unveiling The Master just as the audience has finished figuring it out. He then finds a new body and we’re left with the promise of huge adventures to come. Bring it on – I just hope my banner rotation can cope.

RATING: 9

Warriors’ Gate

Two very long-serving companions have just left, and I’m not sure how I feel about it. Although, I definitely seem to care about their departures more than JNT and/or CHB did. That goodbye between Romana and The Doctor was far too hasty considering all they’ve been through, and poor old K-9 didn’t even get to speak, being unceremoniously carried from actual pillar to actual post.

I was absolutely fuming when K-9 was put out of action once again during Part One, knowing that this was his last serial as a regular. Would everyone please stop killing K-9? For the amount of screen time he’s had this season, John Leeson needn’t have bothered coming back. It’s a disgraceful way to treat a character that was so brilliant at his peak, even though the last time he hit those heights was during The Key To Time.

But that little coda with them both happily walking off into a monochrome sunset did a lot to smooth things over, and to provide an emotionally satisfying conclusion to their travels. I love that they’ve immediately got work to do, and that it’s such noble work. And leaving the TARDIS at this point makes sense for both characters – Romana so that she can escape Gallifrey, and it being the only place K-9 can function properly. Both of which easily beat marrying some bloke you’ve only just met.

I’m sad to see them both go, but I can see that it’s probably for the best. This season makes it perfectly clear that the current team are not fans of K-9, so there’s no point him being there if he’s going to get blown up at the start of each serial. At least there are further guest and spin-off appearances to enjoy, where hopefully he’ll be back to his best. With Romana, it’s a shame to lose the chemistry between Ward and Baker, but he’s leaving soon anyway, and I like that all the cast changes are being staggered over the course of a season. It’s becoming a whole new show, but not rushing it.

Meanwhile, this was a cracking end to this strange little trilogy, and one of the most imaginative stories in a long time. Admittedly, I had no real idea what was going on half of the time; I thought at one point that The Doctor had gone off to shag a sexy lion lady. But it was pleasantly baffling rather than just confusing, and like The Deadly Assassin before it and Heaven Sent afterwards, it all makes perfect sense in retrospect when you know how it ends.

I’m always a fan of moral ambiguity, so I particularly liked that we were kept guessing as to the motives of both factions of guest stars. The ship’s captain was clearly a prick throughout, but you ended up sympathising with some of his crew, despite them being slave traders. The two engineers were a great double act, reminiscent of Parker and Brett from Alien.

The Tharils, who I’ve now decided to rename The Timey-Lioneys, were even better in terms of grey areas. They’re slaves, and that’s obviously bad, but they were absolute shits beforehand. The moment of violence when a past Timey-Lioney hits a serving girl is genuinely shocking, and The Doctor’s furious reaction captivating. The highlight of a consistently brave and bold story.

RATING: 9

PS. Just realised I didn’t mention Adric once. Oh well, being totally non-noteworthy is a clear improvement.

State of Decay

The E-Space adventure continues with a story that shares a hell of a lot of similarities with the last one. Three rulers preside over a populace that descended from survivors of a crashed ship. There’s a band of rebels that fight alongside The Doctor, and nothing ever gets done due to chronic procrastination. Is this a theme, or bad script editing?

The similarities were a bit of a distraction in the end, along with the fact that The Doctor and Romana spent ages figuring out that the baddies were vampires, despite it being obvious just from looking at them. They’re pretty tame vampires too – all creepy fingers and no fangs. The Doctor got bitten by a bat really early on and suffered no effects whatsoever.

I rarely get along with stories that are based on fantasy and mythology, and although this one was decent enough in itself, it does feel out of place amongst the heavy science of the season so far. The bits that focused on exploring the old spaceship, and the rebels rediscovering technology, were the most enjoyable. They had teletext and everything!

Adric was a little better here, which is encouraging. It was interesting to see his duplicitous side; I enjoyed him tricking K-9 into letting him out of the TARDIS, just because that’s a far better use of his intelligence than just using it show off. But he has the air of a bastard about him, to the extent that I didn’t bat an eyelid when he declared he’d sacrifice Romana in order to become a vampire. When it was revealed that it was mere subterfuge, it was kind of undermined by how pathetic and useless his rescue attempt was.

I’ve a feeling that this is a story I’ll struggle to remember clearly, despite a few very good moments. I really liked The Doctor being so nice to Romana when she remembered that the crucial information was on the TARDIS – you know that the Fourth Doctor is just as fond of his companions as any other Doctor, but he’s rarely so open about it.

That reminds me – was this the episode that started the cliche about everything from Gallifrey being called “The X of Rassilon”? It certainly seems to be an early sign of the preoccupation with mythology that I’m aware is said to be a particular trait of JNT. I’m starting to see the name Ian Levine mentioned a lot when I do my reading up after each story, so I assume he’s got a hand in it.

One last thing: the vampire that was dressed like a king really looks like Mark Heap. I think specifically Mark Heap as Ming The Merciless.

RATING: 7

Full Circle

Ah, The E-Space Trilogy. It’s one of those little landmarks I’ve always been aware of, simply because three serials in the middle of a season having its own umbrella name is an unusual and noteworthy thing. Before watching, I vaguely knew what it was all about, but none of the specifics of how it all unfolds. I know that by the end of this boxset, Romana and K-9 will have gone, with Adric taking their place, but I didn’t know when exactly these changes would take place, having deliberately tried to avoid lists of first/last appearances.

This serial plants the seeds for Romana’s departure well, especially in reminding us that she was only supposed to be there to help with The Key To Time, and the nice continuity nods to the last time The Doctor was on Gallifrey. I know that the JNT era is notorious for its obsession with the show’s past, but neat little references like this are very welcome. I’m guessing/hoping that Romana doesn’t end up going back to Gallifrey, and will continue adventuring in some way.

Then as soon as we saw a bunch of people in pastel-coloured pyjamas, I figured out that we were on Adric’s home planet. It’s a nice idea to have the companions gradually overlapping, especially as so many things are in the process of changing. I’ve seen bits of Adric before, and know how he’s viewed by most fans, but I’m trying my best to approach his presence with fresh eyes and an open mind. His background is interesting; neither belonging with the Elite or hardcore enough for the Outlers… but unfortunately, he just comes across as a bit of a prick.

His smugness when he proclaimed that his badge was for mathematical excellence was excruciating, and he can’t seem to do anything right – he accidentally lures the Decider to his death, then he leads the Outlers right to the TARDIS, before eventually failing to save his brother. If the intention was to provide an identification figure for nerdy teenage boys everywhere, the lesson is that they probably deserve to have their lunch money stolen. It’s apt that he ends up as a stowaway, as it’s not clear why The Doctor would want him.

Which is a shame, as the story itself is a very good one. The unfolding mystery behind the weird society is consistently interesting, whilst also making a great deal of sense, which wasn’t always the case during the Williams years. I liked the notion that the whole thing was about saving face because they’ve forgotten how to pilot the ship, but the eventual reveal that them and the Marshmen are different evolutionary stages of the same species – whilst being a little bit The Mutants – is thoroughly satisfying.

The Marshmen themselves are decent enough, if unspectacular, and Lalla was very good when Romana was possessed – as with Tom so far this season, it’s nice to see her given new and different things to do before she leaves. Paddy Kingsland’s music was particularly lovely, and K-9 even got his own little leitmotif, before some fucker killed him. Seriously, can everyone please stop killing K-9?

I also enjoyed the two lads enjoying a swim together in just their see-through pants. Damn JNT and his gay agenda.

RATING: 8

Meglos

You know the drill by now. I come to an episode that’s apparently one of the worst of all time, and I completely fail to see why. I guess it’s all a bit lightweight, and it’s not exactly original – we’ve seen doppelgangers of The Doctor before, and the science vs religion debate, and megalomaniacs with dopey mercenaries. But it’s by no means bad television, or bad Doctor Who.

The principal reason for this is Tom Baker. The defining characteristic of his final season so far seems to be putting him in make-up and getting him to give a different take on the character. It’s just great to see him get the opportunity to try something new, and it’s no mean feat after such a long time. Unsurprisingly, he successfully assumes the role of villain with great ease.

It’s not so convincing with Jacqueline Hill – and what a surprise it was to see her face on the DVD cover! – simply because she seems far too nice to be a baddy. All I could see was Barbara, specifically Barbara as Yetaxa in The Aztecs. But this is not her fault, and it was absolutely lovely to see her again, even though I’d have much rather seen what Barbara and Ian were up to nearly 20 years on.

The serial had a very odd structure – our heroes are barely in Part 1 at all, and then they get stuck in a timeloop. It’s common to see a quick glimpse of the guest characters before the regulars get involved, but this one kept going, and then it continued to cut back and forth between them and the TARDIS to the point where it felt like two parallel stories running side by side.

But that’s absolutely fine when both sets of characters includes Tom Baker, and the fact that The Doctor and Romana arrive to the story late means there’s no need for the pace to slack in the middle, aside from Romana leading the mercenaries on a wild goose chase around the planet. Otherwise, the story of The Doctor and Meglos follows the same pattern as The Doctor and Salamander – narrowly avoiding each other for ages while everyone gets them mixed up, while the solitary coming together is saved til right at the end.

It’s nowhere near as good as that doppelganger story, obviously, but it’s way better than the first one, and honestly, it’s not amazing but it’s all pretty decent. My only major quibble is that K-9 is once again barely in it, as I know that he’s about to be written out before too long. The Doctor has been summoned to Gallifrey (I’m enjoying these loose links from story to story, it’s like the black and white era), and I’m faced with a box-set that marks the start of an extremely turbulent time for my current-Doctor-and-companion(s) banner rotation, and lists of recurring characters…

RATING: 8

The Leisure Hive

This is most definitely the 80s, alright. It seems to be a theme, intentional or otherwise, that huge changes have to take place for the first season in a new decade. The 70s saw the move to colour and a whole new format, and it even carried on in the new series when Smith and Moffat replaced Tennant and RTD in 2010. Here, a new producer continues with the old cast, but manages to change pretty much everything about the aesthetics in one fell swoop.

I was immediately sold on the new theme tune, which surprised me – I thought it would take some getting used to as it’s the first ever wholesale change. But I didn’t realise the old one needed changing until the new one came around. It’s a great interpretation by Peter Howell; I’m particularly fond of the big boom at the end of the credits, and of course the glorious return of the middle eight on a regular basis. One of my cats is not so keen – she’s been startled by the opening scream every time I’ve pressed play for the last four nights.

The title sequence is perhaps not as good as the one it replaced, and certainly not as iconic, but again, maybe the old one was a little tired in retrospect – it’s been around for even longer than Tom has. I’m not so keen on the new logo. While the others so far have been pretty timeless to various degrees, this one feels very much rooted in the style of the early 80s. I like the title font, though, so I’m pretty much happy.

I was very pleased to note that the Radiophonic Workshop are on incidental music duties – I love their sound from this era, as it instantly makes me think of the Hitch-hikers TV series. Another change is in the direction, with lots of noticeably long, developing shots, both live action and special effects. It’s a way of developing the story in a visual way, as well as adding tension whilst also allowing the dialogue to breathe. The weird Quantel transition from Brighton to Argolis via the title sequence was a stupid idea, but hey, these failed experiments are the price you pay whenever Doctor Who gets hold of new technology and strives for creative ways to use it.

The best change of all is more of a regression – K-9 has his proper voice back. Hooray! But he’s then immediately blown up. Boo! It’s the start of a pretty trippy story that lurches between intriguing and slightly dull in roughly equal measure. I love all the early stuff with the Recreation Generator as an entertainment device gone wrong, but it becomes less interesting the more it’s experimented with. The Doctor being aged into an old man is a fantastic cliffhanger, but an episode and a half of him just doing everything he normally does whilst walking more slowly isn’t a great pay off.

But I did like the Foamasi, and I was completely fooled into thinking they’d be the baddies in a base-under-siege story that never unfolded. Maybe that would have been more interesting overall, but I liked that The Doctor and Romana could identify them as being friendly, and the unmasking of the true villains was nicely done. When the ambassador gained the voice manipulator, he sounded pleasingly camp, especially when bursting into the final scene. “Did someone say… Foamasi?”

The guest cast was a strong one, with Adrienne Corri on fine form as Mena. David Haig was great throughout, but especially after revealing himself as being a warmongering shit. However, even in that make-up, and looking so much younger than anything else I’ve seen him in, I was longing for him to say “your cock up, my arse”. Oh, and the scientist bloke was the narrator from the first series of Look Around You! I recognised his voice immediately – his first line is narrating an experiment being carried out.

All of the aesthetic changes, as well as The Doctor’s conspicuous disdain for the randomiser as he deliberately gets rid of it, seem to be an emphatic statement of the intent to shake off the various vestiges of the Williams era – although I can’t tell whether The Doctor also dismissing the Black Guardian as a threat is further evidence of this, or foreshadowing for a forthcoming return (no spoilers pls). Either way, while this story is in itself a little all over the place, I come away from it with a warm feeling of hope for the show’s immediate future. It’s another bold new direction, and I’m very much on board.

RATING: 8