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.
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…