I was initially worried that after Jo and Sarah Jane, two of the best companions of all time, in a run that’s stretched over the last six and a half seasons, that maybe we’ve hit a peak. I’m not expecting to run into companions that are as dud as a Dodo until Adric at the earliest, but the luck’s got to run out some time. I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen any of Leela’s serials before, so I had no idea what to expect.
She’s brilliant. The Doctor sometimes needs someone around that can not just look after themselves if trouble comes along, but who will actively seek out trouble and put a stop to it. She’s inevitably going to soften and civilise over the course of her stay, but I’ll cope with that providing it’s not done in a “women should be seen and not heard” way. This is the 70s. But for now, I liked her throughout the serial, but the way she took companion status by force sealed it for me – effectively a self-kidnapping.
This was a cracking story too. I always like seeing the aftermath of The Doctor’s previous exploits, even though here, unlike in The Ark and the Peladon couplet, the initial adventure was unseen. That doesn’t harm this story though, thanks to the strong imagery of a tribal society worshipping space junk and literally demonising The Doctor. He revels in being “The Evil One”, even if the giant Mount Rushmore-style effigy was a bit Lionel Richie.
I loved the slow release of information, and the eventual reveal that both factions were once merely different teams from the same spacecraft. I wasn’t entirely clear as to whether these were the original crew that had been brainwashed, or the descendants of the originals, but as everything was all just part of Xoanon’s experiment, I think you’re free to believe what you like. I choose the latter – I love the idea that the reality had become myth over the course of generations and centuries, if for no other reason that to make the religious analogy more pointed.
Elsewhere there was a strong guest cast, with a couple of welcome returning faces from The War Games. I’m also enamoured with the recent tendancy for the trippy and the batshit mental – a schizophrenic computer shrieking nonsense from giant projections of Tom Baker’s big face would have easily been at home in the last serial.
There are very few faults with this serial overall, although I’m not sure about The Doctor’s little soliloquy at the start. He really does need a full-time companion, regardless of how brilliant this little experiment has been.