Wow, Season 20. We really are hurtling towards the end of the classic era. This is a show that’s celebrating two decades of glory with all manner of nostalgic treats, whilst blissfully unaware that it’s about to career into deep, deep trouble; losing its format before eventually losing its life, which I’m only a few months away from witnessing. Sadly, on the evidence of the last two serials, I think the warning signs are already present.
This was a decent idea, combining various Gallifreyan tropes that have been successful in the past, along with some always-welcome foreign filming and an interesting twist on the companion narrative. But everything was handled so clumsily, and the results varied between dull and annoying. Nothing quite worked the way it should have done.
The action darted wildly between locations and characters throughout the first three parts, never following any one story strand for more than a minute before whizzing through several other elements. It lead to a disjointed, almost schizophrenic feel, which never gives enough time for the plot to become gripping, regardless of what’s involved.
The Amsterdam elements were spoiled by those two teenagers being such bloody awful actors. The Gallifrey bits never really worked because almost everyone was being an intolerable prick, even if they were The Black Adder’s mum. Given The Doctor’s track record, how did nobody believe that there might be a traitor framing him? There’s always a traitor on Gallifrey; they’re all terrible people. Including that Commander Maxil.
Yeah, that was a weird one, seeing Doctor Who talking to Doctor Who, except that one Doctor Who wants to kill the other one. Colin Baker plays it very well, but Maxil is such an pompous little prick, and from what I’ve seen of Colin’s Doctor, it’s not too far off what he brought to that role. Maybe when the regeneration trauma caused the Sixth Doctor to be a bit of a prick, the Fifth subconsciously conjured up the image of this odious twat of a Time Lord as inspiration.
Elsewhere, I admit that I was fooled into thinking Borusa was the traitor – a similar confusion occurred during the last Gallifrey story – but even taking my gullibility into account, he doesn’t come out of it well. He sanctioned the Doctor’s death sentence, and he didn’t even have the excuse of being under the control of Omega. Based on their previous encounters, I simply can’t believe Borusa would do that to his friend, no matter what the circumstances.
And speaking of Omega, hey – Omega’s back! Except, he isn’t really, is he? He was so different to the version from The Three Doctors that it might as well have been anyone. If it was some other ancient Time Lord, they’d have avoided the deeply annoying lack of explanation for how he survived his explicit death in his first appearance. At least with The Master, they always leave him in an escapable position, or give some kind of lip service to it when he shows up out of the blue. Basically, the nostalgia-fest so far consists of dredging up good memories and making them worse.
There are positives, of course, and the regulars are all on good form. Nyssa getting a bit of time as the sole companion gave her a chance to finally establish herself, just a whole season later than most companions manage it. She’s capable, fiercely loyal and has a strange affinity with guns. The bravery shown in trying to save The Doctor from execution demonstrates that she’s clearly devoted to The Doctor in the same way as your Sarah Janes and your Jo Grants, but the TARDIS has always been too crowded for her to display this until now.
It all seemed to be ramping up nicely in Part Three, when Omega was unveiled and Tegan became more involved. But this was completely squandered by a tedious last part in which the action is held up by The Doctor and Nyssa having a casual meander round Amsterdam – the sort of scenes that usually take place before the plot is heading towards a climax.
But then, what’s this? A confrontation between The Doctor and Omega, leading to the creation of a second Peter Davison? Hooray! Double Davison! This’ll be good… oh, no. They’re just going to run around Amsterdam for absolutely ages. Seriously, so much running. Just running and a puppet show. Until The Doctor eventually saves the day by shooting the baddy with a big gun. Brilliant. This serial can do one.