Retro ‘Doctor Who’ Review – Volume 3.4
The Third Doctor continues his madcap adventures as part of the Earth bound U.N.I.T. – although that doesn’t mean he isn’t going to find his way through time and space again! Away!
The Doctor and Jo Grant once again finds themselves at the bidding of the Timelords when they are propelled into the 30th century to address a dispute between human settlers and the natives of the planet Solos. Representatives of the Earth Empire rule the planet from an orbiting Skybase where they perform experiments on the atmosphere hoping to make it breathable for humans. The Solonian’s are furious with the people of Earth, who they blame for causing members of the population to mutant into scaled, insectiod creatures. From the get go this is an interesting episode. It already defies expectations by casting the humans as the villains who are out to invade and conquer an innocent race.
Not wanting to rest on their conceptual laurels the writers have filled the story with plenty of great ideas. The Timelords leave in the possession of the Doctor a storage box that can only be opened when handed to the right person, creating a clue to a nice little puzzle the Doctor has to solve in order to make any progress with the situation. Even when it’s open the contents provide another set of clues for the Doctor to decipher. The whole thing feels like an intergalactic Da Vinci Code (which in itself sounds like a damn fine concept for a screenplay!).
On the side of science-fiction the truth behind the mutation of the Solonians is also a fantastic concept. As The Doctor discovers the mutations are not the cause of the humans but a natural part of the Solonian’s evolution. Whenever the 500-year-long seasons change the people of the planet metamorphosis into a new form in order to survive the new climate. Not that humans get off the hook on this count, they’re all so dickish that they still want to wipe out the planet.
There’s enough characters and plot threads to keep the plot moving along at a quick pace and with the exception of a couple of shonky effects the serial is well written and well designed. Sci-fi fans will find plenty to enjoy.
The producers of Doctor Who certainly went all out for this season 9 finale. For the first time the show looks as though they’ve injected some serious budget into the program. The scientific apparatus looks as though it may actually work, and when they travel to Atlantis later in the story it looks as though it’s a genuine alien culture (populated by about 12 people mind you). Plenty of different locations in different time periods add a sense of a greater production value. The Time Monster features a larger cast than usual with scientists, soldiers and Atlantians mixing it up with a range of different creatures. It’s a shame that instead of admiring all these design improvements the viewer spends most of the episode gawping at the most awkwardly designed time detector the Doctor has ever cobbled together.
Storywise the Master is up to his old tricks – trying to take over the world. Donning a stodgy accent he has landed himself in position at a major university where he is applying his advance scientific knowledge to the field of teleportation, part of a larger scheme to unleash the ancient Greek god Chronos. When UNIT is called in to observe a demonstration they get wind of wrongdoing and The Doctor and Jo Grant arrive on the scene. As they wrangle with the teleportation system The Master, The Doctor and Jo find themselves traveling back to Atlantis where a battle of wits plays out with the TARDIS’s overlapping the time vortex.
Bit by bit the theme of time travel and continuity are becoming more prominent in the series, especially in the time bending, jargon filled way that the Doctor employs the subject. At the beginning of the story this does appear to be yet another battle between the Doctor and the Master. The Master employs his knowledge of time and space to initiate a plan to take over the universe that involves manipulating powerful entities and the Doctor outsmarts him. When The Master opens the time stream to Atlantis and flees in his TARDIS the only way The Doctor can follow him is by landing his TARDIS in The Master’s TARDIS. This causes a Portal-esque sequence with The Doctor and Jo Grant getting themselves stuck in a bit of a loop walking between the two – a scene that must’ve been a pain in the arse to film since it’s the same set used for both ships. The finale of the story takes advantage of this set-up with The Doctor and The Master caught in a tense stand-off with Jo Grant trapped in the middle.
For the first half of the story the events are cented around the events at the university where The Master has set up shop and his plan to take of the universe. For a brief period it looks like things are going to take a turn for the campy when Chronos makes his grand entrance and is revealed to be…well…a dude in a cheap chicken suit flapping his arms. It’s not the grandest of moments. When the action makes the shift to ancient Atlantis we get to see something more interesting. With some cool scenery, and nice slice of political intrigue and a battle with a minotaur this lines up to be a very cool story. Doctor Who is also moving away from the originally intended target audience of children in need of some hearty history education. There’s a more complex plot than early seasons and, more noticeably, the Atlantean fashion seems to lean towards abs and cleavage. Even Jo Grant gets into the spirit of things by donning a more revealing Atlantis style outfit.
Ok, I’m done with this joke now.
Needless to say, this was a story we were looking forward to checking out. It’s been quite a while since we made the shift from the cranky First Doctor to the dryly clownish Second, and the dapper Third Doctor has had more episodes available on DVD then the original two put together. Even at the early stages of the show’s genesis the different Doctors had given us very different takes on how the time traveler could be portrayed. Bringing the three of them together in itself a great idea, but finding out what kind of menace is needed to bring them together in spite of the bat-shit logic of it all is just as intriguing.
On that count the writers do not disappoint. Kicking off the tenth season we begin with an unusual subliminal image heading for Earth, causing people it comes into contact with to disappear. Whatever the entity is, it’s intent on tracking down The Doctor and zapping him away through a black hole. With the same black hole wreaking havoc on the Time Lord’s home world they elect to take the drastic measure of summoning the previous incarnations of the Doctor from the past to face the threat. Although the First Doctor gets trapped in a time eddy and can only advise via a communicator, the Second Doctor arrives without a hitch. When they finally come face to face with their tormenter it is revealed to be Omega – the Time Lord who created the ability to tap into the time vortex by creating a supernova. Presumed killed in the explosion, Omega was actually stranded on the other side of the black hole where the isolation has driven him insane.
What really makes the episode work is the dynamic between Troughton and Pertwee as the Second and Third Doctor. Although they are technically the same person and have been brought together to save themselves they suffer a severe personality clash and descend into petty bickering at the slightest disagreement, on occasion resorting to flipping a coin to decide who gets to operate the controls. The Doctor arguing with his past self is a sight to behold and he seems to antagonize himself more than The Master ever could. It’s also cool to see the Second Doctor with his trademark recorder, since none of the surviving episodes manage to capture it.
The enemy is just as interesting to watch. Although it seems kinda odd at first when U.N.I.T. comes under attack by Pizza the Hutt. This serves mostly as a distraction as the Doctors and the Brig try to get to the root of problems (when the bloody Bessie gets blasted it seems as though we’re done with the dorky yellow thing, but sadly it doesn’t last). Before long they find themselves transported through the black hole to the face their maker. As expected things don’t run as smoothly as expected and some nifty twists lie in wait. As an unexpected bonus the Time Lords give The Doctor control of his TARDIS again at the end, promising awesome new adventurers ahead.
The Three Doctors are a solid set of episodes. High production values, a tight and imaginative story and some damn smart ideas make this a must see episode for fans of any era of Doctor Who. If anything it’s almost worth it just to see the three original Doctors sharing the screen together.
Maybe one more…