Retro ‘Doctor Who’ Reviews – Vol. 4.1
The last episode reviewed was a big one – the Third Doctor sacrificed himself to defeat the giant spiders who were threatening Earth and spent two years trapped in the time vortex. When he finally found his way back to UNIT headquarters Sarah Jane and The Brig were shocked to see him change his form and become the Fourth Doctor. Ready for more adventure?
Kicking of the 12th season and the adventures of a new Doctor comes this modestly titled yet complex and intelligent episode. The alternately unconscious or delirious Doctor is put in the care of medical officer Harry Sullivan (complete with the most impressive chin and mutton chops combo you will ever see) while Sarah Jane and the Brigadier are left to solve a mystery. Someone has been breaking into UNIT headquarters and stealing plans and parts – something that’s large and mechanical. Possibly a robot, going by the title.
When the Doctor does rejoin the land of the awake and mobile it becomes clear that this new incarnation is completely batshit crazy. The previous three have been quirky or eccentric but this one is completely off the wall. It seems that the extra time in the vortex has addled his brain and he has become somewhat detached from the reality around him. Quite often it seems as though the scattered-brained persona might be a cover for whatever mad-cap genius lurks beneath. Although he initially looks to be making a break for it in the TARDIS, Harry appears to talks him out of it – and is later found tied up in a locker. Instead Sarah Jane arrives just as The Doctor is about to leave and convinces him to stay, showing that the change in personality hasn’t damaged the bond between the two.
Eventually they get the Doctor pointed in the right direction and he begins investigating the break-ins which the Brig suspects are targeting the plans and equipment needed to build a disintegration ray. Eventually they make contact with Professor Kettlewell who built a robot while part of a group called ‘Think Tank’ and although the professor has left the organisation they still have it activated. The imposing looking machine was designed to do manual labour in hazardous environments and has in-built directives not to harm humans. Kettleback had left ‘Think Tank’ as they had become involved in the Scientific Reform Society, a fringe group who carry the ideology that scientists should take control of the government.
Over the course of the four episodes Sarah Jane discovers that Kettleback may have closer ties to the SRS then he let on, and that his robot – K1 – is part of their plan to stage a coup against the government. Not only that but the robot has been designed using a newly developed organic metal that allows it to grow in size over time. The machine has become confused over the conflict in it’s programming as deep down it has been created not to harm humans but has been instructed to act otherwise. It is further confused by the conflicting instructions coming from Kettleback, who it sees as a father, and it’s relationship with Sarah Jane who is the first human to show kindness.
Some of these concepts have been covered time and time again in science fiction but this is still an especially well written episode that delves into the themes with the detail they deserve. A bold and fun introduction to the new Doctor.
The Ark in Space
After Sarah Jane and The Doctor trick Harry, the medical officer who helps revive the new Doctor in the previous story, into going into the TARDIS at the end of the previous episode they take him on a trip through time. They arrive on an aged space ship traveling through deep space and find that the electrical systems and oxygen systems aren’t fully functional. While exploring they find that the crew is cyrogenetically frozen and that an insect-like alien has boarded the ship and died.
When the crew and passengers begin getting revived The Doctor finds that they are the survivors from Earth and that the ship is an ark seeking out a new world to inhabit. The passengers have overslept by several millennia due to the alien having damaged the controls. Even more horrifying is that the alien has used the slumbering passengers as a place to lay eggs. Noah, the commander of the ship, has been infected and begins to mutate into a human/insect hybrid. The creatures are threatening to over-run the ship while the survivors argue over the best course of action to take.
It’s a solid group of episodes but after the previous story set the bar for the new season so high it doesn’t quite measure up. There are some amusing scenes to be had but on a whole it doesn’t feel too original.
The Sontaran Experiment
Following directly on from the previous story The Doctor and his companions teleport down to the now uninhabited Earth far in the future. The Doctor begins work repairing the system while Harry and Sarah Jane head out exploring only to happen across a group of astronauts who have been stranded and are surviving off the land. They arrived on Earth following a distress signal only to become stranded themselves, and since have been vanishing one by one, some claim by an alien that lives in the rocks. The alien turns out to be a Sontaran who is conducting research on humans to find their usefulness as laborers and has been doing this via a range of experiments testing the limitations of human strength. Essentially it’s been starving, drowning and torturing them for months.
This is a shockingly dark concept for Doctor Who, especially when Sarah Jane is captured and subjected a barrage of fear inducing imagery by the Sontaran. It’s a short serial, only spanning two episodes, and it expands on the Sontarans as an enemy of The Doctor making them a much more menacing foe then ever before. It’s a good story with some good twists even with the dark tone and short length.