Retro ‘Doctor Who’ Reviews Vol. 4.5
With the departure of Sarah Jane we have a return to Gallifrey, an old foe and a new companion!
The Deadly Assassin
With the departure of Sarah Jane the Doctor sets a course for Gallifrey, home-world of the Time Lords, after receiving a summons. En route he suffers a pre-cognitive vision that depicts him assassinating the President of the Time Lords. The arrival of the TARDIS causes something of a stir as it’s an obsolete model that should have been decommissioned. The Time Lords soon discover that the owner of the TARDIS is the Doctor who is still classed as a fugitive. The Doctor, hoping to prevent what he saw happening in his vision, slips away but what he saw still comes to pass.
The Doctor is arrested and put on trail, and for a portion of the serial the Doctor is tasked with proving his innocence. It is moments like this when the eccentric Fourth Doctor is truly entertaining, especially when dealing with stuffy bureaucrats. There’s some solid scenes of detective in the mix as well with the Doctor deconstructing the crime scene to prove his innocence. He also enters himself into the computer simulation that is used to store the memories of the Time Lords (called ‘The Matrix’) where he has some control over reality to uncover the real assassin. Then there’s the matter of who is actually responsible – revealed to be none other than the Master who has been missing from the series since the death of Roger Delgado. This time around he’s played by Peter Pratt and disguised under a decayed visage. It does ultimately come down to the Doctor and the Master once again, with the Master making his usual escape at the end.
What’s great about this serial is that he we a more detailed look at Galifrey society then ever before. Some of the technology is revealed and the structure of the community is discussed in depth. The Doctor’s status as a fugitive is addressed for the first time in quite a while and has some real consequences for a change. It’s also revealed that Time Lords go through a cycle of 12 regenerations before dying, meaning that the current Doctor is reaching the end of his life (except this episode also features a McGuffin that can continue the cycle past 12, might come in handy). The only thing letting the episodes down is the mediocre performances from some of the Time Lords and the cheesy final shot of the Master that closes the story. Otherwise a great story.
The Face of Evil
Straight from the get-go this is an interesting set-up. The Doctor lands the TARDIS on a jungle planet where is runs into a fugitive tribal girl named Leela who declares that he’s the ‘Evil One’. The Doctor has been greeted many different ways but being mistaken for Satan is a new one. It turns out that she’s got a good reason for this as the giant rock carving depicting the ‘Evil One’ is unmistakeably the Doctor. Leela is part of one of two societies on the planet. Her tribe, the Sevateem, are a group of hunter/gatherers who worship Xoanon. The technology based society are the Tesh, who the Sevateem believe have captured Xoanon and are holding him captive. Although she initially distrusts the Doctor Leela allies herself with him when she finds herself caught between the warring tribes.
The Doctor begins to uncover various technological items including communication arrays and sonic disruptive that shouldn’t be around a primitive tribe. His suspicions are further aroused with the ‘traditional’ items worn by the religious leaders are clearly made up of old spacesuits. The Doctor learns that both societies are the descendants of a geological survey team that were stranded on the planet many generations earlier with the Tesh having come from the technical unit and the Sevateem from the survey team. Xoanon is the ships on board computer whose artificial intelligence has advanced and warped. Further complications arise when the Doctor remembers why it all seems familiar – it’s the same planet he’d visited earlier in the series and his machinations have lead the computer into it’s unhinged state. The computer even retains a copy of his personality that is causing it to act insane.
What starts out as a pretty old-school Doctor Who story – two rival groups that the Doctor gets involved with – this turns into a fantastic piece of sci-fi. A slightly different spin on The Time Machine with the two factions evolving from a small group shows a world that sees the wreckage of a higher technology as part of their mythology. It’s a well detailed concept that makes the most of the idea. This serial also introduces Leela, who hitches a ride in the TARDIS at the end of the story. She’s already a very different companion for the Doctor, being a warrior instead of the wide-eyed people he usually takes under his wing. She’s more forward but on the other hand has very little understanding of technology and different cultures, giving them a unique dynamic in the course of the show.
The Robots of Death
The serial begins on a roving mining vehicle that crawls across the surface of a sand planet extracting minerals. The crew are isolated from society for months while working their shift with the promise of a big pay-off if they bring in a good load. The manual labor, service and entertainment for the small crew is provided by a group of VOC robots. In the opening scenes the crew speculate as to the possibility that the robots could ever rebel against them, and that the robots are faster and stronger than humans and have advanced artificial intelligence. Can you see where this is going? It doesn’t help that they look creepy as hell.
In essence the story is a murder mystery. When a crew member turns up dead the crew fail to consider that the robots could be behind it and suspect each other. When the Doctor and Leela arrive in the TARDIS they become the primary suspects, with the robots taking the opportunity to frame them for the crimes. The reveal is that one of the crew is bat-shit insane as is trying to ‘free’ the robots from bondage. This functions as a the decent way to wrap up the story and head into a climatic showdown while the sandminer runs amok. The real selling point is the mix of Asimov and Christie, the philosophy behind AI and it’s relationship with humanity wrapped up in a murder mystery around a group of people trapped in one location.
Leela gets to show off her action moves, but it’s clear that the producers want to sell her as a sex symbol since she’s still wearing the skimpy animal skins instead of changing into something more suitable more exploring time and space. It’s already been established that the Doctor has an extensive wardrobe that his companions can use but it seems Leela is sticking with the one outfit for now. With the original setting, the philosophy behind robotics and the well paced murder tale makes this one of the best serials of the era.