Retro ‘Doctor Who’ Reviews – Vol. 5.1
After the exceptional seven year run of Tom Baker as the fourth incarnation of the Doctor we get started with the fifth: Peter Davison.
Following the Doctor’s regeneration – the result of his run in with the Master – the Doctor finds himself in a new body, but something has gone wrong. The Time Lord is unable to complete the generation and as a result is struggling to maintain his thought process, access his entire memory and is physically weak. Once Adric, Nyssa and Tegan get him back on board the TARDIS the Doctor seeks out the ‘Zero Room’, a place he can rest until back to normal. Things are never that simple though, and The Master continues his attack by abducting Adric and sending the TARDIS into t.he Big Bang
After ejected 25% of the TARDIS to escape they head for Castrovalva, a healing facility that will allow the Doctor to safely finish his regeneration. During this time Nyssa and Tegan hide Adric’s abduction from the Doctor knowing that there’s little he could do until he was healed. After spending some time recovering in Castrovalva the travellers notice something wrong. Whenever they try to leave they find themselves circling back again and again. It is revealed that the entire place and its occupants are the creation of the Master and it all forms an elaborate trap.
Whilst a good story on it’s own the most notable aspect of this serial is the introduction of the Fifth Doctor. What automatically separates out this version is that he’s much younger than the previous versions (almost half the age of the previous Doctor), but actor Peter Davison manages to retain the eccentric nature of the character whilst putting his own spin on things. The Fifth is a bit craftier and forms a closer friendship with his companions. During the first few scenes of his confused regeneration process he pays tribute to the previous Doctor’s by copying their mannerism (holding lapels, playing recorder) and their catchphrases (“reverse the polarity” and “when I say run, run”). In the most symbolic changing of role we’ve seen thus far he literally unravels the Fourth Doctor’s iconic scarf before donning his own cricket outfit.
For what is largely a transitionary serial there’s quite a bit of focus just on the companions and how they work together to overcome the traps laid out for them by The Master. With Nyssa and Tegan having both been introduced in the previous two serials it’s useful having a chance to get them all established. Between the three companions and the Doctor the TARDIS is a bit more crowded than usual but the four very different personalities strike a good balance and the dynamic has really been better.
Four to Doomsday
With the companions all back together and the Doctor fully regenerated they set course for Heathrow Airport so Tegan can get back to her normal life. Things don’t go quite to plan when they find that they’ve landed on a spaceship instead. There they meet Monarch and his ministers of Persuasion and Enlightenment. They reveal that their ship is bound for Earth and hey are fascinated to learn about earth culture from the travellers. On board the ship they also come across some representatives of other Earth cultures from different periods of history.
The Doctor becomes suspicious of Monarch’s intentions and his investigations he uncovers that the humans on board are actually androids that have been created using abductees as templates. He also finds that Monarch does not intend to live peacefully on Earth but poison the human population from space and take over the planet for it’s large reserves of silicon, which he will use to maintain his robot population.
During this particular era of Doctor Who the writers were willing to tackle some larger philosophical issues. During this serial the notion of technological enhancement for the betterment of the mankind is addressed. Whilst the Doctor clearly takes stance against this and the other side of the argument is somewhat hampered by the advocate trying poison the entire planet. But hey, at least they’re going for something different.
In addition we have the Doctor and Adric taking different sides. Although Adric has not become aware of Monarch’s ultimate plan he is taken in by the rulers plan there’s some good writing behind the conflict between the Doctor and his companion and they try and persuade each other to change their thinking. Also of note is Tegan being unable to cope with this unplanned detour and trying to use the TARDIS herself to get back to Earth only to land it outside of the spaceship, further complicating matters.
After Nyssa suffers a fainting spell the crew land on Deva Loka to allow her to recuperate. After medically putting her in a deep sleep to facilitate this they set out to explore the jungle paradise of this new planet. They find that there are two humanoid groups already present. The first are the natives, the Kinda, are a speechless and peaceful group who were a double helix symbol on their chests. Elsewhere is a survey team from Earth who are manning a lab to judge whether or not Deva Loka is suitable for colonisation. Tensions between the humans run high as the military representative Sanders wants to lead an attack on the Kinda whilst science officer Todd claims that they are not a threat. Meanwhile the station leader, Hindle, is close to breaking point and bouts of paranoia are frequent.
In the jungle the Doctor and Adric encounter the humans, but Tegan falls asleep under a bunching of wind chimes. She is unaware that this is a location where the Kinda partake in shared dreaming, and without a partner she becomes trapped in a metaphysical void while her body is taken over by the Mara, an evil subconscious being who seeks to promote a destructive conflict between the humans and the Kinda.
To the average viewer this serial may seem to have some random happenings driving the plot forward, like a small wooden box that causes some who open it to regress into childhood. The idea behind the entire serial was derived from Buddhist philosophy, with many character names (including the villain Mara) having meaning in Buddhist lore. Even without this background knowledge it’s an story that has the ability to provoke thought about mans place in the universe.
Mara makes for an interesting villain in this episode (the name referring to ‘temptation’ in Buddhist lore) does finally reveal itself in the form of a giant snake (also drawing upon Christian mythology). Rather than going out to conquer the universe or target the Doctor Mara is out purely to draw people into conflict. In the next season Mara does make a return, not surprising given the potential shown here.