Retro ‘Doctor Who’ Reviews – Vol. 7.3
Ace and The Doctor continue their adventures, in this volume seeing some old enemies and an old friend.
Heading to Earth in the middle of a meteorite is a dangerous weapon created by ancient Time Lord Rassilon. The Doctor and Ace arrive on Earth in 1988 in order to meet it and prevent it from falling into the wrong hands. Unfortunately the wrong hands already have the idea of putting it into their hands. A fascist organisation, a sorcerous from the 17th Century and the Cybermen are out to gain the weapon first.
The weapon inside the meteorite is ‘Nemesis’, a statue made from a living metal. It was originally created to protect Gallifrey from its increasing number of enemies who wished to harness the Time Lord’s technology, but anyone else who controls it could hold power of life and death over everyone in the universe.
Originally the episode only featured Herr de Flores and Lady Peinforte, with the Cybermen being added at the eleventh hour in order to mark the silver anniversary of the show (because they’re silver). Even with them being a last minute addition the serial strikes a remarkably good balance between the multiple enemies. It’s plenty of fun to see the Doctor bounce between the multiple factions working against him and each other the pay off at the end is worth the time.
The Greatest Show in the Galaxy
During his juggling practise the Doctor receives an invitation to visit the Psychic Circus. Ace reveals that she is afraid of clowns but the Doctor insists on the opportunity to see the show. Also arriving for the circus is terminal fanboy Whizz Kid, bikie Nord and the intergalactic explorer Captain Cook and his long suffering companion Mags. Things on the planet where the circus is being held are not quite right with robot repairmen named Bellboy and Flower Child are being hunted by robot clowns driving a hearse and using tracking kites.
After buying a ticket from a fortune teller the Doctor and Ace attend the circus with the only other audience members being a small family. When he volunteers to participate in the act the Doctor discovers that Cook, Mags and Nord are being held back stage. People who attend the circus are forced to participate in the show, and if their performance doesn’t appeal to the family in the audience they get obliterated.
Much like The Happiness Patrol this serial is pretty difficult to take seriously. The presence of the clowns is one thing, but the rapping ring master, muddled sets, Mad Max-esque Nord and bickering Cook and Mags push things into the irritating. There are some good ideas and things become more interesting towards the end but on the whole this set of episodes are quite silly.
Here we see the return, and final appearance, of the Doctor’s longest ally and friend: Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart. He first met with the Doctor way back in 1968 and has been played by the same actor for more than 20 years, teaming up with six different versions of the Doctor. Understandably the Brig has retired from life in the military but the unusual nature of an event in England has him attending the field once more.
The Doctor and Ace land the TARDIS near Lake Vortigern in England in response to a distress call. The newly appointed Brigadier Bambera of UNIT is overseeing a convoy of nuclear missiles but the Doctor is drawn to an unusual scabbard on display in a nearby pub. Suddenly the surrounding area becomes a battlefield between two groups of medieval knights using firearms in addition to the more traditional swords. It turns out that the bottom of the lake houses a spaceship that contains King Arthur and Excalibur. Ancelyn has arrived from Arthur’s home dimension to rescue his king while opposed by the forces of Morgaine, and are under the impression that the Doctor is Merlin. The knights of Morgaine come under attack from UNIT along with the Doctor, the Brig and Ace (along with her newfound friend and explosives fanatic Shou Yuing).
This serial has more scope than the usual episode, pitching a military unit against a group of knights from another dimension. Even among the conflict the story keeps a sharp focus on the people in the story with the newly introduced Mambera and Ancelyn bouncing well of each other and Mel having an easy banter with Shou Yuing. The serial not only brings back the Brig but Bessie, the yellow car that the Doctor used to drive when a regular member of UNIT (Third Doctor). There are plenty of good ideas at the base of this story and it’s well executed. Great stuff.