38 – State of Decay

This was an adventure that really had to grow on me, but really has grown on me. Easily the best adventure of the E-Space trilogy in Tom Baker’s final season, it is also quite possibly the darkest and most sinister adventure to ever feature in the entire classic run. Perhaps that is why I enjoyed it better with age than as a young teenager – easily impressionable, there was something very unsettling about the Gothic horror of the villains of the story.

As readers of the Full Circle review will recall, the Doctor and Romana have managed to get trapped in an alternative universe, and are striving to work out how to return to N-Space. In this adventure they land on an earth like world, where the servile population live in a world were technology is forbidden, and three lords rule over them with an awe inspiring terror. The Doctor soon discovers that the planet is the resting place of the last great Vampire, a fearsome race that the Time Lords only just succeeded in defeating in a Great war. The three lords ruling over the planet, Zargo, Aukon and Camilla are in fact the original commanders of an earth colonist ship, sucked through a CVE like the TARDIS crew themselves, and transformed into vampires through the influence of the dormant Great Vampire. The population meanwhile are the descendants of the original colonists, shaped by generations of fear into cowed obedience.

That one paragraph gives you a pretty full flavour of how dark the story is. The incidental score and production decisions belie the shoestring budget the programme was on, and create a constantly unsettling feeling of tension and dread. In a demonstration of just how great his acting powers are, Tom Baker holds the audience enthralled as he searches the TARDIS databanks for records of the Great Vampire, and reads that any Time Lord finding the surviving vampire should do everything in their power to stop it, even forsaking their life. Shudder at your leisure …

State of Decay is a superb adventure in the best legacy of science fiction. Like all good Doctor Who it is well paced and engaging, even if some of the acting by the supporting cast occasionally veers towards Planet of the Spiders levels. Even the usually challenging Adric makes a worthwhile contribution to the story, albeit already beginning to display signs of the petulance that would make his character difficult to love. There is really only one qualification to this story, which is the dark and horrific themes throughout. Suitably prepared, you will definitely enjoy the story, but it’s not one for the kids (much like Image of the Fendahl) and perhaps best watched with the lights on …

Advertisements

72 – Warriors’ Gate

Ten minutes to explain Warriors’ Gate? That might prove tricky …

This four-part adventure is the last of the E-Space trilogy that began with Full Circle. The Doctor and Romana are still trapped in e-Space together with e-Space native/TARDIS stowaway Adric. Arriving at ‘zero-point’ (perfectly zero co-ordinates) they discover a slave ship filled with a Time Sensitive race, the Tharils. Their human captors plan to sell them at huge profit, but owing to the material used to trap the enslaved Tharils (Dwarf-star alloy, which would make a return in Nu Who adventure Day of the Moon) they are enable to escape – in actual fact the gateway to other universes is collapsing. By the story’s end, Romana remains with K9 to help free the Tharils, and the Doctor escapes with Adric back into N-Space.

Alas, if only the story were so simple! I first watched this adventure aged 13, looking forward to it having seen the Gundan Robots mentioned in Tom Baker’s preview to Shada. And I could not follow it at all. It would be around 15 years later when I bought the E-Space trilogy boxset that the story finally made some sense – but even then I suspect that was largely due to having watched the story before and having a rough idea of the plot direction. As it is – the Doctor jumps around the timeline of the Tharils with very poor narrative explanation as to what is going on – it isn’t hard to get lost.

With grown up eyes however, it is a very clever story with three different narratives beautifully interwoven. We see the Doctor follow the path of the Tharils to discover how they were once masters who enslaved other peoples; Romana become trapped by the slavers and strive to break free; and Adric teaming up with K9 to rescue Romana and reunite the TARDIS team. The suspense builds up magnificently to the destruction of the slavers’ ship and the escape of the Tharils and the TARDIS crew.

All in all, Warriors Gate is a very satisfactory end to the E-Space trilogy, and a more than pleasing story in its own right. I can only really mark it down on two points. The first, as I mention, is that the plot is so convoluted it takes a PhD in Ingenuity to follow it. The second is that it brought an end to Romana and K9 travelling in the TARDIS. While I fully understand the production reasons for doing so (K9 being a menace to operate and a get-out-of-jail free card for any scenario; Romana not being able to talk at the viewers level or get herself into trouble) I very much enjoyed the combination of the Fourth Doctor, Romana (both of them!) and K9 – so much so that when as I teenager I wrote a new series of adventures to feature the Eighth Doctor, they featured the return of Romana and K9. But then we can’t blame the producers for looking forward, not back!

85 – Full Circle

Before story-arcs became the norm when Doctor Who returned in 2005, they were something of a rarity in the classic series. One such example was the so-called ‘E-Space’ trilogy of Season 18 – where the Doctor and Romana find themselves sucked out of the normal universe (N-Space) and into Exo-Space (E-Space) – a smaller pocket universe. Full Circle is the first in the loose trilogy, explaining how the TARDIS crew pass through a gateway to E-Space while meaning to get to Gallifrey.

All three stories are very good, and deal with very serious themes – though Full Circle probably involves the greatest amount of mental gymnastics to untangle. Arriving on the planet Alzarius the Doctor spends most of the first episode trying to fathom why the instruments tell them that they are Gallifrey but they are quite clearly not actually on Gallifrey! Then it takes some considerable time to figure out who the bad guys of the piece are meant to be – the dwellers in a spacecraft pledged to return to Terradon; the marshmen; or the army of spiders. Instead it unfolds that there is no enemy – that in fact all three species are one and the same, but the spiders mutated into marshmen, and the marshmen into the colonists. The current dwellers in the spacecraf are not the original crew, who were killed when they first arrived on Alzarius.

Ignoring the dubious science, it makes for a very engaging story – the colonists are unable to return to Terradon because they never left in the first place and feel unable to leave their true home; the marshmen are unable to progress because of the ongoing presence of the colonists, and likewise the spiders. For the Doctor to save the day, he simply has to persuade the colonists to leave in their spaceship and trust that they can make a better life elsewhere. Meanwhile he and Romana leave, hoping to somehow escape E-Space, but not knowing for sure if they can, and blissfully unaware that they have a stowaway on board the TARDIS …

Which leads neatly to Adric and the gang of outlaw ne’erdowells he aspires to join. Intended to join the TARDIS crew as a sort of ‘Artful Dodger’ figure he suffers from a similar issue to companions such as Zoe and Liz – being too clever for his own good – but without the likeability and charm that endears fans to the former. He sadly gets off on entirely the wrong footing in this story, coming across as petulant and sulky – if we judged him instead on The Keeper of Traken and Earthshock he’d get a much better press. But given his start in Full Circle he was probably doomed from the start.

It has to be said that the E-Space trilogy is an excellent mini-story arc, and Full Circle is a very worthy first entrant to that trilogy. Rather surprisingly, every story in this arc stands well on their own feet – you will want to watch the Trilogy in one go, but you could very easily watch each in isolation and enjoy them – just perhaps not as much!