What do you get when you combine the gothic horror of that typified the era when Philip Hinchliffe was producer (Seasons 13 and 14) with the humour that that typified the era when Douglas Adams was most involved with the series? Well, my humble opinion is that you would get The Stones of Blood – and that is what makes it such a masterpiece!
In what I am confident will be a surprise to some readers, this week we are reviewing an incomplete story! Unlike stories like The Invasion we are not talking about an adventure which is missing some of its televised episodes, but instead an adventure that was cancelled mid production, leaving only some studio and location footage as a tantilising glimpse of what might have been …
A very firm favourite in the Stafford VHS collection, The Ark in Space set the tone and the standard for the Tom Baker era, with an utterly superb four episodes of story telling. Written by Robert Holmes, one of the finest story tellers to grace the classic era of Doctor Who, the story is a triumph of using a limited set and cast to tell a compelling science fiction adventure. The fact that episode one only features the three main cast members, and nevertheless is among the finest 25 minutes of television ever produced, speaks volumes for how superb this adventure is.
This was among my very first DVD purchases, a story I’d wanted to own on VHS for one simple reason – the Doctor is dressed up like Sherlock Holmes! Set in Victorian London, this atmospheric and creepy adventure is made all the more enjoyable as Tom Baker dons, for one story only, classical Victorian dress, complete with deerstalker: “After all, we don’t want to be conspicious, do we?”
It’s the end. But the moment has been prepared for …
Logopolis is a story I both love and hate all at once. A fitting end to Tom Baker’s seven seasons as the Doctor, I remain unable to watch this story without believing that maybe, just maybe, if I wish hard enough the Doctor won’t die at the end of episode four. But he always does, it’s always heartbreaking, and I am always moved by Baker’s calm implacability as he acknowledges his time has come to a close … and a new season is about to begin.
Tom Baker provided many iconic moments in his time as the Doctor, and it was only fitting that he should be given a truly dramatic sendoff. Having escaped his old nemesis the Master in the previous adventure we find a melancholy and brooding Doctor, possessed of a strong sense of foreboding and deciding that he needs to fix the chameleon circuit on the TARDIS. As he proceeds to source the measurements required to recalibrate the circuit by measuring an earth Police Box, he discovers that the Master has escaped from Traken, and is following every move he makes. More unsettling still, is the presence of a ghostly Watcher, who seems to be just as determined to follow the Doctor.
The story may be entitled Logopolis, but it is not until a good way through episode two that we actually arrive on the titular world. If anything however, this build up makes the climax even tastier, as the Doctor explains to Adric the principle of Block Transfer Computation – creating matter from pure mathematics, and how this ought to restore the chameleon circuit. The Master may make his actions evident throughout the opening two episodes, but it is not until episode three that we see Ainley, channeling the spirit of Roger Delgado, and gloating at his apparent triumph over the Doctor. For ultimately Logopolis is a story of one Timelord chasing another – the Doctor fleeing to Logopolis, hoping to evade the Master, and the Master hiding his TARDIS within the Doctor’s TARDIS so that he can find Logopolis, which he understands to possess a great secret.
The story builds to a dramatic climax, as it is revealed the Logopolitan mathematicians were using their skill for Block Transfer Computation to excise entropy from the universe, and stave off the end of all matter. The Master’s interference brings their project to a halt, and introduces overwhelming entropy that begins to destroy the entire universe. The impending catastrophe forces the Doctor to form an unwilling alliance with his oldest enemy, as they aim to restart the Logopolis programme from a new home on Earth.
Such a dramatic story would be overblown in just about any other context, but as the finale for Tom Baker it is perfection. So grand is the scheme that one easily loses track that this was also the first story to feature Janet Fielding as Tegan, who stumbles into the TARDIS by complete accident. Sarah Sutton also (clumsily) returns in episode 2 after the production team decided to keep Nyssa as a permanent companion, giving a foretaste of the crowded TARDIS that was to undermine Season 19.
The reason they are easily overlooked is entirely valid however – everything is building up to the climax of episode four. Whatever listlessness Baker displayed in the previous two seasons is lost, and he rises marvelously to the occasion of his swansong. To me, his portrayal of a Timelord contemplating regeneration is only bettered by Peter Davison in The Caves of Androzani, as he manages all at once to combine a melancholy foreboding with a stoic acceptance. This anticipation is accentuated through the role of the mysterious “Watcher” – a character all in white who mainly watches from afar, and who is mistaken for “The Master” (Adric) or “A friend of the Doctor” (Nyssa), and is revealed at the very end to be nothing less than the Doctor’s future, unregenerated self.
There is something wonderfully moving about the final five minutes of Logopolis. Baker foils the Master’s plans to hold the universe to ransom, but in so doing falls to his death. As he lies helpless, surrounded by his companions, he sees each of his prior companions from Sarah-Jane to Romana, before smiling, and telling his friends that the moment is prepared for. The music rises to a crescendo, the Watcher merges with the Fourth Doctor, and the bright young face of the Fifth Doctor emerges. I may think that The Caves of Androzani is a better Doctor Who adventure, but Logopolis is nevertheless the best regeneration story.
It was the end. But the moment was prepared for. And it was brilliant.
The Keeper of Traken is an example of the BBC taking a very good story, and making it even better by incorporating a new element. Unlike The Armageddon Factor, a weak story requiring the narrative of the Key to Time to rescue it, The Keeper of Traken would have worked as a perfectly good story even before series producer John Nathan Turner spotted the opportunity to use the position of the villain to serve a greater narrative need.
We join the story with Tom Baker’s time in the TARDIS drawing to a close. Romana and K9 had left in the previous story, Warriors’ Gate, and the Doctor and Adric had finally managed to escape from e-Space back into n-Space. The TARDIS is then drawn off course by a mysterious entity, an elderly man sat upon a throne, who reveals himself to be the titular Keeper of the Traken Union – a society (as the Doctor puts it) based upon ‘people being terribly nice to each other.’ The position of Keeper enables one individual to become an ordering principle, maintaining peace and order throughout the system, but when an incumbent Keeper dies the time of transition is always difficult. The present Keeper requests the help of the Doctor to meet an unknown evil, which he feels is centred around a calcified statue known as the Melkur.
The Doctor arrives on Traken to find distrust rife among the Five Consuls of Traken, the ruling council who serve the Keeper. Unbeknownst to the Council, one of their number, Kassia, has come under the influence of the Melkur, determined that her husband Tremas should not become the new Keeper. Melkur turns out to be no mere static statue, and has already murdered one man. The Doctor and Adric become the scapegoats for Melkur’s actions, as the Melkur uses Kassia to discredit Tremas and to become Keeper nominate herself. When the old Keeper dies, ‘Melkur’ uses his link with Kassia to become the Keeper himself.
So far, the story follows exactly the original intent of author Johnny Byrne. The story would have centred around Melkur as a malevolent being, and as planned he would have been defeated at the end of episode 4. John Nathan Turner however, spotted an excellent opportunity to use Byrne’s story to resurrect a very old foe indeed. Rather than make the Melkur the calcified body of an alien being, we discover at the end of episode 2 that there is another TARDIS on Traken, and by the end of episode 3 the audience realise, long before the Doctor does, that the Melkur statue is the TARDIS of his old enemy, the Master – superbly realised (in mannerisms, if sadly not in makeup!) by Geoffrey Beevers, who reprises the decayed Master portrayed by Peter Pratt in The Deadly Assassin. At the end of his regeneration cycle and facing impending death, the Master proposes to use the powers of the Keeper to steal the Doctor’s body and regenerate himself.
While the Master is thwarted, as Byrne always intended the villain to be, the story does not end on a happy note. The Doctor and Adric depart, leaving Tremas with his daughter Nyssa to clean up the damage caused to Traken. Nyssa’s character would prove so popular that Turner would bring her back in the following story, Logopolis, providing actress Sarah Sutton with an honour shared by Frazier Hines of staying as a companion for longer than the original story they were scheduled to appear in. For Tremas however … his own name was the most crucial change in the whole script, a fateful foretelling of his destiny. For the eagle-eyed of you will have spotted that ‘Tremas’ is of course an anagram of ‘Master’ … leading to one of the show’s most iconic moments, as the Master exults: “A new body! At last!” And takes over the body of Tremas. With more than a passing resemblance to Roger Delgado, the new Master sets off in pursuit of the Doctor …
The Keeper of Traken is a wonderful story. The sets and costumes are all beautiful, the story clever without being complex, and Beevers’ Master is deliciously malevolent. The characters are superbly realised, and particular credit is due to Anthony Ainley, who had the chance to demonstrate his capacity to play a very good man, before embracing with relish the evilness of the Master. Even Adric, who usually gets a bad press, demonstrates that alongside Nyssa he could have grown and developed in the role – the story being a firm confirmation (alongside Kinda) that the Season 19 TARDIS was very much overcrowded.
While the story very much leads into Logopolis, and is best enjoyed as the first in a trilogy, it is also a superb standalone adventure that manages to pay homage to the series’ history without alienating viewers who (like me!) had not grown up with Delgado’s Master. To me, that is one of the highest compliments you could pay any classic episode of Doctor Who!
We have reached a special section in my classic episode countdown, as over the next three weeks we will be reviewing three stories that I struggled to place in a clear order, mainly as I have come to regard them as one story in three parts. The three stories come at the end of Season 18, when Tom Baker’s time as the Doctor was coming to a close, and at the very beginning of Season 19 as Peter Davison took on the unenviable role of filling Baker’s shoes. Baker had played the Doctor for seven years, significantly longer than any of the previous actors to play the role (Hartnell and Troughton were in the role for three years; Pertwee for five) and the prospect of a new actor stepping into the role generated a large amount of uncertainty.
New producer John Nathan-Turner therefore decided to adopt a trick first used when Baker replaced Pertwee. In Season 12, the production team used the familiar faces of UNIT for Baker’s debut story, before bringing back the familiar foes of the Sontarans, the Daleks, and the Cybermen. For the conclusion of Season 18 and the beginning of Season 19, JNT brought back the character of the Master, last seen as Delgado’s Master in Frontier in Space, and as a charred husk in The Deadly Assassin. With Roger Delgado sadly departed after his untimely death in 1973, the decision was taken to cast a Delgado lookalike, Anthony Ainley, and to show the regeneration of the decayed Master into a new, younger Master. A further idea to bring Elisabeth Sladen back to play Sarah Jane Smith for four episodes proved ultimately unsuccessful – Sladen quite sensibly realising she would have played a bit part at best.
Following on from the E-Space Trilogy, the series follows a loose trilogy beginning with The Keeper of Traken, in which the Master returns, followed by Baker’s swansong Logopolis, in which the Doctor falls to death attempting to foil the Master’s latest madcap plan for universal domination. While not initially intended that Ainley would return for Peter Davison’s debut story Castrovalva, it was eventually decided to have the debut of Season 19 follow directly from the conclusion of Season 18, meaning that one is able to watch from Keeper of Traken to Castrovalva as one continuous narrative, even though each story is independent and stands strong in their own right – perhaps reflecting why BBC initially released these stories in a single boxset entitled ‘New Beginnings.’
I struggled to place these three stories in order. I love them all equally, have come to regard them as one story, and if I could award them joint 26th place, I would have done so. I have nevertheless chosen to bite the bullet and attempt to rank the stories – and over the next three weeks you will get to find out which of the three I have enjoyed the best.