18 – Mawdryn Undead

We have covered in other reviews the stories that comprised Doctor Who’s 20th season. Resolved to celebrate the series’ history, producer John Nathan Turner brought back a returning nemesis for each adventure. In the middle of the season was a loosely linked trilogy featuring the Black Guardian, last seen swearing painful death to the Doctor in The Armageddon Factor. This powerful being, the embodiment of darkness, chaos, and destruction, finally succeeded in tracking the Doctor down, and decided to enlist a helper to aid his cause.

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26 – Logopolis

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.

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To watch Tom Baker’s final adventure as the Doctor, buy it today on the BBC Store!

27 – Castrovalva

Peter Davison’s debut as the Fifth Doctor owes much to Season 18 Script Editor Christopher H. Bidmead’s love of mathematics. When invited to replace the original Season 19 debut story with a new script, Bidmead would revisit certain ideas he had used in Tom Baker’s swan song Logopolis – in particular the concept of recursion, which in that story had manifested itself as a TARDIS within a TARDIS. For Castrovalva, Bidmead would put this concept on steroids.

Peter Davison’s first broadcast adventure was not actually his first recorded adventure – by this stage they had recorded Four to Doomsday, The Visitation, and Kinda. In practice this works extremely well, providing a TARDIS crew already well settled with one another, allowing them to pull off an ambitious regeneration story. Picking up directly from Logopolis (including a rare pre-title sequence film section reprising the regeneration) the TARDIS crew escape from the Pharos Project on earth to find the Doctor highly unstable – the first time in the show’s history it is overtly suggested that a regeneration can go wrong. The Doctor spends most of the adventure trying to find a peaceful space in which to recover while his regeneration completes – initially a room in the TARDIS known as the Zero Room, then latterly a dwelling of simplicity, the titular town of Castrovalva. Behind this story, very much in the theme of recursion, are layers of traps within traps, all set by the Master.

Kindapping and then releasing Adric at the very start of the adventure, the Master impels Adric to send the TARDIS directly into a supernova. In the truest style of the Hooded Claw, the Master then lays a trap within a trap – the town of Castrovalva itself. Leaving information about the fictional town in the TARDIS databanks, the Master uses Adric’s mathematical genius to use a skill revealed in the previous adventure of Logopolis – the capacity to build matter through pure mathematics. Adric constructs the entire town as a trap for the remaining TARDIS crew, and the Master lies in wait (disguised, obviously!) for the right moment to strike.

The more thoughtful reader might conclude with some justification that the entire plot is needlessly complicated – but to write off the story on these grounds would be to miss the enjoyment of the story. In rather the same way that The Edge of Destruction was crucial for building the relationship of the initial TARDIS crew of Season 1, Castrovalva really allows the viewer to get a better flavour for how Nyssa and Tegan would relate to the new Doctor; unfortunately for Adric, he spends most of the episode imprisoned by the Master, perhaps foretelling the rather grim destiny the producers had in mind for him. While the inspiration for the story is undoubtedly mathematical (making this story one of my dad’s favourites) it is not so overtly mathematical that it is impossible for the less mathematically minded (viz. me!) to follow!

Davison himself plays his role superbly – there is a wonderful moment in episode 1 in which he appears to regress to the mannerisms of the First and Second Doctors – very well acted, and an utterly charming nod to the show’s heritage. As debut stories go, Castrovalva is one of the very best, and a very pleasing conclusion to the ‘New Beginnings’ trilogy. Perhaps because it borrows so heavily from themes in Logopolis, it is harder to imagine this story working so well as a standalone adventure. The fact that it nevertheless does, is very much to its credit!

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Want to watch Castrovalva? You can buy it today on BBC Store for £4.99

28 – The Keeper of Traken

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!

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If you wanted to enjoy The Keeper of Traken for the first time, you can watch it for £6.99 on the BBC Store

Special Reviews: New Beginnings

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.’

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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.

64 – The Visitation

This serial was foreshadowed to a certain extent by my much earlier review of the serial that followed it, Black Orchid. Coming in a double VHS boxset with the story, I found it hard as a child to get into The Visitation – in part due to an overly sensitive childish reaction to the (off screen) demise of the family whose sole contribution to the story is to die at the hands of the alien invaders in the first two minutes.

This meant that when in 2010 I treated myself to fifty pounds’ worth of Doctor Who DVDs as a Christmas present from me to me, this was the DVD I least looked forward to watching. In that regard it is a striking contrast to The Aztecs, which I bought at the same time, looked forward to watching, and was hugely disappointed by. Long-term readers of the blog will recognise the familiar refrain that my enjoyment of a serial is often shaped by my prior expectations … but I think this tells only half the story.

This was the second story to be recorded in Season 19, and by this stage you could tell that Peter Davison was getting into the swing of the role, in contrast to the very rough-around-the-edges Four to Doomsday. The crowded TARDIS is not actually too great a handicap in this story, which would not be at all out of place in the modern era of the show. The Doctor is attempting to bring Tegan back to Heathrow in the 1980s, and misses by 300 years. They are drawn into a conspiracy by a group of aliens known as Terileptils (later referenced in Matt Smith adventure The Pandorica Opens) who plot to devastate the world with a deadly plague – a theme concurrent with the Black Death ravaging England at the time.

There are some excellent plot elements at work here – the Terileptils are believable villains, even if their android is a fine example/warning of 1980s production value; the one-off character Richard Mace is a lovable addition to the crew; and there are some fitting nods to history, not least that when the Terileptils are traced to their base in London and trapped by a fire, it is revealed that that the year is 1666, and their base is in Pudding Lane – an alternative explanation to The Pyramids of Mars as to why the Great Fire of London occured …

Memorable as the story in which John Nathan Turner destroyed the Sonic Screwdriver for being a get-out-of-jail-free card, I rather like The Visitation. The plot is simple and enjoyable, with strong characters, believable adversaries, and a good showing from the regular cast members. Anyone looking to investigate the Peter Davison era could do a lot worse than to start with this serial. And the present producers could do worse than to bring the Terileptils back as an adversary.

Thinking about TARDIS crews …

The TARDIS hasn’t had a crew for a long time. It has usually had the Doctor plus one companion, but very rarely has it had a crew – by which I mean the Doctor plus at least two companions. Of course, there are two people we can blame for this:

Jon Pertwee, who insisted that he wanted his doctor to be an ‘action’ hero (thus negating the need for an active male companion) and …
Adric, who made the Davison era ‘crowded TARDIS’ experience so miserable that JNT became convinced that Peri was a good step forward (er …)

And yet, I found myself reflecting that some of the episodes I have enjoyed best have been enjoyable principally because of the interaction between the members of the TARDIS crew. And so (tomorrow) I will be facing off the two TARDIS crews that I think are the prime contenders for ‘best TARDIS crew’ – but first I wished to pay tribute to those crews who didn’t make the cut …

We simply cannot know …
Steven and Vicki
Steven and Dodo
Ben and Polly (and Jamie)
Sadly, we just do not know how good these TARDIS crews where (although with Dodo we can begin to make an educated and despairing guess …) I have enjoyed Steven’s performances in every story that has survived featuring him as a main companion (sadly, that’s just The Time Meddler; The Ark and The Gunfighters) and would really enjoy the opportunity to see how he got on with Vicki and Dodo over a longer period. I have a slight suspicion that his three stories with Vicki would far surpass his four stories alongside Dodo.
As I remarked previously in my review of The War Machines, I wish more material of Ben and Polly survived, as they seemed to make for a good team – in the very least alongside William Hartnell’s Doctor. Having now watched The Moonbase DVD release, the jury is out as to whether they made such a good team with Patrick Troughton, especially after Jamie joined the TARDIS crew.
As it is … for these TARDIS crews we simply don’t know …

Please. In the name of Heaven. Stop.
Adric, Nyssa, and Tegan
As the extras feature ‘Crowded TARDIS’ on the Castrovalva DVD points out – this crew was too heavy by one member. In Arc of Infinity we see that Nyssa would have made a great solo companion to the Fifth Doctor. Adric arguably aquits himself quite well in Keeper of Traken, and Tegan was exceptional in Kinda. Which one should have gone? I wouldn’t like to choose, but suffice to say three of them was too many.

Close … but no cigar
Jamie and Zoe
Ian, Barbara and Susan/Vicki
Tegan and Turlough
Firstly (as you have noticed) I am counting Ian and Barbara’s time as one, since Susan and Vicki effectively played the same role in the TARDIS crew. Vicki was probably a more fun companion than Susan, but Susan certainly had more mystery – making them both an even match. Ian and Barbara certainly made for an excellent crew alongside Hartnell’s Doctor – but again there is a sense that they didn’t need a pretty young companion just to get into trouble.
Tegan and Turlough meanwhile are an interesting proposition – right numbers (finally) for the Fifth Doctor, but the chemistry doesn’t quite work. One suspects this is partially because one never quite learns to trust (or love) Turlough, and Tegan’s character was perhaps too abrasive alongside that ambiguous character. Could have worked … not sure it did.
Meanwhile, I have made Jamie and Zoe distinct from Jamie and Victoria. I was struck watching Seasons 5 and 6 that Zoe does make a big difference to the crew – as the Doctor says in The Krotons – “That’s the trouble with Zoe – she’s too smart for her own good.” It made for a jolly crew under Captain Pat … but not quite a happy ship. This is a theme I will revisit in due course …

Which leaves … the contenders

As you have by now deduced, that leaves two contenders – the Season 5 crew of Jamie and Victoria, and the Season 12 crew of Sarah-Jane and Harry. Which one wins? Tune in tomorrow to find out …

(The eagle-eyed will have observed that some ‘crews’ didn’t make the cut. These include Steven and Katarina/Sara; The U.N.I.T family; Romana and Adric; Tegan and Nyssa; Tegan, Nyssa and Turlough; and counting K9 as a crew member. This is principally because the ‘crew’ existed for so short a time that it is hard to count them with the crews above)