Friday, September 28, 2012


"You're complaining about your scarf?  Look at me, sah.
"You commit mass destruction and murder on a scale that's inconceivable and you ask me to appreciate it just because you happen to have made a brilliantly concieved toy out of the mummified remains of planets?"
"Have some care, Doctor. It is not a toy!"

1) This, the second serial for the 'Key To Time' season, is the first of two (three if you count 'Shada,' the story that was meant for Season 17 but never finished due to a strike) written by Douglas Adams. And as such, it is all over the place, and features gags being set up just for the sake of gags. I have grown to not appreciate Mr. Adams' brand of humor, although I will admit that it is less intrusive in its cleverness than some of his other works.

2) Like the previous story, this serial features an over-the-top bad guy in Bruce Purchase's Captain. Unlike that previous story, Purchase's over-the-topedness is marginally more entertaining...and when we learn that his bluster is a conscious choice to conceal a deeper motivation, it adds a level of depth that Paul Seed's Graff Vynda K lacked. That being said...

3) ...there are story elements in this story, especially involving The Captain and his assistant, Andrew Robertson's Mr. Fibuli, that mirrors the previous story so closely there's a fierce sense of deja vu. It makes me wonder if both stories would have benefitted from being separated by another, less similar stories.

4) This is the second story featuring Romana, and we're still at the point where Romana is a Very Good Idea Indeed. This is the first time where the character separates from The Doctor for some scenes, and Mary Tamm's mixture of slight innocence and haughtiness plays well when contrasted with The Captain.

5) And of course we continue to see the kiddification of the series under Graham Williams. For every element that seems kinda horrific and adult (the ultimate fate of these planets that The Captain mines to obsolescence is particularly terrifying, especially given The Captain's intention of using Earth next), there's stuff obviously put in to amuse the children like the electronic parrot that engages in a battle with K-9.
"Tell us more about your affair with Churchill, grammy!"

6) Okay, I know that the big reveal involves who really is the big bad of this serial is supposed to be the main shock....but it's telegraphed . There are so many prominent shots of this person that we know there's something wrong. Plus when that person's true nature is reveal, the actor's performance is pretty, well, bad. It's almost as if you wish The Captain remained the villain of the piece.

7) I truly wonder if David Warwick's Kimus and Primi Townsend's Mula are necessary to the plot. When all is said and done, they don't really do much, as The Doctor and Romana is the one who does the heavy lifting. Kimus in particular seems useless save to spout some anti-Captain rhetoric and provide some mild exposition about Queen Xanxia...but there's no reason not to collapse his character into Mula, who at least has the excuse of being the sister of one of the Mentiads.

8) And speaking of the Mentiads, while I will agree they do have a purpose in the story, they are indicative of one of the many problems I have with Adams as a scriptwriter...namely that he doesn't know when to stop throwing new ideas into the mix. As with pretty much everything he wrote, this serial at times come off as an sausage so overstuffed that it's exploded. There's so many ideas thrown into this pot, a number of these things leak out and just sit there messily.
"Ahhhh, this is boring...let's go watch TWILIGHT:

9) While this story has not aged well in my eyes, there is one magnificent moment that almost redeems it all. The scene where The Doctor confronts The Captain over the display case of destroyed planets, debating whether it is a marvel of science or an abomination, stands out. The way Baker tries to rationally explain why he won't applaud the Captain's efforts, then explodes in righteous, overpowering anger when the Captain rebukes him shows us a Doctor we won't be getting much for the bulk of the Williams era.

10) Reasons why I am no longer endeared by the vaunted Douglas Adams humor #42: after three and a half episodes of carefully constructed plotting, or building up the mystery and getting all our ducks in the row, we get this torturous set up so that Adams can spring a play on the phrase 'throwing a spanner in the works.' That the climax is a joke blunts the impact of said threat, and makes the entire story up to that point several gradients of irrelevant.

Overall...a well-constructed story for the most part that frequently gets derailed by Adams' tendency to reach for a laugh. Some good performances redeem it somewhat, but the fact that this is one of the better stories of this season says more about the season and not the story itself.

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