Wednesday, April 3, 2013


"Are you making fun of me?  Well, are you?"

"You will find immobility endurable, Doctor.  I speak from experience.”

1) This is the first of three linked serials, and this structure is one John Nathan-Turner loved to death.  While it’s not the most fondly remembered (The E-Space Trilogy, which was broadcast just prior to this one, tends to be the one most people talk about), it’s the most consistent and coherent of them, and the one that actually succeeds in telling a complete story over its three four-parters.

2) This is the only serial where Matthew Waterhouse’s Adric is the sole companion (at this point, Sarah Sutton’s Nyssa was a one-off character; she was offered the role of companion after Nathan-Turner saw the chemistry she had with Waterhouse)...and you can see here how Adric could have worked.  There’s a definite sense of the Doctor acting as a mentor to this bright young child, and the chemistry is there between Baker and Waterhouse.  I have to wonder if he would be better remembered if Baker had stayed on.

Or if he wasn’t made to share the Tardis with two other companions, but we’ll get to that in future episodes....

3) I didn’t realize it until it was pointed out in one of the documentaries on the DVD, but this is a set-bound episode.  The world of Traken is so well realized as a sort of Shakespearean paradise that you overlook the artificiality of the set. It also helps that so much of the scenes that take place outside take place at night, where that artificiality can be concealed.

4) Johnny Bryne’s script is very clever in how he manages to conceal the true nature of The Melkur until the last episode of this serial, while also making it rather apparent if you know the clues.  This was a massive surprise when the serial was first broadcast (Nathan Turner managed to conceal the big twist expertly in the months leading up), and it’s to Byrne’s credit that the clues are there all along.

5) And speaking of that big reveal....Geoffrey Beevers plays an excellent Master.  Chosen apparently for his deep speaking voice, Beevers makes the ‘eggface’ Master creepy and formidable.  I also think that the choice to let Beever’s eyes remain visible--something that the actor insisted on if he was to take the job--worked, as it makes the sense of him decaying even more profound.  There’s one moment where Beever screams in rage that chills me.
"Alright--I'm going to be all bad-ass now...but
after that, I'll be pretty much useless!  Fear me!"

6) This marks the first of Anthony Ainley’s long tenure as a recurring character...and here, as Tremas, he makes a really excellent ally for The Doctor.  Throughout all three of these serials, Ainley proves how amazing he is as an actor, and how great he could have been before the scripts relegated him to what amounted to a naughty scamp playing pranks on historical figures.

7) Based on her performance here, Sarah Sutton was asked to stay on as Nyssa, and you can kind of see why--she’s wonderful, and potentially would have been another gifted child for The Doctor to mentor.  Plus she’s got this weird fairy tale princess vibe that serves well in contrast to Adric’s urchin.  Pity that, like Ainley, Sutton will be wasted in the future (famously literally sleeping her way through a serial next season), but in this serial and a scant few others she’s pure gold.

8) Wow...I keep trying to remind myself that 1981 was a much different time and that John Nathan-Turner and the special effects crew of Doctor Who never realized that their show was going to be viewed on a high definition digital medium, but the hypno-eye effect that Shiela Ruskin’s Kassia displays is truly goofy.  It looks exactly like what it is--a pair of cardboard eyes placed over Ruskin’s real eyes.  Every time it shows up I start laughing.

9) So effective is Johnny Byrne’s script that I don’t notice how...sketchy and contradictory Traken society is.  We know there’s a Council, and a Keeper...but if the Traken Union is in perfect harmony, what are the Proctors for?  And what is life like outside the gates of the Council grounds?  We never learn, but because this story is so well paced, so well pr.

10) I’m still trying to wrap my head around the Master’s need to keep a Tardis within a Tardis, especially given that the Master’s Tardis still have a functioning Chameleon Circuit.  It seems so unnecessary.

Overall...a wonderful serial that gives us back one of the Doctor’s greatest foes (who would be magnificently scary for a little while), and a great launch for one of the best ‘trilogies’ of the series.

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