Doctor Who Project: The Three Doctors

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Ah, so you’re my replacements. A dandy and a clown.

Certain Doctor Who stories stand out in the series because of their plots, others for their villains or their effects, for good or for ill. Season Ten opener “The Three Doctors” (Story Production Code RRR), by regulars Bob Baker and Dave Martin, remains remarkable due to the casting: all three Doctors to date, in the same place (mostly) at the same time. Beyond the surface conceit, however, “The Three Doctors” also occupies a special place in the series because Baker and Martin deepen the backstory of the Time Lords, giving viewers the clearest insight yet into this heretofore mysterious race of regenerating time travellers. Too, they inadvertently point out that the series requires a single strong lead figure, with companions relegated to an assistant role—too many Doctors spoil the soup.

Attack of the Blob Things

Earth is once more in danger due to the Doctor’s presence on the planet, this time from exceedingly strong cosmic ray bolts that serve as a conduit from a gigantic black hole, depositing bulbous, shambling creatures with a predilection towards explosions, all of which are programmed to seek out the Doctor. The bolts work both ways, and before long several people (not to mention laboratory equipment and, eventually, a chalet) are scooped up and sent into whatever awaits in the middle of the black hole. OK, it’s a quarry at the other end, but it’s an anti-matter quarry sustained by the will of Omega, a revered hero of the Time Lords.

Once the Time Lords uncovered the secret of time travel, they still needed an energy source to power their actual travel through time. Omega, the foremost solar engineer amongst the ancient Time Lords, provided such power but was thought lost in the resulting supernova. Unbeknownst to the Time Lords, however, Omega instead remained trapped beyond the event horizon of a black hole, and through the sheer force of his will, he harnesses the power of the singularity at the heart of the black hole to create a pocket of matter in a sea of anti-matter. And there he has waited, for countless thousands of years, alone, the desire for revenge growing constantly.

Omega, Solar Engineer Extraordinaire

To take his vengeance, Omega begins to drain the power from the Time Lords’ energy source, using the threat of their annihilation (and, coincidentally, that of the universe) as leverage to force the Doctor to take his place. Omega cannot escape unless a sufficiently powerful will remains behind to sustain the conduit. But because the Time Lords, in their desperation, violate the First Law of Time™ and cross the Doctor’s time stream not once, but twice. Omega has three Doctors with whom to contend—as does the Brigadier, who frankly thinks one is enough…

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Doctor Who Project: The Time Monster

Doctor Who Project: The Time Monster
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And against what, precisely, am I supposed to be warning the world?

One does not begrudge an artist returning to a favored, familiar theme. So the fact that Robert Sloman’s Season Nine finale, “The Time Monster” (Story Production Code OOO) reads almost identically to his (with Barry Letts) Season Eight finale, “The Daemons,” can be forgiven, if only because of the depth of world-building that occurs in this six part story. We learn much about the Doctor, the TARDIS, and the Doctor’s relationship with the Master, enough so that we can (mostly) overlook our realization that we’ve already seen this story play out.

Come, Chronos, Come!

Where, in “The Daemons,” the Master disguised himself as a vicar in order to use the occult altar beneath the vicarage to summon the Daemon Azal, here he puts on a professor’s tweeds and uses government grants to build a time manipulation device capable of summoning an extra-dimensional being of immense power: Chronos, the Chronovore, a time-eater that lives in the interstices between moments. Instead of Morris dancers and brainwashed villagers, his allies now include a graduate student, a doctoral candidate, and an Atlantean high priest accidentally brought forward almost four thousand years from the past. A step up, all things considered.

Am I getting credits for this?

The story takes a while to get moving. Two episodes are devoted to establishing the Master’s device, the TOMTIT (Transmission of Matter through Interstitial Time), and bringing UNIT, which is inadvertently funding the Master’s research, onto the scene. Many loving close-ups of a teleporting tea saucer fill the opening scenes. Several bureaucrats are given a narrative build-up, only to be dismissed by the Brigadier with no further involvement in the story, and a window washer who looks in on the teleportation events falls from his ladder in shock, his near-death state essentially ignored.

“The Time Monster” shows all the hallmarks of a story stretched from four to six episodes to fill the schedule, and yet the slowness of pacing gets turned on its head in the final two episodes, such that when the Master’s erstwhile (and innocent) assistants try to free the Brigadier and a UNIT platoon from a time bubble and accidentally turn Sergeant Benton into a baby at the end of the fourth episode, this dramatic retrogression isn’t even brought back up until the very end of the last episode. Because the Doctor, Jo, and the Master have a date in Atlantis…

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Doctor Who Project: The Mutants

Doctor Who Project: The Mutants
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I’m not sure I like being described as a malfunction.

Though Doctor Who has always been a product of its times, seldom do contemporary events drive the story quite like in Bob Baker and Dave Martin’s “The Mutants” (Story Production Code NNN). Here, the United Kingdom’s colonial enterprise (or, more accurately, said enterprise’s haphazard and messy unravelling) serves as the plot foundation for this tale of human meddling in cultures and ecosystems they do not understand, mirroring the UK’s real-life disengagement with colonies throughout Africa, Asia and the Pacific. But, as with Baker and Martin’s prior effort, “The Claws of Axos,” a broad commentary on the energy crisis, there’s still quite a bit of room for derring-do beyond the central parable of segregation, colonialism, and the drive for independence.

Two sets of entrances

Once more, the Time Lords send the Doctor on an errand, whisking him and Jo via remote-controlled TARDIS to Skybase, a space station in orbit around the planet Solos operated by the Earth Empire of the 30th century. He is to deliver a biometrically sealed container to someone on the station; awkwardly, it doesn’t come with an address label, leading the Doctor to try to hand it off to various people until it unlocks. With typically impeccable timing, the container whirrs open when presented to Ky, a native of Solos who has been agitating for independence from Earth—and who is running from guards, having just been implicated in the assassination of the Earth Administrator about to grant his wish.

You see, the Marshal, head of security on Skybase, is an old colonial hand facing the loss of his job. “We can’t afford an empire any more,” proclaims the Administrator shortly before his death. After centuries of expansion, the Earth Empire has begun its decline, explicitly linked by the Doctor to the fall of the Roman Empire. Unwilling to give up the only life he knows—and, to a great extent, unquestioningly believing in the superiority of Earth over its colonial subjects—the Marshal orchestrates the Administrator’s murder as a pretext to declare martial law, which will allow him to complete the transformation of Solos’ atmosphere into an Earth-normal state, a process coincidentally fatal to the native humanoid Solonians, who have toiled for five hundred years in the planet’s thesium mines.

The titular mutant

But if that weren’t enough, the Solonians have been turning into “mutts,” the titular mutants. Their skin begins to coarsen into a thick green carapace, and they eventually turn into bipedal insects. The Marshal hunts them down with glee to prevent their “sickness” from spreading, despite the fact that no Earthers are ever affected by whatever is causing the mutations and that the mutants all gather in a single cave on the planet, waiting for something. He sees their otherness as evil, to be destroyed.

Humans are the monsters again in this story; as with many stories in the Third Doctor’s era, the monsters serve as victims, misunderstood at best and exterminated at worst. In “The Mutants,” colonialism and its attendant prejudices drive the oppression against the Solonians in both their humanoid forms and their insectoid forms. It’s up to the Doctor to realize that there’s a third form…

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Doctor Who Project: The Sea Devils

Doctor Who Project: The Sea Devils
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Ships vanishing. Makes you think, doesn’t it?

As nice as it is to see Roger Delgado return as the Master, this renegade Time Lord’s appearance in Malcolm Hulke’s “The Sea Devils” (Story Production Code LLL) adds about as much to the story as the Daleks did for “Day of the Daleks” earlier this season—which is to say, narrative padding at best. But where the Daleks were shoehorned into an otherwise tight four episode story, here the Master occupies prime plot real estate for much of six episodes, leaving the titular aquatic Silurians with little room to hiss their sibilant demands.

The Master and Friends

Hulke’s original foray with his Silurians, in the somewhat unoriginally titled “Doctor Who and the Silurians,” provided ample dimension to the prehistoric rulers of Earth, with clearly defined personalities (and conflicts) within their ranks that drove much of the story. Here, their waterborne cousins have no names and even less nuance, seeming dimwitted and easily manipulated by the Master, as well as in need of a tailor to spruce up those blue net coveralls.

Perhaps it’s better, then, to see this as a Master story that draws upon an established series creature, like “Terror of the Autons,” rather than a story about the Sea Devils, awakened from their eons-long slumber by Royal Navy sonar tests. The incessant need to pair the Master with another monster/alien/villain, though, points out that this rightly beloved character lacks any actual depth beyond a desire to further his pet project, namely the destruction of the Doctor’s favorite planet, Earth. Only once, in “The Mind of Evil,” has the Master actually tried to carry out a plot of world domination and/or destruction without piggybacking on another attempt at the same, and even then he used an alien mental parasite to conduct most of his dirty work. The Master needs monsters like the Doctor needs companions.

Behold the Sea Devil in the Surf

What’s more disappointing, though, is that the initial Silurian story helped define the Third Doctor’s fundamental character arc: the Brigadier’s destruction of the Silurian cave complex devastated the Doctor more than any other event we had, to that point, see him live through, a trauma made all the more compelling by the development of the Silurians as a multifaceted culture. The Third Doctor trusts humans only warily as a result, seeing them as well-armed children, casting him as more alien than the prior two Doctors.

The Silurians/Sea Devils represent an important civilization in the world of Doctor Who. Coming on the heels of Brian Hayles’ volte-face with the Ice Warriors as diplomats in “The Curse of Peladon,” the Sea Devils’ downgrade to one-dimensional bit players becomes even harder to take. But, on the plus side, we do learn that Jo knows how to pilot a hovercraft…

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Doctor Who Project: The Curse of Peladon

Doctor Who Project: The Curse of Peladon
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Your legend seems violent and unpleasant, and rather too convenient.

The originators of Doctor Who‘s most iconic foes tend to be a bit protective of them (see: Nation, Terry, et al.), making Brian Hayles’ use of his Ice Warriors in “The Curse of Peladon” (Story Production Code MMM) quite refreshing. The Martian militarists’ prior two appearances (“The Ice Warriors” and “The Seeds of Death“) established them as honor-bound but utterly ruthless in their warlike tendencies. Here, in a story set in some vaguely defined far-future where Earth is part of a Galactic Federation, they retain their honorable mores but have committed themselves to…peace?

The Ice Warrior delegation to Peladon

Just so, and the tension between the audience’s expectations that the Ice Warriors will turn out to be the villains in this piece about court intrigues on a primitive planet and their actual motives drives much of the story’s interest. The Doctor himself sustains this uncertainty, darkly warning Jo that he’s dealt with them before, and he flatly accuses Delegate Izlyr of sabotaging the Federation’s efforts at bringing the planet Peladon into the alliance. It’s unlike the Doctor to be wrong like this, and to his credit Hayles never quite allows the Ice Warriors to escape beyond suspicion even after the real foes have been revealed, keeping this four episode story flowing.

Taming the Aggedor

And yet even at the end, the Doctor is never called to task for having mistrusted the Ice Warriors. It’s particularly interesting that the Doctor cannot see past his own admittedly well-earned prejudices where the Martians are concerned in the same story where he seeks to hypnotize and tame a giant beast that has haunted this planet for generations, one that slips out of his control and kills the High Priest of Peladon.

He has more faith in the inherent innocence of this vicious beast than in the possibility that the Ice Warriors could have changed over hundreds (or thousands) of years. Ever since the end of “The War Games,” the Doctor’s attitude towards his traditional foes has been stuck in a rut, where there’s no room for analysis or question; they’re just evil, an evil that must be removed from the universe. Slightly awkward, then, that here the Ice Warriors save the Doctor from disintegration at the hands (er, liquid-filled servo-arms) of a Dalek wannabe.

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Doctor Who Project: Day of the Daleks

Doctor Who Project: Day of the Daleks
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Changing history is a very fanatical idea, you know.

For a show ostensibly about time travel, Doctor Who features very few stories actually about time travel. Louis Marks’ Season Nine opener, “Day of the Daleks” (Series Production Code KKK), tries to explore the paradoxical intricacies of altering history but, oddly, is kept from doing so by the lead villains, who make a rather flat return after nearly five years’ absence from the screen. For this story, about a ragtag band of guerrilla fighters in 22nd Century Earth travelling back in time to stop World War III from breaking out in the 20th Century, would have worked better without the Daleks at all.

Behold the gold Dalek

UNIT summons the Doctor and Jo to investigate the strange appearance (and disappearance) of an armed intruder in the home of Sir Reginald Styles, a British diplomat attempting to broker a peace between China, the UK, and the rest of a world on the brink of all-out war. When the would-be assassin is later found injured in a nearby tunnel, the Doctor surmises that he’s from Earth’s future, armed as he is with a disintegrator gun, made with Welsh-mined metals, and a crude form of time machine. This conjecture is confirmed when the assailant’s accomplices show up and capture the Doctor and Jo, who have lain in wait for them in Style’s study (after helping themselves to the diplomat’s well-stocked larder and wine cellar).

Be very afraid. We're from the future!

Through a series of misadventures—and Jo’s on-again, off-again skill with “escapology”—both the Doctor and Jo separately wind up in the 22nd Century, Jo in the custody of the Dalek-led human government and the Doctor with the guerrillas who are, it turns out, fighting against the Dalek regime. And what horrible fate awaits Jo at the hands of her captors? She’s offered grapes and wine and the promise of a feast. The Daleks have really lost their touch…

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Doctor Who Project: The Daemons

Doctor Who Project: The Daemons
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I’ve cast the runes. I’ve consulted the talisman of Mercury.

If the BBC didn’t pay royalties to Erich von Däniken for “The Daemons” (Story Production Code JJJ), perhaps they should have. The premise of aliens having guided Earth’s history, as put forth in von Däniken’s 1968 book Chariots of the Gods?, forms a central conceit in much of Doctor Who, and that ur-plot essentially starts here, in the Season Eight finale. There are hints of ancient aliens in earlier stories, notably “Doctor Who and the Silurians,” but in “The Daemons,” Guy Leopold (actually producer Barry Letts with Robert Sloman) makes the Chariots connection explicit by linking the alien in question to the Devil.

Gargoyle come to life.

As the Doctor explains—at the Cloven Hoof Inn in the English town of Devil’s End, just in case anyone missed the point—the Daemons, from the planet Daemos, came to Earth one hundred thousand years ago and helped homo sapiens defeat the Neanderthals as a sort of science experiment, in the process forever imprinting the notion of powerful horned beasts into the collective unconscious. The rituals that evolved around the Daemons came to form religious and magical beliefs, though the Doctor avers that because the Daemons are attracted to psychic energy, these rituals, passed down through generations, merely serve to focus human emotions, neatly squaring the science/magic circle.

The Doctor is not the only one who knows of the power of the Daemons, though. The Master is also in on the secret, and he’s dressed to play the part, posing as both the newly installed local vicar and as the head of the local black magic coven, the better to harness the town’s mental energies to summon the last of the Daemons, Azal. Conveniently, Azal just happens to have parked his spaceship in the nearby Devil’s Hump burial barrow.

I'm here all week. Try the veal!

The story goes off the rails quickly enough, with several long expository sequences given over to a giant heat barrier surrounding the town once Azal manifests, and as usual, the Master has set into motion a plot more likely to kill himself than anyone else.

For all the Master’s cunning, he really doesn’t think these things through, assuming that the ability to summon an ancient alien from an advanced civilization using a rooster somehow confers power over said creature (the Daemon, not the rooster). But then, the biggest threat to the Doctor comes not from Azal, nor Azal’s pet gargoyle that for some reason does the Master’s bidding, but rather from the Master’s chief henchman, a newspaper-clipping-clad Morris dancer. That’s the kind of story this is…

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