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 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 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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Doctor Who Project: Colony in Space

Doctor Who Project: Colony in Space
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The man they arrested last time turned out to be the Spanish ambassador.

One can hardly accuse Malcolm Hulke of burying the lede in “Colony in Space” (Story Production Code HHH)—the very first scene features the Time Lords fretting about the Master, who has discovered the site of a buried Doomsday device. And yet we hear no more of this ominous development for four episodes, during which the Doctor deals with an entirely different set of difficulties involving colonists on an infertile planet and a greedy mining corporation bent on taking the planet from them.

Watching Doctor Who as one does now, with all the episodes available immediately, the omission seems strange, as a Doomsday device should ostensibly be the focus of the story rather than poor cover crop yields and bountiful durilinium deposits. But at the time, when viewers had the show parceled out in weekly chunks, the surprise when the Master is finally revealed carries with it the frisson of remembering that moment from the beginning of the first episode, obscured as it was by the intervening action.

Who did you expect?

It’s certainly not the first time that the Master’s appearance has been teased; “The Claws of Axos,” immediately prior to this story, similarly featured the Master showing up in the middle of the action after his appearance had been suggested at the very beginning of the first episode. In that story, however, the Master was directly connected to the appearance of Axos on Earth and thus to the main thrust of the plot; in “Colony in Space,” he shows up opportunistically, his story arc only tangentially connected to the central plot. Hulke has, essentially, smashed two stories into one here, either of which might have made for a decent story but the sum of the parts not adding up to much at all.

Time Lord Tribunal

The colony arc that gives this story its title starts promisingly enough, with the Doctor and a slightly shanghaied Jo Grant being whisked off to the planet Uxarieus (a quarry, of course, but our first alien quarry-planet in color, one with a lot of mud) at the behest of the Time Lords, who send the TARDIS there so that the Doctor can defeat the Master’s plans. However, the Time Lords don’t actually tell the Doctor to expect the Master, either a signal vote of confidence in his abilities or a fear that he would reject helping them. (Or, perhaps, just a clever narrative elision to extend the story to six episodes.)

The Doctor immediately gets excited to explore the mysteries of why the colony is failing and, with unexplained murders happening right after his arrival, he’s drawn quickly into events, but just to be sure he sticks around, the TARDIS is dragged off by the voiceless “primitives” who are native to the planet. As if the Doctor would try to run away after he realizes that the murders were committed by a mining robot that has fake animal claws attached to it?

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Doctor Who Project: The Claws of Axos

Doctor Who Project: The Claws of Axos
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Well, gentlemen. There’s your enemy.

From the very beginning of Bob Baker and Dave Martin’s “The Claws of Axos” (Story Production Code GGG), it’s clear that the titular aliens differ from the gold-skinned idealized humanoids they’ve disguised themselves as. Their claws are in the story’s title, after all, and if that’s not suggestion enough, the initial shots of their spacecraft approaching Earth are intercut with quick frames of unnervingly quivering heaps of tentacles. The viewer operates with advance knowledge of what is to come, a fairly rare occurrence in Doctor Who, and yet this story nevertheless provides a moment of real surprise.

We come in pieces. Um, peace!

The story’s opening moments with the Doctor, the Brigadier, and the bumbling bureaucrat of the day, Chinn, center around UNIT finally deciding to do something about the Master. We’re expecting him to be involved somehow, and soon, given that this is a four episode story. It’s to the writers’ and director’s credit, then, that when the Master does finally appear near the end of the first episode, we’re genuinely surprised: he’s a captive, bound to the walls of a living spaceship, in one of the most shocking and well-earned narrative revelations in the Third Doctor’s era.

Funny story, really . . .

Craven as ever, the Master has bargained with the parasitic, space-travelling, hive-mind organism known as Axos, leading it to the rich feeding ground of Earth in exchange for his freedom. Axos buries itself, as aliens always do, in southeast England, and calls for help. The British government’s response to a first contact situation near a massive power plant is to appoint a minor functionary, Chinn (Peter Bathurst), with full military and diplomatic powers to act on behalf of the government. It’s as though this kind of event happens every day, which, as the show’s history suggests, isn’t far from the truth…

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Doctor Who Project: The Mind of Evil

Doctor Who Project: The Mind of Evil
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Yes, it’s going to be one of those days.

With the recent introduction of the Master, season eight of Doctor Who gathers quite a bit of momentum, as amply illustrated in Don Houghton’s rather frenetic “The Mind of Evil” (Story Production Code FFF). As with Houghton’s last story, “Inferno,” this six episode story splits its action into several disparate threads that all, somehow, tie together in the end, rather hastily in this case. Only another bravura performance from Roger Delgado as the Master, not to mention several classic bits of gurning and general overacting by Jon Pertwee as the Third Doctor, keeps this overstuffed tale on its rails.

Waving to the camera.

The Doctor visits Stangmoor Prison to witness the Keller Machine, a breakthrough in penological science, in action. This device removes the evil thought processes of convicted criminals, rendering them infantile but incapable of harmful behavior. To the discomfort of no one but the Doctor, these thoughts are somehow stored inside the machine itself.

Meanwhile, UNIT has been tasked with securing the World Peace Conference in London, where the Chinese delegation has been complaining of strange break-ins in their quarters. And, just because UNIT doesn’t have enough to do, the task force also must transport Thunderbolt 2, an outlawed nuclear-powered missile, tipped with a nerve gas warhead, to a dock for dumping at sea. Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart thinks so little of this last assignment that he delegates Captain Yates to lay on a small motorcycle escort for the deadly weapon, because that never fails.

That there is Thunderbolt 2!

By the end of the first episode, it’s clear that all three situations will come together somehow, but just how remains tantalizingly out of reach. The typical single-minded scientist who will brook no impediment to his plans, as seen in Houghton’s “Inferno” and in Malcolm Hulke’s “Doctor Who and the Silurians,” seems to be the villain du jour, but in this case, our suspect, Professor Kettering, just up and dies, drowning in a dry room, victim to the Keller Machine’s ability to manifest its prey’s deepest fears in order to kill. But then we learn that while the Keller Machine is a danger, it’s not the villain per se. That honor belongs to…the telephone repairman?

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Doctor Who Project: Terror of the Autons

Doctor Who Project: Terror of the Autons
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We Time Lords don’t care to be conspicuous.

Misery loves company, and Season Eight of Doctor Who provides our exiled Time Lord with a fellow Earth-bound refugee in the form of the Master. Robert Holmes’ season opening “Terror of the Autons” (Story Production Code EEE) introduces a renegade Time Lord, the Master (Roger Delgado), who will appear in all five stories this season, essentially creating the very first story arc in the series. Holmes, a regular writer for Doctor Who by now, reprises his Nestenes to, ah, spearhead a season once more, but everyone, from Third Doctor Jon Pertwee and new companion Jo Grant (Katy Manning) through to the Brigadier and the plastic fantastic Autons, takes a back seat to the Master.

Meet the Master

The Master seeks to bring the Nestenes back to Earth so they can conquer it; the Doctor likes the planet and that’s evidently reason enough for the Master to help disembodied plastic entities take it over. Their shared animosity goes back quite far, and in several lines of dialogue, Holmes provides more back story for the Doctor, vis-à-vis the Master, than he has had in the series to date. We learn that the Doctor holds a lesser degree in Cosmic Science than the Master, a failing the Doctor attributes to being a late starter, and as with the Time Meddler, the Doctor uses a lesser mark of TARDIS than the Master. We do not learn just why the Master and the Doctor are at odds with one another, but they’ve obviously crossed paths many times before, being quite aware of one another’s weaknesses.

Typically the Doctor has some encounter with the main villain before the story is too far along, but not here. So strong is Roger Delgado’s presence that he and the Doctor do not even speak until the end of the third of this story’s four episodes, yet one still feels like they are at odds throughout the story. Though Pertwee does get more screen time than Delgado, it’s a close run thing. The producers seem to make up for it by allowing Pertwee to wrestle with, um, a telephone cord.

Death by Telephone Cord

Perhaps it’s for the best that the Third Doctor has received both a new companion and a new foil, as the main thrust of the plot revolves around invasion via plastic daffodils, or, to use the slightly more menacing Nestene terminology, Autojets. But, still, they’re just yellow plastic flowers, given away in great numbers and for free. And they’re here to take over the world.

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