Still, the future lies this way.
Season Eighteen of Doctor Who can be compared to renovating an inhabited house, as producer John Nathan-Turner, aided by script editor Christopher H. Bidmead, measures the windows, selects new carpeting, and pulls out the plumbing while the family already living there tries to get on with daily life. It is, charitably, an uneven season, with constant change from episode to episode, not all of it successful. But for the season finale—and Tom Baker’s final story—Bidmead delivers a striking tale, at once a meditative mood piece and a cracking bit of tense action: “Logopolis” (Story Production Code 5V) delivers on the promise of positive change in the series while providing Baker and the Fourth Doctor with a satisfying conclusion to over six years of adventures through time and space.
The story starts in quotidian fashion, with the Doctor wanting to finally fix the wonky Chameleon Circuit on the TARDIS, allowing it to change shape into something other than a police box. He calls up the never-before-seen Chameleon Circuit panel, which pops out of the central console, to demonstrate what the TARDIS would look like as a pyramid. There’s a real sense of Bidmead wanting to add to the lore of the TARDIS, particularly with his introduction of the Cloister Bell, a staple plot device in years to come, which sounds its warning peals as the Doctor and Adric are talking in an old part of the ship overgrown with vines.
In order to repair the Chameleon Circuit, the Doctor first needs exactingly precise dimensions of the object the TARDIS is stuck externally representing, which necessitates a trip to Earth. Bidmead and director Peter Grimwade, a long-time Doctor Who crew member, go out on location to place a police box (or two) near a motorway leading to “London Airport,” a road along which Australian flight attendant Tegan Jovanka (Janet Fielding) and her Aunt Vanessa (Dolore Whiteman) are driving before a flat tire stops them. It’s no ordinary police box that Tegan enters looking for help, though, as another TARDIS has already materialized around the box that was there.
Rather than jump right into action and excitement, Bidmead slowly unspools the tension, spending the majority of the first of four episodes ruminating on the nature of the TARDIS, of the complications of dimensionality and recursive loops. When the Doctor’s TARDIS arrives at the very same police box, it lands “around” the other TARDIS, which itself landed around the real police box. After several minutes spent watching the Doctor and Adric measuring the police box and discussing the “block transfer computations” needed to reprogram the Chameleon Circuit—a type of mathematics so advanced it can only be done by the living computers of Logopolis—they venture inside the police box and find another TARDIS with a police box inside it, and on and on, a paradox caused by one TARDIS being inside another. The Doctor fears they are trapped in an infinite regression, but finally they pop out back on the motorway, where three police officers have some questions about an abandoned car with two dolls in the front seat…
Yes, The Master (Anthony Ainley) is back, following immediately on his turn in “The Keeper of Traken,” though he remains off-screen until the third episode, making his presence known instead via menacing cackles and excessive dollification. In part, keeping the Master sidelined allows for a different figure to take the spotlight: the Watcher. Though unnamed until the very end of the story and never listed in the credits, this humanoid figure clad all in white stands at a distance, observing the Doctor throughout the story. Adric at one point even believes the Watcher to be the Master, because the Doctor finally confronts the figure and reports back only that they must prepare for the worst.
The Watcher follows the Doctor, Adric, and Tegan—who wandered around the TARDIS for a bit demanding to see the “pilot” before surprising the lads with her presence—all the way to Logopolis, and so too does the Master. Just to complete old home week, Nyssa (Sarah Sutton) arrives on the dusty planet of maths as well, brought by a supposed friend of the Doctor’s. The Logopolitans are more than happy to conduct the block transfer computations needed to reset the Chameleon Circuit, and they all enter trances to arrive at separate parts of the solution. The Master does in several of them, corrupting the process and resulting in a program that shrinks the TARDIS, with the Doctor in it, leading to some extreme close-ups of the companions as they gaze worryingly at the tiny blue box.
While Adric and the leader of Logopolis, the Monitor (John Fraser), try to find the error in the numbers, Nyssa runs into the Master, who inhabits her father’s body thanks to the latent power of the Keeper of Traken. She accepts a bracelet from him—shades of the choker he used to control Kassia in the last story—which he uses to turn her into his unwitting accomplice. Once the TARDIS springs back to normal size with updated settings from the Monitor, the Master springs his trap.
His evil plan hews closely to his usual modus operandi of grasping too much while putting himself in severe danger. Indeed, it’s a rare plan by the renegade Time Lord that doesn’t require the Doctor to rescue the Master in the end, and it proves so here. The computations conducted by the inhabitants of Logopolis maintain the very structure of the universe; the block transfer computations not only describe the structure of reality but undergird it. The Master seeks to control that power for his own ends—conquest, power, the usual—but by silencing the Logopolitans briefly using a sonic screen, as a show of force, he instead unleashes a wave of entropy that they had been holding back. The universe itself begins to unravel, starting with the only people who could restore the balance.
In a neat tie-in with the Doctor’s encounter with Charged Vacuum Emboitments in the E-Space stories (“Full Circle,” “State of Decay,” “Warriors’ Gate“), the Monitor reveals that Logopolis created CVEs like the one the Doctor and Romana fell into throughout the universe, to open pathways to other universes in order to dissipate excess entropy; in a closed universe, at least according to science by Doctor Who, excessive entropy had already begun to overtake reality, and only the CVEs can keep the balance intact. With Logopolis itself disintegrating, the Doctor and Master reluctantly join forces and head to Earth, where a radio telescope exactly like the one on Logopolis can be used to transmit the master program to keep open a distant CVE, thus saving the universe.
Is it all a mishmash of unexplained and unwieldy concepts and logical leaps? Yup. But Baker, Ainley, Fraser, and even Matthew Waterhouse as Adric all sell the technobabble such that it feels reasonable even as the words themselves don’t make much sense. Especially with the strong effects work of Logopolis beginning to fall apart—all fairly simple practical effects, with walls collapsing and dust flying everywhere, but with a real sense of volume, mass, and presence—the story feels grounded despite the iffy reasoning presented in the script. Though set in a studio, the Logopolis scenes feel quite like a location shoot thanks to the spaciousness of the set design and lighting. It’s a triumph of scene setting.
Less credible, upon reflection, is why the Master needed the Doctor to be involved at all, or how he knew the Doctor would want to visit a police box to finally fix the Chameleon Circuit, thus necessitating a visit to Logopolis. The Doctor makes some noises about how, as fellow Time Lords, they “share” a mind, thus giving the Master some insight into the Doctor’s probable actions. The reverse insight certainly doesn’t happen often, but one suspects here that Bidmead is trying to hint at some deeper connection between the Master and the Doctor. These small, almost throw-away, asides, in conjunction with an increase in references to past events in the series, such as the Doctor first setting the Chameleon Circuit in a “totter’s yard” after “borrowing” the TARDIS from a Gallifreyan repair yard, add to the Doctor’s mystique in a way that rewards long-time viewers, even as they mean little to newer, and younger, audiences.
Giant radio telescopes inevitably mean someone clambering up atop them, and in what must be a deliberate call-back to the first time the Master and the Third Doctor face off, in “Terror of the Autons,” our temporary Time Lord team rigs the necessary commands in a control shack at the top of the telescope, successfully sending the code to the distant CVE and saving the universe from entropic dissolution. But when the Master, in a shocking (I’m sure) heel turn, instead threatens to destroy the universe by closing the CVE unless it bows to his control, the Doctor rushes onto a moving telescope gantry to pull the transmission cable and ensure the CVE remains open.
He slips. He falls. He dies.
For a brief moment, as the Doctor grasps onto a precarious ledge on the way down, he sees all of his foes flash in his mind, from Zygons to Daleks and everything in-between. The way Grimwade films it, one could make a case that the Doctor doesn’t so much lose his grip as he lets go. Everything in the story has been leading up to the Doctor’s demise, not least the constant presence of the Watcher. Though the concept of the Doctor willingly dropping to his death feels at odds with the character, the sense that he knew his time was up, as signaled by the Watcher, suggests that he realized he could not hold on forever and accepted his fate, and his future.
With Adric, Nyssa, and Tegan crouched around his prone form, the Fourth Doctor sees in his mind’s eye his past companions and friends, much as his antagonists confronted him just prior. He cries out, “It’s the end. But the moment has been prepared for.” The Watcher moves towards, and then into, the Doctor, with a green flash. Nyssa notes of the Watcher, “He was the Doctor all the time,” and the now-traditional dissolve transitions Tom Baker and the Fourth Doctor into Peter Davison and the Fifth Doctor.
The regeneration sequence is given remarkably short shrift by Bidmead and Grimwade, at least in comparison to the several minutes spent on the Third Doctor’s regeneration in “Planet of the Spiders.” Certainly, time could have been found by cutting out some scenes that can mildly be called filler between Tegan and Aunt Vanessa on Earth or Adric and the Monitor on Logopolis, so one must infer intent on the part of Bidmead to move rapidly through the regeneration, one he and Nathan-Turner had been waiting for since they took over. The Watcher being some version of the Doctor, though, deserves far more attention; it’s certainly a new concept for regeneration, to have some ur-Doctor hovering around to assist, and the revelation leaves a strange dissonance, as though something fundamental has changed. Without explanation, though, it’s change for change’s sake.
While quite a few extras appear in this story, there are very few speaking parts outside the (new) main cast and the Master. John Fraser as the Monitor handles the role with relative ease, reeling off numbers and letters in a dull monotone while managing to shift into an impassioned defense of the Logopolitan project a moment later. Poor Auntie Vanessa (Dolore Whiteman) has little time on screen before she’s shrunk by the Master, but she helps set up the character of Tegan, providing a no-nonsense counterpoint to our apparently flighty Australian.
Anthony Ainley will reprise the Master quite frequently in the years to come, the villain having scampered off after the Doctor fell to his doom. There’s a hint in this story of the mania that Ainley will bring to the role, one in keeping with the Master’s increasingly unhinged plans and plots. Here, though, Ainley exhibits the most important aspect of the Master: the comfort in interacting with the Doctor. Bidmead’s efforts to link the two characters comes from a very real synergy that they have shown throughout their long conflict, and since they work together often to fix the Master’s clumsy conniving, a chemistry between the actors playing the Master and the Doctor remains vital. His work here with Baker shows quite some promise in that regard.
Matthew Waterhouse’s Adric has gone, in the span of a few stories, from being a stowaway urchin to senior-most companion. Bidmead’s writing for Adric gives Waterhouse a decidedly less smarmy character to portray, and while the Doctor still gets a bit prickly with him in this story, it’s less from irritation than from the Fourth Doctor’s overall mien by this point in Baker’s run. Adric has transitioned into a capable and intelligent young man, albeit one still given to a touch of know-it-all-ness and, on the evidence of his interactions with the Monitor, not always focused on details. He’s actually the voice of caution in this story, trying to keep the companions all together in the Doctor’s several absences.
His impulsiveness seems to have migrated to Janet Fielding’s Tegan, who runs off to do her own thing several times in “Logopolis,” though usually without adverse effect. While she’s not specifically called out as a companion quite yet, she is included when the Doctor proclaims—and possibly complains— that “I’ve never chosen my own company.” After so many non-contemporary (and non-Earthling) companions since Elisabeth Sladen’s Sarah Jane Smith, Tegan brings back that immediate audience identification figure that Doctor Who has relied on until the Fourth Doctor’s run. On the evidence of this story, she is excited and excitable, a bit scatter-brained, but ultimately self-sufficient while still evincing a deep concern for others.
The third of the companions, Nyssa, played by Sarah Sutton, shows up mid-way through the story, having been shepherded to Logopolis by the Watcher (in another unexplored bit of story). Her character already seems a bit more mature here, though the assured intelligence she demonstrated in “The Keeper of Traken” remains. Sutton and Waterhouse interact well, letting Nyssa and Adric occupy the same space easily despite the fact that their characters are rather close in overall concept (young, precociously smart, somewhat privileged in background). Much like Lalla Ward, Sutton impressed sufficiently in her original role that the production team found a way to bring her into the cast full-time, explaining her sudden addition to the story after the half-way mark.
As for Tom Baker, this story in particular calls upon the Fourth Doctor to engage in a good deal of introspection, with very little room at all for his traditional jibes and quips; he is up to the task and the challenge, and the overall portrayal is one of the deepest Baker has ever given as the Fourth Doctor. He straddles the line between resignation and determination. There’s a constant look of barely visible pain in his demeanor once he glimpses the Watcher from afar, and after they converse, he’s almost a changed individual. Under Nathan-Turner and Bidmead, the scripts in Season Eighteen, broadly speaking, did Baker few favors, but they’ve come right in the end for him, giving Baker a chance to go out on a high note, both for the character and the actor.
And so, after forty-two stories, the Fourth Doctor departs, in a tale worthy of the Doctor’s legend and Baker’s skill. It’s notable that, aside from a few chases down crumbling corridors in Logopolis and away from slow-footed security guards at the radio telescope on Earth, there’s not an excess of overt action, and as has become common, the Doctor doesn’t even really do that much. While Nathan-Turner and Bidmead might be looking to make the show more exciting, more attractive to a new audience, they’ve finally, with “Logopolis,” hit upon an eternal truth about Doctor Who: it has to revolve around the title character. All the giant robots or spaceship explosions in the world won’t entertain quite so intensely as a well-chosen actor playing a deep and powerful character who can change the world—or save the universe—not only through his own efforts but by the effect he has on those around him. The scarf helps, too.
(Previous Story: The Keeper of Traken)
(Next Story: Castrovalva)
Post 119 of the Doctor Who Project