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First Story is Very Good
on 5 November 2013
Keeper of Traken
What a lovely story. What a lovely production. It's like a late Shakespeare - Winters Tale or Cymbeline, possibly with a dash of All's Well and MND. The script is finely lyrical, and the design graciously opulent.
Some fine performances, not just from the front line of Anthony Ainley, John Woodnutt (always good value) and Sheila Ruskin (gorgeous in the red wig), but lovely majestic Margot Van Der Bergh as well, and tremulous Robin Soans, and grasping Roland Oliver, and a very nice cameo from Dennis Carey, even if he is stuck in a chair under half a stone of latex (in Blake's 7 'Gambit' he's much more mobile, and great fun to watch).
And while the Trankenites all do their damnedest in pursuit of the Right Thing, evil Melkur lurks in the garden, the serpent in Eden, occasionally promenading (well done Graham Cole!) and directing Kassia about his wicked ends.
When the place finally starts to collapse, there is a very strong sense of impending apocalypse (Margot Van Der Bergh totters magnificently with cane and goose feather fan), and Adric's mathematical solution to the disaster really is edge of the sofa stuff.
And then, at the end of Episode 3 it suddenly becomes obvious that Melkur's burning eyes equate to those twin screens inside something that is much bigger than he is. Oh dear, it's a TARDIS, and I wonder whose it could be.
It's a twist on a par with the Daleks turning up at the end of Frontier in Space - there's nothing in the story up til then to suggest that it's the Master, but once it's established that it's him, it makes perfect sense.
It was quite a surprise, watching it again, just how little the Master is in it (Daleks in Frontier again...), just three scenes, OK, two and a walk-on, and in that Geoffrey Beevers does a lovely job of being the Master, and than it all goes wrong for him, and his shrieking demise really is something to see - except of course that he's not dead.
End of the story. `Hang on Nyssa, just got to check out this grandfather clock', and it all comes true, and it's all over for Tremas, two faces become one, and the result chuckles as it departs. It's one of those top twenty really good Dr Who cliffhangers. Seven years after Roger Delgado's death, the Master is back.
If there's a couple of shortcomings, the technobabble is a bit intrusive - Traken works best when it's about people - I'm not really bothered about the Source Manipulator or the Ion Bonder, and while Anthony Ainley is playing very capably (if against type) as the kindly father, loving husband, wise scientist, and the final transformation is superb, why call him `Tremas'?
Nyssa's father is not, nor never was, the Master, so there's no reason to call him Tremas other than showing off cleverness, and it's not actually *very* clever. `Magister' in The Daemons had a modest amount to recommend it, but JNT's anagrams are juvenile, and in this case a bit cynical - `Hey, if you write the letters in "Alucard" backwards, you get...'
Dead Hard Sums
'I'm going to fix the Chameleon Circuit by using Block Transfer Computations'.
'Oh that's clever'.
'Yes, you see, Block Transfer Computations...'
'No, I was being sarcastic. You know you're not really going to fix the Chameleon Circuit, so as a narrative device, it's a bit redundant, you might as well say you're going to flush The Master out by filling the TARDIS with the Thames'.
Well, that's the start; there had to be a better excuse to land the TARDIS next to the the one remaining Police Box on the Barnet Bypass (even though it had just been removed, so the BBC had to use a prop!), which was a nice opening, with the ambivalent Watcher watching, and then the Master interferes, starts condensing policemen and Auntie Vanessa, and we get TARDIS inside TARDIS inside TARDIS, which is such a neat idea, it's really a shame they didn't do more with it, but no, after a brief stint by the Thames (more Watcher, lovely...) we're off to Logopolis to do hard sums.
I can't quite understand why, with a machine like the TARDIS containing all sorts of clever gadgets, they need to go all the way to Logopolis to get hard sums done, but heck, let's go anyway.
Nice set. Nice costumes. It's only taken two episodes to get there, and it's a good job it looks nice because once you've explained the concept of all the Logopolitans chanting numbers to stop the universe falling to bits (even if some of the Logopolitans are painted on the backcloth) it's not a terribly exciting place, and I don't find the Entropy thing in the least bit credible.
In terms of 'it's all a bad dream' the Master cunningly destroying Logopolis is actually good drama (and by gum, the story could do with some) but it's not a dream; we're meant to believe this.
So Logopolis falls down, and we have to go to the Pharos Project in Cambridge to do some more hard sums and save the universe and as a result the Fourth Doctor falls off a radio telescope and dies, turning into the Watcher, who really was the Dr all long.
I don't know, it's not such a great tale really; there's a lot of faffing about even if the tone is solidly funereal throughout, and the last stand of the fourth Doctor, well it's a bit banal really falling off a gantry, compare to the curtain calls of the first three it's a cheap little exit for a Doctor of Tom Baker's stature. He deserved the Richenbach Falls, however much of a pain in the neck he'd made himself (as The Making Of explains) to those that had to work with him.
In the Making Of Frontios, CHB explains how pleased with himself he was for all the things he did with the TARDIS. Nice one, Mr Bidmead, I'm glad you feel you can be proud of them.
3/5 and that's being generous. Tom's exit should have been much better.
It starts by getting away from the Pharos Project, so that's got to be a plus, and then it faffs about for a couple of episodes, with the Doctor's scarf unraveling, and his needing to go to the Zero Room, and the TARDIS going back to Event One, and the Dr having to jettison a whole lot of it, and pretty much anything you like - making an omlette, reading Our Mutual Friend, kite flying - as long as it's not getting on with telling the story. It's CHB; don't worry about the narrative so long as the science is impressively complicated.
The Fifth Doctor's first action is to be ill, and he stays ill pretty much for the first two episodes. Not a great start and, since Adric gets shanghaied, the show is pretty much Tegan and Nyssa for quite a while, carrying the Dr round in a zero coffin, and being in the woods, and not climbing the rocks very much. It's rather as if JNT was experimenting with 'Well, what if the story *isn't* exciting to start with...?' - and in ten years time he'll be saying, 'But that was something I had to find out for myself...'
Excitement is rare in Castrovalva; Adric is caught in the web, and the whole city folding in on itself are the dynamic bits, after that it's not terribly active.
The city is nicely designed and attractively peopled, and what story there is works up to a point, with Shardovan the most likely bad guy - he's the one in black after all - but no, it's the kindly old Portreve (a nicely disguised Anthony Ainley) who's the Master all along, so none of this is real, it's just a cleverly created trap for the Dr.
Erm...? Not real? So it's all pretend? So none of the people are actually people? Oh. I'm honestly not all that bothered then.
And this Dr, well I have only just met him, and I'm sorry he's poorly, but he has got three mates with him, and the other bloke's on his own, so I'd rather not get involved, thanks. I don't mean to seem heartless, but...
It's not that there's anything wrong with this story, it's just a bit inconsequential, light on ideas, rather as if someone had said, 'Oh well, the regeneration'll do for the first couple of episodes, then it can just be about the Escher pictures on Greame McDonald's office wall'.
I wish K-9 was still in it too.