Top positive review
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on 8 September 2014
This three part story signalled the end of the classic era of `Doctor Who', apparently a straightforward parable against violence and the principle of `the survival of the fittest' - but perhaps it was a more appropriate ending than anyone could have realised at the time.
There seems to be a subtle double-sided message in this story, because of course the evolutionary phrase `the survival of the fittest' does not mean `strongest' but `best fitted to the environment, most adaptable' - and taken in that sense the story demonstrates that the theory is true - it is *how* the characters adapt to change that counts.
The Doctor brings Ace back home to the leafy, sunlit streets of Perivale to catch up with her old friends, and it all seems very quiet - perhaps too quiet; where are her friends? Not in the parkland, not at the youth club where a bullying `instructor' is teaching self-defence, so where? The Doctor has his suspicions; a small black cat is prowling the streets, but if this black cat crosses your path, it's very bad luck, because this is a kitling, a servant of the bejewelled, horse riding Cheetah People who teleport from world to world seeking prey for food and `sport' as all cats do. Or perhaps this kitling is acting as cat's eyes for someone else ...
Inevitably, the Doctor, Ace, `Sergeant' Paterson the instructor and several of his youth group are taken to the ancient, crumbling world of the Cheetah People and - look what the cat brought in! - find the Master, himself transported through space from some distant world by the cats. The strange planet is somehow linked with its inhabitants; it enhances wildness, the animal nature within and slowly transforms beings into hunting cats - if they give in to their darker side. And the presence of anger and violence speeds up the collapse of the planet, dragging the Cheetah People, their prey and their world down together.
The Master is very vulnerable in such an environment; he is changing, with sharpened teeth and cat-like eyes as the evil within him takes over. All the old grand schemes for power are gone; he soon becomes little more than a violent hunting animal himself. But the Doctor learns the way off the doomed planet - cats will always take their prey home - Ace's home is Earth and she is beginning to transform ...
Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred look so established in their roles and Anthony Ainley slips so easily back into role of the Master that it's hard to believe this was the end, and not just another mid-season story before the next epic. The location video filming is bright and attractive, there's plenty of action and stunt work; it all looks relatively inexpensive but well done. The Cheetah People costumes have been criticised but I think they look good, certainly better than some `monsters' seen before.
Even the Doctor is affected by the call of the wild, and is drawn into a final struggle with the Master as the planet disintegrates around them, but manages to hold on to the truth: "If we fight like animals, we'll die like animals!" Then, quite suddenly, it's all over, and the Doctor is back in the sunlit parkland of Perivale on a quiet afternoon. The Doctor teleported `home' to the TARDIS; the Master is left to his fate.
By learning to control the power of the Cheetah planet but not allowing the violence of that world to control them, the Doctor and Ace proved they were the most adaptable and best fitted to survive - able to gain the power to teleport home but not lose themselves to the wildness. The Master and some others tried to adapt with violence and so ceased to exist as themselves, transformed into wild animals.
So the classic era of `Doctor Who' ends with quite an interesting story; then just before the credits roll for the last time, the Doctor has one final surprise for us; a few lines of dialogue to end this story, and the era, that might almost have come from an epic poem. They show all the sense of wonder and exploration that took the Doctor to Skaro and Metebelis III and the desire for justice that underpinned the show and the character through seven incarnations. If the writer knew the end was coming, it was a great signoff; if not, what good luck to finish so perfectly ...
... but of course, it wasn't `The End', because `Doctor Who' is the cat with nine lives, the show with so many loyal fans that it continued as video, books, comic strips and audio and just wouldn't stay cancelled for ever - proving that with a concept this strong and this popular for so many years, a programme can't simply be killed off as times change, but can always evolve and adapt to live in a new environment ...
... we might call it the Survival of the fittest!