This week in our Classic Doctor Who rewatch, the Fourth Doctor has hit his stride. Let’s get started!
After several stories offworld, Terror of the Zygons brings us back to Earth. It’s a UNIT story, and in fact, it’s the Brigadier’s final appearance of the decade; he will return in 1983’s Mawdryn Undead, which is oddly not a UNIT story. This serial is also Harry Sullivan’s last story as a companion, though not his final appearance; he remains behind after being shot and recovering.
The villains are the newly-introduced, shapeshifting Zygons. They will never appear again in the classic series—what a waste!—but return strong in the fiftieth anniversary special The Day of the Doctor, and again in its two-part sequel The Zygon Invasion/The Zygon Inversion. Coincidentally, their first two appearances, though 38 years apart, both occurred in stories in which Tom Baker appeared. Here they use a cyborg Skarasen to menace humanity, thus giving us Doctor Who’s take on the Loch Ness Monster. We get some environmental themes here, but they’re mild this time; the Zygons want to disrupt an energy conference that deals with environmental issues, thus beginning their transformation of Earth’s climate.
Something interesting about their appearance here: Though the Time Lords seem to be unaware as yet of the Last Great Time War, its effects are already being felt, as The Day of the Doctor reveals that the war is responsible for the destruction of the Zygon homeworld, which is key to this story as it is to that one.
Planet of Evil takes us far from Earth, to a planet called Zeta Minor, in the year 37,166 (the date is given onscreen in the first few seconds). It’s distant indeed, on the very edge of the known universe—so far, in fact, that the universe here interacts with another universe, one made of antimatter. It’s not clear if this is the same antimatter universe seen in The Three Doctors. The story is based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, in that one of the characters—possessed by the antimatter creature—displays a sharp duality of nature, of which he himself is unaware. It’s a fairly action-packed story, with a pretty good sense of dread throughout. It’s very brutal, though, as most of the humans are dead by the end—something which happens often this season.
This is the first time we see the Fourth Doctor inside the TARDIS console room, though of course it’s clear he has been using it previously. Yet again, it’s a new console and set, slightly more utilitarian than the last, with roundels that are nearly flush with the wall. It won’t be the last new set we see under Baker’s tenure. Speaking of Baker, he goes scarfless! For much of the story, anyway. Allegedly this had more to do with filming of the antimatter-universe scenes than with any stylistic decision. Without the scarf, his chosen costume here is very reminiscent of the Eighth Doctor’s movie costume. There’s one more noteworthy contrast, as well: The jungle set in this story was built specifically to contrast with the sets on that other 1960s sci-fi series…Star Trek, I believe it was called. It’s therefore ironic, then, that the probe ship seen in orbit is very much in the style of Star Trek, with nacelles and a rounded primary hull. It even has a voice-controlled computer!
I had seen Pyramids of Mars before, and thought highly of it. It doesn’t lose anything on repeat viewing. The Doctor attempts to return to UNIT headquarters, but overshoots with regard to the date; he lands on the property, but sixty-four years earlier, in 1911. UNIT headquarters hasn’t been built yet; a former priory, now owned by Marcus Scarman, stands on the grounds. It’s here that the Doctor utters, to Sarah Jane, his famous line, “I’m not a human. I walk in eternity.” In the same scene, he mentions Victoria Waterfield, and possibly Vicki Pallister, when Sarah wears one of Victoria’s dresses. First mentions in this episode include the concept of isomorphic controls, keyed to an individual (better known from the Master’s laser screwdriver in The Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords). He’s claimed repeatedly that the TARDIS only responds to him (a patent lie), but this is the first occurrence of the term. He also first mentions his respiratory bypass system, which will recur several times.
The enemy at hand here is Sutekh, the last of the Osirans, the beings that inspired the ancient Egyptian gods. He’s a destroyer who wants to be free to bring death to everything and everyone; however, he remains trapped in a pyramid on Mars, linked to Earth only by a time-space tunnel. The scenario is akin to The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit, and also to The Rings of Akhaten; in fact, in his imprisonment Sutekh strongly resembles the mummy in the latter story. Unable to move, he mind-controls Marcus Scarman to accomplish his goals.
There’s a very powerful illustration here that time is fluid and can be changed (except, of course, for fixed points). When Sarah declares that Sutekh can’t win because they already know the future is secure, the Doctor takes her forward to 1980, where Earth has become a blasted wasteland due to Sutekh’s victory. They then return to 1911 to combat him, ultimately defeating him with a pretty clever trap involving time itself. Significantly, this represents the final step in the transformation of the Doctor’s views on time; in his first life, he was adamant that history was fixed and should not be tampered with (see The Aztecs).
Returning to UNIT, the Doctor foils The Android Invasion. This is the final appearance of John Benton and Harry Sullivan, though they will get occasional mentions in the future. The Brigadier does not appear, though it has been documented that the story was written with him in mind; Nicholas Courtney declined to appear. The enemies are the Kraal of planet Oseidon, a villain I would very much like to see in NuWho; there’s a lot of untapped potential in this warlike race. Here, they create a copy of the village of Devesham and its inhabitants, in preparation for an invasion of Earth. The creepy village and villagers are reminiscent of the illusory village in Series Five’s Amy’s Choice. (Truly, Earth must be the most desirable planet in the universe; I’ve lost track of how many times alien races have tried to make it into a new homeworld, but it’s already happened twice this season!)
This is one of the occasional stories where, for whatever reason, the Doctor loses access to the TARDIS for a time. In this case, it proceeds to Earth when the key is inserted, after being “paused” in its journey. It illustrates again that the key is more than just a key; it’s an integral part of the TARDIS. It also illustrates that the TARDIS has a number of automatic procedures, usually intended to preserve its safety and/or that of its inhabitants, which will be expanded greatly in NuWho.
In The Brain of Morbius, we get one of the most famous and controversial classic serials. It introduces the well-known controversy as to whether the Doctor had regenerations pre-Hartnell. However, the preponderance of evidence in the entire series indicates that Hartnell was, in fact, the First Doctor. The other faces seen in the mindbending battle are probably best construed as Morbius’s past faces.
This is the first appearance of the planet Karn and the Sisterhood of Karn. It doesn’t delve into their history, but it makes it clear that they share some history with the Time Lords—in fact, they appear to be the same species. Their high priestess, Ohica, is not the same as the High Priestess Ohila from The Night of the Doctor and The Magician’s Apprentice, but the name is a tribute. The sisterhood as seen here is very reminiscent of the Sybilline Sisterhood from Series Four’s The Fires of Pompeii.
The villain is the executed Time Lord Morbius, a sort of terrorist and revolutionary—or rather, it’s his brain, which lacks a body. He is provided with one by the human scientist Mehendri Solon, who wants the Doctor’s head to complete the project. How a human got involved with Morbius is unclear; likewise, the date is unclear. A History of the Universe places it in 2375, based on the similarity between Solon’s work and that of Crozier, from Season 24’s Mindwarp. However, being that Morbius is a Time Lord, it could be any year.
The Doctor first takes the Sisterhood’s Elixir of Life here, after restoring their Sacred Flame and defeating Morbius. It restores him, but doesn’t spark a regeneration, in contrast with The Night of the Doctor. It’s a pity, in a way, that we don’t see that aspect yet; could the elixir have saved Morbius by starting a regeneration? How much of a Time Lord’s body is required to regenerate, anyway? We just don’t know.
We finish with The Seeds of Doom. For me, this was like coming full circle; The Seeds of Doom is the first Doctor Who memory I have from my childhood. It scared me immensely as a child, and I was anxious to see how it compared to my memory. It’s the final UNIT story until Season 26’s Battlefield, with the Seventh Doctor; however, it involves none of the UNIT personnel we have been familiar with. There’s some disagreement about the date; it is most likely contemporary with its broadcast, but some sources place it in the 1980s (personally, I think it’s irrelevant either way).
The enemy here is the Krynoid, a “galactic weed” that turns people into plants, then devours animal life. We see two of them, as their seed pods travel in pairs. They seem to be inhibited by the cold; in England, Keeler, the second victim, transforms far faster than Winlett, the first, who was infected in Antarctica. The plot is straightforward: The Krynoid seed pods are dangerous, and must be destroyed, but they are stolen by a fanatical botanist, and allowed to bloom, forcing the Doctor and UNIT to destroy them. UNIT uses a pretty advanced laser weapon (though to no effect), possibly indicating that they have reverse-engineered alien technology, as Torchwood often does in NuWho and its own series.
Bottom line: Still terrifying. Perhaps not as scary as in my childhood; but the idea of losing your humanity, transforming into something else—something mindless and deadly—will always be scary to me. Still, it’s a good serial, and a good conclusion to the season.
Next time: With UNIT behind us, we’ll say goodbye to Sarah Jane, and continue with the Fourth Doctor! See you there.
All episodes can be viewed on Dailymotion; links are below.
The Seeds of Doom (note: This playlist contains all parts, but is not correctly arranged. Scroll down to locate parts in order.)