Just Trying to Get Away: Classic Doctor Who Rewatch, Season Fifteen

With the war criminal from the future now just a memory, the Doctor and Leela are free to explore the universe! First, though, we make another stop on Earth, in Horror of Fang Rock. Let’s get started!

fang rock 1

The Doctor at Fang Rock


It’s 1902, and the location is the small island of Fang Rock off the southern coast of England. While the year is not actually stated, there are some context clues that narrow it down to that year.  The Doctor was aiming for Brighton, but—as usual—missed the mark.

Fang rock 2

A Rutan.  Scared yet?


The enemy here are the Rutans, the ancestral enemies of the Sontarans. This is their only appearance onscreen, although they are mentioned many times.  They are an entirely different brand of alien, more like amorphous jellyfish than the humanoid Sontarans (who don’t appear here; in fact, the two adversaries have never appeared together); they have the power to impersonate others, though the Rutan in the lighthouse mentions that this technique is new.  It crash-lands on earth in the course of a “strategic withdrawal”, and is stranded, but quickly summons its people, forcing the Doctor to use the lighthouse—with a little tinkering—to destroy the invasion craft.  Morbid, but noteworthy:  This is the final classic serial in which everyone but the Doctor and his companion(s) die.  It will happen again many years later in NuWho’s The Parting of the Ways, in which only the Doctor, Jack Harkness, and Rose Tyler survive.  Some things are just too dark for this show.

fang rock 3

Just made for a murder mystery!


I do remember watching this serial before, and I remember liking it. It follows the base-under-siege format, but with such a small cast, it feels more like a “bottle episode”, or maybe a locked-room mystery.

Invisible Enemy 1

So, uh…THAT’S what a virus looks like?


After a couple of sad stories on Earth, the Doctor and Leela flee to space; but they don’t get far, as The Invisible Enemy takes place on and near Saturn’s moon, Titan.  It’s the year 5000, as stated by the Doctor, but this is curious; he also calls it the “Year of the Great Breakout”, when humanity escaped the solar system for the larger galaxy.  We’ve seen before that the 51st century is a significant time for humans; however, many serials have indicated that the first galactic expansion happened much earlier, probably in about the year 2100.  Like the Mandragora Helix and the Wyrrn before it, the enemy here is spaceborn; this time it’s a virus called the Swarm; its nucleus, which controls the rest of the Swarm, invades the Doctor’s brain.  It infects humans, Time Lords, and even machines, but curiously, Leela is immune.  Later, after being expelled from the Doctor’s brain, it is enlarged to the macroscopic scale, and looks like an insect or reptile.  The idea of the Doctor losing control of  his mind is reminiscent of Series Seven’s Nightmare in Silver, in which the invading entity is a Cybercontroller.

Invisible Enemy 2

More personality than a dozen Rose Tylers!


The Doctor obtains a new companion here: the robotic dog, K9! More correctly, this is K9 Mark I.  He is the creation of Professor Marius, but is given to the Doctor when Marius can’t take him back to Earth due to weight restrictions.  K9 was always one of my favorite companions, and still is; I’m not sure what that says about me.  His personality is condensed irony, and I think it’s hilarious to watch him verbally spar with the Doctor (“I am without emotional circuits!”  Which is a lie, as smugness is most definitely an emotion).

Invisible Enemy 3

Inside the Doctor’s brain.  No, really.


The original console room returns, having had some minor upgrades; it’s handwaved in the story by the Doctor, who says it was being redecorated, but in the real world the switch was due to the warping of the wooden wall panels of the secondary control room while in storage. Ironically, the Doctor refers to the original set as the secondary control room.  We also see that the TARDIS, by way of its dimensional stabilizer, has the ability to shrink people, much like the device in Into the Dalek.  We’ve seen hints of this possibility as far back as Season Two’s Planet of Giants, but we’ve never before seen that it can be done deliberately, or independently of the TARDIS itself.  As well, this scenario gives us a view of the inside of the Doctor’s brain, which is pretty interesting.  Not so interesting are his phagocytes, the defensive cells that roam his brain; it’s a cool idea, but suffers from the limits of the practical effects of the day.

Image of the Fendahl 1

The book that gave me nightmares at ten years old.


Image of the Fendahl is the only contemporary story of the season, set in 1977 Fetchborough, England.  The date isn’t given onscreen, but it was given in a trailer for the serial, released at the end of the preceding story, and nothing contradicts it.  I vaguely remember reading the novelization as a child, and being scared by it, but I couldn’t remember anything from the broadcast version.

Image of the Fendahl 2

Thea Ransome, becoming the Fendahl core.


K9 is seen to need repairs already, but it’s not clear why, as he was fine at the end of the previous story. I take this as a possible indication of one or more offscreen adventures in the interim; it’s one of the last times that the Fourth Doctor can possibly have those, as we will soon enter a period where the successive serials are clearly linked.  In the real world, K9 was portrayed this way because the serial was written prior to the decision to retain him as a character; therefore a reason was needed to keep him offscreen.  Notable guest star in this serial:  Thea Ransome, who becomes the core of the Fendahl gestalt, is played by Wanda Ventham, the mother of actor Benedict Cumberbatch.

Image of the Fendahl 3

A Fendahleen


The Fendahl is an ancient being with godlike powers; it is a group entity or gestalt, composed of a core being and thirteen Fendahleen, lizardlike creatures that protect the core. In the course of destroying it, the Doctor weakens it by destroying one of the Fendahleen, thus preventing the full creature from manifesting.  It originated on the then-fifth planet of the solar system, which was destroyed by the Time Lords, thus creating the asteroid belt.  This occurred prior to their non-interference policy, which will be further explored later in the season.

The Sun Makers 1

Are we SURE this is Pluto?


In The Sun Makers, once again the Doctor tries to leave the Solar System; and once again he doesn’t get far.  This time, he lands on Pluto, but in the far future.  No date is established, but contemporary promotional material for the story placed it “millions of years” in the future.  It’s not your father’s Pluto; this is a world of Earthlike atmosphere and light, due to the six artificial suns  surrounding the world, hence the title of the serial.

The Sun Makers 2

The Collector


The plot here is a rare political allegory, dealing with unfair taxation. The Company in control of the planet are flagrantly oppressing the humans who live there, imposing exorbitant taxes at will and seemingly at random.  As it turns out, the Company is run by Usurians (a play on the word “usury”, for unjust taxation), a fungal species.  It won’t be the last time humanity is secretly oppressed; later it will be the Daleks and the Jagrafess, in Series One’s The Long Game/Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways.

The Sun Makers 3.PNG

Wrong target, Doctor!


Some noteworthy items: Gallifrey and the Time Lords are known to humanity and the Company at this point in history; in fact, the Collector claims to have knowledge of the Doctor’s past, although this is doubtful.  The Doctor is taken down at one point by Balarium gas; he seems to have forgotten that he has a respiratory bypass system which should have kept him safe.  Finally, there’s a hilarious scene where the Doctor hypnotizes a guard to sleep, but accidentally hypnotizes Leela as well.

Underworld 1

At the edge of the cosmos


Finally we see the larger universe in Underworld; and we don’t do it halfway, as the TARDIS arrives at the absolute edge of the universe—or as the Doctor puts it, “the boundary between what is and what isn’t”.  We don’t know the date; however, events are referenced which took place in Gallifrey’s history 100,000 years earlier.

Underworld 2

In hindsight, they do kind of resemble the little yellow guys.


In the far past, the Time Lords worked with a race called Minyans (no, not the little yellow guys from Despicable Me).  They gave the Minyans Time Lord technology, including the ability to regenerate; in return, the Minyans violently ejected the Time Lords from their world, went to war with each other, and destroyed their planet.  They regard the Time Lords as gods, but consider their gods to have failed or betrayed them.  This event is the prime cause for the Time Lords’ non-interference policy.  The story, set millennia later, takes place on a pair of Minyan ships: The R1C, which has been traveling all this time, and the P7E, for which it has been searching.

Underworld 3

The Doctor, Leela, and the Minyans


The Minyans can regenerate, and can even do so endlessly; it differs from Time Lord regeneration in that their appearances and personalities do not change, and in that they require mechanical assistance. However, this helps justify later notions that the twelve-regeneration limit is artificial, and can be countered by the granting of a new cycle of regenerations.  The Minyans cannot breed, however, and therefore they require the race banks aboard the P7E to save their species.  To gain them, they must overcome the Oracle, the P7E’s megalomaniacal computer, and liberate the slaves who are the descendants of the original crew (and never mind that the crew should not have been able to produce descendants—there’s no logic here).  The story is based on the legend of Jason and the Argonauts, which the Doctor makes explicit at the end.

The Invasion of time 1

The Chancellor and the President


The Doctor returns to Gallifrey in The Invasion of Time.  Here he claims the presidency—which he won in The Deadly Assassin—only to immediately leave Gallifrey defenseless and invaded by mysterious aliens, known as the Vardans.  Several dates are noted, but they are in Gallifreyan notation and can’t be matched to real-world dates; however, this doesn’t appear to be long after The Deadly Assassin, as the position of president is still vacant.  In the interim, Borusa has ascended from Cardinal to Lord Chancellor, ruling in the absence of a president; he has also regenerated, though his appearance is similar to his previous body.  The Doctor treats him—and Leela as well—rather roughly at this time; it’s the only time I’ve ever felt sorry for him.

The Invasion of time 2

The De-Mat Gun


The Doctor’s betrayal, of course, is a ruse, designed to open the Vardans to attack. He defeats them by locking their world in a time loop, possibly presaging the hiding of Gallifrey at the end of the Time War.  However, the victory is short-lived, as the Vardans’ allies are revealed: The Sontarans.  To defeat them, the Doctor and his allies must first survive; then, they must obtain the Great Key of Rassilon and use it to construct a powerful and forbidden weapon: the De-Mat Gun, which removes its target—and itself—from time permanently.

The Invasion of time 3

The Fun Side of the TARDIS


Notable in this serial: This serial is briefly seen in the Doctor’s timeline in The Name of the Doctor, where Clara Oswald’s echo is seen to be present.  The Time Lady Rodan is the first female Gallifreyan seen since Susan (though she is a bit at odds with Time Lord philosophy).  We get our first glimpse of Gallifrey outside the Citadel, though we won’t see that structure from outside for many years.  We get to see many interior areas of the TARDIS, which have a brickwork appearance (including the infamous pool, which is definitely NOT in the library at this point!)  With the effects of the De-Mat Gun, the Doctor is left not remembering anything of this adventure, though it seems likely he was told of it after the fact.

Leela and K9

Goodbye, Leela and K9


Finally, Leela and K9 both opt to leave—or rather, to stay behind on Gallifrey. Leela has fallen in love with the guard commander Andred, and is given special permission to live on Gallifrey with him.  K9 chooses to stay to watch over her.  It’s an emotional goodbye for the Doctor; but it is mitigated by the appearance at the end of K9 Mark II, who possesses all the memory and personality of his precursor.

Next time: The Key to Time!  See you there.

All episodes can be viewed on Dailymotion; links are below.

Horror of Fang Rock (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4)

The Invisible Enemy

Image of the Fendahl

The Sun Makers

Underworld (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4)

The Invasion of Time


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