We’re back, with another season of our Classic Doctor Who rewatch! This week, in Season Eighteen, we say goodbye to an entire TARDIS crew, including the Fourth Doctor—and gain a new one in its place. Let’s get started!
After a brief interlude in Brighton, 1980, the Doctor, Romana and K9 finally take a vacation. The destination is the planet Argolis, a “leisure planet” devoted to recreation—in this case, the resort known as the Leisure Hive, which is also the title of the serial. (Another notable leisure planet is Midnight, in the Tenth Doctor story of the same name; like Argolis, it is uninhabitable except for its resorts.) The year is 2290; forty years earlier, a one-sided nuclear war between the Argolians and the reptilian Foamasi devastated the planet. Now, the resort is failing economically, and the no-longer-aggressive Foamasi want to buy it; at the same time, the Argolians, rendered sterile in the war, are dying out.
A splinter group of Foamasi, the West Lodge, use sabotage to try to ruin the hive and persuade the Argolians to sell. In the meantime, the Argolians have built a machine to try to restore their vitality, but it isn’t working. They also have a form of cloning available, similar to the much-disputed Gallifreyan Looms from spinoff material. The young, machine-born Pangol wants to use it to raise an army in his image. The machine ages the Doctor considerably, much like the Master’s laser screwdriver will do to the Tenth Doctor in The Sound of Drums, but he is later restored. He uses the TARDIS’s randomizer to repair the machine, thwarting the various plots, and also happens to regress Pangol into an infant, much like Blon Fel-Fotch Passimeer-Day Slitheen in Boom Town. The randomizer is left behind, as the Doctor declares he won’t run from the Black Guardian forever.
K9 is damaged by seawater at the beginning, and does nothing else for the rest of the story. He should know better. On the other hand, John Leeson returns to voice the robotic dog, having been lured back by new producer John Nathan-Turner, who will remain for the rest of the classic series. The Doctor wears a new, burgundy outfit and scarg; it introduces the question-mark motif that will adorn all the remaining Doctors’ costumes. We also get a brand new opening sequence, with a starfield background, new “neon tube” logo, and a new, synthesizer-heavy arrangement of the theme song; it’s the most 1980s thing we’ve seen yet.
Meglos is also contemporary with 1980, but not on Earth; the lone human in the story wears contemporary clothing, and there’s no evidence of any time travel other than the TARDIS. The story takes place on two worlds in proximity to each other, Tigella and its one-time oppressor, Zolfa-Thura. The villain, Meglos, is the last of the Zolfa-Thurans; they’re a plant species, usually resembling cacti (and even hilariously potted—who pots them?!). He’s able to take another’s body, though, which requires a human from Earth; subsequently, he takes the image of the Doctor, allowing Tom Baker—like Hartnell and Troughton before him—to play both the Doctor and the villain. Another throwback: the leader of the Deon faction, Lexa, is played by Jacqueline Hill, otherwise known as former companion Barbara Wright, in her first appearance since 1965’s The Chase.
The story is rooted in a religionist-vs.-secularist conflict among the Tigellans, concerning a powerful Zolfa-Thuran artifact called the Dodecahedron. The Deons revere it as a god; the others use it as a power source; and Meglos wants it back so that he can conquer other worlds. The Doctor is summoned by the Tigellans to intervene, but gets more than he bargained for. K9 is repaired, but his batteries now only hold a charge for two hours. We get some good comic relief here in the form of the Gazdaks—the mercenaries hired by Meglos—and their leader, Brotadac.
With Full Circle, we begin the E-Space trilogy. The TARDIS is en route to Gallifrey, having been summoned back—Romana, having fulfilled her task, is being called home. The ship falls through a cosmic phenomenon called a “Charged Vacuum Emboitment” , or CVE; it carries them out of the normal universe (N-Space) and into E-Space, the Exo-Spacetime Continuum. It’s a parallel or pocket universe, smaller than ours, but with an at least partially corresponding coordinate system; the planet Alzarius, where the TARDIS lands, occupies the same coordinates as Gallifrey occupies in N-Space. Here they meet Adric, a young mathematical genius, who lives in a colony descended from stranded space travellers from Terradon, another world. However, as the colony is threatened by the native Marshmen, the Doctor discovers that Adric’s people are not what they believe; they are genetically identical to the Marshmen—in other words, they are native to Alzarius. Their ancestors killed the original colonists, took their place, and evolved into their image. Sadly, they refuse to accept it, and leave in the newly-repaired ship, headed for parts unknown. Adric is left behind, and stows away aboard the TARDIS.
Romana makes an interesting statement; she claims the TARDIS weighs “five times ten to the sixth kilos in [Alzarius’s] gravity”, or five million kilos. While it seems she’s referring to the external shell weight, probably she means the total weight of the ship if it was completely manifested in this dimension. It’s clear from many other occurrences that the police box doesn’t possess the full weight; in fact, the Twelfth Doctor makes it clear that he can alter the external weight, and also says that the Earth couldn’t support its full weight without cracking the surface. Incidentally, she’s probably drastically underestimating; five million kilos is a lot, but hardly on the scale that the Twelfth Doctor describes.
The trilogy continues in State of Decay. The TARDIS lands on an unnamed world; no date is given, as with all E-Space adventures. However, it must occur well after N-Space’s 32nd century, as the ship seen here is of Earth origin and dates to that century, but is quite old now. I had seen this serial before, and enjoyed it; I recall thinking that when compared to the earliest seasons, it shows very well how far the production had come. It’s very 1980s, and I consider it the high point of the season.
We get a small but significant part of Gallifreyan lore here. In the distant past, Rassilon led the Time Lords in a war against the Great Vampires, who are far larger than humans. The Vampires proved resilient to most attacks, leading to the creation of bowships, spacegoing vessels which fired steel bolts to pierce the vampire’s heart. The king vampire, however, escaped, prompting Rassilon to create the Record of Rassilon, which charges any Time Lord who finds the king to destroy him. The Record exists in datacard form on every Type 40 TARDIS (which is curious; as the Type 40s were created in Chronotis’s childhood, does that mean that only a few generations passed between Rassilon and the Doctor?) The Doctor also again mentions the hermit of Gallifrey, Kanpo Rimpoche, though not by name; he says the hermit told him stories about the vampires in his childhood.
The Doctor locates the buried king vampire and kills it just before it can rise; lacking a bowship, he uses the pointed prow of a small scoutship to pierce its heart. Adric joins the crew officially here, having nowhere else to go.
Warrior’s Gate concludes the E-Space trilogy. It finds the TARDIS trapped in an empty white void, which is the gateway between E-Space and N-Space, and also between multiple timelines. Another ship is trapped there as well, and it has a secret: it carries an imprisoned group of Tharils, a time-sensitive race whom the crew use as forced navigators among timelines. The crew are referred to as humans, but it’s not clear from where they originate. Attempting to liberate the Tharils (who themselves have a history as oppressors, but are now enslaved), Romana chooses to leave the TARDIS; K9 is obligated to stay with her as well, as his most recent bout of damage can only be repaired in E-Space. The Doctor is unhappy with her choice, but only momentarily, as he knows he himself would have done the same; “You were the noblest Romana of them all!” he tells her, and lets her go. He and Adric return to N-Space.
Something I had long overlooked: K9 states that he contains all the necessary information for duplicating the TARDIS! It’s probably doubtful that Romana would be able to obtain whatever materials are necessary, given that the TARDIS is no ordinary machine, and she now lacks the ability to travel from world to world. However, it’s at least nominally possible for her to have eventually constructed her own TARDIS in E-Space. (I am aware that spinoff materials have her returning to Gallifrey, but I am not aware of what mechanisms it uses to do so.)
In The Keeper of Traken, the Doctor and Adric emerge into N-Space near Mettula Orionsis, the start that is home to the center of the Traken Union, an exceedingly harmonious and peaceful civilization. Of course, this being Doctor Who, that can’t be allowed to stand for long; and we get interference immediately in the form of an old enemy: The Master.
The next four serials, as far as it can be told, occur consecutively in the same time period. Four to Doomsday will establish that it is 1981. This serial and the next two comprise what is often called the Master Trilogy, as he will be the primary antagonist. Here he is still in the same degenerate body last seen in The Deadly Assassin, which is the final life of his regeneration cycle (and also probably the same as the Delgado incarnation, though much degraded). He escapes death by stealing the body of Tremas (Anthony Ainley, who very much copies the style of Delgado’s Master), the father of future companion Nyssa and a councilor of Traken. How exactly he does so is not explained; but he will do something similar in the 1996 movie. Prior to that theft, he seeks to save his life by stealing control of the Source, a powerful energy under the control of Traken’s leader, the Keeper. He possesses not one, but two TARDISes: the grandfather clock we saw at his last appearance, and an advanced model, which takes the form of a living statue called the Melkur. This TARDIS can walk around and function as the living Melkur would; it even speaks, by way of transmitting the Master’s speech. It is destroyed by the Source, thanks to sabotage by Adric and Nyssa.
As Nyssa does not actually become a companion in this story, this is the only Classic story in which the Doctor travels with only a male companion. An equivalent story exists in NuWho with The End of Time, and in fact it mirrors this story in several ways: The Master is the villain in both; here, the Master takes another’s body, while there he takes everyone’s body; the male companion here, Adric, is younger than most companions, while there the male companion, Wilfred Mott, is older than most; a female companion makes a non-companion appearance in each (Nyssa, pre-companion, Donna Noble, post-companion); Adric will eventually die on behalf of the Doctor, while the Doctor will die on behalf of Wilfred. This is also the final Classic serial to not include any humans, as Adric and the Trakenites are not actually human, just humanoid. The TARDIS wiki states it’s the final such story overall, but I would argue that Heaven Sent counts for NuWho, as Clara Oswald isn’t actually present in reality in that story.
We end with Logopolis, and what an end it is. In this second story of the Master Trilogy, we’re introduced to a new piece of TARDIS lore: The Cloister Bell. This somber chime rings when there’s a massive threat to the existence of the TARDIS, or to the universe itself; and that’s exactly what we face here.
Attempting to take his mind off of things, the Doctor travels to the city of Logopolis—its planet is unnamed—to have his chameleon circuit repaired. (Spoiler alert: It doesn’t succeed.) The Logopolitans are mathematical masters, but with a twist: They don’t use computers. Rather, they model all their calculations in their minds and out loud, in a large cooperative effort. They specialize in Block Transfer Computations, a form of higher math which actually models reality so effectively that the modeled thing becomes real—physical objects made of pure math. (Some have theorized that TARDISes are primarily constructed in this manner.) Along the way, the Doctor unwittingly picks up the Master when he materializes his TARDIS around the Master’s, creating a recursive loop—TARDISes within TARDISes, repeated endlessly. He also unintentionally picks up new companion Tegan Jovanka, a flight attendant from Earth, who is the first human companion since Leela in Season Fifteen. Nyssa of Traken returns as well, having been transported by another mysterious figure: The Watcher, who is later revealed to be a projection of the Doctor, much as Cho-Je was once a projection of Kanpo Rimpoche. Unlike Kanpo, the Doctor appears unaware of the Watcher’s existence at first. We learn that the TARDIS can jettison rooms for thrust, having done so with Romana’s room. At the same time, we get another view of the deeper parts of the TARDIS.
The Logopolitans are responsible for CVEs such as that leading to E-Space. These holes in reality are a method of draining off entropy from the universe; otherwise it would have already died a heat death. (The science here is fairly far-fetched; entropy, as I understand it, is not a thing so much as the absence of a thing, much as cold is an absence of heat.) They have constructed a copy of the Pharos radio dish from Earth—last seen in Terror of the Autons—for use in making the CVEs self-sustaining. The Master tries to take control of this situation so as to hold the universe hostage; but his plan backfires when the mounting entropy eliminates the Logopolitans. With the dish out of commission, he must join forces with the Doctor and travel to Earth, to the real Pharos Project…where he promptly betrays the Doctor. Defeated, he escapes, but not before a great swath of reality—including the Traken Union—is destroyed, making him a murderer of billions at a minimum. The Doctor then falls from the dish, seemingly to his death.
Thus ends the Fourth Doctor, in another regeneration. He sees visions of enemies and companions, and his current companions gather around. “It is the end…but the moment has been prepared for.” He then merges with the Watcher, and transforms into the young, smiling Fifth Doctor.
There’s much more to be said about this episode, but space is at a premium. It’s well worth your time, even if you don’t care for the rest of the season. Next time: The Fifth Doctor! See you there.
All episodes can be viewed on Dailymotion; links are below.
State of Decay (Note: This is a user page. No playlist was available. Scroll down to locate the individual parts.)