After a short delay, we’re back, with another season of our Classic Doctor Who rewatch! In Season 19, we say hello to Peter Davison’s Fifth Doctor, picking up right where we left off after a difficult regeneration. Let’s get started!
Following on the heels of Logopolis, we open with Castrovalva, the third part of the Master Trilogy. Adric, Tegan, and Nyssa rush the newly-regenerated Doctor back to the TARDIS; but, unbeknownst to them, Adric is captured by the Master and replaced with a duplicate. This duplicate, created from block transfer computations powered by the brain of the real Adric, soon leads the TARDIS to the peaceful—and fake—city of Castrovalva (with a brief detour to the beginning of the universe!). It’s been a difficult regeneration, and the Doctor—while cycling through his previous personalities and choosing a cricket uniform for his usual dress—states that it’s not going as well as previously. (He’s also not pleased with his appearance, despite his youthful looks; “that’s the trouble with regeneration,” he says, “you never quite know what you’re going to get,” or as Ten will later put it, “Regeneration, it’s a lottery.”) He compensates by resting in a newly-revealed part of the TARDIS: the Zero Room, which is cut off from the rest of the universe and thus free of interference. Shortly thereafter, however, in the chaos of “Adric’s” betrayal, the Zero Room is jettisoned, along with a quarter of the TARDIS’s mass. (We know now that it can be regrown, but there’s no indication of that at the time.)
The setting for this serial is still 1981, as far as can be told, except for the detour into the past. We’re still in the middle of a four-story arc that is set on consecutive days, beginning with The Keeper of Traken and ending with Four To Doomsday; the latter states that the date is February 28, 1981, the date of the flight that Tegan was trying to catch when she met the Doctor. I feel bad for her on occasion; she’s sort of the idiot among geniuses here (not that she’s an idiot in general, just by comparison). The concept of Block Transfer Computation is expanded here, as it is used first to create a duplicate of Adric, and second to create the false city of Castrovalva. That city is pitched as one of the most peaceful places in the universe, a sort of natural Zero Room after the one on the TARDIS is lost. In the end, the Master is trapped there as the city collapses in on itself.
Having escaped the Master’s trap, in Four to Doomsday, the Doctor attempts to take Tegan home at her request. He almost gets it right; he gets the date and time correct, but not the location. Instead, the TARDIS materializes on a ship of the Urbankans, long-term galactic travelers with a secret: much like the Cybermen, they have given up organic existence for robotic. The title may reference either four days until the Urbankans reach Earth (and conquer it), or their three previous visits to Earth plus this one. As the Doctor and his friends dodge several attempts to kill them, the Urbankan Monarch’s goal becomes clear: he wants to travel back to the beginning of time and set himself up as God. He intended to salvage Earth’s resources to make the trip, but now, with the TARDIS, he sees an opportunity for a shortcut.
I recall reading (rather than watching) this story as a child; especially I remember the scene where the Doctor uses the cricket ball to propel himself between the ship and the TARDIS in space. It was the first time I had encountered the idea that the laws of motion work differently in zero gravity, and just further propelled my love for spacebound stories. The TARDIS has at some point gone back to using the standard Yale lock keys instead of the more artistic ones created by the Third Doctor. As well, the Doctor states that the TARDIS uses artron energy to operate. While this is not the first occurrence of the term, it is the first use of it by the Doctor, and the first time it is stated to power a TARDIS.
Kinda takes the travelers to Deva Loka, a world being investigated for potential human colonization. Several possibilities have been suggested for the date, between the years 2700 and 3900; it’s not possible to be precise. Nyssa is almost completely absent from this story; framing scenes establish that she’s unwell, and sleeping in the TARDIS. Behind the scenes, the script was submitted prior to the establishment of Nyssa as a companion. The villain here is (are?) the Mara, a snakeline, disembodied, and evil being (or possibly collection of beings; it’s not really clear). It once ruled an empire from the planet Manussa, but was defeated and banished to this world, to the “dark places of the inside”, where it now lurks and awaits a host. Tegan provides that host, but the Mara isn’t particularly attached to her; it uses her only long enough to transfer to Aris of the Kinda tribe. This brief possession, however, creates a link which will be exploited again in next season’s Snakedance. The story draws heavily on Buddhist thought, with several names and concepts transferring over directly.
The Mara are repulsed by their own reflections, driving them back to the place from which they came; and so the Doctor defeats them, using a circle of mirrors to trap them. We haven’t seen the last of them, however; but we have seen the last of Deva Loka. Two things about this serial: for one, it contains no interior TARDIS scenes, and is the only fifth Doctor story to do so. For another, it’s a very highly favored story, and with its sequel, Snakedance, is often near the top of ratings lists. I personally enjoyed it, though I don’t find it to be the most exciting story of the season.
In The Visitation, we say goodbye to one of the Doctor’s most faithful companions: The Sonic Screwdriver! Please contain your weeping. Interestingly, the destruction of the device is very low-key, having little bearing on the story; but it will not be seen again in the classic series, only returning in the 1996 movie and the 2005 revival (spinoff materials aside). John Nathan-Turner was famously unhappy with the device, considering it a narrative crutch, and insisted on its removal from the show.
This story is Doctor Who’s account of the great fire of London, and as such can be dated fairly precisely, to August-September 1666. The villains, the Terileptils, would have crashed on Earth around the beginning of August; the TARDIS would have landed on September 1, with the story concluding on the night of September 2, the historical beginning of the fire. The Doctor inadvertently causes it, much as with the great fire of Rome in his first incarnation.
It’s a bit of a low point for the TARDIS crew, as they all seem to be at each other’s throats. Tegan wants to leave and does not want to leave, all at once; the Doctor is unusually abrasive; Adric is whining; and Nyssa is caught in the middle. They are countered in this by the fantastic character of local highwayman Richard Mace, who is, hands down, my favorite guest character of the season; his wit is worthy of Captain Jack Harkness, though with a definite seventeenth-century twist. The Terileptils are also an interesting race; reptilian and brutal, they are quite grim and menacing, and I think it’s unfortunate they’ve never reappeared as a major villain (though they get several references and minor appearances). Another rare occurrence: the Doctor uses a gun…but only as a lockpick, much as the Tenth Doctor will use one to destroy the white point star in The End of Time.
We get our only two-parter of the season in Black Orchid; there are only a few such serials in the Fifth Doctor’s time. They will become more common thereafter, but with the caveat that episode length will increase to 45 minutes, making a two-parter the equivalent of a current four-parter. This story is a historical, with no science-fiction elements beyond the TARDIS and crew; however it does not bear on any actual historical events. The date is stated onscreen by the Doctor as June 11, 1925, and the location is Cranleigh, England.
The story is a basic murder mystery, in which the Doctor is falsely accused of multiple murders. While it’s a decent story, it almost seems to exist solely to give Peter Davison a chance to show off his cricket skills, something which was mostly lost on me as I have no real grasp of the game. Sarah Sutton takes a page from the previous Doctors’ book and plays two roles here, as Nyssa and as local Ann Talbot; the two characters actually appear together and get along well, and make much of being identical. It’s a decent story, but largely uneventful, and almost feels like a vacation from the larger plots going on around it. Strangely, it’s the highest-rated story of the Davison era.
I’ve often felt that Earthshock should have been the season finale. In it we see the return of the Cybermen; and in it we see a rare thing indeed: the death of a companion, Adric to be specific. The date is 2526, stated by Adric in part one, and the setting is Earth and a nearby space freighter. Humanity is in its early First Empire period, and is engaged in wars with the Cybermen; however, based on technology levels and the size of the empire in question, I suspect this is not the same series of Cyber-wars depicted in Nightmare in Silver. These Cybermen are the ones I remember from my childhood, and look much different from their predecessors. They don’t seem to be completely free of emotion; they want the Doctor to suffer. They review their past encounters with him; from their point of view, a few should be missing, but that is of course because those encounters are with later Doctors, and haven’t been filmed yet. The Doctor here first uses his sometime-catch phrase, “Brave heart, Tegan!”.
The Cybermen intend to destroy Earth with a bomb, or, failing that, by crashing an antimatter-powered freighter into it. They succeed, but only after a warp accident sends them back 65 million years; the crash, it is revealed, causes the extinction of the dinosaurs. Adric, working to the last minute to save the ship, is killed in the crash; a final Cyberman attack destroys the console at which he works, thwarting his efforts. His famous last line is “Now I’ll never know if I was right”, which perfectly sums up his character. In honor of his death, the final credits roll over a background of his broken math badge, in total silence.
We end where we started in Time Flight, back at Heathrow airport in time for Tegan to catch her flight. Before she can leave, however, the TARDIS crew gets caught up in a mystery involving a missing Concorde jet; the mystery leaves them stranded in 140 million BC. The Doctor refuses to try to rescue Adric from death, referring to the First Law of Time (though not by name)—that is, that you cannot change your personal history. UNIT and the Brigadier get a mention here, as the Doctor uses his UNIT credentials, but they don’t actually appear. Adric also appears, though only as a hallucination; this was done so that he would be included in the credits as reported in Radio Times. The issue in question was released on the same day as part four of Earthshock, and the production crew did not want the surprise spoiled by even a few hours; also it fulfilled Matthew Waterhouse’s contract for the season.
The villain is the Master, disguised as Kalid; after escaping Castrovalva, he landed on prehistoric Earth with a depowered TARDIS. He intends to use the power of the Xeraphin to escape. The Xeraphin, also stranded on earth, were once a normal race, but later became a gestalt entity with a dangerously split personality; they seek to be restored to normal, and in fact may have accomplished their goal at the end, though it is not clear. At any rate, the Doctor causes the Master’s TARDIS to be diverted to the Xeraphin homeworld, where it is hoped they will exact judgment on him. In the end, Tegan leaves to catch her flight, though it is seen that she is not happy with her decision.
I was asked last time to speak a little more regarding what I like and dislike with each season. To be honest, I’ve found the Fifth Doctor to be more of an adjustment than I expected; his run so far—and at the time I’m writing this, I’ve already completed season twenty as well—still feels like an interlude between “real” Doctors. That’s unfortunate; I’ve been looking forward to Davison’s run, and I find him to be incredibly likeable. It’s not a criticism of his time as Doctor, I think; instead, it’s just that he’s VERY different from those who came before him. I expect the Sixth Doctor will likewise come as quite a shock. As for companions: I’ve grown to like Nyssa quite a bit. She’s the reliable one, the “right hand man” to the Doctor that Adric was beginning to be for Tom Baker. She’s the only one who’s on his level in both intellect and personality; whenever something goes wrong, she doesn’t complain, she just does what needs to be done. Of course Adric’s death was sad, and I can’t imagine how it was received in first run; but he felt like a child with too much power and not enough maturity. As a preview, even Turlough next season—who is the very definition of power vs. maturity—doesn’t feel as much like that as Adric did. The Master had quite a presence this season, and he’s excellent as always; Anthony Ainley may not be Roger Delgado, but he’s fantastic anyway, exactly what I would expect from the Master at this point. It was nice to get a season of “smaller” plots; there’s no universe-saving going on here, and that’s okay. We’ll deal with universal themes again next season.
Next time: Twentieth Anniversary! See you there.
All episodes can be viewed on Dailymotion; links are below.