The first story of Tom Baker's era could have got off to a better start, I think we can all agree.
Surely in a situation like this, it would have been better to contrast the new Doctor with the UNIT era that defined his predecessor. Seeing the Brigadier and Sarah relate to this new version of their old friend was a better course of action, but this was thrown out the window for the Fourth Doctor's second story "Heavy Metal" (where the Doctor returns to find a philosophical android is starting a third world war, and UNIT hardly gets a look-in).
The first moments of the serial, where the regenerated Doctor flees in the TARDIS, gives us a tantalizing glimpse of what the serial could have been like.
Instead, we see the Doctor arrive on a huge space ship heading for the planet Imelo and promptly gets involved in local affairs. It is Baker's incredible performance that gives the story any kind of momento - the script has the new Doctor a blank slate, reacting to people totally randomly according to how they treat him, and shifting from Troughton to Hartnell for no real reason for various scenes.
Frankly, the plot for the first episode wasn't up to much, with the Doctor exploring the ship as the security teams try to track him down. The cliffhanger where the Doctor hides in a communications room only to find himself surrounded by armed guards, didn't exactly inspire me at the Time Lord's resourcefulness or intelligence. Nevertheless, the way he sweet-talked Commander Mordee in the second episode was priceless, especially with the historic moment when the Doctor broke off mid-rant and asked if anybody had a jelly baby, which in turn lead to the dull dinner party sequence.
There was nothing about Xoanon that wasn't already done in 2001: A Space Oddesy, and having a Dalek eyestalk wittly providing light conversation over disappearing and reappearing meals wasn't exactly the terror of giant spiders or lumbering Ice Warriors. And there was also a terrible amount of exposition on Mordee's mission.
The colonization angle has been done before, and better, though the Doctor's brooding over the term 'progress' hinted at a far more cerebral incarnation than we ultimately got. Maybe this was a hangover of the 'older Doctor' plotline, as most of the physical stuff is given to Sub-Commander Khan (a wonderful performance by Prentis Hancock there).
The power-failure at the end of episode two was quite drammatic. The lights suddenly going out, a short of the Phados spaceship shutting down, and the Doctor grinning, "You know, I think we're going to crash?" was a memorable end to the episode and no doubt responsible for increase in ratings for episode three - sadly, as it was total padding.
The Doctor and Khan being forced to walk through miles of pipe and air tubes to get at the main computer junction lead to that terrible ending where Khan is conveniently gassed by a security system. Had the fabled 'Berbrese noose' been used, I think the situation would have been more dramatic.
The plot effectively ended half-way through the final episode as the Doctor effectively puts on a collinder and uses a 'Silridiean Memory Transfer' to boot up the computer. If only that were possible today, eh? It was nothing but technobabble and I suspect had Jon Pertwee stayed for Season 12 the polarity of the nuetron flow would have been reversed for similar effects.
Indeed, the only inventive act was to give Xoanon the Doctor's voice and face - why bother? Did Baker get a second paycheck or something?
The realization of the Phados crashing into that desert plane just outside a gigantic crator full of jungles and harsh animals was pretty poor too. Doctor Who should milk these situations - the realization that the Phados has time technology could have been used to some dangerous extent when the TARDIS gets lost in the works. These hostile animals were never seen, and perhaps some none-too-pleased natives could have spiced things up.
Instead, we just got the Doctor chatting to himself ("You handsome devil, Doctor" made me laugh once or twice) and the truly pointless bit where Survey Team Leader Mentar took a photo of the Doctor's face for posterity. The Doctor's outfit consisted of a hospital gown, his old coat and a brown scarf he found in the TARDIS - definitely nailing the character as caring about anything except his appearance.
A dull start to the best of the Doctors, with only that chilling end sequence - where the Doctor/Xoanon begins to laugh like a madman and suddenly everyone clutches their foreheads - giving any kind of drama to it. Perhaps Chris Boucher intended a sequel to this story, about the result of the Doctor's interference?
We may never know, and the ultimate fates of Mordee, Imelo and Xoanon are left unrecorded to this day.
Absolutely wonderful review!!! Suddenly Robot doesn't look as bad as others may have us believe.
- Henry Gordon Jago
Absoloutly brilliant YoA - although you may have tried to emphasise the poorer elements of the story - it still read like the best Doctor intro (n)ever made (baring Spearhead obviously).
- Third Auton
What the fuck are you on about, you retard? This doesn't make any sense at all!
- Mick Gair