It’s hard to judge this story, set on my own home planet. People ask me – is that what Gallifrey is really like? Where are all the women? Why is everyone so old? Why does it seem so much like Earth? How come Keanu Reaves doesn’t appear in the Matrix?
|The Master's facelift went horribly wrong.|
Whilst all are interesting questions to a certain degree, the only one I care to address is the idea that Gallifrey is too much like Earth. Look, this story was made by humans, Earthlings. Naturally this is going to colour the way Gallifrey is represented. Humans see and imagine through human eyes. There are women on Gallifrey too, even if not one single woman appears on screen throughout the four episodes.
|Tom looks spiffing in Time Lord attire.|
The story begins with a little introduction read by Tom Baker as the words scroll over the screen. Already we know we are in for something different. The first time a story on the Doctor’s home planet has been attempted. No companion to speak of. Most characters are old men. Episode three seems to very separate from the rest of the story, set in the matrix and shot on film by the director David Maloney. Quite a violent, and criticised for it, episode indeed. This and ‘The Brain of Morbius’ have to be the most violent Doctor Who stories so far. They actual hold on a shot of the Doctor being drowned as the cliff hanger for episode three. This viewer, in light of it being a children’s show, thinks that was going too far.
|Three cheers for Bernard!|
The matrix is full of clowns, samurais, old planes, trains and Doctors. The thing is though, these are Goth’s (the Time Lord working for the Master) creations, not the Doctor’s, so why are they so Earthy? They make a gripping episode with very little dialogue, don’t get me wrong, but they don’t make a lot of sense.
The return of the Master is an inetersting choice. Fair enough that they had left the character for a few years after Delgado’s sad death, here the Master is a living but rotting corpse, brilliantly relised by design and very very scary. Peter Pratt ‘s voice is wonderful too, but the Master faces a somewhat convoluted plot. Using Goth to become President so he could get the sash to allow him to open the Eye of Harmony, his plan changes when Goth fails. He fakes his own death to be put with the bodies in a room adjoining the Panopticon (where sits the Eye of Harmony), he is able to take the sash off the dead President’s body and enact his plan to open the eye and destroy Gallifrey. Except, he’s sneaking in and out of the Panopticon at will throughout the first two episodes! Why didn’t he just do that in the first place?
|The controversial shot at the end of episode three.|
The Doctor is set up for the murder of the President. A clever idea nicked from ‘The Manchurian Candidate’, in Robert Holmes’ script, with the assassination and trial taking up episodes one and two. Episode three is in the matrix as the Doctor and Goth fight it out, and episode four is the aftermath as the Master tricks everyone and almost destroys Gallifrey. As with ‘The Hand of Fear’, four distinct chapters. More clearly so this time. THAT works well, as does the casting.
Bernard Horsfall, veteran now of four Who tales, finally gets to play a villain and is perfect as the desperate Goth. The other principle aside from Horsfall and Pratt are Angus Mackay as the hard to like Borusa, George Pravda (returning after appearing in ‘The Enemy of the World’ and ‘The Mutants’, and Eric Chitty (who appeared in ‘The Massacre’) as Engin. All were perfectly cast, a very very strong cast list. Tom Baker is stoic as always, with not a lot of humour for the Doctor in this story.
It all comes together very nicely for an exciting story, not nearly as much fun though, very apocalyptic and grand.