"I'm a sort of temporary civil servant?"
"Broadly speaking, yes. How do you like the idea?
Nice use of stock footage for the story title! We're now fully settled in to the new era; the sight of the Doctor driving along in Bessie whilst singing to the background of yet another industrial complex is already beginning to seem very traditional indeed.
We have a new writer for this story, Don Houghton, and an actor we've never seen before, Christopher Benjamin. I wonder whether he'll get to play any iconic characters in future?
The story certainly ticks all the appropriate boxes to belong in this season. Stahlman is an example of a character type we've come to know well both this season and in the still recent Troughton base-under-sieges. He and the Doctor quickly establish an adversarial relationship which is most enjoyable to watch.
The TARDIS console is looking rather tatty, mind. And it's green. Also- "megga volts"?
"You, sir, are a nitwit!"
It's slowly dawned on me that some of these actors are rather familiar- Derek Newark, Za himself, is playing a different character as Greg Sutton. And we have Walter Randall back as well!
More good Doctor / Stahlman sparring this episode. Plus our first incidence of "Venusian karate"!
"But I don't exist in your world."
"Then you won't feel the bullets when we shoot you."
Things start getting really good here as we start to explore this fascist alternate world. Our first sign that something is wrong is a rather Orwellian poster proclaiming that "Unity is Strength", but more shocking is the sight of Liz in a military uniform shopping the Doctor to the Brigade Leader, with his eyepatch and no moustache. This is extremely well done, and the different performances are especially good, although the apparent duelling scar over the Brigade Leader's eye is arguably one Nazi stereotype too far.
This is a very different world in lots of subtle ways- everyone's much more formally dressed (Greg Sutton particularly presents quite a contrast with his other self), and Sir Keith is killed. Although, if
This is a very hierarchical world, as demonstrated in the very different treatment Greg receives, and also a very sinister one. There are pictures of a dictator everywhere and the facility is a "scientific labour camp" making use of slave labour. Justice is harsh and arbitrary and those who make themselves unpopular can just disappear. Interestingly though,
The Doctor gets some outstanding dialogue here: "Can't shoot me until you've filled in all the forms. Is that it?"
"What did he do? Park in a restricted zone?"
More very effective world building stuff here; as Sutton, an engineer rather than "a good party member" is outspoken his probable fate is to "disappear". And in the meantime he's subject to periods in the "punishment cells". Meanwhile the Doctor is interrogated, suspected of involvement with a "crackpot free speech group", and told that if he convinces the counterpart Liz that he's a harmless crank he can "get away with a few years in a labour camp".
Of course, we eventually switch the focus to Stahlman's drilling, and as this is a parallel universe no one's survival is assured...
"It's marvellous, isn't it? The world's going up in flames and they're still playing at toy soldiers!"
This story essentially revolves around the idea of scientists meddling with forces they don't understand, but it's interesting that there's no explicitly environmental slant to this. In fact, in Greg Sutton we have an oil man who's presented unambiguously as a hero, which arguably would not happen today. Also notable is that, four stories into the new format, the writers are playing the alternate universe card. A sign that the Earhbound format is already proving a little restrictive.
Things are getting desperate here, and as doomsday approaches the fascist regime, established as a tyranny in previous episodes, is shown to be increasingly impotent in the face of the crisis, most notably by Sutton's increased outspokenness: "I'd like to know what your precious dictator can do for you now." On the other hand, the crisis, and the collapse of this society's rules, are bringing Greg and
Meanwhile, in "our" reality, Sir Keith's car crashes...
"What did you expect? Some kind of space rocket with Batman at the controls?"
We don't know what's happened to Sir Keith, of course. Is he definitely dead...?
In another reality, the apocalypse is here and Camfield shows it very well, with even the blatant use of stock footage of a volcano managing to look acceptable in context. This Brigade Leader is a nasty piece of work, and Courtney is excellent in playing his increased desperation and bullying as power gradually leaks away from him.
"Nothing like a nice happy ending, is there?"
Back in our universe, the project is not so far advanced, and Sir Keith is alive. Apparently, this means that "Free will is not an illusion after all". This seems to mean that alternate realities infer different decisions being made, resulting in divergences. But surely that's pretty much implicit in the concept anyway, given the differences between the two realities?
A good ending, nicely parallel to events we've already seen. Plus we get more Venusian karate. I'm not sure about the ending though- the Doctor's being just a little too rude to the Brigadier here.
We finish with Liz laughing. No doubt she'll be back next series...
That was great, 5/5. good characters, good concepts, good directing and performances, and a story that genuinely felt it needed seven episodes. A strong ending to a strong season, which at exactly 4/5 holds joint first place with Season Five.