Thursday, 24 September 2009

Doctor Who: Logopolis

Part One

“I sometimes think I should run a tighter ship.”

We begin with what we assume to be the TARDIS, but it’s a real police box, in content. It’s surprisingly late for the show to be pulling this trick for the first time. But distracting from this somewhat is a “Take your litter home” sign placed right above a bin! We also get our first instance of the “not a real phone” situation. That worked quite well- perhaps it might be worth another go in, say, 24 years’ time?

Meanwhile the Doctor and Adric are wandering morosely around some part of the TARDIS we’ve never seen before, bedecked with gloomy tendrils of ivy which seem rather in keeping with the Doctor’s mood. The Doctor muses on the inevitability of entropy increasing on account of the Second Law of Thermodynamics… perhaps one of the more reactionary laws of physics? It is, of course, essentially what this entire season has been about, but it’s also a rather apposite metaphor for the Doctor’s fate. And, indeed, his mood.

We meet Tegan. And her Aunt Vanessa, who has a car with a choke, cos it’s 1981. Blimey, that reminds me of my early childhood, as Doctor Who is going to do rather often from now on. Anyway, Tegan wants to be an air hostess, and I’m sure she’ll get to London airport on time and definitely without anything bad happening. I like her- unlike Adric and, to get slightly ahead of ourselves, Nyssa, she has an actual personality.

The Doctor suddenly wants to repair the TARDIS’s “chameleon circuit” for some reason (it’s the first time it’s ever called that, right?), which apparently involves materialising around an actual police box and measuring it exactly so something called “block transfer computations” can be done on it. Fair enough, it seems to fit in with the story’s themes, but why is the Doctor suddenly doing this, exactly?

More continuity porn as we get another peek at Romana’s now deserted room and the Doctor refers to the fact the TARDIS has been stuck as a police box ever since it was in “a totter’s yard”. Apparently he should have waited for the “chameleon conversion” before leaving Gallifrey but “there were pressing reasons at the time”. Still, it seems he at least waited long enough for the TARDIS BBC micro to be installed.

One of the season’s more minor themes is referenced as the Doctor says that “The TARDIS and I are getting rather deter at these short hops.” But mainly it’s all doom and foreboding. Especially after the Doctor catches sight of the Watcher. Brrr.

Still, things soon perk up a bit as the TARDIS materialises around a police box which turns out to be another TARDIS. A bit of an homage to that rather fun and silly story The Time Monster then ensues as the Doctor and Adric walk from TARDIS to TARDIS, nicely balancing out the gloom and doom a bit.

There’s some more intentional but rather less successful comic relief thereafter as Tegan wanders into the TARDIS and asks to speak to the “pilot”. Er, why? Still, the cliffhanger’s a biggie: the Master’s at large. Which we, er, knew at the end of the last story anyway.

Oh, and it’s interesting that the Doctor only killed people by shrinking them in one story, Terror of the Autons, when he was Roger Delgado, but after The Deadly Assassin and now this it’s become a calling card.

Part Two

“I’ve just dipped into the future. We must be prepared for the worst.”

The Doctor has to jettison Romana’s room. How very symbolic. Now the Doctor’s even mardier than he was before, if that’s possible. Especially after her receives a message from Traken telling him that the Master’s escaped. How far we’ve come from the series’ origins- the Doctor is now receiving messages from the planet he just left. Apparently the Master knows exactly what the Doctor’s going to do because, bizarrely, “he’s a Time Lord- in many ways we have the same mind”. Er, is this an allusion to Gallifreyan telepathy or, as I suspect, is it just a lazy narrative shortcut?

Now the Doctor wants to “flush out” the Master by flooding the TARDIS. He’s now clearly gone beyond morose to suicidal. Poor Adric! Fortunately for the special effects budget, it doesn’t work. And the Doctor gets to have a proper chat with this Watcher fellow- a chat we’re not privy to, naturally. It doesn’t seem to cheer him up much.

We finally get to the much-heralded planet Logopolis, which in some bizarre fashion exactly resembles the video to David Bowie’s Ashes to Ashes. Tegan’s great during all this, demanding answers from the Doctor and actually intimidating him a bit. This elicits the only comic acting we see from Tom throughout this entire story, and for that I’ll be eternally grateful.

The Doctor, in another narrative shortcut, is expected on Logopolis, and indeed well known and trusted. They’re mathematicians who refuse to use computers (ah, traditional educational values!) and whose sums are capable of producing actual solid objects. More unexpected is the arrival of Nyssa, brought along by “a fiend of the Doctor.”

Part Three

“Our numbers were holding the universe together.”

The Watcher’s arrived on Logopolis. Ooh! Meanwhile, the Doctor’s in a spot of bother. Still, through a combination of Logopolitan ingenuity and the TARDIS mysteriously being much lighter than it was in Full Circle the problem is solved, but not before taking up half the episode so the plot can be rationed out more slowly. 

Still, this story may be overly serious by a long way and structured very oddly, but there’s no denying it’s crammed with great concepts. The conversation between the Monitor and Adric is great; the Logopolitans can’t use computers because their calculations affect the physical world and would therefore affect the computer. Only the living mind, for some reason, is immune. I’m not sure how all this works, but it’s great, a sort of Schrödinger’s cat as applied to mathematical calculation- a mind-blowing concept.

I’m still puzzled as to why the chameleon circuit needs fixing now, as you’d imagine the threat of the Master would be much more urgent. The bit with Tegan accusing the monitor of running a sweatshop is problematic too- it’s a nice character moment for her, but she doesn’t get anything like a satisfactory answer.
There’s something most effective and disturbing about the Master posing as Nyssa’s father- the fact he’s wearing Tremas’s body adds an extra level of cruelty and horror. But poor Nyssa’s day is going to get even worse…

The master has destroyed Logopolis, but knows not what he did, the plonker. Without Logopolis using its maths to open CVE’s into other universes to stave off the eventual heat death of the universe (there’s the ultimate in another theme of the season- procrastination!), our heroes are beset by the terrifying threat of entropy! Things are so bad that the Doctor and the Master are forced to work together. But not before the Doctor has a right whinge at his companions. He really is in a bit of a mood.

Part Four

“It’s the end. But the moment has been prepared for…”

A whirl of activity, as everyone heads to the real Pharos Project on Earth to do some sums and save the universe. Oh, the drama. The Doctor addresses the Master as “Master” here, which feels very wrong. I can’t remember him ever doing that before.

Entropy completely destroys Traken, which is truly horrible for Nyssa. It feels quite wrong to me how much the script underplays the horror of this- surely Nyssa should be traumatised?

We get a lot of tiresome running from guards, and then it’s time for the Master’s cringeworthy “Peoples of the universe…” broadcast, followed by the kind of villainous cackling that is the aural equivalent of moustache-twirling.. This is pure unintentional silliness, and in no way a threat worthy of this great era’s final moments. Fortunately, the build-up to the regeneration, the old clips, the revelation of the Watcher, and the effect of the regeneration itself, are all wonderful.

Well, that had loads of great concepts in it. But it seemed very oddly structured, in a way which was very aesthetically displeasing for me. Bidmead’s good on themes and concepts, but his grasp of character is no more than functional, and he seems to have little conception of the narrative beats needed to make a story exciting. And where was the action here? The ideas were good, but unfortunately a lot of the fundamental elements of Doctor Who scriptwriting are absent. So Tom’s era, perhaps the greatest of them all, finishes on an anti-climax. It just scrapes a 3/5 for the ideas and the development of the themes.

As for the season as a whole… an average of 3.429/5, which places it third from bottom. That’s a surprise, as the E-Space trilogy earned three 5/5s in a row from me, and there were a lot of good things about this season. But ultimately I think there was just too much that was po-faced, and not enough excitement or humour.

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