Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Doctor Who: Meglos

Part One

“He sees the threads that join the universe together, and mends them when they break.”

And here it is- drumroll please- the very last time during this marathon I’ll be watching a story for the first time! Well, apart from K-9 and Company. But that’s not technically Doctor Who and this is. So, the pressure’s on. It’s going to be a good ‘un, right? He asked, rhetorically. Smell that dramatic irony…

Anyway, an alien planet. A familiar-looking science v. religion subplot, which is fine as long as it’s going to be a bit of texture rather than the main focus. And then- OMG it’s Jacqueline Hill! Never have I been more pleased to see a guest performer. And she’s fantastic.

The whole thing between the Deons and the scientists is actually quite well done- the scientists are clearly right about everything, but they’re also insufferably arrogant and boringly dressed, while the Deons may be completely deluded about everything but they’re eloquent, with cool clothes and a poetic turn of phrase, hinting that their beliefs, however absurd, have given birth to a lot of great art and culture. This is a nice balance: the script sides firmly alongside science as you’d expect from Doctor Who, but still allowing its opponents to have dignity. Oh, and Jacqueline Hill is great as Lexa, and I probably wouldn’t have read all that into the situation if not for her magnificent performance.

Incidentally, the quote I used up at the top there made me grin, as I recognised it from somewhere in the text of Peter Haining’s 25 Glorious Years, a book which gave me a great deal of pleasure when I was 12. A less welcome recognition was the Doctor’s question mark lapels, which I noticed for the first time. I hope they get rid of them quickly, and don’t keep them around for, say, six years or something.

Things take a worryingly silly turn with the appearance of Meglos and a human, transported across the universe for some reason. Worryingly because, silly though all this is, it’s being played dead straight, which instantly feels wrong.

Part Two

“I thought for one awful moment you’d forgotten your lines.”

Also worrying is that it’s the start of part two and the Doctor and Romana haven’t even left the TARDIS yet. The whole chronic hysteresis is a mildly entertaining bit of filler, but it’s pretty much there to slow the story down so things can happen elsewhere. And it’s not the last time this sort of thing happens either.

Still, eventually not only does the TARDIS land but Romana actually changes her clothes. But things take an even more distressing turn, as Meglos disguises himself as the Doctor and it becomes obvious that the Doctor’s going to be accused of things he didn’t do. Oh dear! I really hate it when that sort of thing happens in a drama- it’s not tense or exciting, just frustrating. And, in this case, yet another means of slowing the story down.

Worse of all, Lexa’s means of sacrificing the Doctor is too similar to Underworld for comfort, what with the ropes being burned by flames, although actually that’s next episode. Still, let’s not get carried away- this story’s nowhere near as bad as that, merely the epitome of meh. Besides, Jacqueline Hill’s still in it and she’s still brilliant.

Part Three

“…Or is it this way?”

Whatever the faults of the story itself this is very well-made, again looking much better than anything from the previous couple of seasons. This is possibly the finest alien jungle since Planet of Evil. And Jacqueline Hill is great.

The bit with Romana tricking her captors into walking into the Venus flytrap thing is entertaining, but yet again it’s basically there to keep a major character away from the main plot while things happen elsewhere. And, come to think of it, the same could be said of the whole bit with the Doctor’s accusation and attempted sacrifice. Although at least we also got a cliffhanger out of that.

Part Four

“Haven’t I seen you somewhere before?”

Suddenly- too suddenly- everybody believes the Doctor again. And just as suddenly we’re all off to Zolfa-Thura. And Jacqueline Hill’s character is dead, albeit nobly sacrificing herself. Noooo!

Very quickly it’s clear what this story is actually about: Meglos wants to steal a Macguffin. That’s it. There are no underlying themes or anything, not even the science versus religion thing, which is far too perfunctory to count. It all ends just as perfunctorily, but Romana’s just been called to Gallifrey- perhaps not too surprisingly given how she came to be aboard the TARDIS. What’s going to happen now.

Well… that passed the time, I suppose. I mean, it wasn’t actively painful to watch or anything. But it was littler more than a Children’s BBC style generic sci-fi runaround, and it just wasn’t about anything.
It says a lot about this story that the “Earthling”, whose presence could have done with a bit more explanation, didn’t even have a name. To be fair, it feels as though this story was originally designed as a shape around which a lot of Season 17 type silliness was to have been fitted,-which I can imagine working, actually- but the new regime vetoed all that, leaving us with this odd beast of a story that refuses to have any fun with its own silliness. Still, Jacqueline Hill was in it, and she’s great. 2/5.

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