Sunday, 11 October 2009

Doctor Who: Mawdryn Undead

Part One

“Don’t you know anything?”

It’s great to get a genuinely strange opening to a story for the first time in ages. We have two public schoolboys- this somehow seems so very early 80s- TWOCing an old car. One of them, “Hippo” Ibbotson, is your standard Billy Bunter type, but the other, Turlough, is a devious character with a mysterious background. The car crashes, and Turlough accepts a Faustian pact from none other than the Black Guardian- he’s to be taken away from Earth if he agrees to kill the Doctor. Oh, and the Black Guardian is now wearing a bird on his head. Very fetching.

And if that’s not enough, the car turns out to belong to the Brigadier himself. Yay!

To the TARDIS, and while Nyssa is again wearing a different set of clothes, Tegan is still wearing what she’s had on since Arc of Infinity.

Aside from the welcome reappearances from Nicholas Courtney and Valentine Dyall (not that we saw much of him in The Armageddon Factor), it’s also good to see Angus MacKay again as the headmaster. Good to see they’re maintaining the Who tradition of using the word “transmat”, too.

A nice line from the Brig, who we are soon to discover has lost bits of his memory: “Take it from me, boy- a solid object can’t just dematerialise!”

Part Two

“Well, well. So you’ve done it again, Doctor.”

The TARDIS has gone, and the Doctor is stranded. Meanwhile, Nyssa and Tegan seem to be in the same place, yet the Doctor is nowhere to be seen. Or is he? Because both of them immediately seem to think that the weird decaying bloke they see in the TARDIS is the Doctor, in spite of his not looking or acting remotely like him.

Meanwhile, the Brig still can’t remember much. He recalls that Benton left the army in ’79 and is now selling second hand cars, and that Harry Sullivan has been seconded to NATO. He can’t remember who the Doctor is, though, and doesn’t seem to have heard of Liz, Jo, or Sarah. There’s one slight problem here, of course. Pyramids of Mars clearly states that Sarah (and thus the whole UNIT lot) comes from 1980, yet the Brig says he retired in 1976. There’s no way round that: continuity is broken! Ah well, it took twenty years to do it, which is not bad. The moral here, I think, is only refer to continuity if there’s a need to and if you know what you’re doing, or this kind of mistake is bound to occur. The way things have been going the last few stories, with the increased number of often gratuitous references to the past, it was pretty much inevitable that something like this would happen.

None of which means I’m not enjoying this story, mind. In spite of the continuity bombs the whole structure of it all, with the two separate time zones separated by the ship, feels very fresh and different. And there’s the odd bit of clever misdirection, such as Turlough’s apparent confiding in the headmaster until he turns out to be the Black Guardian. Plus, I love the bit where the Brig surprises Tegan by instantly getting her reference to the TARDIS.

Part Three

“If I reverse the polarity of the neutron flow…”

Oh dear, two Brigs aboard the ship! The Doctor’s even mentioned the Blinovitch Limitation Effect- that’s how serious it is.

I love the way the (moustache-sporting) Brig instantly takes charge in 1977.

In fact, Nicholas Courtney really is fantastic throughout. It’s a great episode mainly because there are two Brigs and it’s a joy seeing how both of them react. All this’d stuff with Mawdryn and co wanting to die is a bit morbid, though.

Part Four

“It would mean the end of me as a Time Lord!”

Bit of an ineffective cliffhanger, that. Especially as the Doctor has yet to explain what he’s talking about. And even when he has done, the nature of the threat itself is just a little too continuity-heavy, relying as it does on the Doctor’s remaining regenerations being forfeit. Can’t we just have the current Doctor being the Doctor, as things used to be in the fairly recent past?

The two Brigs, inevitably, meet, this resolves the plot, and the Doctor “will explain later”. I’m guessing Steven Moffat is a particular fan of this era, as the Doctor has been saying he’ll explain later a lot recently.
Turlough’s on board, joking that he’s “not that easy to get rid of.” “So it seems.” says Tegan, exactly paralleling the Doctor’s reaction to her own rejoining in Arc of Infinity. TARDIS crew as dysfunctional as ever, then. Especially with the small point that the new companion seems top want to actually kill the Doctor…

That was a good ‘un. I’m starting to get a bit concerned about the excess of baggage from the show’s past, mind, as this could lead to the show becoming too backward-looking, but that’s not really a dig at this particular story, more a long term trend. This was good, using the time travel concept creatively, using the Brig well, and starting an intriguing new arc with Turlough and the Black Guardian. A good 4/5.

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