‘They’re all dead, you know.’ After the survival horror of Part Three, this is more like the last episode of Robot, with the clock ticking down to Armageddon while the Doctor tries to come up with a solution to the inhuman menace. It gives it a bit more urgency, even if the solution was heavily signposted in the first episode, and a huge amount of this one seems to consist of people getting leg ups. To be fair after moaning about it in the first episode, the floodlighting is really only a huge issue on the bridge set: I still think they could have turned them down, but once the attack on the base begins there’s some effort to generate some atmosphere.
‘Bring forth the cutting device.’ Even though the set designs look like Princess Leia’s spaceship in Star Wars, I think this is going for a sort of 1980s horror vibe. Replace the shuffling Sea Devils with equally shuffling zombies overrunning a military base and you have half the plot of a Romero movie. In a zombie horror, the traitors Nilson and Solow would cause the complications that allow the zombies into the base – here, they’re little more than local colour, although the warring human power blocs must surely be meant to contrast with the unity between the ‘blood-related comrades’ Silurians and Sea Devils. It’s not just a continuity fetish team-up, it has some relevance to the themes of the piece.
‘Release the Myrka!’ I remember watching this episode as a kid and being really excited about the Myrka. I can still access the thrill of seeing it smashing through the airlock door, head glimpsed through the torn metal. Obviously now, after years of hearing it be the butt of jokes, I can also see it’s a clumsily finished and ridiculous pantomime dinosaur. However, maybe I’m over-generous because of fond childhood memories, but I don’t think it’s any less credible than Erato, the Mara or the Skarasen. It definitely did the job for this kid.
‘It concerns me that they did not wake up as we planned in the first place.’ My eyes! It’s tedious to point it out, but Sea Base Four is so over-lit it’s almost painful. And, when the TARDIS is also a brightly-lit white space it doesn’t provide much in the way of interesting contrast. The show’s got this right recently (even in stuff like Four to Doomsday), so I don’t buy the argument that there was nothing to be done – particularly since, when the bridge goes into Missile Run mode, the lighting’s turned down and the atmosphere immediately improves by a corresponding amount.
‘How long before I must retire, my work half done? If I could continue…’ This was the first Doctor Who I had on video (recorded off air, including the Children In Need links). In Special Edition form it was the first DVD I owned. I’ve read the novelisation numerous times. It introduced me to the first four Doctors. It’s impossible for me to be objective about The Five Doctors, because I love it more than any other episode.
‘I’ve had quite enough of you, whoever you are.’ A red-letter episode because this is the first Doctor Who I can remember watching. Specifically, the Doctor battling the Master for control of Kamelion, and the continuity announcer who upset me by announcing this was “the last in the series – and now A Question of Sport” (I had no concept of TV seasons at that young age). As such, this has a special place in my heart.
‘Fortunately we are in England.’ Like the first episode of Black Orchid, this is a fairly harmless bit of whimsy which pulls on Merrie England and Bad King John stereotypes well enough while introducing a mystery for the Doctor to solve. The location filming looks very pretty (and damp), the sets and costumes are all very nice (including a preview of Fielding’s Season 21 look), the performances are all pretty good, the Doctor gets to be a swashbuckling hero (although I don’t get why he decides to leave the TARDIS when he can see lots of angry knights outside). If it weren’t for Sir Gilles Estram, this would be a pleasant, undemanding diversion.
‘Back to your echoing void, back to the vastness of eternity.’ It’s easy to focus on the final scene, but it’s just summing up the themes of the story: no-one should have total power, neither the icy Striker, the fiery Wrack, nor any of the Eternals. The Doctor’s defeat of Wrack puts paid to the Black Guardian’s plan to unleash the Eternals’ amorality across time and plunge the Universe into chaos, and his rejection of Enlightenment is a restatement of his basic morality – he wants to see the Universe, not to rule it.
‘He’s made the choice.’ The pace quickens but only slightly: this is a script that’s not afraid to take its time and tell a fairly linear story. After several serials where multiple storylines have seemed randomly shoved together, that’s not a bad thing. The scope widens to encompass the Buccaneer and its madly cackling Captain Wrack – making Lynda Baron the second camp grand dame to be a spaceship captain in the penultimate story of a Davison season.
‘It’s as though someone’s been rummaging around in my memories.’ This really does feel like a Hartnell throwback, with a romantic sub-plot for Tegan, and the Doctor, on the moral high ground, confronting Striker and the Eternals’ dependence on ephemeral minds to fuel their own existence. The episode isn’t packed with incident, but it’s full of ideas and character – the opposite of the “and then this happened and then this happened” approach that’s often the nature of scripts during this period.