As the ominous (and brilliant) title suggests, this is a much more serious proposition than last week’s episode as things take a decidedly grim turn for the TARDIS crew. Between murderous Daleks, ravenous Mire Beasts and Quisling Aridians, this has a greater sense of urgency and danger than anything since the last Dalek story.
That’s not to say it’s humourless: Ian and Vicki make quite an entertainingly catty double act. ‘Don’t just stand there and scream you little fool,’ he snaps at her. She gets her own back moments later: ‘Don’t just stand there gaping, you nit.’ More evidence that Vicki’s the best companion yet.
Elsewhere, there’s some lovely character moments for Barbara and the Doctor. As she frets about Ian’s fate, an oddly chipper Doctor tries to keep her spirits up by talking up Ian’s survival instinct. But once he’s cheered her up and she gets some rest, we glimpse his real concern. Later, when the Aridians reveal that the Daleks have given them an ultimatum to hand over the time traveller or die, the Doctor grimly accepts their inevitable choice.
The Aridians aren’t particularly successful aliens – but they’re one of the show’s few attempts to do a Star Trek funny forehead and ears. Their backstory of a civilisation brought down by climate change is vaguely interesting, and helps explain their fatalistic tendencies. The Mire Beasts are more successful – the scene of one of them chowing down on a screaming Aridian as Barbara desperately tries to save him, and the Doctor roughly pulls her away, is pretty nasty.
Between all the other aliens, the Daleks are neatly rationed, posing a threat that’s greater than anything else on the planet. Temporarily foiled by the TARDIS’ ability to withstand anything they throw at it, they revert to being manipulative plotters rather than just an overwhelming firepower. With their new solar panel midriffs they’ve basically hit the design they’ll keep for the rest of the series, and it’s really good – although the reduced ‘bumper’ means that you can occasionally glimpse the operators feet as they scuttle across the sand.
The episode really benefits from some excellent set designs in the Aridian cities – cavernous, and decaying. With plenty of clear and present danger (as opposed to the slightly more nebulous peril of The Space Museum), and ending with the Daleks promising to pursue the TARDIS through all eternity, this feels like the show stepping up a gear.
Next episode: Flight Through Eternity