Doctor Who episode 88: Small Prophet, Quick Return (23/10/1965)
The humour of last week’s episode is sustained here – and importantly unlike most ‘comic’ Doctor Who, it is actually funny, rather than occasionally raising a smile every once in a while.
Having introduced the Greek camp last time, this episode focuses on Troy. As King Priam, Max Adrian is giving essentially the same performance that he’ll do in Up Pompeii, and it’s very funny. It’s notable that his son, Paris (a cute performance by Barrie Ingham) is as wet as Ludicrus’s son in Up Pompeii; while his daughter Cassandra (May to December’s Miss Flood) is as miserable a soothsayer as Senna. Their family squabbling is marvellous. Though acerbic to his irritating children, Priam is kindly, almost grandfatherly towards Vicki, much as the Doctor is. However, he also treats death with a sort of weary lightness – threatening Vicki (or Cressida, as he decides to call her) with death if it pleases him.
This careless attitude towards death infests both sides involved in the 10-year war. Having established that he is not, in fact, a god but a time traveller, Odysseus is as quick to threaten the Doctor with execution unless he comes up with a plan to conquer the Trojans. I like how Cotton plays with the ideas of foreknowledge and prophecy by having both the Doctor and Vicki (much to Cassabdra’s outrage) uncharacteristically, but independently reveal they are from the future, as if their experiences with the Monk have made them a bit more relaxed about secrecy. Still, both seem nervous about affecting the past – the Doctor is especially keen not to ‘invent’ the idea of the Trojan Horse. The story seems to be setting up the idea that the two will be working at cross purposes (the Doctor ‘creating’ history as he did in The Romans, while Vicki inadvertently threatens to derail it), which is as interesting as the regulars’ conflict in The Aztecs, or the Doctor’s encounter with the Monk. This is shaping up to be one of the best serials yet.
Next episode: Death of a Spy
Small Prophet, Quick Return no longer exists. Not in any of its regenerations. This review is courtesy of the excellent BBC Radio soundtrack.