The beginning of this episode is pretty much the grimmest Doctor Who ever got. ‘You animal,’ screams Steven as Kirksen drags Katarina into an airlock and demands that the Spar is diverted to Kembel to seek the help of the Daleks. Faced with this, even Vyon dithers, while the Doctor demands they go back to Kembel. The argument, the chaos, clear in the short surviving clips – Steven rushing desperately back and forth, a furious Doctor slapping the controls, Vyon hunched over, hatchet faced – show that the audience is thrown straight into the drama. But Katarina saves all their skins by sacrificing herself. It’s the most dramatic companion exit so far – although Katarina’s really only been a background character – and it sets the tone for an episode that raises the stakes both for this story, and for what Doctor Who can do. It’s also amusing that the Doctor mourns Katarina – who’s been with him for about a day – almost exactly as much as he later does Adric.
At first, it seems like Katarina’s death will unbalance the episode – starting with that climax, where is there left to go? Scenes of the Daleks squabbling with their allies are becoming par for the course. However, it’s interesting to see Mavic Chen back on Earth and in his element. Surrounded by smug technocrats such as Lizan and Karlton, Chen’s exceptional nature stands out even more. Unlike most of the humans, he has wry humour, a sense of irony, and a lust for power. In a couple of short scenes we’re left with a sense why he is the Guardian of the Solar System, and the scale of his treachery – not only selling out Earth, but also manipulating the alliance to put himself right alongside the Daleks.
Elsewhere, the Spar has also returned to Earth. In a very Manchurian Candidate moment, Vyon is trying to set up a secret meeting with Daxtar, his contact at the experimental station. In a tiresome ‘but we never told you…’ Daxtar is revealed as yet another traitor, and Vyon shoots him dead. ‘You brainless idiot! How many times have I told you about taking lives? We have other ways and means of dealing with evil doers,’ rages the Doctor.
As the tension and suspicion ratchets up, cracks are appearing on both sides of the galaxy. On Kembel, Trantis has been implicated in the theft of the Taranium Core. He tries to desperately pin the blame on Chen, and the Daleks bide their time. On Earth, Chen has dispatched one of his moth ruthless security agents, Sara Kingdom (cue Roger Moore ‘a woman’ GIF), to retrieve the core. The final moments of the episode see the two agents come face to face: Vyon, desperate to unveil Chen’s treachery; Sara equally keen to punish Vyon for allegedly betraying Earth.
And shockingly, the episode ends with Vyon being gunned down. The man who told the Doctor to ‘shut up’, calmly stole the Guardian of the Solar System’s spaceship, and looked like this adventure’s heroic foil for the Doctor, is dead. That’s how you top Katarina’s death. And with that double whammy, the rug is well and truly pulled from under us. After The Traitors, it really seems like anything could happen.
Next episode: Counter Plot