And after four weeks of playing with us, everyone finally arrives in Atlantis, and the story immediately improves. It’s still by no means very good, but the location is colourful, the cod-Shakespearean hamminess is more watchable than the gratingly arch performances back in the 20th Century, and finally the story seems to be about something – the Master corrupting a civilisation to get his hands on their secret treasure – rather than the baffling stream of consciousness we had in the earlier parts. This is now more like The Underwater Menace, with the Master in the Zaroff role. And the fact that this is a good thing says pretty much everything about the story so far.
Freed from the need to include whimsical contemporary banter, Sloman’s dialogue improves as well, with some neatly grandiose turns of phrase that could come from Tolkien (Dalios is the ‘King of the Ten Kings’). Once again, he chucks away some really quite nice ideas as if he’s Bob Baker and Dave Martin, such as the Doctor’s disembodied voice telepathically directing Jo to pilot the TARDIS (she can also hear his subconscious thoughts). Pertwee’s scene with George Cormack, as King Dalios, is very well done. However, it can’t hold a candle to the Master’s parallel conversation with the Queen.
Ingrid Pitt is introduced stroking her pussy as her décolletage heaves , and is immediately taken with the swarthy stranger who arrives ‘as an emissary from the gods’. Dalios sees straight through the Master’s tricks, but the Queen is enticed. Interestingly, the Master seems equally taken. Their later conversation, in her bedchamber, is astonishing:
MASTER: I am going to possess it.
QUEEN: Not without my consent.
MASTER: Of course not. But I am confident that you will give it.
They are, of course, talking about the Crystal of Kronos, but this is barely subtext. Ingrid Pitt is astonishing. One of the most charismatic screen presences of the 1970s, she lifts the episode. Her acting choices sell the Queen both as an imperious and haughty trophy consort, and a scheming woman who has worked hard for her position. Introduced to Jo, who is neither a servant or subject and therefore beyond her frame of reference, she plays the Queen’s uncertainty beautifully. She gossips with her handmaiden Lakis (played, unbelievably, by Susan Penhaligon), has a tiff with her old flame Hippias (who remembers ‘The woman, not the queen’), and seduces Delgado. It’s quite baffling that this larger-than-life Queen of Atlantis should be more human and relatable than anyone we met in the present-day part of the story.
Next episode: The Time Monster – Episode Six