This is a rare story that gets more interesting as it goes along. The Tribe of the Sevateem stuff was fine, but I felt like it ran out of puff well before the end of the second episode. Whereas this, although it probably includes one corridor scene too many (and Leela getting possessed twice, which is weak as water), is filled with great character moments and wit, and ends up as the most compelling Hinchcliffe finale since Genesis of the Daleks.
Tom Baker is brilliant in this: on the cusp of his Marmite excesses in future seasons, he’s still got some of the moodiness he showed with Sarah Jane (there’s an edge when he tells Xoanon ‘I don’t think anyone could have made [my mistake]’), but generally plays this very light. And possibly despite himself, makes a convincing double act with Jameson. Their little business where he takes her last chocolate, the moment where she loses patience with his flippant comments about Xoanon’s dinner parties, and their sofa chat with the cured supercomputer are all wonderful. It helps that the characterisation of the Doctor has more effort put into it than just leaving Baker to work it out. He cures Xoanon rather than confusing it into exploding, which is the standard conclusion to these sort of stories. And when the time comes to work out what happens next, he’s not interested: ‘That’s not my problem,’ he says, and he’s gone.
The story is set up for it to be Leela’s problem. The Tribe nominate her as leader of the new united Sevateem and Tesh. But she rejects it and runs off after the Doctor instead. Even then, the audience is primed for the Doctor to give her a pep talk and for her to go and be the Mordee Queen. But Leela has more agency than pretty much any companion we’ve yet met. Instead, she steals a Time Lord and his TARDIS so she can go and see the universe.
This is very good. Some of the lines in this are brilliantly quotable (the ‘very powerful and the very stupid’ witticism is rightly praised, and also sounds exactly like something Avon might say in Blake’s 7). The action, too, works well: the Doctor gets a very brutal-looking scrap with a Tesh guard. It is quite a bold reformatting of the series, though. For the first time since 1969, the Doctor has no ties to contemporary Earth. Over the past two and a half seasons UNIT, the Brigadier and Sarah Jane have been removed bit by bit. This is all Hinchliffe’s now. We won’t get another ‘girl next door’ regular until 1982. This could be quite liberating, but could also make the series feel a bit rootless and disconnected. For the rest of the Tom Baker years it’s extra-terrestrials all the way.
Next episode: The Robots of Death