I was expecting to find this one a chore, so I’m delighted that it’s very tolerable. The Shadow is a brilliant villain. He lacks the verve of Count Grendel or Vivien Fay, but makes up for it with a gloriously moist and menacing voice, and a very poetic turn of phrase: ‘Your jackdaw meanderings’; ‘there is a want of patience in your nature’. His willingness to sit and wait for a thousand years for the Doctor to eventually make a mistake makes his monstrousness a cut above anything we’ve seen since Sutekh. His torture of Astra is cruel in a way the show rarely is in this iteration. And he looks pretty grisly as well – although I’m not sure why they didn’t just bring back the Master to be the Doctor’s dark mirror (I’m much more convinced this is the crispy Master in a mask than I am the War Chief is actually a pre-Delgado regeneration).
The Shadow is just the best bit of a good episode, though. As a Babylon 5 fan, I enjoyed the idea of the Zeon fleet giving up at their moment of victory because a prophecy has come to pass: ‘The war has served its purpose as you have served yours’. Elsewhere, this is more Star Trek than Star Wars, with Mentalis a (very prettily designed) rogue computer that is ‘just doing its job’ by wiping out all life. It’s a sort of fun reveal, although after The Hand of Fear revealed the Kastrians were all dust and only a computer was running things, and Underworld revealed that the Oracle had gone mad and taken control of the P7E’s descendants it’s becoming a bit of a Bob Baker and Dave Martin stock twist. And the scenes of K9 bleeping at Mentalis before slowly trundling across the floor seem to last about a week and kill the episode’s momentum.
While Tom gets a great confrontation scene with the Shadow, and K9 and Mentalis burble away, Romana isn’t forgotten. She gets to formulate a plan to pilot the TARDIS to rescue the Doctor, tells Merak she’ll explain later, and uses some sort of Venusian aikido on him to get the tracer back. It’s a shame Tamm had become bored by the show just at the point where the scripts are making Romana quite different from previous companions (although good for Ward, who gets to pretty much start with this generally very competent and unflappable persona). Points off Dudley Simpson though for the silly comedy music that accompanies Shapp, and makes the Terry Scott style performance look even dafter.
Next episode: The Armageddon Factor – Part Four