At points watching this episode I bad temperedly reflected that all the flashy direction and bafflegab just got in the way. If Graham Williams’ mantra was ‘it’s all about telling stories, nothing else matters’ then JNT’s might be “No-one cares about the story as long as it looks pretty”. That’s overly harsh: there are flashes of brilliance in this, the best being the Doctor seeing his aged reflection in the mirrored surface of the recreation generator, and the secondary meaning of ‘recreation generator’ itself. The chittering Foamasi look good in close up (I’m less sure of their ambling walk). And I love the realisation that ‘Pangol’s very young and everyone else is old’ – it’s a great “hidden in plain sight” reveal that Bidmead re-uses in Castrovalva.
The best thing about this is Adrienne Corri, whose dignified, detailed performance is the best guest star turn in ages. Her stricken look as the aged Doctor exits the generator, as she mourns not just for him and herself, but the lost hope of Argolis, is wrenching. And the way she depicts Mena’s rapid decline from the Thatcherite down-to-business woman of Part One to the terminally ill old lady of Part Three is masterful. Her relationship with Hardin gives some much-needed heart to a story that’s otherwise lacking much human interest. By way of contrast, David Haig’s performance is an early example of how he’s brilliant at playing entirely hateable and charmless characters, particularly when Pangol starts gloating jingoism in front of his dying mother figure.
So, I think on balance this has lots of good elements (there’s an early side-eye at Thatcherism: ‘private enterprise is irrepressible’) that, like the vocals an over-produced Eighties song, get lost in the mix. There are moments where Peter Howell’s music becomes noisier and more overwhelming than anything in the 21st Century series, and where the visuals don’t help to tell the story (if you don’t know what’s going on, the cliffhanger is almost baffling).
Next episode: The Leisure Hive – Part Four