Doctor Who episode 542: Warriors’ Gate – Part One (3/1/1981)
For the most part, Doctor Who isn’t the kind of cerebral, “grown up” SF that the BBC occasionally dabbled in during the Sixties and Seventies – earlier Out of the Unknown, A for Andromeda, occasional Play for Todays kind of thing. But it can be. Warriors’ Gate is the convergence of Bidmead’s push to get “proper” high concept SF scripts and JNT’s push to bring in new production talent. Apparently it was a nightmare to make, but the result is a long way from the unsatisfactory clash of styles in The Leisure Hive.
You can tell this is consciously pitching for respectability because of the I-Ching sequence in the TARDIS, which is commenting on the themes of chance, of random occurrences that supposedly reveal a higher purpose. As they discuss coin tosses in the TARDIS, somewhere else in E-Space a Rosencrantz and Guildenstern pair are doing exactly that. An enslaved lion man visualises a wireframe of the TARDIS, and runs through the time winds into the Ship. The Doctor follows him to a ruined archway that’s bigger inside than it is out. The lion man runs through a mirror as the Doctor picks through the decaying remnants of a feast. It’s steeped in dreamy imagery, with special effects (like the falling coin toss) used as stylisation rather than for straight storytelling. Portentous or pretentious? It’s a matter of taste, but I think this is a worthwhile new approach.
The downside is if you’re not into the fancy tracking shots through the crippled spaceship, or the weirdness of the storytelling there’s not much here to grasp on to: it’s even more perplexing than the first episodes of The Celestial Toymaker or The Mind Robber, which at least made some attempt to explain what had happened to the TARDIS. Still, there are going to be a lot of what my dad might call airy-fairy stories like this in the next few years, so best get used to it. And at least the cliffhanger, with a medieval-looking robot springing to life, is reassuringly robust.
Next episode: Warriors’ Gate – Part Two
What could be more “Airy-Fairy” than an alien in a paradoxical police box travelling through time and space? An Unearthly Child (ep 1) must really have flummoxed the pragmatists in 1963. And later in 1981.