‘You’re stuck with me aren’t you.’ Much as I’m not a fan of “shipping” there’s plenty here to keep the Nyssa/Tegan slash fanciers going, particularly Nyssa’s delight when she realises Tegan is still alive, and evident excitement to see her friend again. The Doctor seems less delighted – the final shot, of his barely-concealed disappointment at regaining Tegan as a travelling companion is very funny indeed, even if I can’t imagine any other period of the show suggesting the Doctor likes his friends so little.
This is funny all round, actually. The Doctor looking for clues in a phone book – then asking a put-upon Nyssa for cash is brilliant. I enjoyed Davison’s performance in Season 19, but this is a leap forward. He’s more confident and relaxed; there’s none of the nervous hand acting or slightly studied mannerisms of the last year. He’s commanding without being domineering: he shouts at Nyssa when she challenges the wisdom of confronting Omega in the Matrix, and has a single-minded determination to capture Omega when he flees through Amsterdam.
These scenes add some much-needed pace and drama to the story’s climax. Davison dashes about with Tegan and Nyssa following in his wake, hunting down a rapidly-degenerating Omega in scenes lifted from Frankenstein and The Quatermass Xperiment. They knock over a lady who drops her shopping everywhere, and dash off, apologetically; they encounter the Amstertrams, don’t stop to help a man, and corner Omega by a canal. It’s hardly the most exotic setting, but it shows off some of the sights of the city reasonably well.
It’s no masterpiece, but this is far and away the best episode of the serial. I think that’s largely because the tiresome Gallifrey elements are kept to a minimum, and the plot – at least in this episode – is understandable. It’s a pity more wasn’t made of Davison as the transformed Omega (he’s dubbed by Ian Collier, and doesn’t get to perform the final scenes), but he gets the best moment as he smiles down at a boy watching a music show, and we get a sneak preview of The Caves of Androzani when he looks down at his blistering hands.
On the whole, this is a miss. The script is unclear when it needs to be sharp, the first couple of episodes drift without engaging the audience in well-defined stakes, and Byrne never comes up with a satisfying explanation for Tegan’s reappearance. It’s exacerbated by largely flaccid direction and guest performances that, outside of Collier, Gough and Baker, do nothing to make bland, lifeless characters any more interesting. Once again, having chided Nyssa for doing it, the Doctor resorts to running round with a gun which makes him look like a hypocrite. But underneath all that, Davison’s performance and a TARDIS team that at least largely wants to be together is a promising turn up after Season 19.
Next episode: Snakedance