‘I want to hear them scream until I’m deaf with pleasure.’ This helps make more sense of the previous episode, has some good jokes, and treats the Doctor like the hero of his own series. As such, it’s the best sixth Doctor episode so far. Baker gets a good mix of material, confronting Quillam in a faux-polite sneering contest, and quickly discerning the reality of Sil’s motives and the situation on Varos through observation and a few well-chosen questions. ‘He smells the truth of things,’ the Chief says, with a shudder. I much prefer the Doctor being the one to give the monsters rather than his companion nightmares. Peri even gives him a hug.
In general, the good bits from last week are still all present and correct, and the bad bits are lower in the mix. Sil continues to be a superb creation, brought to life with weird quirks like his arm exercises when he’s waiting for a report, and his vanity when he envisages himself as Viceroy of Varos. ‘Water me,’ he squeals at his attendants – a line that’s tweaked and lifted (apt, that) for Lady Cassandra in The End of the World. There’s even an explanation for his on/off Yoda dialogue – an eccentric circuit in his language transposer.
Martin Jarvis also gets much more focus. The Governorship is revealed to be a position forced on him rather than sought out, making more sense of a society built around coercion, corruption and control – Venality on Varos if you like (references to the ‘Great Video’ and viewer reports help sketch in the wider world too). The Governor’s vestigial honesty and scruples mean he’s able to persuade Maldak to save him from dissolution. His clever manipulation of Sil, first to release him from their previous contractual stalemate, and then to demand a much fairer price for Varos’ precious resources, is a very satisfying turning of the tables – and one that depends on the Doctor’s own incisive intelligence and intervention to help carry off, as it should be.
The downside remains a script that feels like it needs another draft. The Thoros Betan invasion plot is entirely redundant: Sil organises it before he believes the Doctor and Peri to be agents of a rival corporation planning their own power grab (it would make more sense if it were a response to that suspicion), and it’s foiled by an accident of the market rather than the actual events on Varos. It floats, barely connected to the rest of the story, but with obvious solutions to either make it more relevant or excise it completely.
There are other scripting quibbles: I’m convinced the Chief and Quillam could have been merged into a single character without making any difference to the plot, and probably giving one actor a much more interesting role. Some scenes go on far too long – why the Doctor stands about for such a long while gabbing about the transmogrification process rather than just leaping in to save Peri, for example. It doesn’t help that Ron Jones’ direction tends to be static, so these moments, apparently of great urgency to Peri and Areta’s survival, have all the energy of a Monday-morning meeting.
The Doctor’s return to the punishment dome is also a misstep – we saw all we needed of him wandering round corridors with coloured lights last week, there’s nothing to be gained by more of the same. Even some elderly men in nappies and some limp poison vines (‘Don’t allow one touch,’ cries the Doctor as Jason Connery crawls all over them) can’t liven it up.
Jones’ direction can’t save the conclusion to Chief/Quillam’s pursuit either – the Doctor makes a sort of vine curtain that he drops on them to kill them (more poison assassinations?). I like this premeditated action a lot less than the acid bath bit, which is clearly shown to be an accident (and the Doctor’s ‘You’ll forgive me if I don’t join you’ line sounds exactly like something Davison would say). This all leads to a climax that sort of just happens: the Doctor’s killed the baddies and Sil’s boss has cancelled the invasion (off screen). Luckily, Martin still has Arak and Etta up his sleeve for a punchline that’s as brilliant as the Part One cliffhanger: ‘What shall we do?’; ‘Dunno.’ Cut to TV static.
Next episode: The Mark of the Rani