‘Rassilon had powers and secrets even we don’t understand.’ It’s amusing so much time is spent mucking about looking for a book. This largely lends itself well to BBCi’s primitive animation because the script is full of little verbal jokes and digressions, rather than relying on action sequences. It’s a story where the villain is accompanied by a ‘babble of inhuman voices’, where Chronotis beats out messages in Gallifreyan Morse Code, and even Skagra’s computer is well-spoken.
I really enjoy the sense of mounting unease that accompanies the Doctor’s dawning realisation of exactly what Chronotis stole from Gallifrey, and the shift to the study as a base under siege. I also appreciate Chronotis being got at because Romana has nipped out for milk while the Doctor searches for the missing book – and meets Clare (Susannah Harker, who instantly improves the student scenes by several factors). So far everything is very small scale compared to Death Comes to Time, with little sense of where the story is going. However, the power of the book is well established and the threat to the Doctor, coming off the back of Skagra’s attack on Chronotis, makes the stakes of the cliffhanger quite clear.
This is largely the same as the broadcast version. Most of the differences come from acting choices (although obviously missing references to Romana’s presidency and Gary Russell’s joke about cows in the TARDIS). Baker acts offended at Romana suggesting he’s a contemporary of Salyavin, and visibly comes to the end of his tether with Chronotis as he demands, ‘Professor what was his name?’ (McGann plays it less irritable). Ward flips from smiles to chilly hauteur when Parsons suggests K9 is ‘neat’, as if she’s not sure if he’s mocking. And Christopher Neame is magnificently cold (if you close your eyes he sounds just like Julian Glover in City of Death).
The new music also references City of Death’s distinctive theme, particularly during the lengthy bike sequences – which were largely and understandably left out of the broadcast version. There’s a good bit where the Doctor nearly crashes into Chris, and later when the pursuing sphere knocks over a lady. I’ve never understood, though, when the Doctor realises he’s lost the book – he doesn’t react when it falls out of the bike basket, but when he parks up he doesn’t seem surprised or check where it’s gone.
Next episode: Shada – Episode Three