‘The great mind revolution shall begin.’ Blimey, what a mess. The resolution involves the Doctor somehow creating a tunnel between Chronotis’ TARDIS and his own, sneaking into his workshop, building a helmet (based around the second Doctor’s stovepipe hat, charmingly) which allows him to use the copy of his mind in Skagra’s sphere to wrest control of the Krarg army, and turn them against Skagra. Then everyone goes back to Cambridge for more tea.
Around this, there are again lots of good moments (like leaving President Romana to decide Salyavin’s fate), and a nice nod in the animation to the original plan to feature old monsters in Shada (some Ice Warriors are locked in some of the cells). I guess Adams quite enjoyed bathetic endings (The Pirate Planet concludes with the Mentiads bashing a machine with a spanner), but generally I’m not a fan of the Doctor whipping up a last-minute technical fix, it smacks too much of stories of Star Trek: The Next Generation writers concluding scripts with “Commander La Forge, [TECH] the [TECH] to the warp drive.”
Any criticism has to be tempered with “it’s bloody Douglas Adams, shut up”, but still, I think this has the whiff of Douglas Adams the script editor accepting the show’s limits and writing something to fit the budget rather than Douglas Adams the writer doing something insanely ambitious and exciting like The Pirate Planet. If this had been finished, I think it would probably have looked good and been well regarded, but it’s not in quite the same league as his earlier work. There’s a point where you realise the joke of everyone sitting round having tea like they’re BBC staffers is covering for the fact there are probably four episodes of material here, at best. In any workplace, the work tends to expand to fit the time available.
The finished version is a good realisation within the limits of Flash animation. It’s a shame they didn’t get the original cast back, but I think it works ok covered by McGann’s Doctor (although it’s a bit Steps covering Merry X-mas Everybody), and given how much of the serial consists of people standing around talking it doesn’t require that much tweaking to work as a sort of tele-snap reconstruction. It’s improbable this will be the one people take off the shelf to watch now the 2021 episodic remake is available, but as the first broadcast version, and the only other McGann story the BBC co-produced during the interregnum, it’s earned its place in the canon.
Again, it’s largely animated barring the scenes in Chronotis’ TARDIS (which fortunately include the best line, ‘Just one little bit of timelessness and spacelessness over there behind the tea trolley’). As such, it’s preferable to the 2003 broadcast because the animation is better (and also includes nods to old monsters – a Zygon silhouette in one of the cells, and Tom Baker as Rasputin as one of the possessed prisoners). We also get a bit of Tom Baker (including, sweetly, a 2017 performed tag scene).But the plot is no better, and the helmet isn’t as good.
Now the 2017 version has been rejigged into six episodes, I suspect the Season 17 Blu-ray’s ambitious claim that this is ‘the definitive presentation’ is true. I guess in years to come they might be able to do a deepfake “live action” version – Douglas Adams’ name guarantees a level of commercial interest in this that wouldn’t be there for, say, an Anthony Read script – depending on how much the animation scratches the persistent itch that’s left by Shada’s semi-absence. It hasn’t made me reconsider anything I thought of the 2017 “movie version”. It’s the best Graham Williams six-parter. It would probably have been the second-best Season 17 story. I’m glad it finally exists as something close to complete.
Next episode: Rose
Next entry: Ninth Man Unbound