‘He has the data chip we need to continue this treasure hunt.’ Initially broadcast as 12 mini episodes as part of Totally Doctor Who, the complete episode (including the concluding 13th instalment) was broadcast ahead of Last of the Time Lords. Sensibly, Alan Barnes structures it as a quest story, with a range of locations and vividly distinct characters like the reptilian gun-runner Meregrass (played by Torchwood’s Paul Clayton). It’s hard to inject much depth given the brevity of the run time (and the target audience), but there’s a neat moral at the end, and no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. The end result is the closest Doctor Who has yet come to the animated Star Wars spin-off The Clone Wars.
It’s another step up from the previous animated stories, with some of the artwork, particularly the arrival on the hazy dust planet Boukon, looking particularly attractive, and with good likenesses of Tennant and Agyeman. The 3D animation of Caw and Squawk is very effective, evoking, for those of a certain age, another serialised animation: The Mysterious Cities of Gold’s Condor. Elsewhere, the vast, walking oil rigs of Boukon; the Mantisphid Queen and her swarm, and the robots on the Rura Penthe-like prison planet Volag Noc are great designs.
Other great touches include Kaliko’s skeleton crew, literally skeletons in spacesuits – an idea the live-action show will return to the following series. Barnes weaves in elements of Starship Troopers (humans versus bugs), environmental themes (the galaxy’s dependence on fossil fuels, and deforestation, addressed by finding a balance between humans and nature, and utilising renewable energy), and Martha’s unrequited love for the Doctor (which leads to the funniest bit when Kaliko orders her to hold on to something as her ship takes evasive manoeuvres, and Martha grabs the Doctor instead of a railing). He also includes references to the Dark Times of Nestene, Racnoss and Great Vampires, and the dying days of a Great Old One, whose power haunts the wreck of the Infinite.
Its nature as an animated, episodic quest story made for CBBC discounts it from most lists of Series Three episodes, but to me it’s essential to understanding the broad appeal of the series in 2007, when alongside the main show we had Torchwood, The Sarah Jane Adventures, Doctor Who Confidential and Totally Doctor Who, each pitched at a slightly different demographic. I suspect this approach will play into Bad Wolf’s strategy for their new series in 2023. This is a delightful extra adventure for the tenth Doctor and Martha, with a fantastic cast including Anthony Head, Liza Tarbuck and Stephen Greif. It should be treasured like Baltazar’s hoard.
Next Time: Last of the Time Lords