‘You can’t broadcast socially sensitive information unless you’re in control of the facts.’ An episode that essentially parks the Doctor and Tegan while it explores the ideas of Turlough’s repressed ancestral memories and Brazen’s attempts to maintain order as Frontios’ society descends into chaos. The result is Strickson gets his meatiest material, playing Turlough’s breakdown and recovery, and then, once again, overcoming his natural caution to face his fear beneath the earth.
‘You speak treason!’ ‘Fluently.’ This is absolutely my cup of tea: horror with a sci-fi tinge, tea-time terror for tots. From childhood, I vividly remember the imp version of the Malus inside the TARDIS, vomiting up green bile. I’ve complained about the TARDIS being invaded too often in the last few seasons, and it does lose a bit of impact given practically everyone in the universe has traipsed through the control room by this point, but this is such a disturbing example it stands out. And the imp is just one iteration of a monster that, given it never really speaks, is one of the more robust and physical threats in this era of the show, and a welcome adjustment after the ethereal menaces of Season 20.
Sarah is the first companion to get neither a joining scene nor a first look inside the TARDIS (even Dodo, Ben and Polly got those). Uniquely, her companionship is a fait accompli, and rather than being sent back with Rubeish and the other research scientists she leaves with the Doctor. Having spent the first half of the story suspecting he’s somehow responsible for the kidnaps, this is a pretty comprehensive volte face. It’s sets Sarah up as being a bit different from previous companions – Jo’s official job was being the Doctor’s assistant, whereas Sarah has an independent career back on Earth that she’ll occasionally return to. In this, she’s more like a new series companion, always with one foot outside the TARDIS, UNIT and the Doctor’s world.
When I first saw this episode in 1993 as part of the 30th anniversary repeats it was in B&W. Now, thanks to a mix of computer colourisation and the chroma-dot colour recovery process, all those greens and purples live again. The Pertwee years restorations, combining B&W films, American low-quality domestic and NTSC broadcast tapes, and “technology worthy of the Doctor himself” often developed by fans of the show, is a story every bit as fascinating as anything to do with Doctor Who, and the availability of every Pertwee episode in colour is possibly the greatest achievement of the DVD range.
After the first episode introduced the colonists, this focuses on the crew of the IMC survey ship, arrived on the planet to search for the rare mineral duralinium. Like the colonists, they’re not exactly a coherent unit. They’re clearly the baddies, here to strip mine the planet to feed the insatiable appetite of the Earth (which, according to the information film the Doctor watches is pretty much as awful as everyone says). However, Caldwell (Bernard Kay) has serious qualms about the means by which his captain Dent and sadistic colleague Morgan are planning to convince the colonists to give up their new home.
After the punchiness of the first three episodes this is almost sedate. Even so, it crams the reveal of the Master/Nestene plot; an RAF missile attack on the Autons’ invasion coach (!); the summoning of the Nestene Consciousness; the Master’s change of heart, and a final couple of scenes that establish the new status quo for Season Eight.
‘Nothing like a nice happy ending is there?’ After the apocalyptic scenes last week (which surely merited more of a recap at the top of this episode), this is a race against time to avert a disaster in our world. The idea that the Doctor has seen this all before, and is fighting time itself is compelling: ‘The pattern can be changed.’ In practice, naturally no-one really believes his Cassandra-like warnings, especially after he takes a spanner to the computer, and it’s largely thanks to a devolved Stahlman choosing to emerge from the drill head that convinces everyone to stop the clock.
In Troughton’s absence, this episode aces the Bechdel Test: Zoe and Gia are the high brains of the operation, Jamie and Phipps the brawn as the plot to wrest control of the moonbase back from the Ice Warriors. Seasons Six and Seven are a bit of a high point for highly capable female companions. Zoe’s genius works when her Doctor is undisciplined and unstructured, but perhaps Liz’s is a bit less effective when Pertwee decided to play it straight rather than the odd, guitar-strumming hippy Sherwin envisaged.
The change to umbrella titles rather than individual episode names goes hand-in-hand with a different emphasis: no longer is this just the latest instalment of an adventure in space and time, it announces itself as the first part of a new serial. It’s possibly just coincidence that this feels different from, say, The Steel Sky – but the Doctor already knowing where he is, and the presence of a welcoming committee, mean that the element of exploration and world-building that have previously been the hallmarks of Hartnell ‘space’ stories aren’t really evident here.
Kate is magnificent: at the start of the episode, she sweeps in to save the day, waving a gun at the Clantons and putting the thugs in their place, before telling Dodo to vamoose, ordering Steven to play piano, and changing the mood entirely with her own, saucy rendition of The Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon. She dominates the episode in a way most female characters don’t get to during this era of the show.