Monday, February 05, 2007

Doctor Who - The Keeper of Traken, Logopolis & Castrovalva

A bit later than usual, but in keeping with tradition on this blog, here are my old reviews of the latest Doctor Who stories released on DVD from the Doctor Who Ratings Guide. The previous reviews can be found for Inferno, The Hand of Fear, The Mark of the Rani, The Sontaran Experiment and The Invasion.

It's a bumper one this time, as the latest release is a box set called "New Beginnings" containing three stories. First The Keeper of Traken:

A well crafted Eden

The story opens with effective narration from the Keeper as he brings the Doctor and Adric up to speed on events but this is perhaps forgivable since it means that the story can thus take a more relaxed pace than others and focus on character development rather than explaining the back story. The Keeper of Traken draws heavily on Biblical stories, telling the tale of an Eden that comes under threat from a very deadly serpent in the garden. The plot is simple but exceptionally rewarding for the viewer due to the twists it offers along the way, as well as making the surprise element a bonus to the story rather than the only thing going for it. Drawing also upon medieval influences for the structure of Traken society the result is a strong debut script from Johnny Byrne.

This story sees both the debut of Nyssa and the restoration of the Master as an active and viable foe. The former is ably played by Sarah Sutton but doesn't immediately stand out as being likely to become a companion, especially since at this stage she is left behind on Traken at the end of the tale. The Master's return adds to the sense of foreclosure as the season comes to a close and by this time the original viewers would have known that Tom Baker's departure was imminent as well. The Master's presence in the story is well concealed in the first couple of episodes, but by the end of Part Three it becomes clear that Melkur is a TARDIS whilst the Master has now been shown in a shot. For the fans who can remember the Master's appearance in The Deadly Assassin this is a clear revelation, but it's not until the final part that the dialogue actually confirms this. It makes sense that the Master is finally given a more active form to revitalise the character for future stories. Anthony Ainley gives a good performance as Tremas, making the character extremely likeable and sympathetic after he is brought down by a wife who initially sought only to save him. It is thus a real sad moment when he is absorbed by the Master. The final scene is too brief and so only gives a few hints as to how strong the character will be against the Doctor.

The rest of the cast are competent, with the honours going to Margot van der Burgh as Kassia. The only weak performance comes from Robin Soans as Luvic and makes one wonder how the character ever became a Consul and just how safe Traken is when Luvic becomes Keeper at the end. Denis Carey appears as the old Keeper and gives a dignified performance that conveys a true sense of power despite his withered physical form.

On the production side the design work is good, especially since the story is shot completely in the studio. Each set feels natural and the result is a realistic feeling medieval palace environment. John Black's direction is good and there are some nice little touches, such as the use of two monitor screens with slightly different angle shots inside Melkur which is a detail that many would have overlooked. The result is an enjoyable story that both tells a tale in its own right as well as re-establishing a major character for future stories. This is Tom Baker's penultimate story but his Doctor doesn't feel like he has quite hit the end of the road yet. All in all an enjoyable tale in its own right.
Next Logopolis:

End of the road?

After a season in which all the other regular faces have changed, the tone and style of the stories have dramatically altered and in which the Doctor's characterisation has noticeably aged, Logopolis finishes off both the season and Tom Baker's Doctor. With script-editor Christopher H Bidmead also writing the story we get the clearest realisation of his vision for the series as being strongly rooted in science and kept away from fantasy. We also have one of the greatest threats of all as the universe itself becomes imperilled due to the Master meddling without realising it. The whole story is fast paced and makes for a high speed ending to seven years of Tom Baker.

The story starts off with the Doctor pondering how everything eventually decays and then he sets off to try to repair the TARDIS' Chameleon Circuit. Although this has been jammed for years, a logical reason is given for his deciding to devote attention to the problem. What is less clear is just why any police box needs to be measured for calculations relating to the TARDIS when the police box could easily have differences due to variations in construction or damage. This minor point is overlooked as we get a small scale beginning to the tale on a Barnet roadside, introducing new companion Tegan. Her debut in many ways harks back to the series' roots as she wanders into the TARDIS by mistake and then it takes off. Janet Fielding's debut performance is strong and shows much promise given her strong independent streak. The story goes through a strange point when the Doctor decides to flood the TARDIS but doesn't explain his reasoning properly - is he somehow hoping to drive the Master out of his ship - before he meets with the Watcher and promptly abandons the plan without a word to Adric before heading onto Logopolis. Here we get another well constructed society and a strong concept of the universe being held in place by the Logopolitan's computations and how it all falls apart once the Master tries to take control. Finally we return to Earth and a radio telescope, a setting also seen in the Master's debut story Terror of the Autons, where the Doctor and the Master manage to stop the entropy but the latter has his own schemes. This fast pace does work, with virtually every single location fitting in with the plot. Most of the science sounds reasonable to the non-scientific viewer, though how the radio telescope can instantaneously transmit both the signals to the CVE and the Master's recorded message in time for the Universe to be saved and blackmailed is beyond me.

As well as introducing Tegan, this story also sees Nyssa firmly entrenched as a companion whilst Anthony Ainley makes his full debut as the Master. Nyssa is competently played by Sarah Sutton despite the limited role she has in the story, and the scene where she watches as the entropy blots out Traken forever is very moving. Ainley's debut as the Master is competent, with the character remaining unseen for the first half and always moving in the shadows to achieve his goals. His overconfidence and delight in his schemes is all too clear at times and shows a weakness that can lead to his downfall.

The rest of the cast are limited given that none of them appear in more than one location of the tale. Dolore Whiteman gives a good performance as Aunt Vanessa that makes the character's fate completely undeserved whilst John Fraser brings a strong sense of dignity to the Monitor. Otherwise the parts are too small to be noticed one way or the other.

The production of the story is reasonable though there are signs of the budget running low, most obviously in the use of studio sets for some exterior scenes at the Pharos Project which sit uncomfortably with the location film. However the Logopolis set is done well and manages to crumble easily without looking at all fake. This story has yet another brilliant musical score by Paddy Kingsland that works wonders in setting the tone for many scenes.

This story is Tom Baker's last and he plays the part as one looking towards imminent doom but still trying to cling on to life and hope. Throughout the entirety of Season 18 it has been clear that the Doctor is mellowing and ageing beyond the earlier carefree years and is instead a much older wanderer. There are still traces of those days but this does indeed feel like a natural end of the road for this incarnation. The role of the Watcher is unfortunately never properly explained but the presence of this ghost like figure almost beckoning the Doctor forwards is a reminder of how close the end is. The final scenes as the Doctor sees his life of past foes and friends flash before his eyes are natural and really add to the idea that death is near. Thus once the Doctor regenerates it feels like we've known that this has been coming for quite a while. All in all this is a good story which in one sense is an ending for the series but through the introduction of Tegan, the return of Nyssa and the use of the Master there are also several encouraging signs for the future. 8/10
Finally Castrovalva:

A small scale beginning

Peter Davison's time in the series gets off to a good start with this relatively relaxed tale. After the apocalypse that was Logopolis we get a story that takes place on an incredibly small scale and focuses heavily on the individual characters. This is very much in keeping with the new Doctor's charecterisation as being far more down to earth than the all conquering superhuman that his predecessor appeared to be at times.

Christopher H. Bidmead's script is once more full of some strong scientific concepts, most obviously recursion but also the hydrogen inrush and the Zero Room, but the real focus is on charecterisation. The story is very teasing since it isn't until the fourth episode that the Doctor is fully recovered and revealed. Until then we only get glimpses as to what he is like and this leaves the viewer wanting more. With Adric spending most of the story a prisoner of the Master, the real emphasis is on Tegan and Nyssa. Both Janet Fielding and Sarah Sutton give strong performances as their characters seek to come to terms with the events going on around them and ensure that they and the Doctor survive them all. Both Adric and the Master are confined to the sidelines for mush of the story but Matthew Waterhouse and Anthony Ainley make the most of their scenes. Peter Davison has a difficult role, since the Doctor is not quite himself for much of the story and at times appears to be turning out like some of his earlier incarnations, but Davison is successful in doing good impressions of Hartnell, Troughton and Pertwee that don't become in any way laughable, whilst also ensuring that his own portrayal of the Doctor slowly asserts itself.

The first half of the story is set almost entirely aboard the two TARDISes, focusing only on the existing characters with a highly simplistic plot but this allows for the all important character development. Equally well handled is the setting of Castrovalva. The sets are reminiscent of Escher's work, whilst most of the four principle Castrovalvans are characterised well, though Ruther does appear to be surplus to requirements at times. 'Neil Toynay' gives such a good performance as the Portreeve that it was a genuine surprise to me when I first watched the story to discover that this character is in fact the Master in disguise. Bidmead's script is successful in pushing most of the suspicion onto Shadovan and a small amount onto Ruther, luring many viewers into believing that they are an agent of the Master whilst those who try to doubleguess the writer are lured instead towards Mergrave.

Productionwise Castrovalva has some good sets, location work, direction and music but the story is unfortunately let down by the crudity of early 1980s video effects. This is one of a number of tales that would definitely benefit from modern CGI effects given the requirements that some shots have. Fortunately the script handles most of the recursion concepts in the dialogue and so things aren't as bad as they seem. To blame a story for trying something bold and being let down by the contemporary video effects would be unfair, especially when the story should be judged according to its contemporaries. All in all this is a strong debut for the new Doctor that makes the viewer want to come back for more - a critical factor given that the story was seeking to keep the series going after the departure of the longest serving Doctor and in this respect it had a task second only to The Power of the Daleks. 8/10
Doctor Who - New Beginnings can be purchased from


the dúnadan said...

Thank you for your review. The end of Logopolis was one of my most favourite or memorable childhood sci-fi moments. I think it was the fact that in the Watcher there was this completely different and other character that one did not know what to make of.

Paul Burgin said...

Logopollis is the first Doctor Who story I can definetly remember. I think it was the regeneration scene that made me a fan at the age of just five. The idea that someone could change their appearance!

Tim Roll-Pickering said...

Curiously my earliest memory of the series is the Caves of Androzani - again a regeneration story!


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