: Original ’83 transmission. Teenage interest was slipping as fast as it had been briefly piqued with ‘Snakedance’.Preramble
: The Black Guardian’s back for some seriously rubbish ‘vengeance’-N’yar har har!The Lowdown
: Mid Range. Bigged and dissed in pretty equable measure, a true curate’s egg story.
Let’s see what we’ve got…Return of the Black Guardian; immortality tropes; double (amnesiac) Brigadier returns; the two time zones; dodgy new companion. That’s actually five potential plots going down. Tom Macrae recently got a whole (and very effective) story out of the fourth. To say it’s top heavy/overloaded is an understatement but remarkably, Peter Grimwade doesn’t make a bad fist of it plot wise. It’s been very nicely done up on the effects front for the DVD (pity they didn’t replace the score!) but I’m going with the original, as broadcast.
'With a backdrop like this, no wonder Turlough looks nauseous'Episode 1
Mark Strickson, as Turlough, gives a striking performance from the off. Sometimes for the right reasons, sometimes for the wrong. I think he and his fellow pupils are meant to be lower/upper Sixth but these guys are clearly early/mid twenties! And Christ, the music! Evil jauntiness ahoy as Turlough and Ibbotson take the Brig’s car out for a spin. (I think it’s only rivaled by some of Dudley’s twee Bessie noodlings in ‘Three Doctors’.) Paddy Kingsland-musical naughty step. And nice video effect after the crash and the disembodied Turlough encounters the Black Guardian. (With a bird on his head-double nice.) So
80’s. This sequence is interesting and not only for the arresting visuals. Turlough agrees to bump off the Doctor in exchange for a chance to return to his real home: Given what’s later revealed about his backstory (political prisoner/exile) why the hell would he want to?! They definitely weren’t thinking ahead.
Nice to see Nicholas Courtney as the Brigadier again though, now working out his time as a Maths teacher. Don’t even realize it’s him to begin with, studying the crash site in the background. Bafflegab ahoy up in the heavens-the TARDIS has drifted into a warp ellipse (say what?) and nearly collides with another ship. (Major overblown guitar wonk from Paddy.) Cue emergency materialization aboard an opulent but strangely deserted passenger liner. Design of the ship’s good, I’ll give ‘em that. Back on Earth, the location stuff in and around the school has nice potential. In a shock development Peter Moffat doesn’t really capitalize on this and it succeeds in the genius double hander of looking pretty but falling flat.
Peter Davison’s on good, quietly reflective form. Janet Fielding’s to the fore again as Tegan, Sarah Sutton underutilized as Nyssa after a couple of stronger outings. Again interesting when they follow the malfunctioning transmat capsule signal to Earth and encounter Turlough, who’s wandered on board the TARDIS. The Doctor appears to take his story at face value but I reckon he’s got him sussed from the very start and is seeing how things play out. Fair brutal cliffhanger with the Black Guardian egging Turlough on to smash the Doctor’s brains in with the rock. Good tortured anguish from Mark Strickson there. 6 thus far.
'Five, he got 'pensive' down pat'Episode 2
Reasonably intriguing shenanigans once the Doctor’s encountered the Brigadier and realizes he has no memory of their time together. Reasonably. Meantimes Nyssa and Tegan are encountering the horrifically burnt Mawdryn aboard the transmat capsule, the TARDIS having jumped time zones. They automatically assume it’s the Doctor, which is insane as he clearly looks nothing like him. Unless they’re assuming he’s regenerated but it isn’t made clear if this is the case at this stage.
Nice flashback sequences for the Brigadier when the Doctor succeeds in jogging his memories. (Did they sepia tint it for the DVD or was that on the original? Wibble.) Davison and Courtney are excellent together, you can tell Davison is really enjoying these scenes. Very good defensive bluster from Courtney too, as the Brigadier loses his temper then admits he had a breakdown. And it has to be mentioned that this is the story that really throws the cat among the pigeons on that good old UNIT dating chestnut, with Nyssa and Tegan’s version of the TARDIS materializing in 1977. With the Brigadier already retired. Yerse indeed, debate to thy hearts content.
'No, we can't have the picnic here, the grass is still wet'
Mark Strickson now goes way OTT, as Turlough realizes he’ll never be free of the Black Guardian. This’ll be happening more than once. Although I really like Strickson, very charismatic and a strong performer but has a tendency to roll with that hysterical anguish. But vaguely spooky scenes here as the Headmaster transmogrifies into the Black Guardian. Vaguely. And the Doctor and Brigadier realizing that it wasn’t the Doctor that Nyssa and Tegan pulled out of the capsule six years previous does pique/keep the interest. Plus fair play, the regeneration misunderstanding from Nyssa and Tegan in 1977 does pass muster, what with Mawdryn starting to bang on about ‘perpetual regeneration’. Nice pulsating brain case from Mawdryn at the cliffhanger, I’d go with a 7 this time, largely for the
'Davison and Courtney-great rapport. Would like to have seen more than just the 'Five Doctors' slight return'Episode 3
Yeah, the way the Doctor hands Turlough back the Black Guardian control device without any question-he’s got it sussed completely hasn’t he? David Collings is doing very good slyly mocking intelligence with Nyssa and Tegan. If he and his cronies actually succeeded in stealing regeneration technology from Gallifrey, well, they must be pretty handy despite damning themselves. When they all return to life I do find their gliding gait quite disconcerting. Quite. Also really liking the ship set and the portrait outlines, one of which transforms into the Black Guardian.
'Doe, a deer,a female deer, far, a long, long way to run!'
It’s a harsh and weird fate their people have given them-eternal exile and perpetual regeneration aboard a luxury cruiser. Mind you, what else were they going to do with them? The more I think about it, I’m getting more interested in the back story than what we’re actually getting. The cliffhanger, with the Doctor in danger of losing his remaining regenerations to Mawdryn & Co (Can just see them gliding about to ‘Starship Trooper’ on TOTP now) is heavy stakes consequences wise for our hero. But not really that heavy as a cliffhanger, Davison seems pretty underwhelmed, delivering ‘It’ll mean the end of me as a Time Lord’ in the manner of ‘I think I left the gas on.’ 6. Just.Episode 4
So yes, the ‘never being able to regenerate again’, twelve maximum/four gone is all fuel to the ‘only thirteen lives’ lobby if it’s what floats your boat. David Collings is great as Mawdryn here, gloating that the Doctor will return to them of his own free will. He does such wonderful, low key, ambiguous baddie. As opposed to Valentine Dyall as the Black Guardian, about which the less said the better. (N’yar har har!)
'Nevermind the Blinovitch Limitation Effect-what about Bafflegubbins Overload?!'
Conveniently, Mawdryn & Co’s past experiments to find a cure for their condition have resulted in a viral side-effect. Nyssa and Tegan were infected carrying Mawdryn to the TARDIS. Yerse…Not filling up time or anything are you lads? And surely there’d be a high chance of infection for Turlough, the Brigadier and the Doctor? The episode degenerates into decrepit Nyssa and Tegan, child Nyssa and Tegan and alternate Brigadiers bumbling around until they finally bump into one another-cue explosion. And isn’t that blummin’ convenient-‘the release of temporal energy was redirected through the regenerator at the moment of transfer’. Nyssa and Tegan are cured, Mawdryn and Co can die and the Doctor can retain his 8/503/Whatever regenerations. Arse. Way too pat.
Nice ending with Mawdryn’s ship self destructing in space. Very ‘everything has its time-everything dies’. But 5 here, it really blands out in the final episode. Interesting idea to have villains who just want to die but a very uninvolving moral dilemma in the execution. So a predictable 6
overall, a cast iron curate’s egg if ever there was one.
Nice interiors for the ship, barely passable direction from Moffat though, doesn’t make as much of the location as he could have done, very tourist brochure. Courtney, Collings and Davison stand out on the acting front, Mark Strickson makes a strong first impression too. The story is interesting but ultimately falls between too many stools and as for the score…truly egregious crap, almost a point deductor in itself. So there ye have it. Definitely less than the sum of it’s parts, in the final analysis reasonably intriguing, vaguely spooky and quite disconcerting don’t really cut the time mustard. There’s a creeping frisson of blandness threatening to bleach through everything.
'I'm terribly sorry, my head exploded and my brain fell out'