Sue: Oh no. Not Chris Boucher again.
Me: It’s pronounced Boucher, actually.
A sandminer is churning up the landscape on a desolate and dusty planet.
Sue: This looks good. They’re really selling it to me. The camera movement certainly helps.
The sandminer is run by robots.
Sue: These robots look like walking BAFTAs. Were the BBC trying to be subliminal, hoping they’d win something?
The human crewmembers relax elsewhere in a comfortable room.
Sue: So this is a luxury cruise ship.
Me: Not quite.
Sue: Well what is it then?
Me: It’s a sandminer. They mine sand.
Sue: They’re miners?
Sue: They don’t look like miners to me. They’re too middle class to be miners. Have they never seen Alien?
Me: Unlikely. It hasn’t been made yet.
Sue: Imagine Alien with the crew dressed like that… I dare you.
Meanwhile, in the space-time vortex, the Doctor is explaining transdimensional engineering to Leela.
Sue: That was nice. I appreciated that. And I’m glad Leela is questioning everything. Because you would, wouldn’t you?
Me: I’m just relieved Nicol wasn’t around to witness that.
When the TARDIS materialises in the sandminer, the Doctor can’t wait to explore.
Me: I thought you’d have something to say about Leela not changing into something a little less comfortable.
Sue: I’m not surprised. This Doctor is still a bloke. He isn’t going to tell her that the TARDIS has a massive wardrobe so she can cover herself up. He’s not stupid.
As the Doctor and Leela explore the sandminer, its crew prepare for an oncoming storm.
Sue: Oh. My. God. They’ve dressed up to go to work. Look at their hats! They can’t be miners. This is more like Abigail’s Party than the Labour Party. Come on, what are they doing, really?
Me: They actually are miners. Honest.
Sue: Well, it isn’t very practical. I bet that woman’s hat keeps banging into her computer screen when she leans in to read her email. It must drive her mad.
In an isolated storage room, a robot strangles one of the crew to death.
Sue: That was scary. The POV shots are great; a bit like The Terminator. There’s something really creepy about the robots’ faces, too.
When Commander Uvanov and Chief Mover Poul investigate the crime scene, they find a red disc on the victim’s hand.
Sue: It’s a bicycle reflector.
Uvanov assembles his crew together and suggests that one of them is a murderer.
Sue: So this is Agatha Christie in space. I’m surprised Doctor Who doesn’t do this sort of thing more often.
Uvanov asks his crew if they know what the red disc is.
Sue: It’s a bicycle reflector! We’ve been through this already.
As the crew bicker among themselves, Sue’s EastEnders Detector goes into overdrive.
Sue: I know him. He lived in Albert Square for years.
Me: Ted Hills.
Sue: Yes, but which character did he play?
Me: Ted Hills! The actor’s name is Brian Croucher.
Sue: Isn’t it pronounced Croucher?
Me: Very funny. What about the woman playing Toos? She was in EastEnders as well.
Sue: Maybe if she took her hat off.
Me: She had Dirty Den killed. You know, the first time he was killed.
The Doctor and Leela are apprehended by some robots.
Sue: These robots are very creepy. It’s their fat lips that do it.
Me: Do you like their design?
Sue: I do. It’s very Charles Rennie Mackintosh.
The Doctor and Leela are taken to a cabin and told to wait.
Sue: This is very plush. They should convert this mining business into luxury timeshare cruises. It’s lovely.
Uvanov orders his crew back to work.
Sue: If they spent less time applying their make-up and choosing the right hat to match their outfits, they’d get a lot more done. God knows what they wear when they go out for dinner.
Sue is much happier with the set design.
Sue: A lot of thought has gone into this. There’s a sense of scale that you don’t usually get in the studio-based stories. I can’t fault the design at all.
But something unnerves her.
Sue: Do you want to know what scares me the most about this period of Doctor Who?
Me: Go on.
Sue: You’ll laugh.
Me: Probably, but tell me anyway.
Sue: I’m worried that Tom Baker will trip over his scarf and do himself a serious injury.
She’s deadly serious.
Sue: Whenever he’s in a long-shot, I can’t stop looking at his feet. I can’t relax when he’s near a balcony or some stairs.
The Doctor is locked in a hopper and it isn’t long before he’s drowning in sand.
Sue: Leela will save him. It’s what the companions do now.
As the credits roll, I ask Sue to sum up.
Sue: It’s a good start. The costumes take a bit of getting used to, but they’re still miles better than the Tesh.
Sue: The sets are great, but they could have looked even better if they’d dressed the crew in plain overalls. Just think of all the money they could have saved.
Sue is suspicious of Dask already.
Sue: Why doesn’t he wear a silly hat? What makes him so special?
Leela meets a robot called D84. The robot shows her the corpse of a crewmember – a red disc has been placed on the back of their hand. D84 wants to know what it is.
Sue: I’m not going to tell them again.
Uvanov interrupts D84’s interrogation and slaps Leela across her face.
Leela retaliates with a swift kick to Uvanov’s balls.
Sue: You go, girl! I’m really starting to warm to Leela.
Uvanov believes that Leela killed Cass.
Sue: Cass was played by a terrible actor. He won’t be missed. I hope they kill the characters off in order of acting ability. If I’m right, Zelda (sic) is next in line for the bicycle reflector of doom. Did you run around your school putting bicycle reflectors on your hands?
Me: Don’t be silly. A bicycle reflector won’t stick to flesh without superglue. By the way, if Gregory from Form 6B is reading this, I’m really sorry, mate. Can you still see the scar?
Uvanov and the Doctor lock horns.
Sue: Tom is on form today. The other guy playing the commander is very good, too. They are definitely egging each other on.
Before you ask, she only vaguely remembers Callan, and she’s never read Dune (although she has seen the film). Anyway, the Doctor accuses Ted Hills of being a classic example of the inverse ratio between the size of the mouth and the size of the brain.
Me: I used that line in a real life, once.
Me: I’d just started teaching, and I had to deal with an obnoxious loudmouth student. He probably sensed that I was new to the job and tried to exploit my inexperience. He really wound me up. So I used the inverse ratio line on him. I thought it sounded like the sort of thing a teacher might say.
Sue: What was his reaction?
Me: He shut his mouth and he was as good as gold. He even gave me an apple the following week. What do you think he did? He called me a ****ing twat.
As luck would have it, I taught my last class today. After 18 years of lecturing, I finally threw in the towel. I just don’t have the energy to hurl Doctor Who quotes at my students anymore. As I said to them today, if you stop enjoying something, you should give it up. But enough about me – the Doctor and Leela have been taken to a storage area and restrained with metal straps.
Sue: Just whip your sonic out.
The thought doesn’t even cross the Doctor’s mind.
Me: I’m sure he had the sonic with him earlier. What’s that all about?
The Doctor suggests a robot could have been responsible for the mysterious deaths. Poul finds this impossible to contemplate, until the Doctor reminds him it’s aerodynamically impossible for bumblebees to fly, but they do it anyway.
Me: That’s a myth.
Sue: Did the Doctor just get a fact wrong? We should write a letter of complaint. Or maybe we could start an online campaign to have it removed from future DVDs. I know, let’s burn him!
Zilda retires to her cabin for a nap (her incessant whining must have worn her out), but before her head can hit the pillow, she’s confronted by a revelation so shocking, she’s reduced to tears.
Sue: She’s a strong candidate for the worst actor in Doctor Who so far. Rule number one: never give your weakest actor the hardest scene.
Leela senses danger, and a few seconds later the sandminer ends up tilting dangerously over the edge of a cliff.
Sue: Is Leela psychic? Did that computer mess with her head in the last story? I bet that skill will come in handy later.
The sandminer threatens to blow itself apart. The Doctor implores Toos to cut to the power but it’s too(s) little, too(s) late – she’s gonna blow!
Sue: Not bad.
Dask cuts the power and the sandminer begins to sink.
Sue: He has the look of Gary Glitter.
Me: If Gary Glitter had Wolverine’s hair.
It’s at this point Sue decides to pick a fight with David Collings.
Sue: I don’t like him very much. He’s too theatrical. And that’s really saying something in this story. He should be on the stage instead of the telly.
Me: You’re wrong, but I forgive you.
Poul freaks out when he discovers a robot with blood on its hands.
Sue: See! Tell me that wasn’t hammy, Neil. Anyone would think he’d never seen brains smeared all over a robot before.
A Super Voc robot has been reprogrammed by a sinister individual who broadcasts his commands on a scrambled frequency (either that or he has a really bad cold).
Sue: Are we supposed to know who that is?
How can she not tell? Anyway…
Sue: Is that a Marigold icon I can see on that robot’s hand? Oh my, they are Marigolds! I thought they were, but I didn’t want to say.
The Doctor and D84 discuss the whereabouts of Taren Capel (a mad scientist who has a thing for robots).
Sue: D84 is very sweet. I bet the kids loved this story. I can see why people might like this. I wish I did.
Me: That makes two of us. I wish you liked it, too.
Unfortunately, D84 didn’t entertain the possibility an evil mastermind who would try to impersonate a member of the crew.
Sue: Can we have a D84, please? He’s so cute.
A corrupted Super Voc transforms a group of robots into a bunch of killers with impeccable manners.
Sue: They’re so polite. That’s the scariest thing about this.
Leela is attacked by a robot, but thankfully she manages to run away.
Sue: The robots need a weapon of some sort. Brute strength only works if you can run after your intended victims.
The Doctor and D84 find a Laserson probe.
Sue: The machine has ‘Laserson’ emblazoned all over it. That’s futuristic product placement. I like it, it fleshes out the world. Maybe the marigold thing wasn’t a mistake, after all. Perhaps in the future, the company branches out into fetish wear for robots in the future?
Toos tries to leave her cabin, but a robot blocks her exit.
Sue: They should have cut to a close up of the robot’s face when that door opened. The director missed a trick.
Toos barricades herself in her room and calls the Doctor for help. D84 volunteers to assist her because he’s the fastest.
Sue: I doubt that. You’re wearing carpet slippers for a start.
The Doctor tells Toos that help is on its way.
Sue: Isn’t he going to tell her that he’s sent a robot? It’s going to be very awkward if he doesn’t.
Poul cowers under a table.
Sue: Is he working with the robots?
Sue: So why is he behaving like this?
Me: He’s having a nervous breakdown.
Sue: Did Chris Boucher want to be a psychiatrist when he grew up?
The episode concludes with the Doctor fending off a robot who wants to massage him to death.
Sue: Not bad. At least the cliffhangers are good.
Sue doesn’t say anything for a long time, and I manage to convince myself that her protracted silence is the result of her being gripped by the story. Oh boy, was I wrong…
Sue: How long until this ends, Neil? I can’t keep up with this nonsense. Why is the robot with the blue eyes bad? I thought it was the robots with the red eyes who were evil. There’s no consistency to this. And where’s the bloke in the Ku Klux Klan gear? What’s he waiting for? Whoever the hell he is.
The only thing that piques her interest is Toos’ interest in Leela.
Sue: There’s a strong lesbian subtext in her performance. Look at the way she’s touching Leela’s knee. Oh, and now she’s managed to sneak in a cuddle. Leela has definitely scored.
It turns out that Dask was Taren Capel all along.
Sue: It’s Gary Glitter meets the Hulk. Actually, that look probably passes for normal in this society.
The Doctor suspects that Poul is suffering from robophobia.
Sue: I don’t buy that. Maybe if the actor wasn’t hamming it up so much, I could believe it, but he might as well be scared of a fridge. And whose bright idea was it to pair a robot with a man who’s terrified of robots?
D84 is stabbed in the head with a Laserson probe, but instead of turning bad, he disables several evil robots, bravely sacrificing himself in the process.
Sue: That’s a shame. I liked D84. He would have been an interesting companion.
The Super Voc turns on Taren Capel because, thanks to the Doctor, his voice suddenly sounds a bit funny.
Sue: I can’t tell if that solution was silly or inspired. And I’m not thrilled to see Leela sitting this out in a cupboard.
The Doctor and Leela leg it back to the TARDIS.
Sue: I hate it when no one sees them off. How ungrateful can you get?
Sue: That was average.
Me: Average? Are you mad?
Sue: It didn’t make any sense. The villain’s plan was very vague. Why was he pretending to be a miner? What was that all about? If you were going to take over the world, would you really start there? Yes, the robots looked nice, and there are some interesting ideas fighting to get out, but it was too hysterical for my taste. I don’t see what the big deal is.