It’s a game of three halves…
I planned this story’s screening like it was a military operation. Seriously, Douglas Camfield would have been proud of me. I rigged up the DVD player the night before, when Sue was fast asleep: my PS3 will resume a disc from the same point that you stop it, if you remember to press the right button, so when I played the disc the next day, the machine circumvented both the menu screen and the episode selection screen.
Of all the surprises I wanted to protect, this was definitely in my top three. I still remember the impact it had on me when I was eight…
Sue: Is there anything I should know?
Me: No, it’s just a regular four-parter.
May I rot in hell.
Sue: This had better be good. We’re due for a good one. Who’s David Agnew?
Me: He doesn’t exist.
Sue: Is it because they were embarrassed with the quality of the script, or were they getting around BBC rules and regulations again?
Me: It’s co-written by the producer and the script editor.
Sue: Right, so this story should sum them up nicely, then.
The episode begins with the Doctor negotiating with three aliens on a spaceship…
Sue: They look like giant slugs. If slugs could stand upright, of course.
Me: They’re chairs.
Sue: The aliens this week are talking chairs?
Leela is in the TARDIS, anxiously waiting for the Doctor to return. She takes her frustrations out on K9. Again.
Sue: A dog isn’t just for Christmas, Leela.
The Doctor signs a contract with these mysterious aliens.
Sue: That was a very quick signature. I bet he signed it ‘Who’.
The Doctor returns to his TARDIS and he tells K9 to shut Leela up. And he isn’t joking.
Sue: Ooh, it looks like some serious shit is going down.
Meanwhile, on the planet Gallifrey, a guard named Andred is alerted to an unidentified time capsule approaching their airspace.
Sue: He’s got gold Wellington boots on. That’s nice.
Me: Do you know where we are?
Sue: Yes, it’s Gallifrey. I know it’s Gallifrey because the guard looks like Beefeater.
The aliens monitor the Doctor’s progress.
Sue: They look like giant bullets.
Me: They’re chairs!
The TARDIS materialises in the Panopticon. Andred and half-a-dozen guards arrive to intercept it.
Sue: The direction is pretty good, the sets looks better than they did the last time we were here, and they’ve spent a small fortune on those guards. You can see where all the money went this year. Still, it is Gallifrey; you have to pull out all the stops for Gallifrey.
The Doctor tells Cardinal Borusa that he has come home to claim the Presidency of the Council of Time Lords.
Sue: Ooooh… that’s very interesting.
The Doctor refuses to take no for an answer. At one point, he even screams at Borusa.
Sue: Scary stuff. The script is excellent. I like the way they use the dialogue to cut between these scenes. It’s very stylish. I’m definitely intrigued.
The Doctor wants to gain access to the Matrix, which we last saw in The Deadly Assassin.
Sue: Does this mean we’ll get another episode that’s set in lots of surreal locations?
Me: Oh yes, we’ll definitely get one of those.
The aliens continue to monitor the Doctor…
Sue: They look like giant runner beans.
Me: They’re chairs, woman! CHAIRS!
Sue: Why is Dudley playing the theme tune to Zelda?
As Sue parps on her imaginary trumpet, the Doctor enters the Panopticon for his induction.
Sue: The set is definitely better this time. It’s cleaner. The hall isn’t exactly packed, but I bet the ceremony was a rush job and they didn’t send the invites out on time. These things happen.
At least Leela was invited…
Sue: Hang on, why is Leela there? Sarah Jane wasn’t allowed to come to Gallifrey, so what makes Leela so special? Sarah Jane will be furious if she finds out. She’ll scratch Leela’s eyes out.
The Doctor is handed the Sash of Rassilon, the Rod of Rassilon, and the Great Key of Rassilon…
Sue: Are they the pink pillows of Rassilon?
The Doctor is crowned with a circlet, but when he accesses the Matrix, he falls to his knees in agony.
Me: It’s not that bad.
Sue: No, he looks like Jesus. Jesus crossed with Noddy Holder (those ginger sideburns are a bad idea). Anyway, that was a good start. I definitely want to find out what happens next.top
Sue is completely engrossed, for first few minutes at least. It’s only when Leela threatens to fillet a guard again that she has anything to add:
Sue: Here’s an idea: why don’t you take the ****ing knife away from her!
Sue continues to wrestle with the Doctor’s increasingly erratic behaviour…
Sue: So, is the Doctor really evil? Or is he just pretending to be evil? Or is someone or something forcing him to be evil? Which is it?
Me: Wait and see.
Sue: He must be bluffing. He has to be.
Inside Borusa’s office, the Doctor attempts to gain access to a secret passageway. When his sonic screwdriver doesn’t work, he turns to the camera and laments the fact.
Sue: Dock his pay. It’s the only way he’ll ever learn.
When the Doctor isn’t talking to himself, he’s talking to an empty chair.
Sue: So the aliens are definitely talking chairs this week? They can take the form of any chair in the known universe?
Don’t worry, she’s joking. I think.
Leela watches the Doctor hopscotch down a corridor…
Sue: Tom Baker almost took the camera out with his elbow, there. Has he completely lost the plot?
The Castellan, who Sue recognises as the man with the eyepatch from The Android Invasion, but not much else, monitors the Doctor’s movements. Sue is fascinated by Gallifrey’s technology, which seems to be based on tiny balls.
Sue: He’s not only talking to a gobstopper, he’s sucking one, too.
Sue is great when it comes to noticing incidental details like these.
Sue: Andred’s pants are very tight. He has the male version of camel toe.
The Doctor locks himself in his TARDIS and he puts his hands over his ears to block out the sound of Leela begging him to let her in.
Sue: It’s all gone a bit dark, now. And I don’t just mean the lighting.
And then Sue asks a question so complicated, I have to pause the DVD.
Sue: Is everyone on Gallifrey a Time Lord?
Sue: Are the guards Time Lords?
Sue: Can the guards regenerate?
Sue: How do you become a Time Lord? Do you have to take an exam? Are you born into it? Is it like the House of Lords? How does it work? It seems unfair if only a select few can be Time Lords while the rest of them are nothing more than glorified slaves. And that’s the impression I’m getting.
Me: Well -
Me: Wait and see.
Back on Gallifrey, the Doctor discusses his plan with K9.
Sue: Could you rewind that, please? I’m a bit lost.
I play the scene again.
Sue: Thanks, but I’m none the wiser. I know they want to blow something up, I just don’t know what or why. The Doctor is very militaristic in this story. That thing he’s wearing around his neck -
Me: The Sash of Rassilon.
Sue: It makes him look like Chewbacca.
Leela ducks into a corridor to avoid a patrol…
Sue: She’s walked into a Sure Start Centre. You can see where all the children have painted pretty murals on the wall. Do Time Lords have babies?
Leela walks in on a woman named Rodan.
Sue: Big radiators.
Sue: Gallifrey has very big radiators. Why haven’t they worked out how to hide their plumbing yet? It seems a bit daft when they can travel in time. Anyway, is this woman a Time Lord?
Rodan tells Leela that she is basically a glorified air traffic controller, which she demonstrates by using her console.
Sue: Look at the state of her desk! Has someone vomited all over it? Has it ever been cleaned? I wouldn’t touch that with yours.
Meanwhile, back in the Panopticon, the Doctor offers a jelly baby to Andred.
Sue leans in as the Doctor removes his hand from the bag…
Sue: And… and… and… it’s a real jelly baby! Finally! They really are pulling all the stops out for this one.
The Doctor locks the TARDIS door behind him, but a guard arrives with a box of spare keys.
Sue: He’s been down to the stores. It probably took him ages to find the right box; I bet he had a tea break when he was down there.
The guard tries several keys, with no success.
Sue: I could watch this all night.
Meanwhile, the Doctor is giving Borusa and the Castellan a bloody good bollocking…
Sue: I feel sorry for them. It would be terrible if you were landed with a new boss out of the blue, and they turned out to be a tyrant and a bully. (pause) By the way, I’m getting a new boss next week. Just saying.
This episode’s most exciting moment occurs when K9 has to navigate his way down a very narrow pathway in Gallifrey’s basement. Sue was on the edge of her seat when he momentarily got stuck.
K9′s work done, the Doctor introduces us to Gallifrey’s new masters…
Sue: They must be having a laugh. BacoFoil? BACOFOIL?
The Doctor laughs his head off.
Sue: Yeah, I don’t blame you for laughing. Jesus. As in: Jesus Christ, this is pathetic!top
Sue: Is this the big one?
Me: The big one?
Sue: Is this the one where the Doctor kills all the Time Lords? I’ve been dying to see this.
I’ve given up trying to tell her that the Time War takes place off-screen. Screw it.
Me: Wait and see.
The Vardans -
Sue: The what, sorry?
Sue: Never heard of them. They are just CSO that’s gone badly wrong. They look like something you’d put in as a temporary placeholder, if you didn’t have the real effect ready.
The Doctor examines his new lead-lined quarters…
Sue: That’s an interesting set.
Me: I’d love a study like that.
Sue: Don’t tempt me. You know I like a challenge. It won’t be real lead, though, but this isn’t either, so who’s bothered?
The Doctor, now shielded from the Vardans, confides in Borusa.
Sue: I knew he wasn’t the bad guy. I knew he wouldn’t let me down.
Andred helps Leela and Rodan escape from the capital, and Sue makes a very important observation:
Sue: This would look terrible in NTSC. All those reds. They’d bleed everywhere.
The Doctor insists that Leela be banished.
Sue: The Doctor just wants to protect her. He doesn’t want her in the city when he blows it up and kills all the Time Lords. He could have dropped her on a nice beach resort before any of this started, of course, but there you go. He was probably worried that the TARDIS wouldn’t get back to her, and she’d end up killing half the tourists.
Leela and Rodan make it outside…
Sue: I was hoping it would look more like Dune and less like Rhyl. Gallifrey is one disappointment after another.
They immediately run into Gallifrey’s Outsiders.
Sue: They are very posh for a bunch of wild savages. By the sound of them, the only clubs this lot are familiar with are book clubs.
Nesbin, their leader, introduces Leela and Rodan to his people. Rodan insists that she doesn’t need their help.
Nesbin: You wouldn’t last three days out here.
Sue: She won’t last three minutes! Look, she’s crying already. The first woman that we’ve seen on Gallifrey, and she turns out to be rubbish.
In the capital, the Vardans start throwing their weight around…
Sue: It’s a shame, this. This might have been OK if only the monsters had been up to scratch. It should have been the Daleks. Or the Cybermen, I mean, look at them. Just scrunch ‘em up and chuck ‘em in the bin. They’ll scream, “Foiled again!”. Geddit? Foiled. Foil. Tin foil. No?
The Castellan reminds Sue of somebody else (besides Leonard Rossiter):
Sue: He’s Gallifrey’s Nick Clegg. He’s dressed in yellow, he’s obsequious, and he’ll do anything for a whiff of power. Oh, and I want to punch him in the face. Yeah, that pretty much sums it up.
The Vardan’s instruct the Doctor to dismantle the quantum force field that surrounds Gallifrey.
Sue: Even their voices are rubbish. They sound like continuity announcers. No offence, Glen.
The Doctor asks his allies to share a bit of trust and materialise.
Vardan: We are not ready yet.
Sue: No, we are still in the oven. (pause) Because we look like tin foil, and you use tin foil for cooking -
Me: Yes, Sue, we get it.
Sue: Hang on, if they haven’t materialised yet, they might look better in a minute. There’s still hope.
The Castellan takes great pleasure in rooting potential trouble makers out of the Time Lords’ ranks.
Sue: This one could be William Hartnell’s brother. Hey, maybe it is the Doctor’s brother…
The poor Time Lord is escorted outside. He asks the guards to slow down because he’s in his tenth regeneration.
Sue: David Tennant seemed to manage OK.
The episode concludes with Andred barging his way into the TARDIS, where he pulls a gun on the Doctor.
Sue: The cliffhangers have been pretty good in this story. If only the monsters were better…top
Sue: Last episode. Let’s knock this out so we can watch Dallas.
Give me strength…
The first thing for Sue to deal with is the Vardan’s new appearance.
Sue: The Vardans have changed. Is this what they really look like?
Me: No, these are new CGI effects. I thought you could do with a break.
Sue: They are marginally better, I suppose. Marginally.
The Doctor mocks Andred’s inability to stage a palace coup.
Sue: Maybe all the Time Lords start out as guards or air traffic controllers? Maybe’s there’s a prequel series to be made with the young Doctor busting Time Lord chops as a cop.
The Doctor tells Andred that Rassilon’s mind lives on in the APC Net, and he might be able to help them.
Sue: What is Tom staring at? Why can’t he look at the person he’s talking to? I’m sorry but Tom Baker is starting to get on my tits.
Leela rustles up a (very) small army.
Sue: What a motley crew. I wouldn’t bet on this lot taking over a small shop, let alone a capital city.
The Doctor returns to Gallifrey’s basement to fiddle with its transduction barriers.
Sue: Gallifreyan technology isn’t very impressive. I thought it’d be made of crystals and shit. It’s… ordinary.
With Gallifrey’s barriers down, the Vardans materialise into their natural forms.
Sue: WHAT WAS THE POINT?
The Doctor: Mmm. Disappointing, aren’t they?
Sue: Disappointing? Understatement of the ****ing century. All that for… for THAT? How shit is Gallifrey if it can be threatened by these losers?
Leela and her rag-tag army advance on the citadel…
Sue: So, can this lot regenerate or not? I doubt they’d want to, but you never know.
It finally dawns on the Vardans that the Doctor has betrayed them.
Sue: They look and act like henchmen. I can’t believe they are supposed to be all-powerful alien conquerors. They look like extras from another story who have wandered in by mistake. Gallifrey has been invaded by chartered accountants. This is embarrassing.
The Castellan issues instructions for the Doctor to be shot on sight.
Sue: All the eights, eighty-eight.
K9 figures out where the Vardans hail from (“They are so shit-hot, no one has ever heard of them”), and the Doctor promptly places them in a time loop.
Sue: What an anti-climax. That was dreadful.
The Doctor has triumphed over evil once more, so I quickly jump in:
Me: What mark are you going to give this?
Sue: The ending was rushed, the villains were rubbish, and the subplot with Leela and that tribe went nowhere. It started really well – the script was pretty good – but they didn’t do it justice.
Sue: **** me, it’s the Sontarans.
Me: I know!
Sue: So this isn’t finished yet? You lied to me?
Me: Yes, but wasn’t it worth it? Isn’t this an amazing cliffhanger? It knocked my socks off when I was eight years old. It was the most shocking thing I’d ever witnessed on television.
Sue: Ok, it’s a pretty good cliffhanger. Big round of applause. But it also means that the last three episodes were a complete waste of time. How many episodes are left?
Sue: Sod that, let’s put Dallas on.top
Sue: Cor blimey, guv’nor. Apples and pears. Stone the crows. Is that Sontaran a Cockney?
Me: Well, he’s more Cockney than you are. That sounded Welsh.
Sue: They could put Phil Mitchell under that helmet. Then they wouldn’t have to bother with any make-up.
Borusa returns to his office and he proceeds to squeeze a tiny ball as he paces up and down.
Sue: Gallifreyan air freshener. The Doctor must have reeked.
Borusa pipes the sound of bells into the Panopticon, and everybody legs it when the Sontarans are temporarily disabled. Everybody except the Castellan, who remains behind to help his new overlords.
Sue: Why isn’t Nick Clegg running in the opposite direction? And why is he wearing welding gloves?
Leela takes out a Sontaran with a knife to the probic vent.
Sue: It’s a bullseye!
The Doctor and friends make it safely back to Borusa’s office and they lock themselves in. The Sontarans try to batter the door down.
Sue: (as a Sontaran) Open the door, you slag, you’re nicked!
Our heroes escape through the secret passage. But before they leave, the Doctor unlocks the door for the Sontarans.
Sue: Why did he do that? He could have stalled them for ages. Seriously, why did he do that?
Another Sontaran is killed.
Sue: Why don’t they cover up that hole with a little flap? Why do they walk around with it unprotected like that? Oooh, K9 can go backwards!
The Doctor asks Borusa to give him the Great Key of Rassilon. After a lot of persuading, the Cardinal finally hands an ordinary looking key over to his former pupil. The Doctor throws it away.
Sue: I didn’t think so. I was expecting a big gold key with diamonds encrusted in the -
Borusa hands over the real key.
The Sontarans are after the Great Key as well, and the Castellan is determined to help them succeed.
Sue: Do the Sontarans ever take their helmets off in this one?
Me: No, they couldn’t afford it. All the money had gone.
Sue: OK, fair enough.
The Sontarans fire upon the Doctor and Borusa, but they are protected by the Cardinal’s personal force field.
Sue: The Sontarans aren’t coming out of this well. I like the relationship between the Doctor and his old teacher, though. I knew he’d come good in the end. It’s quite sweet, really.
Unfortunately, Borusa’s batteries are about to run out…
Sue: Just take them out and give them a little rub. It works every time.
The pair successfully reach the safety of the TARDIS. The Doctor sends Leela, Borusa, K9 and Andred to the VIP suite. He then teams up with Rodan to repair Gallifrey’s broken barriers.
Sue: These two work very well together. She’s much more capable now that she’s back in the studio. She would be an interesting companion, actually. But Leela has settled in nicely now, so you can’t get rid of her. And if the Doctor travelled with two women at the same time, it would look a bit suspect.
The Castellan continues to help the Sontarans any way he can.
Sue: Why is Nick Clegg doing this? What is he hoping to get out of this?
The Castellan reverses the TARDIS’ stabiliser banks and the Doctor proclaims that they will be thrown into a black star.
Sue: Dock his pay!top
Sue: It’s as if a bunch of fans got together to make an episode of Doctor Who at ICI Wilton.
The Doctor, Leela and Rodan find themselves deep inside the TARDIS…
Sue: Where are we now?
Me: The TARDIS.
Sue: This is the TARDIS?
Sue: This is the TARDIS?
Me: Yes. Have you gone deaf?
Sue: No, but this DVD seems to be on a loop.
These corridors really do look the same…
Sue: I don’t know what I expected the inside of the TARDIS to look like, but it definitely wasn’t this.
The Sontarans enter the console room.
Sue: It doesn’t feel right seeing this lot in the TARDIS. It feels like she’s being violated.
The Doctor and friends continue to traipse through the ship’s interior.
Sue: Why would the Doctor programme his TARDIS to look a disused hospital? Why is that even an option?
Meanwhile, Andred and K9 are killing time in the TARDIS workshop.
Sue: And why would the TARDIS have windows? And why would you black them out with bin bags? This is so cheap, it’s taking the piss now. I just don’t buy it.
Sontaran Commander Stor is determined to defeat the Doctor, and he slams his helmet back on his head to show us that he means business.
Sue: He can’t even put his helmet on straight. How will he see a thing out of that? Do you want to retake that? No? That will do? Oh, alright then.
The Sontarans pursue our heroes through the TARDIS bathroom, and a trooper has a nasty incident with a sun lounger.
Sue: He’s being attacked by an alien that looks like a chair. I can’t believe he didn’t fall into the water. Cheap!
And then it’s wall-to-wall questions for quite some considerable time:
Sue: Why does the TARDIS contain a small secondary school? Why does the TARDIS have stairs? Why isn’t all on one level? Why don’t the lifts work? Why does the TARDIS look as if it smells of urine?
I stop jotting these questions down after a while.
And then the scene that breaks the camel’s back, as Stor’s peripheral vision lets him down BUT he still manages to shoot Andred in the arm.
Sue: Can I give a negative score?
Leela and Borusa end up going around in circles.
Leela: Déjà vu. Back where we started.
Sue: Déjà Poo.
Next to the swimming pool, the Doctor entices a Sontaran into the maw of a giant plant with some birdsong impressions. Yes, you read that right.
Sue: They could afford to make a giant plant that is on-screen for less than thirty seconds, but they couldn’t make a corridor with some circles on it? And who waters these plants? Does the Doctor have to come down here every night before he goes to bed?
The Sontarans continue to march up and down the TARDIS corridors.
Sue: There are only two of them left. Leela has already proved that she can take them out with a knife, so what’s the problem?
And then Sue shocks me:
Sue: The BBC should never have broadcast this.
In the TARDIS workshop, the Doctor puts the finishing touches to a Demat gun.
Sue: Nice cupboards. I’d love to give them a nice coat of Farrow & Ball.
She is reaching for any positives she can find, but that’s all she’s got.
The Doctor tests the Demat gun out on an advancing Sontaran, who promptly vanishes.
Sue: The Doctor shouldn’t carry a gun, let alone use one. This is terrible.
The Doctor confronts Commander Stor in the Panopticon. The Sontaran threatens to blow up the entire galaxy in a fit of pique.
Sue: With a hand grenade? Piss off.
So the Doctor kills him.
Sue tuts, loudly.
There is a white flash and the Doctor is knocked unconscious. All that remains of the Demat gun is the Great Key.
Sue: It’s a shit gun if you can only fire it twice.
The Doctor has had his memory wiped by Rassilon.
Sue: I wish he could wipe this from my memory.
Me: Don’t worry, at your age, the same thing will happen by the end of next week.
The Doctor returns to his TARDIS with the sound of jubilant Gallifreyans still ringing in his ears.
Sue: And now the Daleks turn up…
The Doctor opens the TARDIS door and he ushers his companion inside. But Leela has elected to stay on Gallifrey.
Sue: What? Why?
Leela reaches for Andred’s hand.
Sue: **** OFF!
K9 decides to stay with his mistress.
Sue is truly gobsmacked. She really thinks this is the end of the road for K9 in Doctor Who. And she’s furious with the Leela/Andred resolution.
Sue: When did they fall in love? I know his pants are tight, but this is ridiculous. Leela wouldn’t do that. Never in a million years.
Inside the TARDIS, the Doctor retrieves a box with K9 Mark II stencilled on the side.
Sue: WHAT? Where did he get that from? Is there a shop that sells K9s?
The Doctor grins at the camera.
Sue: DOCK HIS ****ING PAY!top
The Final Score
Sue: Oh dear. The first four episodes were bad enough, but when the Sontarans turned up, I thought, they can still pull this out of the bag. And then it got worse.
Me: What about the first episode?
Sue: What about it? If it wasn’t for the first episode, this would have been minus-2.
Me: I’ll lock the doors…
The experiment continues…top
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