Sue: Steve Gallagher. Why does that name ring a bell?
Me: You met him 15 years ago. He came to our university to talk about scriptwriting.
Sue: Did you ask him a question about Doctor Who?
Me: No, I was too embarrassed.
Sue: That’s a shame. Oh well, I’m not worried about upsetting him. It’s not as if I’ll ever bump into him again if this turns out to be rubbish.
The episode begins with an impressive tracking shot which takes us into an elaborate spaceship set.
Sue: This is the beginning of Alien, isn’t it?
And the shot just won’t stop…
Sue: ****ing hell, this is impressive. I’ve never seen a camera move like this on Doctor Who before.
When we reach the ship’s bridge, Sue is introduced to its human crew.
Sue: It’s Randall and Hopkirk!
Me: Just Hopkirk, actually.
Two workers, Aldo and Royce, toss a coin which suddenly freezes in mid-air.
Sue: That coin has been pixellated to ****. Quantel was a bit crap in the early 1980s, wasn’t it?
When the coin eventually falls to the ground, the ship’s consoles simultaneously explode.
Sue: That was an insane opening.
Me: Insane good or insane bad?
Sue: It’s great!
A crew member named Sagan immediately catches Sue’s eye. I can’t imagine why.
Sue: It’s Vince Vicious – the love child of Sid Vicious and Vince from Queer As Folk.
She even recognises the ship’s captain, Rorvik. Well, sort of.
Sue: He’s dead famous, him. They’ve got a good guest cast this week. So far so good.
The Doctor and Romana are still searching for a way out of E-Space.
Sue: They’re bickering again. In real life, I mean. I can tell. I wish you hadn’t told me they kept falling out. I can’t stop noticing it and it’s making me feel sad.
At least Adric seems happy.
Sue: Adric is lovely to K9. See, he just stroked his head. They’ve definitely bonded.
Back on the spaceship, a time-sensitive lion named Biroc is having a terrible time.
Sue: What’s wrong with Lenny?
As Biroc escapes from his captors, Sue sighs.
Sue: I hate it when they do that on Doctor Who, and they do it an awful lot. Why not use a Spock-like neck pinch or something like that? When the monsters can knock people out without even trying, it looks pathetic.
Back on the TARDIS, the Doctor hopes to generate a non-determinate action.
Sue: I miss the Doctor’s old scarf. I’m glad it’s still there on the hat stand, though. It’s reassuring.
Romana is worried about the consequences of taking Adric out of his own universe.
Sue: She’s just looking for an excuse to get rid of him. I’m not too keen on this side to Romana. She can be quite catty when she wants.
The TARDIS console explodes violently as the doors open on a white void.
Sue: Is it the Black Guardian?
The time winds reach K9 and he catches fire.
Sue: This is definitely not good.
Biroc enters the TARDIS and fiddles with the controls. He tells Romana that he’s the shadow of his past and her future.
Sue: It’s turned into 3-2-1 again. Am I supposed to be following this?
Me: Not really.
Sue: Good. Cos I haven’t got a ****ing clue.
The Doctor wants to take K9 outside, but the poor thing is too damaged to move.
Sue: Typical. He only wants to take his dog for a walk when it’s completely impossible to do so. He’s a terrible owner.
Romana asks Adric how he’d feel if she and the Doctor went their separate ways.
Sue: I don’t like the sound of that. Romana isn’t going to leave, is she? I have a bad feeling about this.
Thankfully, the void’s minimalistic design takes her mind off it.
Sue: Visually, it’s very striking. It’s just a shame you can see the edge of the cyc curtain. We’ve seen something like this before, haven’t we?
Me: Yes, in The Mind Robber. And no, it isn’t the Master.
Sue: I didn’t say anything!
Rorvik’s crew search for the TARDIS in the void.
Sue: Why’s that man got a Calor gas heater strapped to his chest?
Meanwhile, the Doctor follows Biroc to a gothic stone doorway in the middle of nowhere.
Sue: Okay, I’ve decided to just go along with this. I haven’t got a clue what’s going on, but the atmosphere is definitely making up for it. It’s so eerie.
The episode concludes with the Doctor facing decapitation by a robot.
Sue: Nice cliffhanger. I don’t see how he can possibly get out of that.
Of course the Doctor gets out of it. However, K9’s memory wafers are totally screwed.
Sue: So K9 needs more RAM? Is there a PC World in E-Space?
Romana has a quick chat with Rorvik’s crew.
Sue: She’s brilliant. This is what her own show would be like. I know I’d watch it.
Meanwhile, back at the gateway, the Doctor is attacked by two Gundan robots.
Sue: They’re pretty scary, but they aren’t half stupid.
Marty Hopkirk prepares to close the doors to the ship.
Sue: You can tell it’s the future because their phones have been painted silver.
The crews’ orange jumpsuits remind Sue of many things, from Misfits and Guantanamo Bay to Devo.
Sue: They could also be a Formula One pit crew – it’s the chequered flag on their pockets that does it. Sorry.
Rorvik escorts Romana to the bridge.
Sue: I bet they’re miners. It’s always about mining in Doctor Who.
We discover the humans have enslaved the time-sensitive Tharils, which they use to navigate the time lines.
Sue: How did they stumble onto that? How did they know time-sensitive lions could be used that way? It’s hard to get my head around this, if I’m honest.
Rorvik forces Romana to sit in the navigator’s chair by yanking her hair.
Sue: Hey! He’s horrible! I’m definitely on the lions’ side now.
Aldo and Royce are told to prepare a Tharil for revival, but they accidentally electrocute it instead.
Sue: I wonder what roast lion tastes like?
Me: Chicken, probably.
Rorvik’s crew make their way to the stone doorway.
Sue: They look like a bunch of tourists walking around York Minster. I hope they’ve brought packed lunches with them in their backpacks.
Me: Funnily enough, they have!
Sue: Good. I like this. It’s a lot more realistic than what we usually get. This has definitely been influenced by Alien.
The Doctor forces a Gundan robot to divulge the secret of the gateway.
Me: Did you follow that?
Sue: Not really. I think we’ll have to have a chat about this later.
Meanwhile, back on the ship, the electrocuted Tharil isn’t dead after all.
Sue: You don’t get many hand-held POV shots in Doctor Who. This is way ahead of its time. The direction is superb.
The Gundan tells the Doctor there are three physical gateways, and the three are one.
Sue: I’m not following this at all. It’s beginning to slip away from me.
The wounded Tharil heads for the bridge.
Sue: It’s turned into a stalk and slash movie now.
Romana tries to break free of her bonds.
Sue: Even she’s got a POV shot! If they’re not careful, this could turn into Peep Show.
As the Tharil moves in on Romana…
Sue: (Singing) Smack my bitch up!
The lion’s paw reaches for Romana’s face.
Sue: That was a brilliant cliffhanger. I’m sorry I’m not saying very much but I’m trying to concentrate. Actually, can I ask you a few questions before we carry on?
Sue: So where do the humans come from? Do they come from our universe or do they come from E-Space? That’s what I don’t understand.
Me: I don’t know.
Sue: What do you mean, you don’t know? You’re a Doctor Who fan. You’re supposed to know these things! What bloody use are you?
Sue: This is a long recap, but I forgive them because it was so good, I actually want to see it again.
As the Tharil advances on Romana once more…
Sue: I’ve just noticed something. They’re dubbing extra moaning and groaning sounds over her.
Me: It looks like Doctor Who porn.
Sue: I wouldn’t know, love.
We glimpse the Tharil’s burnt face as he looms over Romana.
Sue: That was horrible. They didn’t show that last week, did they? Maybe they thought it was too scary? Or maybe they didn’t finish the make-up on time? Either way, that gave me a shock.
Back at the gateway, Rorvik decides to take his frustration out on K9.
Sue: Another theme of this season is, ‘let’s kick the crap out of K9’. It’s starting to annoy me. It’s cruel.
Adric flips a coin to determine his next move.
Sue: Remind me why Adric wears a blue badge again.
Me: It’s for his mathematical skills.
Sue: Oh. He looks like a sheriff. Or Terrance Trent D’Arby.
Me: You’re beginning to make less sense than Warriors’ Gate.
Biroc tells the Doctor that K9 can be fixed, but he will have to stay on the other side of the mirror.
Sue: I don’t like the sound of that.
The Doctor finally works it out.
Sue: I wish I could! I’m still enjoying this, though. I just hope it makes sense at the end.
Aldo and Royce find Romana still attached to the navigator’s chair.
Sue: Romana is the only person I know who can still take charge of a situation when she’s the one who’s tied up. She’s brilliant.
The Doctor follows Biroc through a landscape comprised entirely of black and white photographs.
Sue: Okay, I’m lost. Where are they now? Which letter of the alphabet is this universe in? Oh, and they’re having a nightmare lighting that chroma…
K9 enters Rorvik’s ship but is immediately thrown back off again.
Sue: Hopkirk! No! That was 20 grand you just wrecked. K9 is having a terrible time this week.
The crew search the ship for Romana.
Sue: This lot are idiots. The first place I would look is under that gold blanket right in front of them. It’s common sense, which this lot don’t seem to have.
One of the crew decides to investigate the ship’s power supply.
Sue: He’s dead. Whenever people decided to investigate the main routeings in horror films, they are always the next to die.
The ship’s hull is made from dwarf star alloy, which explains why it is so heavy.
Sue: That’s one hell of a design flaw.
Lane not only survives, he leaves the ship and finds Romana hiding outside.
Sue: ****ing hell! Someone on Doctor Who with peripheral vision! I may faint.
The Doctor arrives in Biroc’s past.
Sue: Meanwhile, on Zelda…
Back when the Tharil’s ran a mighty empire…
Sue: Ooh, a lioness. They’re cute, but I keep expecting them to start singing something from Cats.
The wounded Tharil takes Romana’s hand and they both disappear.
Sue: Oh, **** it. I give up. I’m just going to go with it.
The Doctor sits down for lunch.
Sue: That’s the same table from the other place. That’s a bit cheap.
We suddenly jump forward in time, thanks to an impressive match-shot.
Sue: Oh, it is the same table. I don’t understand this at all, but it’s ****ing clever.
Rorvik tries to motivate his men, who are much more interested in their packed lunches.
Sue: This is brilliantly done. It’s believable. Real people. Real idiots.
The Doctor is appalled when he discovers the Tharil empire was built on slavery.
Sue: ****ing lions. You can’t trust them, you know.
And then the episode concludes with… Erm… Er… Let’s just say it’s a very strange cliffhanger indeed.
Sue: WHAT THE ****?
Sue: It looks fantastic, the direction is stunning and the acting is great. I don’t have a clue what is going on, but I don’t care anymore. I’m just going to go with it.
The Doctor butts heads with Rorvik.
Sue: Tom Baker is very good in this. He’s so intense. I think he’s actually trying to concentrate on the plot as well.
At one point, the Doctor becomes very agitated indeed.
Sue: And now Tom’s gone completely over the top. He was walking a tightrope and he just fell off it.
Rorvik is rapidly losing the plot too.
Sue: This is what I meant when I said on the radio the other day that human villains are better than the alien monsters. This guy is much scarier than an Ice Warrior. And you could bump into him in the street.
Biroc urges the Doctor to do nothing.
Sue: I’m telling you, it’s the theme of the season: sitting on your backside doing nowt.
Adric arrives at the gateway just in time to turn Rorvik’s MZ weapon against him.
Sue: You go, girl! Sorry, I mean, you go, Adric!
Our heroes escape into the void as Rorvik fires the MZ directly at a mirror. This goes about as well as you’d expect.
Sue: They need some comedy parp-parp music. If only Dudley was still around.
Rorvik decides to use his ship’s engines to blast his way through. “But the back blast backlash will bounce back and destroy everything!” cries Romana.
Sue: I wonder how many takes it took her to say that?
The Doctor tells Romana to wait in the TARDIS. She refuses, and Adric is forced to stay behind instead.
Sue: It’s like they’re his foster parents or something.
Romana tells Adric to dematerialise the TARDIS if they don’t return in 13-and-a-half minutes.
Sue: Can you imagine Adric in his own series?
Me: I’m trying not to, thanks.
Two Tharils sneak up on the ship.
Sue: How did they get there?
Me: These are the lions who came through the mirror. I think.
Sue: All these lions look the same to me.
Rorvik attacks the Doctor.
Sue: He’s a nasty piece of work. He doesn’t look like much, but he’s a right git.
Romana hits back at Rorvik, with limited results.
Sue: Oh, Romana! I am so disappointed in you. Hitting him with a plastic clipboard? Pathetic! It wasn’t even made of wood!
Romana redeems herself by shorting out the power. Then Biroc tells the Doctor and Romana to do the right kind of nothing and all three of them disappear.
Me: Even I’m completely lost now. I’ve seen this story dozens of times, and I really hoped this would be the occasion it finally made sense.
Sue: Just go with it, love. It’s the only way.
The Doctor and Romana race back to the TARDIS. But Romana doesn’t want to leave.
Sue: Wait. What?
Romana wants to stay in E-Space with Biroc.
Sue: (Under her breath) No, no, no, no, no…
The Doctor is flabbergasted, but he doesn’t put up much of a fight.
Sue: Oh no, I don’t believe this…
He tells her that she was the noblest Romana of them all.?
Sue: This can’t be happening. Is that it?
The Doctor struggles to come to terms with what’s just happened.
Sue: Tom Baker’s bottom lip almost went then. Not that I blame him.
If that wasn’t bad enough, she also has to deal with the departure of her favourite metal mutt.
Me: Don’t worry, the Doctor can always get another K9 from the TARDIS stores.
Sue: Does he really?
Me: Don’t be silly.
Sue: So do Romana and K9 have their own adventures in E-Space, then?
Sue: I wish Ian Levine would reconstruct that.
Me: It wasn’t that bad!
Sue: No, I mean, shit, I don’t know what to give it. I need to think about it.
Me: I still don’t know what score to give it.
Sue: I definitely won’t forget it in a hurry, that’s for sure.
Sue: I’ll be honest with you – I didn’t understand it. But I don’t really care that much. It was a breath of fresh air. It was different and interesting and very, very original. I’d probably give it a 10 if I could follow it.