All things must change: Doctor Who Season 18

Tom Baker’s last season as the Doctor shook things up in multiple ways. Starting of course, with being Baker’s last season as the Doctor. A total of seven seasons and almost 200 episodes made him the longest-serving Doctor and the definitive one for many people.

Behind the scenes, Jonathan Nathan-Turner took over as showrunner, which led to a vast improvement over s17. Lalla Ward’s Romana, who also departs the TARDIS, comes off a much stronger character and the stories are al superior. We kick off with THE LEISURE HIVE, in which the two Time Lords visit the eponymous alien vacation spot, currently advertising a miracle rejuvenation treatment as an incentive for visitors. But the treatment has some problems and then the murders start … Not spectacular, but a solid start. “They’re doing interesting things with tachyons.”

I have absolutely no memory of seeing MEGLOS, even though I know I must have. It’s not the fault of the story which involves an alien intellect hidden in a cactus duplicating the Doctor’s body to steal a doomsday McGuffin. Can the Doctr save the alien culture that owns it, and is already falling apart over a science/religion dispute? Jacqueline Hill (one of the original companions) plays the religious leader though they don’t make much of that. But Romana battling the killer tulip I could have done without. “Let’s hope many hands make the lights work.”

Then the Doctor finally follows orders and brings Romana back to Gallifrey … except instead they wind up trapped in the vaguely explained Exospace for three serials. in FULL CIRCLE they land on a planet where shipwrecked travelers have been trying for generations to launch their ship and survive the attacks of the monstrous Marshmen. But the leaders have a secret about the colony’s history that they’re not telling…. this introduced Adric (Matthew Waterhouse), a mathematical prodigy, as the first of the new Companions for S19. He’s a little stolid for me, but by the start of the following season he’s improving. “We can’t return to Tramadon … because we’ve never been.”

STATE OF DECAY has the TARDIS land on another planet where the peasantry are under the thumb of hree sinister rulers who emerge in the dark and have sharp fangs — and did I mention there are a lot of bats flying around? A throwback to the horror stories of S15, it’s not at the same level but it is good. “In terms of applied socio-energetics, this society is losing its grip on level two development.”

As I have a soft spot for weird reality-warped TV stories (though I can be critical of them precisely for the same reason), I really enjoyed WARRIOR’S GATE. The TARDIS materializes on a space freighter using alien warriors to navigate the convoluted time-space of the area; outside the ship there’s nothing but white space and the broken-off front of an ancient building. The Doctor and Romana eventually figure out what’s going on and Romana sees her way out of returning to Gallifrey — staying in E-Space with K9 to liberate the warriors from other slavers (surprisingly most expanded universe stories about Romana have her return to Normal Space rather than stick around in E-Space). The Doctor and Adric return to N-Space. “A busted engine and a lost navigator — we have nowhere to to and no way to get there!’

No sooner do they arrive than THE KEEPER OF TRAKEN, leader of a benevolent union of worlds, summons them to his planet for help. Thanks to his power, evil intrusions manifest as statues and eventually shrivel away — but the latest Melkur hasn’t withered. It turns out that all is not well among the leaders of Traken and whoever’s behind the Melkur is taking full advantage of it. Can Adric, The Doctor and Nyssa (Sarah Sutton), daughter of Traken councilor Tremas (Anthony Ainsley), uproot the menace and destroy it?

This is a good one to start with and more memorable because the “who” behind the Melkur is the Master, returning for the first time since The Deadly Assassin. This story has a lot in common with that one — an ineffective bureaucracy facing a succession crisis, the Doctor suspected of murder, the Master lurking — but it stands on its own. At the end it appears the Master’s done for … until he traps Tremas and steals his body, making up for having used up his own regenerations. “Find your TARDIS, Time Lord — much good may it do you now.”

The season and Baker’s tenure close with the excellent LOGOPOLIS. The Doctor realizes that even in England his TARDIS’ outer shell is out of place — police boxes were largely phased out by then — so he turns to Logopolis, where their mental mastery of “block computation” will enable him to remake the TARDIS’ chameleon circuit. The Master is out to destroy him as usual, but when he arrives on Logopolis, where the monastic inhabitants are engaged in strange computations, he decides to shake things up by killing a few of them (this season was when shrinking people to death became his signature move).

Bad mistake. It turns out that the universe has already achieved heat death; Logopolis has been staving off the entropic end of everything by maintaining wormholes into other universes until it can open up a permanent gate. The Master’s killing so many people has shut the wormholes down so now entropy is catching up. Very fast. In the end, the Doctor and the Master have to work together to save the universe, but surprise, the Master pulls a double-cross! Fortunately the end has been prepared for …

Ainsley’s Master is more a malevolent mustache twirler than the restrained, sociopathic intellectual of the Pertwee years but he works as the new archfoe (he worked much better when I hadn’t seen Delgado in years). Nyssa winds up joining the cast — not only is her father dead, the entropic collapse wiped out the Traken Union — and so does Tegan Jovanka (Janet Fielding, above left). An Aussie air hostess who tries using the TARDIS to call the cops, she winds up trapped inside. I’ve read that adding her to the cast — the first Earth companion since Hand of Fear — was so that there’d be a non-tech person who could ask for exposition (something K9 and Romana hardly needed). They didn’t make her dumb, and she’s the most opinionated, short-tempered companion in … forever? All the ingredients are in place for Peter Davison’s first season as the Fifth Doctor, but that’ll have to wait until my next post.  “This was the work of the most brilliant master criminal in the universe!”

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