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DOCTOR WHO: A Companion’s Companion – Season 18

After one of the most ridiculous seasons in Doctor Who history (partially saved by one of the best stories in Doctor Who history), the series embarked on a new decade with a new producer, new script editor, new theme arrangement, new incidental music, new outlook, and new costume. However, it maintained the same lead actor and companions… at least for one more year.

When the Graham Williams era ended, and Douglas Adams’ sole year controlling scripts had followed suit, the series needed a bit of a regeneration of its own. Unit Production Manager John Nathan-Turner, who had worked on the show for several years already, was given the opportunity to produce. As he was brand new to producing, Barry Letts, producer of the Jon Pertwee years and still a BBC staffer at the time, was tasked with overseeing Nathan-Turner in his inaugural year in the role of Executive Producer, a title which hadn’t be used on the show before.

JNT (as he would affectionately be known) and Letts wanted to leave behind the silliness of the Williams years and take a hard left turn into stories based in real science. For that, they turned to new script editor Christopher H. Bidmead, who would bring a love of computers and a reliance on mathematical concepts to bring the show back from fantasy. During this year, there was a loose arc on the subject of entropy, or, in very basic terms, the tendency for a system to want to reach thermodynamic equilibrium, leading to an end of energy. It’s sometimes called “the heat death of the universe.” I honestly don’t understand it much, or for that matter much of the season.

 

Season 18 – 30 August 1980 – 21 March 1981

Hive 1What I do respond to, though, are the themes, the return to the continuity between serials (Season 18 through Season 20 all lead one story into the next), and Tom Baker’s much more reined-in performance. At this time, Baker did his usual pre-season song-and-dance of saying that this would be his last year; only, this time, the producers agreed with him. This season became about the Doctor’s longest-held incarnation (we imagine) coming to terms with the fact that he’s getting ready to go away. The stories all deal with him aging, changing, moving on, and essentially preparing for his death.

This begins right away with The Leisure Hive, written by David Fisher, his fourth and final credited story for the show. In it, the Doctor and Romana (still played by Lalla Ward, who at this time could barely be around Tom Baker without them erupting into arguments) venture to Argolis for some rest and relaxation following a disastrous trip to Brighton Beach in which K-9 blew up after going into the water. The Leisure Hive is facing bankruptcy and an offer comes from Foamasi, the people to whom the Argolin lost an embarrassing 20-minute war forty years earlier. The Argolin refuse the offer, but soon things begin to happen, including the rapid cellular degradation and death of several people. The Doctor is put into a machine when a malfunction occurs, leaving him 500 years older and visibly decrepit.

Hive 2From there, it goes into clones and replicas and “re-creation” and things like that. It’s a good story but, as with most of the stories this season, is hard to explain concisely. I can say, however, that it sets the stage for the wholly different, much more serious and dour, and highly technical season. Tom Baker looks visibly older even before he’s put in the old age makeup, and his new costume and scarf, being all maroon and quite large, have the feeling of a burial shroud. As the last story screen prior to this one was the highly goofy “The Horns of Nimon,” “The Leisure Hive” is an important shift in gears, which did lead to this season’s ratings dropping, but is now looked on rather fondly.

Meglos 1The second story of the year was Meglos, written by the duo of John Flanagan and Andrew McCulloch, their sole contribution to the series. JNT was keen to try out new writers, and, hence, very few people during his initial seasons came back to write again and even fewer had written for the show previously (only two, in fact).  On the planet Tigella, two societies of the humanoid Tigellans vie for supremacy. One, the Savants, are scientifically minded and harness the energy from the mysterious Dodecahedron crystal to power their way of life; the other, the Deons, are religious fanatics led by Lexa (played by Jacqueline Hill, who portrayed First Doctor companion Barbara Wright) and worship the Dodecahedron as a god. The put-upon leader of the world, Zaster, tries desperately to keep the two ideologically dissident clans from killing each other.

The Doctor comes to visit his old friend Zaster, but is caught in a Chronic Hysteratic Loop, which is basically keeping the TARDIS in a constant repeat of the same small pocket of time. The culprit in the matter is Meglos, the last survivor of Tigella’s neighboring planet. He’s a cactus who can change shape, and who decides to become the Doctor. With him is a band of space pirates who want to steal the riches of Tigella whilst Meglos takes the Dodecahedron, as it belonged on his world to begin with.

Meglos 2This is a bit of a convoluted story as well, big surprise, but there’s kind of a lot I like about it. First of all, it’s awesome that Tom Baker gets to play an evil double of himself. He really seems to relish this opportunity after playing the heroic Doctor for going on seven years. The two cultures, while very clearly archetypes (and we’ve seen it before in stories like “The Face of Evil”), are well drawn and more civilized, which makes their conflict all the more troubling. “Meglos” isn’t a favorite story, but it works well for what it is, and again we get to see the Fourth Doctor deal with a character who is without hope for a future, furthering the theme of endings and entropy.

Full Circle 2The next three stories take a bit of a jaunt into a new and uncharted alternate universe called E-Space (as opposed to N-Space, which is where we normally are) on the way back to Gallifrey to return Romana to the Time Lords. Do these stories also deal with entropy? You better believe it! The first of these is Full Circle, written by Andrew Smith, a 17-year-old fan of the show who had been corresponding with script editors of the show for years. His only story for the series, Smith was given the task of introducing a brand new companion, the young math whiz Adric, played by Matthew Waterhouse. Adric became a bit of a pariah among Who fans, but I think that’s rather unfair. When written well, as he is here, he’s a really deep and interesting character.

Sliding into a pocket universe, thanks to a Charged Vacuum Emboitment, which I’m sure isn’t a thing, the TARDIS lands on the planet Alzarius, a swampy and green world with one known civilization, those that were aboard a crashed spaceship, the Starliner, and their descendents. While the people have things to do, most of this is in aid of finally fixing the ship so they can get back to their own world. The society is run by an oligarchy of three Deciders, elders who deliberate about just about everything.

Full Circle 1Strange occurrences begin to happen, including weird eggs in the riverfruit, as well as the appearance of hostel-looking humanoids from under the water, which become known as Marshmen. They want to get into the Starliner; however, the Doctor determines that they might not be quite the hostile monsters they appear. Adric, meanwhile, is trying to prove himself to his older brother Varsh, who is the leader of a gang of youths. When Varsh dies, Adric decides to stowaway aboard the TARDIS, hoping to join the Doctor and Romana on their travels.

Decay 2Their next travels through E-Space take them to a feudal planet for State of Decay, written by former script editor Terrance Dicks from a story he’d submitted years earlier. It has the Doctor, Romana, Adric, and K-9 meeting three ancient rulers of the world, who call themselves “The Three Who Rule,” living in a huge, Gothic-looking tower. Yearly, in something called “the Selection,” some young peasants are brought to the tower, never to be seen again. The Doctor and Romana find evidence of technology far beyond the level of advancement evident on the planet. Why would they revert to such a state?

The Doctor and Romana are captured, as is Adric, though Aukon, one of the TWR, think he could make a good “chosen one.” The Doctor and Romana, unlike Adric, were kidnapped by people of the resistance movement who utilize forbidden intelligence. It is learned that the Three Who Rule are, in a sense, vampires, and that every society on every planet has some form of vampire mythos. This is due to the ancient alien vampires, long thought destroyed by the Time Lords, however the Doctor must finish the job for them.

Decay 1Now, this is a sort of throwback story. Dicks had written it initially for the Philip Hinchcliffe/Robert Holmes period of the show, but the BBC decided that since it was about to premiere its own version of Dracula, another vampire story wouldn’t be a good idea. As such, it was pulled out of the archives for this season, which actually works very well. A lot of the themes, about ancient things attempting to remain young at the expense of the progress of the world around, fit right in with the entropic ideas put in place. Plus, Tom in this is a bit back to the way he was during that bygone era, and as a staunch fan of that period, it’s very welcome.

GateThe final E-Space story is Warriors’ Gate by Stephen Gallagher. It sees the TARDIS get stuck in a white void between E and N spaces. There’s also lion-like humanoids called Tharils who can travel through solid matter and slightly out of time. Or something. I could read the Wikipedia entry to get a better idea, but honestly I don’t know what the hell this story is about. It’s super weird and ethereal and had a lot of behind-the-scenes issues because director Paul Joyce was going over budget and over schedule and had to be replaced for a time by Graeme Harper. That’s all I got. At the end of the story, Romana, weirdly, decides she wants to stay in E-Space and the Doctor pawns K-9 off on her. At this point, Tom Baker and Lalla Ward could hardly stand to look at each other and would fight constantly on set so she was happy to leave. The two got married not long after. Not even kidding. It did not last.

Traken 1Back in N-Space, the Doctor and Adric end up on the planet Traken for the story The Keeper of Traken written by Johnny Byrne. A holographic image of the titular Keeper, an old, grizzled man, appears in the TARDIS and asks for help. It seems his position is soon to be passed on to Consul Tremas (Anthony Ainley), but he fears that Tremas, his wife Kassia, or his daughter Nyssa (Sarah Sutton) are somehow connected to the Melkur, an evil creature that arrived two years ago but has become a calcified statue. The Doctor and Adric visit the Keeper just as people end up dead in the grove in which the Melkur stands. It appears as though they died thanks to some kind of plasma weapon, which, to the people of Traken, suggests the Doctor is involved.

The Melkur is in cahoots with Tremas’ wife Kassia, who only wants to keep her husband safe. She agrees to being mind-controlled by the Melkur and, under his influence, she has Tremas, Nyssa, the Doctor, and Adric all arrested and herself installed as the new Keeper, the previous one having just died. As soon as she assumes the throne, though, she disappears and the Melkur appears in her place. The Doctor and company must then get out and stop the Melkur from draining the Source of energy. But – TA-DA – the Melkur is actually a TARDIS driven by none other than – TA-DA TA-DA – the Master, still decomposing and needing a new body. Though the Doctor defeats him, he is able to overtake the body of the kindly Tremas, beginning his evil anew.

Traken 2This is quite a good story. The Traken society just seems to make sense, and the emphasis on science as a religion, and as an old scientist as the spiritual leader, is very interesting and quite in keeping with the series at this time. The return of the Master is a shocking one if you know nothing of the later seasons, and his taking Tremas’ body is especially sad, considering it leaves Nyssa an orphan (more on that later). This is also the only story in which the Fourth Doctor and Adric are together without any other companions, really, and they actually had some decent chemistry even if, no big surprise, Baker didn’t really like Waterhouse. Still, he’s a good enough actor to hide his disdain and the story is the better for it.

Logopolis 1All of this has been leading to the final story of the Season, Logopolis, written by Christopher H. Bidmead himself, who would step down as script editor following his single year. While attempting to get updated measurements of a London police box to give to the mathematicians on Logopolis, the Doctor and Adric find themselves in a recursive loop as they keep exiting the TARDIS only to find themselves inside the TARDIS again. They eventually figure out that the Master has materialized his own ship around theirs, trapping them. The Doctor decides to flush him out by moving them to the bottom of the Thames, but instead they end up on a boat, with no sign of the Master anywhere. In the distance, the Doctor spies a strange ghostly-white figure watching them. He’s called “The Watcher.”

Meanwhile, Tegan Jovanka (Janet Fielding), an Australian air hostess trying to get to Heathrow for her first day on the job, has accidentally boarded the TARDIS, thinking it to be a real police box. Her aunt Vanessa drove her, but was killed by the Master’s Tissue Compression Eliminator. They go to Logopolis, a society of mathematicians that keep the universe running properly, where the Doctor meets with the Monitor, the leader of them. However, things begin to look grim when it becomes clear the Master has been meddling. Nyssa is on Logopolis as well, believing the Master to still be her father. Logopolis had created Charged Vacuum Emboitments as a means of venting some of the entropy from the universe into other universes, but the Master, having messed with the calculations, have removed them, instantly turning Logopolis into dust.

Logopolis 2The Doctor eventually agrees to help the Master at the giant Earth telescope called the Pharos Project, but is doublecrossed yet again and, in order to stop the Master from being evil, is forced to sacrifice himself, falling from the heights of the telescope. On the ground, the Doctor and his now THREE companions circle him while the Watcher, who was a vision of his new incarnation, joins with the dying Fourth Doctor and he regenerates into the Fifth Doctor, Peter Davison.

Aside from a lot of gobbledygook that I really don’t quite understand, “Logopolis” is really a great story to end the Fourth Doctor’s storied run. The entirety of Season 18 felt like the end of something and this story felt like a funeral throughout, very somber and dirge-like. The Master returning to his former glory makes the Doctor’s sacrifice even more sad, but seeing Davison’s youthful visage appear with a smile gives hope to the future.

While Season 18 didn’t do great things in the ratings, the end of Tom Baker’s tenure aboard the TARDIS did usher in a whole new regime behind-the-scenes. Barry Letts was no longer needed as Executive Producer and for the next 8 seasons, John Nathan-Turner would be steering the boat himself. With the Fifth Doctor, there was a renewed excitement about the show but also a whole new set of problems. Joy of joys! Farewell, Tom Baker; hello Peter Davison!

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2 comments

  • I’m surprised there wasn’t more mention of how good Anthony Ainley is as the Master. Roger Delgado was so good, and Ainley is the perfect follow-up. I guess there will be more chances to mention him, though.

  • Would have to agree that there is not much about this season that doesn’t work.The Leisure Hive and Meglos are quite conventional and traditional Doctor Who stories,although i also find them to be the least satisfying and effective.Doctor Who still works dramatically despite the change of emphasis to high concept science fiction,although i think it’s immediately apparent that action sequences are not as prevalent too.Bidmead did a really impressive job with the narrative structure and the differing transitional requirements of the stories,disposing of Romana and K9 and introducing Adric,Nyssa and Tegan.The narrative is very cohesive and it’s very clear that the seasons conclusion is the result of preceding stories.Tom Baker is as committed to his character and the programme as ever,despite the fact he was not really happy with the new tone.Most of the direction is ambitious and imaginative too.