"Just leave everything to me!" "Yes... yes, I’m rather afraid I’ll have to!"TECHNICAL SPECS: Since it's not on DVD, I've had to watch it through the Internet. First aired Feb.6 1971.
IN THIS ONE... The Doctor is called back to London by UNIT to investigate the murder of a Chinese delegate, just missing a prison riot that puts Jo in jeopardy. And the Master is revealed as the puppet master.
REVIEW: A man taps UNIT's phones, rips off a mask, and stands revealed as the Master. If there was any doubt before that he was a Bondian villain, they should be laid to rest at that moment. Not only does he do intelligence work (I guess he likes to get his hands dirty now and then before climbing into the back of his limo) and wear Mission: Impossible masks, he's also sending a Manchurian candidate to kill communists and imperialists alike, trying to thaw the Cold War. If not for the Keller Machine zapping people from near and far (the American delegate's fear is... a dragon?), this could be a plot suitable for Bond, the I.M.F, or the Man from U.N.C.L.E. Even with the machine, it may yet be.
Another concern or interest of the time is emphasized in this episode, and that's Orientalism. In the early 70s, the Beatles went East and there was a surge of interest in Asia. So we have the rise of the martial arts picture in the West (the Doctor's Venusian karate), Chinese communism treated with a measure of respect (as opposed to "evil" Stalinism; the Doctor mentions being a personal friend of Chairman Mao's), Buddhist philosophy (Barry Letts was a Buddhist and it permeated the program in this era, so here, one might see the Keller Machine's "magic" working along those lines, or subverting them), and real Chinese actors playing Chinese characters, even speaking Chinese (is this the first time Doctor Who's used subtitles?). Part of this is the writer being married to the actress playing Chin Lee, but this was an ongoing theme in the media of the time, and Doctor Who specifically.
But enough of themes, let's talk characters. The Doctor's fear of fire is explicitly explained as a memory of the events of Inferno. The Doctor did lose a world that day, and his fear of such cataclysmic failure is justifiable. Compare to later incarnations' trauma over losing Gallifrey in the Time War. It also puts into context what the Master is doing and what's at stake. And if you don't get the politics of it, there's still that missile lurking in the background (a trifecta of evil - we're told it is nuclear-powered, has a nerve gas warhead, and is to be dumped in the ocean - sheesh!). Jo is left at the prison and gets to be candy striper to the Kellerized inmate. She's pleasant, but not given a lot to do. The Brigadier and his team are more entertaining. The Brig has a way to dress a man down in a way that doesn't make him unsympathetic, like he's shouting at them because they very well know they deserve it, but no harm done and no bad blood. Benton gets called too delicate for intelligence work, and Yates is a Cheshire Cat for grinning all the time. It's fun too that while the Doctor is quite content to order strange foods and josh with Fu Peng in his native tongue, the Brig finds the Chinese completely alien, like he'd rather be having lunch with an Auton.
REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Some good character bits keep the rather slow plot from sinking the episode.