"Disappointing ending, you know?"
IN THIS ONE... The Doctor escapes the miniscope and gets everyone out, but not before the drashigs also escape and eat a few aliens.
REVIEW: I think it's interesting that once the Doctor has come out of the miniscope, he lays down the law in a manner very much in keeping with all the stuffy bureaucrats who have crashed his own adventures since the UNIT era began. It's either the height of hypocrisy, or a very quick assessment of the politics in play and a bluff that would appeal to the Inter Minorans' sensibilities. It's equally interesting that Vorg immediately sees through this and brands the Doctor a carny. The point being made is that Vorg is not unlike the Doctor, traveling the universe with an "assistant" (and in a way, the Doctor is seeing his 6th self and doesn't know it), but it's a callous, corrupted version of the Doctor. The black comedy when Vorg makes Shirna "find" the live circuit is funny, but the ending doesn't sit as well with me, as the con man gets a smile rather than a punishment after treating people as animals in his peep show.
While I remain unconvinced of the story's potential as a satire of television, there are a couple of meta-textual whoppers in the Jo/shipboard thread. Unfortunately, they draw attention to what's wrong with those sequences. Jo's boredom at getting arrested yet again works relatively well. We might laugh at her jadedness without necessarily thinking of the character as one designed to be captured and held hostage each week. It does, however, draw attention to the fact these sequences ARE repetitive and boring. Less redeemable is the Major's opinion of a book he finally finishes after what could be centuries of reading the same page: "Disappointing ending." It's hard not to repurpose the statement at the episode's expense, and as you can see from the pulled quote, I just couldn't resist. The ending is abominable, but it's not particularly interesting either.
The Doctor sends everyone home, Kalik the ambitious Minoran gets eaten (maybe) by a drashig, and the miniscope is destroyed, pretty much as expected. But then there's the lucky power pack found by Vorg from his time in the service that just happens to fit the sabotaged artillery gun built on a long-isolated planet. What were the chances? It's all a little too pat. The S.S. Bernice is sent back to 1926, but the Doctor still remembers it as a "lost ship", so many it meets an untimely end. Who knows. Again, this is a story not terribly interested in consequences. We've had our fun with boats and dinosaurs and drashigs and gray aliens, now let's all go home in time for dinner. Robert Holmes hasn't yet fully come into his powers.
VERSIONS: There are a couple differences in the Target novelization, including the Doctor using a flare gun to light the marsh gas instead of the sonic, and the miniscope's innate ability to draw the view in hypnotically. The Special Edition DVD includes the re-edit of the ending for the 1981 retransmission, in which director Barry Letts was allowed to trim Pletarc's close-ups to remove the noticeable slip of his skull cap. It's a better version by virtue of not lingering so much on the whole shell game bit.
REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Perfectly serviceable, with a fun line here and there, but the plot is on automatic and ends with an anti-climax or two.
STORY REWATCHABILITY: Medium - An over-rated collection of bubblegum set pieces. Some fun lines and very nice designs, but ultimately as empty as the television it half-heartedly sends up.