Sunday, February 03, 2013

Doctor Who #439: The Deadly Assassin Part 2

"Vaporisation without representation is against the constitution."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Nov.6 1976.

IN THIS ONE... The Doctor investigates the assassination of the president and hacks into the Matrix.

REVIEW: The reinvention of Gallifrey proceeds apace with the introduction of the APC Net, AKA the Matrix, a massive telepathic computer built from every (dead?) Time Lord's brain cells, experience and memories, which translates into a virtual environment when you plug yourself into it. The Doctor gets there more than 20 years before Keanu Reeves. It's the mind as danger-filled quarry, so it must be pulling images from the Doctor's own brain, and David Maloney, a very visual director, is the perfect man to bring some of these nightmarish visions to life, in particular the creepy WWI soldier and the surgeon with the huge syringe. Notably, the process of going into the Matrix uses the slitscan effect from the opening credits, suggesting that the Doctor's adventures as we experience them are filtered through the Matrix. In effect, the program treats us as Time Lords tapping into the APC and unearthing our favorite renegade's memories. Taken with the opening scroll in Part 1, it certainly breaks that fourth wall and places a layer of artificiality over the serial.

It's also confirmed that the villain behind the Doctor's frame-up is the Master with a capital "M". Hate is all that's keeping him alive despite his body's apparent death (that's some willpower the Time Lords have, but possibly a function of "artron energy" since Elgin credits that phenomenon when the Doctor comes back from brain death), and it's hate for the Doctor. And here I thought all they had between them was a friendly (if lethal) rivalry. Well, turning into a zombie seems to have embittered him. And his hate will be his downfall, not only because the Doctor is too smart to stay a patsy for long, but because it's making the Master make mistakes. It's not very smart, for example, to leave a calling card in the form of a tissue-compressed cameraman, or to kill Runcible while the Doctor is with the Castellan, well alibied. It's probably a good thing he has a minion to push for the Doctor's immediate execution (I think it's fairly clear Goth is a villain, no spoiler there), or his nemesis would have gotten out of it much more quickly. If the plan to frame the Doctor is dangerously convoluted, the power grab is impressive (with one small plot hole). Goth, knowing he wasn't going to be named for succession (the President's "surprising" announcement), provokes an emergency election. It's a weird system where democracy is only invoked when a line of succession is broken, but the Time Lords are painted as conservative to a fault and unwilling to participate in change.

And mistakes or not, the Doctor is still up against the wall. Drawing caricatures during his trial, contemptuous of authority as ever, has him cleverly invoke a legal technicality that buys him 45 hours. If HE'S a candidate for the presidency, he can't be executed until the election is over. That gives him time to prove his innocence. At times, the investigation becomes too much like what we do on Earth to the point of ridiculousness. The chalk outline of the President, complete with high collar, is absurd, and Spandrell talks about "bullets" when clearly, stasers don't fire any. George Pravda, as Spandrell, is part of the problem, I think, because he speaks with an accent no other Time Lord has, even though, by all accounts, there's only one place to live on all of Gallifrey. But like most things in The Deadly Assassin, it works in the context of this one story even if it plays havoc with continuity. He's distinctive and interesting BECAUSE he's different.

On a personal note, I watch these with the subtitles on to better catch the quotes I use at the top of each article. Every time someone uses the word "biog", I keep reading "blog", so I register lines like "I never met him." "I know. I have seen your blog."

THEORIES: Time Lords keep dying, but no one regenerates. This is pretty much a constant in Gallifrey-based stories, so we should assume the tissue disruption caused by stasers inhibits the regeneration process. Further, it looks like either what was used to stab Runcible was treated with an anti-regeneration agent, or else he's not a true Time Lord. His job as television presenter would seem to indicate he's not a Lord of anything, but since he and the Doctor were likely in school together, it suggests he would still benefit from Time Lord advantages. It's hard to say where the line is between Time Lord and Gallifreyan, or if there even is a line. The only other explanation for all those permanent deaths (across all Gallifrey stories) is that everyone's on their last regeneration when it happens, but it's hard to imagine what kills them that frequently when they live such passive lives.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - A couple of plot holes can't prevent this episode from impressing. Holmes is still throwing new information at us and building a culture and technology that will impact the rest of the series, forever.


snell said...

" Hate is all that's keeping him alive despite his body's apparent death (that's some willpower the Time Lords have, but possibly a function of "artron energy" since Elgin credits that phenomenon when the Doctor comes back from brain death)..."

Or is it Rassilon and the Council from The End Of Time keeping him alive, as they will need him later...?

Lentil said...

"Time Lords keep dying, but no one regenerates. This is pretty much a constant in Gallifrey-based stories,"

Or, as the new series sometimes implies, regeneration is somehow a function of a TARDIS, and Time Lords can't do it on their own.

Siskoid said...

Certainly, that's an aspect of it, though we've seen (difficult) regenerations without the TARDIS present (from 4 to 5, and from 7 to 8, for example).

However, if I were the Time Lords, I'd have the same effect permeate the Citadel, since that's where I would be most likely to die given that, you know, the TLs don't seem to travel very much anymore.

Bill D. said...

Well, Time Lords must regenerate even on Gallifrey, given that we see, what, 3 different Borusas, with the last one being called "your latest regeneration"?

Siskoid said...

Unless there's a long, panicked run to the bathroo--TARDIS when they feel themselves slipping away.

CiB said...

Every regeneration we see the Doctor undertake (except 7 to 8) either happens inside the Tardis or has some help from another source (such as The Watcher in Logopolis). Indeed, in the Tenth Planet, one of the first doctors instructions before regenerating is "get me back to the Tardis". From the way he says that, I take it to mean that a Tardis has some effect on Timelords that helps them regenerate (but as shown from 3 to 4, 4 to 5, etc, it's not strictly required). I'd agree the Citadel is likely to have a similar effect- dying folk sprinting down corridors to Tardis' dressed like that would be to silly even for Doctor Who.

As for why they don't regenerate here- all the regenerations we see are of *dying* Timelords- perhaps simply killing them in a way that causes instant death over rides regeneration. Another theory, from a novel I can't remember the name of, is that damaging the second heart prevents regeneration.

Siskoid said...

Like vampires.

If all death were by staser, it'd be easier to justify. Runcible's stake through the back is a problem though. Or is it going through both hearts? I just can't imagine the same thing happening to the Doctor and NOT regenerating from it.

Jeff R. said...

Do we see any of them buried or otherwise dealt with funereally? It may be that traumatic regeneration on Gallifrey is done in a hospital setting in a much safer and stabler manner that takes months or years to accomplish. (It may also be pretty much impossible to 'abort' to the riskier field regeneration even if you'd really like to question the person in question.)

Alternatively, the civil service may be staffed almost exclusively with 13th-lifers, possibly as an anti-stagnation measure...

Siskoid said...

I like both those theories, though they still don't explain Runcible, definitely a candidate for "field regeneration" in the context of Spandrell's investigation. What would be the point of silencing Runcible if he could be brought back anyway?

And that's part of the problem with Holmes' nerfed Gallifrey, isn't it? Time Lords are so much like humans that they DON'T regenerate. It's not an issue at all.