Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Doctor Who #441: The Deadly Assassin Part 4

"If heroes don't exist, it is necessary to invent them."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Nov.20 1976.

IN THIS ONE... Goth dies, the Master goes after the Eye of Harmony, and the truth gets adjusted.

REVIEW: What I like most about Part 4 is the politics, and there's unfortunately not enough of that. The standout scenes for me are those that feature Cardinal Borusa, someone willing to "adjust" history so as to keep the people's confidence in the Time Lords absolute (sounds like it's not all Time Lords out there). Not only is this potent satire, but it also adds to the theme of artificiality that's been built up over four episodes. The Matrix is a false world, but it seems the Time Lords can't even trust their own history. And this is an important point in a story that largely ignores what has gone before in favor of a new, ahem, matrix. With Rassilon now the preeminent founder of Time Lord society, where is Omega? With the black hole (or Eye of Harmony) now apparently inside the planet, what happened to the black hole seen in The Three Doctors? Has the truth about them been "adjusted"? Just how much of previous Time Lord appearances have been, themselves, some kind of CIA deception, hiding the truth of the Time Lords from us, the viewers? And that truth is that the Time Lords are a decayed society who despite being masters of time, have forgotten their own history,  and what powers their own technology. Worse still, they're not even curious. Their passivity is more that physical, it's intellectual and spiritual. The undead Master becomes a personification of that threat from within.

Let's talk about the zombie Master for a minute, since this is the episode where he comes into his own, action-wise. Like a lot of the changes (all of them somewhat irritating to a continuity hound, which a pilgrimage like this tends to turn you into), it works very well in the context and themes of this particular story. But at what cost for the overall series? By making the Master well past his regeneration cycle, Holmes does two things that cause problems for the future. First, it establishes a limit to a Time Lord's regeneration powers to a dozen, spelling out a possible end to the Doctor's travels unless some workaround is found (by the 11th Doctor era, they have). But second and most importantly, it makes it very difficult to bring back the Master now that the moratorium has ended. He comes by his next few bodies in convoluted ways better suited to fantasy than science fiction. From now on, he'll also have a serious problem staying dead, to the point of ridiculousness. How did he survive the fall through that fissure so he could get away in his grandfather clock TARDIS? Unknown and probably unexplainable. At least we see him survive the story, as opposed to later deaths that seem final and don't score even an attempt at an explanation when he suddenly returns.

But that's just another mystery in The Deadly Assassin's finale, where at times, I wasn't quite sure what was happening. Is the Eye of Harmony inside the planet? What's that big obsidian crystal coming out of the floor? How does it all tie in with his rejuvenation? If he was going to destroy Gallifrey, why take the time to frame the Doctor? Why not just bring him there to see (and die from) the fireworks? How does the Doctor know the Sash of Rassilon is damaged? What about the election now that he's the sole candidate? The destruction of the huge Panopticon set is spectacular enough, but it doesn't quite make up for plot holes, in my book. The Master's masterful manipulation aside, there are plenty of those. So that's why I wanted more Borusa. I'm afraid Spandrell and Engin are just not smart enough to have the same sparkling conversations. Just look at the clichéed and hokey final scene, stiffly acted and presenting the two of them as completely ineffectual... as they've been all through the serial.

THEORIES: So is Goth the same Time Lord who sat on the second Doctor's tribunal? Both are played by Bernard Horsfall, so it's a conclusion easy to come to. However, long-running series will often employ the same guest actors in different roles, and Goth certainly isn't Gulliver or Taron the Thal (and I object to any theory that has him slumming it in the Land of Fiction). But two Time Lords, one of them unnamed, and that first story referenced in this one? Seems more than a coincidence. If it's true, then Goth was a member of the CIA before becoming Chancellor (maybe he still is, he met the Master off-world and was after special knowledge, AND he was willing to play dirty to win an election), and he presided over the Doctor's trial. A trial that seems to have been covert and if you ask me, whose sole reason for being was to forcibly recruit the Doctor as an interference agent.  After all, he wasn't tried for the theft of a TARDIS, it was all very strange. If Goth knew the Doctor of old, they don't really say, and the Doctor doesn't mention the trial, but nothing actually contradicts this idea. Of course, we do have one other Time Lord playing a Time Lord who turns out to be a different Time Lord - Colin Baker as both Maxil and the sixth Doctor, and THEY can't be the same man. Would it point to Time Lord regenerations coming from some central gene bank, which might account for such duplication? After all, if regenerations are given and not innate, they must come from somewhere. They don't already exist within a Time Lord's genetic code. Or regeneration might just scramble one's DNA in infinite combinations. Who knows?

VERSIONS: The Target novelization omits the opening scroll, but otherwise, the story is much the same.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Bit of a let down. Things come crashing down on everyone's heads pleasantly enough, but it leaves too many questions unanswered, and possibly, unanswerable.

STORY REWATCHABILITY: High - Though we've technically seen it before, Holmes really creates Gallifrey for the first time, and no Doctor Who historian should skip this key serial. You might not agree with everything he's done to the Time Lords, but The Deadly Assassin is an important game changer, and sports some unified themes and some fun dialog to boot.

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