"Totally immersed in H2O, master." "Fine time to take a bath."
IN THIS ONE... First mention and appearance of the TARDIS' pool. The Doctor seems to be working with baddies and claims his post as President of Gallifrey.
REVIEW: There's a big mystery at the heart of this episode as the Doctor appears to collude with unknown aliens and returns to Gallifrey to take office (apparently, Time Lord politics do not move very fast, and there hasn't been another election in the past year and a half). It's all very sinister, especially for Leela who gets ordered to stay on the sidelines repeatedly, once even under threat from K9's nose cannon. Et tu, K9? Obviously, we expect the Doctor is scamming these aliens, not actually helping them, but if so, this is a new facet of the Doctor - the mastermind. We'll come to know him well in his seventh incarnation, but here the fourth acts that part. He takes a proactive role instead of a reactive one, and of course, never ever lets his companion in on his plans, leaving her frustrated in the extreme. We'd even be in the right to think this wasn't the Doctor but some doppelganger, except that he has some very Doctorish moments, like offering K9 ball bearings to eat, and wanting to turn his office into a lead-lined room (he obviously knows he's being monitored by the aliens). Is his arrogance part of an act? Or is his foul temper a sign that he's got too many balls in the air and can't allow a single deviation from his plan?
Director Gerald Blake hasn't done an episode of Who since The Abominable Snowmen, and I'm not sure how well he's doing here. The first 10 minutes of the episodes are deathly slow, especially the bit where the TARDIS lands on Gallifrey. The brief cutaways to the aliens in their ship accelerate the pace, but at the same time, interrupt the flow of the episode. And while the TARDIS pool is an interesting idea, it'll lead to some terrible locations being used as part of the time ship later in the serial. The pool looks fine, but would it have killed the designer to stick some roundels on the wall or something? Of course, the script isn't firing on all cylinders either. David Agnew (the pseudonym used whenever producer Graham Williams and his script editor write a story) makes the Doctor-Borusa relationship a lot more strained than before Borusa regenerated into an even older man (a deterioration to watch for), but their Castellan is an over-the-top sycophant. All the talk of redecorating the president's office apparently points to an Earth style, but it doesn't sound like it, nor will it even look it in the finished result. The conversation between two Time Lords is meant to show how dull their society is, but has the EFFECT of making the scene dull. Perhaps if it wasn't about an arcane piece of technobabble, even if that piece will figure in the overall plot. And while I always enjoy the Doctor sticking it to authority, turning his arrest on its head, etc., Andred's reactions are too jokey. Consider also how, when Leela recovers her confiscated knife from him, he doesn't really put up much of a fight. Even her promise to try and not kill anyone is played as a joke, it doesn't feel like a real reaction.
Under Williams and Read, we're definitely heading into jokier territory, away from scary Gothic, and toward silly cartoon. Please, don't look at anything too closely, it's supposed to be fun and bubbly. They still play some of it with serious earnestness. The Doctor is playing a dangerous game and you feel it. Leela is quickly losing patience and doesn't want to play dress-up in her state of mind (Jameson's performance is quite good as the puzzled, jilted companion). And the presidential ceremony - smaller than in The Deadly Assassin, with no press or galleries - ends in cliffhanger-inducing pain as the a Christ-like crown is placed on the Doctor's head and he is "introduced" to the Matrix. They haven't yet gone too far in the comedy department.
VERSIONS: The DVD has a CGI option that fixes or supplements some of the effects. The opening shot has more stars in the sky and makes the ships' rockets more "fiery exhaust" than "spraycan". And at the end, the Matrix circlet rises on golden energy, the same we associate with regeneration/Time Lord energy in the new series, and waves of heat come off it while it's worn. Small additions, with much more to come. Sadly, they didn't do a TARDIS treatment on the pool.
REWATCHABILITY: Medium - It starts with a very strong mystery, which isn't solved by episode's end, but flags at various points, either due to pacing issues or silly script problems.