"But you have access to the greatest source of knowledge in the universe." "Well, I do talk to myself sometimes, yes."
IN THIS ONE... The Doctor takes down Gallifrey's forcefield to lure the Vardans into revealing their true forms. As soon as he time loops them, the Sontarans show up.
REVIEW: I wouldn't be surprised if the Vardans made my Top Worst Doctor Who Villains by the time this whole daily thing is over. Without benefit of CGI, they look like cheap dry cleaner bags, which certainly doesn't help, but when they finally show their true selves, they're just... ordinary guys in Death Star staff outfits. Even the Doctor has to concede that they're "disappointing". Needless to say, watching them shout things while they look into the distance is unbearably silly. I've got to wonder what the point of them is. They're telepathic beings who can travel on any wavelength as energy, but essentially human? The Doctor can't pinpoint their planet until they fully "materialize", but it's really not clear why that is. Nor is it clear how K9 sends them back where they come from by tapping the Matrix, nor how the Matrix "has been invaded" or what effect that has had, if any. I'm not even sure why they "feel safe" once the planetary forcefield is down, or how they arrived on Gallifrey if it was up (what's the difference between the forcefield and the transduction barrier? they're obviously powered from the same awful machine room). Don't even ask why shutting down the forcefield could "atomize" the planet. The plot is a real jumble when it comes to these guys and whatever technobabble they require. And if anyone still thinks they're not that bad, as soon as they're gone, the REAL monsters arrive, the Sontarans, apparently the real power behind the Vardans. Looking ahead, why don't the Time Lords time loop Sontar for daring to attack (and possibly, simply for knowing the location of) Gallifrey?
So the Vardans and everything about them are rubbish. What about the rest of the episode, which is for all intents and purposes, at least before we get a Sontaran extension, the story's finale? There are some nice lines here and there, and the switch from scene to scene enhances it further by comically putting contradictory lines close together. While Andred does a little clowning (did he just look into the camera and deliver a line too?), he makes a better ally than foil for the Doctor. Leela gets some nice scenes with the Outcasts, training an army, but opting for a raiding party when her soldiers prove to be pretty useless. She still brings Rodan along as a guide, and apparently as someone with a strong grasp of the obvious. Sadly, that party doesn't get much to do except kill a couple guards. The Vardans are zapped home by K9 in presidential drag before they can be put to the sword. There's even some script confusion with Leela wondering where all the guards are when her strategy was to have half her party distract the guards somewhere else in the Citadel. There shouldn't BE any guards around. Just as he was getting interesting, Borusa is absent too. The Castellan, a born collaborator, really should get more than a dressing down by the end of this.
As for the Doctor, he's a bit too glib about the sustained violence of this episode. Guards and Time Lords loyal to Gallifrey are shot down in his name, and he at least has the decency to look disturbed by the carnage. Later on, however, after the raiding party sticks a few arrows in guards only following orders, he compliments Leela by telling her she should try killing professionally. The line is probably meant sarcastically, but the Doctor doesn't sound at all angry when he says it. It comes off as a compliment. Very strange. Has he given up on Leela entirely? Is she about to be put off the ship? It's difficult not to take the Doctor's comment about K9 being his second best friend as wistfulness about Sarah Jane Smith. I'm not saying he'd be wrong to think of her as a failed companion, but because I love the character, I think she's been treated abominably in not being allowed to grow in her ethics over the past season and a half.
THEORIES: When Andred can't fire his staser inside the TARDIS, the Doctor explains that those don't work in a dimensional stabilization field (something Andred should know, seems to me), he doesn't blame it on "temporal grace" (fist mentioned in The Hand of Fear). Indeed, K9 has no trouble firing lasers inside the ship. What it seems to be is that the TARDIS interior is a pocket dimension and that dimension can have different laws of physics from the outside world. It's even possible that the Doctor has programmed an exception for K9's systems, while the default setting could prevent energy discharges and chemical combustion in general. I'm keeping an eye out for more discrepancies about this key issue.
VERSIONS: The CGI option on the DVD continues to pleasantly augment the Vardans' energy form, staser fire, rocket exhaust and various teleports, but it goes the extra mile this time in fixing a shot where K9's laser didn't come out of his badly aimed nose turret. Of course, we'll never again see the gun barrel change its angle like that.
REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Oh, it moves along at a good pace, with amusing dialog and editing that will draw a smirk or two from the audience, but sheesh, the Vardans are just the worst. The episode is so full of plot holes, it's no wonder the Sontarans were able to get in.