Doctor Who #493: The Stones of Blood Part 4

"Aren't you supposed to be offering me a last toffee apple or something? A blindfold, a hearty breakfast, a free pardon?"
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Nov.18 1978.

IN THIS ONE... The Doctor is put on trial by the justice machines, but he tricks them into uncovering Vivien's real identity.

REVIEW: What the hell happened to this story? The first two chapters was a Gothic horror tale about druidic sacrifice, old gods, precarious cliffs and bloody stone circles. The sharp turn into hyperspace in Part 3 was inventive, but made you wonder how it was all going to tie in together. Very badly as it turns out. Part 4 feels like as tacked on a Terry Nation trek through a swamp or a Bob Holmes Indiana Jones puzzle (to put David Fisher is the best known company possible). The Doctor is put on trial by the Megara - logical, argumentative "justice machines" who once destroyed their creators' galaxy after finding them lacking - in a white room, with Vivien Fey in silver make-up acting like a child blaming her sibling, and any mood cultivated in the first half of the story is completely lost. And though the trial leads directly to Vivien's defeat, that's a problem too. The Megara are dangerous to the Doctor, sure, but they become the instrument of her defeat and the Ogri's too, and one can't shake the feeling that the Doctor's had to manipulate a bona fide deus ex machina (at the end, they're magically dispatched back to their ship, and their earlier botched execution of the Doctor is so badly staged as to be a cop-out as well).

I do like the Megara in principle. They're a cool effect, and proper absurd children of Franz Kafka in the way they conduct themselves. I like how, machines or not, they become impatient with the Doctor's objections and legal wrangling, and I like how the Doctor has to play TV lawyer and solve a crime for them while he himself is the accused. However! I find it rather stupid that once Vivien is revealed to be the space criminal Cessair of Diplos, all her crimes only amount to eternal imprisonment, while every misdemeanor committed by the Doctor or Romana apparently invokes a death sentence. They turn Cessair into a stone in the Nine Travelers circle, which may seem poetic justice, but is completely nonsensical. What are they going to do with the Ogri they've arrested? He's already a stone. The episode's structure is frustrating because Romana, K9 and Emilia Rumford go to all the trouble of finding clues to Vivien's real identity, which all become moot by the time Romana returns to hyperspace with the evidence. And the Doctor's bottomless pockets strain credulity when he pulls a barrister's powdered wig from them.

And at the center of it all is Vivien Fay/Cessair of Diplos in as camp a performance as I've seen on the program to date, and though I'm quite capable of using that term as a positive, here I most certainly do not. I HATE HER WITH THE HEAT OF A THOUSAND BURNING SUNS! The fake laugh, the smug looks, the cartoonish grimaces, and the summoning of the Oooogrriiiiiiiii. Oh Emilia Rumford isn't too far from being a cartoon either (look at her final scene where she opens one eye to check if the TARDIS is there), but at least she's a charming cartoon. It's an energetic performance, but Emelia's character turns into an unquestioning ally of the Time Lords without much motivation. Like a lot of elements in the script, she's there to facilitate the plot, not to experience it.

VERSIONS: I'm unaware of any notable changes made to the story in the Target novelization.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-Low - Tom Baker is clearly enjoying himself, but ultimately, the plot falls apart. AND I HATE VIVIEN FAY SO MUCH!!!

- The Stones of Blood is really two 2-parters. One a Gothic tale with intriguing characters and nice location work, the other a camp space opera/Matlock interlude. Guess which one I liked.


googum said...

For good measure, just saw the boom mike dip in twice inside a few minutes!


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