Doctor Who #538: Meglos Part 1

"First things first?" "Exactly." "But not necessarily in that order."
TECHNICAL SPECS: This story is available on DVD. First aired Sep.27 1980.

IN THIS ONE... The Doctor and Romana are fixing K9 when they're hit by a time loop engineered by a cactus. Also, Jacqueline Hill returns, but not as Barbara.

REVIEW: I wonder if they ever thought of casting Willian Russell as the Tigellan leader Zastor, opposite Jacqueline Hill as the high priestess Lexa. I kept getting vibes of the science/history dichotomy of the original companions in Tigella's polarized culture. Having both actors would have been rather cheeky, but a lot of fun. Even better might have been seeing Hill as Barbara again, but under JNT as under Williams, there's little call to return to Earth. Season 16 had one story on Earth (even so, only for half the episodes). Season 17 went twice if you count Shada, which never went out. And Season 18 won't come home until the final story, 20 episodes from now. I suppose Earth isn't colorful enough for this bold new, visual era. And yet, I long for it. These alien planets are starting to blur into one another. Here we have two, one a lush jungle with aggressive plant life (like in Creature from the Pit?) and a desert wasteland created by war (like in the Leisure Hive). I'd certainly be more impressed with the Russo-Mongol outfits of the pirates if The Ribos Operation hadn't gone the same way.

Whatever the locations, we have a fairly strong cast of characters inhabiting them. Hill as Lexa is the most watchable, which is hardly surprising, believable as an alien religious leader who worships a high-tech Dodecahedron. The previous regime would have found an actor to camp it up, but Hill knows better. Opposite the Deon clergy is a caste of scientists who call themselves the Savants, but though they represent reason, they're not necessarily reasonable. They're like those atheists who can't leave the faithful alone. Like cosmopolitan college students who feel they have to disprove the existence of God. Sure, Lexa's religion involves a fabricated artifact/power source, and we know it's not a real "god", but I dunno, I rather side with Lexa. Maybe it's just a negative reaction to those awful blond wigs. Though Zastor isn't a particularly decisive leader  - he calls the Doctor to help sort things out - but he at least tries to get both parties to respect each other. In the pirates, we get a low-rent version of the Holmesian double act (they're even called the Gaztaks). But they're clowns, not wits.

I do have a few problems with the eponymous villain, however. When we first see him, he's almost irremediably silly. A big telepathic cactus. It's hard to get over that first impression even after he merges with a human (in a business suit? that just makes the part of my mind that tries to figure out when these stories happen hurt). But even when you do, Meglos turns out to be much too powerful and versatile. He can look right inside the TARDIS from his remote location, and put the Time Lords into a time loop. And though he needed a machine to merge with a human, and that human then had cactus skin, he can morph into the Doctor's perfect shape at will. Maybe they're trying to compensate for the silliness of Meglos' core concept, but then why even attempt it? So our heroes are stuck in stand-by mode quite literally, but it's not much of a change from the rest of the episode. They spend all their time trying to repair K9 - a character the producer doesn't even want on the show - instead of answering Zastor's call and landing. The chronic hysteresis isn't bad, if by necessity repetitive, but everything leading up to it is severe padding so Meglos can get himself resurrected.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium
- Though the Time Lords don't do anything, it's nice to see Jacqueline Hill again and the introduction to the various guest characters is well handled. Mileage on the villain's appearance may vary.

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