Doctor Who #553: Warriors' Gate Part 4

"You were the noblest Romana of them all!"
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Jan.24 1981.

IN THIS ONE... Romana and K9 leave the cast after the slavers destroy themselves.

REVIEW: So the success of Warriors' Gate rested on Part 4 explaining what the heck was going on in Part 1-3. It doesn't. Not really. The parallel time lines that would have the Doctor dining in the past while variable service is offered in the white void isn't explained. The black and white gardens either, or the double-talk about K9 getting healed by rolling through the portal (even if it's understood as a prophecy that he and Romana were always meant to stay in E-Space). We do learn the slaver ship is heavy because it's made of nonsensical "white dwarf alloy" to prevent time sensitive Tharils from going out of phase and escaping, and that's making the pocket universe collapse, but then the episode throws more badly explained notions at us to compensate for this thin revelation. White dwarf alloy or not, the Tharils all survive the ship's destruction and walk out of the burning hulk, apparently out of phase with the real world. There's a bit of zen nonsense about "doing the right kind of nothing" which falls half-way between pretentious and opaque. And there's Romana's decision to stay behind in E-Space because the Tharils need a Time Lord, something the Doctor not only takes on faith but makes him hand K9 over too, even though nothing of the kind has been established prior to this cursory departure scene.

I find Romana's departure thoroughly frustrating. While this episode is a bit longer than its precursors, the whole serial has been under-running. There was plenty of time to take things a bit slower. Instead, it's a mad rush. Romana DID telegraph her departure - she doesn't want to return to Gallifrey and is visibly tired of playing second banana to the sometimes overbearing Doctor - but K9 getting thrown out of the TARDIS at a moment's notice is patently ridiculous. It only works if the Doctor's been told of the Tharils' need for a Time Lord AND a TARDIS (K9 apparently has the technical know-how to build one) to free their enslaved brothers and sisters across the universe (or two universes, I guess). The two Time Lords had such a bond, it's really crass for the Doctor to accept her leaving so easily. Romana is a bit emotional, which I like, and once the Doctor is alone with Adric, he's got some nice words to say about her, but it leaves me hungry for more.

It seems like everything in the episode is equal parts great and lame (which is taking the coin metaphor a step too far). The action climax has a dynamic fight between the Doctor and Captain Rorvik, but the music makes sure there's no urgency to it even though the warp engines are about to blow. The human crew was well differentiated, but it all ends with Rorvik going mad and gleefully saying that he's "finally getting something done" as if this were a real concern earlier in the story. It's supposed to contrast with the heroes "doing nothing", but since the latter doesn't really make sense, neither does the former. There are things to admire - the fight shot through the flooring, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern trying to ignore the pitiful screams coming from the Tharils - but also some dreadful tonal shifts - the crew coming out of the castle after an explosion like besooted cartoon characters, and then one of them graphically electrocuted and rolling his eyes into the back of his head.

VERSIONS: The Target novelization doesn't rush Romana's departure so much. It includes a prologue about an Antonine Killer pilot and expands on many scenes. If Gallagher had his way, the book would have deviated much more from the televised story.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - I can't hate it, but I am disappointed by it. It's good that its better parts are the more memorable.

STORY REWATCHABILITY: Medium - My final verdict is that Warriors' Gate is overrated. There are some great visuals, touching if brief performances in Romana's farewell scene(s), and I respect it at least TRIES to do something different, but the attempt doesn't really pay off.

3 comments:

Timothy Brannan said...

Yeah I missed Romanna after this. It also began my relationship with Adric which varied between dislike and silent hate. Not because he wasn't Romanna, but because I never bought him as this mathmatical genius.
Even now after reading all this I STILL can't tell you what he did in this episode.

snell said...

On the plus side, the manner of Romana's departure allowed for the launching of a thousand fanfics, such as "The Two K-9s," whereas Romana and her K-9 encountered Sarah Jane and her K-9, and...hey, stop judging me!!

More seriously, it does allow a nice out for how she might have escaped death in the Time War...

Siskoid said...

Tim: I didn't help there, since I didn't really mention him. He threatened the slavers with the MZ satellite dish weapon, was told to obey orders by the Romana who'd just been told the same thing by the Doctor, oh and was told to shut up in the last scene for good measure.

Snell: The 2 first K9s got to interact in the expanded universe, specifically in the Gallifrey audio series. In the expanded universe, Romana returned from E-Space and became President of Gallifrey. She remained an important player in the grand scheme of things all the way through the last 8th Doctor novel. If she survived the Time War, it's through some of the weird temporal things that happen in those books, like back-up Gallifreys hidden in other timelines, etc.

 

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