Doctor Who #601: Terminus Part 1

"If I choose to smooth the way with a smile and a soft phrase, that doesn't make me unreliable. Charm, the way I use it, is to disagree agreeably."
TECHNICAL SPECS: This story is available on DVD. First aired Feb.15 1983.

IN THIS ONE... The Black Guardian makes the TARDIS crash into a plague ship.

REVIEW: I'm already sick of the Black Guardian, "useful" though he may be to get the TARDIS and its denizens into trouble, and of his pointless communicator, sometimes needed, often not. I'm not tired of Turlough however, and enjoy his slimy charm. Given that tense, but honest scene between him and Tegan (as honest as Turlough gets anyway), it's appropriate for the two of them to get thrown together. Will they build trust and friendship? Or will the ginger traitor fail to disarm the hot-tempered Aussie? Let's just say he starts far off the goal. When he's not in his room (Adric's... doesn't the TARDIS have any spares?), Tegan quickly forgets her errand for Nyssa and tries to find him again, and she's right to, since he's out sabotaging the heart of the TARDIS (sadly, not as spectacular as it looks in the new series). Nyssa almost falls prey to the damage, when the TARDIS interiors begin to digitize and collapse. That's what happens when you fly around in a mathematical abstraction. The accident does have an unintended side-effect though - it gives us a a glimmer of what it might be like to have the chameleon circuit in working order, a door between Nyssa's room and the Lazar ship camouflaging itself rather perfectly.

One of the things this season is doing quite well, at least since we left Amsterdam and Gallifrey, is production design. The plague ship's interiors are simple, with dirty coats of paint that betray the walls as sets, but that also feature some striking artwork, an alien skull warning of plague. The raiders' costumes fall somewhere between Flash Gordon and a New Wave musical group, with capes, some pretty incredible helmets, and big 80s hair to match. The look almost gives Olvir permission to be so over-the-top when he realizes where they are. No sign of how infectious this disease is, but there's every chance Tegan got the bug when lepers put their dirty fingers in her mouth. As for the model ships and space station, they're pretty standard for the era (but see Versions), and are clearly missing a shot of the ship moving towards Terminus to make it clear whether it's flying towards it or being drawn in. The static shots (in the other version too) let the sequence down.

VERSIONS: The CGI option on the DVD adds a lot, not always to the story's benefit. As in Mawdryn Undead, the Black Guardian gets a pleasant glow and the communicator a frankly distracting and cheesy one. Speaking of cheese, the clunky "digitization" effects in the original are replaced with fire and shadow intermingling (reminiscent of the New Who vortex perhaps?), which is a fine substitute, though the wavy TARDIS walls are an obvious and hokey CG effect. The version redeems itself by replacing the model shots. Suddenly, the Lazar ship is huge compared to the raider, outer space is rich with nebulae, shots are dynamic and detailed, and Terminus is impressive in orbit around a blazing star.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - It's all set-up and we don't quite get to the point where things are explained. But it holds up as far as the characterization and design go.

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