Doctor Who #551: Warriors' Gate Part 2

"The accuracy of this unit has deteriorated below zero utility." "You mean you're worse than useless."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Jan.10 1981.

IN THIS ONE... Romana is captured as a potential time sensitive, while the Doctor makes Gundam robots tell their story.

REVIEW: I'm not quite so enamored of Part 2 as I was of Part 1. Paul Joyce still shows directorial flair, mostly through POV shots near the end, but some scenes do give him problems. The model shot of the ship - a horrible dinosaur thing not unlike the Serenity - is obviously sitting on a table in front of a wall, the white void effect not quite showing up. The distressingly violent electrocution of a Tharil, coming as it does on the heels of light comedy, feels ill-judged. And the staging of the Gundam robots hitting each other with axes borders on silliness, especially when one of the axes bounces off the Doctor's back. Most scenes with the Doctor are, in fact, a little bit irritating. I just have a lot of difficulty with Tom Baker in scenes with no other actors. He's talking to himself, he's mugging at the camera, his bits of business (the Scooby Doo hiding in plain sight gag) are silly... it's where we never get relief from his tics. When he's once again among real people with proper dialog, things are set to rights. The meta-textual exchange about the Gundam recording being a "recital" being a fun example.

There's actually a lot of comedy in the episode. The Rosencrantz&Guildenstern duo irritate Packard with their literal mindedness, and it's amusing to see how little enthusiasm they can muster even when their captain boasts about how proud he is of then. I suppose K9 and Adric are the equivalent on the TARDIS, just as dismissive of the orders they're given. K9 in particular is getting to be as rubbishy as the police box, and there's something deeply pathetic about the tin dog standing in front of a mirror begging for access. Adric does get the clever triangulation trick, but it seems to strand him in the void. The two junior members of the TARDIS crew make an adequate comedy double act, but only adequate. Meanwhile, Romana's wit is on the ethereal side, talking circles around the humans, but I like her better when she puts that wit to serious use. The idea that they should trust the person running from the rest is a great encapsulation of the program's ethos, don't you think?

Through the Gundam robots, we discover a little more back story, though not the entire truth quite yet. They were built by slaves to overthrow their masters, masters who escaped through the mirror. The metaphorical mirrors writer Paul Gallagher has already set up will make these masters the Tharils, who NOW are the slaves themselves. I'm struck by how slowly the serial means to give up its exposition though.

THEORIES: The traders' ship uses a warp drive described as "supralight speed with dampers", and it requires a "time sensitive" navigator. Presumably, there's a time travel element to the drive, probably to defeat Relativity. The traders are surprised the TARDIS doesn't use a Tharil and immediately think Romana must be time sensitive herself. Of course, it's the TARDIS that's time sensitive. But what does that mean? On screen, it looks a lot like clairvoyance, an ability to see where the ship is going and adjust in real time. I suppose the problem is knowing just where you are inside the space-time vortex. The TARDIS does this with "a digitally modelled time cone isometry parallel bussed into the image translator". "Local motion is mapped in each refresh cycle." That seems to confirm it. The TARDIS "sees" outside the vortex at each possible moment, preventing it from materializing inside a solid object, for example, and in the case of our old girl, probably looking ahead for threats, companions, whatever "decisions" we've laid at the TARDIS' "feet". The image translator is part of this function, and we saw in Full Circle how the scanner could show Gallifrey in N-Space even if the ship was on Alzarius on E-Space. There is definitely a form of tele-sensing at work. It's not a plain old camera mounted in the top light.

VERSIONS: The DVD features a few trims from a prior edit of this episode, but nothing substantial. The longest trim features K9 having even more problems, speaking and running in reverse and so on, but little else. It looks like most of the stuff was trimmed for technical reasons (camera's a bit shaky), but clocking in at only 20 minutes of new material, you'd think there was room for the K9 scene.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - A lot of good dialog, and this world gets more and more depth. However, there's just so much of Tom Baker padding things along solo I can take.


snell said...

The idea of needing a "time-sensitive" navigator sounds a lot like the premise in Frank Herbert's Dune, where FTL travel was so dangerous only precogs could successfully pilot ships (because they could forsee the dangers to avoid).

Siskoid said...

Now that you mention it, that seems to be a major influence here.


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