Doctor Who #600: Mawdryn Undead Part 4

"They are harmless. They only threaten the Doctor."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Feb.9 1983.

IN THIS ONE... The Doctor gives his remaining lives to kill Mawdryn's crew, but two Brigadiers touch each other and DEUS EX MACHINA.

REVIEW: I'm afraid the nonsense meter goes up to 11 in the finale, eliciting sighs from me the whole way through. Maybe I should take each set of improbabilities one at a time.

Mawdryn's mutational madness: Leaving alone the dead horse I've been beating about regeneration energy being the key to killing Mawdryn and his 7 followers, coincidentally the number of lives left on the Doctor's meter, there's the whole question of making regeneration mutation viral so Nyssa and Tegan can be infected. And when the TARDIS moves in time, as it must even to leave the ship because it's on a "warp ellipse", they start to deteriorate, or moving in the other direction, they turn into little girls with the wrong accents. All for the sake of a reverse the polarity reference? Turns out the Doctor can cure them by going through the regeneration-leeching procedure, NO EXTRA LIVES REQUIRED. All of this happens because we're told it should happen given the circumstances, not because it feels right or logical. It's the worst kind of writing. The dialog is such a mess that it's not even clear at first why the Doctor should accept Mawdryn's ultimatum since the mutant only reveals the girls can be saved through the process later. So it looks like the Doctor is giving up all his remaining lives AND stranding his companions on an empty ship. That's lose-lose. In any case, the whole dilemma is rendered moot by the next piece of business...

Two Brigs for the price of one: See, when the two Brigs meet, as you knew they must, there's a powerful discharge of energy as they "short out the time differential" (look, just see Theories, ok?) happening EXACTLY at the moment of transfer (through pure chance), thereby killing the mutants like they wanted, curing Tegan and Nyssa, and all without robbing the Doctor of his regenerations. And then the ship "dies" and explodes for one last moment of jeopardy. Again, because the script says so. And the big danger both the Doctor and the Black Guardian have been dreading, and those pale looks the all-knowing Nyssa and Turlough give when the possibility is mentioned? The young Brigadier has his memories scrambled about these events to prevent a paradox as was pretty much preordained. The older Brig is fine. I suppose the Time Lord machine absorbed the energy and converted it into what was needed, but the dialog doesn't really clarify the point. It's just much ado about nothing and an over-convenient deus ex machina. Though it may spark speculation as to whether regeneration energy has a temporal component, if (let's call it) artron energy could do the job, why couldn't they just plug the mutants into the ship's engine/warp ellipse? Shoddy plotting. And speaking of shoddy plotting, the production thinks itself real clever when it has the young Brig grab the TARDIS homing device since the old Brig must have it later. EXCEPT, that's the old Brig's device, given to him 6 years earlier by Tegan. So he has two now. TIMEY-WIMEY FAIL.

The Ineffectual Guardian: And then there's the Black Guardian who sometimes talks through a shooter glass, sometimes through the cosmic P.A. system, so there's really no reason to shout at the communication, Turlough, it's plainly not needed. Nor should you rejoice when it cracks (because of the energy release somewhere else on the ship entirely). Of course, this isn't the last we see of the Guardian (it's a trilogy), but for a god-like entity, he makes a very poor showing. Definitely don't follow this guy's management seminar. He tells Turlough to do one thing, then gets angry when Turlough does it because he should have known not to do it. Well, nobody can follow the plot, Guardian, not even Turlough. More improbabilities: The Doctor accepts Turlough in the crew, though the boy really should be in school (he suspects his place isn't on Earth, so that's acceptable), and Turlough will continue to wear a school uniform for the rest of his tenure (now THAT hardly makes sense).

THEORIES: In Day of the Daleks, the "Blinovitch Limitation Effect" was meant to stop the time commandos from attempting their mission more than once, presumably because they couldn't interfere with their own actions. In Mawdryn Undead, it's suddenly about not coming into contact with your "temporal double" lest a massive discharge of temporal energy ("shorting out the time differential") and apparently, a bit of amnesia, result. To make this more complicated, the new series has repurposed some of these concepts, so that in Father's Day, when Rose interacts with herself, it breaks the universe and summons monstrous Reapers who eat time. The time differential is then used in Time Crash to explain why the 5th Doctor looks so much older when he's in the 10th Doctor's TARDIS. Does this terminology fit in some kind of coherent framework? The best theory I've heard is that the Blinovitch Limitation is some safeguard injected into time itself by the Time Lords (thank you About Time 5). The Limitation basically zaps the more outrageous paradoxes, presumably until they can send a team to intervene. In Mawdryn Undead, we see how this normally works. In Father's Day, absent any Time Lords, the system's gone to pot and allows predators from the vortex entry into normal space. The Time Lords have such strange and varied names. Blinovitch could be one, though it's more likely we humans are getting a Time Lord term translated into what our species will eventually call it once Mr. Blinovitch does the math. But the time differential? Well, the Doctor is a Time Lord and completely regenerated when he meets himself in Time Clash, so there's no reason to believe the situation will follow the same rules as Mawdryn Undead's does. In one case, the energy destroys the memories that would cause a paradox. In the other, the Doctor ages to "catch up" to what he might look like had he never regenerated. In both cases, the universe (artificial quantum Limitation or not) is trying to fix something it finds impossible. We'll probably have to revisit the issue when the Doctor or his friends interact with one another, no fuss no muss though. Let that be a discussion for another day.

VERSIONS: The DVD's CGI option puts a little more glow on the two Brig's touching, plus the previous episodes' t-mat, Black Guardian and model ship stuff. The Target novelization is rich in detail, including the Brig's experiences in Palestine as a young man, a history of the school, and Mawdryn's more extreme mutations.

REWATCHABILITY: Low - Complete nonsense makes HULK WANT TO SMASH!

STORY REWATCHABILITY: Medium - It's nice to see Nicholas Courtney again, and he puts in a fine performance, and of course, the serial is important for the introduction of Turlough. Sadly, the celebration is hampered by a terrible, nonsensical, technobabble-heavy plot. Gives you hope for a couple of episodes before disappointing you resoundingly.


FreddyB said...

You're missing one Blinovitch moment. In The Big Bang, the two sonic screwdrivers short out the time differential when tapped together (very much the same effect as in Mawdryn Undead). I'm sure I've read or seen somewhere that the Blinovitch Limitation Effect is one of those things that Time Lords are immune to (to explain away the 3 Doctors, 5 Doctors, 2 Doctors, Time Crash, etc).

snell said...

I would posit that regeneration makes the versions of the Doctor physically different enough that it at least mitigates Blinovitch when different aspects meet. But if a Doctor were to meet his own incarnation...?

Siskoid said...

Yes, that's right, the sonic did it, though that doesn't contradict anything in Mawdryn Undead but rather confirms it. The Time Lords aren't exactly immune if we go by Time Crash, but they must have built-in safeguards for themselves in the RealityNet. They do go on in The Three Doctors about what a big deal it is to cross one's own timestream and the exceptions they're making, etc.

It's likely RealityNet has a way of dealing with Time Lord crossovers by discreetly clouding their memories of the events (à la Brigadier) without inducing trauma, while the different regenerations prevent the more explosive booby traps from going off. It's why the Time Lords allowed different regens to collaborate, but not, say, 10 versions of the third Doctor.

Tommy Krasker said...

It's shocking how bad Part 4. I really like "Mawdryn" up to that point. Moffatt is a bland director, but it's got a lot of moving pieces, most of them interesting, and some nicely timey-wimey. But it's, like, at the end of Part 3, Grimwade has nothing left to do till the two Brigs meet, so Part 4 is a big stall. And one of the worst stalls ever: that Nyssa and Tegan aging and youth-ening sequence is embarrassingly bad. I still like "Mawdryn," despite its flaws, but it is almost like they got to the end of Part 3 and went, "Now, how can we muck this up?"


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