Preparation L

This is the latest in a series of articles looking at the stories that make Doctor Who what it is. What I intend to do with this series of articles is, like the Doctor, jump back and forth through time, where I will land at and analyse key events in history. This will of course be Doctor Who history, but more importantly, individual episodes of the Doctor’s travels. Why was it so important the Doctor left his granddaughter on post-apocalyptic earth? How did this forge the future of Doctor Who? You might already have read The Power of Doctor Who and The Robots of Taren Capel; you might even have begun to see how the articles fit together with the Season of Change series of articles, the profiles of the Companions, the Doctors and the Monsters…

We’ll look this time at a key episode from 1981. It is key for two reasons: it’s my first clear recollection of Doctor Who (I never said this wasn’t going to be personal!), and it is the last time (barring cameos) the Fourth Doctor, Tom Baker, would appear. To a five year old, changing the main character of a show is crazy – imagine Scooby Doo without the legendary Great Dane, superseded by his grating nephew! Ironically to this onetime five-year-old, the only way Doctor Who could have continued without the Fourth Doctor was by giving K9 the lead role…

Part Four of Logopolis, broadcast 21st March 1981 saw the Doctor forge an uneasy alliance with the Master as the full effect of the entropy the Doctor had been observing earlier in the story became evident. The Master, so often a cunning renegade, has just destroyed the one thing preventing the Universe’s heat-death. The Doctor’s mood is low, as it has been for weeks, and we the audience can see that doom is nigh.

Discovering the Master’s plan, and their fight on the walkway of the Pharos Project radio telescope, the Doctor is notably wary. The Watcher – an otherwise pointless throwback to the “projection” of a Time Lords future self as seen in Planet of the Spiders – is no doubt a reason for this, and certainly acts as a manifestation of impending doom from early in the story.

The late Anthony Ainley is excellent in his first full appearance as the Master, interacting with Tom Baker far better than he ever would with his successor – in fact the Master is never this good again until Survival, but more on that another time.

The length of Tom Baker’s tenure impacts this story on several levels, notably the cause of the Fourth Doctors death. The only thing big enough to counter the impending regeneration of the longest serving and most popular Doctor is the fate of the entire Universe; only one man can stop the Master from holding everything that is to ransom, and we know he is going to die in the process.

Tom Baker was, as we now know, not of perfect health during this period. This shows in his face, but creates the effect of a much older Fourth Doctor than the one touring Paris with Romana just a couple of years earlier.

The gathering in this story of the Fifth Doctor’s companions has been commented on before in better written articles than this; it is the show gearing up for quite a change in direction, a re-imagining. John Nathan Turner considered a return to the original format of alien time traveller, child, and human adults. Somewhere along the line, the child and human adults became three teenagers and it could be said that combination never really worked. There could be big signs saying “End of an Era” in the background of every scene, but even now, especially with the benefit of hindsight, it was clear that Doctor Who would rarely reach the level of brilliance it did during the previous seven years. The zenith would now only be gnawed at desperately.

Leave a Reply