Written by Don Houghton
Directed by Douglas Camfield and Barry Letts
I didn’t know much about this story going in, other than the fact that it is highly regarded by many fans and features some of the best material for the Brigadier. So I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was one of the strongest “Doctor Who” stories I’ve seen to date. And that includes a fair bit of the NuWho material, which is something I am much more familiar with, as I’ve noted.
Many people told me that the seventh classic season is among the very best, and I must agree. While some of the serials had distinct weaknesses (“The Silurians”, for example), the writers put a lot of effort into telling stories that, at the time, were fairly groundbreaking for televised science fiction. And it was a more sophisticated approach to the series than seen in the previous six years, thanks to a revision in premise.
At this point, I can safely say that I enjoy Jon Pertwee’s Third Doctor tremendously. Perhaps it is because he gets such a solid foil in the Brigadier, or because Liz Shaw is hardly the most well-treated companion. But this tale in particular fleshes out the personality of the Third Doctor extremely well. This is a more serious doctor than we’ve seen in the past, closer to the NuWho incarnations, without some of the manic qualities that Tennant and Smith have excelled at portraying. The Third Doctor is focused, which while making him a suitable action hero for this incarnation of the series, also plays into his stubborn and arrogant aspects. All in all, a wonderfully complex take on the Doctor (at least, given what I’ve seen thus far).
But it wouldn’t matter if the stories weren’t also solid, and in this case, I feel like the story could have been dusted off, polished with modern production values, and made into a NuWho three-part epic without missing a beat. It might even beat out some of the better episodes of the NuWho era.
Not only is this a classic parallel universe tale, with not a few similarities to “Fringe”, but it is also a fascinating character study. The Doctor is the constant, yet his character is illuminated by how he reacts when faced with different, darker versions of his friends. This is probably some of the best material given to Liz, which only makes her departure more unfortunate, since I never felt like they did enough with her to make her a viable character on her own. And many of the supporting UNIT characters get neatly nuanced alternates.
But the best is reserved for the Brigadier. While it seems like the Brigade Leader is just a fascist version of the Brigadier on first blush, it soon becomes clear that the two versions are really not that different. There is quite a bit of the Brigade Leader under the surface of the Brigadier. After all, we’ve seen the Brigadier commit an act of genocide in “The Silurians” and generally put the Doctor’s pacifistic tendencies to question. The Brigade Leader could be seen, quite easily, as what the Brigadier could become with a nudge towards mental instability.
This depiction, and the use of the Primords, is thematically connected to the Doctor’s major message: descent into the violent savage animal instincts at the core of humanity can only lead to our destruction. Considering the contemporaneous events of the day (Vietnam, the Cold War, etc.), this message is hardly surprising.
I’ve heard that the Third Doctor era slips away from this “Quatermass”-esque status quo as time wears on, but at this point, there is still much to anticipate. The eighth season will see the introduction of the Master, which I definitely look forward to seeing.
Final Rating: 9/10