Written by Don Houghton
Directed by Timothy Combe
By the time I got to the end of this particular serial, I thought I had fallen into an alternate dimension where “Doctor Who” had been rewritten by the creative staff of “24”. I found it nearly impossible to keep track of how many times the Master’s plan changed direction and purpose over the course of the story, and for that matter, how many plot threads were left dangling.
It’s too bad, because there are some very nice elements to the story. I thought the Keller machine was a nice forebear of the “death of personality” seen on “Babylon 5” (which, of course, had its roots in classic science fiction), and the notion that a creature inside the machine was responsible for its effects made it equally intriguing. There was a lot of potential for the Doctor and his allies to debate how to handle the creature, all while trying to manage its use by the Master to derail the international peace summit.
But those early seeds were all but tossed aside when the Master lost control of the creature within the machine, and then changed his plot to be an elaborate plan to trap and dispose of the Doctor while starting a nuclear war that would devastate the planet. All, of course, so he could take over in the aftermath (the usual Bond villain lack of perspective applies).
As much as I love the Master in theory (and in terms of Delgado’s performance), I can’t figure out what his ultimate goals might be. I definitely understand that part of it is a desire to best the Doctor in such a way that the Doctor must admit his inferiority. That much is plain as day. And the Master seems haunted by the notion that the Doctor sees him as laughable and unworthy, as seen in the hallucination caused by the Keller machine.
This relationship is the most interesting part of the whole story. The Master plays at wanting to kill the Doctor, but he never takes the obvious opportunity. And he’s remarkably sloppy in his planning, to the point where the Doctor constantly points out how overwrought and overcomplicated the Master’s plots are. Yet in contrast, the usually moral Doctor is more than happy to leave the Master to die.
It’s like I said in my review for “Terror of the Autons”: the Master brings out the worst in the Doctor, to the point that the Master becomes a glimpse of the kind of person the Doctor might have become. Which is partially why the depiction of the Master (and his lack of clear purpose and motive) is so irritating. If the Master is to be the Moriarty to the Doctor’s Holmes, then his schemes ought to be just that clever.
Instead, the Master is stunned once the true power of the creature in the Keller machine is revealed. Once he forces the Doctor to work with him to subdue the creature, he becomes oddly congenial with the Doctor, almost subservient. Moments like that make it seem like the Doctor and the Master might have been friends once, even partners in some fashion. I’m left to wonder if their history is ever explored, and what might have driven them to such opposition.
As for the rest of the characters, there is some interesting progression seen there. The Brigadier comes out somewhat worse for the wear. Unlike the strong characterization in the seventh season, this incarnation is less competent. He seems to rush into situations headlong, with little attempt or ability at deeper thinking. This serves to make the Doctor seem more impressive in comparison, but it strikes me as lazy writing, as if they couldn’t find ways to make the Doctor look superior without downgrading the Brigadier to facilitate it.
Jo is given a bit more of a personality in this story, though she is still a bit inexperienced and it shows. Still, she demonstrates a bit of toughness in the prison, to the point where she starts to look more like a fitting companion to the Doctor. She’s still got a long way to go, though, and I always find it amusing how quickly the companions become protective of the Doctor to the point of risking their own life for him!
As for the rest of the supporting cast, it’s good to see Yates be more than just someone hitting on the ladies, though it seems to come at the expense of Benton, who is gaining a penchant for becoming a laughing stock with his constant blunders. It’s all part of the odd way that UNIT is being portrayed this season. Their level of overall and individual competence is utterly dependent on the needs of the scene. That’s a classic sign of bad writing, though, so it’s not something I expect to enjoy.
So despite a number of elements that could have come together into a story that might have rivaled some of the seventh season serials, the writers string ideas together without much consideration for making sense. The result is a story that is less than the sum of its parts.
Final Rating: 6/10