Friday, June 17, 2011

Logopolis

It is the end. After seven seasons & forty-two episodes (if you include Shada) Tom Baker's era of Doctor Who comes to an end with a wonderfully atmospheric final story: Logopolis.

The Doctor is determined to do something about the TARDIS chameleon circuit, influenced perhaps by the way the Master had used his properly working TARDIS to hide on Traken. This means going to Earth to measure up a real police box so he can trot the statistics off to Logopolis where they will use so super-duper mathematics to...actually none of this really matters.

This story is all about the regeneration & all the Bidmeadish 'real' science & plot is spectacularly unimportant. Christopher H Bidmead would probably disagree but the only important thing is to get Tom to the end in style.

This Logopolis does, just.

The Doctor starts the story with just Adric aboard but by the end he's encumbered with Adric, Nyssa & new shouty Australian Air Hostess & companion Tegan Jovanka (Janet Fielding). That means that by the end it all feels too crowded, especially with the Master (Anthony Ainley) added to equation. There's a rush to it that the slow atmospheric first episode didn't have. Whether you could have four episodes with that same atmosphere without it all getting mawkish is a moot point but in the end the final moments are wonderfully handled from that shot (with twiddly-twiddly music) down to the Doctor.

So as Tom leaves we meet a new Master. He's taken over Tremas's body, which Nyssa doesn't realise until it is almost too late. He's also played by Anthony Ainley.

Now I've already expressed my preference for Roger Delgardo & this story illustrates why. I don't think it is Ainley's fault. I think he's doing what he's asked to do but this version of the Master - whilst inheriting the Master's total stupidity - is much less subtle.

That Ainley laugh, which features in some scenes like the audio equivalent of the Cheshire Cat's smile, is a bit too gimmicky. The new Master feels more pantomime villain that the old one. He's less charming certainly.

That scene where he responds to Nyssa with the line 'But his body still proves useful' is so coldly & casually delivered as to be possibly one of the series most horrific moments. Poor old Nyssa (Sarah Sutton). She loses her step-mum, her Dad & her entire home planet in this story as a result of the Master. It's a wonder she doesn't go mad with rage. Sarah Sutton still hasn't had much to do except ask questions so far but does get one or two nice little scenes. Her & Adric seem to work well together.

Alas poor Adric (Matthew Waterhouse). It's from this point on that the character (& the actor's) limitations become more obvious. He works quite well with Tom Baker's Doctor, but once you start throwing in all these extra characters he just seems to look a bit...wet.

Tegan (Janet Fielding) is also something of a shock. She's Australian, loud & just wants to go home. This is the first time we're presented with a companion that seems totally uninterested in anything but getting home, which makes you wonder what the point is. However Janet Fielding does a great job, especially with her fears & frustrations as she gets lost in the TARDIS.

But in the end this is the last of the Tom Baker show & he's excellent from start to finish. The way he plays the scene when he tells Tegan her Aunt Vanessa is dead conveys both the Doctor's concern, his alienness & his preoccupation with the bigger picture. The air of sadness that he manages to carry throughout this story, aware of his impending mortality is wonderful. The regeneration is nicely underplayed to. It is genuinely quite emotional.

It was even more so at the time. This was the first regeneration I ever saw 'live' & my first change of Doctor. I can remember being quite excited to see what this new bloke was like but Tom Baker was THE Doctor to me. Even now, after all this time & all the other Doctor Who stories I've watched, he is still THE Doctor.

If nothing else this exercise in regular orderly Doctor Who watching has reminded me how wonderful Tom Baker was. Even in bad stories he lifts things up with his energy & commitment. He might not always be the subtlest of actors but he was perfect for the Doctor.

So...it is the end. But the moment has been prepared for.

Castrovalva here we come.

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