Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Phantom Who: Logopolis


Okay, I’m trying this again. Doing actual recaps of Doctor Who was making me miserable and nobody was reading them anyway. Let’s see if I can find another, more Troublemaker way to do this. This is the same old intro, though because I like it.
Welcome to Phantom Who, a new feature designed to go along with the Earth Station Who podcast, which I co-host. There I am known as “Dave” because “Phantom Troublemaker” takes up too much room on the stationary. Every other week there will be a new podcast discussing all things Doctor Who, with a central discussion about a particular story.
For the first year we are covering regeneration stories. Starting with An Unearthly Child and wrapping up the current regenerations with The Eleventh Hour, we’ll be covering the first and last stories of each of the first eleven Doctors.
Last time on Phantom Who…
A freshly regenerated Doctor helped the Brigadier and UNIT stop a bunch of science loonies from blowing up the world. Also, a robot that was being used by the evil organization became a giant, King Kong-like menace when the Brigadier shot it with a disintegrator gun. It then kidnapped Sarah Jane Smith and stomped a town apart. Only the Doctor’s bucket of pink glop could stop it’s mechanical rampage of betrayal.
Since then the Doctor has had many more adventures and companions, among them a savage warrior woman, a robot dog, and a female Time Lord. Er, Lady. Whatever.
He now travels with a young mathematical genius named Adric. The Doctor took him on as a protégé of sorts during a brief side trip to E-Space. Upon their return to Normal Space, the Doctor was summoned to the planet Traken by the Keeper (of Traken). There he and Adric foiled a villainous plot to take over the universe with the help of a young girl named Nyssa. Over the course of events it was revealed that the Doctor’s long time nemesis, the Master, was behind the nefarious scheme. Unbeknownst to any, after he was defeated the Master possessed the body of Nyssa’s father, Tremas – a kind scientist who had helped the Doctor during his Traken adventure…
This one opens up with some British cop checking out a phone box. Not the Doctor’s phone box, as is evidenced when a mysterious evil laugh yanks the police officer inside and makes him disappear. Now that I think about it, the cop might have been Australian. Tegan Jovanka – owner of the worst companion name ever, even over Peptobismolterrygilliam Brown - is from Australia. I’m not totally clear on where the Earth portions of this one take place, and that’s just the beginning of things that Logopolis isn’t clear about. But hang in there because we’ve got a lot of stupid story to cover.
Next we cut to the TARDIS control room where the Doctor and Adric are quite frankly being giant asses to one another. I don’t hate Adric like everybody else does, but he does seem to have his whine turned up to nine. Is it just me or does Adric look like a human Playmobil figure?:
The Doctor isn’t helping matters any, as everything he says comes out as yelling. Well, yelling or muttering. He seems to have no in between. But to be fair, the Time Lord is totally irritated that his faithful time-and-space traveling vehicle is stuck as a blue police box when if its Chameleon Circuit were functional it could also be awesome things like a Vector graphics pyramid. Oh, how the Doctor longs to be flitting about space and time in a giant pyramid like his favorite band, the KLF. He decides he’s had enough of this police box garbage and tells Adric they’re going to the only place where the Chameleon Circuit can be fixed.
“Gallifrey?” says the young lad hopefully, not realizing that the Doctor is going to receive severe spankings if he returns to his home planet.
The Doctor informs him that Gallifrey is not their destination. Instead they’ll be going to the math planet, Logopolis. If that doesn’t set your adventure pants on fire, I don’t know what will. Can you imagine the pitch for this one?
“Right, guvna – if you’ll just hand me that plate of tea and crumpets I’ll tell you about the Doctor’s exciting visit to… the planet of mathematics!
“Um, well – can the inhabitants have hideous, off-putting heads? You know how the Beeb likes that. Also, we’re killing Tom Baker.”
“Ooh – he’s awfully popular. You think people might notice he’s gone?”
“What? No – his character! The Doctor! We’re getting a new Doctor.”
Oh. Well. Of course. Ha, ha. Why would anybody want to kill Tom Baker! He’s not a complete prat or anything. Ha!”
“Bob’s your uncle!”
“Bumbershoot!”
Anyway, only the Logopolitans can use block transfer computation and only block transfer computation can fix the Chameleon Circuit. Thrilling.
But before the Doctor and Adric can go to Logopolis, they have to acquire accurate measurements for a real police box. In twenty-seven dimensions. Then the TARDIS Cloister Bell begins to ring. The Doctor explains to Adric that the Cloister Bell alarms when catastrophe is imminent and then says something about entropy. He seems more irritated than alarmed by the Cloister Bell and sets the TARDIS on a course for Earth.
Meanwhile, in Australia or England or whatever, Flight Attendant Tegan Jovanka is at her Aunt Vanessa’s home getting ready for her first flight. The two load into Aunt Vanessa’ car, which won’t start. Tegan demonstrates her spunky, 80’s girl independence by getting the car to start and the two go on their way. Unfortunately, spunky, 80’s girl independence only gets you so far and the car breaks down beside that same police box from before. The evil, laughing one; not the one with the math enthusiasts inside.
Except that it is the Doctor’s TARDIS because he materialized it around the other police box so he and Adric could get those measurements. The two are using this really neat ladder thing and crawling all over the other police box when one of them realizes something is amiss. See, they haven’t materialized around a regular police box, this is the evil, laughing police box. Only it isn’t really an evil, laughing police box – it’s another TARDIS! Which they discover when they enter the evil, laughing police box. The Doctor explains that they are some kind of time loop and as they keep entering TARDIS after TARDIS – which I found to be a terrible idea – they just fine more TARDISes; each more poorly lit than the last.
While all of this is going on, Tegan has somehow wandered into the regular TARDIS. It’s one of those things that you kind of have to attribute to the TARDIS’ quirky sentience, because obviously folks shouldn’t just be able to wander in through the front door whenever they want. She’s amazed by what she finds inside and rather than going out to fetch her aunt walks further into the TARDIS interior.
At which time the evil, laughing TARDIS dematerializes and then rematerializes outside. Aunt Vanessa goes to investigate and evil laughter signifies she’s pretty much screwed.
And then the Doctor just sort of pops out of the back of his TARDIS. I did not know the TARDIS had a back door. He peeks around the corner and sees a bunch of cops around a broken-down car. The cops see him and strongly recommend that he steps over to have a word.
This next part was the first part where I really had to pause and think about what was going on. See, the cops show the Doctor these two shrunken people sitting in the car. One is Aunt Vanessa and the other one is that cop from earlier. Now, you and I know that these used to be actual people and we probably even have a good idea that they are tiny as a result of the Master using his Tissue Compressor on them. But I have no idea why the cops know that these two little dolls were actual people or how they could even arrive at this conclusion. How long would it take for any cop in the real world to go from finding an abandoned vehicle with two dolls in the driver’s seat to deciding the two dolls are shrunken people who died in the process?
But that’s what happened and for some reason they decide the Doctor must have done it. But while they’re trying to take the Time Lord into custody, he sees a white figure across the highway. The Doctor is clearly disconcerted – much more by this than by the Master’s latest victims – and then Adric falls off of a bicycle. The cops are distracted and he and the Doctor escape back into the TARDIS.
The Doctor decides to rematerialize under the Thames to flush the Master out of the TARDIS. This is completely insane, but goes right along with the rest of what’s going on. Unaware of Tegan – who is still wandering around the back of the TARDIS – the Doctor and Adric prepare to open the craft’s doors and let millions of liters of water in. This whole segment is absolutely loony. You know there has to be some high-tech, outer space SCUBA gear somewhere in that thing, but rather than put that on or change into alien wetsuits or anything, our two heroes just brace themselves in front of the doors. Fortunately, when the doors do open nothing happens. It turns out there was a boat in the way of the TARDIS’ descent and they landed on the deck. It’s a good thing, because otherwise they wouldn’t have seen the Thin White Dupe standing up on a bridge. The Doctor tells Adric to wait on the boat and then somehow ends up on the bridge talking to the watcher. You don’t hear what is said, but there is a lot of expansive gesturing on the part of the Doctor.
When he returns, he seems very unnerved and informs Adric that they must go straight to Logopolis.
On the way, Tegan pops out into the control room, only mildly surprising the Doctor and Adric. She asks what the heck is going on and wants to know where her aunt is, who she left with the car. The Doctor sort of winces – he knows darn well where her aunt is – and then points out that they’ve materialized on Logopolis.
Side Note: I wonder just how many people are wandering around the TARDIS. Surely Tegan isn’t the first person to have gotten in unnoticed. In a ship of nigh-infinite size, there could well be a whole civilization just sort of squatting in one of the coat rooms.
Ah, scenic Logopolis. Try to picture it – a world of pure math where the inhabitants are so attuned to the geometry of the universe that every structure is perfectly aligned with its environment. Long, graceful, silver lines as far as the eye can see. Precisely designed buildings of such architectural accuracy that they soar miles into the heavens. Roads angled to achieve the most harmonious combination of commuting and habitation that has ever been seen. Truly, Logopolis is a shining monument to logic and indisputable, mathematical planning.
That or it’s a bunch of mud huts squatting around a giant satellite dish.
Yeah –it’s the latter.
The Monitor – the representative of the Logopolitans and the least creepy of them – meets the Doctor and his companions. Clearly the Time Lord and the ugly-headed man are previously acquainted. They catch up and then everybody goes to an actual building – not one of the mud huts – under the giant satellite dish. There they find an exact replica of some Earth science station. The Monitor almost completely fails to explain why that is and then he and the Doctor start to work on the whole Block Computation thing.
They set up the gear to fix the TARDIS and the Doctor goes inside to operate the Chameleon Circuits while the Logopolitans operate as a single mind to process the necessary computations. This makes them about ten times creepier than they already were, which would be about 596 creepy.
But then, thankfully, something goes horribly wrong. The TARDIS begins to shrink with the Doctor trapped inside. Tegan and Adric panic and the Logopolitans seem largely unconcerned except for the Monitor, who orders some of his people to take the TARDIS back to the building. This sight of the Logopolitans carrying the small TARDIS is pretty hilarious. I’m fairly certain this whole story was based around somebody at the BBC going, “Hey – we should just stick one of those model TARDISes we have into a story. Like it got shrunk or something!”
“Ooh, yeah – then we can kill Tom Baker!”
And then all of a sudden Nyssa is just on Logopolis for no good reason. Check out the intro if you don’t know who Nyssa is. She tells Adric that a friend of the Doctor’s brought her there. Not why or how, just that he did. Adric starts walking around the mud huts, trying to help the Monitor figure out what went wrong with the Block Transfer Computation. They discover a number of shrunken Logopolitans, but don’t recognize the significance. They are able to figure out some new computations though and give them to Tegan to show the Doctor because she doesn’t have anything better to do.
Meanwhile, Nyssa is wandering around the mud huts – lots of wandering in this story – when an immensely creepy voice starts calling her name. She peeks into one of the huts and sees her father, Tremas, just sitting in there. Hanging out. He tells her he is on a very important mission and she mentions that he looks about twenty years younger, but fails to notice that he is also evil and kind of a jerk (she has no idea that the Master stole her father’s body). Then he tells her not to mention his presence to anybody and claps this hideously ugly bracelet on her.
Back in the science building the TARDIS is full size and the Doctor hops and out and thanks Tegan for her help by telling her that Aunt Vanessa is dead. She naturally breaks down and the Doctor comforts the young lady by shoving her into a corner so her sobs won’t drown out his conversation with the Monitor. He’s looking to get into mud hut real estate.
While the Monitor and the Doctor are out looking at some nice duplex mud huts, the Master sneaks into the science building and shrinks some more Logopolitans. I don’t think he even has a plan. He’s just happy to be able to use his Tissue Compressor again. Except he does have a plan. He sets up a bunch of equipment to silence Logopolis so the Logopolitans can’t communicate. The Monitor returns and wants to know just what the heck is going on and the Master is all like, “No, you tell me what’s going on,” because he wants to know what the deal is with Logopolis and them having a reproduction of an Earth Science station. Because that is just a bit weird.
Just as the Master is about to turn the Monitor into a kewpie doll the Doctor, Adric, and Nyssa burst into the room. Adric surprises everybody by doing something useful and disabling the Master’s machine. Nyssa surprises nobody by walking across the room and strangling Adric. You can tell by the Doctor’s expression he’s been wanting to do that for months. It turns out the bracelet that the Master gave Nyssa allows him to control her hand (just her hand?) and he tells them to put his stuff back the way they found it or he’ll have her kill Adric.
The Doctor decides to give in and pushes Tegan forward to comply.
“You can kill the boy, but I can’t allow you to turn this innocent girl into a murderer. Damn your nefarious plan, villain!”
But after the Master’s device is restarted the Monitor explains that he has unintentionally doomed the universe. By silencing Logopolis the Master has disrupted some kind of something that was keeping the universe either from exploding or collapsing. I can’t remember and I’m pretty sure it doesn’t matter. Either would be bad because that’s where I keep all my stuff. The Master feels pretty silly at that point and turns off his device, but it’s too late – the signal has already been disrupted. The universe is DOOMED. Just to prove his point, the Monitor dissolves.
Except… the Doctor sees one final, slim chance for all of existence – a
TEAM UP.
He sends his crew off to the TARDIS because you can’t leave a bunch of easily tissue-compressible kids hanging around with the Master about and then shakes hands with his greatest nemesis.
The pair head off to the Earth research station that the one on Logopolis was modeled after because that satellite dish is the only one the BBC could afford big enough to send a universe-wide signal. The Master immediately starts trying to betray the Doctor, and finally does by beating him to the control room and programming a signal to the tell the universe it had better make him king or he’d blow it up. Or collapse it. Whatever.
The Doctor can’t allow this to happen, so he crawls out onto a walkway under the satellite dish to unplug it. Yes – seriously. As he is crawling, the Master hits a switch that starts the walkway rotating about a half a degree a minute. The Doctor valiantly struggles across the slooooowly rotating walkway, finally making it to the other side and disconnecting the plug. Just as he does the walkway becomes vertical and he falls off, dropping like two hundred feet to the ground below.
This whole scene was not as exciting as I make it sound.
As the Doctor lies prone and dying on the ground under the massive satellite dish, his companions gather around him and the watcher in white pops up nearby. In one of the weirdest regenerations ever, the watcher walks over to the Doctor and disappears into him; transforming the Time Lord into a young veterinarian.

Notes:
-This isn’t so much a note as a recollection. I didn’t know this was Tom Baker’s final episode when I saw it as a kid. I didn’t realize at the time how bad it was, I was just creeped out by the Logopolitans. When the Doctor fell off the walkway at the end and turned into somebody else I was horrified. I don’t know how I knew about regeneration at that point, but I did. I couldn’t believe that this guy – one of my heroes – was going to be gone. This was before the days of DVDs or even readily available VHS. As far as I knew I might never see my Doctor again.
-My PBS channel went straight into the Peter Davison stories at this point. As a matter of fact, I feel like they maintained the show’s broadcast order right up through Survival. I’ve said it before and I’ll continue saying it – if anybody out there knows how to get a hold of a PBS broadcast schedule from the 80’s I’d love to see it. I remember certain things about some stories, but I’d like to have a time frame for how I saw these originally.
-A funny trick my mind played on me – Anthony Ainley and Tom Baker had such a good chemistry in this episode that up until a few years ago I would have sworn that they had faced off many times over Tom Baker’s run as the Doctor, despite the fact that this was Ainley’s first full story as the Master. For some reason I was positive that Ainley’s Master was a frequent nemesis to Baker’s Doctor. Not so. Ainley did square off many times against Doctors Five, Six, and Seven though, and I suppose that’s where I got the idea because I have seen many of their stories.
-Okay, so this was still pretty much a recap. But I didn’t worry so much about getting every detail right and had a lot more fun because of that. I guess it doesn’t matter if nobody’s reading these.
Come back next time for Castrovalva, which is the first story for Peter Davison, the fifth Doctor! If you long for another regeneration story where the Doctor naps a lot, then this one is for you!
-Phantom

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