It has been a while since I’ve reviewed an episode of “Doctor Who.” I have two bigger “Doctor Who” posts coming up with a reflection on the Capaldi Era and my thoughts of Series 11, with Jodie Whitaker as the 13th Doctor. I hope to review her episodes individually at some point too once I get back into the swing of things with my “Doctor Who” reviews. Tom Baker as the 4th Doctor is one of my 4 favorite Doctors. The others being Capaldi’s 12, Tennant’s 10 and Pertwee’s 3. Each of them captures the alien nature of the Time Lord while still having that genuine love of adventure, fun and humanity. They are the balance and this episode is a good example of that for the 4th Doctor.
The story was written by Gerry Davis and Robert Holmes and directed by Michael E. Briant.
The story follows the Doctor as he and his companions Sarah Jane Smith and Michael Sullivan find themselves on Space Station Nerva, separated from the TARDIS, which will eventually catch up to them in time. They find the station full of dead bodies and under quarantine from a myseterious plague. From here they unfold the mystery as factions on and off the station seek to commit genocide upon their enemies.
The Plague Mystery – The plague mystery is great as it automatically creates stakes in the episode. Our introduction to their arrival on the Nerva Station is the Doctor and his companions finding the dead and this adds to the feeling of uneasiness that pervades the episode. You can understand why the humans are distrustful of the Doctor and his companions and as the mystery of the plague being Cybermen killing people is revealed as they wish to take control of the Station in order to take on their enemies, the Vogans who live on a planet of gold, a mineral that is one of their greatest weaknesses.
The Vogans – The Vogans are an interesting people. You can see that they’ve cut themselves off from the wider galaxy and because of it you have people who are willing to go to any ends to protect that secrecy. This isolation and radicalization is the arc that they deal with as the Cybermen’s arrival on their planet and near extermination is only stopped by outsiders (the humans on the Station and the Doctor and his companions) and as their arc ends we see them open to changing from the people they were before. I like their design as they look like regal Dwarves as most are bearded and they have strong ridges on their foreheads. This fit their look as an underground people living in secret and they didn’t feel like the make-up department was barely trying. Effort was put into creating this race and I like what we learned about them in the process.
The Cybermen – This is the first time the Cybermen were back as main villains since “The Invasion” where the 2nd Doctor faced them in 1968. Knowing that history and how iconic they’ve become as one of the Doctor’s main villain their reappearance alone was really cool. In this they don’t upgrade others, just exterminate them. We see this as it is them who are killing the people on the Station with their Cybermats (a metallic snake like creature that bites people, killing them). Their whole deal is self defense in their minds as getting rid of the Vogans and their planet of gold will make them the prominent force in the region. They are winning through most of the episode and their invasion of Vogan goes as plan until the Doctor and the human survivors begin using the gold against the Cybermen as well as the Doctor destroying the Cyber-Leader on the Station and keeping it from slamming into Voga.
Sarah Jane Smith -Sarah Jane Smith is one of my favorite classic companions. Here she gets captured a few times but she always manages to get free (usually always on her own) and is easily one of the Doctor’s most proactive companions who isn’t a Time Lord. In this we get glimpses of just how much the Doctor and Sarah care about one another too as at one point they are trapped together and not only have to free themselves but stop the Cybermen and the Vogan rocket that is going for the Station. Besides the Doctor and the human survivors from the Station who work with the Doctor she is the closest thing this episode has to a main protagonist.
The Doctor – Tom Baker once again shows why he is one of my favorite Doctors. Here we see him figure out that the plague is Cybermen at play and with the help of Sarah Jane Smith, saves the Vogans and stops the Cybermen. He is his usual aloof self taking control of situations and his times of vulnerability really show too. When he is captured he can think his way out but he still depends on others. In this we see his humanity and that he isn’t some super hero always one step ahead. I love Tom Baker and this is a good episode to showcase why he is so memorable as the Doctor, especially since he is facing such a classic foe in the Cybermen.
Harry Sullivan – The reason I’m putting him as okay is nothing he did really stood out this episode. I know he helped the Doctor and humans but I’d have a hard time describing any one thing he did. Sarah Jane Smith was the one who was far active this episode. Harry is also a companion I’m pretty nuetral towards. I never hated him as a companion but I was never really that much of a fan either. This episode is a good example of why. He’ll always do the right thing but he rarely questions the things around him and most of what I remember him doing in other episodes is being the muscle. I could also be selling him short but he didn’t stand out to me at all this episode and wasn’t needed in the story.
The Humans on the Station – There is the evil human who tries to kill the Doctor, who is also a professor working for a faction of Vogans who want to lure the Cybermen to the station to destroy them with the rocket and is doing it all for gold. He does change sides but only due to survival. There is the commander who stays good the entire time and is the one who redirects the Vogan missile to destroy the Cyber-Ship rather than the Station and there is one other survivor killed earlier on by the professor. The two of them are not bad characters but they don’t really grow fully beyond the stock characters they are written as.
The Ending – The ending is alright. The Doctor and Sarah save the day and stop the Station from crashing into Voga. The Voga elder stops the militant Voga from destroying the Station with the missle and the human survivors and Voga have now made contact before the Doctor and his companions make their exit on the TARDIS which has finally caught up to them in time (last episode they traveled using a Time Ring so the TARDIS had to catch up to where they had traveled to, which in this case is Space Station Nerva).
This is an episode I’d recommend to anyone who is a fan of Classic “Doctor Who” and those who can look past budget and love a good story. There are flaws, the Vogans should have been using gold to fight the Cybermen and them overlooking this is never explained, I guess they didn’t know Cybermen were vulnerable to gold? I loved watching classic Cybermen in action and the Doctor and his companions solving the mystery of what was going on gave the story a nice hook before we got into the action of the war between the Vogans and Cybermen that the humans were caught in the middle of.
Final Score: 8.6 / 10. Nearly great. Harry Sullivan needed more to do and I would have liked the humans on the Station to be explored better in their motivations.