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Classic Who: Logopolis

Yes, I finally did it. Last weekend, in fact. It's just that I was working so hard on my teaching portfolio last week that I didn't have much writing energy left for reviews in the evenings. So, now that I have a day spare, here goes:

Fourth Doctor: Logopolis
Watching this story was a sad experience for me, as I knew it would be. I didn't think I'd actually cry, because Classic Who just doesn't focus on or seek to evince emotions of any kind in the same way that New Who does. I thought I'd just maybe feel a bit mopey and anti-climactic at knowing that there would be no more televised Fourth Doctor adventures for me.1 But when it came to it, the tears did flow. And in fact I feel immensely grateful for that, because it's a very clear index of the power of this story, and of just what a great send-off Tom Baker got.

That send-off, of course, had been building throughout the whole season, with its themes of age and decay and the cycle of life and death: as I realised right from the first five minutes of the first episode. It binds the season together very adroitly, particularly over a period when the TARDIS personnel has been changing and expanding so rapidly. By the end of Logopolis we have three companions, none of whom were there at the start of the season, and two of whom have popped up in the last two stories alone. Without the thematic bonds tying the season together, I think that would feel very, very disorientating. More importantly from my perspective, though, putting age and decay and transformation at the heart of this season effectively makes the entire thing into an extended tribute to Tom Baker, and what he has been to the show. Which - well, wow! When the Doctor speaks his final line - "It's the end. But the moment has been prepared for" - it really has.

It happens, in fact, that the set-up in this season is very much like New Who. You've got a clear thematic arc pointing the way throughout the season to a pre-determined major event at the end, and you've also got the chief script-editor for the season writing its finale. The difference, though, is that (in stark contrast to RTD) Christopher Bidmead in the finale really delivers on the goods that the arc has promised.

Logopolis definitely comes across as a very self-assured story, right from the opening shot of a policeman talking into the telephone of a genuine, ordinary, common-or-garden police box. That really has to be the ultimate Who shorthand for "See the central tenets of this show? We're going to re-examine them now", doesn't it? ;-) And they do, and we get the Cloister Bell, and some backstory about how the TARDIS was awaiting repairs at the time the Doctor *koff* 'borrowed' it, and lots of new TARDIS-interior sets, and the terribly symbolic jettisoning of Romana's room :-(, and block transfer computation, and the shrunken TARDIS - complete with the Master's very meta-referential line, "At last, Doctor! I've cut you down to size!". Not to mention meeting the very people who hold the Universe together, and watching the stars go out on a scale RTD can only aspire to.

Meanwhile, the figure of the Watcher acts as a mini-arc for the story itself, lending a real sense of tension to the proceedings: especially since it's obvious from the look on the Doctor's face when he sees him for the first time that he knows full well that Something Is Up. Actually, I must confess the recent events in New Who inspired me with a cracky theory about the Watcher. See, because Ten said in Timecrash that Five was 'his' Doctor, and because we've now got a spare 10.5 kicking around because of the events of Journey's End, whom we know is going to age in a way most Time Lords don't... can we say that the Watcher is actually 10.5 somehow come back from the other Universe to ensure a safe beginning for his favourite past regeneration, and finally merge back into himself once more? Yes, I know he doesn't look much like Ten - but who are we to say what 10.5 will look like by the time he's knocked around in Pete's World for a few decades. Anyway, it works for me.

Back to Logopolis, the story does have a few flaws. Anthony Ainley just isn't as good at being the Master as Roger Delgado was. And Tegan doesn't get a terribly promising introduction. She seems to do an awful lot of running around being brash and clueless without anything terribly positive to do, and only barely begins to redeem herself towards the end of the story by calling the computational workshops on Logopolis for a sweat-shop, and seeming genuinely concerned to help rescue the Doctor from his shrunken TARDIS. And as for the Doctor's plan to 'flush out' the Master from the TARDIS by draining the entire Thames into it - what? The most charitable interpretation of this is that it's meant to be another sign of his failing powers, and the end of his regenerative cycle - but in any case, it is clearly madness, and it's a pity Romana isn't around any more, because she would have stopped him.

Talking of the companions who are around, though, I note yet again that Adric continues to fall far short of the level of annoyingness that his reputation suggests. Yes, his acting is a bit below-par: overly earnest, too crisply-enunciated, and sometimes a bit hesitant. And yes, he has silly piggy eyes, a ridiculous outfit and a bad haircut. But he's really no worse than a lot of other similar figures who were on children's television at this time. And in fact, he contributes quite a lot in this story: both to the plot and to the all-important sense of a bond of responsibility between the Doctor and the people around him.

Early on in the story, he asks a lot of intelligent and useful questions about the TARDIS, catching on very quickly to the significance of the Doctor's answers. He also does sterling work creating a distraction to save the Doctor from getting arrested; and then there is the Doctor's proud grin as he watches Adric listening to the Monitor explain how the Logopolitans can recreate the TARDIS, and the wonderful "WTF?" look the two of them share when Tegan first stumbles into the TARDIS console room. It is also, of course, Adric as 'longest'-serving companion on whom the Doctor bestows his final, precious grin, before he surrenders his attention to the Watcher and his regeneration. There is actually a real sense of affection between them two of them in this story: and that becomes all the more impressive when you listen to the DVD commentary, and realise just how little respect Tom Baker actually had for Matthew Waterhouse! Since I don't intend to plough on into the Peter Davison era just now, this is where my experience of Adric will rest for the moment, and the verdict is: perfectly acceptable, and in fact not significantly worse than Leela.

But this story isn't about Adric, or Tegan, or the Master, or anyone else. Not really. It's about the Doctor, and it's about Tom Baker. I don't normally say much about either in these reviews, as it hardly needs doing really. Baker is widely recognised as one of the best Doctors there has ever been, and with good reason. I'm going to say more about why I, personally, like him so much in another post, now that I've seen all his stories. But he does deserve some dedicated space in this write-up, too.

I've already said that the whole story is effectively designed as Tom Baker's curtain-call, and the script gives him piles of great material to work with. Even before we meet the Watcher, the Doctor is agitated and unsettled, pacing restlessly around the TARDIS and having little shouting-matches with Adric. The whole atmosphere of Impending Doom reminded me of Roman emperors, who often seem to know when they are going to die; and of course it lends a wonderful darkness to the Doctor's character, which I think is one of the things that makes Genesis of the Daleks so successful.

Various small plot elements also make for interesting steps on the road to his end. I really liked, for example, the way the shots of him inside the shrunken TARDIS were rendered. Given that the set was actually the same size as ever, the use of soft focus and a low camera angle and a fish-eye lens, and him lying trembling and incapacitated on the floor while seeing weird visions of enormous people looking down at him on the TARDIS screen, was all extremely effective. It puts him in a vulnerable position that foreshadows his actual regeneration; but also reminds us of the Doctor's characteristic reaction to that sort of situation, as he forces himself to go on anyway, exclaiming "I will not be beaten. I simply will not be beaten!" Putting him up against the Master, too, is a sound move. It's always a good way of bringing out the Doctor's dark side as the similarities between them come out; and it seems especially appropriate here that the final agent of the Fourth Doctor's demise should be a darker version of himself. Forcing the two of them to strike up an alliance is even better, too. It's a neat indication of how bad things have got, and how far the Doctor will go to try to rescue the situation. And the resigned self-disgust with which he shakes the Master's hand, conveyed via a subtle, pained close of the eyes, is absolutely brilliant.

And then, of course, there is the final 'death'-scene. I loved it. I mean, if he had to go at all - this was perfect. I loved that in the end, it was precipitated by such a small thing, that he could easily have saved himself from. It really underlined the heavy sense of fate that's pervaded the whole story: especially given the earlier scenes in which his usual will to fight on is underlined. Look at his face as he hangs from the cable beneath the satellite dish:

He's scared, all right, but he is not trying to fight any more. He's resigned to what must come, just staring pitiably at the camera; and he doesn't really try to hold on in the final moment. Lying on the ground below (in much the same position as he'd lain in the shrunken TARDIS earlier), he smiles peacefully, and just lets himself go. And the montage we get, of all the villains he has faced, and the companions he has loved. Oh, this was a fitting tribute: and no wonder I cried, really.

It's interesting, too, especially when listening to the commentary track, to think about the relationship between the character we're seeing onscreen, and the barely-differentiated man behind him. I've become a great devotee of Tom Baker's contributions to the DVD commentary tracks and 'making of' documentaries for these things, mainly because the same warmth and exuberance and wit that he displays on screen make them incredibly good fun to listen along to; but also because from time to time he shows a disarmingly frank self-knowledge that makes them very touching, too. This one is quite possibly the best of the bunch, because it sees him re-examining his final days on Doctor Who in a surprisingly open manner. He says enough to make it clear that he was pretty conflicted about it all: no longer entirely enjoying the direction the show was taking, but not much wanting to let it go, or to do anything else, either. And I think that's what comes through very clearly in the story, too. We have a Doctor who doesn't really want to go, but knows his time has come: and that's not just the Doctor, but Tom Baker too.

1. Yeah, yeah - Dimensions in Time, obviously. I know about that, and the two audio plays from 1976. I'm just talking about the proper core of TV stories here.


( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 13th, 2008 05:33 pm (UTC)
And all of this is probably why Logopolis continually vies with Genesis as my favourite classic Who story. Desite its flaws, it is simply wonderful from start to finish
Jul. 13th, 2008 05:38 pm (UTC)
Yes, I can see why. I shall draw up a top five (and bottom five!) Baker stories when I write about his era as a whole. I'm not certain Logopolis will actually make the top five, because there's a helluva lot of strong competition. But it's certainly a contender.
Jul. 13th, 2008 05:40 pm (UTC)
Right, you must listen to Daragh Carville's play Regenerations!
Jul. 13th, 2008 06:44 pm (UTC)
Ah, yes - I've heard mention of that, and I see why I should from your review! I'll add it to the 'every last Who-related thing TB ever did' pile, along with Dimensions, Pescatons and Exploration Earth. :-) Thanks!
Jul. 13th, 2008 08:46 pm (UTC)
Logopolis was my favourite Doctor Who story for quite a long time, although I'd probvably have to give that to Moffat's The Girl in The Fireplace or Shearman's The Chimes of Midnight now.

"Anthony Ainley just isn't as good at being the Master as Roger Delgado was."

Probably, although decent stories with the Master are few and far between. He works best when he becomes a monster in Deadly Assassin or The Keeper of Traken. Otherwise, he becomes a panto villain and you're left with the problem of trying to give him a motivation when he so clearly has none. At least here the villain is the entropy wave and the Master is mostly a useful plot device.

- K

Jul. 13th, 2008 09:33 pm (UTC)
That's a pity, because I have fond (if hazy) memories of Delgado's Master, based on various TV repeats and WhoSoc viewings of his stories over the years. I probably didn't care much at the time if he was a bit of a panto villain: but I might now.
(Deleted comment)
Jul. 14th, 2008 08:36 am (UTC)
Oh dear - Baker vs. Baker, Master vs. Master... I am beginning to see visions of long Whovian battle-lines being drawn up between the two of us! Still, what the hell - it should be a damned sexy fight! Nimonnnnns: ATTACK! ;-)

Adric - I can see your point, there. I'd assumed that his negative reputation came from character development in the Peter Davison era (of which I've certainly seen his final story, but don't remember any of the others). But yeah - maybe he does work differently for boys. Also, yes - having seen Matthew Waterhouse talking about the role on the 'making of' doc, he certainly is breathtakingly irritating.
Jul. 14th, 2008 09:27 pm (UTC)
"that his negative reputation came from character development in the Peter Davison era"

What character development would that be? I must have missed it!

( 8 comments — Leave a comment )

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