5 December 2018: It Takes You Away review added.
26 November 2018: The Witchfinders review added.
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The first time we saw this, we were so creeped out by Adric that we barely noticed anything else. But when after intensive therapy we watched it again, we were surprised to find that, Adric factor aside, Full Circle's actually bloody good.
We all know, don't we, that we could write a much better Who story than any of the ones that made it to the screen, and here the 19-year-old Andrew Smith proves that we were right all along. He produces a complex, intelligent story that holds our interest from beginning to end.
Smith brings a remarkably refreshing approach to the villain question: there aren't any. While there are the usual complement of rubber monsters, we're encouraged to see them not as evil death-dealers but instead as a species just as important as the humanoids. We're never actually told why they enjoy strangling the "colonists", but we get the vague impression that it's probably for an awfully good reason. (And given the annoying Outlers and the wishy-washy everyone else, we can believe it.) Sure, they've got an agenda, but so have the humanoids, and we're made to feel that one isn't any more important than the other.
This is quite a change. While the Doctor often defends aliens while all around him are itching to rip their tentacles off, in the end he usually comes down on the side of the humans anyway. In Sea Devils, for example, although he tries to reconcile the reptiles and the humans, when the reptiles won't back down he blasts them back into the Eocene Age even though the humans don't have any more valid a claim than the reptiles do. So his behaviour here is a big step up.
And not only are the monsters not villains, the humanoids aren't either: they've just made a few misguided decisions. While some might complain that it's boring not having an evil force for the Doctor to battle against, we love the change. It's a lot more complex and interesting than yer standard good v. evil black and white.
What's more, it fair shifts along. In fact, it might just take the award for the least padded story ever. Nothing's in there that doesn't have to be, which makes the story move at a satisfying clip instead of miring viewers in the all-too-familiar padded cell. The first episode in particular is near perfect, with several equally fascinating story threads unfolding at once and a rocking cliffhanger.
Full Circle looks good, too. While the latter half's got an unfortunately high corridor quotient, the location shooting at the beginning is terrific. Even the ship's not too cheesy, with a nice-looking control room thankfully short on buttons and blinking lights.
There are, of course, a few plot holes. It's never very clear why the fact that the Alzarians are descended from the marsh creatures has been hushed up, for a start. Even at the rate they evolve, you don't go to bed a rubber monster and get up human with the urge to put your sordid past behind you. It's a lot more gradual than that, and why should it be a shameful secret anyway?
It's also left conveniently unexplained as to why some of the marsh creatures have evolved and others have stayed the same. Or why some of the spiders evolved into marsh creatures and others didn't, come to that.
And what's the basis for everyone agreeing that only the First Decider gets to know all the juicy secrets? We can't believe that in 4000 generations someone didn't take a sneaky peek at the files - or that a First Decider was never slightly indiscreet over a few too many glasses of riverfruit wine.
What else? The incidental music adds a ton of atmosphere. Costuming's effective: we love the way the Alzarians are dressed in slightly different shades of the same colours, and that's a very pretty outfit Romana's got on. And the direction's excellent, with some unusual camera angles very effectively used.
As for characterisation, it's probably the weakest part of the story. To a degree this is inevitable given that Smith chooses to show ordinary people rather than evil megalomaniacs: how stunningly interesting were the indecisive Deciders ever going to be? The Outlers, too, are a dull bunch of bog-standard sulky teenagers.
And then, of course, there's Adric. We can't think of an SF character anywhere who's so universally loathed - or who deserves it more. Just why he's quite so actively repellent, we really can't say. All we know is that whenever we see that vacant and slightly cross-eyed face loom into shot, we want to run screaming from the room.
As for the regulars, well, the dog gets it, so that's good news. Romana's pretty good, except when she's doing her desperately embarrassing "woooo, I'm a monster" bit. And it's a brilliant performance from Tom Baker. In the run-up to Logopolis, he's playing the Doctor much more sombrely, and it suits him. His confrontation with the Deciders is one of the strongest scenes for the Doctor in all of Who.
All in all, if only Adric could be surgically excised, this story'd be right up there with the greats. Pass the scalpel.
YOU STILL HERE?
The Doctor seems very unsympathetic about Romana leaving the TARDIS, doesn't he? There she is breaking her heart and all he can talk about is how he's dying to see Leela and Andred again. (Why anyone would want to see Andred more than once is beyond us, but that's beside the point.) Now, he might be concealing his true feelings as he did with Sarah Jane, of course, but to us it seems as if he genuinely doesn't give a stuff.
Isn't it convenient how the homing device obligingly beeps only between speeches?
Why don't the Deciders ever consider the possibility that the mists aren't fatal to the Doctor because he has an alien biology?
ON THE WEB
Why does Romana waste time picking up objects to heave at the spider when the mouth of the cave is right behind her? And isn't it a bit foolhardy saying "they're only spiders" when many spiders have a poisonous bite?
We love the way the Doctor hoists the marsh creatures with their own petard, using their adaptability to trick them into picking up and using the oxygen cylinders. It's wonderfully intelligent and exactly him.
When Varsh is spraying a marsh creature who's lying on the ground, you can see a very obvious rip in the shoulder seam of the marsh creature's costume.
BUT WHO'S COUNTING
Tom Baker refers at one point to 40,000 generations when it's supposed to be 4000.