5 December 2018: It Takes You Away review added.
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"This is a complete waste of time."
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We were totally knocked out by Steve Gallagher's other Doctor Who story, Warriors' Gate. So we were optimistic about Terminus. (Well, as optimistic as we could be about a story containing the Fifth Doctor and Tegan.)
And we weren't totally let down. True, much of Terminus is stupidity alternated with pointlessness. We'll get to that bit in a minute, but before we do, let's pause for a second to appreciate the sheer audaciousness of Gallagher's plot. The universe was kicked off by somebody emptying their petrol tank? That's a Big Idea if ever we've heard one, and we love it. It's lots more fun than the boring old faff they came up with in Castrovalva, too.
And there's more good stuff. Warriors' Gate got an A for atmosphere, and while Terminus isn't in the same league (hell, it isn't even in the same galaxy), there are dollops of creepy stuff in the first episode that work really well. We don't know where we are, we don't know what's going on and things are definitely looking a bit dodgy. Memorably atmospheric, and the perfect way to start a story.
But just when it was looking all interesting and everything, it turns to sludge. There's so much contradictory, unexplained and just plain dumb stuff in here it's mind-boggling. We're going to assume Gallagher's script was ripped to ribbons, because there's no way this mess is by the Warriors' Gate writer.
Take the Lazar plot (and you might as well, because it's not doing anybody any good where it is). Is this leprosy-as-we-know-it, or some kind of futuristic space leprosy? Because ordinary leprosy just ain't that infectious. It also seems just a tad variable in its effects: one minute the victims are athletically trying to kill Tegan (at least, we think that's what they're doing) and the next they're shuffling along and moaning. It's the same with Nyssa: she floops out on the stairs one minute with barely enough energy to rip off her skirt - as you do - then in the next scene she's trying out her best karate moves.
And what about the cure? First of all, we hear that nobody ever comes back from Terminus. But then we find out there is a cure after all, even if it's a bit hit and miss. (After seeing Nyssa wake up lying on her back in her underwear, the revelation that the cure consists of radiation was a relief.) So what happened to all the people who'd been cured before, then?
Then there's Dog Boy. Gallagher nicked him and his henchmen from Norse mythology, and he probably intended Garm to be well scary. Sadly, he's almost as cuddly as Aggedor in Monster Of Peladon, and even worse, we never get to find out what the hell he's doing there. And while we like the nifty armour the Vanir wear, that's about all we can find to say for them. They don't seem to do anything at all, apart from a desperately pathetic murder attempt or two on the Doctor.
And the same goes for Duran Duran refugee raiders Olvir and whatsername. He, poor boy, is forced to babble on about how they're all going to die, aieeeee, and she's utterly pointless except to save the Doctor from talking to himself.
Tegan and Turlough. Dear God, they're bad. The endless scenes of them crawling up and down ducts redefine "gratuitous". Although we have to admit a sneaking sympathy for Turlough. First of all, he's still stuck with Chickenhead, who seems to have magically regenerated the talking tap destroyed in Mawdryn Undead and who clearly takes enormous pleasure in messing with Turlough's head. The Black Guardian knows perfectly well that Turlough's done nothing all day except wedge himself into a duct, yet he's still spitting the dummy: "You have not destroyed the Doctor!" In possibly our favourite line in the whole piece, Turlough irritably responds: "I haven't found him yet!" Take that, you feathery moron. And how about "The roundel behind you"? Er, could you be a little more specific? (Not that this fazes Turlough, who lunges confidently at one. The wrong one.) And let's not forget the guessing game that ensues when Turlough's trying to find the emergency bypass switch.
As well as being saddled with Mr Twenty Questions, Turlough's lumbered with lines even John Gielgud couldn't have got across. "If I choose to smooth the way with a smile and a soft phrase"? Where did that come from? We know he's supposed to be an alien, but that's no excuse. And unfortunately, his feeble attempts at evildoing keep him too busy to realise that if he wants to go home, which was the point of the bargain with the Black Guardian, all he has to do is ask the Doctor.
And Nyssa. Poor little Nyssa. In her last story, she's sadly mistreated, forced to scream witlessly and be generally lily-livered ("Others are worse than me!") However, she does redeem herself at the end, brilliantly analysing the hydrogel using only the power of eyesight and sternly fending off Tegan's tearful entreaties. (It's apparently a touching moment when the Doctor does his little speech about Nyssa being a brave person, but frankly, we can't see it. We've seen more emotion at a poker game.) What was John Nathan-Turner on? Oblivious to the sheer horror of the other Fifth Doctor companions, he was dead set on getting rid of the one who was not only the best of that particular bunch, but one of the best companions ever. We can only shake our heads in disbelief.
Oh, yeah, the Doctor. Run back and forth, yabber on at length, scuttle away from conveniently localised gas, do mysterious and inexplicable things with a control box - and we end up more confused than when we started. Business as usual.
Lots of potential. But as the saying goes, it's what you do with it that counts.
MORAL: Always take leftover fuel to an approved recycling facility.
TRAPPED IN MY FLAT
Another "abandoned" passenger liner? And hey, just how did those Lazars make themselves sound like Nyssa, anyway?
Perhaps one of the Lazars sneaks out for a riffle through Nyssa's folder, because when the Doctor finds it it's closer to the wall than it was when Nyssa dropped it.
HOWEVER DO YOU DO IT, DOCTOR?
Kari says into her communicator thingy: "Advance party to raider..." Nanoseconds later, Nyssa, who's in the same room, asks the Doctor who Kari and Olvir are. The Doctor replies: "Raiders, by the look of it. Probably an advance party to open the airlocks." All together now: duh!
First Olvir says they're all going to die because they're breathing the Lazars' air (and why don't any of them except Nyssa get infected, anyway?), then he says Terminus is successful because it plays on an irrational fear. Call us hypochondriacs, but it doesn't sound too irrational to us.
IT'S THE RULES
Nyssa announces that there are two ways back to where they left the TARDIS and so they should go in two parties. What the hell's that's going to achieve?
100% VITAMIN C
Isn't all that hydromel stuff a ripoff of the mutoids on Blake's 7? And why don't the Vanirs get the disease, anyway?
NOT WITH A BANG BUT A WHIMPER
"Keep him covered." "My power pack's dead!" Don't tell him! Not to mention that Kari is a raider. Presumably she's used to going on to other people's ships and shooting the crew to get the cargo. So why has she got a gun with virtually no power? And we love the way that once the Doctor and Kari establish her gun has no power, they just wander away, completely ignoring the guy they were supposed to be covering.
DO YOUR WORST
Isn't it obliging of Garm to stand still while St George, sorry Olvir, is shooting at him?
Far be it from us to criticise alien engineering, but why do they keep the fuel in the engine?
HAVE YOU TRIED PRESSING CTRL-ALT-DEL?
What's all that fiffling with the Lever Of Death about? A computer-controlled lever, that you force back by hand... oh, forget it.
I WONDER WHAT THESE DO?
"Terminus will never move again." Well, not unless someone repairs the cables, that is. They've only cut 'em in half.
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