5 December 2018: It Takes You Away review added.
26 November 2018: The Witchfinders review added.
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"He doesn't seem to be too sure of his lines."
Wow. This is stunning.
When you stop to think about it, it's amazing what a broad church Doctor Who is. There's just about every kind of story, on every level. And lucky for us, it's broad enough to include Warriors' Gate, a story that's complex, subtle and utterly adult.
Frankly, it's hard to fault. For a start, the atmosphere is incredible: eerie and otherworldly, with a remarkable sense of desolation and danger. The whiteout outside the TARDIS that was so memorable in The Mind Robber is just as effective here, the black and white garden scenes are striking, and the banquet scenes make a lot out of a handful of props. It just goes to show that SF doesn't have to spend a fortune on effects to sock viewers in the eye.
Adding to the atmosphere is the dreamlike quality conveyed by the time jumps. Warriors' Gate plays boldly with the viewers' expectations, slicing and dicing the linearity of the plot with cuts back and forth in time. There's no apology for it, either: they just expect us to keep up, which is both refreshing and unusual for television supposedly aimed at children. In fact, it's got an almost Sapphire And Steel air about it at times, which is definitely a bonus.
The plot, too, is tight and intriguing. The location at the nexus between the two universes, the passages through the mirror, the presence of the scary Gundans and the inexorable contraction of time-space all add up to a story that becomes more and more gripping and claustrophic as it goes along, with a couple of world-class cliffhangers to boot. (And no, we don't mean screamy Romana.)
Then there's the complexity of the characters. What a relief - no black-caped evil tyrants. Instead, we have two groups of people in opposition with each other, neither of whom are exactly lilywhite. It's the banality of it all that's so impressive: the slavers aren't frothing at the mouth and ranting about doom, they're just decent honest working guys trying to get the job done. The fact that the job involves capturing and enslaving a sentient race is just part of the day's work. And there's a wonderfully neat reversal when the Tharils, who are set up in the beginning to look like the innocent victims, turn out to be almost as bad as their enslavers ("They're only people"). Very nice indeed.
In a format usually notable for its hordes of anonymous spear-carriers, the individuality of writer Steve Gallagher's characters is a gift. They're all distinct, and they're all real. Double act Royce and Aldo, while tending slightly towards the ham-like at times, do a lot to shear away any Good Versus Evil pretensions, as does that brilliant scene where the captain's trying to lay down the law over the sound of lunch-munching. Inspired. The Tharils don't get as much chance to shine as individuals, but they nonetheless make quite an impact.
As for the TARDIS crew, with the obvious exception of Adric they're pretty much brilliant. It's one of Romana's best performances, the highlight being the scene where she verbally fences with the crew of the slave ship: she's never seemed so Gallifreyan. We're puzzled, though, as to why her leaving scene is so famous, since to us it seems fairly blink-and-you'll-miss-it lacking in impact. We'll take Sarah Jane's leaving scene for sheer sobbability any day.
The Doctor is in some ways slightly less to the fore in this story than Romana, but nonetheless he's bloody good, turning on the impressive gravitas leavened with bleak humour that makes the Fourth Doctor at the top of his game such a knockout. Adric is mostly out of the way, which is a relief, and since it's - at last! - the end of K9 we'll forgive him anything.
Big concepts, great characters, a bit of messing with the audience's heads - what more could we ask? Indisputably, a classic.
MORAL: How would you like it if he did that to you?
THE WALL GAME
Given that one of the minor characters is named Kilroy, there's a nice little joke near the beginning when during the long tracking shot we see the legend on one of the walls "Kilroy Was Here".
When the Gundans attack the Doctor from each side, one of the axes falls but bounces harmlessly off the Doctor's back.
K9 loses an ear, then spontaneously regenerates it.
When the Doctor's urging K9 to power up, the Gundan he's not working on is sprawled sideways in his chair. But in the next shot he's in, he's sitting up much more comfily, ready to leap up and stride off.
WEREWOLVES OF LONDON
Don't the Tharils look rather like the monsters in Inferno?
WE RAN OUT OF DWARF STAR ALLOY, SO WE HAD TO USE MDF
The set where Romana's sitting as the navigator's so wobbly that as Royce and Aldo move around on it she's practically bouncing up and down in her chair.
Just after Romana and Adric hide under the cover of the MZ, the boom mike's visible in the lower right hand corner of the screen. No, not the mike shadow. The mike.
As Lane says "Should be good for a backblast, though" and starts climbing the ladder, some horrendous VPL is visible.
JUST PRESS THIS BUTTON. THE ONE MARKED SELF-DESTRUCT
Adric knows how to dematerialise? Huh?
The Doctor's a bit feeble in his fight with Rorvik, isn't he? Rorvik, hardly a young man, is effortlessly menacing him from all directions and the Doctor just lies there and squeaks.
YEARS OF THERAPY LATER
That closeup of the crew member's upside-down dead face is pretty horrific and lingering for Who, isn't it? Excellent.