Doctor Who complete reviews: Logopolis
|REVIEWS - DOCTOR WHO|
A sad farewell to an eccentric and much-loved incarnation of The Doctor...
Maths - I hate it. Ever since I was a small kid, I've never got it. All that talk of hypotenuses, acute angles and fractions frequently left me with a revolving head at school. Even as a grown-up, anything to do with maths leaves me in a cold sweat. Me and maths do not go together - much like the fourth Doctor. This may account for his long face which never really breaks into a smile during the story called Logopolis.
Or maybe it's to do with the fact that he's about to meet his maker.
Yes, after a record-breaking near-on seven years, Tom Baker is about to hang up his scarf. It's an important moment in Doctor Who, especially when you consider how Doctor Who had changed between 1974 and 1981. In 1974, it was a well-respected and much loved family TV show, watched by millions. However, Tom Baker helped to turn the show into a global phenomenon, with popularity and viewers escalating considerably. The vast majority of his stories are fondly remembered to this day and frequently crop up in Top 10 polls, while Baker himself is still widely regarded as the definitive Doctor.
So Logopolis is an important story with that in mind. In theory anyway. In practice, however, the final results are a bit mixed. It's telling that the story's written by Christopher HAMILTON Bidmead. Logopolis encompasses every influence of Bidmead throughout: The hard science. The over-reliance on maths and bafflegab. The lack of humour. It's sophisticated and frequently well-written, but the main problem is that it doesn't feel like a 'fourth Doctor' swansong. There should be a grand, epic battle, full of wit and heroics. And what actually happens?
The Doctor measures the TARDIS. Whoopie-doo.
As far as big climatic events go, the initial sub-plot of Logopolis is about as mind-blowing as Alfie Moon ordering a bacon roll from Ian Beale's greasy cafe in EastEnders. It's a shame this. The Doctor has never really shown a particular interest in this before, so shoehorning him into the role of a space-age Johnny Ball smacks of pure self-indulgence on Bidmead's part.
Even beyond this less-than-inspiring concept, it doesn't help that nothing really seems to happen in Logopolis. There's the odd jaw-dropping moment peppered throughout, but by and large, much of the slack is taken up with broken-down cars, whiny air hostesses blundering about the TARDIS like a hamster in a cage, and everyone plodding along fake-looking alien streets and getting dust in their hair. It's only in part four that we get the high drama that was desperately needed before - events rush to a dizzy climax, but by then you get the feeling that it's a bit too late.
"The idea of a group of mumbling old fools keeping the universe in balance smacks of magic - the very thing that Bidmead was trying to get rid of"
Another problem with Logopolis is that for all its sophistication, there's some odd ideas that feel anything but clever. The idea of a group of mumbling old fools keeping the universe in balance smacks of magic - the very thing that Bidmead was trying to get rid of. On top of this, we have The Doctor's strange plan to get rid of the Master by flushing him out with an unhealthy dose of sea water. All that would probably happen would be that The Master dematerialises, leaving The Doctor with a hefty insurance claim for flood damage. And don't even get me started on the idea of The Master holding Earth to ransom with a bloody dictaphone.
The depressing tone does not help matters. In fact, Logopolis is possibly one of the most depressing stories in the Who canon. There's one or two witty barbs - "Standing on their heads is an expression" is probably my favourite, although this is down to Tom Baker's amusingly deadpan delivery. Other than that, nothing to work with - the funereal atmosphere is effective in one sense in that it establishes the death of the fourth Doctor, but boy, this is a chore to get through. In terms of repeat viewings, Logopolis isn't the sort of story you want to see - rather one that you'd have to see, if only to work out what the hell's going on, and how the fourth Doctor actually dies.
"The worst ever companion team come together at last, making a bad situation even worse"
The terrible trio of companions is one of the biggest turn-offs, and it's no wonder that The Doctor's got a face like thunder. Yes, the worst ever companion team come together at last, making a bad situation even worse. Adric, we already know. The walking bowlcut spends the whole of the first part imitating a gormless parrot. Everything that The Doctor says is repeated in a shrill squawk: "A tighter ship?" "The Cloister Bell?" "Entropy increases?" What's happened, has Adric gone deaf or has the entropy finally affected the bowl-headed one's brain?
The thing with Matthew Waterhouse is that in some of his scenes he's actually not that bad, i.e. when he's just with The Doctor. But when he's forced to share the limelight with the girls, he's reduced to a wooden, five-year-old brat, arguing and squabbling with Nyssa and Tegan like the brother who got less chips for tea.
Nyssa, we've already seen in The Keeper Of Traken. She worked as a one-off, but neither the character nor Sarah Sutton's acting is strong enough to hold up as a regular. Nyssa's a bland, boss-eyed ghost in a fairy tale costume, and on some occasions, Sutton's unemotive acting is all too obvious. Take the scene in which she sees Traken wiped out by the entropy - a potentially powerful setpiece that's killed stone dead by Sutton's blank, am-dram reading.
Still, these two non-entities pale into insignificance against the arrival of Tegan - or Teabag as I've always called her - Jovanka. Have you ever seen that episode of Friends in which Chandler is forced to sit through a one-woman play by an angry man-hating woman called "WHY DON'T YOU LIKE ME??" Yeah, that's Teabag that is. Forever whining and wailing about how crap life is, and how all men are male chauvinist pigs who apparently think that women should be living in the dark ages. It's all a horrendous cliche, and Janet Fielding's equally crass performances doesn't help matters.
The worst thing about Teabag's arrival is that for the next five-odd years, travelling in the TARDIS is no longer fun. The TARDIS control room now resembles the set of the Trisha show, with its non-stop arguments, brawls, crying, moaning and complaining. It's bloody annoying, and what's worse, the characters of Teabag, Adric and Nyssa clash wildly with JNT's remit to make the programme more adult and sophisticated. How can you have a grown-up show with three overgrown babies? Heck, even Sarah Jane's sidekicks in The Sarah Jane Adventures display more maturity and intelligence than the unholy trinity.
With that in mind, the new Master is also, in some respects, pitched at kiddie level. With his non-stop "Heh heh heh"ing and gloating, The Master's stock is currently on a par with Robbie Rotten from LazyTown. In fact, in the first two parts, you never get to see the Master - you just hear him laughing his head off. He's also a bit thick. He doesn't realise that by interfering with the balance of Logopolis, he won't have a universe to control, the great clot. Wasn't his degree in cosmic science supposed to be higher than The Doctor's?
That said, Anthony Ainley's performance isn't too bad, and in fact his Master is a lot more malevolent than Roger Delgado's. This Master has two grand aims - to take over the universe, and to kill The Doctor. Which in a sense he does, and Ainley's acting is good enough to make you fear for The Doctor's life expectancy. "You're utterly mad!" whispers The Doctor in horror as The Master outlines his dastardly plan, and generally, Ainley's performance chillingly makes that madness real.
In fact, there's quite a lot to like about Logopolis, for all its faults. There are some great set-pieces such as the Russian Doll TARDIS, the grim prologue of the policeman being dragged to his death, and the extended chase in part four (all to the strains of some incongruously funky wah-wah guitar work from Paddy Kingsland). The idea of the planet Logopolis is actually quite a quirky one, even if it has its roots in magic rather than science. The Monitor (resembling Noel Edmonds in the aftermath of being dragged through a hedge backwards) is a good character, and John Fraser's excellent performance conveys both his infinite wisdom and ultimate sadness at the planet's ultimate fate.
"The Doctor's haunted reaction is such that the presence of the Watcher is bad news, and only adds to the feeling of doom prevalent in the tale"
Another neat idea is that of The Watcher, a Steve Strange version of the Grim Reaper. The Watcher's identity is kept deliberately vague, in order to string out the mystery until the bitter end, and this lends Logopolis some much-needed drama. Is it The Master? Tremas? A future version of Adric? In the end, it can only be the future Doctor, waiting in the wings like a marshmallow ghost. The Doctor's haunted reaction is such that the presence of the Watcher is bad news, and only adds to the feeling of doom prevalent in the tale.
Logopolis neatly ties up the themes of entropy, too. Not only do we have the literal destruction of both Logopolis and some other luckless planets like Traken, things are unravelling in the TARDIS as well. Not only is The Doctor falling apart at the seams, so is his rickety TARDIS. And on top of all that, there's a final goodbye to the past, with Romana's room jettisoned. It's a sad scene this - The Doctor clearly doesn't want to, but knows that it's the only solution. He masks this sadness with an outburst of venomous anger at Adric: "Do you want a quick decision or a debate?!" he yells at the hapless Alzarian. The last remnant of his carefree, exciting adventures, now banished to the four corners of the universe.
Inevitably, it's left to Tom Baker to steal the show in his last Doctor performance. It may not have the jokey bonhomie, but his solemn performance is effective because of this. The fourth Doctor knows that he is nearing the end, and this results in a twitchy, jumpy and tetchy persona. The Doctor's so preoccupied with his fate that he's lost sight of the bigger picture, especially when he realises the obvious on Logopolis. "And I was vain enough to think that it was me he [The Master] was after," he says. "Logopolis is his target!" Tom Baker gives the most intense performance of his Doctor Who years, and it's absolutely brilliant, conveying that of a condemned man who's still determined to stop The Master, no matter what the cost is.
And in the end, the main aspect of Logopolis is of course, the regeneration. Having foolishly handed The Master the Bachman Turner Overdrive or whatever it's called, The Doctor rapidly realises his folly in trusting his nemesis. And with the universe hanging by a thread, it's left to The Doctor to disconnect a cable umpteen feet in the air, while The Master's decided to rotate the telescope gantry for larks. It's dramatic, but you can't help but wish that they'd have saved some of the money for such an important climax. We have a still photo of the Master in mid-gurn, and after The Doctor's fallen off the gantry, we see a toy doll hanging in the air. Evidently, all the budget for the season has run out, leaving the production team with about as much dough as a burgled bakery store.
"The Doctor's regeneration scene is just as moving as the Third Doctor's in Planet Of The Spiders, but for different reasons"
Despite this, the following sequences gloss over the dodgy visuals. The Doctor's regeneration scene is just as moving as the Third Doctor's in Planet Of The Spiders, but for different reasons. Whereas the third Doctor's emotional final speech was the killer, here, the fourth Doctor's last minutes are muted by comparison. Instead, we have Paddy Kingsland's haunting score, the usually chatty Doctor hardly able to speak, battered and defeated (which is devastating enough), and the quick trip back through memory lane, as we realise what a great party the Fourth Doctor's era was. And with a final "It's the end... but the moment has been prepared for", the party's finally over.
Well, Christopher H. Bidmead admits to being in tears on the commentary, so the regeneration must have worked.
So it's goodbye to Tom Baker, and hello to a wide-eyed Peter Davison. Baker still remains my favourite Doctor, and it's a fair bet that he's still a favourite of a lot of other people too. It's a shame that he doesn't quite get the leaving story that he deserved, but with a last towering performance, he leaves the TARDIS with his curly head held high.
John Bensalhia limbered up for this mammoth task with a full four-series review of Blake's 7, and writes professionally and recreationally all over the web. Check out his portfolio of work at Wordprofectors.
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