This story in a nutshell: Murder on the Hyperion III...
‘If I seem to lack gratitude young woman it is because on the previous occasions the Doctor’s path crossed mine I found myself involved in a web of mayhem and intruige!’ – a line so stilted it almost threatens to trip Malcolm Tierney up.
‘My dear Melanie if you wish to pursue this completely arbitrary course, pray, hurry along to the Hydroponics Centre and leave me to my static and solitary peregrinations’ – try saying that drunk.
‘Now I’ll go first. We don’t want you breaking your neck, at least not until…’ – what was Edwards going to say at the end of that sentence?
‘I don’t think you’ll find enjoyment’s on the agenda!’ – you have to be careful with lines like that…they are the bread and butter of reviewers.
‘The crimes we’re committing in the name of science will make us infamous!’ – go on, say that out loud. I promise it will make you smile.
‘Never mind the Just-so stories - that guard looks trigger happy to me!’
‘Are we to be subjected to more chicanery, Sagacity?’
‘Had even a leaf survived and fall on fertile soil, a Vervoid would have grown…’ – it’s hardly Chaucer, is it?
- Isn’t it wonderful how the Doctor informs us that this is going to be both a base under siege and Earth in danger tale before getting on with telling his story? It’s almost a warning to those who haven’t been enamoured with the series so far – don’t worry folks this one is going to be as traditional as it gets! Even more brilliant is the input of the Valeyard and the Inquisitor, commenting on the murder mystery plot as though they are husband and wife watching a Sunday evening Marple with their slippers on.
- Despite some primitive direction, I rather like the introduction to the suspects on the Hyperion III with the Doctor’s deliriously enjoyable melodramatic voiceover. Bizarrely everybody seems to be hanging around the lounge at the same time (seriously take a look, practically the entire cast is there sipping drinks, trying to look nonchalant and overhearing everybody’s conversations) but that just gives me a good chance to check them all out. My money was on Janet the stewardess from the start. She’s just too nice. What stands out immediately is the extreme 80sness of the lounge and a cast of charismatic actors who are about to chew on Pip’n’Jane’s florid dialogue and have a great time doing so.
- Let’s take a look at our suspects… You have the stalwart Tonker Travers, batty scientist Professor Lasky, her assistant on the verge of a breakdown Bruchner, lily white Stewardess Janet, a tired old fart of a security officer Mr Rudge, the rather charming lackey Edwards (although he is disposed of quite early on), the blank faced Mogarians who revealing nothing beneath their sinister visors, icy cool Doland, sweet old git Mr Kimber, the gun toting guard that doesn’t even get a name…and of course the Doctor and Mel looking as though they have come dressed for a kids birthday party! I have to confess I am something of a Christie buff and whilst Robots of Death does follow her conventions to a degree, this is the story that I feel most captures her style by offering a range of personalities, masses of plot complications and an impressive wrap up that ties up all the loose threads at the climax. The not-so subtle addition of Murder on the Orient Express leads you to believe that everybody is going to be responsible (I would add a spoiler warning but if you haven’t read the book yet then serves you right) and at one point in the story suspicion is thrown on all the cast like all good Christies (even the Doctor, seen brandishing an axe in the communications room).
- Honor Blackman is playing it straight but given her lines she cannot help but slide into high camp at times (‘If you’ve finished with my tracksuit!’), Malcolm Tierney offers a convincing Travers and even smaller parts such as Edwards and Janet are well cast and believably portrayed. By all accounts the rehearsals were riotous and you can tell the actors are having a great time bringing this larger than life story to the screen.
- On the whole the sets are very impressive in this story, shot with care and lit well. Setting the entire story on a space liner is a great excuse to excise location filming and gives the murder mystery a terrific claustrophobic atmosphere. Nobody can escape and everybody is at the mercy of the killer. The split level hold set is especially impressive and gives the director lots of interesting places to shoot and waste disposal is dramatically lit and provides a great place to toss the odd Vervoid in later episodes. Clough even goes to the lengths of adding a star field effect to the gymnasium set (this is clearly a retro 80s liner).
- This isn’t simply a case of the cliffhangers being praised because they are dramatic zooms up Colin Baker’s nose, the climax of episodes one and two are genuinely fantastic Doctor Who moments. Explosions, electrocution, monsters bursting out of seed pods and screams seaguing seamlessly into the theme music create one of the finest set pieces of the year. As good as that is I think I prefer the climax to episode two, the Doctor pulling back the rubber sheeting to reveal Ruth, half Vervoid with pulsing veins bulging from her face. It is out of left field it genuinely shocks. Bruchner aiming the Hyperion III into the eye of the black hole of Tartarus probably looked much better on paper than it transfers to on screen but it is still not a time wasting cliffhanger but a moment of genuine peril that is built into the story. Weirdly the special effects seem to suggest that the ship is seconds from disappearing down the plughole in space but when it is diverted off course at the last minute it apparently had plenty of time to tear free of the terrifying triangles.
- Whatever way you look at it the Vervoid tossing their victims on a compost heap is pretty chilling. I’m not sure if Eric Saward had anything to do with script editing this story or not but if so it would prove fitting as one last massacre before he left. How the designers thought they could get away with something as risqué as the Vervoid masks is beyond me but Doctor Who long triumphed sexually themed monsters and has not discriminated against them for their absurd appearance, If Alpha Centuri has a place on the show then so do the Vervoids although imagining a union between the two is enough to make your eyes water (add Erato to the mix and we’re heading into disturbing territory). However I do like how the actors are playing against their ludicrous appearance; offering a twitchy, awkward moment as they surround people in the cramped corridors of the liner. It’s almost enough to make you forget about how they look as they stab their victims in the neck with their poisonous stings. Although it might have been more sinister if they had remained mute rather than spouting the Bakers’ regurgitated thesaurus dialogue with a Liverpudlian lilt.
- Episode four is a genuinely great half an hour of Doctor Who with so much going on it is better to just go with the flow rather than digest it all as it is playing out. There’s Rudge’s pathetic hijack, the communications system has been wrecked so nobody can call for outside help, the Mogarians ruthlessly slaughtered, Ruth Baxter meeting her end tied down and screaming, the Doctor feeling the need to carry a gun (‘exceptional circumstances require exceptional measures…’) and drawing the killer out into the open, the mass murder of the crew as the Vervoids attack en masse, Doland reveals his plan to turn the Vervoids into a slave labour force, the guest cast is whittled down one by one, Mel stumbles on the garbage heap of humans and of course the Doctor’s brilliant solution to the problem, to enforce the Vervoid life cycle by using the vienesium (dropped into the script several times) in the hold. Packed with memorable moments, blessed with a good pace and crossing every t and dotting every I, this is a very satisfying ending to a well told tale. Even if the Valeyard is making up his charges as he goes along, the final cliffhanging sting in the tale where the Doctor is charged with genocide really packs a punch. I still wanted that final scene outside the TARDIS to turn out to be a final twist though, with the Doctor suddenly revealing Janet’s involvement in the whole affair and revealing her to be the mastermind behind the whole caper. That would have been awesome.
- If Dominic Glynn (an otherwise excellent musician) was aiming for a more mysterious and spooky version of the theme tune then we can sum up his efforts as an epic fail. If I’m honest it is my least favourite of all the theme tunes (oddly as time has gone on I have developed a massive crush on Keff McCulloch’s spangly McCoy version), proving unmemorable and lack the punch of the sixties and seventies versions.
- Let’s try and get our heads around the idea of the Doctor offering evidence of his own personal future. Not only will he have to go through this entire adventure again pretending he hasn’t already seen every plot twist play out (and where is the fun of taking part in an Agatha Christie in space when you already know who the killer is?) but surely if the Doctor is on trial for his life (which seemed to be the suggestion in The Mysterious Planet and Mindwarp) then this proves that he manages to scrape a pass? Otherwise this fixed point in his future would never happen and the whole of time and space would be sucked down the toilet bowl and wind up in some alternate dimension where Trial of a Time Lord never took place (oi you at the back, stop cheering). The whole premise seems fundamentally flawed to me. Or perhaps I have thought about it too much.
- Malcolm Clarke’s music is so inconsistent I simply don’t know what to make of him as a composer. He’s lauded for his experimental work on The Sea Devils but I find it sounds more like an army of cats being tortured and yet criticised for his synthesised madness in Attack of the Cybermen and yet parts of that story are highly atmospheric (only parts mind, I still haven’t quite forgiven him for the Steptoe and Son riff). If you take a look at the stories he is responsible for scoring it is such a bizarre mixture – Earthshock (the march of the Cybermen is a classic theme but otherwise he gets as many fart sounds out of the synthesiser as possible), Enlightenment (atmospheric, lyrical and gorgeous), Ressurection of the Daleks (pacy and gripping), The Twin Dilemma (more fart noises, b-movie style) and finally Terror of the Vervoids. Parts of the score for this story are hideously melodramatic (listen out for the moment when Lasky and cohorts march towards the Hydroponics centre) and yet others are creepy and set exactly the right tone (the POV shots of the Vervoids coming out of the pods).
- It’s true that the Trial scenes are intrusive at this point, at least so far as there aren’t many of them so it is easy to get lured into the story and consequently it jars when we are suddenly, unexpectedly reminded that this is part of the Doctor’s evidence. Saying that I love the idea that Matrix has been tampered with by the Valeyard, using the Doctor’s evidence against him and the performances of Baker and Jayston have definitely stepped up a notch since Mindwarp and they provide some dramatic moments (‘Every instinct of which I am capable would have made me prevent her!’ ‘Yet you did not!’). The Valeyard is clearly rubbish at trying to point the finger at the Doctor, faking a bizarre moment when it appears that he has wrecked the communications equipment which would make sense if the rest of the story played out with the Doctor turning out to be the killer. Since it doesn’t (and the Valeyard clearly has the tools to ensure that it does) it’s just a random moment of guilt thrown in that has no connection with the rest of the story. Perhaps he was hoping this would be overlooked when the Doctor is seen to be committing genocide which, to be fair, it is. Then again the Doctor’s grasp of law is obviously pretty tenuous since he displays as his evidence a story where he is seen deliberately flouting the wishes of those in authority and being something of a maverick…where his commitment to the problem is only sought eight minutes before the climax of the story! Don’t let him stand as defence consul for me, please!
- ‘It’s designed to be hijack proof!’ says the Commodore just after the command deck has been hijacked.
The Shallow Bit: I’m glad Mel has chained the Doctor to the exerciser. He’s clearly been scoffing down the rum babas lately. She should have at him with a pair of scissors too, that mop of his is mutated out of all proportion. With Mel on board, its perm palooza in the TARDIS.