What’s it about: UNIT is accustomed to dealing with visitors from space, but nothing has prepared them for Ikiria, a beautiful artist bearing gifts. Could Ikiria’s designs be something more than aesthetic? As the Brigadier turns against him, Mike Yates goes on the run. Can he save the world? Or will he just learn an important lesson in betrayal?
Camp Captain: Richard Dinnick’s portrayal of the Captain we know and love is invaluable because we rarely get insight into his character. It was rare even when he was a regular on the show. With so much plot to get through in 25 minutes there was little time to concentrate on the secondary characters. Mike has since featured in books and the wonderfully surreal Nest Cottage series with Tom Baker’s Doctor but this is the first time I have felt that somebody has looked at this character as he was during the days of the Doctor’s exile and tried to really get under his skin. Richard Franklin is more than up to realising this intimate peek into the character he has nurtured for over three decades and proves to be a thoughtful narrator. You really feel for Mike here, in a way that I don’t think I ever have before. Mike is portrayed as something of a tragic character, one who indulges in poetic descriptions and the sort of person who suspects as soon as he finds happiness he will lose it again eventually.
There are some people you can trust right away and places where you feel right at home, that’s what UNIT meant for Mike Yates. When Mike talks about that all changing an ardent fan might think he is talking about the events of Invasion of the Dinosaurs but The Rings of Ikiria has its own hardships for the good Captain to endure. Back then Mike renting a flat in Clapham which was stark and did not contain many personal belongings. Not much to show for his life. Home had never held much meaning for him because all his life he been moved from one institution to another. He felt as though he had never really fitted in anywhere, like a piece of a jigsaw that keeps being put in the wrong box, until he was seconded to UNIT. He felt supported and for the first time liked. For the first time ever Mike was comfortable. As soon as Ikiria emerges from her craft and Mike finds her ‘utterly beguiling’ I knew he was in for all kinds of trouble. Cleverly the story doesn’t go down the obvious route of having Mike charmed by her powers but everybody else and suddenly the image of him on the run makes perfect sense. When the Brigadier (under Ikiria’s thrall) accuses Mike of being delusion it feels as though he has stuck a knife into him. UNIT was the only home he had ever had and he was being threatened with expulsion. Mike realises that when things come to the crunch he has no authority and no access to those who do. Mike proves to be something a James Bond action hero, going rogue and running rings around his own people in his efforts to bring down their seductress. When it comes to the crunch he trusts the Brigadier and the Doctor, even if they are supposedly under the influence. For a moment Mike wonders what a life travelling with Ikiria would be like, to succumb to enchanting allure.
Good Grief: The Doctor might not agree with Mike’s methods but he would be the first to admit that something had to be done. The Doctor couldn’t wait to tell the first person he happens across that all he has to do is reverse the polarity of the Etherean wavelengths! Well, what else? He has the effect of surprising people when he keeps coming back from the dead. At the conclusion and when it comes to dishing out thanks to Mike the Doctor tells him that he has a strong mind. It would certainly be the case when he chooses to join up with Operation Golden Age.
Chap with Wings: Why would the dependable old Brig be shooting at Mike Yates? The Doctor has a habit of looking at the Brigadier as though he is a particularly slow child.
Standout Performance: Franklin has had a chance to master his narrative techniques in the Nest Cottage series and proves adept at guiding us through this story, tinging every scene with a quiet sadness that only Mike Yates could bring to a UNIT tale. I wasn’t quite so sure about his lisping Doctor and country bumpkin Benton, though.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Ma’am, I must insist that you refrain from distributing your jewellery to my men!’ is a line I never expected to hear Mike Yates to say! Or maybe I did…
‘You and whose army, Doctor? Because I already have yours…’
Great Ideas: Five stranger circular shapes have appeared in fields of wheat, rings, pictograms. The Doctor suspects they are letters of an alien language but what are they trying spell? The Doctor thinks they are from a non aggressive, trans dimensional race. There is a real anticipation about the next pictogram that is due and once it is carved into the wheat he soon realises it spells Ikiria which is Etherean for craft. There is an authentic feel of the era with the sequence of the UNIT family surrounding the alien craft, it feels as though it has leapt straight from The Claws of Axos. Ikiria is a multi coloured, ethereal, smooth limbed being – the most heavenly creature that Mike had ever set eyes on. She manipulates forms to creates works of beauty, an artist. The pictograms were to signal her arrival because she understood that arriving unannounced is considered inappropriate. Campbell dies and his face turns up carved out of wheat in a field, a powerful image. It’s a pre-cursor for a far more chilling moment (and effective cliffhanger) when the Doctor’s lined face can be seen in wheat from the height of a helicopter. The Doctor’s plan was to fake his own death so Ikiria’s attention would be focused elsewhere whilst he worked. To achieve this he intentionally provoked her into a psychic battle which he nearly lost and his face appeared in the field. Mercer was a psychic illusion, someone to lure them to the rendezvous with Ikiria. Her character had been pieced together out of Mike’s memory from people he had served with over the years to create someone familiar.
Audio Landscape: Running through puddles and crops, gunshots, snoring, land rover, helicopter, screaming kettle, the ringing phones of the incident room, a Geiger counter, approaching craft, a sonic boom, a ramp extending to the ground, birdsong, the exploding diesel engine, waters lapping, gulls screaming, the barrage of psychic energy crackling towards the Doctor, Ikiria’s defeat is a world of sonic wailing and screams.
Musical Cues: Yason and Fox are back in their natural home, the companion chronicles, and they bring a great deal of energy and pathos to this story. I especially enjoyed their choice of military drumbeats as Mike goes on the run. They have a wonderful way of building momentum with their score, the music growing steadily louder and faster as the situation becomes more urgent. They are invaluable to this range.
Isn’t it Odd: I realise this is supposed to be a more discreet alien takeover than usual but I have seen plenty of old Star Trek episodes with gorgeous women intoxicating the heroes and taking over their minds for this idea to be old hat. I was waiting for the scene where Mike contacted somebody he thought he could trust and they turn out to be under Ikiria’s thrall, Body Snatchers style and the narrative does not disappoint. I was a little disappointed when the technobabble started – all this talk of psionic projectors and Etherean telepathic wavelengths. Its no excuse for an actual conclusion.
Result: An odd companion chronicle because it contains all of the elements that make a good early Pertwee; the Doctor patronising the Brigadier, an alien visitor to Earth, humanity brought to its knees by its own failings…but it captures the era a little too well and none of this material feels especially original. If you’re approaching the companion chronicles as an exercise in nostalgia then you wont be disappointed but if you are after an unique piece of science fiction then look elsewhere. Its all pretty predictable (crop circles, enchanting alien women and their powers of persuasion) and only elevated by Ken Bentley’s strong direction and Fox and Yason’s superb score. However I was enchanted by the choice of narrator, Mike Yates, and the way that the author managed to get under his skin in a way that felt genuine and revealing. He’s a character that has been denied much exploration over the years and being able to see why UNIT means so much to him is invaluable because it also explains his late defection. I hope Dinnick gets to write for the character again, he has proven that he can unearth treasures from such a long forgotten companion and I would love to see what he could do with a story set before Mike joined UNIT or after he was retired honourably. There is clearly more tragedy to be eked out of this character: 7/10