Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Logopolis written by Christopher H Bidmead and directed by Peter Grimwade

This story in a nutshell: The universe nearly ends and Tom Baker leaves Doctor Who, I’m not sure which is more important at this stage.

Teeth and Curls: Somebody commented on the blog recently with a very good point about why Bidmead was never going to be the most natural writer for Tom Baker's Doctor: 'I think this a pretty good definition of what undergraduate humour. It's always a criticism, but of what, exactly? Well, undergraduates have a reputation for pranks, for jokiness, for not taking things too seriously and not respecting those in authority. There's also a general dislike of undergraduates in society at large, for being faintly decadent and lazy (see Rose, in which the title character believes that only students would dress up as Autons and try to scare people for a laugh). Bidmead himself deplored such people, commenting that, at thirty-six, he realised he was "a bit fed up with arty people and wanted the discipline of science back". The stereotype of the student is a tousle-haired fellow with a scarf and bohemian clothes thinking deep thoughts but making crap jokes: in other words, the fourth Doctor himself. In what is clearly something of a handicap for him as a script-editor, Bidmead just didn't like the kind of person the fourth Doctor was.' A really good point, I feel and one worth quoting here. Tom Baker is the only person giving the cold material material any sense of gravity. The Doctor wanders about the Cloister Room deep in thought and pondering the entropy of the universe. There is bound to be a lot of fuss about Romana if they go back to Gallifrey and he would rather visit his home from home, Earth. The TARDIS and he are getting better at short hops these days but then he has had a great deal of practice this season. The Doctor is overlooking the obvious again, remembering his failure to spot the Master in The Keeper of Traken. When the Doctor first spots the Watcher it is a great moment, he looks positively haunted. ‘DO YOU WANT A QUICK DECISION OR A DEBATE?’ he screams and I love it when he lays into Adric! The Watcher beckoning the Doctor to the bridge is a seminal scene. Look at Tom Baker’s face as Janet Fielding shrieks at him in a parody of acting, he looks genuinely pained to be sharing the screen with the actress. He hates farewells and so bustles his collected companions into the TARDIS before they have a chance to get sentimental. The Doctor admits he is prepared for the worst because the Watcher is around. I love his ‘Earth, please’ – only Tom Baker could get away with saying such a flippant line so casually. His pact with the Master is the act of a desperate man with no other options. He envies the Master and is appalled that he is willing to shoot an innocent bystander. He has a vague faith in the nature of things, which is a good thing given what is about to happen to his nature. It is nice that the Doctor goes out saving the universe but really...what a boring way to go about it! Tom Baker is the best thing about Logopolis by a country mile and insists on making the swansong count even if the characterless script is working against most of the time.

Mad Aussie: Enter the shrieking harridan. She’s halfway bearable in the first episode because she is forced into a naturalistic role but as soon as she is crow barred into a fantastical setting that the character falls to pieces and Janet Fielding overplays everything to such an extent that it is impossible to buy into the character. When Ian and Barbara had a similarly shock reaction to the TARDIS they questioned intelligently but in comparison Tegan just wails and stamps her feet and bursts into tears. Any one of these would have done the job but all of them equal to a lot of noise but not much character. To be fair to Bidmead her horrified reaction to the Ship is probably the most realistic since Ian and Barbara’s but Fielding’s performance lacks the subtlety and intelligence of Russell and Hill’s. Auntie Vanessa puts her extreme memories of her childhood into perspective – ‘Your father’s farm was hardly the outback!’ As soon as she hits the studio Tegan stiffens up: ‘My neem – my name’s Te-gan Jo-vank-a!’ although perhaps a fluff is understandable under the circumstances. I get that Tegan is supposed to be our eyes and ears, a fish out of water but the fact that she doesn’t contribute anything to the plot and we keep cutting away from more interesting material to her wandering around the TARDIS ‘like a rabbit in a cage’ leaves the exercise redundant. Her ‘I demand to see whoever’s in charge of this ship!’ is gonad clenchingly painful. I was howling with laughter when Tegan was left holding the calculations as though all she is good for is performing the work of a clipboard. She says ‘Nyssa and Adric have gone to look for the Master!’ as though she is retarded. Seriously, go back and watch it again, she sounds like a right simpleton. ‘You revolting man!’ she cries at the Master, flinging herself at him wildly and doing the waltz as he pushes her away. ‘Earth!’ she cries like a cartoon character to the camera. There is nothing remotely convincing about this character. Or enjoyable if I'm honest, and we're stuck with her for the next three seasons. Help me.

Pudding Bowl Haircut: Shoot me down flames for saying it but I think this might just be Adric and Mathew Waterhouse's best appearance in Doctor Who. Not that I’m saying he’s particularly good by any means but Matthew Waterhouse is really trying to keep up with Tom Baker in Logopolis with a fraction of the talent and actually manages to make the odd bit of dialogue both nuanced and naturalistic. Shocking! His fake bike accident might just be the best moment for his character; it is the closest he came to being the artful dodger as intended. He’s  alarmingly sexist to both Tegan and Nyssa and a bit of a know-all but he is bearable. That is what we call in this series a miracle.

Alien Orphan: She’s only in the story for two episodes (of which she introduced in the most casually heinous fashion imaginable) but she manages to outshine the two characters above in half the amount of screen time. Nyssa came to Logopolis to find the Master because she wants to know what happened to her father. Imagine seeing your father cloaked in a veil of beauteous evil as she does here? It is the only story that bothers to try and deal with the aftermath of the events of Traken and the death of her father so points for that but minus some for never pushing it far enough. There is too much going on to give Nyssa's loss the attention it deserves. Sarah Sutton is so good she manages to ace the two moments of genuine drama that occur in this story. Her ‘you killed my father?’ to the Master is beautifully underplayed and poignant. However the best moment in Logopolis comes when sees the whole universe spread out on the scanner and she realises it is being eaten away by the encroaching entropy brought on by the Master; Sarah Sutton really sells the majesty and tragedy of the notion, especially the loss of her home. If only she had been given more material of this nature.

The Good Stuff: The Master really wants to invite that policeman in for tea in the gripping first scene. Why couldn’t Auntie Vanessa have been the companion? She’s far more likable! Imagine the fourth Doctor and Vanessa roaming around the universe…what a riot! I love the first ring of the cloister bell greeted by Howell’s organ music; it’s like a portent of doom for the Doctor and a series that has gotten too used to him being around. The image of the police box within the console room has a feeling of wrongness about it that feels very right. Creating solid objects through pure mathematics, I bet Bidmead got a real hard on writing this geekiest of premises. The Watcher in the field is another distinctive image, another portent of doom for the Doctor. TARDISes within TARDISes is an intriguing idea but not original, it was dealt with just as well in The Time Monster. Still points for doing something interesting with the Ship, Bidmead is clearly much more involved in the complexities of the Ship than he is in his characters. How much better does the console room look with the lights turned down? Peter Grimwade genuinely manages to make the TARDIS feel infinite with some very clever camerawork. The shrinking TARDIS is an unusual but effective cliffhanger. I love the Logopolitans carrying the mini TARDIS, that's a new way of going about things. The simplicity of the ‘outside time and space’ effect really works because it is so scaled back. The Monitor vanishing is the first time the end of universe actually meant something to this member of the audience. Odd that larking about in fields eluding the guards is the most entertaining thing on offer in this story. The music is magnificent throughout the chase scenes, sounding for all the world as though it has leapt from a seventies police drama. The flashbacks are sweet and it must have come as a terrible shock to have seen a montage of fabulous companions such as Sarah Jane, Leela and Romana and wake up to find Adric, Tegan and Nyssa staring at him. It is no surprise that he regenerated on the spot.

The Bad Stuff: I thought JNT thought the combo of the Doctor, Romana and K.9 didn’t work because it was a bit ‘too smart’ and yet all he and Adric do in the first two episodes is talk technobabble. Auntie Vanessa’s death is oddly comical for what is supposed to be a shocking scene...the camera heads right up her nose. The Master’s dolls are still as absurd as ever and nothing has yet topped the awesome image of the guy CSOed in the lunchbox from Terror of the Autons. Stick that up your 'I hate CSO' pipe and smoke it. How does Nyssa know that the Master has taken over Tremas? Did he make a public announcement on Traken? Flushing out the Master? Surely the most illogical plan the Doctor has attempted until deciding to throw himself off a cliff in Dragonfire (but then maybe he was just sick of being Sylvester McCoy and thought this was the best way out?). Why is the Master giggling so much? Delgado occasionally chuckled when things went his way but it seems like a nervous condition of the Ainley version. I still think we missed a trick by losing the Geoffrey Beevers version so quickly. He is a far better actor than Ainley as his Big Finish performances would go on to prove. The idea of Logopolis is lovely; a town in the shape of a brain with old monks whispering calculations to each other but the execution turns the gorgeous idea into an economic mess of cardboard sets, dodgy electronic effects and gammy wigs. It is cheap and unconvincing when it had the potential to be as potent as a pipe like the similarly fantasy based environment in Warriors' Gate. How nobody can sniff out the Master’s TARDIS is a puzzlement because the column sticks out like a sore thumb. Nyssa is shoehorned into the story at the end of episode two with all the subtlety of a bull in a china shop. I'm glad she's there but surely Bidmean could have found a more effective way to weave her into the story than to just dump her there. There are horrendous painted backdrops of the Logopolitans at work and nobody seems to notice these poor guys shrinking everywhere – not even their fellow workers! The end of the universe is…cardboard rubble bouncing about the place. So disappointing. Oddly far more emphasis is given to the Doctor’s collaboration with the Master rather than where the real drama lies, the deaths of Auntie Vanessa and Tremas and Tegan and Nyssa’s reaction to their loss. Bidmead never wants to engage with the characters when there is a wealth of dull science to lecture us with. The Doctor and the Master working together to save the universe is a climactic idea but it seems to involve them reading computer printouts and squabbling over a device – fucking well dramaticise this story Bidmead! Only the Master is such a twat that he would record a message for the entire universe relaying his demands before his plans have even come to fruition. The final climactic set piece is completely fudged; there's an unconvincing model satellite, the pantomime tripping over of the Master, the wobbly cardboard dish turning, the cardboard cut out Master looking on, the Doctor dolly hanging on a string and I can't quite fathom why the Doctor fell because he is clearly sitting on the scaffolding rather than hanging as the script seems to imply. Such a shame.

The Gross Bit: For some the idea of Adric draped over the TARDIS as he is here in episode one is all their dreams come true. Fortunately they have all been institutionalised.

Result: Christopher H Bidmead is far more comfortable doing clever things with the TARDIS than writing for his characters or creating any kind of drama the audience can relate to. His script for Logopolis is all ideas and no sparkle; it would be so embarrassing if the universe were to end in a wave of technobabble as it threatens to here. It is directed imaginatively but the budget really lets the Grimwade down and given how striking many of the stories of season eighteen look you can't help but blanch at how no money seems to have been secreted away in the kitty for Tom Baker’s last story. Baker is trying his damnedest to make his swansong count for something and Sutton manages to salvage a couple of very good moments out of this mess but with Fielding over emoting and Waterhouse just barely on the right side of average even the regulars are a real mixed bunch. I honestly cannot imagine the fourth Doctor having any continuing adventures with this trio. Had things not turned out the way they did I think he might have piloted the TARDIS into a supernova to force his regeneration to let Davison enjoy the pain of their company. Tegan joins the series and the universe decides to give up and rot away – I do not believe the two events are unrelated: 5/10


Scott.S. said...

Logopolis has dropped in my estimation significantly over the years. As a child on first transmission I found it gripping and moody - those qualities are still there but now all I see is the production and acting failings in it;

* After being so good as Tremas in Keeper of Traken Anthony Ainley loses any and all performance judgement here. The insane laughter is just too overdone, highlighting all of his off-screen appearances in the early episodes and notably continuing when we see him. When actually given dialogue he makes the most of it - the casual "..but his body remains useful" is especially cold when delivered to the daughter of the corpse he is walking around in.
* Janet Fielding is offensively over the top in this and I agree about your gonad clenching comments. Terribly offensively bad. She is the same in the next story she made, Four to Doomsday, but does calm a little over her three year stint. The main problem is that combined with Waterhouse and Sutton as well it almost looks like the show is committing suicide.
* John Fraser is actually rather good as The Monitor. Yes, he is a bit of a ham with some declamatory dialogue to deliver but he gets away with it.
* More than any other Tom Baker era story the production values are really low and actually diminish the telling of the story. You mention the sad photograph of the master on the telescope and the poor Logopolitan backdrops but there is also the knackered TARDIS console, the brutally squeaking wooden rostra on Logopolis itself and the polystyrene control bracelet Nyssa breaks off her wrist.

It is all so dreary and lifeless and this is one of the few 1963-1989 stories that I have come to actively hate over time.

Anonymous said...

One of most sentimental and emotionally powerful lines in all of Doc Oho reviews is actually about Fielding's acting: "Help me". :D

Anthony Pirtle said...

This wasn't an awful story, but it was an awful conclusion to the greatest run for any Doctor. I agree that Adric does his best here. In fact, when I first saw this season, I wondered why everyone hated Adric so very much. No one would confuse him with a talented actor, but he seemed alright to me, and he obviously had a connection with Tom Baker (perhaps one-sided, but there it is). It didn't take long for him to get on my nerves once Baker was gone, of course.