“What would you have us do? Spare the Doctor and condemn untold billions to destruction?” – Thalia
This was another one of my favorite Target novelizations as a kid, and I wasn’t happy to learn that the televised version it is not held in high regard because of some bad acting and a very silly monster costume. I think this is an excellent story for the most part. It seems that every Gallifrey story involves a convoluted plot with red herrings and subterfuge; this one is no different as the Time Lords are led into thinking they are averting disaster by executing the Doctor but are in actuality creating it. I like how the premise unfolds slowly and gets layers of complexity as time goes on—and the revelation that they had brought back a rather obscure but powerful villain from the show’s past was great. My only complaint is that it wraps up too quickly and easily at the end.
As for the production, the fact of filming on location in Amsterdam should have already made the episode a stand out but for some reason it’s not as striking as one would think. (Perhaps because it doesn’t quite get used enough? A lot of time is spent either in the halls of Gallifrey or in the empty crypt. Or perhaps because the location doesn’t really feed into the storyline that much.) There is some stand-out direction. One great shot is the when we see the familiar shape of a High Council of Time Lords collar in shadow across the door. They cleverly fool us with the arrival sound of a TARDIS in the next room after we had just seen the Doctor in his only for us to discover it’s not “our” TARDIS that has landed. There’s also a wonderful scene when Omega, having just killed a man, stops to watch the chidlren’s puppet show on the street corner. We hold our breath as the kid pushes by him and we worry that he will strike out in anger until we realize along with him that he is experiencing reality and niceness for the first time in millennia and is obviously touched by it. Poor Omega, it’s a shame.
Nyssa is great showing a sense of desperation here. And we even get a new improved (no longer uniform wearing) Tegan! I wonder if her appearance was a real surprise to fans at the time since it seemed she was gone for good at the end of the previous season. Yes, it seems a bit far-fetched that she would just run into an enemy of the Doctor via her cousin’s random encounter, but this is one of those where I’m willing to suspend disbelief. Even Roman and Leela get a shout out here. Peter Davison gets to do double duty for a bit (it would have been nice if they’d been able to keep his own voice and face as Omega to the end) and there’s some good tension in the Gallifrey kangaroo court scenes. (“Executing me will not alter the fact there’s a traitor at work on Gallifrey!”)
There are definitely the bad parts. The ridiculous costume for the Ergon which unfortunately is the signature image of this story for most people. The actors playing the two young men on holiday are not that convincing—Robin is more irritating than anything else. There are some rather nonsensical points like why no one sees the very obvious image of Omega at the end of the transfer or why Robin seems surprised to find Colin’s sleeping bag. I also find Maxill’s smugness to be so extreme and cartoonish that it’s almost difficult to watch his scenes. (I do wonder how his character was perceived before we knew Colin Baker. I can’t watch it now without comparing him to his performance as the Doctor.) Unfortunately, these negatives seem to outweigh the good for many.
Best (or worst) unsettling moment:
Omega’s run through they city as his body starts to fall apart becomes more and more of a horror film—especially the point where he’s crouched under the stairs hiding from a barking dog. But the novelization’s description of his peeling skin “looks” even better.
So why does the Doctor become a copy of Maxill at his regeneration. One theory I though of when watching this is that Maxill is truly a nasty and distasteful person here. The way he treats the Doctor would definitely excuse him hating his guts. Perhaps his later regeneration, which is full of confusion and pain and wrong, sets him thinking of the most negative things which results in his regeneration matching a face he finds loathsome?
Best line about the Doctor:
“I’ve found it unwise to predict what the Doctor can or cannot do.” – The Castellan
They should have made the image of Omega overlaying the Doctor in the termination chamber flashy by so instantaneously that even we as the viewers would not be so sure we had seen it. This would have been a cool effect and make more sense for why the others do not. Also, at this point in the program’s history they should have at least had a passing thought that the shooting of a Time Lord like Hedin should have resulted in a regeneration not in a death. This could have been easily solved by mentioning it being his last round in the dialogue or something.