“The moment that we forget that we’re dealing with people, then we’re no better off than the machines that we came here to destroy.” – The Doctor
As a kid, I hated this story from the start because I knew that it wasn’t right that the TARDIS would run of air just from something covering the outside. That plus a huge reliance on obvious CSO to show objects floating by invisible hands, the evident toy models of the Dalek force, and lots and lots of purple fur really made it distasteful for me. Watching now, I can appreciate the huge leap the effects were for the time (even though shoddy by today’s standards) and enjoy some of the subtleties of the script. Most notably, I realized how much the questions of what constitutes courage and what makes a leader are woven throughout this adventure tale. The Doctor expressly gets to act as mentor to several of the Thals, helping them see themselves and their roles more clearly with some great lines of wisdom to share.
The basic tale doesn’t really follow from the plans that seemed so crucial in the last one other than a brief mention that the Dalek plan for Earth (now assumed foiled) was just part of a smaller preparation for the conquering force seen in cold storage here. Add to this experiments with invisibility camouflaging and bacterial warfare, and it seems the Daleks are trying to include anything and everything in their arsenal. The Dalek’s clinical description of the death and destruction the bacteria will cause and the leader’s terse “approved” response both serve to highlight the Nazi-like indifference to cruelty that was intended as characteristic of the Daleks from the start.
One nice thing about planets in scifi is that you can pretty much give them any characteristics you want. Spiridon is quite a doozey—tropical jungle that drops down to sub-zero freezing at night, a core of a gelatinous form of “molten ice” that erupts regularly from the depths, deadly almost animalistic plant life that somehow survives the nightly freeze, savage beasts that have to migrate to a rock-faced section of the planet that absorbs heat from the sun in the day to remain warm at night, invisible alien inhabitants who revert to a visible form on death. It’s quite a busy little world.
As for the Doctor and Jo, the story highlights both of their resolve to go on even when thinking the other has died. Jo becomes a bit of an intrepid explorer entering her adventures in the voice log. The Doctor demonstrates his lateral thinking skills aloud while instructing the Thal scientist Codal of how to look at a pile of junk and find a solution to their problem.
Overall, the story is passable but the messages within it stand out most. The final anti-war message is punctuated rather nicely by the Doctor’s advice to the Thals: “When you get back to Skaro, you’ll all be national heroes. Everybody will want to hear about your adventures…So be careful how you tell that story, will you? Don’t glamorize it. Don’t make war sound like an exciting and thrilling game…Tell them about the members of your mission that will not be returning – like Maro and Vaber and Marat. Tell them about the fear. Otherwise your people might relish the idea of war. We don’t want that…”
Best (or worst) unsettling moment:
I hate creepy plants so the odd ones here make me cringe as we seem them grotesquely spurting out thick venom (the first splat on the screen of the TARDIS is a bit of a jump scare) and following movements in an eye-like fashion.
Is this an early example of the Doctor avoiding regenerating? He is injured to the point of death it seems. We’ve seen in the new series that using cold to try to quench the heat of the regeneration energy is a thing. Perhaps the Doctor’s drop to sub-zero body temperature is him accomplishing this on his own power and managing to stave off an early regeneration.
Other than the obvious I’ve already stated, I’m rather disturbed by one little point. Jo finds a dead space man covered in cobwebs. Why did his compatriots, who are still making use of the ship, just leave their dead friend sitting there with them?!