“You know, my dear, there’s something very satisfying about destroying something that’s evil. Don’t you think?” – The Doctor
If this missing episode existed in full, I think it would be another classic for the Hartnell area. It is a pitch-perfect example of themes and situations that run through every era of the program and even define what makes it the show that it is: the Doctor stumbles upon a seemingly perfect society only to discover its dark underbelly as it preys upon another innocent group; he plays along, not letting them know he is working against them; he and his companions help foment a rebellion against the oppressors; the Doctor eschews violence and his lesson of kindness leads others to follow; ultimately he undermines a power hungry dictator by a clever misdirection or interaction.
Unlike some similarly themed stories, this one keeps a fairly good pace without a lot of extra run-around. There are a lot of clever bits to the progression of the story. The cliffhanger going into the story sets up an initial misdirection. We start out being told by the Doctor that we’re in an advanced society but then Dodo sees what must be a caveman. Obviously the Doctor must be wrong in his assessment—but in the end he’s not, so it takes time to figure out what is going on and who these people are. Interestingly, the Doctor is expected for once and even welcomed as a figure of legend (The Traveller from Beyond Time). It’s obviously an incredibly advanced society that can do this not to mention create their own sun (“It is man’s intellect which decides the heat and cold of our city.”), and yet as Flower and Avon show Steven and Dodo the wonders of their utopia, there is uncertainty and hints of dissatisfaction in the dialogue that signal an undercurrent of it not quite being as good as it seems.
There’s more misdirection that drives the story as we’re not sure that the Doctor understands the gravity of the situation, until it’s revealed that he’s realized it all along and is making plans against it. In the end, we see the Doctor’s grander plan come together. Was it just a happy accident that the Doctor is forced to undergo “transference” and that it affects Jano in the way that it did? I would argue not. The Doctor “holds out” longer than a normal person from the process. Though unconscious, it’s easy to assume that his mind was working out a plan, understanding the process of what the transference could do and in the end giving in to it knowing that it would have the positive effect that it did. This is clear when you realize that his plan hinges on knowing Jano to now be riddled with a conscience without ever having seen him. In fact, he may have had some plan like this all along since he even states that he knew of this advanced civilization and that he had an inkling that it could not be so advanced without some unusual influence.
In addition to good plot and dialogue, there is also a lot of good character moments and acting. Jano’s split mind is well played by the actor as he does a very good impression of William Hartnell as of the Doctor. There are some nice moments of the oppressed people being the solution to the problem themselves, particularly for Nanina who ends up being the fiercest defender of not living by revenge (ready to take up a spear and stand against her tribe for it) and who has a touching and key scene with Exorse when she simply asks him to repay the kindness she has shown and not betray her people: “You owe me your life, Exorse. I have a right to ask you. If you are against us now, you condemn us forever.” There are even some nice touches that are unneeded for the plot but add some color to the narrative like the ‘savages’ cave actually being impressively decorated, leading to the great line: “Our ancestors were great artists. As time passes, we are less able to do such things. Most of our talents have been taken from us. Only our faith remains. And that they will never take.”
As for the Doctor and his companions, the Doctor’s indignation at the plight of the oppressed shines in his challenges to authority (“Human progress? Sir! How dare you call your treatment of these people progress!” and “The sacrifice of even one soul is far too great!”) and especially in his boldness against the guard while caring for the one injured man. This is also Dodo’s best story in terms of her impulsiveness and self-assurance not coming across as irritating but rather a strength and asset. I like her a lot more here. In the end, it’s also the story of Steven saying goodbye and he gets a great leaving scene with the Doctor stamping approval on his maturity and ability to be the one the people of the planet search for whose “judgments must come from his heart even more than his head”.
Best (or worst) unsettling moment:
It’s a bit gut-wrenching to have Nanina strapped to a medical table while dispassionate men discuss about her and seem totally oblivious to her pleas of “No. Please don’t!”
- Doctor welcomed as a figure of legend
- Companion stays behind to lead a people
I really wish we had this story to see if it stands as strong as the storyline when viewed. Unfortunately, it may be some of the visuals would end up dragging it down. From telesnaps, it seems there is far too much make-up (darkened faces on the Elders, overuse of age and scruff on the savages) as well as some clunky costumes (like the guards hats). On the other hand, the scene of the smashing of the lab may have been quite fun to see. Unfortunately, other than a brief glimpse in clips, we will probably never get to see