“Their deeds shall be sung in the Temples of Light….” – Prapillus
One of the most high-concept stories in series to this point: A world of intelligent insect-like creatures, once lush and full of vegetation, now lies barren due to an invading force of dark light, the Animus, who grows like a cancerous fungus from its center and has sapped the life force of the planet. The former inhabitants of the planet, unfamiliar with war and strategy, fled and only now are trying to resist with little effect. The mindless insect cattle of the planet have been turned by the Animus into deadly servants which now crawl over the barren world and the Animus feeds on the magnetic forces of the planet, drawing in moons and even the TARDIS—thus bringing in our heroes and setting them in the middle of the Menopteras’ last ditch effort to reclaim their planet.
Really, it’s quite an exciting science fiction tale. The producers were trying to give an otherworldliness to the story by training the actors to have odd dance-like movements, using sound effects for the echoing void of the planet, and even smearing Vaseline on the camera to give it a strange flared look. Unfortunately most people (including myself as a child) cannot see past the bulky costumes and odd character acting which dominate the visuals of the story. If you can ignore those, however, you have a very rich ground of ideas and concepts. Indeed, in the end, it seems that the story is a bit of a metaphor—the Menoptera lived blithely in their happy forest, so dependent upon the happy flight of their wings that they didn’t use their minds, remained oblivious to the dangerous cancer of hate taking root in their world until it was too late. Now, as their leader realizes, they “must not allow the forest to conceal another lurking Animus.”
There are other interesting sci-fi elements introduced. The Atmospheric Density Jackets (AJC) with their respiratory compensators are not too bad looking as far as costumes go, and the Doctor’s ring is suddenly shown to have all kinds of secrets. Though it’s a side note to the story, there is also a very nice interaction between Barbara and Vicki to demonstrate the gulf between their times. Barbara is astounded to find that Vicki considers her advanced high-school courses to be little more than nursery school subjects. By age ten, Vicki was taking medicine, physics, and chemistry, thanks to the learning machines of her time. Moreover, she regards the medicine of Barbara’s time to be as primitive as Barbara would see the leeching of the middle ages. To her credit, Barbara doesn’t take offense at this but instead chuckles with Vicki at her role as some kind of strange witch doctor.
The Doctor is once again in control from the start—using clues to figure out the danger, outsmarting the enemy, taking on the Animus in battle of wills. (He also knows almost immediately where they are but that background doesn’t help without a reference point—as he says “History doesn’t mean anything when you travel through space and time”). As usual, he rolls his eyes with some withering comments for the simplicity of his companions. (Assessing Ian’s suggestion to communicate with the Zarbi,: “Apart from rubbing our back legs together like some sort of grasshopper, I doubt if we could get on speaking terms with them!”) But really he now trusts them implicitly, even telling Vicki not to worry for Ian since he knows his strengths as getting out of danger. The Doctor’s tetchy character and superior insults are used to good effect when aimed at the enemy, from disparaging their communicator (“Come along, drop this hairdryer or whatever it is!”) to haughtily calling their bluff on threats.
Other than the concepts presented, one of the best aspects of the story is the beautiful and flowery language of the characters. The grub-like Optera speak in a wonderfully primitive simile, talking of the stalactites as “teeth of stone” and referring to breaking the cave wall as “making mouths” in the rock so it can “speak more light.” The Menoptera meanwhile speak grandly: “A Temple of Light. The ancient song-spinners of our race sang of their beauty…Sewn into the craters and plateaus of Vortis, being slowly un-woven by the silence of time and their entrances long forgotten by our species…Before the Animus came, the flower forest covered the planet in a cocoon of peace. Our ancestors carved Temples like this for resting places of our dead, but that was all the work we did. There were no other plans to make. Light was our God and we existed in light, flying above thought.”
Best unsettling moments:
The pitiful whimpers of sadness of the Menoptera when they see their colleagues fall in battle make one feel bad enough, but the self-sacrificial death of Optera Nemini, screaming in pain as she instinctively plunges her body in the hole to block acid flowing from it to protect her colony, is simply horrific.
- First view of moons from a planet surface with no atmosphere
- Vicki finds and names a pet (as she will do several more times)
- First mention of the TARDIS as inviolable (in this case repelling upon entry rather than keeping out)
I wish the costumes and effects could match the grand nature of the storyline so these episodes could be more appreciated. Of course, there are some problems with pacing, editing of action scenes, and over-acting that would also have to be corrected.