“Structure is the essence of matter, and the essence of structure is mathematics.” – The Monitor
The end of an era, this story is filled with weight and ominous portent—from a brooding Doctor to the mysterious figure of the Watcher to the universal doom brought by the death of Logopolis. Watching it as a youngster, I knew by feel it was something important even when I didn’t fully follow the whole plot. I like the story now even more for the heady ideas it offers. The mad notion of a society of mathematicians whose whispered computations can weave reality is great. That this is then slowly peeled back to reveal their deeper role in maintaining a universe long past its prime is even better. It’s wonderful how the theme of entropy slowly deteriorating the universe is retroactively tied to the E-space stories of earlier in the season.
The first episode starts of a little madcap with the Doctor’s rush to measure a policebox and our breezy introduction to Tegan and her aunt. (I absolutely love the startled reactions and comic sideways glances of the Doctor and Adric when she comes bursting out of the backroom.) It’s interesting that Tegan is much more flighty and vulnerable in this initial take—though some of her brashness comes out later when she refuses to cooperate by staying in the TARDIS. It does seem her character adapts a little too quickly to being a companion of the Doctor but we hardly have time to notice with Nyssa suddenly and unexpectedly being thrown back into the mix as well.
The story really starts to develop well once we get to Logopolis and the role of the Watcher becomes stronger but nonetheless totally mysterious. When Adric and Nyssa are pondering who he actually and we see him walk behind just out of their sight, it’s almost a chilling moment evocative of a horror film. More than anything else, his unexplained presence, and the Doctor’s unwillingness to address it, adds quite a level of anxiety to the story. We never do get a real explanation of what he is or isn’t.
The reintroduction of the Master as a viable villain is well done too. A lot of the hallmarks of the Master are there—convoluted plots, manipulating others, a callousness about innocent deaths, technical genius beyond that of the Doctor. This new incarnation does come off a bit more unhinged (especially his evil laugh which becomes a bit grating) but this is perfectly suited to the story and the fact that he has gone a bit beyond his time. Indeed, we soon learn that he is acting without even understanding what he is doing; as he demands to know what secret that Logopolis is hiding, we see he didn’t even know what he was after. It’s like he was a petulant child just angry he wasn’t included in the game.
The slow dissolution of Logopolis is a key moment in the story–not only the horror at seeing everything crumble (I’d never noticed the poor shriveled corpse in the alcove) but the hopelessness is seems to bring. When the Master realizes what he has caused, even he has a moment of looking ashamed and then we know that things really are serious. I especially love the scene where the Doctor accepts almost painfully that he has to join league with the Master to save existence. He angrily tells off his new companions (for their benefit) before sending them off. His frowning grimace and body language at having to shake the Master’s hand in a truce—not even being able to face him as he does it—is great.
The ending scenes on the radio tower and the Doctor’s regeneration are of course iconic. Because so much explanation is squeezed into those last moments, I didn’t really understand what the Doctor was doing up on the gantry when I first saw this as a child (apparently having missed the line about him needing to disconnect the cable in order to prevent the Master being able to destroy). Still, I got the importance of his self-sacrifice to save the universe. But I’d forgotten that there are a bunch of little fun bits as well. I laugh when Nyssa and Adric start introducing themselves as the very aliens the project is trying to reach. (“Nyssa and I have heard your message across the universe and have come to answer your call.”) And the famous scarf gets one last hurrah in its use for tripping up the Master! Still, the final moments of the Doctor after his fall make it one of the best regeneration sequences of the whole program.
Best (or worst) unsettling moment:
When the Watcher unexpectedly takes Adric and Nyssa out of time for them to see the whole of the universe, they are able to watch the creeping entropy destroy planets and entire galaxies. That idea disturbed me greatly as a child and even moreso when Nyssa realized that her world was one of those disintegrating, leaving her all alone in the universe. (“The Master killed my stepmother. And then my father. And now the world that I grew up in…blotted out forever.”)
The Doctor in teaming with the Master forcefully tries to move him away from his casual willingness to kill to expedite his plans. But the Master just as much is trying to change the Doctor to his way of viewing the world. (“I envy you your TARDIS, Master.” “Excellent, Doctor. Envy is the beginning of all true greatness.”) It’s interesting to view the start of this back and forth relationship here knowing what we do of the end of Missy’s final days under the Doctor’s tutelage.
You have to suspend disbelief a bit to believe that the dolls we see are actually the remains of those the Master has killed with his tissue compression eliminator. And the idea for opening the Thames into the TARDIS is ridiculous to the point that you almost have to ignore that part of the story—fortunately it’s a rather minor point.