“The hunt. Smell the blood on the wind. Hear the blood in your ears. Run, run beyond the horizon and catch your hunger!” – Karra
On the whole, I liked this story much more than ever before on this watch. I think I’d found the novelization rather boring which meant I didn’t really give it much of a chance the first time I saw the televised version. This time around, I appreciated the themes and direction more as well as most of the story itself. The first two episodes are have some particularly nice moments though the third is a bit of a let down.
I like how the story opens with strange (though admittedly fake looking) black cats watching people menacingly. They then use some great camera direction to have the feel of something fearsome suddenly growing and rising in front of the frightened people running away. It’s a bit of cheat since we don’t really see the characters appear that way later, but it is an effective tool to build the suspense. There are other nice shots later too—most noticeably the wonderful and evocative slow-motion close-ups of Ace and Karra running across the plain.
The setting suddenly being in a plain neighborhood with plain shops actually brings quite a lot to the story. It just seems weird to have everything so normal—an important point at the end since Ace has obviously changed and grown and now considers the TARDIS her home. Her interactions with people as she looks for her friends are a lot more reasonable than I remembered; she’s obviously no longer self conscious about Perivale. Nor does the unlikeable Sargeant Paterson seem as ridiculous as I may have once thought; his bluster and bullying seem all to real. There’s some subtle humor in dialogue (“That’s what they said. Either you were dead, or you’d gone to Birmingham.”) and situations (the Doctor with the cat foot, the shopkeepers) throughout the story but they complement rather than kill the pace of it. Then there are just some little nice touches: the poster for the musical ‘Cats’, how Ace smiles rather than cowers at her first sight of the dangerous creature, and the Doctor using what seems to be a sonic pocketwatch (!) to scan the ground.
Really, this is more a story of Ace becoming mature than anything else, leaving behind her rebellious youth in a way. It’s nice to see her able to take charge immediately upon reconnecting with her friends on the Cheetah Planet as well as her ability to overcome its influence and make the potential self-sacrifice to save everyone. The arc with the Master almost seems superfluous. Though he’s definitely retains his characteristic evil in his callousness at the deaths of so many of the characters around him, the whole ending with him and Midge on earth looks kind of ridiculous (especially the idea of him having his “hunting dog” face the Doctor in a motorcycle joust?!). At least we get a nice bit of dialogue added at the end in recognition that this was the end of the original series:
There are worlds out there where the sky is burning, where the sea’s asleep, and the rivers dream. People made of smoke, and cities made of song. Somewhere there’s danger, somewhere there’s injustice, and somewhere else the tea’s getting cold. Come on, Ace, we’ve got work to do!
Best (or worst) unsettling moment:
It’s kind of sad and horrible when Ace first arrives on the Cheetah Planet and abruptly comes across the body of the young man we had seen kidnapped earlier being devoured by cats. Poor guy never had a chance.
I find the Doctor’s response to Ace’s question of how long she has been gone as rather relevant to the whole question of relative time in the TARDIS: “How long since I was here?” “You’ve been away as long as you think you have.”
I feel like the whole story takes a dip at the end once they figure out how to escape the planet. The Master’s last gambit with the teen gang back in Perivale is just silly and the abrupt ending fight of the Doctor and the Master is not near as epic as it wants to be. The whole story resolves too quickly and easily.