“Just like goldfish in a bowl, aren’t they? Round and round forever.” – Jo
This is the story where Robert Holmes really comes into his own as a pre-eminent script writer for Doctor Who. The story is full of his signature characterizations (fussbudget bureaucrats and double-act pairs), playful sci-fi ideas, and humorous throwaway lines. Small stakes political intrigue is a hallmark of Holmes’ scripts which allows for a lot of satirical commentary. Right from the start, you see a trademark subversion of expectations—Orum and Kalik talk about having to prepare themselves to encounter aliens, and after dealing with the weirdly deformed space creatures underlings before them, then turn to the two human-like arrivals saying “Now, one must deal with the aliens…” He also gets to have some fun with the “Groundhog Day” type premise of the ship crew and passengers constantly repeating their actions. All of this lifts this episode up despite some rather dicey costumes and effects.
In terms of concept, the story is quite strong. There’s lots of misdirection at first since it doesn’t seem the alien travel reception and the Doctor and Jo on a boat in the Indian Ocean can have anything to do with each other. When it becomes clear that they are part of a menagerie in the miniscope, there are some interesting additions to it like the controllers being able to change levels of aggression in the specimens with the turn of dial. (“I can’t leave it too long or the specimens start damaging each other.”) I also like how its implied the controllers mistakenly threw together the earth display without a real understanding of it, mixing a modern ship with an ancient dinosaur, just like many low-quality zoos might mix together animals from different habitats. The idea of our heroes wandering around miniaturized among the circuit boards and electronics of the machine recalls many a sci-fi movie.
Jo and the Doctor are great together here—playfully teasing at times, knowing each others personalities well. (“We’re still on Earth, aren’t we?” “No, that’s impossible.”
“Don’t you ever admit that you’re wrong?” “No, that’s impossible too.”) Despite the funny interactions, we also see both of them very quick to jump into danger for the other.
Granted there are lots of visual fails in the production though some of the tacky costuming had to be purposeful. There’s bad CSO, silly designs, and the Drashigs were no where near as convincing as the show hoped they would be—we have to use our imagination based on what is said about them to see them as any threat. Somehow it still gels as a story for most people to consider this one of the really good ones, a fun romp overall. After all, “our purpose is to amuse, simply to amuse. Nothing serious, nothing political.”
Best (or worst) unsettling moment:
I like the momentary disquiet of Claire just barely starting to realize something is wrong, a slight confused frown of déjà vu, without it actually going anywhere.
Nice little extra touch:
A good script often takes a rather innocuous bit from earlier and uses it again in an unexpected or funny way. I like how in the background conversation repeated in the time loop we vaguely hear the officer asking Claire to go for a walk around the deck twenty times to make the full mile. Much later as the Doctor and Jo are fleeing capture on the ship by running from the crew, she turns to the Doctor and says with a smile “How many times around is a mile?” Not only is it an unexpected recall, but it allows us to share in a moment of in-joking with the pair, emphasizing their fun camaraderie even in the midst of danger.
- Mention of Metebelis 3
I wish some of the bad CSO could be better—especially the overzealous use of the Drashigs—and that the functionaries had less obviously bad costumes. But I most question some of the lazy design choices that undercut believability—why have the packages coming off the ship wrapped like Christmas presents for example? There was no need for that and it makes the scene just look thrown together and tacky.