Fronti-Os are an important part of this nutritious breakfast that's fun to eat, as well as the third story of Season 21 of Doctor Doctor by the Thompson Twins. It features Doctor Blondie, Vegemite Sandwich, and Naughty Schoolboy.
Eric Saward lands in BBC Television Centre. He despairs that his job has turned out to be much more JNT-riffic than he expected when he took it, and that the only writers who will work for the show nowadays are crap.
The White Guardian appears on his scanner and informs him that his predecessor, Chris Bidmead, despite having been erased from Doctor Who, is still alive. He calls up Bidmead and pleads with him to write an episode, and Bidmead agrees.
The scene switches to JNT twirling his mustache. He's on to Saward's plan, and he has a dastardly scheme to ruin it. Since Bidmead had been fired for insisting on trying to make a dark and serious sci-fi show instead of a monster-of-the-week show, he'll force Bidmead to write a scary monster-of-the-week story. Mwa-ha-ha-ha-ha.
Bidmead senses the trap, and his companion begs him not to walk into it, but he insists that it's the only way to save the people of Doctor Who Fandom, so he has to try. He pulls out his sonic screwdriver and gets to work, and turns in the scariest monster story since the Hinchcliffe-Holmes era.
And then the trap is sprung. JNT informs Saward that the monsters are too scary and will cause Mary Whitehouse to awaken from the watery deeps and destroy civilisation. After all, you can't have someone using human body parts as part of their machinery when kids are watching. So he forces Saward to make the Tractators less scary. But this was all part of Bidmead's counter-plan—he's snuck the destruction of the TARDIS past JNT, which will force the story to have some real conflict in it.
But this is only phase one of JNT's evil plan. He goes to the costume department and gets them to design monster costumes without testing whether they're actually wearable. He next uses his hypnotic powers to convince the set designer to commit suicide, and then has guest star Peter Arne murdered in his own home. And he erases composer and Radiophonics man Paddy Kingsland from Doctor Who when the score is only partly completed, forcing them to just use the same little sequences over and over until you want to smash someone over the head with a synthesizer Kompressor-style. Finally, for the first time given a script that's actually set partly in a quarry, JNT decides to shoot the entire thing on a soundstage. Bidmead exclaims "Oh, my giddy aunt!" Cliffhanger!
But the production goes on. Given something to react to, Mark Strickson finally reveals that he can actually act, and Peter Davison reminds us that he's even better. The guest stars, aware that this may be their last performance before JNT has them murdered in their homes, display human reactions of horror and desperation instead of silly grimdark or panto cliches. Even the stock character of the arrogant young leader in over his head reveals hidden depths. Janet Fielding… well, she's still Janet Fielding, but Tegan is wearing the most totally 80s dress in the show's history, so that's something.
Rewatching this story, knowing the Doctor will defeat JNT again only a few weeks later with The Caves of Androzani, only highlights the tension for the viewer. Will the Doctor's nemesis be able to ruin Doctor Who forever? Tune in next week to find out!
Running concurrently with Part One is a separate story.
The Doctor and his TARDIS are both crazy-go-nuts, so he accidentally pilots it farther in the future than even the Time Lords can see. He discovers one of the last human colonies who fled Earth right before it crashed into the Sun, and gets dragged down onto the planet against his will.
The crew discovers a desperate, failing colony. While the Doctor tries to help the scientists at least set up a decent field hospital, the leader worries that the Doctor is actually the spearhead (from space) of the alien invasion they're all panicked about. And then, somehow, just as that's all coming to a head, the TARDIS is destroyed.
Forced to explore the hidden tunnels underneath the colony, they discover horrible insectoid monsters, the Tractators. Individually, the Tractators are mindless beasts, but their leader, Gravis, is highly intelligent. Their technology requires a complex mind to drive it, which Tractators don't have, so Gravis uses human corpses. They also have direct control over gravity, which they used to crash the human colony ship, subtly aid the colonists for a decade to make sure they didn't die off too quickly, and then begin bombarding them with asteroid fragments to create corpses as needed. Their gravity powers were also responsible for dragging the TARDIS down, and destroying it.
Turlough's people were once attacked by the Tractators. Seeing them causes him to go into near-catatonic shock, but after the potential companion character helps him through his fear, he's able to remember vital information. Meanwhile, the colony leaders have been keeping some records of the tunnels hidden for fear of causing a panic, but the Doctor convinces them to open up those records. With this information, the Doctor is able to face Gravis down, and trick him into repairing the TARDIS and separating himself from his Tractators, neutralising the threat.
The Doctor moves Gravis to an uninhabited planet instead of killing him, without making any melodramatic speeches about a man who never would. Calling back to an earlier funny bit where the colony leader thought the TARDIS hatstand was a super-science weapon, he gives it to the colony as a parting gift, then takes off into a cliffhanger.
Some people have commented that there's a hidden right-wing message in this story. The colony was failing not because it was a dictatorship, but only because its dictator wasn't sufficiently confident, and the Doctor fixes that problem and leaves them to live happily ever after under strong authoritarian rule. But, on the other hand, the Tractators' absolutely perfect dictatorship turns out to be their one weakness, not to mention that the human side highlights the dangers of trying to censor history to control the present.
You might think you could argue about this online with Kate Orman, then argue about it in the Tavern with Loz and spring the "Ha, that's just what Kate said" line on him so he'll break down and apologize, but that's only funny once, and it's already been done.
ReceptionEditA story this well written and well acted can't be let down by the ridiculous Tractator costumes or the repetitive score. It's no Caves of Androzani, but then even Caves isn't as good as Caves.
Like An Unearthly Child, the first episode would make a successful story on its own, while the other three episodes tell almost a completely different story. Unlike Child, the other episodes are almost as good as the first, and are used to complement the same themes by exploring them from a different angle.
Also, while the Tractators may look ridiculous, they're one of the more interesting monsters in the show's history, even if all the ideas behind them have since been reused both on the show and elsewhere. Fans wanted to see them again, but JNT kept rejecting the scripts Saward commissioned from Bidmead, so they didn't came back until they got Finished Big.
The best part is that there are no long scenes of everyone sitting around and talking about nothing when they should be doing something, like most of the Five era, and they don't get captured and escape 13 times. To a modern viewer used to NuWho, there's still a bit of slow pacing, but it's not going to annoy you to sleep.