Monday, 5 November 2012

Review: Doctor Who Classic: Meglos

Someone's a bit of a prickly customer.
Doctor Who - Season 18, Story Two - Meglos
Written between 10th and 11th August 2012

Meglos is a funny little story, really. It tries to do so much, and yet at its heart it ends up being a rather unassuming runaround. It's got some really well-executed ideas, but there's also a lot of seemingly unintentional silliness that smothers a lot of the issues and ultimately just highlights the story's incredibly predictability even in absurdity. It is a bit fun though, as Tom's dual performances carry the story out of mediocrity.
     A few hundred years ago, the planet Zolfa-Thura was annihilated by a nuclear war fighting over a nuclear-power source called the Dodecahedron. Now the twelve-sided-shape is at the centre of the civilisation on neighbouring planet Tigella, ruled by the scientifically stringent Savants and the batshit-insane cultists the Deons. In order to stop them from killing each other, coordinator Zastor aims to invite back his old friend the Fourth Doctor to find out what the multi-pentagoned-thing actually is. He's intercepted along the way by Meglos, the last surviving Zolfa-Thuran who happens to look like a massive sentient shape-shifting cactus. After trying and failing to trap The Doctor and Romana in a complicatedly-named time loop, he takes on The Doctor's appearance and steals the Dodekaeder under their noses. Having never heard of "good P.R.", the perfectly and wonderfully rational Deons decide that the best course of action would be to sentence The Doctor to a good old ritual sacrifice. Luckily the Savants stop them in time and they track Meglos back to Zolfa-Thura, where he's turned back into a cactus and blown up by his own machinery.
     The episode has a really good cast, especially Tom Baker, who's absolutely loving the evil role. The leader of the Deons, Lexi, sees a return to the series for Jacqueline Hill, who played the first companion, Barbara, from 1963 till 1965. It's a shame that her character is so absolutely hateful, but her performance is tempered by that of the reassuring Edward Underdown. Romana is actually great here, and it's the first time that I've really taken to the characterisation as something other than a copy of Mary Tamm's incarnation.
The shape whose faces number
greater than 11 but lesser than 13.
      Using the Savants and the Deons, the episode tried to show a dichotomy between religion and science, discussing tolerance between the two sides. This suffers from one very simple problem; the moment that the discussions between the perfectly sane and the batshit insane really gets going, we're introduced to a talking cactus. Any signs of a serious discussion are completely annihilated the moment that he appears, from the funny repeating scenes in the TARDIS time-loop, to the later scenes where the Deons prepare to sacrifice the Doctor in a manner not unfamiliar to the geniuses over at Monty Python. Not that I necessarily wanted Doctor Who to do the religion debate, because I'm fairly biased in that regard, but the episode presented itself in a certain way and it feels so inconsistent in its execution.
   One of the notable technological parts of the serial come with Scene Sync, a technology unique to this serial that allowed the producers to better create chroma-key shots, and is used to great effect in the fourth episode to display the surface of Zolfa-Thura. It's a real shame because it's used so sparingly that I just thought it was good old CSO. It's certainly better, though, than the stuff that would later go on to be used in both Timeflight and Arc of Infinity, both of which looked were horriffically fake.
     I had a lot of fun with Meglos, sure, but it came not out of the way the story entertained and more out of the patent absurdity of the premise. At the end of the day it was forgettable, predictable fun, but so much of the story went to waste and it's a real shame when the story itself promised to tackle some big if uncomfortable issues. Meglos could have done so much more, but it settled instead for some old-fashioned, comfortable content that didn't live up to expectations.


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