Written by: John Flanagan and Andrew McCulloch
Team TARDIS: Fourth Doctor, Romana II, K9
Adversary: Meglos, General Grugger
Originally Aired: September 27-October 18, 1980
Number of Episodes: 4
Synopsis (from TARDIS Wikia) -
On Tigella, two factions are irrevocably divided over a fundamental issue: the Dodecahedron, a mysterious object which provides the entire planet's energy.
The Savants and the Deons are locked in a crippling stalemate. Their civilisation is on the brink of collapse. The Tigellan leader, Zastor, seeks the Fourth Doctor's help. The Doctor and Romana have been trapped aboard the TARDIS in a time loop by Meglos, the last of the Zolfa-Thurans. He will stop at nothing to steal back the awesome power of the Dodecahedron.
Another TV story? For Tom Baker?? What is the meaning of this???
Okay, so I’m cheating. BUT I HAVE A VERY, VERY GOOD REASON!!
When this project was a mere twinkle in my eye, I sat down and decided on the format of one TV story, one audio and one novel for each Doctor’s era. I then selected each story that I would review. Some of these selections were easy. Some... not so much. I’ve already recounted how I more-or-less hit a wall when it came to selecting stories to represent the Fourth Doctor, so I turned to my go-to-guys for the Fourth Doctor - Shaun and Glenn of Traveling the Vortex. They both gave me some good suggestions, but one that intrigued me greatly was one that Glenn said was a personal favorite of his, but Shaun isn't a huge fan of. That story is “Meglos.”
Funnily enough, I already owned “Meglos,” but just hadn’t watched it yet. I got it when my local FYE was going out of business and I took the opportunity to get a lot of Doctor Who DVDs for cheap. “Meglos” was on the shelf, so I grabbed it, but for whatever reason I just never got around to watching it. So, when Shaun and Glenn gave me their recommendations, I was torn between "The Android Invasion" and "Meglos." I wanted to gush about Sarah Jane at least once in this project, but I also was intrigued by "Meglos" and thought this would be a great opportunity to review it - for better or worse. And then I thought - Kid, it's your blogging project! Do with it whatever the crap you want!
And that, Dear Reader, is what I did. I haven't thrown the rulebook out entirely, but just this once, I'm bending it a little.
Like I said, "Meglos" was on sale at a going-out-of-business sale at FYE. But so were a lot of other things (that I also picked up, don't worry). But you know what the real selling point was for me? (other than it being on sale) - it featured the return of Jacqueline Hill to Doctor Who.
For those that need a refresher, Jacqueline Hill played Barbara Wright, one of the very first Doctor Who companions. In fact, in terms of who came on screen first, she may well be the very first companion to make an appearance (I recently rewatched “An Unearthly Child” and I’m pretty sure I’m right on this one). From the word “go”, Barbara’s always been a particular favorite of mine. Back when I was first getting into Classic Who, Jacqueline Hill was one of the first people I looked up on Wikipedia and I was sad to find out that she had passed away back in 1993 (yes, I was saddened by something that happened twenty years ago - I’m that kind of person). Not that I had any real hope of meeting her or anything, but it’s just nice to think that people who were involved in the show at the very beginning are still around to see how much success and love it’s garnered through the years (also - seeing William Russell and Carole Ann Ford in interviews and DVD commentaries and Big Finish is always such a delight and it would have been fun to have Jacqueline in there with them as well). But, I think it’s very cool that she came back to the show, not as Barbara (though that would have been beyond awesome), but in a very different role as Lexa, a priestess of the god Ti. Though considering one of the best First Doctor stories features Barbara being mistaken for the reincarnation of an Aztec priest/god and she tries to end human sacrifice in that civilization (thanks to her knowledge of future history) - this role is quite appropriate. Almost serendipitous. (I wonder if anyone thought of that connection at the time “Meglos” was being made). Either way, it’s a fantastic role for her to play and she did a wonderful job with it (and I admit - I did my little Happy-Seal-Clap-of-Glee every time Lexa was on screen).
Beyond past Who connections (which are very squee-ful in their own right) - I quite enjoyed this story. I admit, this portion of the project was a little bit of a risk - I had one person telling me this story was good and another telling me that it really wasn’t. I want to keep things positive (ignore my review of “Ten Little Aliens” - I have a lot of things I want to go back and fix about the reviews I did early-on) and shower love upon my favorite shoe because, frankly, I prefer to keep a positive attitude. It’s much more fun to be happy and excited about something than it is to be mean and negative and beat-up on something. But what’s life without a little experimentation and risk? (as long as that risk doesn’t involve me strapped to the top of a bus parachuting off the Grand Canyon).
First - Meglos is an ingenious villain. He (it?) starts out as a cactus in a planter. How brilliant is that? You’re on a budget? That that potted plant that’s been in the BBC Television Centre accounting office for years? Wheel that thing in, do a few voice-overs and some witty makeup - boom! Villain! And it's not like it stops there - oh no! The idea behind Meglos is brilliant beyond brilliant. I mean, the thing can shape-shift AND control time? Dude - how come the Zygons get all the fanboy love and Meglos gets crapped on? (fandom, sometimes I just don’t understand you).
Second - the factions on Tigella. Savants and Deons. Science and faith. They’re set up to be at odds with one another, but it turns out that they both have a common interest in keeping the Dodecahedron around (and could you have chosen a more difficult word to type to name that thing? Honestly...) One side worships it, the other side wants to study it - but they both revere it. Just showing that science and religion actually do have a lot in common, when you think about it.
Third - Tom Baker acting for two. I sort of wish I’d kept “Double Vision” for this review (to be fair, I didn't know that was going to happen - but Lindsey Stirling's awesome and any excuse I have to put one of her videos in a review is okay by me). Doctor Who has done this prior to this story - it happened in “The Massacre” and in “The Enemy of the World” (both are sadly missing, but both audios are excellent) and it happened again in “Arc of Infinity” (another story that I simply adore). And, more recently, it happened in “Nightmare in Silver.” The trope of the Doctor’s evil doppelganger is well-used, but certainly not tired (as long as it doesn't involve vats of living yogurt, then I’m okay with it). It gives the actor a chance to do something new and be more awesome and I say that it’s a brilliant use.
Fourth - Can I get a big hand for General Gruggar and Lieutenant Brotadec? They aren't quite to the levels of Jago and Litefoot (those two are the only reason for watching “The Talons of Weng-Chiang,” by the way), but they were hilarious! Brotadec and the Doctor’s coats was just great. For them being the leaders of the villainous space pirates (whatever their real name was - I just called them “space pirates” in my notes) - they had some fun comic-relief moments.
Fifth - The pacing of “Meglos” is really great too. The writing is tight and interesting. Never once did I feel like watching this was a chore. I sat down to watch it before bedtime, thinking I’d just watch the first episode, but I ended up watching the whole thing PLUS writing up about half of my review (after taking notes while I was watching it). It’s got just the right amount of hard-sci-fi, but without being annoyingly pretentious and snobby about it. The characters are likable and the villain - man, a giant cactus! That shape-shifts! And controls time! That is... I mean... yeah, it's awesome!
Sixth - I have to mention the Earthling that Meglos possesses in order to be able to shape-shift (at least, that’s the impression that I got about how that whole thing works) - just when you’ve forgotten about the guy, he fights back and gives Meglos all kinds of trouble! It’s interesting that the story never gives him a proper name - that he’s just this random guy that the space pirates kidnapped while he was out getting milk or whatever.
Honestly, I don’t have a negative thing to say about this. That makes me happy because I had zero clue what this was about going in, but it's now on my list of favorites. And as far as hidden gems of Doctor Who go, this certainly qualifies.
Next Time, on Librarian in the TARDIS -
Review 4.03 - So Much Cooler Online!
Review 4.01 - Fill My Eyes With That Double Vision