Turlough: They are the appetite beneath the ground!!
Story Code: C21.3.
Production Code: 6N.
Story Number: 132.
Countdown week: 10…
An unorthodox DW story which nevertheless is composed of familiar DW elements – the stranded colonists, alien monsters, the setting after “the end of the Earth”. (How does this fit in with the rest of the stories set after “the end of the Earth”? Before Utopia of course, and perhaps about the same time as The Ark – which is sometime before The End of the World presumably.) Familiar elements but the way this story unfolds though is constantly surprising and unusual.
The story is full of great and bizarre imagery – notably the three cliffhangers: the TARDIS, “destroyed!” leaving only a hatstand(!); the emergence of the Tractators; the drilling machine powered by a colonist occupant. More of this outlandish imagery: people being consumed by the “hungry earth”; the TARDIS walls intermingled with rocks. The actual plot though that strings these images together links them in a very vague way (e.g. the Tractators need the people for the drilling machine, for the tunnels to act as gravity wave guides, to power – like the Daleks – a piloted planet around the universe?!) The plot is quite wooly. Still, all this intriguing and resonant imagery and the colourful lines and great performances, along with a real sense of mystery and tension mean there is much to enjoy instead of a satisfying plot. As usual for a Bidmead script, there is both much science (e.g. phosphor lamps) and much Science-Fiction-y “science” (e.g. the Tractators’s control of gravity.)
The TARDIS team have some great moments in particular, all three shine. Mark Strickson has a chance to play this alien companion at one point as foaming and struggling with the horror of Tractactors from his genetic memory, the collective unconscious (or, as the story describes it, “ancestral memory picture”) of his alien people. Tegan’s Punk Rock/New Romantic attire continues into the next story for her, but is more startling in this setting than ’80s London next serial. This story is notable also for the fact that Tegan is written to do more than just moan. The Fifth Doctor seems more animated and impish than normal (perhaps energised by the thought of bending the Laws of Time?)
The Doctor seems to think this is one of the few times he shouldn’t intervene, at first stressing non-intervention in this part of human history, like The Aztecs. Ultimately though he is quite relaxed about it – he just doesn’t want to advertise his intervention to the other Time Lords – it is not quite a “fixed point” like The Waters of Mars?
So, a characterful TARDIS team make their way through a procession of bewildering but grimly effervescent scenes which makes for an excellent Doctor Who story.