Otherwise known as Doctor Who And The Lion Men, this was one of the hardest edits to get right and it took several attempts before I was happy with it. Much like it’s McCoy counterpart Ghost Light, this is a story that thinks it’s being terribly clever when all it’s really doing is being terribly dull. The plot is so well hidden that you can hardly spot it and it takes ages to get going, a sure sign that the story is too weak to support the action needed to fill up the narrative.
As far as I can tell, the Lion Men can navigate through time, they once had an Empire in E-Space but they were a bit cruel and selfish, so their human servants made the Goon Dan robots to wipe them out, and in the process the humans turned the tables on the Lion Men and made them the slaves instead. Not that any of that has any bearing on the plot, it’s all backstory. The plot, such as it is, involves a lot of buggering about with mirrors, but there’s very little at stake and the Dr & Romana basically turn up and find the way back home, only it turns out she’d rather stay with the Lion Men than go back to Gallifrey and be President. Fair enough, that can wait.
The problem with the story, as with every other one in Tom’s final year, is that it conforms to Bidmead’s Law of storytelling. Quite what that is I’m not sure but I’m sure its something to do with telling a story in the most boring way possible, alongside an intellectually interesting concept being more important than things like believable characters and an exciting and engaging plot. The reason Season Eighteen is so dull is the Bidmeadisation of the storytelling. No doubt he fwapped himself silly over this one, but the rest of us lesser intellects were left wondering what the hell it was all about.
Of course, at its heart, this is a story about two Time Lord Aristocrats helping to free some former Imperialist Lion Men who have been enslaved by their former slaves. So whilst the Dr and Romana are chuntering on about the I Ching, Biroc is buggering up Rorvik’s ship, having spotted the TARDIS and come up with an escape plan. There’s a lot of fannying about with mirrors for three eps and then Romana decides to stay behind and help Biroc free his enslaved chums, who, based on the behaviour so far, probably won’t want to take any sort of revenge or take up where they left off once they’re free again. Nah, of course not. At least, not while that nice Romana and her shooty dog thing are around to keep an eye on them. Once she buggers off back to Gallifrey to be President though, I’m not so sure…
Something else I’m not entirely sure about is the decision to locate all the “void”scenes in a green screen studio. Far simpler I would have thought to have done a “Mind Robber” and used an empty white TV Studio with some smoke to obscure things a bit. That’s the approach I’ve gone for here, and if nothing else it helps with the atmosphere. Enhancing the void scenes was a case of increasing the contrast and adding some motion blur to make those scenes more consistent with the “visual echo” effect they put on Biroc at the start. I also added the “time winds” blasting K9 – later on Tom talks about it to Biroc but if you look at that moment in the TARDIS scene, they clearly forgot to add the effect!
The VFX are as nothing compared to the storytelling though, which is just so dull and obscure that it took two attempts before I managed to get an edit I was happy with, making this one of the most difficult yet. The first three episodes are relatively short and all have rather long recaps from the previous week. To take Part One as an example, all that happens is that some lion-faced bloke turns up in the Tardis, fiddles with the controls, says something cryptic and buggers off, the Doctor follows him and ends up in an old abandoned banqueting hall where a robot comes to life and tries to chop his head off. The rest of it is a bunch of gits in orange jumpsuits with the bloke who played the baddie Kessler in Secret Army, the serious version of `Allo `Allo, and Marty Hopkirk from the original Randall and Hopkirk[Deceased].
In Part Two things don’t get much better. The Doctor is still in the banqueting hall trying to repair the robots to find out what’s going on – Telling us instead of Showing us the backstory – when Kessler turns up and there’s some mucking about with mirrors. Meanwhile Romana gets plugged into Kessler’s intergalactic pan-dimensional satnav. Yawn. Things don’t really get moving until halfway through Part Three when Tom meets up with the Lion Men, and even then it’s too clever for it’s own good, a bit like Romana II, who I’m glad to see the back of. I’m no great fan of Lalla Ward, either as an actor or as a person, both she and her husband Richard Dawkins are far too pleased with themselves for my liking.
The problem with Romana, both of her, is that they got her character wrong from the start. Of course she had to be a contrast to the savage Leela, but instead of someone enthusiastic but inexperienced we got someone intellectual with a superiority complex. If Romana had merely been over-confident, due to her inexperience, instead of arrogant and smug, that would have been interesting to watch. But she wasn’t, and as a result I never really warmed to her. Note to all future Who writers – make your companion character likeable!
It’s interesting to note how, since the arrival of Romana, there’s been a subtle reversal going on. It’s as if the Doctor is Romana’s companion, not the other way round. It’s almost as if they’re married…
Or maybe the subtle intent was to try and shift the emphasis away from Tom Baker by reducing his overall screen time by having Romana fulfill some of his dramatic functions. Or am I reading too much into it? And if the show ever does give us a female Doctor, let’s hope she’s better than either Ward or Tamm. The first Romana was merely irritating, but the second one was bloody annoying and I’m glad she’s gone.
One of the non-plot problems with the story is the performances. Not everyone who’s talking in this is an actor, with the exception of Tom [obviously], Kessler and Marty Hopkirk. For all I can’t bloody stand her, Ward’s usual pantomime performance – condescendingly smug and superior – is still light years ahead of bloody Adric, who’s like an understudy with stage fright.
The Lion Men are all too shout-y, as is the Goon Dan robot in Part Two, and as for the two blokes who are meant to be Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, they would have worked a lot better if they had cast actors who could act, the little Scots one in particular is exceptionally bad. And not only does this story have an impenetrable plot and some talentless AmDrammers masquerading as actors, it also has yet another terrible title, so this one gets changed to the much more Who-y sounding Gateway of Death.
I like it as an alternate title, mostly because this literally is the gateway to the Fourth Doctor’s death and the Beginning of the End in more ways than one. It’s not only the Lion Men who snuff it, it’s also the death of the Fourth Doctor’s relationships with both Romana and K9, who are off to play in their own intergalactic dimension-hopping version of Beauty and the Beast. And as for Four, well, the minute he gets back to our universe, he has an appointment on Traken with an old mate of his, and we all know how that turns out…