1. Full Circle
2. State of Decay
3. Warriors' Gate
The E-Space Trilogy
A Story Arc
|Dates||Oct. 25, 1980 -
Jan. 24, 1981
With Tom Baker, Lalla Ward,
Matthew Waterhouse, and John Leeson as the voice of "K9".
Produced by John Nathan-Turner.
A Review by Michael Hickerson 21/11/97
At long last, the E-Space trilogy sees the light of day on video. And to be honest, it's long overdue. (I won't waste words or time with a diatribe on the cost of the boxed set!)
Full Circle succeeds on two different levels. First, there is the tension of the situation on Alazarius and the coming of mistfall, coupled with the dilemma of Romana and the Doctor being trapped in E-space. For once, the Doctor is not overthrowing a tyranical empire but instead battling the forces of evolution in an attempt to figure out what is happening. It's a nice change of pace, and while some of the effects are a bit cheezy (especially when viewed in the pristene, pre-recorded video version!) the strength of the plot more than makes up for it.
Tom Baker gives a great performance, and we get to see a bit of the dark side he will later show to great effect in Logopolis. His chewing out the Decider for allowing the marshchild to be killed is one of the best scenes in all of Doctor Who.
The only thing that really keeps this from being a classic for me is some rather sub-par acting by the Outlers and a rather easy solution to getting the Marshmen off the starliner. However, the story itself is good enough to return to again and again and further proof that season eighteen may be one of (if not THE) best Who seasons ever.
The story itself seems like it should fit in more with the Gothic, Hincliffe produced seasons. Indeed, I've heard it reported that JNT and Christopher H. Bidmead found this story in a filing cabinet and had Terrance update it for the e-space trilogy. And that may be its biggest failing. While the title could be used as the theme for all of season eighteen, this story is one of the weaker ones.
As we all know, the Doctor and Romana are trapped in E-space, looking for a way home. They land on the only planet they can find and run into a society running backward. Once again, the Doctor is called upon to overthrow a tyrannical government against almost impossible odds. And it just never clicks. The vampires never instill any fear into me, nor are they particularily interesting. About the only scenes that inspire any real sense of dread are those in the TARDIS when the Doctor discovers the origins of the great vampire. Add to it that Adric has immediately become annoying in only his second appearance and it just adds to the trouble of the story. Also throw in some of the cheesier special effects of season eighteen (the whole rocket is just way too cheesy for me!) and it's a lackluster effort.
In the end, when I watch this as part of the trilogy, I feel as though I am taking a breather from the events of Full Circle and Warrior's Gate. And it's not exactly a rest stop that I'm happy about making.
Thank goodness for video and the chance to really sit back and discover one of the true gems in all of Doctor Who.
There is literally no other story in the Doctor Who canon like Warrior's Gate. And that's not such a bad thing. We have very minimalist visuals (the idea of the action taking place in a white void is inspired!) and the fascinating jumping of time zones makes this a story that requires absolute attention to it in order to keep up with what's going on. It is also a story that demands to be watched in one sitting rather than episodically as I usually prefer. Mainly to keep up with the huge amounts of details that are being thrown at the viewer.
After several hundred viewings (or so it would seem!) I still am seeing new material here. But several things always strike me about the story. One is Biroc's run when he is out of synch with our time continium. Next is the sequence with the Doctor and Romana at dinner with Biroc's race when the Gundan robots come in. Truely one of the most inspired and disconcerting cliffhangers in the entire show. Finally, there is the superb musical score that catches your attention in the background and heightens not only the sense of weirdness the whole show is going for but also the suspense.
As a wrap up to the whole E-Space storyline, Warriors’ Gate works well and is highly recommended. Further proof of how great season eighteen was and why it is one of the best Doctor Who seasons yet.
Bridging Two Universes by Mike Morris 14/7/00
Season 18 could be said to bridge two eras of Doctor Who, without really being a part of either of them. But, when you actually look at Season 18 in detail, this isn't wholely true. The Leisure Hive and Meglos are, fundamentally, pretty similar to Season 17 (marvellously silly monsters and simple plotting), whereas The Keeper of Traken and Logopolis are essentially concerned with getting the dynamics of the Doctor's regeneration in motion and assembling the Davison-era companions. As such, they're strongly linked to the era of the Fifth Doctor.
Between them is that entity known commercially as the E-Space trilogy. The guts, the balls of Season 18. It wasn't billed as a trilogy at the time, and the plots work independently of each other, but never have three stories been so closely linked, The Trial of a Time Lord excepted (and that's only one story, anyway).
At the start of the trilogy, we're pretty much where we were at the end of the Williams era. We have the dream-team of the Doctor, Romana and K9 wandering around and doing whatever the hell they like, having fun, saving planets (mostly) and defeating any rulers who don't read The Guardian (or at least The Observer). At the end we have a brooding, taciturn Doctor and a young space kid for company, both of whom aren't long for this world.
What can cause such a momentous changeover? Another universe, that's what. It's as if the conundrum of being trapped in E-space is the Doctor's last hurrah. Essentially he's doing the same thing as always, defeating the bad guys but blithering on about negative co-ordinates as he does so. And yet, things aren't quite the same. In Full Circle the Doctor doesn't know where he is, and spends most of the story trying to figure that out. Rather than single-handedly saving the day, he guesses the evolutionary loop of the planet and shows the Alzarians how to fly their spaceship; hardly his greatest ever feat. In State of Decay he's more cautious, sneaking around the planet for an episode or so before working out that he's really in familiar territory. By the time of Warrior's Gate he's floundering in a universe he simply doesn't understand, and can only get out by relaxing and going with the flow. Romana grows up and strikes out on her own, and what's more she takes K-9 with her. This time the Doctor doesn't bother building a new one.
The stories themselves fall into the category of Very Good Indeed. Full Circle's reliance on plot twists mean it loses its value the more you watch it (which is hardly a heinous crime), but there's enough happening to sustain interest. State of Decay, meanwhile, is very much an old-school story, with too little plot rather than too much. What carries it through is its melodramatic direction and the Baker-Ward interplay -- only Tom and Lalla can make a locked-in-a-cell scene that entertaining (The door! The door hit the Doctor! Don't you see, it hit the Doctor! It works on so many levels!!!). Then there's Warriors' Gate, which is so phenomenally complicated that it should never have been commissioned. But now that the series is dead, we can look back and see it for what it is; brilliant, experimental TV drama with astonishing visuals.
Unifying the three, besides the obvious E-Space plot, are similarities in plot and strong character arcs. All three stories have similar themes - slavery, stagnation and the Doctor as a catalyst for rebellion. In the first two the Doctor causes change, and at the end is still trapped. In Warriors' Gate he "does nothing", and finally escapes.
Then there's the characters. The Doctor's plight I've already mentioned. In addition we see Romana becoming more and more independent of the Doctor, and finally departing. Her leaving scene is wonderful. If you only watch Warriors' Gate Part 4 it seems too brief and rushed, but within the context of the trilogy as a whole it makes perfect sense. It's happy, and fond, and the final shot of Warriors' Gate is just wonderful.
In the midst of all this we have a new companion to deal with. As if to compensate for the change in the Doctor's disposition, and Romana's slow maturing as a fully-fledged Doctor Mk II, no risks are taken with Adric. He's instantly dislikeable, blessed with incredible intelligence and a large appetite. Just in case this concept isn't quite enough to make him hate-figure extraordinaire, Matthew Waterhouse makes sure that Adric delivers every line in an overstated, horribly earnest way that makes me think of the conclusion of Earthshock with a happy grin. In Full Circle the Outlers bully him mercilessly. I don't blame them. As time goes by, Adric evolves seamlessly from irritating kid to irritating companion, and establishes himself as my least favourite regular bar none.
Meanwhile, K-9 spends most of the time broken, malfunctioning or locked in the TARDIS, a victim of the wrath of Christopher H. Bidmead, who couldn't stand the "magic wand" aspect he brought to the show. You know, I've always been terribly fond of magic wands. Oh well. If the trilogy has a flaw, then the omission of K-9 is it.
So, IMO, these are the aspects that make the trilogy work as a trilogy. The stories themselves are fine in their own right, but if you take the time to watch them in order they become far more rewarding. Yeah, the first two aren't great - good, but not great - in themselves, but the links work so well that the payoff in Warriors' Gate is well worth waiting for. And, looking at things on a more Who-ish level, there's other benefits. Great cliffhangers, great monsters, more jokes than Season 18 is usually given credit for, and a nice back-to-basics feel; the Doctor, once more, is a traveller lost in a universe of wonders, desperately trying to get home.
I'm not going to claim that the stories are perfect. But the trilogy, and the way it works, is pretty damn close. Odd that all of the interlinked story arcs during the JNT-era got less and less successful after this, which suggests to me that Chris Bidmead must have been the main influence.
This trilogy, of course, leads nicely into another. And, although twenty-four episodes continuously is rather Too Much Of A Good Thing, I think everyone should watch Full Circle through to Castrovalva at least once. Honest. It may take you a month, but it's worth it.