The E-Space Trilogy
The E-Space Trilogy Part One
|Dates||Oct. 25, 1980 -
Nov. 15, 1980
With Tom Baker, Lalla Ward, Matthew Waterhouse,
and the voice of John Leeson as "K9".
Written by Andrew Smith. Script-edited Christopher H. Bidmead.
Directed by Peter Grimwade. Produced by John Nathan-Turner.
Executive Producer: Barry Letts.
Synopsis: The Doctor and Romana are pulled into a conflict of power and evolution
on the planet Alzarius, but the extent of the conflict is known to only a
few until the Doctor enters the great Starliner.
"It does require some thought..." by Nick Waghorn 16/7/98
Like Warrior's Gate and Kinda, Full Circle is a story that demands some effort to be put in by the viewer, as you need to pay attention constantly throughout the entire story to be able to fully appreciate the plot. In this it's unlike a lot of modern science fiction which leans to the more action based, and which can be roughly picked up at any time in the story. However it is like a lot of good Doctor Who, in that it doesn't patronise the viewer, and assumes some intelligence on his/her part. Therefore, enjoyment of this story depends on whether you think an intelligent story is a fair trade-off against relaxed viewing.
The plot itself is interesting, and bursting with original ideas. Fortunately though, it never digresses too far from the premise that Doctor Who should tell a good, entertaining story. Especially unusual is the running theory of adaptation -- in fact it is a very impressive script all round, especially considering that the writer, Andrew Smith, was only nineteen when he wrote it.
Some of the dialogue is amusingly self-aware. At one point Romana says of K9: "In fact we always seem to be repairing him." This gentle gibe at the useful scriptwriter's get-out clause is indicative of Smith's keen following of the programme and his knowledge of its recent conventions.
Tom Baker is rather muted as the Doctor, perhaps a portent of his tenure coming to an end. He's still sufficiently charismatic to verbally castigate the Deciders, and he shows admirable gentleness when trying to talk to the Marshchild, but it's all a bit low-key.
Conversely Lalla Ward's Romana is excellent, one of the most spiritual companions. Here she is at her most alien, and giving the viewer real cause to believe she is a Time Lady. Her unearthly smiles to the Outlers when they invade the TARDIS, and her portrayal of the link between her and the Marshchild are both worthy of praise, and add up to her best performance.
K9 gets little to do, and the other characters aren't brilliant either. The faceless citizens and the rather unlikable Outlers leave the plot a touch uninvolving, which is a pity. The only exceptional characters are the Deciders, with good performances by James Bree and George Baker. Their pathetic procrastination leads to a scene verging on Douglas Adams-style humour, when they admit the reason for their departure being delayed. Adric starts off as annoying from his first episode, and his childishness and selfishness cause a Decider's death. He could only improve.
Visually, the location setting is beautiful, rich and lush. The Marshmen are well used, especially their surprise appearance at the end of episode one. Their gurgling and slurping as they emerge is effective, and the costumes are well realised (apart from the cuffs). Paddy Kingsland's incidental music conveys the story's mood (metamorphosis) well.
Overall, it may be difficult to get into, but persevere with this story and it's ultimately worth the effort. First-class storytelling. 8/10
A Review by Keith Bennett 1/9/98
I admit not many stories from this season particularly excite me. In fact, not many from the whole John Nathan-Turner era stand out in my mind. But this story is possibly the best one of its season.
The story is very interesting; the setting on Alzarius, with the mysterious mist and marshes, is most impressive, as is the interior of the starliner. The Marshmen are outstanding. They look good, sound great and are very intriguing. The Deciders are also good and well performed, particularly James Bree as Nefred -- his constant heavy facial expressions helps us to believe that he has seen some very hard-to-accept information in the System Files. It's also a relief for the Doctor not to be locked up and held under suspision (apart from one brief moment), when in most other stories that have him in such a situation, both those events would happen almost without exception.
What lets the story down somewhat are the Outlers. Adric has a pretty good debut, but the other three are rather irritating. Some of the dialogue between them isn't terribly memorable either...
Tom Baker has the perfect balance here between humour and seriousness -- it could be said this is the perfect example of Baker's portrayal of the Doctor. And Lalla Ward continues to go from strength to strength as Romana -- really, it's a great shame that she was only to have two stories left. Then again, one couldn't really see her being very successful with Peter Davison...
Overall, this is a good story, but with a few flaws that drag it below what it could have been. 7/10
One Show Only by Mike Morris 28/6/99
The first time I watched Full Circle I thought it was great. The second time I thought it was pretty good. Ever since then my opinion of this story seems to be inversely related to the number of times I watch it; on every repeated viewing, I enjoy it less.
Positives first. Full Circle is intelligent. In fact, it's one of the most intelligent concepts for a Doctor Who story ever, and could probably only crop up in Season Eighteen. This is definitely The Gospel of Storytelling according to Chris Bidmead; a well thought out scenario is established early on, the Doctor arrives fairly late in the story, realises the trouble and counters it. The plot - which is pretty damn complex - is revealed through a number of excellent set-pieces, which give the whole tale a visual and narrative drive that sustains the viewer's interest. The story is fast-paced, nicely scripted, and Peter Grimwade makes an auspicious debut as a Doctor Who director. Super music, too. In particular the first episode is one of my favourite twenty-five minutes of Doctor Who in the history of the series, and then there's that great cliffhanger.
And this, paradoxically, is also part of the problem. Like quite a few Doctor Who novels, Full Circle is at its best when portraying the society of Alzarius. Sadly, eventually it has to get down to the bothersome task of telling a Doctor Who story, and that's when things start to go a bit wrong. The Marshmen are bloody good monsters, particularly when rising from the swamps, but they really aren't anything except mindless lizards that smash stuff up a lot. They aren't enough, on there own, to provide any real dramatic conflict. Problem is, there's no-one among the supporting cast who does this either.
And that's the main negative point. THERE AREN'T ANY BAD GUYS. This might be realistic, and original, but it ultimately means that the whole story starts to feel a little bland on repeated viewing. There's no behind-the-scenes manipulator, no-one for the Doctor to really fight against. The most memorable Doctor Who stories - Talons, Caves, Kinda and Ghost Light to name but four - all have a memorable villain, or at least someone who is dangerous and provides the Doctor with a tangible threat to deal with. Full Circle can't provide us with anything other than two spineless old guys who never know what to do and a slightly over-zealous scientist, which is hardly the stuff that memorable conflict is made of.
This malaise extends, not only to unsympathetic characters, but to sympathetic ones as well. I might be jumping the gun a bit here, but it's as if Andrew Smith (who was only 19 when he wrote this script) really only understands teenagers, and hence all the adult characters are incredibly bland and the story feels... well, immature. Varsh stands out, as does Kiera, but that's more or less it. It isn't the characters which provide the story's edge, but the numerous plot twists. And plot twists are all very well, but once you know that the Teradonians are really evolved Marshmen then there's not an awful lot else in this script.
I like Full Circle, I really do. Perhaps it's not the story itself that irks me, but the fact that it was a prototype for so many more like it; serials with seven or eight really good bits, but where those good bits took precedence over telling an ordered story. Here, the plot is rather sacrificed to a few nice-looking set-pieces, with the result that there are a few loose ends and the "full circle" of the title is never really adequately explained.
All in all there's a lot that's good about this, but in the end it doesn't quite attain its full potential. However, as I've said, on the first viewing this is really really good, and it's worth remembering that in 1980 the stories weren't made to be viewed more than once anyway. So, all in all, any flaws are pretty forgivable, and I'll give this one a thumbs up.
Oh yes, and Adric makes his debut. Oh well, don't let that put you off.
The Girlfriend Experiment Part 1 by Cainim Truax 2/3/01
So Begins my great experiment. I have decided to finally introduce my girlfriend, Larissa, to my other true love Doctor Who. She had never seen or even heard of the show before meeting me. I have showed her several stories including: The Five Doctors, The Ribos Operation, Black Orchid, Delta and the Bannerman. All of these I considered safe viewing. With Full Circle I took a bit of a risk.
For starters neither of us was irritaded by Adric. I don't think either one of us noticed or even metioned him the entire time. The plot engaged both of us enough that although near the end of every episode Larissa wanted a drink, she refused to move until the whole thing was over. What seemed to impress her the most was the creepy atmosphere. Her most frequent comment was "Why's DW always so creepy?"
I didn't really find the silly Marshmen or the Spiders to be that creepy but they were effective mysteries. Unfortunately Larissa raises a point that I feel is true of most good Who. It's great, interesting, exiting until the end when it all falls apart.
The Full Circle concept is cool but in practical terms doesn't really work. The concepts of evolution and adaptation are there but not applied accurately. This doesn't really bother me since DW has always been about Magic to me but as Larissa is a Science major I understand the complaint. Then again this is E-Space so maybe I'm wrong.
We both agreed that Tom Baker is wonderfull particularly in his confrontation with the deciders and his relationship with the Marshmen. The others are adequate, without a lousy performance in the bunch.
So, in conclusion, if your looking for a story for new viewers, this one might suffice, if your target has a sufficently open mind and a bit of patience but there are probably better starting points out there. I give Full Circle 6Doctors(out of 8) And Larissa gives it 4.
A Review by Mike Jenkins 19/10/01
"Tell them the script is weak" is what the elderly decider should've said. While there are some interesting concepts, it is overrated and can't quite deliver on all the levels on which it tries to. Some of the acting (most notably Matthew Waterhouse) is a little subpar and while it is generally good Whoviana and deserving of a 6-7/10, when compared with the masterpiece that people told me it was, it is excedingly dissapointing.
Some of the more interesting aspects include the marshmen outfits and the design for the starliner but this fails to make it a classic due to the lack of tight plotting. Many say that Meglos is the weakest story of this season but I would say that it's this one. Meglos is somewhat of an underated gem while this is somewhat of an overblown average run of the mill monster story with some interesting concepts that go nowhere. James Bree, and of course, Tom Baker give excellent performances but the rest of the Alzarians (or Taradonians, whichever you prefer) are faceless and poorly characterized. Most notably, Adric's renegade brother, to say nothing of Adric himself. This intellectual child prodigy is seen more as a bumbling fool and I wish Lalla Ward had been give more to do, as her acting talents are wasted. In many ways this story is a premonition of the era we are going to expiriences, the Davison era, with interesting styles and concepts, but a lack of focus and with a poor delivery of those ideas. I have heard a few cite this as one of Tom Baker's top five best stories. To them I say, "Watch City of Death and then we'll talk classic Tom stories."
The idea of concealing fact to the public is intriging but once again not carried off very well, and the same with the whimsical idea of no one knowing how to pilot the ship. While the marshmen are fairly well realized, it's hard to keep a striaght face when viewing the 'horrible' spiders. Romana summed it up - "They're only spiders". Some of the more high calibre acting comes from the conversations between the Doctor and deciders which features some of the best 4th Doctor humor from this season. K-9 as usual is in good form. So, in retrospect this story is a mixed bag but the weak script cannot be excused and the story doesn't quite deserve all the praise that it gets.
Ever Decreasing (Full) Circles by Andrew Wixon 8/4/02
I'm finding it unusually difficult to assemble my thoughts on Full Circle preparatory to reviewing it. This is probably because it is the quintessential Season 18 story, and any review of its strengths and weaknesses risks turning into a review of the season in general.
Why Full Circle as the most representative story? Well, Leisure Hive and State of Decay are both holdovers from previous eras. Meglos too is a deliberate attempt at an 'old fashioned' story. Warriors' Gate was intentionally experimental, and the final two stories are inextricably bound up with the setting up of the next season. In addition to this, Full Circle kicks off the Knackered Spaceship Trilogy and features the obligatory Bidmead obsession with science and also Adric.
Despite the last thing it manages to be one of the best two or three stories of the season. It clearly knows what it's supposed to be about - cyclic patterns, both of society and evolution - has some pretty fair monsters in the Marshmen, solid performances (from the adult cast at least), and it's directed to the hilt by Peter Grimwade, probably the best director of early-80s Who. There are many of those lovely little moments that elevate a story from good to great - the entirely gratuitous (but, to a seven year old, terrifying) spiders, the rise of the Marshmen, the Doctor's verbal assault on the Deciders. Even the overuse and demystification of the TARDIS (a JNT trademark) seems fairly plausible. And the thematic score is annoyingly catchy.
Smith writes for the incumbent regulars very well - though, having said that, K9 and Romana don't have any dialogue for half the story. K9 is great while he's in the story, though, endearing but not too twee, zipping around the swamp to his own theme tune. Shame on JNT for insisting he be written out of the second half in such a contrived manner.
But, well, there are problems here. The start of the story has most of the memorable bits in it, so that successive episodes seem increasingly flat (not unheard of in stories with all the location filming in the first half). The really dramatic bits near the end either happen off-camera or are purely intellectual (the revelation about the starliner community). The story does seem to take a Lamarckian view of evolution, which is a bit odd (and assumes you know the theory, too). And, well, Adric gets the debut he deserves, shrill and strident from the start. I'd've killed him off and taken Varsh along instead, Richard Willis is a much better actor. On the whole, though, a very intelligent, well-put-together story, and the first real (river?)fruits of JNT policy of retooling the series as a face-value SF drama.
A Review by Rob Matthews 30/9/02
Marcus Salisbury referred recently to the wide gulf that exists these days between the Whoniverse of Terrance Dicks and that of other authors in the NA/EDA range. You know, the former being full of young-old faced chaps with capacious pockets and neutron flows, and the latter brimming with talking poodles and evocations of torture in Saudi prisons. Dicks is, I think, the only author left on the beeb's rota who scripted for the series itself (oh yeah, there's Chris Boucher too), but all the really interesting stuff has come from fan-authors like Cornell, Orman, Miles, Magrs and Platt. Dicks' cosy - if professional and sprightly - hackwork has been left lagging severely behind in terms of innovation; albeit, I suppose, to the delight of that section of the readership inacurrately referred to as 'trad' fans (curmudgeonly Pertwee era lovers and Target collectors, I guess).
As examples of this, Marcus Salisbury cited Timewyrm: Revelation vs Timewyrm: Exodus, and Interference vs The Eight Doctors. But here's another example of the phenomenon, maybe the first, from more than twenty years ago: Full Circle vs State of Decay.
The former, like the novels - but unusually for a TV story - is fan-scripted, and the latter Dicks-scripted. Both are enjoyable stories, Full Circle more so for my money, but whereas one is ambitious and original, the other is formulaic and hackneyed. One stretches and makes use of the Doctor Who format, the other drops it into the generic doldrums with only giant vampires and rebellious peasants for company.
Sorry, obviously I'm not a Terrance Dicks fan. And obviously State of Decay is fun and it holds together, but I'd like to hope for more than that from my little show. Nightmare of Eden, for example, was also fun and held together, but still managed to do something interesting and original. Indeed, it was surely quite daring for a seventies teatime kids show to deal with the subject of drug abuse, especially within the context of a largely comic story.
Full Circle was, I think, the first Doctor Who story to take evolution as its primary theme. In particular, the neurotic denial that is apparently a common human reaction to the very notion of evolution. The story centres around a civilised society who have gone to massive and sanctimonious lengths to blot out the truth about their own origins in the primordial ooze (hmm, sounds familiar). I'm attracted to iconoclastic, anti-establishment, anti-bullshit Who stories, which may explain my love of this one. Some of the most effective scenes in Full Circle involve Tom Baker standing in a tiny arena before three sanctimonious middle-aged men, throwing their paperwork about and angrily telling them what's what. It's like that thing Mike Morris said about the show building empires out of cardboard boxes. A small but effectively designed set + four good actors working with a great script = an anti-establishment force-of-nature hero dismantling a planet's government and traditions just because he knows they're wrong. This guy, this passionate crusader, is my Doctor.
State of Decay effects this societal microcosm too - the vampires who drain the lifeblood of the commoners are akin to aristocrats who exploit the workers, and in a sense the Doctor instigates a socialist revolution in that story. But Marxist interpretations of vampire mythology are as old as Stoker's Dracula itself, so again there's that problem of unoriginality with Dicks' work - he just happens to have snagged some themes that were there in the material anyway.
Interestingly, there are 'three who rule' in Full Circle just as there are in State of Decay, and they're also sitting at the helm of a grounded spaceship that's become the focal point of a society. But in Full Circle they're not the villains. They're politicians and bureaucrats, in their own small-scale way, but they think they're acting for the best. They're more complicated, more three-dimensional than Dicks' straightforward baddies. Indeed, Full Circle is remarkable amongst Doctor Who stories in general for its lack of overt or clear villains. Symptomatic of its division of our sympathies, the story presents us with two major death scenes; those of the marsh child and Adric's brother Varsh - the marsh youth overwhelmed and killed by humans, and the human youth overwhelmed and killed by marshmen. Both are strikingly effective and moving scenes, so much so that on a first viewing you probably don't even notice the emotional contradiction of rooting for a marsh creature against humans one minute and a human against marsh creatures the next. The 'monsters' here are simply animals - they're hostile to the humans, yeah, but can't be considered evil any more than a man-eating lion could. In fact, given that they're evolved and civilised and so ought to know better, the humans in this story perhaps come off worse than the slimy ugly fellas. The smug scientist Dexeter in particular - and it's fascinating that a show which ostensibly champions science and rationalism nevertheless does not give it a free hand and makes a misguided scientist the closest thing the story has to a villain. And a fairly peripheral one at that.
It's a 'big' story, one not so much about characters as about society, it's inherent contradictions, and its relationship with nature. It deals with the theme of aspiration versus tooth and claw, man's world versus the bestial world from which man originated. Hostility towards nature is in a sense hostility to the concept of death; the notion of the Alzarians aiming for the heavens thus provides a neat metaphor about humankind's aspirations. A 'big' story, and for me an important step towards the amoral Eric Saward/Lawrence Miles mode of storytelling. Amoral in the sense that while the Doctor provides moral authority and guidance, the storyteller who presides over this world doesn't necessarily do the same. In Revelation of the Daleks, for example, the Doctor is merely one thread in the tableau of a great big story. Ditto Interference, to the nth degree. I refer to Full Circle as only a step towards that kind of story because here the Doctor is still that mediator figure who saves the day - the humans get what they want, the marshmen are free to go on living as nature intended.
I'd say more so than The Leisure Hive and Meglos, Full Circle shows John Nathan Turner's approach to Doctor Who really taking shape. Some fans criticise his era for being flashy and without substance, but that, in my humble opinion, is totally unfair - true of the occasional story like Arc of Infinity ('Look, we're in Amsterdam!') or Time Flight ('Look, we're on concorde!'), but not true of the majority of serials made during his tenure. This hatred of decent production seems to be based on a kind of snobbery, a refusal to believe that something which looks a bit flashy might also have some content. But JNT's production values weren't there to gloss over paucity of material - not even in Resurrection of the Daleks which had depth despite making little linear sense -, they simply helped move the show into the eighties, helped it survive a decade longer than it might have otherwise. Full Circle's a high quality production with all kinds of attention to detail, like the tinting of the outdoor lighting and the shoving of exotic pot plants beneath the camera to get that tropical effect, or basing all the Starship interior sets on polygonal designs to get that sci-fi look, or having the Deciders all standing on different tiers to indicate rank and its accompanying pomposity. The marshmen are men in rubber suits, but superior rubber suits, and they look pretty convcining when they first emerge from the swamp - helped no end by the fact that outdoor scenes had to be done on film stock in those days. The marsh spiders are pretty effective too - obviously fake (this is still Doctor Who we're talking about), but as good as you could reasonably expect - the bit where one jumps out of the watermelon onto Romana's face is done very well.
Similiarly, the music is great - the solemn quasi-religious organ theme in the Deciders' chamber, and the effective, probably Star Wars-inspired, leitmotif for Adric, Romana and even K9 (the K9 theme's brilliant! - surely it should have been reworked as the theme for K9 & Company?!). And the way the incidental music leads directly into the theme tune at the end of episodes 1 and 2... the JNT era is criticised for often going to too great lengths to contrive cliffhangers, but speaking as someone who doesn't even like the episodic approach, I really like the way this story just goes for it, dammit, making the cliffhanger a thing of beauty in its own right. Look at episode 2 - K9 is decapitated, Romana loses the TARDIS to a bunch of idiot kids and then gets bitten by a venomous spider that's lurking for no apparent reason inside the local produce. Magnificent.
Oh yeah, which reminds me, this story does also feature that other JNT-era trademark, the plot strand that's there purely for effect. The cliffhanger with the spiders leads to a bizarre subplot involving Romana developing some kind of psychic link with the marshmen via the spider bite, even though the spiders themselves are linked to the marshmen only in that they are their (concurrently-existing) ancestors, so where their skills as psychic proxies come from heaven only knows...
Trouble is, I like the way Lalla Ward swans around doing the marshmen's dirty work and I'm tempted to excuse it purely out of affection. Even if I did actually mind how nonsensical this strand is, though, it wouldn't be enough to make me dismiss the story or call it rubbish. Some fans seem to trash or embrace whole stories based on one single element from them. I can't do that. Televised Doctor Who always had a mix of good and bad in it, and the good definitely outweighs the bad here.
That scene I mentioned with the marsh child is another element that feels very JNT-era. You coul probably refer to it as the first instance of Eric Saward violence, except that Saward isn't even working on the show yet. It's a scene of pointless, horrible death that is utterly poignant - the creature dies because it reaches out for the Doctor's image, it reaches out for the Doctor's image because he's the one human who's shown it kindness. It's a terrible irony and a magnificent scene, capped off by the Doctor's fury. Tom Baker's more subdued than before during season 18, but he certainly has his moments in this story, both serious and comic ("Not an alibi, Deciders!"/"Adric! What is this, Noah's Ark?"). Lalla Ward's excellent too, very much established in the role by this point, and acting in a wonderfully pacifist Doctorish way when confronted in the TARDIS by that kid with the knife. The story also marks the JNT move to what's sometimes referred to as 'soap opera' - I've referred to season 19 that way myself, and might have given the impression there that I think this is a bad thing. Actually, it's not. The problem with season 19 is not that it's soap opera per se, but that it's soap opera done badly, in a contrived way. The characters have silly squabbles but they're superficial squabbles - there's no genuine underlying tension. Season 18 has ongoing storylines - Romana's reluctance to go back to Gallifrey, Adric's stowing away in the TARDIS, the E-Space saga, the Charged Vacuum Emboitments, the return of the Master -, but it's all cohesive and doesn't feel contrived. References to neighbouring adventures don't feel forced and unecessary here like they do in the subsequent season, because there are good reasons for the characters to be talking about those things. The reference in Full Circle to Leela and Andred can be dismissed as fanwank, I suppose, but it's actually quite nice to see that the Doctor still thinks of his old pals after they've left him. The reference to the Key to Time isn't gratuitous either - Romana's going to leave soon, and the line serves as a reminder that the character has been aboard the TARDIS longer then Lalla Ward has (incidentally, people think of Mary Tamm as the snootiest Romana, but that's really just circumstantial - I'm certain that if she'd stayed until this point Romana would have softened in much the same way as she did with Ward in the role). For me the continuity references in State of Decay are far more irritating, because that's where the Rassilon-cheapening really takes hold.
Full Circle's a turning-point, then. It points the way forward for the JNT era and - because it's written by a fan - towards the book series too. Of course, that implies that its a first step towards turning the property into the specialised 'cult' entertainment that is today. Some fans may resent that. Personally, I think the mainstream sucks. Full Circle is perhaps not a 'classic' (oh, that silly term - makes me feel like we're discussing Jane Austen or something), but neither is it a pointless runaround kinda thing. It's simply quality Doctor Who.
It's a particularly important Doctor Who story for me, incidentally, because it's the first one I remember watching, and is in fact one of my first memories. I can only have been two years old at the time of broadcast, or three, tops, if it was part of the 'Five Faces of Doctor Who', season, but the memories are very strong. I even had this story on my Viewmaster (not to sound like Stuart sodding Maconie, but anyone remember those?). So on top of all the above, this is the story which stamped this daft show onto my soul. That it can appeal to me as an adult for reasons other than nostalgia is testament to show's multifaceted appeal.
Just the right tone by Tim Roll-Pickering 13/11/02
After a disappointing beginning to the relaunched series, Full Circle comes along and thoroughly restores the viewers' faith. This is a story where much has finally worked in tandem and the result is a charming tale that holds up well. A lot of thought has gone into the story, whilst the scientific elements work well. This is Andrew Smith's only contribution to the series and it is a shame he did not write any further stories that made it to the screen. The story is also part of the wider so-called 'E-Space Trilogy' but at this stage this is little more than a lumping together of several stories set in the same pocket universe and it does not noticeably affect the individual tale's plot one way or another.
Full Circle's plot in itself is exceptionally straightforward, but with some interesting twists along the way. The summons from Gallifrey for Romana to return and her reluctance to do so are both perfectly natural, especially given her time travelling with the Doctor. The idea of the TARDIS getting lost en route is one that harks back to legends as old as The Odyssey but still works and the result is a deviation from the destination that works well. Full Circle takes place on a small scale and it would be tempting to dismiss it as a runaround but a lot of care has gone into creating the entire scenario. What initially appears to be a story about a lost colony seeking to return home turns out instead to be a tale of evolution and deception that manages to surprise the viewer without seeming at all artificial. The Marshmen may be yet another race of rubber suited monsters but it's hard to feel malice towards them for simply acting as most living creatures would in the circumstances.
This story is best remembered for introducing Adric. Matthew Waterhouse's debut is competent respectable but not spectacular. It certainly does not give rise to the major criticism the character has come in for in fan circles. The whole concept of a group of children who have opted out of society has its roots in much literature, including some of Enid Blyton's works, and is perhaps the one weak element to the tale since it seems rather coy and a significant departure after a considerable period in which children have not been noticeable in the series at all. Nevertheless Andrew Smith manages to carry this off well enough without it dragging everything else down.
Of the rest of the cast it is George Baker who makes the strongest impact as Login. Richard Willis gives a good performance as Varsh, though it is doubtful he would have worked if he had become the new companion as some fans have wished, but otherwise the cast is for the most part average, though there are no performances that obviously drag the story down. Productionwise Full Circle benefits from some excellent location footage and competent sets, aided strongly by good direction from Peter Grimwade, but it is the music that stands out the most. Paddy Kingsland's score perfectly complements the story, often striking just the right tone for a scene and the result is to put the viewer in the correct mood throughout. This story is a clear sign of the new production team hitting their stride. 8/10
Evolution... by Joe Ford 19/6/03
Mike Morris suggests above that Full Circle suffers because it has no bad guys but ultimately I feel that is the story's biggest strength (and neither does Black Orchid matey and you love that!!!). I think it is very brave to centre a story around concepts and characters rather than those Doctor Who staples that have started to tire (monsters and OTT baddies). Watching the story from begining to end it is easy to suggest the Marshmen are the 'monsters' because of their aggressive behaviour but taking note of the stories theme and the terrific twist near the end their behaviour takes on a how new meaning and adds another layer to an already fascinating story.
This is a near perfect illustration of what John Nathan-Turner was trying to achieve when he took control of the programme and I mean that in more ways than one. Although there is some dry humour present it is a mostly serious story that uses K.9. in a sensible fashion (although his sadistic decapitation is perhaps going a step too far John!). It is an intelligent story which looks gorgeous throughout and is plotted to the hilt. It is, like this web site, a story that is by fans for fans and demonstrates JNT's eagerness to seek out fresh new talent. I dunno what Andrew Smith is doing now but he deserves to be writing some good scripts. Also it has a number of child actors involved, most of which give fair performances... so yes you could say JNT has finally made what he considered to be perfect Doctor Who.
And it is an extremely rewarding experience. Season 17 might have been a comical delight but really would anybody rather watch those rather shoddily produced stories than this? The first episode is a terrific scene setter, it is well paced, well acted and features a host of unforgettable images. The location work stands out immediately as something special, not just your typical woodland or field, no, this has been dressed up appropriately to feel undeniably alien. Some of the scenes, Draith chasing Adric through the marsh, his hand slipping beneath the misty waves... are very imaginatively shot. So good, they are almost feature film quality. And what about that cliff-hanger, surely one of the most effective in the show's 40 year history... the Marshmen emerging from the misty swamps, silhouetted by the sun... it's really creepy and totally believable.
One of the biggest shocks when watching Full Circle is the performance by Matthew Waterhouse which just is not as bad as everyone claims. I am not a fan of Adric (in fact I feel the bed wetting monkey should have been put out of his misery waaay before Earthshock (mind you that would have deprived us of his punch the air death!)) but his opening season is fairly respectable. He does squeak a few times, "Varsh!" he squeals at one point but the rest of his work here, especially against an icon like Tom Baker is not bad at all. I love their cross your fingers scene and as I say his reactions to Draith and Varsh's deaths are very good. So big raspberry to everyone who says he gave the show a wrong footing, he didn't, it was only when he was forced to sound off against that lump of celery with legs that things got utterly unbearable.
Tom Baker and Lalla Ward have their character to a tee now and their chemistry is just out of this world. A shame then that they spend most of the story apart but then we would be deprived of the brilliant scenes as Romana is infected by the Marsh spider and tries to attack the Doctor. It is a chillingly acted scene and directed with a real sense of urgency. Baker seems to be having the time of his life, his performance almost bland he's so good these days and his sweet scenes with the Marsh child and his bald-faced rage in the face of the hypocritical Deciders exposes his strength of character better than any other story in season 18.
I have to mention the direction which is absolutely stunning, not quite the best for the show ever but pretty close. Peter Grimwade certainly has a real flair for science fiction and makes sure the camera is always on the move. A lot of directors manage to impress with their OB work but let us down with their underwhelming work in the studio but not here. There are some giddy shots, I love the pan into the backs of the Outlers as they are receiving their punishment, the way the camera glides past them and up to stare at the dominant Deciders is extremely graceful. There is another such moment which comes in episode three with Login and Nefred discussing in hushed voices with Dexeter and the camera pans across a grill as if to silence their morbid conversation. It is little moments like this that really make a story.
Plus the script brims with wit. Watch the Doctor's confusion as he treads around the spot where the TARDIS once stood. Or his hysterical "Romana!" scene as a whole bunch of kids come pouring out of the TARDIS. And I love the way he uses K.9.'s head to scare off the Marshmen. It's very effective humour because it doesn't distract from the drama elsewhere.
Time is running out for Romana and Lalla Ward's pained, passionate "I don't want the spend the rest of my life on Gallifrey... after all this!" speaks volumes. She is stuck with the more underwhleming scenes like the knife attack in the TARDIS but this being a professional actress she struggles on and manages to make it work. Her "Your knife" is perfect.
Oh yes I do enjoy this story a lot, it is not one of the stories that is instantly recognisable like Talons of Weng-Chiang or Caves of Androzani which all fans think of when asked to name a really good Doctor Who story. But this is still a very strong story, a marriage of a rock solid script, terrific effects, charismatic performances and some stylish set pieces. It is one of the best quieter classics.
A Review by Will Berridge 18/9/03
Just ignore the nauseating adolescents. They only want attention.
Being a secnd generation fan, I never watched this story (or, indeed, any) on its original broadcast, but I'd be curious to know how I'd have reacted to it if I had. The first five minutes of the adventure build it up as if it's going to be another War Games, or Deadly Assassin. The Doctor has been summoned back to Gallifrey, warning 'you can't fight Time Lords' - and on both occasions he had previously been called back a pivotal moment occurred in the series. When it seems, however, we can only be heading for something big, the TARDIS gets knocked off course. The plot then rather bathetically switches its focus, from a visit to the Time Lord's seat of power, to an entirely different five minutes where we observe four nauseating adolescents endeavouring to illegally procure water melons. What then follows is in most respects a pretty bog standard DW tale, which could have taken place in any old universe, really. I'm not sure how much of a fault to consider this, as it would have made me sulk endlessly at a certain age, but now I've come to treat it as, well, a bog standard adventure.
If it is a fault, it's one of very few. The nauseating adolescents, yes, there are the nauseating adolescents. Which Tylos, Keara and monkey features all are. I can't blame the writer for this too much, as he was given the job of introducing a teenage boy to the TARDIS crew, and as a late teenage boy himself he probably knew all teenagers are sullen, irritating, pathetic, obnoxious individuals, often all at the same time. Come to think of it, this reviewer is a late teenage boy and he's noticed that. Unfortunately, even if they are all an accurate depiction of the juvenile mentality, they are still all nauseating. Ho hum. The rest's good.
First, there's the title. I don't think there's another one in televised DW that keeps us guessing right up until the final episode quite like 'Full Circle' does. (Though I know a few that keep me guessing beyond it. Most of them end with '.of the Daleks.') The scientists' questions, and the politicians' typically incomplete answers, edge us closer and closer to the final revelation at a perfect pace. Curiously, actually, the final revelation upholds a somewhat anthropocentric view of the universe that DW usually tends to challenge. Whereas in this story the alien Alzarians evolve into the human form of the Terradonians, effectively marking humans out as the 'superior' model, in a story like Kinda, for instance, colonialist humans barging in on someone else's planet are if not physically evolved, intellectually enlightened and evolved by the natives. Throughout DW humans are sometimes portrayed and possessing of great ingenuity and determination (Tom Baker's Ark of Space speech), but largely get quite a bad press as being vulnerable, destructive and often ignorant, or even, as Number 5 put it, 'parochial'. No the most ideal role models.
Anyway, I'm picking holes, this is only a minor breakaway from the traditional DW ethos, and the depiction of the story's figures of authority, the indecisive Deciders, is anti-establishment enough. Then again, in some ways it isn't. Whilst the Deciders connive to build a wall of deliberate ignorance between the Alzarians and knowledge of their true origins (making them, as Romana disapprovingly comments 'a typical Type D oligarchy'), and wilfully put their people through the rigour of pointless labour, they are not as self-concerned as we are lead to believe. James Bree delivers a terrifically strained performance as a man burdened with a truth which could cause his society to descend into anarchy should it get out, and his reading of the line 'nobody knows how to pilot this ship' sends a tingle down my spine. It certainly helps engender a certain sympathy towards him and the other Deciders, in spite of their incompetence, and adds a touch of over-cynicism to the characters of the Doctor, who assumes they 'want to hang on to the old order', and Romana, for her 'Type D Oligarchy' remark. In short, we get a lot of three-dimensional people and subversion of expectation, which is rather good, really.
Seeing as I mentioned spine tingling moments, I ought to mention this story contains a good number of them, largely due to some stunning direction. The slow-mo shot of the Marshmen rising out from the mists makes for a superb cliff hanger, aided by a great musical score. The Marshmen are well directed throughout the story, creating the impression there are a great deal more than there actually are, especially during the attack on the great Book Room. I'd have never guessed there were only five if I hadn't deliberately rewound my tape and counted the number in every shot. Decider Draith's death is also a supremely shot scene. His slow descent into the marsh, grabbing for the hand of the child whose patent Oedipus complex has lead him to reject his paternal gestures, and accidentally cause his death, evoke real pathos, and he even manages to deliver a classic cipher before he vanishes - 'Tell Dexeter we've come Full Circle.' Classic Tom Baker acting set me on edge on other occasions, with his deliveries of 'The image translator only reads the absolute values of the co-ordinates', and 'DEXETER!!!'. Yes, this may be this review's least surprising comment, but Tom Baker's on typically classic form, as is Lalla Ward's sublime Romana, who even gets the semi-Doctorish 'your knife?' scene, which she handles in her own elegant way. It's a pity someone had to throw Adric into the mix. It's not that I don't mind irritating teenagers. Ace starts as an irritating teenager and develops into something much, much more, and in any case being an explosives expert always gave her some way of being worked usefully into the plot. Adric had his Maths to mark him out. So at this stage I wouldn't have been prepared to damn the character, even if he is a stuck up little prig ('of course I'm better than you. I'm AN ELITE.'). Ah, but later.
Regardless of those on the Dramatis Personae who want to annoy everyone because they haven't completed puberty, this is an excellently scripted, directed and acted little tale. And even if E-Space didn't take us anywhere special on this occasion, at least it was an excuse for Warrior's Gate to happen.
A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 22/2/04
Full Circle is an anomoloy in Doctor Who terms in that there is no central villain in the story. This said however, it does make for an interesting and refreshing tale. The struggles against a harsh environment come across well, thanks to largely excellent acting and production values. The story has a simple premise; the inhabitants of a crashed starship struggle to survive as the planet it is on becomes more hostile. However it is the writing and direction which add to the suspense, the cliffhanger to part 1 is particularly effective and works better because it is in slow motion. On the face of it the Marshmen are generic monsters, but they are used well, the snarling they make supplementing this.
A strong supporting guest cast help the production, as all are well rounded characters with believable motivations. The regulars fare well too, Tom Baker is great with his unfair condemnation of the Deciders, and hints at what a great actor he could be. Lalla Ward is used well, her wanting to return home is a strong scene,although her scenes as the infected Romana come across as stagey. K-9 is wasted however, as he spends the story decapitated. Mention should be made of Matthew Waterhouse`s Adric too, he doesn`t venture into the irritating stakes yet, and conveys being an outsider well.
Despite this the E-Space subplot seems surplus to requirements, although the closing TARDIS scene makes up for this. In short highly enjoyable and possibly the strongest story of season 18.
Dexeter's Laboratory by Jason A. Miller 23/3/04
Teenagers in khaki clothes traipsing around an alternate world, after falling through a portal into another dimension. Reptile bipeds in ill-fitting rubber costumes, hissing menacingly. Yes, this is "Land of the Lost", all right. I don't know if Andrew Smith ever saw that seminal U.S. Saturday morning sci-fi serial, although he'd be of the right age. The parallels are unmistakble!
The rest of Full Circle proudly exhibits every science-fiction cliche known to man. A community of shipwrecked Starliner passengers decamps on an exotic forest world, except for those occasions when the Mists come, and Giants leave the swamp. Narrating the backstory is a Greek chorus of three old men in puffy robes -- the Deciders -- who speak in hushed tones, and utter more capital-letter concepts than a conference hall full of kindergarten teachers. Mistfall. The System Files (Decider Draith, in a deathly whisper: "I cannot discuss... the System Files"). The Embarkation (a chorus of Alzarians in see-through yellow robes: "Toward the embarkation!"). The Procedure. And, take it away, James Bree: "Continue the work... of Maintenance."
So why is all this so fresh?
Full Circle is about evolution and stagnation. It's perfectly suited to its four-part length, in spite of the longer-than-usual reprises (Part Three doesn't get to the new material until 3:20 have elapsed). Each cliffhanger rips away a little more of the veil about the secrets of Alzarius, Terradon and the Starliner, with other revelations saved for great dramatic passages of dialogue. There's a lengthy (two minute, 15 second) sequence where the Doctor harangues the Deciders for centuries' worth of indecision. And, when the cruelest revelation of all is offered at the end of that sequence ("Nobody knows how to pilot this ship"), the Doctor is even more shocked than he was at the outset.
Ah, Tom Baker. This may have been one of his final stories, but this is also the real birth of the JNT renaisaance, which, with just a few sputters, steamrolled all the way through Caves of Androzani. Baker looks as if he's up to helm the role all the way through 1985. The first two Season 18 stories were Season 17 romps at heart, although Leisure Hive got a boost from edgier direction and the gorgeous new incidental music. Introducing Peter Grimwade and Paddy Kingsland, Full Circle blows away all the stagnation from the Season 17 goggle-fests. The new style kicks off K9's head, and chases away half the viewing audience.
Baker is just on in this story. The physical comedy is still there, enjoyable even when muted. Watch how he slumps against a rock moments before a flock of birds forces him to jump off again. Baker also gets to show off outrage, indignation, horror, and pure paternal joy after he's taught Adric how to cross his fingers. Lalla Ward remains great -- after vanishing for most of Parts Three and Four, she returns with that seductive mile-wide grin.
Great music. A great worried performance by James Bree, a thousand miles removed from The War Games. Tom Baker, auditioning half a dozen different companions. Archetypal rubber monsters, who turn out to be among the most intelligent marauders in the Doctor Who mindless brute pantheon. Full Circle even makes science fun, with the Doctor offering "a short course in cytogenetics". And, of course, not only is this an echo of "Land of the Lost", but it's also a pilot of sorts for that great kids show: "Dexeter's Laboratory". Remember, kids: with great power, comes great responsibility!
A new Doctor has just been cast, but the lessons of 2004 are not the lessons of 1980. We can still be certain, though, that if the new series exhibits half the joy of discovery found in Full Circle, so aware that it was kicking off a new era, we're in for quite a ride.
A Review by Michael Hickerson 9/8/05
Taking the long view of season 18, it's easy to see how the stories all fit into a typical theme. The basic premise of each story is that the Doctor arrives into a society or group of people that are stuck in a recursive loop and the Doctor and company serving as a catalyst for change within the system - for good or bad.
But the interesting thing about season 18 is that while each of the stories deals with this common theme, none of them seem repetitive in any way. Each one tweaks the concept just enough and adds a bit to the overall arc of the season (and yes, there is one that you only see when Christopher H. Bidmead puts it all together in Logopolis).
Full Circle is one of the more obvious examples of a society stuck in a loop and needing an outside spark or two to push them out of stagnation. The revelation that the Alzarians are not from Terradon at all, but actually descendants of the very Marshmen they fear is one of the bigger twists of the season if not all of Doctor Who. And the idea that they have no idea how to fly the ship they've spent generations doing little more than trading out parts on is a novel one. Certainly, these are two of the bigger surprises in a script that is full of surprises.
One of the biggest surprises is how good it was then and how good it is now. Written by 19-year old fan Andrew Smith, Full Circle is a strong offering to the Doctor Who canon. On some level, I wonder what might have happened had Smith written a second or third script for Who, but then part of me thinks "well, it's better to write one great script and get all your good ideas to the screens instead of spending two or three scripts showing the fandom you had only one good idea and maybe it'd have been better if you stopped while you were ahead" (Pip & Jane Baker anyone?)
Now, I'd be a fool to think that the script was all the product of Smith. Looking at the story and how it fits into the overall arc of the season, I have a feeling that Bidmead had a strong hand in editing the story and bringing it to the screen. I refer specifically to the TARDIS falling through the CVE, thrusting our heroes into E-Space and the slow discovery of what's happened to them and how they're trapped. Indeed, as many times as I complain that the JN-T years were too obsessed with spending a bit too much screen time in the TARDIS, then along comes this script that shows that, by golly, you can do it and do it right. It works here because the dilemma faced by the Doctor and Romana in the first episode isn't one that goes away quickly. If anything, it's a driving force behind the rest of the story and it doesn't feel as if we're treading water while we create the civilization of Alzarius for our heroes to interact with for the final three episodes.
Instead, we get two compelling stories that join together when the TARDIS arrives on Alzarius and each drives the other. In both cases, the various members of the crews are faced with a situation that is overwhelming and from which there is no easy escape - for the Alzarians, it's evolution itself and for the Doctor, it's being trapped in a universe of negative coordinates and having no idea how to get back home.
Full Circle is a rich, textured story that is full of great characters and performances. The reigning in of Tom Baker continues - gone are the over-the-top, clownish hijinks of season seventeen and the show is better for it. Baker shines in this one and while he does get some of the trademark Baker silliness for the children in, the man just delivers a great performance here. I am not the first and I won't be the last to point out the great scene before the Deciders when the Doctor chastises them for killing the Marshchild, yelling that the need to know is not an alibi. In the same scene, this burst of anger turns to shock at the discovery that no one can fly the ship and has never known how to do it. It's a tour de force for Baker in just one scene and one of the more appropriately appreciated scenes in all of Doctor Who. It ranks up there with the greatness of Baker's "Do I have the right?" scene from Genesis of the Daleks.
But it's not just Tom Baker who does good work here. Lalla Ward is good, even playing the possessed Romana well. (Never mind that we're not quite sure why she's linked to the Marshmen other than to open the door as a cliffhanger to the episode three). And the rest of the supporting cast does pretty well, with one exception.
Yes, I'm going to have to point out the deficiencies of Matthew Waterhouse. Had he not been included in any more stories than this one, it'd be easy to dismiss him here. He hits two notes in the entire story, but his acting range is extremely limited. Indeed, I read a review of Waterhouse's acting performances as being like a lot of Who fans - he's just stunned that he's got this great job and that's how he acts every time he's on camera. That'd sum it up here, where he pretty much does either angry or snarky the entire time and he doesn't really do either of them well. Honesty, I find myself wishing Adric had bit it at the hands of the Marshmen and Varsh had gone with the TARDIS crew as I watch the story here. But hey, it is what it is...
In a lot of ways, Full Circle shows that Doctor Who can do more than just tell the story of the Doctor overthrowing an alien regime week in and week out. The idea and concepts brought up here are compelling and it's interesting that there is no good solution to the problem. The Doctor can only help the Alzarians drive off the Marshmen for a bit, but he can't destroy one side or the other. It's a no-win scenario because we find out the Marshmen are highly adaptive and now that they know they can get in the ship, they will be back.
The Doctor's involvement sparks a change in the society perhaps for the better - we're not quite sure and the script doesn't tell us. In the end, the Doctor has pushed the society out of its recursive spiral, but he and Romana are still trapped, facing a bigger dilemma - how can they get home? And is it even possible?
In a lot of ways, Full Circle is the JN-T years at their finest. It's a script that turns the usual complaints of weakness around and makes them strengths for a story. Adding up the intelligent story, decent effects and good acting and you've got one of the more undervalued stories from the Tom Baker era. If there's any justice, this one will be given the deluxe DVD treatment sooner rather than later.
A Review by Tom Marshall 18/4/10
When I purchased the E-Space Trilogy DVD boxset, Full Circle was not the one I was most looking forward to. State of Decay boasted Gothic horror and vampires, and Warriors' Gate, I had been told, was remarkable in a fantasy-Mind Robber sort of way, which sounded worth getting one's teeth into. All that could be said of the first story in the trilogy, I assumed, was that it had some nice shots of these Marshmen creatures coming out of a swamp somewhere.
How wrong I was. I have just watched Full Circle and so haven't yet seen the other stories in the trilogy; therefore, I will reserve judgment. For now, however, this is nothing short of a masterpiece, and one by an 18-year-old fan of the show no less. It's clever, witty, charismatic, compelling and very well directed all at once. In fact it's so exciting that the next paragraph shall comprise entirely of bits that I loved.
The dramatic opening and the concept of E-Space and the CVE; the beautiful filmography; the Marshmen rising from the swamp; three top-notch cliffhangers; Draith's last line as he sinks beneath the waves; some of the dialogue: "Poor Dexeter... he's been reduced to a string of stained chromosomes" and "Nobody knows how to pilot this ship"; the characterisations; the incredible score, possibly the best for the series; the chemistry between Tom Baker and Lalla Ward; the magnificent plot; and far too many Oh My Gosh scenes where you just want to watch the next scene immediately, as opposed to in a second's time.
Glad I got that out of my system.
Andrew Smith scores very highly on his characters. The Doctor might be a tad subdued here, certainly more subdued than the comic dynamite we saw in Season 17, but it is with typical verbosity that he challenges the Deciders, and with typical compassion he protects the Marshchild used for scientific analysis. Romana, meanwhile, is perhaps at her best in this story: she might be taken over by Marshmen protein at one point, but her emotions really come across in "I don't want to spend the rest of my life on Gallifrey after all this!" whilst the scene where she confronts Tylos and gives him back his knife is perfect.
Smith's talent in characterisation extends beyond the regulars, however. Full Circle introduces the ill-fated Adric, a likeable enough Artful-Dodger sort of lad, a teenager, but in no sense irritating or immature in this story at least: he gets worse as he goes along. However the planet of Alzarius is peppered with interesting characters. The three procrastinating Deciders are all marvellous, struggling to do their best with the community they have inherited, especially George Baker as Login. Even the brief character of Draith makes a moodily impressive impact, whilst the Outlers - Varsh, Keira and Tylos - are likeable enough even for their rebellious streaks, and the first and last of those three get excellent death scenes.
Full Circle, though, is a very good-looking story. Many have suggested that old Who goes for substance over style... as in it was deep and thoughtful but with a tiny budget. This story is a rare example of both. It is classily made: if all the 80s had been like this, then John Nathan-Turner would be better remembered; it's a perfect example of what he wanted to do with the show. The filming is absolutely incredible.
Episode One in particular is iconic: the opening shots to establish the community camping beside the river stand out, whilst the bubbling gas and the outstanding scenes where Draith chases Adric, only to slip into the waves uttering the spine-chilling line "Tell Dexeter we've come full circle..." are of feature-film quality. It's echoed by the creativity of the world - which is very like Earth but not quite; there are enough alien touches to keep you intrigued and wanting to watch on. The Starliner ship might be a model but it is a good one and sitting above the swamps and trees it is an impressive shot: inside, the director makes the ship seem much more of an environment than it really is; when Nefred delivers the embarkation speech, one feels that hundreds or thousands of the colonists are listening.
And the direction is consistent in its brilliance. What can I mention? The Marshmen rising up out of the waves in slow-motion, weed and water dripping from their skin, with the sun behind them; at once absolutely terrifying and incredibly compelling. You want to know what happens next: your eyes are glued to the screen. The Part Three cliffhanger is the same, as the Marshmen enter the Starliner at last and begin to bludgeon the ship with sticks. The director ekes every bit of tension out of the Marshchild's mad rampage and the Doctor's confrontation with it, but slows right down to give Nefred's death marvellous pathos.
I did say earlier though that this is 'style and substance' and it certainly is. The plot is quite possibly the best ever written for an episode of Doctor Who and I am not going to debate it. The way Andrew Smith unravels the story from the beginning, you are screaming for the final revelation and when it comes it is not a disappointment. It is not just through the setups and the disparate layers of civilization and characters on the planet (why doesn't the ship leave? where are the Marshmen from?) but the dialogue too - such as "We've never been there [to Terradon]", and the revelation that nobody can fly the ship - all make you positively salivating for the true answer.
When it does come, it really is remarkable. Doctor Who tends to favour humanity (being a show made exclusively by humans, this is understandable) and so a story which not only challenges humanity in all its forms but also unravels it and makes us question what humanity means is quite incredible. In my opinion, the Marshmen are human: and so no they are not monsters as such, though excellent effects they certainly are. The final moments of the story are nothing short of epic: as the Marshmen attack the Book Room and the Doctor discovers the spiders, the colonists and the Marshmen all have the same symbiotic DNA. It is very tense stuff.
Full Circleis very serious and mature in its storytelling, but it doesn't demand too much of the viewer if you simply pay attention. Better still, it is not too sombre unlike many other stories in Season 18: for example, when the Doctor repeats "Romana!" as everyone but Romana comes out of the TARDIS, the scene with K9's head, and the immortal line "Why can't people be nice to each other just for a change? I mean, I'm an alien and you don't want to drag me into a swamp, do you? You do?"
I am calling it now: Andrew Smith has wasted his years as a policeman. If he wrote this aged 18, the mind boggles when pondering what he could have done later in life.
A Review by Brian May 8/8/13
Gosh, has it really been 31 years since I first saw this? It was early 1982 when season 18 first ran on Australian TV. I remember being highly impressed by Full Circle and particularly recall liking it in relation to the previous two stories, which I found confusing, inaccessible and rather bland (as a 9-year old Who novice).
And today, in 2013, my preferences haven't changed. Of course, I can appreciate Season 18 a lot more, acknowledging it as one of the big crossroads of Doctor Who, ushering in visual gloss and hard sci-fi. The Leisure Hive and Meglos are by all means representative of this new look, but I still don't enjoy them that much, for largely the same reasons (as a 40-year old, grizzled Who veteran). Full Circle remains a personal favourite from this season and the first "hit". It's Peter Grimwade's directorial debut and a most impressive one at that. (Yes, Lovett Bickford's cinematic helming of The Leisure Hive is just as striking, but I also find it very repetitive.) Grimwade shoots from lots of angles, using the great location to create impressive establishing scenes, gorgeous pans and some unexpected close-ups, the Marshman mugging the camera in part two a good example of the last. He provides a fantastic cliffhanger in part one's memorable monster reveal; I don't know if it's meant to be a tribute to The Sea Devils, but it's a hundred times better! The music, now courtesy of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop as part of John Nathan-Turner's clean sweep, is gorgeous. Paddy Kingsland's score is atmospheric and evocative, even providing some personalised theme tunes; Romana gets a sombre and plaintive few notes, whereas the Outlers receive quite a few more, which would be revisited for Adric in future stories. The entire soundtrack is a delight to listen to.
There is some inspired guest casting here. The great George Baker, in his only Doctor Who role, is just as great as Login. Alan Rowe, in his fourth appearance, is equally memorable as Garif. The biggest surprise is James Bree as Nefred. After that ridiculous voice he put on in The War Games, here he tones it down for a very subdued, understated portrayal of a man who has assumed the lonely mantle of leadership. Richard Willis is pretty good as Varsh, but unfortunately I can't say anything as complimentary about the other Outlers. That includes Matthew Waterhouse, who makes his (transmitted) debut as Adric. I know it's fashionable to criticise him, but in all truth he's not that good an actor, and it shows. To give him credit, he's all right in his one-on-one scenes with Tom Baker, but that's about it (his "I think I pulled the wrong lever" is horrid!).
Talking of Tom Baker, all I can say is, wow! After the recent flippancy and hijinks, he's finally reined it in, having decided to take his final year seriously. In my opinion, this is one of his best performances ever, not just this season. I particularly like his compassionate side, as seen in all the scenes with the Marsh child, and also his anger: the way he spits out "NOT AN ALIBI, DECIDERS!" is perhaps my all time favourite Tommy B moment. It's also a great turn for Lalla Ward, her scenes with the Outlers being her best. Of course, she acts them all off the floor, with only Willis to work against properly, but she has some true kickass moments. "Your knife" is way cool (note to self: owe Paul Cornell royalty payment). She also underplays possession pretty well.
New script editor Christopher H. Bidmead wanted to include more hard science during his tenure, and this story certainly delivers with its interesting discussion of evolution. But it's by far the non-scientific aspects of the plotting that are the more intriguing. There is some great world-building here and a sympathetic scenario; those in power are withholding the truth from the people, but the Deciders are very much in the same boat as their subjects. Nobody can be called a villain, and any deceit isn't out of malice. The whole thing feels like Robert Holmes and Malcolm Hulke have gatecrashed a Bob Baker & Dave Martin script! (This is not to take credit away from the actual writer, but as Andrew Smith is a self-confessed Doctor Who fan, his influences are definitely on display!)
Full Circle was a favourite of mine back then, and it's a story I hold up highly today. 8.5/10