The E-Space Trilogy
The E-Space Trilogy Part Three
|Dates||Jan. 2, 1981 -
Jan. 24, 1981
With Tom Baker, Lalla Ward, Matthew Waterhouse,
John Leeson as the voice of "K9".
Written by Steve Gallagher.
Script-edited by Christopher H. Bidmead.
Directed by Paul Joyce.
Produced by John Nathan-Turner. Executive Producer: Barry Letts.
Synopsis: The Doctor, Romana, and Adric attempt to escape from E-Space alongside
traders with mysterious cargo.
"Making better sense than we realise..." by Nick Waghorn 2/8/98
The general fan conception of Warrior's Gate is that it can be difficult to follow on a first viewing, which doesn't seem to me to be strictly accurate. The first time I watched it I found the story relatively straightforward, with the two parallel subplots of the Tharils' history/future and the dimensional contraction finally converging at the climax. Possibly the Tharils' timeline and the use of different temporal viewpoints on that can be confusing to the first time viewer, but with the video release the potential for repeated viewing should remove any confusion.
This story is characterised by its combining of bleak humour and a sinister sense of foreboding to achieve a well-balanced blend of comedy and tragedy, peppered with weird moments. Much humour is provided by the double-act of Aldo and Royce, whose jocund commentary lightens the atmosphere. The other characters all add to this individually, from Packard's mishaps to would-be joker Lane. Even Rorvik has his moments with the brilliantly delivered line: "I want a landing that wouldn't ripple the skin on a custard!" This, and many other lines to be treasured, adds an idiosyncratic wit.
Speaking of the supporting cast, Steve Gallagher's Holmesesque aptitude for lending depth to characters allows everyone to give believability to their role. There is not one badly acted or badly written part, a treat considering Gallagher has to write for an entire crew.
Unfortunately Gallagher misses his mark slightly when writing for Tom Baker's Doctor, but Baker's skill is sufficient to make it work. The Doctor exudes an authority not previously exhibited in the season. He also has a good empathy with Lalla Ward, who continues acting her alien side well -- especially in her first meeting with Rorvik. Her much-vaunted leaving scene nearly lives up to expectations but is a whisker too brief. K-9 has a poor leaving story, being damaged for the majority, but it's nice to know that, indirectly, he helps save the day. Adric, although not concentrated on often, is still irritating.
The design is excellent, and is helped by intelligent direction. Especially interesting is the use of the gallery equipment as part of the Privateer, and the black and white gardens are spectacular. The visual effects are simple but effective, with impressive model work, and the laser firing at the mirror is a rare delight.
Special mention goes to some of the best cliffhangers in Who history. Episode one's has a real "How will he get out of that?" factor, emphasised by the careful editing that allows the Gundan axe to flash down, instead of just suspending it above the Doctor's head. Peter Howell's sinister incidental score compliments the tension. The other notable cliffhanger is episode three's: a Doctor Who triumph. Disturbing, harrowing, full of symbolism, it also shows the Doctor in full, magnificently understated, control. His staying of a Tharil's knife is great.
Overall, I cannot recommend Warrior's Gate enough. It's the best of the E-Space trilogy and a prime example of non-patronising, intelligent Doctor Who. 9/10
A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 29/9/98
As the final part of the E-Space trilogy, Warriors` Gate is something special. Often cited as difficult to follow, it has something to offer to both sci-fi and Doctor Who fans alike, and as such works on a number of different levels. In it`s simplest form, it can be seen as a struggle for survival, as the Tharils try to free themselves of their enforced slavery, and the Privateer and TARDIS crews try to leave E-Space. In another form entirely, it can just be viewed as a classic piece of science fiction without the Doctor Who trappings.
Despite being cited as "hard work" (for the viewer), this actually means that it can stand up to repeated viewing: something new can be gleaned from the tale each time. Production wise, everything is of a high standard, from the model work of the Privateer to the design of the lionesque Tharils. On top of this, the script works in the favour of the characters (with only Adric losing out). Added with the atmospheric, incidental music and simple but effective visuals, this only serves to make the departure of K-9 and Romana all the more poignant.
And this only serves to make Warriors` Gate classic Doctor Who.
A Review by William Good 18/11/99
Warriors' Gate is my favorite Doctor Who serial, and that immediately requires explanation. Not that it is the best-made story on Who, not when stories like Caves of Androzani, Snakedance, Earthshock, Robots of Death, Deadly Assassin, Pyramids of Mars, or almost all of Tom Baker's first season all contend for that accolade. Not that the story is flawless; Lalla Ward's scream at the end of episode two is pathetic and out of character for a Time Lady, the scenes with the damaged K-9 are pathetic in a different sense, and even Tom Baker's acting seems a little wooden as he is nearing the end of his tenure.
Warriors' Gate, to me, is a great episode, rather, because of its hold on the imagination, which is what all good science fiction should do. The concept of a mid-point between two universes, and an entire alien race which rides the time winds and which goes through a period of enslavement -- these are what hold my interest whenever I watch it again. Plus, the cliffhangers at the end of episodes one and three. John Lydecker did a good job with the novelisation, too.
The Last Classic by Ken Wrable 15/2/00
When I first saw Warriors' Gate in 1981 I neither enjoyed nor understood it. It took place in an abstract white void and seemed wilfully obscure, lacking in narrative, impossible to engage with. All that I could make out was that it ended with Romana and K9 being written out and the TARDIS being freed from E-Space - frankly, it was a blessed relief when The Keeper of Traken started and we were back to conventional beginnings, middles and endings.
Well, it just goes to show that you should always be wary of first impressions. I recently saw the story again, 18 years after that first viewing, and was completely absorbed. So much so in fact, that I ended up watching it three times on consecutive evenings and gaining fresh insights on each viewing. Fan as I am of the series, I have to say there's not many Dr Who stories that can stand that kind of exposure. I now rate this as a classic, the best Who story of the eighties (and yes, I am aware of The Caves of Androzani).
So what makes this such a beauty and why should you persevere with it if, like me, you initially found it remote and offputting? I think it's partly the very boldness of the set-up, the fact that virtually no lip-service is paid to the traditional Dr Who conventions (malevolent force threatens isolated community. Or power-crazed scientist attempts world/galaxy/universe domination. Or dangerous long-dormant power is awakened through scientific meddling). Here, instead, we have an empty space where the main baddy (Rorvik, as ruthless as character as any depicted in the series) is motivated by nothing more sinister than his frustration at not being able to get his spacecraft moving. It's significant that his triumphal speech, the one that every Dr Who villain gets to make at the climax of a story, ends not with "The Universe will be mine!" or "I bring death to all mankind" but with the considerably more prosaic "I'm finally getting something done!"
Rorvik is played to perfection by Clifford Rose as the type of boss who teeters on the edge of megalomania, and his crew are another of the delights of this story. They are wonderfully characterised and acted as a cynical bunch of workmen who feel that they are doing the best they can under the circumstances and could do without the hassle that they're having to put up with. The individual crew members are drawn and differentiated with a subtlety rare in Dr Who and they never become tired cliches. Watch out for the scene in episode four where Rorvik is struggling to make his ranting heard over the crewmen eating lunch and chatting - a wonderfully down to earth moment in a totally bizarre environment.
Warriors' Gate also boasts one of Dr Who's most interesting and well-realised alien races. The Tharils present some startling ambiguities: they seem noble and benign, but their history is one of cruelty and oppression, they appear omnipotent and unrestricted by the normal ebb and flow of time, yet they have let themselves become slaves to the humans. The idea of time-sensitive beings who are able to choose one of an infinite number of possible fates is fascinating and the techniques used here to present are at times stunning: witness the moment at the start of episode one when time slows as a coin is being tossed and Biroc first becomes aware of the presence of the TARDIS. The make-up and costumes used for the Tharils is very impressive and they successfully come across as a remote and powerful race.
Not only are the costumes and make-up great in this story, but so are the special effects, the sets and indeed the direction in general. Dr Who is often, and justifiably, accused of looking cheap, but here the effort and money put in has been put to great effect (by all accounts, this was not an easy story to make). I particularly like the long, slow tracking shot that opens the story and the scenes set in the great hall that jump disconcertingly between the past and the present.
I haven't yet mentioned the regular characters. This story is significant for being the last appearance of Romana and this is certainly one of Lalla Ward's very best outings in the role. She gives as good as she gets in the scenes where she first encounters Rorvik's crew (have you noticed the almost subliminal way she glances at Packard's thinning pate as she's mentioning the hairiness of the tharils?) and there's a real sense of sadness when she eventually parts company with the Doctor. It's as if he knows he'll never have a companion who's quite on his level again. Matthew Waterhouse has a relatively minor role in this story but is perfectly adequate while Tom Baker is as personable as ever as the Doctor. K9 is out of order for much of the story, but at least this time it's part of the plot rather than a device to avoid having to take him out on location shooting.
So there you have it - one of the most singular, challenging, innovative, rewatchable and visually arresting Dr Who stories ever made. There's really nothing else like this one.
A Review by Paul Heslin 6/11/00
Warrior's Gate is pure magic. It is sad, really, that when I think of my top twenty Dr. Who stories Warrior's isn't among them. When I analyse it I realise that it is one of the finest. All Doctor Who stories have good and bad points (yes, City of Death had some bad and Timelash some good). Warrior's is so because there are virtually no bad points to it. This is mainly because it doesn't try to be anything spectacular, but instead is tight and claustrophobic. In stories such as this the main thing is the characterisation and subsequent acting. Here both these is nothing short of brilliant. Clifford Rose is riveting, as are most of the others. I am still amazed that slave ship's members are all so totally different, yet all superb. The cliff hangers are very good; ep 3's in particular. Paul Joyce's direction is magnificent, certain sequences such as the Doctor making off with the laser cannon are truly awe-inspiring. The script is wonderful, with an interesting mix of outrageous humour and numbing violence. Altogether this a magnificent story and I love it. See It!!!"
A Tharil a Minute by Andrew Wixon 10/4/02
Where to begin when talking about the wholly remarkable Warriors' Gate, one of the most unusual DW stories ever told? Well - back in 1990 I was lucky enough to interview the scriptwriter, Steve Gallagher, who lives not far from me. I have some regrets about the meeting: I regret my own lack of skill as an interviewer, I regret wasting the time of such a nice and generous man with too many clever-clever questions, I regret the fact that he somehow ended up paying for our meal. But looking back now, I mainly regret not taking this golden opportunity to actually find out what Warriors' Gate is about.
Because I'm still not sure. I understand the basic plot and the fact that it's in some way about probability and the nature of space and time, but I still don't quite grasp how the Gateway works, or which universe the guest characters actually originate from, or... Well, that's enough of my ignorance exposed. Despite all the above this remains a fantastic, memorable tale, with a unique visual style. Paul Joyce directs with skill and flair - in some ways it's as flashy as that of The Leisure Hive, but on this occasion the unusual direction matches the experimental nature of the story.
One key element of the story's success is the depiction of the slaver crew. Rather than typical leather-clad snarling sadists, we're shown a bunch of blue-collar guys in shabby overalls and woolly hats who are more interested in their lunch than actually being evil. They're actually quite endearing in an odd way, written and performed with a sly, deadpan humour - rare, in 80s DW. Rorvik too is an uncharacteristic villain, strangely plausible (and saddled with a crew like that we'd all get a bit flakey, surely). All in all they provide an essential, recognisable grounding element for a story that most of the time soars off into the realms of the esoteric and the abstract.
My cousin died last year and, as you do on these occasions, I thought a lot about my memories of her. And the strongest one was of going to her house with my parents in early 1981. Having nothing else to do while the adults all had dinner, I sat down and watched TV - and Doctor Who came on, the first episode of this story. It was a programme I'd always enjoyed but hadn't bothered to watch regularly for over a year, put off by the jarring change in style and lured to Buck Rogers on the other side. But I watched Warriors' Gate, because I knew Tom Baker and (more importantly) K9 were leaving, but I wasn't sure when. And although Tom didn't go in this story, afterwards I never willingly missed another episode ever again. So Warriors' Gate is a special story for me. I also think it's possibly one of the finest stories in the history of the series - I just wish I understood it.
Well, Doctor...This Is A Surprise! by Matthew Harris 8/5/02
No Tharil will outlive the day of the feast....
Steve Gallagher. Ah, Steve Gallagher. Does he ever smile? I've seen and read so much by him, and his works seem to range from darkly entertaining to jet-black and relentlessly grim (like his other Doctor Who moment, the chronically underrated Terminus). Warriors' Gate (the title's not adequately explained until you read the novel) is one of his lighter moments, but it's not without its trademark black streak. The genuinely disturbing Tharil-revival method, anyone? But I digress. Yes I do.
One thing that anyone intending to watch it should bear in their minds is that Warriors' Gate is the Ghost Light of its day. So for God's sake tape it and watch it again. And then watch it again. And then watch it one more time, just to make sure. And then read the book, if you can find it. And then read the summary on Dominique Boies' jaw-droppingly comprehensive website. And then watch it again, but this time for fun.
The plot? There's this void, see. And this privateer. And.... oh, find out for yourself. I cannot, repeat cannot, recount the plot, or even the background to the plot, without slowing this website down so much you'd think someone had replaced your modem with an abacus. But it is testament to the quality of the production that such a complex, nay, poetic story (bear with me) is put forward so clearly and enjoyably.
The direction (by Paul Joyce, who I don't remember directing any others, sadly) is absolutely to die for; the best directed epsiode, to my mind, not directed by Graham Why-Didn't-He-Make-A-Movie Harper. Don't believe me? Laughing in my face? Calling me names? Then watch the last five minutes of episode three, you childish so-and-so. And try to stop your jaw from hitting the floor like a fleshy anvil. In fact, watch all three cliffhangers. Even the fairly formulaic look-out-Doctor-there's-a-bloke-in-a-suit-with-an-axe ending to part one is handled genuinely brilliantly. Oh yes. Oh, and the very start of episode one, a little journey through the privateer. Nothing happens, does it? Exactly. And the "Kilroy Was Here" grafitti is a good touch. Don't argue.
The acting's generally impeccable too, (Rorvik in particular is the essence of frustration and borderline insanity) although I'm not sure about David Weston's Biroc. Listen to his delivery of the "You shall be our Tiime Lorrrrd" line and you'll see what I mean. Mind you, it's not the best material he could have wanted. Possibly this is symptomatic of the only problem I have with the show: the ending is a little rushed. Romana and K9's departure seems almost tacked on, although of course it wasn't (K9 was broken all the way through... again, and Romana hinted at departure in episode one). It's much better in the book.
Anyway, the upshot is: Warriors' Gate is 100 minutes of time-sensitive leonine fun, with a bunch of grumpy robots thrown in. What? I forgot to mention them? Well, that's the problem with Steve Gallagher. There's just too much going on.
Shadows Flicker in the Void by Mike Morris 2/6/02
Let's just try and imagine the pitch. Let's try and imagine Steve Gallagher and Chris Bidmead hammering it out.
Gallagher: Well, er, it's a story about doing nothing. There's a race of hairy people who used to rule the galaxy because they knew how to do the right sort of nothing, only now they're being hunted by some slavers who all hang around their ship doing nothing. The Doctor and Romana get out of E-space by doing nothing, but for a while they're all trapped in a big white nothing which is vanishing away to nothing. It's a story about nothing.
Bidmead: Brilliant! Sounds gripping. Oh, and there's a sitcom called Seinfeld coming out in fifteen years which might suit you.
And here's the thing; while Warriors' Gate is, I think, genuinely a much-respected story, we don't quite trust it. Because this strange, beautiful slice of storytelling just should not work at all. Were it not for the fact that all performances are magnificent and that the direction is extraordinary, this could have been the biggest mess in Who history... a glance at Terminus shows how it could have ended up. It remains, well, largely incomprehensible. In the context of Who-as-popular-programming its inaccessibility is unforgivable. But Warriors' Gate transcends such concerns to become a genuine work of art, TV sci-fi unparalleled by any programme, a fabulist myth, a story that says nothing about our world but everything about human nature. Quite simply, if I had to bring a single Who story to a desert island this would probably be it.
Warriors' Gate is many things. It's "hard" SF, perhaps, but then its concepts are left so vague that it's almost a fantasy. In its killing off of the entire Privateer crew it has an unusual moral tone - even the likeable Robert Holmes-style characters of Aldo and Royce are not excused from the carnage. Another oft-ignored aspect of the story its Christian symbology - the microuniverse is essentially a Purgatory, a nothing between two worlds, which can only be left by understanding the secret of the (three-in-one) Way. Whether that's intentional is a moot point, but a look at the similarity between the Tharils and the story of the Jews in Exodus and one starts to wonder.
Not having read the novelisation I'm still hazy on the scientific basis for this story, but frankly I don't care. It's not surprising that many terms coined in this story have cropped up in NA's ad nauseam, Time Winds and Time Lines and the like... the only other story to be referenced in this way is a curious bedfellow, that Pertwee masterpiece that is The Time Monster.
Oddly, The Time Monster and Warriors' Gate are similar in many ways, in particular the scientific concepts underlying both tales. The talk of Time Lines and striations of the continuum appears to be similar to that magnificent piece of dialogue, that "Time isn't smooth... it's made up of little bits!" What's more, when wondering just what the white void is and how the ships are trapped there, they seem to be caught "between" the time lines - or, perhaps, that they're in "the gap between the now and the now". Warriors' Gate and The Time Monster; now there's a meeting of the sublime and the ridiculous. It goes further, too, in so far as the Tharils and the Chronovores are probably the only two races in Who to really have a special relationship with time, and yes, that includes the Time Lords.
The Tharils are an astonishing creation. Odd that we never saw them again, although perhaps that's because of their complexity. We're never told what their domain is or how indeed they throttle back-and-forth through time. Much speculation is that they're from E-Space. My own opinion is that their domain is actually in the "nowhere" between E-Space and N-Space, where time flows oddly (if you're outside space, time would presumably do funny things - as it does throughout the story) and hence they have evolved with their gifts. And those gifts are, um, well, it's sort of hard to explain actually. A bit like everything else. Suffice it to say that the Tharils are clearly powerful, and they're powerful in an odd way. Usually aliens-with-powers aren't so well realised. They're generally either all-powerful (Sutekh, Cronos, Fenric), or they're just humans with some little quirky ability like telepathy, shape-shifting or, most often, invulnerability to bullets. The Tharils are different; they're clearly not all-powerful but have numerous abilities - teleportation, healing, the vastness of space being no obstacle, forcing entry into the TARDIS... yet somehow we believe that all these powers are due to their evolution and their status as time-sensitives. It's rather like the plot - although not readily apparent it somehow conveys the idea that yes, there are rules, and they've been strictly applied even if they aren't explained.
This sense is, I think, central to the success of the story. It's a fitting end to the E-Space trilogy, as it's the only story to actually be about E-Space. It successfully conveys the grand, super-scientific, mythic folk-belief notion that our world is actually one of two, that another universe exists side by side with ours and that between these two is a limbo, a domain of strange and wonderful creatures. A few stories later Logopolis tried a similar trick, an equally mythic idea that creation is sustained by the chants of some monks in a "cold high place overlooking the universe" - but somehow Logopolis isn't as believable as Warriors' Gate is. There's a vastness to this story, because it seems to be telling us - in terms so beyond comprehension that they're utterly believable - just how the Doctor Who universe is put together.
It keeps almost making sense. Just when the viewer thinks he's pinned it down it moves away again. Just where are those monochromatic gardens, and how do they lead back to the banqueting hall? How does Biroc seem to exist in both time zones? What is the gateway anyway? And what's all this stuff about determinism? It's the fact that these questions are unanswered that makes the answers so believable.
And, in this huge world, a simple little moral tale unfolds. Against the pristine whiteness of the void, we meet some grubby little humans with grubby concerns. They're slavers, villains, and - brilliantly - utterly banal ones.
Warriors' Gate shows the power of dehumanisation. The crew, who are by and large a fairly likeable bunch, commit the acts they do because they have effectively convinced themselves that the Tharil are commodities and not people. Although Aldo and Royce and Lane and Packard are nice enough in their own way, they're united in mirth at the Doctor's concern for those "poor creatures" because to them that's a na?e way of thinking. This is what makes them the bigots and monsters they are; the dehumanisation that lies close to the heart of what all prejudice is about. Slavery was justified by spreading the belief that black people were subhuman. Homophobia comes from people thinking that gays and lesbians are, somehow, "disgusting". The hideous conditions of the industrial revolution were justified amongst the rich by saying that the working classes were dirty and they smell. Hitler justified the Final Solution by saying that Jews were "vermin". By dehumanising people in this way, mass oppression becomes possible; and the thoughtless cruelty of the crew stems from the way that they view Biroc as an object. The crew's villainy is made nasty by the fact that, if Tharils really existed on earth, we'd be hunting them in a shot and telling ourselves they were only dumb animals. If you don't believe me, go watch a spot of fox-hunting or hare-coursing.
Similarly, the crew tell us about bullying and about power. The hierarchy is so clear, and it's so accurate the way that Rorik bullies Packard, who in turn bullies Lane, who in turn bullies Aldo and Royce. We see the way that this behaviour runs in cycles - Sagan, who is generally mocked as an incompetent right throughout the story, is asked to revive a few Tharils and suddenly develops a sadistic streak. His death is maybe the most disturbing death scene in Who, and it should be, as in the revival scene he becomes a symbol of all the bad qualities that the crew possess.
The ship is then blown sky high. No excuses; no survivors. Not even Aldo and Royce, bumbling fools who would usually survive a Who story. But Aldo and Royce are no better, really; their bumbling revival of a Tharil in Part Two is amusing, but this humour disguises the fact that someone is suffering in front of them and they don't really care. Gallagher says clearly that these people, all these people, are guilty and wrong. The reward for their cowardice is death.
It's a shocking ending, flawlessly realised. Then again, almost everything in Warriors' Gate is flawlessly realised. It's been said a thousand times that the direction is great, and that this serial is visually astonishing... yeah, we know. But what's amazing is that this is still, well, sci-fi on a shoestring. Warriors' Gate's budget is not particularly big. The Gundan's armour and axes are obviously plastic, the corridors around the banqueting hall are stone painted onto hardboard, the modelwork isn't conspicuously great and the forced perspective backdrops in the Tharil's ship wouldn't fool anyone. The visual sumptuousness doesn't come from any extra money, but invention. The ship's interior is just the usual blank walls and gantries, really; the invention comes from splitting it into two levels, using the studio lights in-shot, panning along corridors to show us the full extent of the set. The doors still wobble, but it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter, either, that the coin that stops in mid-air is in fact a pixelated blob, the sheer invention of the shot carries it through. There's a care to the details, too; the mirror scenes are beautifully shot, and the touches - such as the quiet, creepy incidental noise in any of the scenes in the void, the framed shot of the half-silhouetted ship as it moves, the bravery of the monochrome gardens (which, let's not forget, would have been cheaper than going on location). There's really only two main sets - the banquet and the ship - and these are prioritised and realised flawlessly.
All this is symptomatic of the way that Paul Joyce knew what this story was about. He understood the script and his vision, one suspects, is close to Gallagher's. The oft-derided Terminus is a flipside of the coin... ideas are similarly mythic, there's the same blend of hard SF and fantasy-ideas, and things operate on the same large scale. The scale of Terminus, though, is hijacked and offset by the silliness and smallness of the Black Guardian plot, and then by the functional direction that doesn't get the scale of Terminus across. Warriors' Gate has no such troubles... if one were to tweak the E-Space idea slightly the thing would stand utterly alone.
Oh, did I mention that all the performances are magnificent? Did I say that Tom Baker gives one of his greatest performances ever? Well they are and he does. This is another Doctor entirely, confused and trying to understand, thoughtful and lost and utterly heroic. For all his brilliant scenes ("this is no way to run an empire!" he says, a simple statement made memorable by the conviction behind it), and there are many, one in particular sticks with me; the scene where Biroc tells him that "you are where you were," and the Doctor finally understands the nature of this place.
Other things that deserves a mention; the utter magnificence of Part Three's climax, Romana's leaving scene, Lane's hilarious facial comedy, "I'm finally getting something done," the cup, the last line, the scene where Romana examines Lazlo's face, Romana first meeting the crew, Tom Baker talking with Biroc while time stands still, "I usually get on so well with machines," the deceptively tangential nature of the Doctor's presence, "step up another twenty-five... that's ninety-five," the... the... oh, it's rather hard to exclude a damn thing.
Is Warriors' Gate the greatest ever Doctor Who story? No. Indeed, within the context of Who its inaccessibility could lead one to argue that it's one of the worst. Warriors' Gate transcends Doctor Who. It's incomparable to anything else, and as such it can't be rated, only appreciated. What I've just written only underlines the stories brilliance, because all these words later I don't think I can express what makes this piece of art so good. We wonder what the story's about, but this misses the point. Warriors' Gate is not about things. It is things.
Beautiful, haunting, terrifying, huge. Everyone should see this.
Real sci-fi by Tim Roll-Pickering 21/11/02
After a couple of stories which have mentioned E-Space as more of a backdrop than anything else the series comes to one of the most overtly scif-fi stories the series has yet seen. Steve Gallagher's script is full of thought and ideas and whilst it may seem confusing at first, the logic behind the events eventually becomes clear. Warriors' Gate is not a tale for those who like all out action adventures but rather those who enjoy a story that works on many different levels and actually dares to challenge preconceptions through its use of time in the story. The slips in time that occur do make sense, as does the wider concept of the void.
What makes this tale really stand out is the way that Gallagher has fleshed out virtually every element rather than resorting to mere stereotypes. Rorvik and his crew are a good example. Far from the traditional tyrant captain and faceless followers that many writers would have resorted to, we instead get a captain who fluctuates throughout the story due to internal uncertainties and then goes insane at the end, whilst the crew are fleshed out well, as shown by the attention given to Packard and especially to Aldo and Royce. These two are wonderfully constructed and a reminder of how ordinary people exist throughout the universe. Similarly the entire concept of the gateway as a bridge between E-Space and N-Space is logical, completely thought through and adds an extra touch to the wider loose trilogy since the Doctor must face events before he can escape E-Space and be free. And then we get the Tharils, a former race of tyrants who have now repented. Their desire to be free is a straightforward one and it gives Romana a good cause as she leaves the Doctor to pursue her own course.
For her last story Lalla Ward gives as strong a performance as ever, complementing Tom Baker's performance quite well. Romana has often been written as a female version of the Doctor so the idea of her going off in her own TARDIS (once built) with a robotic dog/computer by her side is highly appropriate and far better than the suggestions that she would be returned to Gallifrey and forced back into a life of boredom that earlier stories have hinted at. Like the Doctor she has now found her freedom. Tom Baker gives a good performance but Matthew Waterhouse's role as Adric suffers since he has been given virtually nothing to do in the story at all.
K9 also departs in this story. Ever since the character's introduction it has been a mixed blessing, all too often being used as little more than comic relief and/or a mobile blaster or alternatively being used to make problem solving far too easy. It is a sign of the changing times that K9 is no longer needed.
The production values of this story are good, especially given its highly surreal nature. It is meant to be a white nothingness and it does come across as that, whilst the shots of various characters behind the mirror against black and white images of a stately home work equally well, though a few of the actual sets briefly seen on that side do show a little too much colour to give the game away. Modern technology could easily correct this though back in 1981 this was the best achievable. The modelwork is good as well, as are the costumes. The video effects are especially good for the technology of the day, though how the story would look given modern effects such as CGI one can only wonder. Above all Warriors' Gate is an exceptionally strong 'real sci-fi' tale that makes a fine exit story for Lalla Ward and shows how diverse the is, even in its eighteenth season. 10/10
"No more Orders, Doctor" by Terrence Keenan 25/4/03
Warrior's Gate is the most complex story in Who history. And yet the basic idea is simple. The TARDIS lands in the gateway between E-Space and N-Space, brought there by Biroc, a Tharil, whose people are held in bondage by human slavers. The Doctor and Adric are returned to N-Space by the foolish action of Rorvik, the Captain of the slaver ship, while Romana leaves with K9 to help free other Tharils in E-Space.
The theme for Warrior's Gate is choice, and the consequences for the choices made. The Tharils are enslaved by the very humans they had as slaves. Rorvik's repeated attempts to break through the mirror end up destroying him, his crew and his ship. Romana chooses to leave the Doctor to help Biroc free other Tharils. Adric flips a coin in the zero coordinates universe to find his way around.
There's also a banality to the villainy of the Slaver crew. As Rorvik goes insane in his desire to escape the void, the crew is more concerned about their bonuses and their lunch. Aldo and Royce seem to be interested in doing as little as possible. Packard is sometimes a voice of reason, yet he treats K9 with utter contempt. Sagan blows through many of the Tharils in an attempt to revive them, even though he knows it won't work. In general, the crew of the slaver ship is desperate to leave the void and get their cargo to its destination.
Acting all around is excellent, with everyone holding their own. The star of the show is Lalla Ward. In her farewell performance as Romana, she is astounding -- funny, angry, righteous, sad, gorgeous, adorable... whoops, sorry; got carried away. Anyhoo, from her little squabble with the Doctor, to her first meeting with Rorvik and the slavers, to her interaction with the Tharils, Lalla Ward is amazingly good. Big Tommy B is in the background, but as usual, shines in his moments. The good-bye scene is wonderfully underplayed (almost as good as Hand of Fear), and I always get a kick out how he says at the very end, "She'll be superb." Matthew Waterhouse doesn't have much to do as Adric, but he's solid enough in his scenes. The other top performer in Warrior's Gate is Clifford Rose as Rorvik: his madness, escalated over four episodes, is all too believable and frightening.
Warrior's Gate is a very special, very complex, very (and I do mean very) good slice of Who. It's about time you popped a copy into your VCR and watched it, innit?
‘It has a certain… legendary quality’ by Will Berridge 28/5/03
Warrior’s Gate is probably only my second favourite story in DW, a triumph of storytelling and design which utilises humour in a masterly fashion. (The other is Curse of Fenric. What? My two favourite stories are both from the 80’s? Heresy! But then I am of the post-89 viewing generation.) I considered going through it episode by episode and cataloguing each part that really turned me on, but this was be tantamount to writing another novelisation of it.
Tom Baker, despite his natural flamboyance being played down by the current product team, still has the odd inspired moment, especially the overflowing cup moment and the contempt he manages to work into ‘this is no way to run an empire’. But for once it’s not really because of the Doctor the story shines. For once we have a companion who isn’t just there to require rescuing and scream wimpishly (I didn’t think her scream at the end of episode 2 was wimpish. Listen to Jo Grant- there you have a wimpish scream.) In fact, when she is rescued by Adric, she just wants to go straight back to the freighter - exactly as the Doctor would do. And I think her leaving scene is virtually the only one in the show that moves me that much, all the more dramatic for being short and sweet, with the Doctor’s final melancholy cry of ‘you were the noblest Romana of them all!’ resounding in the emptiness of the void as Roman disappears off to the gateway. She also gets some terrific dialogue as she, Doctorishly, distracts the slaver crew by philosophising outside the TARDIS, and one hilariously bad piece of dialogue ‘the backblast backlash’ll bounce back and… DESTROY EVERYTHING!’ Oh I just had to mention it. Perhaps, in hindsight, trying to heighten the dramatic tension with a tongue-twister was not the best of ideas.
The other regulars, Adric and K9, probably have better stories than usual. In Adric’s case, this is largely because he’s not in it much (when all a character does is repeat what another said - ‘perhaps they have compatible memory waifers’ you know the writer’s struggling to work them in). He does however, get just about his one good moment… well, ever… threatening the slavers with the MZ, cheekily telling them ‘I don’t know what these levers do… but it’s pointing in your direction.’ I also refute the notion that K9 goes out with a bit of a whimper just because he doesn’t zap anyone. He has a beautiful poetic moment quoting the I Ching as the Tardis passes into the void, which gives me a kick every time I watch it. He seems to be struggling for his, erm… continued functioning, throughout the entire story, and his valiant attempts to battle past this (‘But are you up to it K9?’ ‘Question irrelevant! This unit will function at practical optimum!’) and warn everyone about the vanishing give him quite a bit of character for a tin dog.
The rest of the cast is largely constituted by the slaver crew, all of whom are subtly comedic characters, Lane being the most brilliant of all in this respect. His comic timing of lines like ‘It doesn’t …have an automatic’ and ‘There’s a man sized hole you could walk right through. In fact, I just did!’ is simply inspired. I also love his helpless and flustered incompetence when he’s not quite sure how to deal with the situations of (a) Biroc escaping and walking straight past him (b) Romana escaping and most of the work recapturing her being done by Packard. Packard himself exudes an air of general apathy and disinterest towards the whole thing, as if he can’t see what Rorvik’s getting so worked up about. This applies to a lesser extent to the rest of the crew, and contrasts brilliantly with Rorvik who’s visibly having a nervous breakdown whilst they sit and eat their lunches, happily ignoring him.
DW Villains are of course generally noted for their unstable mental condition, but it’s rare that we see the process of someone’s personality disintegrating portrayed so carefully throughout an adventure. From his consternation as he can’t force Biroc to guide the ship into N-Space, to his desperation at the ‘and the secret of the gateway is…’ moment. From his infuriation as he fails to accept that there isn’t a way past the mirrors, to the soliloquy he delivers before his final descent into insanity, proclaiming ‘This is the end for all of you! I’m finally getting something done! Ahahahahahahahahahaha!’ And we thought Basil Fawlty was tragic.
Now to the plot. There’s just a few things I don’t understand. Well, quite a lot of things actually:
Which reminds me, the Gundans are great monsters, swinging their blades in deathly arcs. Well, it's quite easy to do with plaggy axes. Their deep, resounding voices as they tell the Doc all that stuff about the gateway add to the semi-legendary feel.
So, at the end of the day, in the final analysis, when the chips are down, this story is absolutely wonderfully superfluously wonderfully superfluous, brilliant, and wonderful. So there. 10/10
Life in the void... by Joe Ford 3/4/04
This is a jarring mixture of the frivolous and the enthralling and I can't for the life of me figure out if it is any good at all. Certain aspects are extraordinary, no questions asked but there is nothing in the entire Doctor Who canon to compare this against, nothing in SF fiction or the movies that comes this close to breaking all the rules and forging its own distinct identity. For a four part serial from a quaint old SF show that is quite a statement and further proof that the show was in good hands during its eighteenth year. This story more than other proved there were still original stories to be told in the Doctor Who mould.
All I can say is thank God Simon was watching it with me, his analytical brain was perfect at dissecting the story and explaining the fractured plot to me. However even he was stumped come episode four where we swapped theories back and forth. This is probably the most re-watchable Doctor Who story because, frankly, it demands it. To understand this story you have to give it a good few run throughs and concentrate hard.
Its not the actual plot that complicates matters, it is the ideas. There are loads of them vying for attention in Stephen Gallagher's script and half of them are merely hinted at rather than explained in any reasonable manner. These brilliant, imaginative concepts, the Gateway between universes, the time sensitive Tharils, contracting space causing time shifts, they help to fill up a story that refuses to mould into anything a Doctor Who fan would recognise. What with the Doctor and co trying to escape E-space it is a relief to have a reason for them to be involved in a story rather than the usual haphazard unpredictable landing. The story has to be told to allow our characters back in into normal space, it is one that is essential at this point in the season.
But it isn't just the urgent nature of events that gives the story its unique feel; it is the very atmosphere and writing. There are no monsters, no corridor wandering, no stupid companions (well Adric's there but he is fairly harmless), no tack or cheapness... instead the story is filled with science, witty lines, real characters (Rovik's crew is more like you and me than you will ever like to admit), stunning direction and some very complicated ideas. In some respects it is too good to be Doctor Who, too experimental and daring for the show and in other respects it pushes things too far (some horrid torture scenes, some scenes where the direction pushes its luck such as the tongue in cheek clipboard slapping bit) and as a result it is one of the most compulsive stories, fascinating to watch simply because it is so different.
Let's start with the GOOD stuff. Namely the direction which is possibly one of the most stylish takes in the show's entire run and far too good for what the show is (an entertaining family show). Paul Royce is pushing boundaries, ensuring that the format breaking script is given equal, if not more, abnormal direction. Had the scale been a little bigger the opening pan through Rorvik's ship could be straight out of a chilling SF film, the attention to detail is astonishing and the camera never stops until it reaches the first line of dialogue. It would be impressive for a director to rest at this but Joyce never stops giving, mixing adequate electronic effects with his brilliant camerawork to create a disorienting feel. I love the scene where the coin freezes mid air, only to drop in slow motion, or the close-up on Biroc's eye to reveal the TARDIS... so much of this story is told with images it is nice to say that the budget is more than up supporting such a brave venture. There are numerous impressive special effects, the pan across the void that encompasses the ship, the TARDIS and the gateway, the laser bolt that reflects from the mirror, Biroc's slow-motion entry into the TARDIS, Romana vanishing from the ship and appearing in the void and the ingeneous monochrome gardens that threatens to look tacky until you see Tom Baker in full colour strolling through them.
Joyce ensures all the cliffhangers are given a heavy lead-in so that the punch line delivers one hell of a shock. I think episode three is my favourite, simply because it is so disorienting. Seeing the Doctor enjoying the luxury of the Tharils only for the Gundans to come bursting in all their robotic glory... only for the scene to time shift and the Doctor and Romana suddenly in the cobwebby, emaciated room... it is everything great television should be, appealing to all our senses being both visually stunning and intellectually stimulating. Not to diminish the effect of the climax of the first two episodes, which are striking too, especially the POV pan through the ship towards Romana through the eyes of a tortured and thoroughly pissed Tharil.
The only places where Royce fails is in his comedy. Some moments are gloriously funny; Packard tossing K9 from the ship is perfectly timed and the look on Tom Baker's face as he backs away from the crew behind the MZ is screamingly funny. But all too often the performances lapse into farce, Kenneth Cope and David Kincaid being the worst offenders, never taking the material entirely seriously (which the story is, despite their characters' occasionally stupid moments). The aforementioned clipboard scene is embarrassingly weak and some of Rorvik's addresses to his crew lack any kind of humour despite the fact they are supposed to be hilarious. <>The love story had to come to an end sooner or later and the Doctor and Romana depart in the most magical of ways in Warriors' Gate, spontaneously, the only way it could have been. Nobody wanted Romana to go, such was the chemistry between Tom and Lalla but it had to happen and the thought of Romana being her own 'Doctor' in E-space, helping to rescue all the enslaved Tharils is a marvellous idea. All this was well fore-shadowed in Full Circle with her summons back to Gallifrey so it never feels forced and their brief but perfect departure says more than a lengthy goodbye sequence ever could ("All right? She'll be superb!").
It seems so bizarre to see Tom underplaying the Doctor to this extent but this is a story that refuses to let him play the clown. The Doctor has rarely seemed as impotent as he does here, desperate to be free of N-space and clutching at hints and suggestions as to how that might be possible. The feeling of entropy has reached into the series, the Doctor is looking tired, the console a rackety mess and his two favourite companions are finally saying goodbye... Logopolis must be just around the corner.
I love how unpredictable the story is; just when you think you have it sorted in your head another obstacle is thrown in the way. Who would have ever thought a race could force their way into the TARDIS? Or that the Tharils used to be such merciless aggressors? It comes a real shock when you realise that K9's babbling throughout the story has not been just for comic effect but the actual crux of the entire tale! Even smaller moments surprise such as the graphic and well-deserved death of Sagan who is electrocuted by one of the Tharils after he has killed a handful of their race. It's a story that delights in breaking the rules... who would have ever thought that the answer would be to do NOTHING!
Reading this you can tell that I swing towards the positive but I could fully understand if somebody hated Warriors' Gate. It has no likable characters, Rorvik's crew are all callous and lazy, the Tharils are old corruptors and the Doctor and Romana are remarkably aloof (plus there is Adric...) and the conflict between them makes them even less so. Rorvik is a wonderfully over the top parody of all those work obsessed leaders, very funny but he is the least likable of the lot. And the story is refuses to gel into an easily watchable whole, I could imagine a non-fan tuning into this and getting completely lost in five minutes. Brave yes, compellingly so, but also letting down the core audience of the family. I expect a ten-year would be bored to tears despite some good frights.
The best thing you can say about Christopher H Bidmead was that he took hold of a fledging series and beat it back into shape. After three years of non-stop comedy it was like a slap in the fact to be confronted with such powerful drama and hard science. It was a new avenue for Doctor Who to tap into and he wasted no time in adjusting the audience, they had accept the changes or bugger off. Season eighteen is the ultimate expression of the show's limitless format; it stands alone as one of the best years of the show. Gorgeous to look at, genuinely witty, full of strong scientific ideas, each script with a solid plot and a vastly different feel for each of them. And Warriors' Gate is the season's heart, poles apart from anything we have seen before and anything we'll see again.
I'll tell you what Warriors' Gate reminds me of... BBC books' The Last Resort, because that like this is the ultimate expression of the atmosphere and ideas being explored at the time. Because both stories could not be told at any other point in the series' history. Because they are both format-breakers. And because I think they are both utterly fab.
Once Upon A Time Wind by Daniel Saunders 31/10/05
Warriors' Gate has reputation for being complicated and confusing. Watching it is like trying to hold water in your hands; it keeps slipping away. It is often examined as if it was an allegory, but this is not the case. Nothing in the story corresponds to particular things and people in real life. It is certainly not full of detailed symbolism which the viewer needs to decode to understand it correctly. It is often placed together with Kinda as examples of complex stories, but comparison of the two is useful more for showing differences in approach than similarities. Kinda presents a clear set of images to act as keys to unlock the deeper meaning. For example, the Biblical imagery of the jungle, snake and apples indicate that it is a story about the source of good and evil. Having discovered that, the deeper religious and psychological points being made (the "meaning") can be found by a viewer who now knows what to look for. There are plenty of memorable images in Warriors' Gate, but they do not point the viewer in the direction of an argument being presented by the author.
The most obvious of these images hint that the story is trying to examine determinism and chance. The I Ching is discussed, Royce and Aldo alleviate boredom by betting and the Doctor and Adric try to navigate by chance, pressing buttons at random and tossing coins. However, there are not enough references to establish this theme through imagery and symbolism alone (again, compare with the clear allegorical symbols in Kinda), nor are they brought together in the narrative to make a point, perhaps due to all the problems during the writing and production. There are not really enough of them for us to tell even what type of argument might be made using them, let alone what the author thinks about them. Chance seems to "work" as a way of solving problems, but it isn't clear whether this is supposed to "prove" or "disprove" determinism. Chance might work because it shows people how to do what they have to do, as the use of the I Ching, a method of divination, might imply. However, it might work because it lets people to break free of destiny by adding a random element. The first TARDIS scene in particular suggests this, reinforced by the fact that the I Ching is not just about telling the future, but also about finding novel solutions to problems by encouraging lateral thinking. The story ends with the Doctor declaring the answer to be to do nothing "if it's the right kind of nothing", a deterministic outcome, but one that is not tied up clearly with the earlier ideas about determinism. In any case, an argument along rigidly deterministic lines would encourage fatalism, which is not the implication of the end of the story, in which Romana, K9 and Biroc go off to free the Tharils (i.e. to do something proactive to change a situation). Nor does this vagueness feel deliberate, as if the author was putting out a variety of views in his fiction to encourage the viewer to think about determinism in reality and without reference to the story, again because there are too few references, most of them being confined to the first few scenes. This ought to be confusing. The attentive viewer starts looking for imagery and plot points concerning chance, but can't find many. Instead, there are simply a series of striking and memorable images. This means that in some ways it becomes better than it would have been with a fully developed symbolic system, as the viewer just watches it without constantly trying to decode every image.
The other reason Warriors' Gate might be considered complicated is its plot. In many ways this is not very complicated, but several elements are not explained in the dialogue and a lot of the exposition is hurried through very quickly. The first scene of part four contains much important information, yet the cast speed through it, perhaps to give it a sense of urgency, or just because those involved hated technobabble about dwarf star alloy and collapsing micro-universes. Aside from this, the real problem is that there is no explanation of the how the elements here "literally" fit together with each other and the Doctor Who universe as seen in other stories, perhaps due to the story's troubled creation again. What are the time winds? How can you ride them? How do the mirrors work? This may actually bother fans more than casual viewers, who probably do not worry about this so much, although there is no way of knowing for sure (Warriors' Gate got the highest ratings of season eighteen, but it's very difficult to get meaningful information out of viewing figures). Nevertheless, somehow when watching the story it all seems to make sense at some level, even if it is impossible to express in words what everything means.
The most important factor in making the story intelligible without these explanations is that it obeys the old adage of "show, don't tell". The screen is filled with beautiful and memorable images that help to tell the story (although how much this was due to author Steve Gallagher or director Paul Joyce is a subject of much debate - see what I mean about the story's troubled production!). Biroc is clearly doing something odd with time because he leaves strange afterimages and looks blurred and out of phase with everyone else. When I look at the scenes of three-dimensional colour characters walking in two-dimensional monochrome photographs of a stately home, I can "feel" what I'm being told about the nature of the Tharil's domain, even though I can't express it in words. The areas where the story takes place also tell the story visually: the dilapidated ship, stranded in the void; the opulent banquet during the height of the Tharil's empire and the cobwebbed detritus after its fall. These help the viewer to understand what is happening much more than the vague explanations in the dialogue. Unlike virtually every other Doctor Who story, Warriors' Gate makes more sense once you stop listening for dialogue explanations and start concentrating on the visuals.
The other reason that the story makes sense is that the characters are understandable and realistic. This means that their interaction with each other is intelligible, even if their interaction with their environment is not. The crew of the freighter are very human. They don't want to rule the universe, they just want to go home. They would rather eat their lunch than listen to Rorvik's plan. They make jokes. They also transport slaves for a living and are quite willing to kill them in an effort to break out of the void. This makes their villainy all the more disturbing. They are like us, so how much are we like them? This is most obvious in the use of humour. The fact that we laugh at their jokes involves us with them directly. This is even more the case when we laugh at their mistakes. The crew has a rigid hierarchy and every character orders his subordinates about and gets exasperated when they make mistakes. We watch all of them and laugh at all of them, from Rorvik trying to keep his crew's attention at lunch to Royce and Aldo moaning about being overworked. This has the effect of placing us at the top of the hierarchy of cruelty, a fact that is disturbing and thought-provoking. 'The banality of evil' has become a clich? but it fits these characters perfectly. It is difficult to think of a better phrase to describing Rorvik's last speech, which is not "Nothing in the world can stop me now!" or "You are all doomed!" but simply "I'm finally getting something done!" Although discussion of the themes of Warriors' Gate usually centres on determinism and chance, I would argue that looking at the story as a whole, rather than seizing on largely undeveloped imagery and symbolism, the story is about the banality of evil, although it is subtle enough not to spell out a moral in the style of a fable and expresses the theme through the story itself, not through a layer of symbols on the surface.
At its heart, this story is a fairy tale of strange events and good triumphing over evil. Because of this the viewer can accept the "wonderful" (in the sense of things that evoke wonder, surprise and awe) elements for their own sake and wallow in the beauty of the images, sounds and music and the quality of the performances and dialogue.
The Best Story of Season Eighteen by Jonathan Middleton 27/1/06
Warriors' Gate continues the brilliance of season 18. Managing to put in an experimental story from a real Sci-Fi author and by real I don't mean someone who was totally useless as script editor and should have written for the programme like Steven Gallagher, the writer of this story.
The regulars are on fine form. Tom Baker continues his magnificent season 18 performances and manages to show the Doctor's amazement and moral anger at Rorvik and his crew. Lalla Ward impresses in her swansong, showing a determination to help the Tharils and manages to baffle the crew without descending into farce. Matthew Waterhouse delivers a competent, if not spectacular, performance and doesn't actually have much to do with this story. John Leeson delivers a decent performance. K-9 is no where near as irritating as he was in previous seasons, leaving with Romana and the show finally gets rid of the stupid thing without blowing it up (damm) as Romana leaves to help people, like Susan, Steven and Nyssa did.
Now onto Warriors' Gate. When I received this for my birthday last year from Amazon, along with State of Decay and Full Circle, I decided to watch this second after State Of Decay which I'd been dying to see after watching clips of it on the Peter Moffat documentary. Anyway when I first watched I thought "well, this is interesting".
So what makes Warriors' Gate so great? Well for one thing, the direction which is superb, thanks to Paul Joyce. I won't go into too much detail, all I'm going to say is this is brilliant. Particular mention must go to the opening shot where it's almost as if you're walking to the bridge. The shot into Biroc's eye almost with the wire-frame TARDIS, the cliffhanger to part one and of course the coin in part one, plus nmerous other shots I could mention. In fact I believe Graeme Harper had something to do with some of the shots as he was the PA and took over from Joyce on some shots and it is a pity Joyce never worked on the show again (although that may be because he caused a lot of tension on set by shooting it in a cinematic way).
The second thing is Rorvik's crew. Instead of an evil tyrant with faceless minions or a load of badly-acted buffoons (see Meglos or The Creature from the Pit), we get slavers whose primary aim is to make money not conquer the universe or brutally rule a planet. That's what makes them so good: they aren't overtly evil, they've just become brutalised because of their jobs, as exemplified when Rorvik says "poor creatures". In all of the crew's eyes the Tharils are nothing but cargo; an attitude adopted by slave traders over the years. Furthermore, like all workplaces, the workers have arguments, belittle and bully each other. The crew are also well characterised: we have Aldo and Royce, two bumbling fools who try to do as little work as possible but they are just as nasty as Rorvik. It's their bumbling that severely burns Lazlo and they're only concerned that they're not going to get their bonuses and that they've damaged cargo not that they've severely injured a fellow lifeform. They show no remorse when in part four they get out of work only to drink coffee instead of showing concern over the screaming they just talk. Freddie Earle and Harry Waters play their roles well, showing perfect comic timing. The other two I'll mention are Packard and Lane. I don't get Joe Ford's comments in his review that Kenneth Cope and David Kincaid allow the roles to descend into farce at all. Cope with his world weary cynicism and who is prepared to argue with Rorvik and just wants to get his bonus; Lane is too stupid to actually care. Lane's bafflement and confusion are well played by Kincaid. Sagan on the other hand is the most sadistic of the group; he takes clear pleasure in inflicting pain and his death is nicely played as he is horrified that mere cargo could threaten him.
The effects and model work are excellent: the scenes where the Doctor and Biroc go through the mirrors looks simply breathtaking, with the use of black and white photos and the actors on a blue screen. A simple tactic, as with the excellent model work of Rorvik's ship and the gateway, the white background used to great effect as inspired by The Mind Robber and looks absolutely wonderful.
The design is superb the sets of Rorvik's ship is brilliant with a stark industrial look and some superb sets, from the shiny metal corridors and the computers to the superb gateway set, with its musty ruined look and rusty plates to the opulence of the Tharils before the Gundans came. The lighting too is extremely effective; the stark blue lighting in the tharil holding room is the highlight. The Tharils are particularly amazing with their lionised faces and simple costumes and come across as downtrodden slaves, with Lazlo's burnt face looking quite effective. David Weston puts an excellent performance as Biroc and considering he is the only Tharil who gets any lines, he does a good job of representing their species and I would like to see them in the new series. Another thing about the Tharils is that they themselves treated the humans as mere slaves but unlike the humans they learnt from their mistakes and truly wish to repent for what they did. The Gundans are also well realised with their metallic designs and crescent moons on their heads and axes. Robert Vowles does a fairly impressive job voicing them.
Peter Howell does an impressive job with the music his score is simply superb, being genuinely creepy and tension-inducing, ranging from strong action music to mystical music and backs up my view that the 1980s had some brilliant composers (with the exception of Deaf McCulloch) and comes across as the second best composer behind Mark Ayres.
This story proves once and for all why season eighteen is a brilliant season and should be commended as an intelligent, well-written story with dazzling effects, direction, cracking dialogue and excellent plot. Despite that, certain individuals have stabbed season eighteen in the back and betrayed it and I sincerely hope that this review will make them realise their error. Any criticism that this story is style over substance is a slanderous lie by Graham Williams' era fans that are jealous of this story greatness and will hopefully be released on DVD.
A Review by Kathy Stuart 3/3/09
I think I'd have to say, firstly, that Warriors' Gate is my new favourite Doctor Who story. It's wonderfully surreal, and the plot is vastly richer than anything I've seen before. I'm still not entirely certain whose side I was meant to be on; neither the humans nor the Tharils are completely villains, but neither are either of them completely sympathetic.
This is one of the ways in which it plays with your expectations. The Tharil initially seem to be innocent victims: a peaceful species enslaved by humans for their abilities. But then it turns out that they once had an empire of their own, and kept humans as slaves. And it seems that they were in control of the story from the start: Biroc piloted the ship to the gateway, where they could escape, possibly brought the TARDIS there so that Romana could stay and help them (which must have been planned from the start; he says that K9 will go through the mirrors "when they time is right"). Biroc repeatedly tells the Doctor to "do nothing", which is exactly what he ends up doing. He doesn't succeed in saving the crew of the ship, and he uses the explosion that was (presumably) planned by the Tharil to escape.
The human characters aren't used in the way one would expect either. Warriors' Gate isn't the only Doctor Who story to feature humans doing bad things. But in most similar stories, some of them survives, having been saved from themselves by the Doctor, and having learned the error of their ways. This doesn't happen to the crew in Warriors' Gate; they're all killed, despite the Doctor's attempts to save them (and this was obviously exactly what the Tharil intended to happen).
All of this makes Warriors' Gate quite strikingly different from any other story I've seen, as do the wonderfully surreal sequences behind the mirrors. My favourite part of that was the cutting back and forth between the cobwebby, haunted house room, and the dining Tharil in the past, accompanied by the axe hitting the table; the first time you see it, it hasn't happened yet, so it seems very odd. But then again, it happened in the past, so it has happened...
It's also one of very few stories in which the low-budget, 80s effects actually work, both because it often adds to the bizarreness, and because it tends to result in things being much simpler, like the white void, which looks fantastic, and very eerie.
Many parts of the story are quite brilliantly underplayed. The Gundan robots, for example; after the first scene in which they attack the Doctor, they do very little. Which is only fitting; partly because they would be (and are) too old to be very effective, and partly because they belong to the story's past, which isn't expanded on. We aren't told exactly where the Tharil Empire was, and how the universe managed to be their "garden"; just that it was, and that's really all we need to know for the story to work. Likewise, we aren't told what "MZ" stands for, just that it's a very powerful weapon - because there's never any need to know.
As well as all this, there were numerous other smaller details that I loved: the spaceship, for example, which has graffiti on the walls inside, and looks almost alive from the outside; like a predator about to pounce (which I refuse to believe wasn't deliberate). Aldo and Royce are an amusing double-act, and again, it's very hard to tell where they stand. They're very real characters, who sit around and gamble, and eat pickles, and are obviously afraid of their bizarre situation... but they also sit and calmly drink tea while the Tharil's scream in agony in the next room. It is, however, still hard not to feel sympathy for the crew, and their particularly brutal fate.
The first episode cliffhanger is one of the best I've ever seen, and marks the first time I've ever been genuinely frightened by Classic Who, even though I knew exactly what was coming (the "suits of armour" were so clearly going to come to life). All the references to how the void is contracting are also very sinister (despite looking like a huge space, it becomes increasingly claustrophobic), as is the shot of the Tharils calmly leaving the wreck of the spaceship.
Watching this story (as well as the rest of the E-Space trilogy) also made me realise just how much Adric's character was derailed in later episodes. In Warriors' Gate, the worst that could be said is that he's mildly irritating. And at best, he's quite loveable.
I didn't completely understand Warriors' Gate when I was watching it; there were bits I didn't get until later, and a few points I'm still not clear on. Biroc's line about how the human slaves are "only people", for example, had me going "huh?". It seemed rather badly scripted; after all, the Tharils would see themselves as people, not their slaves. But then it occurred to me that Biroc is subtly telling the Doctor that he's learned that they were wrong to keep slaves, and that the humans are just as wrong in what they're doing.
I'm also till trying to figure out how the references to the I Ching fit into the rest of the story (which I assume they do), along with the coin-tossing. I think it might be something to do with chance (like the Doctor's random button pressing), and the fact that they're between two dimensions (which are often seen to be created by things like tossing coins); whatever it is, it feels very appropriate. But I have no idea what they meant by "There are three physical gateways and the three are one". We only ever see one gateway. Presumably, there's a lot more going on in that castle than what we see.
I also really liked the design of the Tharils, and Romana's shirt, both of which are rather minor details... There's probably much more that I could talk about here (determinism, entropy, slavery).
It's totally different from any other Doctor Who story I've seen (and certainly not something I'd want to watch with children). And, as I said, it's wonderful. I've never been so enthralled by a story before. I loved every minute of it.
A Review by Michael Bayliss 21/7/09
Season 18, when repeated on the ABC back '91 way, was my first childhood experience to Doctor Who and it has left me with many nostalgic sentiments and many vivid and lingering visuals. Revisiting fond childhood memories can often be a severe anticlimax; for example, I cannot, on revising the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle cartoons, appreciate why I was such a rabid fan of them as a kid (the plot holes make the show to painful to watch as an adult.) To a far less painful extent, I revisited other season 18 staples recently (Lesuire Hive, Traken, Logopolis) and only the latter has remained as magical as I remembered it.
Warriors' Gate left me with the most vivid memories from the time, namely the stark white background that constituted the primary backdrop and the monochrome maze, which are permanently burnt into my brain. It was with trepidation that I recently re-watched the video, as a severe anticlimax would have utterly gutted me.
It didn't gut me; it worked fine; on a visual and aesthetic level it is often a work of beauty. Although the interior of the ship was a pretty stock standard "corridor and gantry" fest (although wasn't the opening scanning shot in episode 1 effective?) everything else was to die for. The "hall" was effective as a faded and decayed piece of former medieval glory, the people in colour moving in front of basically black and white photo of a maze and courtyard was delicious, and even the void scenes of characters walking around a plain white background was every bit as good in its stark glory as episode 1 of The Mind Robber. And that's before we start hitting the video effects. The time dilations as the coin is thrown, the delay effect as the Tharil rides the time waves, the dissolving of main characters as they teleport between central locations... ladies and gentleman, this is a feast for the eyes, something of an anomaly for Doctor Who, given that it's usually less painful to gouge one's eyeballs off than watch that crappy CSO effect or model monster.
The cliffhanger to part three is one of those occasional "wow" moments on Doctor Who when your mouth just drops to the floor (at least mine did as much now as it did when I was a kid). You have the feast sequence in the newly furnished banquet hall full of Tharils, some video effects, and then the scene dissolves back to the old, dingy feast hall with traders instead of Tharils pointing a gun at the Doctor. The pacing of this, the camera angles, the everything, just worked perfectly into my favorite ever Doctor Who moments, which makes up for the occasional pitfalls.
That one model shot scene of the TARDIS, Banquet Hall and Slaver ship in the same shot definitely looked like models, disproportionately sized at that. It was quite funny. However, the hall exploding at the end was quite realistic and brilliantly conceived so I guess that all balances out.
Now, as for the plot. To get any sense of the relationship between the Tharils and the humans, you need to listen to everything the robot knight suit says, even when your attention is distracted by the gorgeous sets, K9's ramblings or the slavers hostility and threats towards the Doctor. Even if you've managed to absorb all that in, it probably won't make much sense until you see the story again. You're not going to get anything out of Biroc, who only speaks in riddles, giving away next to nothing. This must have been a real shit off in 1981, when video recorders were not a given.
Of course if you don't understand the cyclic relationship between the human slavers and the Tharil former slavers, and particularly that the Tharils are trying to make up for their former atrocities, then your only impression of the Tharils is that they are former oppressors who are getting their just deserts. This makes the siding of the TARDIS crew with them and Romana's sudden departure at the end to help the Tharils more a bit abrupt and nonsensical (especially since the Tharils still struck me as ambivalent bastards until I read the plot summary on the net). Because the script seems intent on making the story as elusive as possible, it is very difficult to identify with character motives, which happen to be intrinsic to the plot. I don't mind elusiveness at all (I love Ghost Light) but if all Biroc does is speak in riddles, and all Romana does with Biroc is teleport in and out of scenes, with no apparent verbal relationship established, then it hinders, rather than mystifies, any plot progression, character motives and central themes.
Unlike Ghost Light, where the mystique went hand in hand with the complexity of the script, Warriors' Gate gives the impression where a pretty simple plotline (aliens wish to redeem themselves by breaking out of a cyclic "master and servant" relationship with the humans) is made more complex by applying a seeming self-conscious use of elusiveness and ambiguity, and peppered with nonlinear time progressions and bizarre sci fi concepts. My feeling is that the mystique and ambiguity makes the story look far more complex than what the underlying plot really warrants, and I guess that pretty much is the definition of "pretentious".
However, this is one of the few Doctor Whos that is worth repeated viewings. Watch it the first time for its luscious visuals, let the muddles plot and Biroc's bloody riddles wash over you. Second time, listen to everything that knight suit is saying. Third time, you should be able to appreciate the good, relatively simple, underlying story.
I recommend this tale. Not ideal for once-off TV viewing (I remember being baffled myself as a kid and still was second time over) and you have to be immune to a little harmless pretension, but if you know what you're in for and have bough it on video/DVD, then I'm quite sure this program is great for those who are up for a challenge.
A Review by Tom Marshall 8/10/10
Doctor Who fans are a bit funny like that. We love the traditional stories: the classic gothic horror meets Phantom of the Opera, the dark storylines but with the surety that the Doctor is going to be all right. And when something comes along that is totally different, where everything is uncertain where you genuinely never know what is going to happen next, they love it too. There are very few of these sort of 'not-really-Doctor-Who' kind of stories. The Mind Robber is one, and I think you could possibly class Ghost Light and The Greatest Show in the Galaxy there too. But Warriors' Gate does seem to be in a league of its own.
Quite why it succeeds I am not entirely sure; it is certainly one of those things that is hard to pin down. As Mike Morris points out, it should not work at all. But it does, and this is in part surely due to Paul Royce's writing assistance. Oh, I have no doubt that Steve Gallagher is a genius, and that Warriors' Gate is his creation: it is his sheer imagination which drives it. But for once we seem to have a director who really is in tune with the story he is showing, like he took it home, read it every evening over and over again, slept with a copy beside his bed. It is like he really wanted to do the best job he could possibly do on the story, an admirable enough feat, but when you take into account he contributed to the script himself then quite clearly his hold on it is going to be firm. Only someone like Royce, both an imaginative director and someone with their finger in the original pie itself, could bring this four-part story to the screen with such a level of inaccessibility (show it to someone who isn't a fan, I dare you!) and yet you can still relate to it.
Full Circle and State of Decay were interesting beasts in a way, because they are clearly relatively traditional Doctor Who adventures which have an added few lines about being in E-Space. Warriors' Gate embraces E-Space; in fact the entire thing is more or less about E-Space, N-Space, the Gateway, and the relationship between them. It is certainly more hardcore science-fiction in an Earthshock-sort of way, the way we don't often see on the show and certainly not back in the early 80s... but it is also quite the most fantastical, magical story you will ever come across. It would not look out of place in the imagination of Lewis, Tolkien or Peake and it possesses that uncertain surreal magic that Roald Dahl so often delighted in. But what is the cleverest part is that it juxtaposes the banal sci-fi with the unnerving fantasy: Romana and Biroc, imbued with (what, exactly? Energy of time travel? Passing through the Gateway?) walking hand-to-hand down one of the corridors of the Privateer is the finest example. The bog-standard spaceship and the utterly bizarre. Doctor Who was never really this daring again. In fact, I don't think a single story matches Warriors' Gate for audacity.
From the opening shot, it was different; to me, at least. A slow, steady life-support pump goes back and forth; the camera pulls back to reveal an entire room of these creatures in bunks, subtly lit with an eerie blue, and then Royce gives us almost a guided-tour of the Privateer, no dialogue at all, just shots of scrawled graffiti, gangways on two levels (which really gives it space, much more than any other spaceship seen before or since) and then the grand bridge itself. The design of the Privateer isn't particularly inspiring: it is just a bit grubby, a bit worn, and to be honest it looks cheap, but Royce works wonders with the interior. It's well lit, the different levels mean it feels like a proper environment and there are just enough crewmembers to contribute to the sense of it being a proper vessel.
What other quite incredible moments of direction are there? There's the time-striations, which are just marvellous, especially in Part One. Packard flying from his controls in slow-motion, the spinning coin suspended in the time of the Gateway. They might be shoddily accomplished in some ways, but the imagery is marvellous nonetheless and for once it is all there in the script, a very visual script nonetheless. There's the beautiful shots of Biroc running through the Void and breaking into the TARDIS in slow-mo. There's the cliffhanger to Part One: we've seen it all before, guy creeps up on Doctor and wields axe, and yet it is given genuine urgency and brilliance. Part Two gives us the creepy POV of the savagely burned Tharil: done so professionally simply because it is juddery and amateurish in execution. It feels like the director is the creature itself; once again, Royce actually understanding the script. There is a beautiful harmony here if you know where to look.
Part Three is superb, wielding a host of memorable images; my favourite being the pan through the white void to show the slave ship, the arch of the Gateway, and the TARDIS. It's simple and eerily effective. Less is more. And the cliffhanger to Part Three must rank as one of the greatest in the show's history. It is simply so disorientating. You genuinely have little time to catch your breath. Showing us the Tharil empire was brave enough, but then seeing humans as slaves is enough to provoke our moral outrage, and then one realises the Doctor has knocked over the goblet he will later stand up. Then the Gundans burst in and you are terribly excited and just when you think the title music will crash in, the Doctor is back with Rorvik in the dusty banqueting hall, surrounded by cobwebs and guns. If nothing else, the metaphors implied are stunning.
It feels almost wrong to go through on a tick-list of what works in the story because everything is harmonious and instantaneous; it all meshes together in one glorious landscape of story. But the acting is next on such a list, and covered within this article it must be. Tom Baker delivers a towering performance as the Fourth Doctor, numbering among his greatest, particularly as he knows his time is up. Only the good die young. He switches from wildly comic to very much in control, exuding manic intelligence, authority and wit. Some of the old Doctor humour is there - "I usually get on so well with machines" and the joke about pickles - but he seems a little world-weary. Look at him in the dusty banqueting hall: he is filled with rage against the dying of the light. Look at him after being kicked onto the gangway by Rorvik: he's fought too many battles and his number is up.
Lalla Ward truly is going from strength to strength and delivers possibly her best performance yet so the whole thing feels like an acting masterclass in quality. Her knowledge of science comes to the fore and she genuinely seems charming, pleasant, just the kind of person you would like to know, but with the right amount of alienness. Her departure might seem sudden but I feel the necessary justification is there - her lack of enthusiasm for returning to Gallifrey is surely a giveaway - and I prefer the word 'underplayed', which it certainly is. And K9 leaving just piles the shock factor on more.
As in State of Decay, Adric comes across as a little at a loss for what to do, walking around in the void talking to K9, but nevertheless he gets that nice little moment in Part Four where he threatens the crew with the MZ and he also has some reasonable scenes with Romana. The rest of the cast is very strong. Even in purely characterised terms, they're strong: most of the crew, even the slightly obnoxious Rorvik, is likeable enough, quite like people you and I would know, until we discover they trade in slaves and we feel almost sick. Peckard, Lane, Aldo and Royce are all pretty jokey characters: Aldo and Royce make a fantastic Holmesian double-act, Peckard seems tired of the whole thing. David Kincaid gives Lane a very expressive face, whilst Clifford Rose plays Rorvik just on the right side of megolamania; I'd prefer to say he was domineering and stubborn, rather than plain insane. In fact, that makes him more scary: that he is as sane a person as you and I, simply reacting to incredible pressure.
The design is superb: the dusty castle, the Gundans, the Tharil creatures themselves, the black-and-white world of the Gateway... Oh there's a point: the Tharils! Fantastic invention, the Tharils, one of the most imaginatively realised monsters in the history of the show. Leonines are reasonable enough, but time-sensitive leonines is a hell of a bad guy pitch: brilliantly, they aren't just the gentle souls we think they are, but they too have founded an empire on slavery. Travelling back to see the Tharil Empire at its height is simply another way of Gallagher showing us that, really, in every universe, the flaws of people - whether they are human people or otherwise - are the same.
And this, I think, is the real point of Warriors' Gate. To cite Mike Morris again, the story "Isn't about things. It is things." And, while I would have to agree with this, there is certainly a message in the story: not exactly what the story is about, but something it can tell you.
There's a proverb the wording of which I forget, but runs something along the lines of "If you want to see the inside of your house, peer in from the window outside" which is quite obviously stating that stepping back for a larger view is the most intelligent way of viewing anything. Gallagher wants us to view the universe and in that sense Warriors' Gate might be the most epic story ever produced: it defines the universe, almost. But he seems not to be content with that; as I've said, it's the only story in the Trilogy which is about E-Space. In this story set in the space between spaces (as C S Lewis' Magician's Nephew puts it), Gallagher examines both universes. He looks at E-Space and N-Space and by the end the conclusion is that neither is particularly great. It's almost like he's mourning a fallen world and asking why not every universe can be like such a world, even though it doesn't appear in the story.
I'll sort of explain what I mean: the shot of everything in the void is more telling than you think. The Gateway is part of just that, the Void, the Tharils' domain. The TARDIS is an object from N-Space. It is unspecified where the Privateer is from, but I like to think it came from somewhere in E-Space. Now it is rather obvious that one of the themes of the story is slavery, but it doesn't stop there. Oh no. The ship is indeed a "society" if you like based on slavery, with cargoes of slaves, but that doesn't stop us from liking the crew in the first half. Gallagher is saying there is something wrong with us. One of the characters, Adric, hails from a society of rejected Outsiders, classed as "the weak" on Alzarius. The Tharils indeed are a society based on slavery - humans, and Gundans, etc - and yet for most of the story Biroc, not the Doctor, is the central character, orchestrating events, and we feel a natural affinity with him. However, he is not 'good' in any way. Gallagher is comparing the universes and coming to a conclusion that there is evil wherever you look, cruelty and bad treatment of others: "the weak enslave themselves" is just the kind of thing a dictator would say, and Rorvik is deliberately totalitarian in his attitudes.
Gallagher runs up against something of a wall when it comes to the Doctor and Romana, good guys who we see being heroic week in week out, and yet it's where they come from - N-Space - that he criticises. They are from the august ranks of the Time Lords, a race who perfectly fit Gallagher's description... by being slaves themselves, slaves to time. It's a different scenario, admittedly, but the point stands that cruelty, and lack of general trust for others, will be present in every universe. And what will the Doctor do as soon as he's back in N-Space? Fight villainous, cruel monsters like the Master and the Terileptils, etc... I digress.
The climax of Warriors' Gate, both visually and intellectually, is in the destruction of the Gateway and the Privateer at the end. It's beautifully shot, of course, but more to the point we are seeing that the crew are punished for trading in slaves. Evil eventually overreaches itself - it is another C S Lewis theme - and consumes itself in its own lust for power. The Tharils ended up as slaves themselves, after basing an empire on slavery. The Time Lords eventually get wiped out in a war. The Outsiders on Alzarius became extinct. It is a very prevalent concept in the background of the story, if you know where to look.
And so Warriors' Gate really is a masterpiece. It might be the biggest Doctor Who story ever made - forget your Dalek fleets and reality bombs, here we have a story which unravels and examines the very nature of the universe itself and leaves you coming away both moved and anguished that the universe is not a perfect place. It's a story with excitement, drama and some genuinely very funny moments that don't intrude on the plot. It is unlike any other Doctor Who story in that the Doctor is not necessary in the plot; he could not be there and the point would still be the same. Why I like it though is not just for the intellectual themes but also the visual excitement.
To conclude, it is almost but not quite flawlessly scripted. It is almost but not quite flawlessly executed. But it is flawless at something, a perfect marriage of the two, which many other stories never even touch and yet which Warriors' Gate parades up and down, putting it up there with the very best stories and possibly the best for firing the imagination.
It's flawlessly imagined.