Tony laughs in the face of Death. At least until Death asks him not to, with a knowing nod at the scythe.
The Paradox Planet was a fantastic mish-mash of elements from mid-to-late 1970s Tom Baker Doctor Who, with an absolutely bonkers premise holding a really rather sombre set of questions close to its chest. As you might gather from the title, it told the story of a civilisation at war with itself through time – one generation, having discovered a form of time travel, going back to save species and gather resources from the irresponsible influence of their long-dead predecessors, who polluted the planet, let the animals die out and essentially pushed the world over the precipice of environmental calamity. The premise is one that’s often spoken about in rather glib, point-scoring tones by politicians – we are squandering our grandchildren’s ecological inheritance.
Actually. Really. Today.
As the planet gets hotter and the weather gets more extreme, it only takes a good writer and a handful of facts to push us from right here, right now, to our own, ultimately self-administered global extinction event (Don’t get me started on algal bloom and methane hydrates, we could be here all day). Jonathan Morris took the premise of a generation who fossil fuelled their faces off coming to grips with the consequences of their actions when their great, great grandchildren arrive to wage a very polite, very careful war of resources against them. Utterly bonkers, but really rather serious too.
The Legacy of Death, which takes the story from a point of fairly guessable crisis and runs off into the sunset with it, is on the whole both rather less fun and rather less hard-hitting in terms of the philosophical ideas it delivers. There’s a spot of light torture, some double agentry, a very smug robot dog with acolytes, quite a bit of bomb disposal, and an awful lot of time travel, turning some sections of the story into almost drawing-room farce, if not Shakespeare comedy (exits, pursued by a Tardis). The two heavyweight supporting characters that epitomised the two time zones and their war efforts, Tom Chadbon as Embery, the mad scientist from Era 14 who first, allegedly, discovered time travel, and Simon Rouse as Drang, the prosecutor of the time war from Era 24, each have significantly less to do and say this time around and the drama is lessened by their relative absence. The premise of Morris’ original idea is also weakened by a stern talk given to Drang by the Doctor, who makes the case that if the future people hadn’t messed about in time and stolen the resources from their ancestors, those ancestors would have found a way to solve their ecological issues. That feels like quite a hefty cop-out, letting the polluters off the hook by the application of an external force to their situation. It feels like Morris is trying to be even-handed since he has two episodes to fill and two sides of a philosophical position to handle, but it rather lets the air out of the original premise, leaving it deflated and limper than it was at the end of The Paradox Planet.
What takes the place of the drama has a tendency towards comedy, which is understandable, given that this series of Fourth Doctor stories is aiming towards a Season 17-18 feel, erring more on the side of 17, with the Douglas Adams/Graham Williams vibe of permissible bonkersness. The issue with that in this story is that we have to take a bunch who’ve been worshipping what is essentially a very old computer in a room full of flashing lights (a neat gag in itself given the budgets and necessities of seventies Who production) suddenly relatively seriously as rebels who can overthrow a military expedition. And in fact, we have to take them relatively seriously as actual living people, which is a little tricky when they’re thoroughly wet and in some cases involved in a love story almost as unbelievable than that between Leela and Andred. Trying to invest enough in the acolytes of the great Machina (yes, seriously) is pretty hard work, especially when people keep zipping from time zone to time zone as though they’re just popping down the shops for a pint of milk, and carrying on conversations as if they haven’t just arrived from a thousand years in the future or the past. There are, it has to be said, a couple of authorial conveniences on display in this story too – a couple of deaths, a love story and someone who plucks a reason out of somewhere to stay behind a thousand years in their own past to make sure everything ticks along nicely – a fairly short-sighted plan in itself, given that they’ll be alone and probably entirely incapable of reproducing. But pshwar – facts, logic, who’s counting, this is Season 17 and no mistake.
The combination of a diluted drama, an elevated comedy, an almost relegated duo of high quality supporting leads and a handful of authorial conveniences make Legacy of Death rather more lightweight than its name suggests, and also rather less punchy than its predecessor. But does that mean it’s a bad story?
No, not by any means. There’s a degree to which you have to let your stars have their head in order to really recreate a Season 17 feeling, and the stars here certainly have their head. Tom Baker sounds like he’s having tremendous fun, not necessarily understanding all the toing and froing, but then that’s entirely reasonable given the pacing of the piece, which zips us back and forth, not to say hither and yon, without a care in the world, except for the insanely massive bombs set to go off at any moment. Lalla Ward sounds less happy and successful, but then, there’s an element of her Romana in that, always ready with a sigh and an ‘Oh, Doctor!’ Perhaps the principal having the most fun though is John Leeson, as make no mistake about it, K9 steals a lot of the limelight across both parts of this story, proving once and for all that you should never trust a smug robot dog.
Overall, is Legacy of Death one to buy? Yes, if you can – it does counterbalance the sombre realities behind the comedy of The Paradox Planet with some rather more traditional dashing-about and being funny, and taken together, the two stories make about as much sense as a Pirate Planet or a Horns of Nimon. The only way in which this is any kind of bad thing is when you consider that if The Paradox Planet had found a way to maintain its comedy-drama balance more effectively in Legacy of Death, we could have been talking about the two-story arc very nearly in the same breath as City of Death.
Nevertheless, Legacy of Death is out now, and rounds off The Paradox Planet with some quality seventies running about. Pick it up today, then go and pick a fight with your grandma.
Tony Fyler lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly
nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who,
Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the
70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By
runs an editing house, largely as an
excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book.
With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at FylerWrites.co.uk