Doctor Who: Looking Back At SMOKE AND MIRRORS - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Doctor Who: Looking Back At SMOKE AND MIRRORS

Chris Morley holds his breath.
Arriving in 2013, the basic mechanics of Smoke and Mirrors, the Fifth Doctor's entry into the Destiny Of The Doctor series celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of Doctor Who itself, doesn't stray too far from those of Peter Davison's televised d├ębut in Castrovalva, in that the chap in the cricket whites is being manipulated soon after his latest regeneration. But it's the manner in which that unfolds which may seem striking, as the man seemingly holding all the cards, now in Tremas' body, is manipulating the Doctor through his own friends. In this case a rather famous one as Harry Houdini is able to send a psionic distress call which diverts the TARDIS to the England of the 1920s. And somehow Houdini already knows Tegan's name.....



Houidin's also very interested in the matter of his own future and the inner workings of Sexy, which will eventually manage to return Ms Jovanka, still clad in her Air Australia uniform here, to Heathrow. This is later remembered by the Eleventh Doctor delivering a message to his earlier self through an Ovid sphere, the preferred means of transport for these beings of pure thought whom the Doctor is implied to have encountered before as a younger man with Houdini present.

There's little time for reminiscence though, as the Master will stop at nothing in his attempts to bring back his physical body after having become trapped in a collapsing dimension of Castrovalva. The one he stole in The Keeper Of Traken is failing. His forked tongue is in no such danger though, and evidently he's made Houdini a fair few promises in exchange for betraying his old friend! After an attack of conscience, Harry's helped to realise that it might not be in his own interests to know his own future, and the Doctor's means of escape, as well as the method of his imprisonment, is lifted from his old friend's repertoire!
As The Great Harry Houdini explains...
“The underwater box escape utilized a box resembling a packing case with four boards on each side and a flat lid nailed into place once Houdini was inside. The box also had air holes which served the dual purposes of allowing air to breathe if it became necessary as well as allowing water to enter the box to quickly submerge it into the water.

The lower two boards were not nailed to the sides of the box. Any nails showing were simply for display. Instead, the lower board was attached through hidden hinges, forming a type of trap door which opened inward, allowing room for Houdini to escape through the bottom.

To pass inspection, the upper board had two automatic catches that fit into slots in the edge of the board above. The joint was hidden, but allowed Harry to release the trap door. The air holes allowed him a finger grip and once outside the box, he was able to pull the trap outward with the catches springing back into place. “
In Smoke and Mirrors, a little sleight of hand allows the Time Lord to take the key from Harry before ending up in the box in the first place, and the Doctor's ability to bypass respiration for a short while also comes in handy to ensure he makes it out in one piece.

Not to be outdone, the Master has been pulling a trick of his own all along. It turns out he's not actually present at the fairground which is the setting for much of the story, rather the Ovid spheres allow him to project himself and indeed control those he's hypnotised, including Harry! The Doctor is able to break his conditioning after having deduced that Houdini's not been himself the whole time and had his suspicions as to who might be controlling him confirmed when he's told that an old friend of his has made the great illusionist aware that he's been lied to and had things deliberately withheld from him. Said old friend then performs a mirror illusion of his own on the fairground theatre's stage in an effort to trap Adric.

In a sense Smoke & Mirrors is part of a far greater trick, whose pulling as far back as The Visitation has gone on to inform much of New-Who's dealings with the past, and witnessed as recently as Rosa. That of alien influence in established history. The celebrity element hinted at here comes with the inclusion of Houdini and is equally applicable to, say, Nikola Tesla's Night Of Terror.

Evidently someone liked the format and style enough during the Fifth Doctor's tenure that not only can it be found on-screen in The Visitation but such a loose connection to the past also informed much of Black Orchid. Though the only Master alluded to there was one W.G Grace after the Doctor has played quite the innings on the cricket field. Nevertheless, seemingly from that point the pseudo-historical became embedded in the popular imagination as a narrative trope, a sort of devil in the smoke, to the extent that it was deemed worthy of re-visitation in this celebration of its Doctor's era. 

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