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18x7. Logopolis

Writer: Christopher H. Bidmead
Director: Peter Grimwade
Script Editor: Christopher H. Bidmead
Producer: John Nathan-Turner

Synopsis: The Doctor takes the TARDIS to Earth to measure a real police box as part of his preparations to fix the chameleon circuit, only to discover that the Master has escaped from Traken and has infiltrated the TARDIS. After a meeting with a mysterious figure known as "The Watcher," he and Adric head to Logopolis, where an advanced alien race has been using a sophisticated form of mathematics known as block transfer computation to hold the universe together against the forces of entropy. The Master's attempt to take over Logopolis disrupts the mathematicians' work, threatening to doom the universe. Although the Master collaborates with the Doctor to avert the catastrophe, he then attempts to blackmail the universe, leading to a confrontation with the Doctor, who regenerates after falling from the Pharos Project tower on Earth.

Review: The odd thing about "Logopolis" is that it succeeds as a send-off for the Fourth Doctor and at bringing some creative sci-fi concepts to the screen, while arguably failing at the more basic task of telling a coherent story. By the time it's over, we've been through no less than six different plot threads: (1) the low-key beginning with the Doctor wanting to measure a police box; (2) the anomalies resulting from the two Time Lords materializing their TARDISes in the same place; (3) the Master's infiltration of the TARDIS and the (admittedly silly) bit with the Doctor trying to flush him out by materializing the TARDIS underwater and opening the door; (4) the meeting with the Watcher and the trip to Logopolis (despite the fact that, as best I can tell, the Doctor knows the Master may still be inside the TARDIS); (5) the Master's sabotage on Logopolis, which temporarily results in a faulty calculation that reduces the TARDIS's size with the Doctor inside; and finally (6) the revelation that the Master has endangered the universe and the return to Earth to use the Pharos Project. (Not to mention that two new companions join the TARDIS crew and that the Watcher adds a new twist to regeneration.)

And yet somehow, I didn't feel especially bothered by all this jumping around, as the characterizations and the underlying ideas kept me interested. "Block transfer computation" - described as a method of creating solid objects through pure mathematics - falls under the same category as the spacetime anomalies in "Warrior's Gate." That is to say, I certainly can't claim to understand how it would work, and it may be complete baloney in scientific terms, but it's an imaginative notion that the writer and actors do an effective job of "selling." The script nicely ties it to another new Season 18 sci-fi concept, namely the charged vacuum emboitment (CVE) that drew the TARDIS into E-Space, by explaining that the CVEs are created by the Logopolitans in their efforts to combat entropy. The Logopolitans' reliance on verbal calculations rather than machines, the implication that the Doctor has met Logopolis's "Monitor" (the serial's most prominent guest character) before, the alien language in which the Monitor recites numbers, the scene in which the TARDIS transports Adric and Nyssa outside the boundaries of the universe - all of these elements convey the sense of an awe-inspiring cosmos driven by forces far beyond human understanding.

Of course, the Doctor himself is probably one of the series' most enigmatic concepts. While his humanitarian values and intellectual curiosity are plenty familiar to us by now, I would argue that we don't have the same understanding of his actual thought processes or his past experiences as a Time Lord, and that there remains a greater distance between the audience and the protagonist than is typical of most television drama. This is amplified in "Logopolis" by the introduction of the Watcher, who apparently represents some aspect of the Doctor himself. Tom Baker effectively portrays the Doctor's apprehension at first seeing the Watcher off in the distance - we can definitely tell that he knows something very unusual and very serious is happening (even though he, and we, may not yet know exactly what), and after the two of them meet face to face, he announces that he's had a glimpse of the future and warns Adric to "prepare for the worst." It would seem, if I'm interpreting this correctly, that he now has some awareness of his impending regeneration, and Baker does a fantastic job of imparting a sense of gravity to the Doctor's words and actions. Though he's known primarily for the comedic aspects of his approach to the role, I've always thought his talent for whimsical humor was equaled by his ability to play up the character's more alien, "deadly serious" side when necessary.

The script never really explains the presence of the Watcher - Tegan deduces that "he was the Doctor all along," but how or why he manifests in this way is left up in the air - and I actually think it's better that it doesn't. After only some vague allusions and brief appearances for many seasons, the series really threw back the curtains on the Time Lords during the Fourth Doctor era, and while this led to at least one classic serial ("The Deadly Assassin"), it also diminished the sense of mystery surrounding what is, after all, supposed to be an incredibly advanced alien civilization. "Logopolis" restores some of that mystery, both through its plot and through the roles that the Doctor and the Master assume. While Gallifrey itself may be in a state of mundane complacency, the script reminds us that the Time Lords are more than just your run-of-the-mill sci-fi aliens: they are hyperintelligent, self-regenerating time-travelers who actually appear to understand things like block transfer computation and charged vacuum emboitments, and some aspects of their existence are simply unknowable for humans.

The tension is heightened by the fact that the Doctor and the Master actually collaborate to save the universe, at least initially - if I'm not mistaken, they haven't genuinely worked together since the Master's very first appearance back in "Terror of the Autons." While the Doctor does his best to shield his companions from the impending danger by ordering them back to the TARDIS (which the Watcher uses to transport them outside the universe), he also reacts rather impatiently to objections against his working with the Master. "I've never chosen the company I keep," he retorts, pointing out that he hadn't brought any of them on board willingly, as if to say, I'm a Time Lord, the universe is in danger, and nothing else matters right now. There's also an interesting scene in which the Doctor tries to insist that the Master take credit for his role in preventing the catastrophe: one wonders if he still harbors some hope that his fellow Time Lord might be redeemable in the end. Of course, the Master quickly turns the tables, and Anthony Ainley plays the role without the same degree of Bond-villain sophistication that characterized Roger Delgado's approach - the Doctor's metaphor of a "mad dog" towards the end of "The Keeper of Traken" seems appropriate for this version of the Master.

It is certainly more than possible to nitpick "Logopolis." I probably wouldn't have believed it if someone had told me ahead of time that the script would actually give the Master the line, "It's all mine!" - but it does, and even for this slightly more unhinged version of the character, it can't help but come off as campy. Perhaps more to the point, who exactly does the Master think he is talking to when he takes control of the Pharos Project's communications and demands the subservience of the entire universe? How would the recipients of the message respond, and what exactly would he do if and when they did respond? (If I'm not mistaken, this scene was specifically cited by Douglas Adams in explaining his dislike of the concept of a villain trying to "take over the universe.") For that matter, why does the Doctor head to Logopolis in the first place when he knows the Master may still be loose in the TARDIS? Maybe the Watcher told him to, or at least told him that he couldn't change anything by continuing to pursue the Master, but that's still a somewhat weak explanation. And there is a real head-slapper of a moment when the Master's TARDIS materializes right next to a crowd of Logopolitans without anyone seeming to notice.

While this serial definitely sticks to the style of Season 18 rather than trying to evoke the tone of previous Fourth Doctor seasons, it still works as a final outing for this incarnation by emphasizing the character's genuinely alien nature and somewhat understated but robust moral convictions, two aspects that were just as important to Tom Baker's take on the role as the more humorous elements. However labored the script may sometimes be in getting from A to B to C, it manages to wrap things up perfectly with the Doctor remembering both enemies and friends of his past and facing regeneration with calm acceptance, reassuring his companions that "the moment has been prepared for." Though it's far from flawless, "Logopolis" is a serial that manages to be more than the sum of its parts.

Rating: ***1/2 out of four

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