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. Warrior's Gate
Writer: Steve Gallagher
Director: Paul Joyce
Script Editor: Christopher Bidmead
Producer: John Nathan-Turner

Synopsis: The TARDIS arrives in a whitish void that registers "zero coordinates," indicating the intersection between E-space and N-space, where an interstellar freighter is also trapped. The freighter, commanded by a man named Rorvik, relies upon the enslaved, time-sensitive "Tharils" to navigate properly. The time travelers soon encounter Biroc, an escaped Tharil who appears to have seen the future of both the TARDIS travelers and the freighter crew, as the Doctor learns of the Tharils' own imperialist past. Eventually the void collapses in on itself, destroying the freighter as the Tharils escape, with Romana and K-9 staying behind to help them free their kin on other worlds.

Review: "Warrior's Gate" is certainly one of the more unique entries in the Doctor Who canon, and it can also be rather baffling at first glance. Unlike most serials, which simply use time travel as a device to place the Doctor and his companions into an otherwise conventional sci-fi situation, "Warrior's Gate" revolves almost entirely around the characters' attempts to deal with spacetime anomalies, and even the Doctor is a bit in over his head. The only character who truly seems to understand what's happening is Biroc, and he tends to respond to the Doctor's queries in an elliptical manner that often leaves both the Doctor and the audience wondering what exactly he means.

I'm still not sure I quite understand the mechanics of the "gateway," with its mysterious mirror that serves as a sort of portal for the Tharils, or what it means that the Tharils were able to establish power by navigating the "time winds." But the script plays all this as an effective mystery by maintaining a certain internal coherence. We understand broadly that the Tharils are conquerors turned slaves who have time-traveling abilities of their own, and we understand that Biroc, as a time-sensitive, may already know how this situation is going to play out and perhaps even experiences time in a non-linear manner. Can I explain exactly *how* he's able to show the Doctor the Tharils' past on the other side of the mirror, or why he can apparently communicate with the Doctor through the mirror without Rorvik's crew noticing? Do I understand what exactly is meant by the term "riders on the winds of time"? No, I can't, and no, I don't - but the script and the direction effectively present this in a somewhat surreal, poetic style, so that it never just seems like a set of arbitrary contrivances or empty wordplay. Again, this is a story that is actually about time travel, and in a way it's actually rather appropriate that we can't always understand the interactions of characters whose understanding of space and time is, after all, beyond human comprehension.

This occurs against the backdrop of some interesting exchanges among the TARDIS crew in Episode 1, as the Doctor begins to wonder if random, unplanned action might get them out of E-Space and prompts a conversation between Adric and K-9 about the I Ching, while Romana voices skepticism of his seemingly irrational notions. As it turns out, what is required of them is neither rational nor irrational action, but no action. When the Doctor asks Biroc what to do to escape E-Space, Biroc advises him to do nothing at all and further states that "it is done," another hint that he may be capable of non-linear perception. "Warrior's Gate" is the rare Doctor Who serial in which the Doctor is really in over his head and cannot gain control over the situation, perhaps because the Tharils are free of the constraints of time to an even greater extent than the Time Lords. Of course, this also raises the issue of whether free will exists in a universe with time travel, since knowledge of the future could arguably preclude changing it. *Could* the Doctor have disregarded Biroc and persisted in his attempts to stop Rorvik from trying to blast through the gateway? It's not entirely clear, but I suppose Doctor Who  has implicitly shrugged off this question from the very beginning, so I can't be too surprised that "Warrior's Gate" doesn't really try to answer it.

The writing of the guest characters is a notch above average in "Warrior's Gate." While they certainly qualify as villains for their treatment of the Tharils, who experience considerable pain and potentially even death when forced to help them navigate spacetime, they spend most of their time engaged in fairly mundane tasks and interactions, which actually carries a slightly disturbing implication. These aren't screaming megalomaniacs or mad geniuses, but mostly average people who at some point allowed themselves to objectify the Tharils and other living beings who might be of use to them (they are also very callous towards Romana). Many of their scenes are actually played for humor: Packard's increasing exasperation with the verbose and malfunctioning K-9 makes for a good running gag, and Aldo and Royce are amusing as the two laziest members of the crew who seem wearily resigned to whatever the fate of the freighter may be. Even Rorvik, while certainly the nastiest of the bunch, is not interested in power per se so much as he is simply impatient with the situation and with his crew's seeming listlessness and apathy. When he eventually does have an "over-the-top" moment at the end, his proclamation is not of the "It's mine, all mine!" variety, but rather, "I'm finally getting something done!" - a portrait of the self-satisfied capitalist taken to absurd extremes. It is somewhat surprising, then, that none of them ever manage to realize that what they are doing to the Tharils is wrong - we expect at least one or two of them to have a moment of redemption, but instead they all continue down the path of banal, unthinking selfishness, and it seems that they are all killed when the freighter explodes.

This still seems like an excessive punishment, at least for the less actively ruthless among them, and it's perhaps here that the script could have been a bit clearer. The Doctor and Romana are both unwilling to just abandon the situation and escape E-Space as Adric suggests at one point, with Romana ruling it out as long as the Tharils remain trapped on the freighter. They don't express concern about the crew per se, so does that mean they see it as just comeuppance (which would be unusually unforgiving by their standards)? Or are they mostly just convinced by Biroc that they can't change the outcome anyway? Still, in general this is a solid serial for the leads, and while Romana's departure is a bit abrupt, it makes sense given that she's determined not to go back to Gallifrey and has experienced first-hand some of what the Tharils have endured since their enslavement. The Doctor's praise of her as "the noblest Romana of them all" comes off a little odd given that he's only known two of her incarnations, but still, I'd say she earned the title, even if the more cynical first incarnation was arguably more interesting at times. It's clear that the Doctor does indeed think highly of the Time Lady whose presence he at first resisted; when Adric asks if he thinks she'll be all right in E-Space, he responds, "She'll be superb!" K-9, also making his final appearance, manages to be both amusing and integral to the plot. Rather than simply breaking down, as is often the case when he malfunctions, he spends much of the serial seemingly unable to shut up, and yet amidst his ramblings he does detect and point out the imminent collapse of the void.

Though I liked both "Full Circle" and "State of Decay," both were stories that could easily have taken place without the E-Space premise. "Warrior's Gate," with its skillful blend of solid character writing, unusual style, and a plot centered around spacetime anomalies, is the serial that really marks out the E-Space Trilogy as a distinct chapter of Doctor Who. While I would not want every serial to be as oblique and mysterious as this one, it is nevertheless a successful attempt to explore some of the more unusual aspects of the series' fictional universe.

Rating: ***1/2
(out of four)

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