Shows - Review
Review by: Michael Hickerson
Taking the long view of season 18, it's easy to see how the stories all fit into a typical theme. The basic premise of each story is that the Doctor arrives into a society or group of people that are stuck in a recursive loop and the Doctor and company serving as a catalyst for change within the system—for good or bad.
But the interesting thing about season 18 is that while each of the stories deals with this common theme, none of them seem repetitive in any way. Each one tweaks the concept just enough and adds a bit to the overall arc of the season (and yes, there is one that you only see when Christopher H. Bidmead puts it all together in "Logopolis").
"Full Circle" is one of the more obvious examples of a society stuck in a loop and needing an outside spark or two to push them out of stagnation. The revelation that the Alzarians are not from Terradon at all, but actually descendants of the very Marshmen they fear is one of the bigger twists of the season if not all of Doctor Who. And the idea that they have no idea how to fly the ship they've spent generations doing little more than trading out parts on is a novel one. Certainly, these are two of the bigger surprises in a script that is full of surprises.
One of the biggest surprises is how good it was then and how good it is now. Written by 19-year old fan Andrew Smith, "Full Circle" is a strong offering to the Dr Who canon. On some level, I wonder what might have happened had Smith written a second or third script for Who, but then part of me thinks—well, it's better to write one great script and get all your good ideas to the screens instead of spending two or three scripts showing the fandom you had only one good idea and maybe it'd have been better if you stopped while you were ahead (Pip &
Jane Baker anyone?)
Now, I'd be a fool to think that the script was all the product of Smith. Looking at the story and how it fits into the overall arc of the season, I have a feeling that Bidmead had a strong hand in editing the story and bringing it to the screen. I refer specifically to the TARDIS falling through the CVE, thrusting our heroes into E-Space and the slow discovery of what's happened to them and how they're trapped. Indeed, as many times as I complain that the JN-T years were too obsessed with spending a bit too much screen time in the TARDIS, then along comes this script that shows that, by golly, you can do it and do it right. It works here because the dilemma faced by the Doctor and Romana in the first episode isn't one that goes away quickly. If anything, it's a driving force behind the rest of the story and it doesn't feel as if we're treading water while we create the civilization of Alzarius for our heroes to interact with for the final three episodes.
Instead, we get two compelling stories that join together when the TARDIS arrives on Alzarius and each drives the other. In both cases, the various members of the crews are faced with a situation that is overwhelming and from which there is no easy escape—for the Alzarians, it's evolution itself and for the Doctor, it's being trapped in a universe of negative coordinates and having no idea how to get back home.
"Full Circle" is a rich, textured story that is full of great characters and performances. The reigning in of Tom Baker continues—gone is the over the top clownish hijinks of season seventeen and the show is better for it. Baker shines in this one and while he does get some of the trademark Baker silliness for the children in, the man just delivers a great performance here. I am not the first and I won't be the last to point out the great scene before the Deciders when the Doctor chastises them for killing the Marshchild, yelling that the need to know is not an alibi. In the same scene, this burst of anger turns to shock at the discovery that no one can fly the ship and has never known how to do it. It's a tour de force for Baker in just one scene and one of the more appropriately appreciated scenes in all of Doctor Who. It ranks up there with the greatness of Baker's "Do I have the right?" scene from "Genesis of the Daleks."
But it's not just Tom Baker who does good work here. Lalla Ward is good, even playing the possessed Romana well. (Never mind that we're not quite sure why she's linked to the Marshmen other than to open the door as a cliffhanger to the episode three). And the rest of the supporting cast does pretty well, with one exception.
Yes, I'm going to have to point out the deficiencies of Matthew Waterhouse. Had he not been included in any more stories than this one, it'd be easy to dismiss him here. He hits two notes in the entire story, but his acting range is extremely limited. Indeed, I read a review of Waterhouse's acting performances as being like a lot of Who fans—he's just stunned that he's got this great job and that's how he acts every time he's on camera. That'd sum it up here, where he pretty much does either angry or snarky the entire time and he doesn't really do either of them well. Honesty, I find myself wishing Adric had bit it at the hands of the Marshmen and Varsh had gone with the TARDIS crew as I watch the story here. But hey, it is what it is...
In a lot of ways, "Full Circle" shows that Doctor Who can do more than just tell the story of the Doctor overthrowing an alien regime week in and week out. The idea and concepts brought up here are compelling and its interesting there is no good solution to the problem. The Doctor can only help the Alzarians drive off the Marshmen for a bit, but he can't destroy one side or the other. It's a no-win scenario because we find out the Marshmen are highly adaptive and now that they know they can get in the ship, they will be back. The Doctor's
involvement sparks a change in the society perhaps for the better—we're not quite sure and the script doesn't tell us. In the end, the Doctor has pushed the society out of its recursive spiral, but he and Romana are still trapped, facing a bigger dilemma—how can they get home? And is it even possible?
In a lot of ways, "Full Circle" is the JN-T years at their finest. It's a script that turns the usual complaints of weakness around and makes them strengths for a story. Adding up the intelligent story, decent effects and good acting and you've got one of the more undervalued stories from the Tom Baker era. If there's any justice, this one will be given the deluxe DVD treatment sooner rather than later.
Last Updated: 10/25/2006
Other Reviews by Michael Hickerson
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