I have a feeling that if more stories had been like this one Peter Davison might have stuck around in the role longer. Everything worked here. This was an amazing story and it featured the 5th Doctor at his best.
Honestly, the only thing that doesn’t work is the cave monster. There is no real reason for its inclusion here. It isn’t germane to the story whatsoever. It is just a rubber suited monster that shows up twice and doesn’t really do anything.
At first I was worried because it seemed like the story was introducing a lot of disparate elements and I was afraid it would overwhelm the story and turn it into a mess like in Resurrection of the Daleks. Instead it all came together brilliantly. All of the threads had a point and fed into the main narrative.
The villains here were really top notch. Sharaz Jek was a complicated villain with very good reasons to want revenge against Morgus and to be angry at the universe. The performance was amazing and turned what could have been a campy, over the top role into one that was more grounded and frightening.
Morgus was also fully realized as a ruthless businessman who was willing to do anything to stay on top. He kept the war running longer to make Spectrox cost more. He closed down plants to make his workers homeless and then created work camps to send them to so they could work for free. He destroyed one of his own mines to drive up the price of copper. He was a terrible person and one you wanted to see get his comeuppance.
I liked the dynamic between the Doctor and Peri, though I felt the Doctor came off a bit condescending when he was talking to Peri at times. This Doctor has traveled with highly intelligent people like Adric Nyssa, and Turlough who didn’t need everything explained to them but I still felt he could have gone a bit easier on Peri.
The directing for these episodes was top notch. The pacing was great with no dull moments. The actors gave great performances. The effects were also quite good. The mud slides and explosions were realized nicely. The action scenes had a bit of oomph to them. There was some real tension throughout all four episodes.
Making the Doctor and Peri contract a basically incurable disease at the start of the story added a nice ticking clock component that worked really well. They can’t just sit back and wait for things to unfold. They have to force things if they have any chance of acquiring the ingredient they need to cure themselves. This is never more apparent than when the Doctor hijacks the ship and sets it on a collision course for the planet.
That was a great moment and when you think about everything the Doctor has been through this season there’s a lot of weight behind it. The Doctor has failed a lot this season and seen a lot of death that he should have been able to stop. He has also just had two companions leave him in short order. His almost suicidal actions here to save Peri no matter the cost come across as the actions of a desperate man who wants to do one final good deed before he dies.
I loved the final moments before the Doctor regenerates. It almost seems like he has given up and doesn’t want to even try to regenerate. Then he sees his companions urging him to live and keep up the good fight. It was a touching scene, since all of his companions were there, even Adric. The fact that his last word was Adric speaks volumes.
Then Colin Baker arrives as the Doctor. It is actually a great moment as he immediately seems different from Davison. In just a few short lines he comes across as more arrogant and less innocent than his previous incarnation. Follow that up with Baker’s visage instead of Davison’s during the credits and it is like a slap to the face. Not in a bad way, mind you, just in the fact that it gets you to pay attention.
It’s sad that Davison’s era is over with already. I liked him a lot in the role but I felt that he was let down with some bad scripts and decisions. He had some great stories, mind, but also some really terrible ones. Davison deserves nothing but praise because he had a thankless task. He was the successor to the longest running and most popular actor to play the Doctor. He did a great job of making his Doctor different from the 4th Doctor and did his best with what he was handed. I’m not sure I could have kept a straight face when confronted with the Myrka.
He at least gets to go out in top form with an amazing story where everything works. This was a great way to end this era of Doctor Who and start another one.