Welcome to our new blog segment, the Doctor Who Review. I’ll try to post one of these every week and cover the whole gamut of Doctor Who media (TV, books, audios, etc.). If you have any suggestions, we’d love to hear them! – Michael
It’s the age-old story, Cactus hates Doctor, Doctor fights Cactus, Cactus pretends to be Doctor, Doctor vs. Doctor, Doctor beats Cactus by sealing it in a time loop. The usual.
We’re well into the last season of Tom Baker’s run as the Fourth Doctor by this point, and someone apparently realized that they hadn’t done an evil twin episode since the last time they did an evil twin episode (or the one before that with the doppelgänger (or all of the times before that where they brought in the Master)). So, how about an evil twin episode?
Giving Tom Baker a chance to shine as the villain and K-9 the chance to be useless on an alien planet, here comes Meglos. Full of cacti and pirates and dodecahedrons of shifting scale, Meglos is a strange romp through a sometimes-jungle/sometimes-blue-screen alien world. Loads of fun, but it could have used a bit of work.
Now remember, SPOILERS can be pointy, like the needles of a cactus.
Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor is the Doctor everyone remembers when you bring up Doctor Who, but it’s never this version of Baker’s Doctor that people remember. They think of the grey coat and the multi-colored scarf, not the early Eighties plum and burgundy version we’re presented with here. Baker injects a lot of himself into the Fourth Doctor, and you can feel him being ready to leave the role here. There’s whimsy enough, but there’s also a harder edge to some of his line-work in the story. He’s seen it all and is ready to move on. I love this place for the Doctor and it rings true. Baker was always good at that.
Lalla Ward’s Romana is a favorite companion of just about everyone’s (including Tom Baker, I’d assume) and she gets to do all of the things I love in this story. She’s smart, she solves problems, and she deals with her own issues on her own time, usually without the help of the Doctor. However, this story, like a lot of the 1980s final season of her character takes a few steps back. She’s whinier than usual and gets to be “helpless” a lot more often than I’d like, but Ward does a great job of keeping these possible contrivances from allowing Romana to become a damsel-in-distress.
K-9, being on an alien world, is his usual amount of rubbish, made into more of a prop in this story than usual. He’s there for show, because he has to be, and suffers from the usual problems necessary to avoid him needing to roll anywhere. He’s broken (from a previous misadventure) and his batteries are low. That said, we get a fun vocal range from voice actor John Leeson playing the damaged K-9 throughout the story that brought a smile to my face.
Meglos is a cactus. He’s pointy. Apparently, he’s also a shapeshifter. In a show about a magic box and the centuries-old man piloting it, I had a problem suspending my disbelief there. It’s weird, I know, but it happened. That said, when Meglos becomes an evil copy of the Doctor, it’s great to see Tom Baker camping it up and being a proper baddie, choking and shouting and doing mean stuff to nice folks. As a side note, I would have loved to see this doppelgänger in the old outfit, but I get why they didn’t do it for this story.
Meglos is not a good story. It’s an interesting one, but it’s the kind of Doctor Who serial that needed a second draft. Things happen because they clearly didn’t have enough story material to keep going and it’s easy to believe that Meglos was originally meant to be a three-parter.
There are a lot of logic problems in the story involving the villains and world of the story. Is Meglos always a cactus? Did he shapeshift into a cactus? What’s that about? How does the Dodecahedron power the plant life of Tigella, shown to be dying without the object? These aren’t terribly important questions, but without them, it’s a little difficult for me to suspend my disbelief, even in an Eighties Doctor Who story.
That said, Meglos has a great number of good acting work, notably the return of Jacqueline Hill to the program, not in her original role as First Doctor companion Barbara Wright, but as Lexa, the queen of an alien world. Baker’s also clearly having fun as Meglos, as previously discussed.
It’s a fun Eighties romp, but it could have been better with a few more drafts.
And funnily enough, I’d have loved to see the version of The Lodger with Meglos as the villain. Could’ve been a boatload of fun.
Credit where it’s due: Stills taken from the DVD