Season 18 made its way to blu-ray this week, so as per usual I thought I’d review a story from the season to “celebrate”, so to speak. The big draw of the set is the new Special Edition of Logopolis, but given I’ve reviewed that already, I decided to go with the story I haven’t seen in the longest, which in this case was Meglos. Nearly 10 years since I last watched it and mentally wrote it off as “boring”, I actually enjoyed it more than that memory would‘ve had me believe. By how much? Well, let’s find out!
On Tigella, two opposing factions are irrevocably divided over one fundamental issue: the Dodecahedron, a mysterious artefact which provides the entire planet’s energy. With the Savants and the Deons locked in a crippling stalemate, and their civilisation on the brink of collapse, the Tigellan leader Zastor seeks the Doctor’s help. But the Doctor and Romana have been trapped aboard the TARDIS in a time loop by Meglos, the last of the Zolfa-Thurans, who will stop at nothing to steal back the awesome power of the Dodecahedron.
*spoilers appear from here on out!*
Cast of Characters:
This is the scene with “First thing’s first, but not necessarily in that order!” in it, one of my favourite Fourth Doctor quotes.
The Doctor (Tom Baker) – The Doctor and Romana are still trying to repair K9 after his seawater dip, but The Doctor’s mind does tend to wonder…
Romana (Lalla Ward) – Romana is focused on K9’s repairs, but when she accidentally gets The Doctor’s interest in a nearby world, she regrets it immediately!
K9 (John Leeson) – K9 is undergoing repairs after he short-circuited in the seawater of Brighton beach. Still, he should be good to go soon, so long as he gets a full re-charge…
Meglos (Crawford Logan, Christopher Owen, Tom Baker) – Meglos is an evil, sentient cactus who is able to possess the bodies of others, though not take them over entirely. The last of his kind, Meglos wishes to gain the limitless power of the Dodecahedron of Tigella and rule the universe. Lofty goals for a plant!
Grugger and Brotadac (Bill Fraser and Frederick Treves) – A couple of mercenaries for hire operating in several systems. Their most recent client simply wanted a non-specific human male delivered to him, but if they thought the request was weird, wait until they see the client…
Zastor (Edward Underdown) – Zastor is the leader of the people of Tigella, but the never-ending debate between science and religion is beginning to take its toll, and he needs some help.
Lexa (Jaqueline Hill) – Lexa is the leader of the Deons, a religious faction on Tigella that believe the Dodecahedron is a gift from their God “Ti” and wish to preserve its sanctity by not allowing non-believers near it.
Caris (Colette Gleeson) – Caris is a member of the Savants, a group of scientists who understand that the Dodecahedron is powering the underground city they live in, and that they need to study it up close to save their city from losing all power and forcing them to the dangerous surface.
Deedrix (Crawford Logan) – Deedrix is the highest ranking member of the Savants and orders repairs to the city from the control room. He is often sarcastic and patronising towards the Deons and their religious ways, especially when it could get in the way of saving their very lives.
“The Human” tries to escape Meglos’ control.
While a lot of the story is very cliché, especially the science vs. religion side of things, there is a lot of fun to be had here. Tom Baker relishes the chance to play the villain Meglos, who takes his form in order to trick the Tigellans into letting him into the “Dodecahedron” room. Meglos is actually a sentient cactus, so when you look at it Meglos is a story about an evil cactus wanting to get a hold of a giant twelve-sided die… you have to give credit to the cast for doing this straight-faced! So yeah, legitimately funny “you bumbling idiot!” clever one/stupid one mercenaries deliver Meglos a regular human for him to possess, and then from there he moulds his face to look like The Doctor. Throughout the story we see the regular human try to “escape” his host, which leads to some funny lines from Meglos, who has plenty of great evil villain monologues.
As for The Doctor and Romana? Well, then spend most of the first half of the story in the TARDIS control room, caught in a repeating time loop, a trap from Meglos, which isn’t the most original thing, but I did enjoy that The Doctor and Romana were aware of it for the last few seconds before the loop repeats. By the time they escape The Doctor has already been framed for stealing the Dodecahedron and therefore is immediately arrested. The Doctor soon pegs that it must be the old Doppelganger routine and that leads to the final episode, where Meglos and his bumbling mercenary gang are charging up the Dodecahedron and are pretty much making the Death Star with it, planning to wipe out entire worlds, until The Doctor poses as Meglos, and then Meglos is betrayed anyway. The Doctor reverses the controls and causes Meglos’ base to explode, with the sentient cactus and his mercs alongside it.
The people of Tigella are now forced to try to live on the surface, despite killer plants, but there you go. Can’t have it all!
Grugger is attacked by killer plants… by which I mean he sort of fumbles around a bit and then walks away.
I have to say that although there were some amusing snipes from Deedrix, the overall subplot of the Savants vs. the Deons, or science vs. religion, was a bit of a bore. It was so on the nose and without any layers that it just wasn’t that interesting, and frankly given the very lives of the entire community was on the line, the Deons were really at fault here! Normally a writer tries to keep the debate open-ended, but it was clear who was in the right on this occasion.
It was weird seeing Jaqueline Hill as the head Deon, given… well, you know, she’s just original First Doctor companion Barbara in a weird hat. At the time there were no repeats or home videos, so the team just assumed it wouldn’t matter using a long-serving companion in a new role, but now the whole series is available to watch, it’s just … odd. Right towards the end she sacrifices herself to save Romana from a gun bolt, The Doctor and Romana discuss it for one or two sentences, and then they head off. Nothing really comes from it, there was no later scene where the savants now admire her or anything like that, the whole scene just comes out of nowhere and just feels weird and unnecessary.
There was quite a bit of time-filler with Romana, some killer plants and the mercenaries that also slowed things down a bit. K9, who was repaired, soon runs out of power and does nothing for the rest of the story, making me wonder why it was written that he was repaired at all…
Not the most exciting vista ever…
With the exception of K9 being out of action due to the events of the previous story, “The Leisure Hive”, there isn’t much connecting this to any other material.
An evil doppelgänger of The Doctor isn’t a new thing, but I mean it is a common trope so that shouldn’t be surprising. In fact if I had the time/patience I’m pretty sure between TV, Audio and Comics I could come up with pretty much one story for each Doctor, between clones, robot doubles and other things. Hell, an evil avatar of the Fourth Doctor had already been done in “Face of Evil”, even if it wasn’t walking around!
Meglos has some fun scenes, mostly with Tom Baker loving the chance to “evil it up”, but it also has some rather on-the-nose and not very interesting scenes with the people of Tigella. Overall it’s better than I remembered, I remembered being bored the first time, where as this time I was entertained often, just not enough for me to praise it more than “it was okay”.