Tegan’s First Flight [WHO-50—1981]March 19th, 2013 at 8:50
Rewatching it recently with my family I was struck by the first episode in particular – how familiar all its beats were to me despite it being so unlike almost any other Doctor Who story ever.
There are three stories going in parallel. Firstly, the dark, irritable Fourth Doctor teaching Adric about block transfer computation (or alien maths as I explained it to my eight year old, don’t judge me!) and deciding to Move On With His Life After Romana. Never mind that Romana left him a whole serial ago, this is the story where we see the Doctor dealing with his loss, gazing mournfully into her room and muttering about how he always meant to fix the chameleon circuit with her (not to mention that when he needs to jettison a room, he chooses hers APPARENTLY AT RANDOM YEAH RIGHT).
The second storyline is conveyed through a mysterious Other TARDIS that looks just like the Doctor’s (except for a darker interior) which creates a recursive loop: the TARDISES become a series of near-endless nesting dolls. There’s maniacal laughter involved.
The third storyline is about Tegan, a proto air stewardess heading for her first day of work and bickering amicably with her Aunt over the battered sports car that can’t quite get her to the airport. There’s something very authentically familial about the relationship about Tegan and Auntie Vanessa – the one-upwomanship between them, scoring snark points back and forth. It’s a glimpse of mundanity that is so rare in this era of Who – the first time we’ve seen a family context for a companion that wasn’t on another planet since, well. Jamie and Victoria, actually.
This first episode also shows Tegan’s value as a potential companion – even when she’s not an expert in something, she throws herself at it full throttle, determined to fix the problem herself rather than ask anyone for help. In particular, she scoffs at her Aunt’s wistful wish for a knight errant as they are stranded on the side of a motorway.
Unfortunately, what happens over the next several episodes is so utterly disorientating and traumatic that Tegan has to spend most of her years in the TARDIS in something of a PTSD haze.
One of the more entertaining elements of watching Logopolis now, as with many classic stories, is the new perspective brought to the show by Neil Gaiman’s game-changing The Doctor’s Wife. We don’t just suspect that the TARDIS has her own personality any more, we know it.
So when the Doctor comes up with the ludicrous idea of flushing the Master out of his TARDIS by materialising underwater (in the freaking Thames, so not clean water), despite the fact that the Master would be completely protected inside his own TARDIS shell, Sexy puts a spanner in the works by ensuring that she lands on a boat instead of the bottom of a very stinky river. Really the sweetest thing about this plot twist is that the Doctor knows when he has been told off, and does not make a second attempt.
I love this story to bits. It’s one of my all time favourite Tom Baker stories, and ties with Planet of the Spiders for best send off (sorry all, I don’t love Caves of Androzani, it depresses me). The new, young companions emphasise how old, cynical and tired this Doctor is, and how much more he has in common with the ancient Logopolitans.
This is also Anthony Ainley’s first real chance to get his teeth into the role of the Master and it’s one of his best stories – from the wicked laugh and the TARDIS inside out antics to the sabotage and miniaturisation of apparently random victims throughout the story. He is having such a good time it’s quite infectious.
Bringing Nyssa back to see for herself the horrific thing that the Master has done to her father (stealing his body and therefore the actor who plays him in the shock ending of The Keeper of Traken) was a brilliant move, even if it did make the TARDIS a little crowded. Her relationship with this new, cold version of her father develops quickly in this story, resulting in her hypnotic attempt on the Doctor’s life… Nyssa was never more interesting than in her first three stories, and it’s so sad that later script writers struggled with giving her further plots once the climax of “my father’s body was stolen by an intergalactic criminal and oh look someone destroyed my solar system between episodes” has played out.
The Doctor’s betrayal, in dumping his companions and teaming up with the Master to save the universe, makes for a fascinating scene. Tom Baker was the most beloved Doctor for so long, but he’s simply wonderful on the rare occasion that he’s not trying to be liked, and his bitter little speech about never choosing the company he keeps is a great moment for him.
Of course the Master betrays him, that was never even a question.
All this and we also got to explore the inner TARDIS in perhaps the most satisfying way we ever have since Edge of Destruction – not only getting to play in the gorgeous Cloister Room set (where on earth did they get that from, and why did we never see it again?) but seeing the TARDIS transformed from a place of cozy domesticity to a chilling, threatening environment, not only when the Doctor and Adric explore the TARDISES inside each other, but also with poor old Tegan slipping and sliding along the corridors, trapped in the weird place she has wandered into.
I appreciate Tegan more and more, the older I get. I especially like that she realises the TARDIS is a ship, and therefore her first demand on meeting the Doctor and Adric is to demand to be taken to the pilot.
Castrovalva would come at the beginning of the following season, in which Peter Davison’s Doctor made his befuddled and vulnerable entrance, and the Master had way too much fun kidnapping and flirting with Adric, leaving Tegan and Nyssa to save the TARDIS and then the Doctor pretty much on their own. I love Castrovalva on its own behalf, but it’s worth noting how much it book ends with Logopolis, so that while they belong to separate years, seasons and even eras of the show, they work very much as parts of the same story. Castrovalva also gives us the wonder of endless TARDIS corridors, and the Doctor’s home shifting between a safe place and a terrifying environment that’s out to get you. Though of course, it is a very different Doctor.
Still, Logopolis wins, because Cloister Room.
ELSEWHERE ON 1981:
Designer June Hudson talks with Tom Baker about the style choices made in his final season: the all red suit, entropy and monochrome. [DWM]
Warrior’s Gate [The Angriest]
Warrior’s Gate 4 [The Chronic Hysteresis]
Logopolis [Wife in Space]
K9 and Company [Wife in Space]