18: Change and Decay
Part 7: Logopolis
By Alan Stevens and Fiona Moore
Originally published in Celestial Toyroom Issue 321
"Logopolis", the final story of Season 18, brings to a climax the themes of change and decay that have been running through the season. Furthermore, it introduces a new theme of looking to, even returning to, the series' past, which sets the stage for the early Davison era.
Productionwise, "Logopolis" measures up to its immediate predecessor, "The Keeper of Traken". There are some beautiful location shots of the radio telescope, and the directing is generally excellent (apart from the scene in which Adric apparently moons the camera in episode 4, although this is in keeping with Grimwade's fondness for shots of actors from behind, as seen in "Full Circle", "Kinda" and "Earthshock"). The sets are good, barring a couple of pieces of obvious modelwork, and the partially-CSO'd dying Monitor is quite effective. Although Paddy Kingsland's music has not been terribly good for most of the season, he makes up for it here with an excellent score. Anthony Ainley plays the Master very well, apart from the bit at the end where he collapses into megalomania and giggles (which, to be fair, is not totally down to him).
Logopolis itself is quite a nice concept, and unusually deep for Doctor Who. The idea that if one goes down far enough, everything is composed of mathematics; therefore, if one knows how to use mathematics correctly, one could bring anything in the universe into being, goes into the realm of quantum theory, even of philosophising about the entire nature of existence. Furthermore, although this does refer to cutting-edge physics, it does not do so in such a way as to alienate or bore the audience. The power of mathematics here can also be seen as a parallel to the power of imagination in real life: the Pharos project can, of course, be exactly recreated in the human mind through imagination and memory. The fact that the Logopolis set looks like a giant brain brings home the whole metaphor of the universe as a creation of the mind, and the Logopolitans as the neurons bringing about its existence.
The only real problem with the Logopolis concept is the way in which it is brought into the story. The Doctor's decision to repair the chameleon circuit is fair enough, and in keeping with the idea of the series' familiar icons having to change if they are not to fall into disuse and decay, but it is never really made clear why he has to measure a real police box (which, in the end, he never does, measuring the Master's Tardis instead) for the Logopolitans to fix it. The only real explanation given onscreen is the Doctor's lines about "measuring it in thirty-seven dimensions" in order "to convert it into a precise mathematical model which [they] will overlay on the Tardis" and "block transfer computation," which are unashamed technobabble, as the Doctor acknowledges with his final "well, they say it'll work." Even Bidmead's novelisation, which goes into slightly more detail (adding, for instance, that "the dimensional interference patterns will shake the thing loose") does not explain how measuring a police box in thirty-seven dimensions could possibly help to fix the broken circuit. One might excuse it on the grounds that it gives us an initial sequence which refers, in an oblique way, to the opening of "An Unearthly Child" (the first scene of which shows a policeman with what seems to be a real police box, but isn't), in showing a policeman with what appears to be a Tardis, but isn't- but the difficulty of fitting it into the story gives us an exposure of the narrative mechanism.
The sequence also poses some logistical problems, for instance the question of how the Master knows that the Doctor will visit that particular police box on that particular bypass (the Doctor's explanation that "he is a Time Lord. In many ways, we have the same mind" is contradicted by the fact that the Master is able to deceive him so easily elsewhere in the story). Also, although the Master's Tardis may have a functional chameleon circuit, either it doesn't kick in very quickly or the Master keeps forgetting to switch it on: it appears as such incongruous objects as a shrub in the middle of the desert or a sandstone pillar in the Pharos Project. The ridiculousness of this is exaggerated by the fact that no one seems to notice or remark on their presence- while one could excuse the visibly-distracted technician in the Pharos Project for not noticing the pillar, the Logopolitans must be single-minded indeed not to notice a tree of that size. Since the idea of a working Tardis being able to blend in with its environment has been brought to the audience's attention by the central conceit of the plot, it is a bit of a shame that it is let down in this way.
The story is also noteworthy for the introduction of Tegan Jovanka. She does not make the best of starts, to be perfectly frank: although she may have been intended to come across as self-assured, feminist and Antipodean, she simply comes across as stubborn, quarrelling and stupid, and the epitome of stereotypes of brash, unsophisticated Australians. Her position as an air stewardess also conjures up associations which are more sexist than feminist, such as the infamous "I'm Cheryl, fly me" advertising campaign (which famously was the target of boycotts and public condemnation from the early-1970s feminist movement). Tegan's constant references to air travel even when she isn't directly discussing her job (for instance asking Adric how long they will "be delayed" on Logopolis) make her seem less like someone who enjoys her work and more like a complete obsessive. Aunt Vanessa is little better than her niece; the way in which they carp away at each other about the flat tyre makes the audience want to be shot of both of them.
The introduction of Nyssa as a companion, however, drives a cart and horses through certain aspects of the story. Without Nyssa, for instance, the Watcher would have remained a shadowy figure on the periphery, waiting for the opportune moment, speaking to the Doctor on the bridge, but no one else. With Tegan as the sole female companion, Episode 4 could easily have run with Adric and Tegan remaining with the Doctor as he joins forces with the Master, and providing, as they do elsewhere in the story, a running explanation to the viewer as to what is going on through their dialogue. By introducing Nyssa, however, the Watcher has to suddenly become physically involved- taking Nyssa from Traken to Logopolis in a way which never becomes apparent, and taking Adric and Nyssa out of time and space (also for no good reason bar giving Nyssa a poignant monologue), which ruins the Watcher's image as a shadowy figure who becomes physically involved only during the climactic regeneration scene. Additionally, it means that Tegan now has to be grafted uncomfortably on to the Doctor/Master scenes, with no one close to her own intellectual level to talk to: it's unrealistically thick, even for her, to decide to take her chances with the Doctor on Logopolis rather than leaving with Adric and Nyssa in the Tardis, and all she does subsequently is trot after the Doctor echoing his lines and being ignored. The authors of Doctor Who: The Unfolding Text speak of Nyssa's experiences as drawing parallels of loss between the companions- Adric having lost a brother, Tegan an aunt and Nyssa both her father and her homeworld- but it was not necessary to have destroyed Traken (much to writer Johnny Byrne's consternation, incidentally) to draw these parallels. In fact, it simply makes Nyssa into that TV-SF cliché, the Last Survivor of an Alien People, putting her in such dubious company as Maya from Series 2 of Space: 1999. "Logopolis" becomes the first of a number of stories in which Nyssa is something of a fifth wheel: the only point at which she does anything of interest is when she mistakes the Master for her father, and a similar Master/companion bond could easily have been set up with Tegan (possibly with him offering to take her back to Earth in return for her cooperation). The crowbarring of Nyssa into the story is also at odds with "Logopolis'" themes: the destruction of Traken constitutes an erasure of the past of the series, when everything else within the latter part of the story seems to be focused on bringing it back.
As the season comes to a close, Baker's portrayal of the Doctor becomes even more grim and subdued. The Doctor's idea of putting the Tardis under the Thames and opening the doors fits in both with the death-wish seen earlier in the season and with Bidmead's idea, also alluded to in "Castrovalva", that the Tardis is finite (otherwise the sea would drain into it). Although the Doctor says that he wishes to do this to prevent the Master from coming with them to Logopolis, he is ignoring the fact that the Master could easily go to Logopolis under his own steam: also, after seeing the Watcher and changing his mind, he is in fact the one who brings the Master to Logopolis anyway. This is picking up on the idea, put forward in "Warriors' Gate", that the happening of observed events has consequences on the universe; in this case an unusually significant future event causes portents of itself to occur in the past, which cause the Doctor to bring the future event into being. This also draws on a long canon of foreshadowing portents and events appearing in drama that goes back as least as far as the Middle Ages. The Logopolitan scenario fits in well with the themes of the season: the idea of a universe which has passed the point of heat death and is being kept alive through the artificial support of CVEs can be taken as an allegory of the programme itself, suffering from entropy, with the fictional universe shrinking and falling to bits. The Tardis, the fourth Doctor and the programme itself are all, in this setup, old, slowing down and not working like they used to.
The themes of the season, however, seem at first to be moving away from those of decay and more towards those of change. The Tardis is deteriorating, but the Doctor decides to proactively try and change its appearance (jettisoning Romana's old room in the process); the Time Lords are referenced, but the Doctor decides not to go to Gallifrey after all; and the Watcher thwarts the Doctor's death wish by allowing him to "dip into the future." For a brief moment in "Logopolis", there appears to be progress within the series, and a kind of clearing the decks for future development.
It is at this point, however, that a more sinister regressive element is brought into the picture. One of the most interesting things about the return of the Master comes in the final scene when, despite having acted more or less rationally up to this point, the Master suddenly starts broadcasting messages to the people of the universe ordering them to submit to his will or he'll close down the Charged Vacuum Emboitment. In the first place, this begs the question of why anyone should believe him (certainly the security guards below the telescope don't seem too interested in whether or not he can make good on his claims) and second, what he would do with the universe if he had it. Additionally, in order to carry out his threat, he would have to stay up in the radio-telescope the whole time, which sheer physical necessity would eventually make impossible even if the security guards didn't. There are three possible explanations: one is that the Master has gone totally insane (which he has shown no sign of before). The second is that he is playing a massive practical joke (belied by the fact that he seems genuinely concerned when the Doctor leaves the control room, rather than saying something along the lines of "Ha, got you going, didn't I?"). The third is that we are seeing a return to the more outrageous and unbelievable Master of the Barry Letts era, as opposed to the more cool, rational Master of "The Deadly Assassin" and "The Keeper of Traken".
Throughout the story, we see a regression into the past at the same time as the series moves into the future. As well as the presence of the Master and the visual allusion to "An Unearthly Child" at the outset, we get many references to "Terror of the Autons" in the final episode (the satellite dish, the unsuspecting technician, etc.). The placing of one Tardis inside another (which also appeared in Christopher Priest's abortive script "Sealed Orders") comes from "The Time Monster", the changing dimensions of the Tardis comes from "Carnival of Monsters" and the use of the phrase "chameleon circuit" is an even more curious bit of nostalgia, as the item in question was originally called the "camouflage unit," and the phrase "chameleon circuit" actually originated in the Target novelisations, never appearing in the series itself before this point. Finally, we see visual references to old monsters, companions and scenarios during the regeneration sequence. All of this, interestingly, foreshadows what is to come with the new season of Doctor Who, with the return of old monsters and a new focus on series continuity to a previously-unprecedented degree. It is not insignificant that this is the only time that Peter Davison is credited as "Doctor Who": later, in an attempt to draw the focus away from the series' central character and onto the programme as a wider entity, John Nathan-Turner would introduce the practice of crediting the leading actor simply as "The Doctor."
The final scene thus becomes as much an allegory of the show's future as of its present. While the theme of entropy highlights the way in which the programme has been shrinking and focusing around Tom Baker, it will become smaller in other ways in the future, becoming overcrowded and increasingly focused on the series' past. At the climax of episode 4, the Doctor finds himself confronted (significantly) by a bearded gentleman who seemingly wants to return the series to the status quo of the Letts era, and then has a vision of a future filled with companions and returning monsters. Rather than let this happen to him, he chooses to let go, die and be replaced by someone else- someone whom, in a telling indication of the tension regarding the changes taking place, the author himself refers to in his novelisation of the story as appearing "vacuous."
During Doctor Who's 20th anniversary event at Longleat in 1983, Tom Baker was asked why he left the show. "I was pushed," he replied, giving a long hard stare at John Nathan-Turner, before adding, "by Anthony Ainley." "Logopolis" thus, like the Watcher, is the culmination of what we have seen up until now in Season 18, and also a shadowy portent of what was to come in the Davison era. The long reign of Tom Baker has come to an end, but unfortunately the opportunity to develop the series into something genuinely different will be passed up in favour of an increased focus on the series' own mythology.
With thanks to Ewen Campion-Clarke.
Effects courtesy of Fiona Moore and Maureen Marrs