Magic Bullet Productions

Season 18: Change and Decay
Part 5: Warriors' Gate

By Alan Stevens and Fiona Moore

You were the noblest Romana of them all.

Originally published in Celestial Toyroom Issue 318

"Warriors' Gate" was the first story of season 18 in which Bidmead was able to express his vision for the series. Finally able to move away from the slush-piles of earlier administrations and hasty commissions from old acquaintances and give himself free rein, Bidmead was keen to have a story by a "real" science-fiction writer-- meaning a sci-fi novelist as opposed to someone who was a scriptwriter first and foremost. The result would be a serial which is deep, interesting and has considerably more to say than virtually all the stories of the season; however, it was also the site of a lot of backstage friction and tension.

Making free with the laws of time travel, causality, and rumours about the authorship of 'Kinda,' Romana listens to Kate Bush's 1982 'Dreamtime' album.Initially, Bidmead commissioned a story by Christopher Priest, apparently called "Sealed Orders"; there is some confusion as to exactly what happened (exacerbated by the fact that Priest, in a 1995 interview, [] states that it was Douglas Adams rather than Christopher Bidmead who commissioned the story), but one way or another, the story fell through. Bidmead also commissioned Gallagher, also a science-fiction writer who had done some radio work, to develop a script. The problem which seems to have emerged at this point is the fact that non-television SF writers frequently want to do stories which are too broad and conceptual for the confines of TV SF; for instance, note that fantasy writer Tanith Lee's scripts for Blake's 7 wound up being among the strangest, if not the strangest, in the series. Gallagher, also, was new to television writing. It is thus perhaps unsurprising that Bidmead was somewhat unhappy with the story Gallagher came up with, then entitled "Dream Time" and set in a dream world, and wanted to ground it more in science and/or pseudo-science, changing the setting to the area between E and N space, and adding in ideas like "time streams" to give it more of a scientific feel. This went against Gallagher's original intention, and he has later said that he felt the story was "not as clear" as it could have been due to the various edits and rewrites done to the script. He has also said that he believes that Priest's script was dropped because Priest would not compromise to accommodate the format of the show, suggesting that he feels that he had to make such a compromise. Although the result is not a bad story, then, there was friction between the writer and script editor.

'Talk to myself? I don't talk to myself. Rorvik must be off his head to think I talk to myself. I don't talk to myself, do I, Packard? No, I don't.'There was also a certain amount of tension with regard to the production. Paul Joyce was a very technically-minded director, meaning that although the designers and visual effects team have nothing but praise for him, others are less enthusiastic. Joyce came into TV in an unusual way: he was a stage director who directed a Play for Today, and then went on to Doctor Who. As well as being the reverse of the usual directorial progress (normally, directors start out on Doctor Who and then move on to more prestigious programmes such as Play for Today), this meant that he did not, as was the norm, start out as a production assistant, and so consequently he did not come to the programme with a solid idea of the time pressures involved. He wound up clashing with John Nathan-Turner over the use of Scene-Sync (JN-T, when asked to evaluate the process after using it on "Meglos", had said that he couldn't see himself using it again, but was forced to do so on "Warriors' Gate" when Joyce indicated that it would remove the need for expensive location filming), meaning that JN-T never subsequently employed him. He also cast Clifford Rose as Rorvik on the grounds that he saw the character as a psychopathic Nazi and remembered Rose's performance as Kessler in Secret Army; however, not only is Kessler not a psychopathic Nazi, this portrayal is also not borne out by the script, and Rose, sensibly, does not play Rorvik as such. Joyce's failure to inform the actors that the privateer set would be on two levels meant that a bit of humorous business worked out in rehearsal (in which Packard speaks with another character who is standing in an inspection hatch behind Packard's console, but this character ducks down into the hatch every time Rorvik looks their way, suggesting to Rorvik that Packard is talking to himself) had to be abandoned. Joyce also got into a dispute with the lighting director, John Dixon, because Joyce wanted to include the lights in a shot of the privateer set (implying that they were part of the privateer) and Dixon wound up stopping the show for two hours in protest. Joyce would later describe the incident as "Kafkaesque."

Just because I'm a model doesn't mean I'm boring and superficial.All disputes aside, however, Joyce's determination to make the production look as filmic as possible means that the result is a very good-looking piece of television, which would have appeared even more so in 1981, when the effects would have been cutting-edge. The Tharils are well-realised (in fact, Lazlo's burn makeup was too well realised, necessitating the use of Quantell to zoom in the shot so that it wouldn't be quite as visible); although the girl Tharil's crimped hair gives her a slight resemblance to a performer from Cats (the male Tharils' hair is more natural-looking), the musical didn't come out until two years later, so it can be forgiven. The use of CSO to do the Void sequences turned out to be quite effective, as is the way the Tharils glow as they go out of phase. The modelwork is also good, and the use of black-and-white photos as backgrounds (a cost-saving measure) give the scenes outside the castle a surreal and weird effect. There are also nice touches of direction, such as the camera lingering on sculptures of lions in the castle grounds, and of production, as when the slogan "Kilroy Was Here" appears in the graffiti on the privateer, and later a crewman actually named Kilroy appears. The seemingly computer-generated wire-frame Tardis that we see in Biroc's eye at the beginning of the story was in fact a physical model, as with similar sequences in The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy around the same time: using computer animation was too expensive and unachievable on the technology they then had available.

Hang on, which of us is Rosenkranz again?The script shows clear influences from Lewis Carroll and Jean Cocteau in the idea of traveling through mirrors (or, as Gallagher later says in his novelisation, mirrored force-fields) into other universes, and from Mervyn Peake, in the idea of a sinisterly magical castle in which a decadent group rule while their slaves secretly plot their downfall. In an echo of Gormenghast's motifs, originally it was to have been a child Tharil who met the Doctor at the castle, but as a child actor proved too expensive to hire, a teenage girl was given the part instead. The Gundans were intended as a nod to Japanese warriors, having been first named Shogun, and then simply Gun before settling on Gundan. There are, interestingly, also a number of resemblances to "Meglos" (powerful beings now in a reduced state; a crew of disreputable but comedic villains; Grugger/Rorvik kicking K9; similar sequences in which Romana encounters the bad guys), which can probably be put down to a mixture of Bidmead having edited both stories, and to the writers being influenced by similar things (in particular, both the Gaztaks and the privateers may have grown out of the late-1970s atmosphere of industrial discontent). Tom Stoppard also seems to have been an influence on the seemingly-interchangeable Royce and Aldo (who were originally called Waldo and Aldo, the joke being that no one could tell them apart), with their running commentary on the action and fondness for flipping coins.

The privateer crew were, according to Nathan-Turner, based on Gallagher's experiences of working at Granada Television, and the poor attitudes he found there; given the industrial dispute with Dixon described above, and the three-day carpenters' strike which also occurred during filming, the presence of a crew of jobsworthy privateers in the story seems slightly ironic. We get the sense of a long-term working relationship between the crewmen, as they squabble, complain about their jobs and accuse each other of thinking only of their bonuses; when Royce and Aldo make a feeble excuse to stay behind on medical grounds, Rorvik neither believes them nor is surprised, but simply mutters "tragic," as if he's encountered this before. Packard shouts at Rorvik in the castle, but the latter does not seem upset or try to pull rank. Later, when Rorvik says "I want your attention for a couple of minutes," the crew ignore him, as they are having their lunch; he ploughs gamely on despite this, occasionally shouting at them to get them to listen, before finally drawing his sidearm in frustration.

Carl Sagan's less bright brother fails to come to grips with quantum physics.The crew are the subject of a fair bit of black humour. They are slavers, and as such do some quite horrible things from the perspective of the audience, who see the Tharils and Romana as sympathetic figures; however, they are like factory farmers, who have become so used to the brutalities of their job that they fail to see the connection between themselves and their animals. One may note that, as soon as they begin to suspect Romana is a time-sensitive, they cease to treat her like a human being and instead behave towards her as they do to the Tharils. We thus get scenes like the one in which Sagan, offscreen, casually kills three Tharils while trying to revive them, or where Aldo and Royce decide to try and revive Lazlo against their orders, because it won't affect their pay if they fail (in another swipe at the attitudes brought about by the overunionised workplaces of the late 1970s). The crew get some very good lines, such as the exchange: "It's a ship!" "What, for midgets?" "Or a coffin, for a very large man," or, later on: Packard: "Are you sure she's a time sensitive?" Rorvik: "No." Packard (to Lane): "What if she isn't? She'll be burnt to a frazzle." Lane: "That's how you tell," or the final "Don't move, lads, it's on automatic" [a few seconds pass] "It doesn't have an automatic!" There is also some good physical comedy, as when Adric and Romana conceal themselves on the MZ, or when the entire privateer crew try to hide behind Rorvik when the MZ is turned on them. The idea of travelling through time and space using a time-sensitive creature as a navigator seems fantastic to us, but the crew are very casual about it, recalling how, today, people use computers in their everyday work in a way which would have seemed fantastical thirty or forty years ago.

This brings us to another theme running through the story: that of quantum theory, and the question of determined versus random action. Quantum theory gives us the idea that, until observed, particles exist in a kind of indeterminate state: that Schrödinger's famous cat is neither alive nor dead until observation reveals the outcome. This is further suggested by an experiment done in 1997, which demonstrated that when the charge on a particle was measured, another particle miles away would be discovered to have the opposite charge. Gallagher, similarly, had originally wanted a setup, rather like that of Philip K. Dick's short story "Captive Market", in which the Tharils could see a number of possible futures, and select one which they wanted. The loss of this key point (apart from an oblique reference in Biroc's first line to Romana) detracts from the theme of observation determining events. The Doctor notes the difficulty, if not impossibility, of generating non-determinate (i.e., truly random) action: his choice of which button to press on the console may seem random but is actually influenced by his state of mind. When asked if she's seen Biroc, Romana says that "vision is subjective," and no matter how many coins Adric flipped, he would have wound up at the gate anyway, as the microcosm was contracting and bringing him and the gate closer together. Even the act of flipping a coin reduces a potentially infinite number of choices down to two. K9 notes that "the I Ching casts doubt on traditional causalistic procedures. And, of course, vice versa." The message of the story seems to be that actions and perceptions determine seemingly random events (such as Biroc coming into the Tardis); and in episode 4, when Biroc says to do nothing and the Doctor remarks "sometimes it's best to do nothing, if it's the right sort of nothing," the events have already been set in place, so all they can do is allow them to happen.

Tharils, chills and spills.The Tharils also pick up the theme of actions having consequences. They were originally to be called Tharks, then Tharls, a name Ian Levine vetoed on the grounds that it sounded too much like Thals. Ironically, however, there is a coincidental parallel with the latter group: just as on Skaro, the originally-warlike Thals are now peaceful and the Daleks were once philosophers, so here the former masters have become slaves, and vice versa. Biroc's line "the weak enslave themselves" has a significant multiple meaning: in the initial context, he seems to mean that his slaves cause their own state by not rebelling, but in the novelisation, Gallagher expands on this, saying that by setting themselves up as unjust masters, the Tharils had invited rebellion and enslavement in their turn. Similarly, by not taking direct action, the privateer crew enslave themselves within their lifestyle and end up destroying themselves. At the end of the story, by contrast, Biroc and the other Tharils have realised that, firstly, they once were as bad as the slavers are, secondly, that their current position is at least partly determined by a sense of guilt ("judge whether we have not suffered enough!") and finally, that they need to take direct action to end their situation.

There are a few problems with the story which, ironically, seem to focus around science and technology. For instance, there is no reason for Romana to go out and meet the privateer crew at all: just because they have a mass detector, there is no reason for their technology to be compatible with K9's. Similarly, when K9 is restored by going behind the mirror, we never find out how the memory wafer which Romana accidentally broke was replaced. There is also a continuity error when the Gundan robot from whom the Doctor removed the memory wafer later appears with the top of its head restored, gets up and walks away. Finally, when Romana earths the main cable through the ladder she is standing on, she somehow doesn't wind up being fried to a crisp in the process.

'...and no, Adric, you can't have a rise in your pocket money.'The story does give the regulars some quite good lines, particularly the Doctor's exchange with Rorvik when he says that the Gundan has forgotten its lines and Rorvik suggests prompting it, and the Doctor's later conversation with Biroc in the castle ("so, this garden of yours, the universe"), Romana's tongue-twisting "The backblast backlash will blast back and destroy everything" or Adric's warning to the privateer crew about the MZ: "I don't know what these levers do, but it's pointing in your direction." Adric, actually, is the best that he's been so far this season: the relationship between the three regulars seems to have settled down and become familial, with the Doctor and Romana acting as parent-surrogates. In a way, it's a pity that this setup didn't last for longer, as it seems to end just as they get it sorted out.

The themes of the season continue in this story, in which the Doctor appears to develop an active death wish: as well as wanting subconsciously to press a button which, if he hadn't been stopped, would have destroyed the Tardis, in the scene in which two Gundans "cut each other dead" he waves the one on the right on and bows his head solemnly, as if expecting a blow. When they do axe each other, he seems pleasantly surprised, as if he were anticipating being killed. "Always darkest before the storm," he misquotes, appropriately. It's also worth noting that, at the point at which Rorvik starts preparing to fire the engines, the Tardis is actually between the privateer and the gate, meaning that it will be caught in the infamous backblast and destroyed, again suggesting putting an icon of the series in peril. K9, in his final story, is not only kicked and thrown about, but is described by Adric as "worse than useless," and in the end it seems that he can only function in the universe behind the mirror. Once again we get Time-Lord-like beings (the Tharils), only in this case they are the slaves of the people they formerly oppressed, and the idea of the Tardis being trapped in a shrinking microcosm between E-space and N-space is another metaphor for the programme as it is: the series is trapped, and its universe is becoming ever smaller.

The departure of Romana and K9: Two down, one to go.The departure of Lalla Ward from the series fed into the already-extant tensions. Joyce has remarked that Baker and Ward were more than usually unhappy with the script, and were continually changing it: in an interview for In Vision, he says, regarding their final scene together, "I don't think even Tom Stoppard or Harold Pinter could have written a scene that would have satisfied both Tom and Lalla at that point" (it is interesting that it was during the production of Warrior's Gate that Tom Baker's agent informed JN-T that he wished to leave the show). A sequence at the very end, in which Adric produces the Tardis image translator, which he has fixed, and the Doctor says that he'll probably work out OK, Baker refused to do, presumably out of dissatisfaction with the change of companions. Despite this, it has to be said that Romana's departure is well handled: Biroc's initial statement "the shadow of my past and your future" is directed at her, as he knows she will join them. There were originally intended to be more scenes indicating that she was growing frustrated with standing in the Doctor's shadow. Her desire to stay behind in the space between the universes to avoid going back to Gallifrey, and of wanting to help others, shows that she has picked up a lot of the Doctor's influence. One slightly irritating point is when K9 says that they could build another Tardis with the information he contains, as she doesn't need to when she has access to the gateway: predictably, this was a Bidmead addition, which Gallagher removes in the novelisation. One way or another, however, Romana's departure from the series works well with the way she has developed over the past three seasons.

"Warriors' Gate" is thus the most interesting serial of the season so far, with the mix of creative production, humour and philosophy overriding any problems with its development.

Images copyright BBC
Effects courtesy of Fiona Moore and Maureen Marrs

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