Sunday, July 27, 2014

Terminus - "It'll be good to see the Tardis again." "And Tegan." "Yes, well ... "

BBC - Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide - Terminus - Details

Season 20, Story 4 (Overall Series Story #127) | Previous - Next | Index

Image via Days like crazy paving
This is Terminus. The end of the line. For Nyssa, at least. But it's only the second part of the Black Guardian trilogy, so more of Turlough being Turlough. Luckily (for him?), he's shunted into the air ducts to crawl around behind Tegan for most of the story, so not much action on the Kill The Doctor front, he just pulls out the Black Guardian walkie-talkie crystal a few times to remind everyone that's still a thing.

What does everyone remember about "Terminus" apart from it being Nyssa's last story? They remember Nyssa's undergarments. (It's not just titillation *koff* she sheds her skirt when she starts feeling feverish after boarding the plague ship. Totally legit.) The other pieces of this one that stick with you are: the Lazars being zombie-ish space lepers; this being yet another case of the Doctor hurtling towards the Big Bang -- but being fortunate this time that there's a shaggy beast around with the strength to pull the emergency break; the aforementioned shaggy beast, the Garm being a lumbering, dog/bear pressed into servitude, but a good bloke who would've helped out if just asked anyways; the uber 80s space pirates and their giant helmets (needed if you're going to have teased out 80s hair), and what a contrast they were against the overall atmosphere of Nordic-inflected medievalism; and Bor, poor old Bor, suffering from radiation sickness and short term memory loss, trying to create a radiation shield around the damaged engines with scrap metal.

"Short term memory's the first to go."
Image via TARDIS Data Core 
"Terminus" was one of the first VHS tapes I owned and, as a result, enjoys one of highest of my personal viewership numbers of a less-than-elite episode. It's not exactly a favorite, but it's one that got me through the Wilderness Years. When I needed a dose of Who, "Terminus" was there for me. Despite being watched several times over the years, it's one that I didn't get on DVD -- at first because I had it on VHS and wasn't looking to own multiple copies, then because I prioritized other DVDs since I remembered this one so well and wanted to see older stories first. As a result, I went the last 15 years or so without watching this story. Long enough that I was apprehensive about whether I was setting myself up for a disappointment ... would it have aged poorly and watching now tarnish my remembered fondness for it?

That there were so many memorable elements (there are other stories I watched back in the day that I remembered nothing more than for being 'dark and murky', or 'having terrible snake prop') that -- apart from the space pirate fashion sense -- were not memories of failure, should have allayed my fears. "Terminus" is just fine. Reading up and watching the DVD extras, I learned there were production problems associated with an electrical workers strike that caused lost studio time and a director who was new to the series -- a combination of factors which could have tanked this one -- but it manages to entertain in spite of all that. If unspectacular, this is still a solid Doctor Who story.

Of the three companions in this crew, it's Nyssa I least wanted to see go; but, her decision to stay and help cure the Lazars is a decent enough departure. It's sweet the way she kisses the Doctor on the cheek in farewell. The Doctor looks hangdog about it you get the sense he's really going to miss her. Davison plays it well. (This plays in stark contrast to another Companion-Kisses-Doctor scene that also got a rewatch recently.) In a crowded TARDIS, at least Nyssa was generally positive and liked ... people, and travelling. Going forward we're left with two companions who don't like each other, tend to complain about everything, and neither of whom ever seem to feel particularly close to the Doctor. Losing Nyssa does nothing to help the chemistry among the leads.

Speaking of companions lacking charisma, there's a bit of dialogue that struck me funny at odds with its intent:

TURLOUGH: Looks like a kid's room.
TEGAN: It was Adric's.
TEGAN: Doesn't matter.

Tegan was using this moment to cut Turlough off from her emotional reaction to having to talk about Adric, but the viewer, not particularly caring for Adric, can also take that as meta-commentary on the failure of that character.

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