Our son has really enjoyed so many of the most recent Doctor Who stories that we’ve watched, so it was probably inevitable that we’d hit a turkey eventually. It’s one that lots of people agree is a turkey, so he’s in good company. The problem is that the planet of the story has a gigantic underground city powered by a huge artifact that nobody understands. The religious nutballs of the city believe it’s a gift from God and the eyes of disbelievers cannot be allowed to see it, and the scientists of the city think this is ridiculous and, since its power is fluctuating wildly after decades of steady flow, could we please just take some measurements of the thing before it spirals out of control and kills everyone?
So the nutballs argue with the sensible people, and the nutballs win every argument because they refuse to compromise an inch. The planet is ruled by a Mr. Make Everybody Happy type played by Edward Underdown, instead of by a Mr. Shut the Hell Up and Let Some People in There Who Know What They’re Doing type, which is what this planet badly needs. And so our son rolled his eyes at this shenanigans, because while he may not be able to spot an evil supercomputer until it’s practically on top of him (like last night), he knows that the nutballs are not going to win this argument.
I had been saying that the new production team for Doctor Who needed new blood. “Meglos” was the third story produced in season eighteen. The second story produced would be shown fourth, and it’s the only other one for the next four years to be written by a screenwriter from the show’s past. So “Meglos” is the first production with a new-to-the-show director and writers. The director is Terence Dudley, who had worked with the producer on the BBC series All Creatures Great and Small, and the writers, John Flanagan and Andrew McCulloch, were discovered by the new script editor.
Unfortunately, the story they concocted is a very predictable bore. There’s a cactus-alien called Meglos who wants the artifact, and, because the Doctor is acting insanely out of character and sends a passing hello from space to his old friend Edward Underdown and gets invited to come help them with their technology issues, Meglos traps the Doctor, impersonates him, and goes to steal the artifact. It takes forty-some minutes to get to a point in the plot that probably could be done in under ten. Our son summed it up by saying “There’s just not a lot of action in this one, and I don’t like anybody in the city.”
Anyway, for all the new blood behind the scenes, this story’s full of veteran actors. Apart from Edward Underdown, the cast also includes Jacqueline Hill as the leader of the nutballs. She had played one of the show’s original companion characters, Barbara Wright, from 1963-65. And there’s comedy star Bill Fraser as one of Meglos’s mercenaries. Fraser was the best thing about the Avengers episode “Small Game for Big Hunters,” which I don’t enjoy very much. There are some forgettable younger players in the story, but it’s really dominated by these three older actors, and with the Doctor and Romana trapped in space for most of the show’s first half, it all adds up to a story that younger viewers just can’t appreciate. But it’s all so predictable and dull that older viewers can’t really appreciate it either.