Any hour of television that guest stars both Roger Delgado and Jeremy Brett can’t be all bad, but honestly, seeing these two fine actors is the best thing about “Desert Journey.” The story is set in a Nosuchlandia in North Africa and appears to reuse the set from “Happening,” with the “Joe’s Place” building redressed as an Australian oil company depot. Recognizing good actors and props is just about all the interest I could muster in this one.
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I’ve picked up on a cute similarity between “Stay Tuned” and an earlier Avengers episode written by Tony Williamson, “Killer.” Both stories are completely perfect for younger viewers who haven’t been exposed to all this spy business for decades, and both of them feature really good, quick-thinking villains who improvise and change direction when needed. This won’t tax adult viewers very much – Steed has obviously been kidnapped and made into a “Manchurian candidate” and we’re even given the kill-word very, very early on – but our son was completely riveted and worked hard to figure out the mystery.
Even though this won’t tax grownups, particularly the jaded ones, it’s still a really entertaining story just because of how well it’s done, plus there’s the inclusion of some memorable guest stars, and there’s a sadly too-brief expansion to the world of Steed’s department. With Mother temporarily away, Steed reports to a blind woman called Father. She’s only in this one episode for about five minutes, but the character, played by Iris Russell, was also used in the ill-fated Avengers film of the late nineties, where she was played by Fiona Shaw as though she had been a major presence in the TV show.
As for the other guests, there’s Howard Marion-Crawford, in one of his last roles, as another agent from Steed and Tara’s department. It’s a throwaway part for a great actor, and he died less than a year after making this. But it’s best remembered by genre fans – huh, that term again – as featuring two future Doctor Who recurring villains, Roger Delgado and Kate O’Mara, as two of the baddies. Sadly, as nice as it would have been to have the Master and the Rani share a scene together, they don’t get the chance. Weirdly, just a few years later, Kate O’Mara would appear in another production with a Master-of-the-future, Anthony Ainley. They’re both in the BBC’s 1972 adaptation of Clouds of Witness… and they don’t share a scene together, either!
The last part of “Frontier in Space” is one of the very few occasions in Doctor Who where major villains team up. The Master and the Daleks only get a few minutes together, and the neatness is overshadowed by knowing this was Roger Delgado’s final appearance in the series.
Delgado had told Who‘s producer that he was ready to move on. He and his agent had heard that the reason he wasn’t getting as many offers in 1971-72 as he might was that all the casting people assumed that he was a regular in Doctor Who and wouldn’t be available. So Barry Letts was beginning to put together ideas for a big finale for the character, which is why he doesn’t get anything like a sendoff this time. He just vanishes in the confusion of the Ogrons running around.
“Frontier” was made in September of 1972. Not too long after, Delgado flew to the south of France to shoot an episode of ITC’s fun little Mission: Impossible clone, The Zoo Gang, which would be shown in 1974. It would be his last English language performance. In June 1973, he flew to Turkey to appear in a small part in a French TV miniseries, La Cloche Tibetaine. On the 18th, while being driven to a location shoot, he was killed in a car crash along with two other men.
Our favorite six year-old critic hadn’t been enjoying this serial very much, but he perked up so much when the Daleks arrived that I genuinely felt bad telling him why this was Delgado’s final appearance as the Master. He listened to my story, a little glum, before saying “He was a great actor, because he played real bad at making the Master SO BAD!” That’s possibly not the most eloquent way to put it, but I agree with the sentiment. He certainly was a terrific, wonderful actor. It’s always a pleasure to watch an adventure show or ITC series from the late sixties or early seventies and find him in the cast. He never had all the major roles that he deserved, but every one of his appearances is worth tracking down.
Resuming this serial with a double-bill tonight, our son still says that he isn’t enjoying it, but he does at least enjoy the gunfights. That is, I think he likes the idea of the shootouts, because what happens on screen is not all that thrilling. Honestly, I’m not taken with Paul Bernard’s prowess as a director of action sequences. This isn’t the only time in Doctor Who that the design of a set got in the way of a director who needs to stage a shootout – “The Claws of Axos” comes to mind – but it’s every bit as frustrating to watch. The scene where the Ogrons capture Jo is so sloppy. It doesn’t look like Bernard gave any thought at all to where his cameras should be.
For many reasons, I’m not as familiar with this story as I am most of the Pertwee years. Around 2002, when I was watching the series with my older son, circumstances forced me out of the room to deal with unpleasantness for the first five episodes, five nights straight of real life awfulness, and that hangs over this story for me. So it’s locked in my memory as going from prison cell to prison cell and me unable to enjoy even that. I had forgotten many of the details of my original copy, which I taped off air in the eighties and watched several times afterward.
WGTV had shown this during a pledge drive and interrupted the compilation movie at the approximate points of the original cliffhangers. This led to an interesting surprise tonight. At the end of part five, the Master turns on his fear box and the very last shot is Jo looking in horror at something that we can’t see yet. The next part will open by showing her a few of the most recent monsters in the show: a Drashig, a Mutant “mutt,” and a Sea Devil, and that’s the point where WGTV had faded to black, so I thought we’d be seeing them tonight.
Since I’m not as familiar with this as I could be, I had forgotten just how darn good Katy Manning is, especially in this climax. She and Pertwee and Roger Delgado carry almost all of part four with limited interruption from other characters, which is incredibly entertaining, and they dominate the critical scene in the throne room of the Draconian Emperor, played by John Woodnutt.
But at the end, the Master tries to hypnotize Jo again, and she is not having any of that. She is amazing! Delgado goes right into his party trick of “You. Will. Obey. Me!” and Manning stares him down with cold fury, reciting nursery rhymes in his face. He hypnotized her with ease on their first meeting, on her very first UNIT assignment, but she is not the same scatterbrained kid from “Terror of the Autons.” That’s a fantastic scene.
Thank heaven Roger Delgado turns up this week, because otherwise this episode is like watching paint dry. It’s more and more and more of prison cells and Earthmen not believing the Doctor and Jo. It’s agonizingly repetitive. For those of you who missed the previous two parts, don’t worry, because the other characters are going to force Jon Pertwee to explain the plot twice this week. So when the Master arrives toward the end in the guise of the police commissioner of the dominion planet Sirius IV, it’s the best thing by miles.
Once again, though, the story doesn’t pause to consider an avenue that’s a million times more interesting than what it does give us: 26th Century Earth is an authoritarian hellhole. Michael Hawkins’ general tells the weak president that she is in danger of being replaced by a military dictatorship, but she already presides over a planet where political prisoners are immediately sentenced to life imprisonment on the moon. At this time in its life, Doctor Who was not afraid to depict nasty futures and, in the manner of some good science fiction, warn against taking the wrong avenue. But later on, the producers and writers of the 1980s and 2000s would do more with totalitarian governments and pit a more active Doctor against them.
It’s difficult to square the way this Doctor treats future Earth as just another setting for adventures, albeit an ugly one, with the way the Doctor of “The Happiness Patrol” overthrows the government of a corrupt Earth colony, or the way the Doctor of “The Christmas Invasion” decides that Harriet Jones shouldn’t actually be the UK’s prime minister after all. Looking back at nineties fandom, I recall the way that older, Pertwee-loving fans of the show would praise Malcolm Hulke’s political edge while dismissing the show becoming “silly” in the late eighties. But Hulke’s stories, while sometimes brilliantly constructed and full of nuance and question around the issues of corruption, might have been even wilder if he had been allowed to position the character of the Doctor against the horrible corporations and government of the Earth he showed in “Colony in Space” and in this story. In a couple of weeks, we’ll watch “The Green Death,” where the Doctor is pitted against a corporation set on present-day Earth. It’s a shame that he never got the chance to similarly bring down the IMC, or this horrible president.
Meanwhile, I should point out that our son is just barely hanging on to this story, and the whole lot of nothing that doesn’t happen this week didn’t thrill him one bit. He certainly loved “The Three Doctors” and says that it is tied with “The Power of the Daleks” as his favorite adventure, but after the confusion and horrors of the last story and the frustrations of this one, he really, really needs something big to turn things around. But we’ll see that something big in a few days, after taking a little mid-story break.
One other thing to note this week is that Ray Lonnen’s character has left the narrative after two weeks. Episodes one and two were the only Doctor Who credits for this fine actor. Richard Shaw is in this part, and the next, as a trustee in the moon prison. Shaw had appeared in the 1965 serial “The Space Museum” and would appear in Who again five years after this, but we “remember” him best as Ryan, one of the recurring criminals in series five and six of Freewheelers. I use air quotes around remember because our son has watched series six of Freewheelers twice and remembers the character but, of course, doesn’t recognize the actor!
Well, there certainly was a lot that could have been done better in this last half hour, but I enjoyed that a lot. Spending the middle two episodes on what might best be called whimsy means that this story has a heck of a lot to tie up in a hurry. It’s rushed and, when Kronos unconvincingly destroys Atlantis, it really looks and feels like the director just said “that’s good enough,” because they had quite a lot more to tape.
But that scene in the dungeon! Jon Pertwee and Katy Manning are just magical together. It’s a beautiful little scene where the Doctor tells a story about an old hermit who lived on the mountain behind his boyhood home, and it’s just perfect. I love the Doctor becoming a storyteller instead of just dropping goofy anecdotes about Venusians. I love the way he seems to slip and refer to the story as “the first time I heard it,” as though it might not really have happened to him, it’s just an old, old story that’s taken on special meaning as he got older. We’ll never know, and that’s just fine.
Meanwhile, in short attention span theater, we asked our son what his favorite and least favorite parts of the whole adventure were, and they were apparently both in the final part. He loved the Doctor dueling with the minotaur – that’s future Darth Vader Dave Prowse under the mask – and hated the Master briefly becoming king of Atlantis. Overall, he said this story was “kind of a yes,” and I don’t agree. To my considerable surprise, the flaws don’t dampen the hugely entertaining adventure. It’s my favorite story of season nine, and it’s absolutely a yes.
All right, so finally we get to Atlantis, and some juicy material with meat on it. It’s still very flawed – they gave George Cormack all the best lines and then let him deliver them like an old stage ham playing to the cheap seats, for starters – but still huge fun.
In one of the most interesting casting choices of the era, Queen Galleia is played by Ingrid Pitt. In the two years prior to making “The Time Monster,” she had starred in a pair of phenomenally entertaining Hammer films, The Vampire Lovers and Countess Dracula. Jon Pertwee apparently suggested her for the part. In between seasons seven and eight, he and Pitt appeared together in one of the segments of an anthology horror film from Amicus, The House That Dripped Blood, which I really do need to get a copy of one of these days. Galleia’s handmaiden Lakis is played by a young Susan Penhaligon, who had a long and very successful acting career ahead of her.
And speaking of what’s ahead for the actors, about five months after they made this story, Ingrid Pitt and Donald Eccles, who plays the High Priest, would work together in another phenomenally entertaining horror movie, The Wicker Man.
Anyway, Pertwee and Pitt don’t share any screen time in this episode, but Galleia’s alliance with the Master takes center stage. He’s criminally smooth, taking advantage of her lust for sex and power, and Delgado and Pitt are very, very fun to watch together. That said, there’s enough onscreen evidence both in previous and future stories for us to know that this cannot possibly end well for Galleia even if the Master’s suggestion of ruling Atlantis together was honest. I don’t mind; it’s so fun to watch Pitt and Delgado work together.
Meanwhile, our son didn’t have quite as much to giggle about in this episode, but he certainly caught the reference to the minotaur. It led to a surprisingly effective cliffhanger when it appears that Jo is in danger and the bull-headed beast will attack her. He watched with attention, needing a little clarity about which unfamiliar Greek name goes to which character, before getting wide-eyed with worry at the end. A very satisfying half-hour!
Okay, so on the one hand, this can be accused very fairly of being padding padding padding. If you’re wanting your Doctor Who to be lean and mean and tightly plotted, I can see why this story maddens you. There’s literally not one minute of story here that’s essential to the plot of the Master going to Atlantis to get control of Kronos. If that’s the only reason that “The Time Monster” exists, then it could have been a three-parter. I understand that the low-budgeted series, throughout the Pertwee years, mainly adopted its format of two four-parters and three six-parters to make the best out of the resources available, but they honestly could have used three parts from this and one apiece from “The Mutants” and “The Sea Devils” and made an additional five-part adventure this year.
But I’m in the other camp. This is fun. The Doctor is being the stodgy old killjoy and the Master is having a ball. Benton gets turned into a baby, the TARDISes are materialized inside each other, and the Master uses his machine’s telepathic circuits to fiddle with the Doctor’s speech and have the words come out of his mouth backwards. If you’re bothered by the Brigadier turning into the Doctor’s straight man, only there to feed the star lines, he gets to stand in place for about the whole episode, frozen in time, so even he can’t annoy you. How could anybody not like this? It’s so fun.