Season24@30. In an episode where little actually happens the Doctor and Mel seem to end up where they started. Mel is back at Tabby and Tilda’s, the Doctor is roaming the carrydors before ending up again in the hands of the rather flip floppy Red Kangs. One minute they don’t like him then all it takes is a few cans of Fizzaid and they love him only for the arrival of a caretaker search party to turn them against him again. Its fair to say that this episode makes very little difference to the overall narrative.
Some of the details it does reveal are interesting nonetheless though often couched in a cartoon like manner. So when Pex’s background is revealed as being an `in between` who avoided being drafted for the war, he ends up sulking a bit and bowing his head. What could be a dramatic moment is undermined especially as Mel seems to have absolutely no sympathy for him and leaves him to be name called by the Blue Kangs. The Doctor’s escape from impending execution is sort of ingenious yet also childish. Surely the rule book by which the caretakers abide would be known backwards by all of them (and the books themselves rather more dog eared you’d imagine) so they wouldn’t be fooled by his ruse. The episode’s biggest reveal- that the Chief Caretaker is hiding something large and dangerous – is also played for laughs rather than scares. Two flashing lights and a deep voice saying “Hungry” is hardly in the tradition of the show’s landmark monsters. It’s as if the story is trying to say it’s not to be taken too seriously while playing with serious ideas.
If it is allegorical then the threads are not really picking up. The enslavement to rule books, the cannibalistic tendencies of some of the residents, the rivalries between the gangs, the story behind the self -created hero- these are all fertile subjects that if developed could make for a highly interesting story. Yet part 2 is content only to dip a toe in such waters and do so with a preference for levity.
Sylvester McCoy’s performance adds much to the episode. He delivers some delightfully off hand lines and his charm in the “ice hot” drinks scene is perfect. He also proves rather adept at light fingered trickery and I’m sure by now 1987 viewers would be happy that a good Doctor had been chosen. Mel, unfortunately, seems to be in reverse gear this week. Her scenes actually add nothing to the story as it is clear the character does not actually know where she is going literally and figuratively. She seems to be written as someone who is perceptive one minute and a bit dumb the next.
Visually the episode makes good use of the comparatively vast sets but over use of dry ice that looks like dry ice rather than the smoke it is supposed to. There’s a curious scene where two of the cleaning machines are belching this stuff while approaching each other. Does this mean some of the machines are trying to stop the others? Or where they just having a contest to see who could catch the Doctor? No complaints thought about the cliffhanger which is treated with the sort of viciousness that other scenes might have benefited from.