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Doctor Who: The E-Space Trilogy

(BBC; US DVD: 5 May 2009)

Gobbledigook!

The E-Space Trilogy is one of the most important developments in the Doctor Who universe for two reasons: we not only gain a new companion, but we lose two old friends.


What’s stranger than that, however, is the circumstances in which those events occur.


On Full Circle—the first part of this terrific three-DVD box set—the Doctor (Tom Baker) and Romana (Lalla Ward) are heading off to the Doctor’s home planet of Gallifrey, much to Romana’s displeasure. The TARDIS, however, winds up getting sucked into “E-Space”, wherein all their coordinate positions are actually in negative numbers, and, as such, they’re in a completely different dimension.


The planet Alzarius is a marshy swamp-filled world, wherein people are perpetually preparing a spaceship called “The Starliner” ready for takeoff. A small group of young rogues view the situation differently, occasionally stealing from their elders and planning their future for themselves. One of these young men is a brilliant mathematician named Adric (Matthew Waterhouse).


Though Whovians may debate and argue who was the best Doctor, what the best episode was, and how Russell T. Davies’ reboot stacks up against the original series, one thing that is almost universally agreed upon is the uselessness of Adric as a companion. In the short DVD featurette “The Boy with the Golden Star”, Waterhouse reflects on the fact that though he was initially brought in as “an Artful Dodger character”, he felt that some of the lines he was fed were utterly ridiculous, particularly during the Four to Doomsday serial (he’s right). What’s interesting though is how during Full Circle, Adric is smart, resourceful, and caring—ready to help out at a moment’s notice while also providing his own scientific opinions for contrast.


His character is given depth, even, given that his brother Varsh (Richard Willis) winds up sacrificing himself in order to save Romana and Adric from the attack of the Marshmen, a much-feared race that inhabit the planet of Alzarius and emerge only once in a great while. Not much is known about the creatures, but people run in fear of them, as the head knowledge-keeper known as Dexeter says that they’ve always feared the destructive Marshmen, without giving reason as to why.


When one is captured and taken to testing aboard the Starliner, a doctor informs Dexeter that this particular Marshman is a bad sample, as he’s not aggressive at all. Comparisons can be made to modern-day racism with the treatment of the Marshmen, as no one ever asks for a reason as to why these creatures are to be feared: it’s just accepted knowledge amongst the Alzarian population. Leave it to the Doctor, of course, to debunk such fear simply by using a microscope ...


During the Terrance Dicks-penned State of Decay, the TARDIS lands on a planet that is loaded with advanced technology despite being notably medieval in setting. Everyone knows everyone, peasants lead a simple life of work until they die, and every once in awhile a “selection” is made amidst the commonfolk for guard duty under the Lords. Not much is known about the Lords, but as the Doctor, Romana, K-9, and new stowaway Adric soon find out, Earth isn’t the only planet in the universe to harbor lore about vampires ...


What’s interesting about State of Decay is how the storyline, though slightly different in terms of setting, is remarkably similar to Full Circle: a group of aliens wind up landing upon a planet and inhabit it for so long that hyperbolic myths develop as to their actual origins, warring factions of people breaking off and rebelling against their leaders as the Doctor attempts to find some harmonic unity between all. State of Decay is a fine if somewhat typical Who story, but its impact is lessened somewhat immediately following Full Circle, and—worst of all—featuring no actual developments to the overarching “E-Space” plot.


Which is why Warrior’s Gate is such a treat. The TARDIS lands at coordinates numbered 0, indicating that the Doctor and his companions are teetering on the edge of E-Space, just about to fold over into their “regular” universe. Of course, in being stuck in a dimension that by all technical means doesn’t exist, means that some wacky things can happen, the TARDIS now sharing space with a spaceship commanded by a man named Rorvik.


His spaceship is actually a slave-ship wherein creatures named Tharil’s—known for their ability to see through time and space—are plugged into the ship’s machinery in order to let the ship’s crew see around them, in both space and time, the Tharil’s energy drained and used for Rorvik’s own sight and sound. One particular Tharil named Biroc manages to escape, preventing Rorvik’s ship from navigating any further. As Biroc travels through the empty wasteland known as E-Space, Rorvik searches desperately for a “time sensitive” that can guide his ship out of the void he’s stuck in. Then, it just so happens, he runs into Romana ...


What’s unique about the Warrior’s Gate serial is how given that the Doctor isn’t in a “firm universe”, as it were, lots of different time-warping tricks can be played, and as such, he’s able to jump around from one time frame to another, at one point dining with the Tharil’s in the past and finding out their true origins before immediately being plopped down into the same room during present day, right in front of Rorvik and his gang of gun-wielding men. It’s a fascinating tale not only due to its setting, but also because it introduces a character that arguably is smarter than the Doctor (Biroc, offering somewhat cryptic advice from time to time), and—most critically—it features the departure of Romana and K-9.


Truth be told, Romana’s desire to stay behind and help Biroc in the realm of E-Space is somewhat sudden, the whole “I’m staying behind” scene clocking in at barely a minute, the Doctor insisting she take K-9 with her almost as a whim. During “The Dreaming”—a making of featurette—the various contributors note how the entire episode was a bit rushed, the script actually the conglomorate work of three different writers, the departure scene hastily shot, and the entire staff having to deal with Baker’s ever-escalating ego about his place in the series. Coincidentally, actress Lalla Ward would wind up marrying Tom Baker two months after her departure from the show.


This DVD set features a host of features, ranging from a doc exploring the scientific realism (or lack thereof) of this E-Space theory (“E-Space—Fact or Fiction?”), to a featurette detailing a lot of the resentment that the character of K-9 faced during his course on the show (“K-9 in E-Space”), to smaller features about the costuming (“Lalla’s Wardrobe”) and the exploration of the use of vampires in popular literature (“Leaves of Blood”). Though Who DVD features can occasionally be spotty, the bonuses on this particular set are welcome and rather insightful.


Ultimately, the Doctor’s journey into “E-Space” isn’t one of his most memorable “arcs” (especially when compared to The Key of Time or even The Trail of a Time Lord), but it’s a serviceable romp, filled with personnel changes, mighty bits of action, and a scene wherein Romana gets attacked by an army of fantastically fake spiders. Really, what more can you ask for?

Rating:

Evan Sawdey started contributing to PopMatters in late 2005, and has also had his work featured in publications such as SLUG Magazine, The Metro (U.K.), Soundvenue Magazine (Denmark), the Daily Dot, and multiple national newspapers. Evan has been a guest on RevotTV's "Revolt Live!" as well as WNYC's Soundcheck (an NPR affiliate), was the Executive Producer for the Good With Words: A Tribute to Benjamin Durdle album (available for free at GoodWithWordsAlbum.com), and wrote the liner notes for the 2011 re-release of Andre Cymone's hit 1985 album A.C. (Big Break Records), the 2012 re-release of 'Til Tuesday's 1985 debut Voices Carry (Hot Shot Records), and many others. He currently resides in Chicago, Illinois. You can follow him @SawdEye should you be so inclined.


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