Friday, 9 January 2015

Story 113 - Warriors' Gate

In which the Doctor, Romana and K9 are guided to an exit out of E-Space after a mysterious leonine being enters the TARDIS. He is Biroc, of the Tharil race, and he has just escaped from a slave ship belonging to Captain Rorvik. Tharils are time-sensitive creatures, and Rorvik has dozens of them captive on board his privateer. They are used to navigate the Time Winds and to guide craft through Hyperspace. The Tharils are kept sedated, and only one is forced to navigate at a time. The process of reviving them can be fatal if not handled properly.
The TARDIS arrives in a strange white void with zero co-ordinates - empty save for the fa├žade of a ruined Gothic building. Biroc leaves the ship and enters the building. The Doctor elects to follow him.
The privateer arrives soon after, and Rorvik plus two of his crew - second in command Packard and engineer Lane - use a mass tracking device to locate the TARDIS. Romana decides to go out and speak to them, urging Adric to remain on the ship with K9, who has been damaged by exposure to the Time Winds. On learning that Romana is a time-traveller, Rorvik insists that she accompany them back to his vessel.

The Doctor has found himself in a great banqueting hall - long disused. There are cobwebs everywhere, and dessicated corpses sit around the table. Around the room are what appear to be a number of suits of armour. Biroc will not be drawn on who he is or why he is here, and he leaves by walking through a huge mirror. The suits of armour prove to be robots - Gundans - and two of them come to life and attack the Doctor. They inadvertently destroy each other when the Doctor, caught between them, ducks. He opens the helmet of one to access its memory core. It states that the Gundans were created by humans to enslave the Tharils - in revenge for the Tharils having originally kidnapped them from N-Space and enslaved them. Rorvik and his crew arrive and capture the Doctor, but he escapes by passing though the mirror and finds Biroc waiting for him. Biroc will show him what he wants to know.
After Biroc had escaped, two of the privateer crew had been instructed to revive another Tharil. They succeed only in electrocuting some and badly burning another - Lazlo. Lazlo frees Romana and they hurry to the building, also passing through the mirror.
The Doctor and Biroc are now in the banqueting hall as it once was. Tharils gorge themselves on food and wine, and treat the human servants like slaves. The Gundans suddenly burst into the hall.

The Doctor suddenly finds himself back in the derelict hall - captive of Rorvik and his men once more. He is rescued by Adric and K9, who threaten Rorvik with his own MZ laser weapon. K9 is left behind. Rorvik attempts to break through the mirror but all efforts fail. He decides instead to blast it using his ship's engines. This will be disastrous, as the engines have been damaged. Also, the hull of the privateer is made of dwarf star alloy - incredibly dense - and it is causing the void to contract. Attempts to sabotage the privateer fail as the void collapses in on itself. When Rorvik does trigger his engines, the energy bounces back and destroys the ship. Lazlo has revived the other Tharils, and they are able to survive the blast by time-phasing. They enter the building and pass through the mirror.
Just before the void collapses totally, Romana announces that she is going to stay behind in E-Space and help the Tharils free the rest of their kind from slavery. They have learned the lessons of the past. The Doctor gives her K9, as he will be undamaged on the other side of the mirror. Lazlo's injuries are also cured on this side. Romana may even be able to build herself a TARDIS, as K9 contains all the ship's blueprints. The TARDIS materialises briefly on the other side of the mirror, before the Doctor and Adric travel on into N-Space.

This four part story was written by Steve Gallagher, and was broadcast between 3rd and 24th January, 1981. It marks the end of the "E-Space Trilogy" and sees the departure of Lalla Ward's Romana, and K9 (voiced by John Leeson).
The story had a very turbulent history. Originally, Romana was to be written out in a story by Christopher Priest called Sealed Orders, which would have been a political thriller set on Gallifrey. The Doctor was to have found himself under orders to kill Romana. This story fell through and so Steve Gallagher was commissioned for the replacement - initially titled Dream Time. Tom Baker and Lalla Ward were not happy with the new script as they felt it failed to capture their characterisations very well. Baker was additionally irritable at this time because of his on-going illness, and because Lalla was leaving the show. The story was heavily rewritten by Christopher Bidmead and the director, Paul Joyce - to the extent that Joyce has since stated he should have got a writer's credit.
When it came time to go into the studio, Joyce would himself prove to be a problem for the production.
Inexperienced with directing for TV, Joyce ran behind schedule. Wanting to shoot "off-set" (where the studio itself might be seen) he argued with the lighting director John Dixon. A concerned JNT ended up sacking Joyce, and his Production Assistant - a certain Graeme Harper - had to step in and direct, uncredited, the second half of the story. Joyce was reinstated before recording ended - but naturally he was never invited back to direct another Doctor Who. Interviewed for the DVD release of Warriors' Gate, Joyce was unrepentant. He wanted to be experimental and push the boundaries - which is where his inexperience in working to such tight studio schedules showed.
To add to all of this, there was also a carpenters strike at the BBC at the time.

Visually, the story is striking. The opening episode begins with a long series of shots wandering through the bowels of the privateer before we get to the crew on the flight deck - built of scaffolding on several levels. The world beyond the mirror is realised as a series of monochrome images, upon which the characters are superimposed in colour. There is an impressive sequence involving a tossed coin, which slows in mid-air and freezes. Sets, costumes and model work are wonderful throughout.
Problem is, though, no-one could quite fathom what the story was actually about. I was 16 when Warriors' Gate was broadcast - having to watch it episodically over four weeks, about a year before we got our first VCR. I didn't fully understand it. (The story - not the VCR). Now some fans equate complexity with quality - "I didn't understand it so it must have been good". You know the type. Well, it left me quite cold at the time. It is a story that really does require two or three revisits, and I have to admit that it has now grown on me.
There is a very good guest cast, led by the magnificent Clifford Rose as Rorvik (best known at the time as having played the Nazi villain of the BBC's Belgian Resistance drama Secret Army). Packard is Kenneth Cope - the ghostly half of Randall & Hopkirk. Biroc is David Weston.
On the DVD the cast say they didn't understand the story either - so I wasn't the only one.
Episode endings are:
  1. The Doctor is examining one of the armoured figures when it comes to life and stalks towards him, axe raised...
  2. Romana is strapped to the navigator's chair in the privateer as an injured Tharil enters the bridge and reaches out to seize her...
  3. The Doctor is sitting in the banqueting hall as it was in the past. Romana senses danger and calls a warning, and the axe-wielding Gundans burst into the room. Suddenly both are back in the present - surrounded by Rorvik and his men.
  4. Beyond the mirror in a beautiful monochrome garden, Romana, Lazlo and K9 set off on new adventures of their own.

Overall, wonderful to look at, but requires some serious concentration to fully follow what the hell is going on.
Things you might like to know:
  • Lazlo (played by Jeremy Gittins) never has his name mentioned on screen - only in the credits.
  • At one point you see a Gundan axe bounce harmlessly off of Tom Baker's back.
  • And on a couple of occasions you can see that it is the hollow K9 prop in shot.
  • There is a continuity error with K9's ears. Adric removes one, but it is back on him in the next scene.
  • The BBC had always tended to use blue or yellow for CSO shots before now. As you can see if you look at any production shots from this story, green was used for the Void sequences. Green is now the industry norm for CGI superimposition. The BBC studios where Doctor Who is currently filmed - at Port Teigr in Cardiff - has the biggest green screen studio in Europe.
  • One of the visual references for this story is Jean Cocteau's 1946 film La Belle Et La Bete - from the look of the Tharils to some of the dream-like imagery.
  • Paul Joyce obviously loves Alain Renais' Last Year At Marienbad as well.
  • The names of Rorvik's crew derive from well known scientists - Sagan from cosmologist Carl Sagan; Aldo from ecologist Aldo Leopold; Royce from computer pioneer Winston Royce.
  • Of course it is not the last time that we will see K9, or hear John Leeson. Within the year there will be the failed pilot for a spin-off series. He'll be back for The Five Doctors. K9 will then return in 2006 for the new series. He will make occasional appearances in first couple of series of The Sarah Jane Adventures before becoming a regular. The Mark I K9 will get a full spin-off series eventually - thanks to an Australian production company. And John Leeson has reprised this particular version of K9 for Big Finish.
  • Lalla Ward will get to feature in The Five Doctors also - thanks to the use of a clip from Shada. Her only on screen return to the role will be in the infamous Dimensions In Time. She has returned to the role of Romana for Big Finish - both in the Gallifrey series and, more recently, alongside her ex-husband - and favourite monster - Tom Baker. And, should you care to visit the Doctor Who Experience in Cardiff, Lalla Ward provides the narration for the new video sequence which introduces the interactive section.

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