This time the Doctor and his companions found themselves on a planet that appears uninhabited by intelligent life except for a single city. The Doctor sets out to explore, leaving behind Steven and Dodo, and finds himself taken to meet the Elders, who run the technologically advanced society within the city. Both the Doctor and the Elders are complimentary toward each other; the Elders claim they’ve observed some of the Doctor’s adventures and greet him as the Traveler, while the Doctor also recognizes the Elders’ planet and notes that they’ve achieved a great deal of scientific and cultural progress in a short span. However, the Elders, especially one named Jano, are elusive when the Doctor asks how their civilization evolved so quickly in the first place. Meanwhile an impatient Steven and Dodo set out on their own and find themselves stalked by people using Stone Age weapons. Before they can investigate further, they are also taken by the Elders’ soldiers to the city as honored guests and given a tour. It isn’t long, though, before Dodo stumbles across the answer to the Doctor’s questions: the Elders have been abducting people from the surrounding landscape and literally siphoning off their mental energy.
Finding his suspicions confirmed by Dodo, the Doctor rages against the Elders. Seeing a golden opportunity, Jano decides to subject the Doctor to the siphoning process, in spite of the objections of the scientists who have never subjected a strong intellect to the process before, and receive the Doctor’s intelligence himself. Unfortunately for Jano, he absorbs some of the Doctor’s personality as well. As for Dodo and Stephen, they escape from the city and are hidden in a cave system from the Elders’ troops by the “savages.” The companions learn that the “savages” used to be an advanced race with a sophisticated culture, but generations of being exposed to the process en masse has caused their civilization to regress. With their help, Dodo and Steven rescue a very weakened but still conscious and slowly recovering Doctor.
After being thoroughly exposed to the Doctor’s personality, Jano sabotages the technology that makes the process possible while Dodo and Steven help the “savages” revolt against the Elders’ army. The leaders of both societies agree to establish a new society together, but the Doctor worries that the process won’t run smoothly and asks Steven to stay behind as a mediator. Steven (who doesn’t seem to have much of a choice) “volunteers”, leaving behind the TARDIS.
As much as I’ve enjoyed doing write-ups of past “Who” episodes and while I genuinely have been extremely busy and stressed the past several weeks, this one took some time and effort just to get through. It’s not because it’s a bad serial, at least relatively, but it is depressingly typical of the show’s third series: a plot derivative of what’s come before (in fact, the whole story feels like a retread of most of “The Space Museum”) and there’s little depth to the alien worlds the Doctor encounters. That’s not to say that the first two seasons should be known for having elaborate settings and backstories, but there’s just something missing from the worlds that we’ve seen so far. Especially compared to “The Sensorites” or “The Web Planet”, even the window dressing that at least gives the alien settings the illusion of depth seems to be missing. There are good points – the actor playing Jano actually does a decent job of imitating Hartnell’s mannerisms and the like – and it’s certainly not nearly as much of a chore to sit through as “The Gunfighters” or “The Massacre of St. Bartholomew’s Eve”, but it is bland enough that it is actually harder to formulate an opinion on it.
Ah, and Steven…we hardly knew ye. For the First Doctor era, companions with little or no background are par for the course, but the character of Steven seemed to have quite a bit of potential. Like the departures of Susan and Vicki, this one is clearly a showrunner mandate, and it’s sort of a shame it had to come now since having Steven depart from the TARDIS the way he did at the end of “The Massacre” would have been a much more suitable bookmark to the character’s career as a companion. Ah well, at least series three is almost over…