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Meglos

Production Code: 5Q

First Transmitted

1 - 27/09/1980 18:15

2 - 04/10/1980 18:15

3 - 11/10/1980 17:40

4 - 18/10/1980 17:45

Plot

The Doctor is invited to visit the planet Tigella by its leader, Zastor, who has become concerned about disputes between his people's two opposing factions, the religious Deons and the scientist Savants.

The TARDIS is intercepted by the megalomaniacal xerophyte Meglos, last survivor of the planet Zolfa-Thura, and trapped in a chronic hysteresis - a time loop - but the Doctor and Romana manage to free it.

Meglos, using the body of a kidnapped Earthling, transforms himself into a duplicate of the Doctor and steals the Tigellans' power source - a mysterious dodecahedron. He plans to use this to power an apocalyptic device with which he intends to destroy Tigella.

The Doctor, although hindered by the activities of a group of Gaztak mercenaries hired by Meglos, ultimately brings about the xerophyte's destruction by tampering with the dodecahedron's controlling computers.

Episode Endings

Meglos traps the TARDIS in a chronic hysteresis and, with the aid of the Earthling's body, transforms himself into a perfect duplicate of the Doctor.

Romana is captured in the Tigellan forest by the Gaztaks' second in command, Brotadac, who states that she has seen too much. He orders his men to kill her.

The Deons' High Priest Lexa intends to sacrifice the Doctor to the god Ti in order to bring back the missing dodecahedron. The Time Lord is tied to the altar and flames placed under ropes holding up a huge stone that will fall and crush him. The ropes are burned through one by one, and the Doctor looks on in horror as a Deon holds a flame under the final rope.

With Meglos and Zolfa-Thura destroyed, the Tigellans can get on with the task of rebuilding their lives - without the help of the dodecahedron. The Doctor tells the Earthling that he can get him home before he leaves. The Earthling is understandably puzzled.

Roots

The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy (the appearance of the Earthling).

Asimov (test questions for K9).

Neo-Platonism and Pythagoras (mystical properties of the dodecahedron).

Star Trek's Turnabout Intruder (unstable body exchange).

Dialogue Triumphs

Zastor : "Some fifty years ago I knew a man who solved the insoluble by the strangest means. He sees the threads that join the universe together and mends them when they break."

Meglos : "I need you Earthling."

Earthling : "Let go of me! You've no right."

Meglos : "Quite right. But academic."

Brotadac : "Do you think he'd let me have that?"

Grugger : "What, the coat? Not cold, are you?"

Brotadac : "It's rather a nice coat... Now that he's finished playing the Doctor."

The Doctor : "Let's hope many hands will make the lights work."

Double Entendre

Caris : "That's impossible!" [Oddly looking below Meglos' waist.]

Meglos : "Yes," [Meglos grins] "The ultimate impossibility!"

Continuity

Romana knows martial arts, and has heard of the screens of Zolpha Thura.

K9 isn't sea-proofed (see The Leisure Hive). He now needs a battery recharge every two hours. Wagging his tail might unjam his probe circuit. The Doctor is an expert in power sources. The Tigellans know of the Time Lords.

Meglos occupies a xerophyte (cactus) initially, but can exist using any lifeform as a host, as a blob, or as a wavelength of light. [This is all rather confused]. He can duplicate someone after observing them, but needs a similar host to do it (He asks the Gaztaks for a two metre tall Earthling.) He has the technology to cause a time loop (a chronic hysteresis) in a TARDIS in flight.

The Gaztaks are humanoid [but not descended from Earth people, unless they can time travel: it seems unlikely that they'd go to all the trouble just to steal a human from the 1980s]. The humanoid seems to be a standard evolutionary pattern.

Location

The Prion system, containing Zolpha Thura and Tigella [probably in the 1980s].

Untelevised

The Doctor, in his fourth incarnation, visited Tigella 50 years ago, meeting Zastor.

Trivia

With the obvious exceptions of season one's Inside the Spaceship and single episode stories (season three's Mission to the Unknown, the twentieth anniversary special The Five Doctors and the 1996 television movie), this is the only story in the series' history in which all the credited cast members appear in all the episodes.

Jacqueline Hill plays the leading Deon, Lexa. Hill had played the first Doctor's companion Barbara Wright in seasons one and two.

The sound effect created for the approach of the Fendahl in season fifteen's Image of the Fendahl is re-used as background atmosphere for the Tigellan jungle.

The scenes set on the surface of Zolfa-Thura were realised by way of a new effects technique referred to as scene-sync - a development of the established CSO process. This involved two cameras being electronically synchronised to follow identical movements so that they could be made to track in unison and maintain the composite image (created in the usual way), whereas previously CSO shots had almost invariably been static.

Technobabble

'Having lived in the future, I can hardly die in the present.' [Meglos is talking rubbish, as Deedrix realises.]

Goofs

In episode one the wires holding the planet up over Zolpha Thura are horribly obvious.

And, if he wanted to possess a humanoid, why did Meglos ask for an Earthling rather than a (much closer) Tigellan?

Grugger says that he lost 50 per cent of his six man crew on Tigella, but there's more than three of them when they arrive on Zolpha Thura.

In episode one the Doctor says that he wasn't allowed to see the dodecahedron on his previous visit, but in episode three he remembers seeing it.

The cactus gloves show Tom Baker's wrists quite often.

When he's handling the dodecahedron in the Gaztak spacecraft in episode three, somebody off-screen audibly coughs.

Fashion Victim

The Savants' blond wigs.

Cast & Crew

Cast

The Doctor - Tom Baker

Romana - Lalla Ward

Voice of K9 - John Leeson

Caris - Colette Gleeson

Deedrix - Crawford Logan

Earthling - Christopher Owen

General Grugger - Bill Fraser

Lexa - Jacqueline Hill

Lieutenant Brotadac - Frederick Treves

Tigellan Guard - Simon Shaw

Zastor - Edward Underdown

Crew

Director - Terence Dudley

Assistant Floor Manager - Val McCrimmon

Assistant Floor Manager - Karen Loxton

Costumes - June Hudson

Designer - Philip Lindley

Executive Producer - Barry Letts

Incidental Music - Paddy Kingsland

Incidental Music - Peter Howell Peter Howell also composed the music for the cliffhanger ending to Part One but was uncredited on screen.

Make-Up - Cecile Hay-Arthur

Producer - John Nathan-Turner

Production Assistant - Marilyn Gold

Production Unit Manager - Angela Smith

Script Editor - Christopher H Bidmead

Special Sounds - Dick Mills

Studio Lighting - Bert Postlethwaite

Studio Sound - John Holmes

Title Music - Ron Grainer and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, arranged by Peter Howell

Visual Effects - Steven Drewett

Writer - John Flanagan

Writer - Andrew McCulloch

Bottom Line - from The Discontinuity Guide

Tom Baker excels, and there's a great costume for Lalla Ward, who's as wonderful as ever. It gets off to a great start, but rather loses its way, becoming a bit dull and not bothering to tell the viewers who or what Meglos is. It remains reasonably exciting, though, and there are some big ideas at work. You only realise that this is going to self destruct towards the end, largely due to Terence Dudley's thoughtful direction.

Analysis - from Doctor Who, the Television Companion

Fan reviewers can be rough on Doctor Who when it fails to live up to their expectations. 'Meglos was the sort of story that doesn't deserve a place anywhere in any season, let alone second in an allegedly new-look series which would revitalise the whole concept of Doctor Who,' asserted Paul Mount in The Doctor Who Review Issue 8, dated December 1980. 'To put it bluntly, Meglos was The Horns of Nimon revisited - but with good production values... [It] was a disaster.'

Although it certainly falls far short of the standards of production set by The Leisure Hive, Meglos is actually nowhere near as bad as these strong sentiments would suggest - especially if one makes allowances for the fact that it is about a talking cactus who wants to take over the universe.

'The story had very strong themes which were laid out carefully as it unfolded,' noted Martin Wiggins in Fendahl 13, dated November/December 1980. 'The division between Savants and Deons went beyond a simple sociological oddity, for it was a basic division between the two ways of looking at things - the Savants regard everything as explicable in terms of the physical universe; the Deons have to drag in metaphysics as well. As usual in Doctor Who, the Savant view was correct...'

The problem with the Tigellans is that - with the exception of Jacqueline Hill, who manages a competent performance in a role not really worthy of her talents - the cast all give the impression of having been drafted in from an amateur dramatics group. Lines are spoken as though they are being read off cue-cards and there is a notable lack of conviction all round. The worst offender is Edward Underdown, playing Zastor, who drifts through the story without ever really seeming to have his heart in it. That Underdown, a quite distinguished actor, was seriously ill at the time may well account for this, but ultimately the viewer has to judge by what is seen on screen irrespective of any behind-the-scenes problems that might have prevented it from being better. It must be admitted, though, that the cast are not well served by the costumes and make-up that they are required to wear, which are ridiculous in the extreme (Just why do all the Savants feel the need to have the same silly hairdos?.

Even more disappointing is the story's villain, as Mount commented: 'Meglos himself was the stereotype to end all stereotypes, despite some superb "spiky" makeup for both the Earthling... and Tom Baker. Ignoring the glaring inconsistency of... a race of cacti [surrounding] themselves with control rooms filled with dials and levers suitable only for human hands, Meglos... had no depth, no character, no originality and no purpose.' Exactly why Meglos needs an unnamed Earthling to provide him with a body in the first place, when presumably one of the Gaztaks or even a Tigellan would do just as well, is never made clear; and indeed there is very little background information of any sort provided about the character.

The motley band of Gaztaks afford a little welcome light relief - although John Connors, writing in Aggedor Issue 5 in 1983, had rather mixed feelings about their depiction: 'Ironically, Brotodac, played by Frederick Treves, was one of the better [members of the guest cast], especially when he chose Meglos's coat rather than a world to be destroyed. I [use the word] "ironically" because "Brotodac" is an anagram of "bad actor"... Bill Fraser managed a little more acting ability than the cactus (but not much)... He bumbled about looking uncomfortable in that ridiculous false beard; such an important part could have been better allotted.'

Paul Trainer, writing in Ark in Space No. 5, dated Spring 1981, was generally happy with the story's production values: 'As far as most of the technical aspects went, the sets, effects and direction were almost faultless, although there was one painful moment when Tigella, [seen] in Zolfa-Thura's sky, was quite obviously held up by strings.' In fact the story's effects as a whole are nothing to write home about, although they are passable and - in the case of the scene-sync shots - innovative in technique, and there is little to distinguish the Tigellan jungle from many others seen previously in Doctor Who.

The best aspect of the entire story is the superlative contribution made by Tom Baker and Lalla Ward. Baker not only gives a good performance as the Doctor but also plays Meglos with aplomb and makes an excellent villain. Tim Dollin, writing in TARDIS Volume 5 Number 6 in 1981, was highly impressed: 'The star of the show was undoubtedly Tom Baker... He really [gave] a brilliant performance as the doppelganger, and it was amazing to see the very real contrast between his Doctor and Meglos... My favourite effect of the piece was when the Earthling and Meglos were superimposed over each other [as the former tried to free his body from the latter's control]. It was brilliantly done, far better than the wobbling model work that somehow let the show down at times. It is in Parts Two and Three that the story really works, due to Tom's amazing performance.' Lalla Ward likewise has Romana down to a tee in this story. She is witty and cunning and a perfect foil for the Doctor. The fact that K9 is also present almost passes the viewer by, and it is becoming apparent by this stage that the series' writers are really struggling to find something useful to give the robot dog to do.

Meglos is an entertaining tale with some good ideas and interesting themes, including the conflict between religion and science, the dilemma faced when a race realises that its essential power source is no longer reliable - or even present - and the lengths to which an individual will sometimes go in order to settle an old score. Unfortunately the production just doesn't quite gel and the whole thing ends up being something of a disappointment.

< The Leisure HiveFourth DoctorFull Circle >

This episode guide is made up of the text of The Discontinuity Guide by Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping, and Doctor Who: The Television Companion by David J. Howe and Stephen James Walker.

The Discontinuity Guide © Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping 1995.
Doctor Who: The Television Companion © David J Howe and Stephen James Walker 1998, 2003.



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