DVD Extras include:
Production isn't perfect, but remains satisfying. The season continues to boast a large quantity and quality of model work and electronic effects, much to my personal satisfaction. Particularly in the last episode, the model work contributes greatly to the atmosphere as some of the final secrets of the story are discovered. A lot of the studio footage is not composed in a fashion to make it easy to add visual laser beams, but A.J. Mitchell devises a nice combination of line-of-fire beam and impact flashes, and moves things around as required to keep it as decent as possible.
Humour seems to have top priority, even over dramatic realism, but then what season seventeen story doesn't display this tendency at times? Unfortunately, Romana's costume for this story is a true eyesore, and many of the extras aren't able to manage a remotely convincing performance, particularly during the closing action. At another point, one early character, meant to be a crewmember, seems to make a better television reporter instead, more excited by his "exclusive" on the accident than worried about the threat to himself and his ship, or what he should be doing about it.
Indeed, the opening warp-smash does not have the impact it deserves, despite the technical brilliance and complexity of the eye-candy model shots and phasing effects, largely because of sound and the composition of the sequence itself. We need to see the ships shaking and grinding into position, and hear a cacophony of devastating sound effects, but unfortunately all we get is a tired, whiney piece of music that can't possibly do the sequence justice all on its own. The rest of Dudley Simpson's score is far better, effectively backing many of the detective-work scenes with the same style of piano dramatics as he had done with similar scenes in "City of Death". Dick Mills also later comes up with some very creative, creepy sound loops for areas of the ship that are not stable, allowing the story to gain atmosphere where it is needed most.
The performances from the major characters are well done. Della and Stott are solid, while Secker successfully achieves a necessary range in a short period of time. Captains Rigg and Dymond are exceptional, and, I think, comparable to any of the great performances of the Hinchcliffe era.
Tryst and Fisk are much more satirical characters that may not sit as well with those without a sense of humour. I find them highly enjoyable, especially as Tryst proves in the end that he is far more three-dimensional a character than he at first appears.
The Mandrells... were they meant to be scary? Perhaps the writer, director, and all the actors playing Mandrells thought they should be, and didn't quite achieve as spectacular a job of that as they'd hoped. Personally, I don't think the story needs frightening monsters to be effective, thanks to so much other interesting stuff going on. In terms of plot action, the Mandrells don't really need to be more than slightly wild randomizers upsetting the order and routine aboard ship. I think they would be better served if realized as well-rounded animal characters, if they were seen to be as concerned with food, shelter, safety, and their own fear of the unknown, rather than just attacking people all the time.
Perhaps the Doctor's final response to them achieves this better than anything else - his uncharacteristic off-screen remarks seem to indicate that he's talking TO them, conveying, with all the clarity he can muster, to their simple animal minds that what they're doing actually hurts and that he doesn't really deserve it, so that if hurting was not their real intention, as deep down I'm sure it wasn't, they might try a different tactic to get what they want. Perhaps that's why he can escape, nearly unscathed. All things considered, Jon Pertwee's taming of Aggedor in the Peladon stories worked much better for the audience though.
This seems to be the only broadcast season seventeen story, and the last one ever broadcast, in which the Doctor gets to wear his classic golden-brown coat. A great pity, as it was the best.
This story has become available on DVD and VHS video:
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