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Doctor Who: Meglos by John Flanagan and Andrew McCulloch

01/03/2012. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts

Buy Doctor Who: Meglos in the USA - or Buy Doctor Who: Meglos in the UK

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region 2 DVD: pub: BBC BBCDVD2852. 1 DVD 100 minutes 4 * 21 minute episodes with extras. Price: GBP 6.50(UK) if you know where to look) cast: Tom Baker, Lalla Ward, Edward Downtown, Jacqueline Hill, Colette Gleeson, Bill Frazer, Frederick Treves, Christopher Owen and John Leeson.

check out website: www.bbcshop.com

Things are going wrong underground on Tigella as their Dodecahedron crystal is running out of power and its people torn between the scientifically orientated Savants and religious Deons, led by Lexa (actress Jacqueline Hill) as to what to do and their leader, Zastor (actor Edward Downtown), forever trying to compromise. But help is at hand as Zastor puts out a message to someone he met fifty years ago called the Doctor.

On the nearby planet of Zolfa-Thura, a gang of Gaztak space raiders deliver a human to Meglos, a cactus-like sentient who merges with him and then takes on the appearance of a certain Time Lord. To ensure the real Doctor (actor Tom Baker) and Romana (actress Lalla Ward) don’t arrive, Meglos uses its technology to place them and the TARDIS in Chronic Hysteresis, a time-loop to me and you. They have to figure out a way to break the loop as they complete the repairs on K-9.

When they arrive on Tigella, Romana gets lost in the deadly forest and captured by the space raiders while the Doctor discovers that Meglos has stolen the Dodecahedron and he’s taking the blame for it. By the time Romana escapes, she finds the Doctor captured and stopped the Savant Caris (actress Colette Gleeson) before discovering it was Meglos. They then have to go and find the real Doctor who is being sacrificed for real by the Deons.

Meanwhile, Meglos and the raiders have arrived back on Zolfa-Thura and installing the Dodecahedron crystal is preparing to destroy Tigella. The Doctor, Romana and some Savants arrive by TARDIS and the Time Lord decides to pose as Meglos and sees about redirecting the attack. However, the raiders, led by General Grugger (actor Bill Frazer), decide that they don’t need Meglos and end up imprisoning both versions in their spaceship. Romana and the Savants arrive and K-9 frees the Doctor but Meglos resuming his original form escapes. The Doctor barely gets the TARDIS dematerialised before the planet explodes.

The second story of the eighteenth season really does feel short-changed being down to twenty-one minutes from twenty-five. When you deduct another couple minutes for recap, that’s nearly a complete episode time lost. ‘Meglos’ isn’t a bad story but it really is a light episode time wise. ‘Doctor Who’ might have been preparing for the 1980s but its budget was barely up to the task.

Rather uniquely after so many years away from ‘Doctor Who’, actress Jacqueline Hill (formerly companion Barbara Wright) is in the show in a different role. Although it’s happened a couple times in the recent century, this is the first time it happened.

The audio commentary is led by actress Lalla Ward, co-writer John Flanagan, actor Christopher Owen, who was the human template for Meglos, and music composers Patrick Kingsland and Peter Howell. Kingsland stood in with music for episode one as Howell was recovering from illness at the time. Flanagan puts the record straight that he and co-writer Andrew McCulloch came up with the story but editor Christopher Bidmead came up with the actual title. He also points out that the raider second-in-command’s name Brotadac was an anagram for ‘bad actor’ before it was cast as they thought a large hunk of a man would probably be chosen to act as a stooge. There is much discussion about the suspension of belief back in the past century and Lalla Ward makes a rather telling remark on the low budget that the special effects team were essentially doing the ‘Blue Peter’ models correctly. They might not have been able to count the number of sides on the Dodecahedron but I think it was twelve and looks remarkably like a role-playing game dice. Peter Howell explains that producer John Nathan-Turner didn’t even spot a practical joke in episode three when they changed some of the music to a tango. The heavy slab over the Doctor was made of jabbalite and wouldn’t cause anyone any harm. Flanagan explains that the fourth episode was three and a half minutes short which was put down to the writing. Does make me wonder that considering the last scene raced past why that couldn’t have been expanded but I suspect it’s all a matter of pace. More telling is Flanagan explaining that scripts aren’t written but re-written.

The extras start with ‘Meglos Men’ and the two writers, John Flanagan and Andrew McCulloch. I wasn’t sure until I saw his face but then recognised Flanagan as the actor from an early 70s TV police show ‘Parkin’s Patch’. They both like puns although when they pronounced ‘Gaztak’ didn’t admit to it sounding like ‘Gas Tax’.

‘The Scene Sync Story’ looks at the first major change in camera technology at the BBC when they bought the device that allowed a slave camera to match the main camera so they could do moving chroma-key and ‘Meglos’ was its first use on ‘Doctor Who’. Looking at the demos, it looked like a mechanical as opposed to computerised version used in ‘Star Wars’.
‘Entropy Explained’ has scientist Philip Trowga explaining the laws of thermodynamics, why work creates heat and why entropy means time passing.

‘Jacqueline Hill – A Life In Pictures’ although shows some photos there are also a selection of clips from various shows and a potted history of the actress. It was her suggestion that got a new actor called Sean Connery a role in ‘Requiem For A Heavyweight’. I wonder whatever happened to him?

A lot was going on behind the surface of ‘Meglos’ which has raised its significance to me even if most people remember if for the cactus version of the Doctor. If you just remember the menacing cactus then now’s your time to relive the events. Don’t get prickly.

GF Willmetts

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