Full Circle

Written by:
Andrew Smith
Directed by: Peter Grimwade
Starring: Tom Baker
Year: 1980
Video Availability: Try sendit.com

I'm a right idiot and I'm forever deleting my stuff - I even managed to delete a whole website once. So I owe huge thanks to Aaron, the site visitor who posted me this review after I'd tried it out on a Who forum some time ago... then wiped it from my hard drive by accident. Was it a great loss anyway? Nah, it's not the Holy Grail - it's just me talking tripe as usual...

A vast upturn after Meglos, Full Circle is a nondescript yet still excellent story.

Tom's brooding season 18 take on the Doctor is again sidelined, with the Doctor and Romana only appearing in 7'24 of 22'35 minutes of story screentime, and not interacting with any of the other characters, save Adric. This is what is so rewarding about Full Circle - the characters exist in their own right, and aren't just there are reactive foils for the Doctor's vanity. The opening of the story is a telling nod to future JN-T seasons, with mentions of Gallifrey, Leela, K-9 mark one and the Key to Time. It never seems anorakky under Tom, though.

There's some curious homoerotic imagery with two male swimmers playfully wrestling. Then there's Adric, of course. Okay, here's where I put my love spuds on the mousetrap: I actually quite like Adric. There. I've said it. I feel better now. Yes, Waterhouse is amateurish, but compared to the panto wailing of Fielding and full-on Plankasity of Sutton, he's positively RSC material. And he works well in season 18, too.

How many Who stories are defined by their music, anyway? Full Circle has yet another foreboding, doom-laden score, that convinces you that everything is ten times more interesting and atmospheric than it really is. It's a class score, up there with stuff like Inferno, City of Death, Revelation of the Daleks, Keff McCulloch...

The Decider's ludicrous stunt fall (bringing back memories of Havoc) is the only sour note in an otherwise superb little adventure, which looks great throughout. The cliffhanger is an obvious steal from Letts's own The Sea Devils, but is far better here.
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Look at the Marshmen here. They're just the archetypal men in suits, really, but the great location filming, good direction and dark lighting, along with their wet, grimy look makes them far better than a vast majority of Who creatures. Yet because they are mute and this is such a serious story then they're not really regarded in the top rank of Who monsters. Don't you think their heads look a bit like testicles, though?

The cheesy K-9 theme is very silly here, though James Bree gives his best performance in Who, far away from his War Games gargling and Trial craposity. There's a scene where the Tardis being moved effects the inner dimensions, which might upset fanboys, and even as a child I knew the plastic spiders were naff. "In fact, we always seem to be repairing him" says Romana over K-9 in yet another clever way the season undermines one of the most popular (with the public) companions and so means that they don't mourn his passing quite as much.

It's difficult to know how good non-professional author Matthew Smith's script really is. There's every chance that it could be bog-standard and clunky, but with the great performances, Paddy Kingsland's score and Peter Grimwade's surprisingly superb direction it seems virtually first-rate.
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I think the start of episode three begins with Adric saying "I think I pulled the wrong lever." I say think as the bit where Romana gets attacked by the spider suddenly cuts to it with a rough edit, with no theme titles in between. Them's the breaks when you got most of your collection from Australia. It's what we all used to do, wasn't it? (Wasn't it?) UK readers anyway. One day the kids of the future, with their UK Gold and their collection of DVDs (including DVDs that have recreated all the missing episodes) will look back and snigger over our tatty ABC copies. But they served us well at the time, didn't they?

I sometimes wish I hadn't grew old or learned of behind the scenes antics. Because when I was young I would've found Tom charming here (actually, I wouldn't, when I was young I was bored and watched Buck Rogers instead) yet now I know he couldn't really stand Matthew Waterhouse and their rapport lasted only as long as the cameras were running. There's also rumours that he wasn't talking to Lalla at this stage, either. What's more, when you know, you can tell, you can see the bitterness if not seeping, then mildly simmering, through the screen.

"That's not scientific understanding, it's cold-blooded murder." All of a sudden an enjoyable, if fairly standard in concept, Who adventure has turned into a commentary on vivisection. Tom's righteous indignation here is particularly good. Only having the scene juxtaposed with silly stuck-on veins on Romana's face distracts. And with "you want to hold on to the old order" it's also possibly a diatribe on the nature of racism.(Aaronovitch fans please take note: it doesn't beat you over the head with it)

There's also a bit where Adric picks up Romana's City of Death/Shada hat, which is how continuity should be. It's a nod for the fans, not at all distracting for the uninitiated. Sadly, there is an unfortunate shot towards the end of this episode where you can clearly see glove and boot marks on some of the Marshmen. Oh well. And, despite having some of the strongest scenes of the whole story, I can't deny that this is quite an episode threeish episode three, if you get my meaning.
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The last two episodes must have been shown as a double-bill on ABC, so I have no way of knowing where episode three began. I assume it was some Romana-related incident, but my copy doesn't even edit to the next, but flows straight into it. The final episode doesn't really go anywhere, and is perhaps too much of a happy ending to really satisfy. Well, apart from Adric's brother, but then who cares abut him?

With the portentous music and jokes about procrastination this really does feel like Hitch-Hikers at times. I'm not sure what the man on the street made of CVEs, but it is a nice concept.
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Another great component of the "overall season story" ethos, the conclusion to Full Circle feels a little limp by itself, but works well as part of the greater whole. A rare instance of Who which you can watch without being embarrassed by its cheapness... well, at least if you turn a blind eye to the spiders...
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