Warriors' Gate

Written by:
Stephen Gallagher
Directed by: Paul Joyce
Starring: Tom Baker
Year: 1981
Video Availability: Try sendit.com

Warriors' Gate is obscure, pretentious, indulgent… and I love it to bits!!

People talk about Lovett Bickford, but Paul Joyce does fantastic work here. Featuring tiered sets, and - ingeniously - using actual studio lights as lights on the ship, this is excellent stuff. All of a sudden the whole ante has been upped. Direction, performance, script… easily the best story of season 18, any story where the Doctor starts waffling about "Astral Jung" gets a vote in my book.

There's a reliance on electronic effects in this episode, though they're there to supplement the story, rather than the other way around. JN-T's final season would also feature creatures that looked like humanoid cats, and green contact lenses. It wouldn't be half as credible as this, though. It's also very Mind Robberish in that it's a first episode largely set in a white void.

"We'll burn that bridge when we come to it", and Tom picking up the cobwebbed glass that he would later/earlier knock over in episode three. It's all so good….
* * * * ½

You know, I don't like the way Romana always lords it around like she's a second Doctor. When she talks down to Adric she's like Mel Sykes thinking half the granny audience are applauding her. (Apologies to non-UK members who wont have a clue what I'm on about… or 90% of UK members, come to that). She's very pale as well, isn't she? At least it fits in with the aristocratic background I guess… Anyway, this is another corker, full of cool lines like "Why believe Biroc?" "Because he was running."

There's plenty of humour in such a straight story, too, though not all of the Cope/Kincaid/Earrle/Waters banter works and does occasionally feel contrived. Note though how Tom holds over a dozen shattered staffs when it cuts back to him on the android fight, something that's a lot more comic than you would have been prepared to believe for season 18. The less charitable might observe that a blade accidentally hits him on the back without harm, but you can't have everything. Waterhouse, meanwhile, is relegated to some K-9/exposition subplot guff.
* * * * ½

Is the mark of a great story a really good episode three? Normally a tedious runaround to pad things out until the resolution, this one fair rocks like a daddy. The stuff where the Doctor enters the past timeline of the Tharils is exquisite, and it's the sign of a good episode that you're so engrossed you forgot to take any notes. When you see Biroc's bunny teeth he looks like Freddie Mercury, though the time shifting and slavery commentary are first-rate. Don't forget, triple J are looking for the hot one hundred.
* * * *

Maybe the climax of Warriors' Gate doesn't quite stand up to the rest of the story. I'm always on the verge of saying this is a five-star classic, but it never quite makes it. In reality it'd be ****1/2, but giving half-stars in an overall verdict is against the rules, so…

The poetry of the previous three episodes seem to have dispersed into a bit of a hurried wrap-up, the polystyrene and sparkler firework "explosion" here particularly inept. And note that when all three Tardis crewmembers "fall" to the floor, Waterhouse is the only one dumb enough to knock the console and make it rock. "The backblast backlash'll bounce back and destroy everything" is almost Pip and Janeian in construction, while "I want a landing that wouldn't ripple the skin on a custard" is straight from the mouth of Alan Partridge.

Another problem is that despite its beauty, there's not enough narrative tension when your main bad guy (fittingly, there are no black and white villains in the story) is a grey-haired old man who Romana pathetically slaps with an orange clipboard. His "insane" acting is quite excruciatingly embarrassing, by the way, ensuring that - yet again - Matthew Waterhouse isn't the worst actor in a story.
* * * *

So near to being a fully-fledged classic it's untrue, Warriors' Gate is obviously not for everyone, but is outstanding television. The notion that a television series could run for eighteen years and yet still break new ground is phenomenal, and this is leagues ahead of any other season 18 story, being one of the five greatest stories of the 80s.
* * * *