I said in my Green Death review that we were saying goodbye to the UNIT era. I thought then that it was appropriate it ended with clinking glasses and the Doctor disappearing off on his own in Bessie, his most faithful companion in all his time on Earth. Well, I just didn't know what I was talking about, evidently.
How's about Mike Yates pulling a fun on the Brigadier, eh?
And while we're about it, how about the Brigadier risking mutiny by rescuing the Doctor from a senior officer?
What, indeed, about a story where all the Green Utopianism that's typified the Dicks/Letts era becomes a government conspiracy to commit global genocide?
Everything's cracking up. The halcyon days are gone. Even Bessie's been put in the garage, passed over for something spangly and futuristic. (Why not just stick some fold-out wings on his jaunty Edwardian roadster? Is he scared he'll have Dick Van Dyke on his doorstep, threatening litigation?)
The crucial thing is, for quite a while we don't know that Operation Golden Age are mass murderers in waiting. In fact, even at the end their leaders seem to see this as a point of philosophical debate. Of course, the scheme itself is so loopy it strains credulity - but if it seemed more credible, might it also seem more reasonable?
For at least half the story, there's the chance the Doctor is on the wrong side - and perhaps there is an ambiguity even at the end. The fact that the story ends with two men, however dangerously minded, getting beamed back to the Jurassic era, and apparently to the Doctor's satisfaction, only underlines this.
In fact, Mike's continued harping on to his superiors about the Doctor - not fingering him as a threat so much a potential ally - implies the Time Lord has been a dangerous inspiration to our sad captain. The Doctor spent all that time trying unsuccessfully to encourage a cosmic outlook in his young companion, but perhaps it rubbed off on the wrong person.
I don't know the circumstances that led to Mac Hulke leaving the series' writing roster (a lust for conference centres seems improbably involved) but it almost feels here that he's exposing, fatally, the ideological problems of UNIT and the Doctor. The question of what the Brigadier might try to achieve if his mandate was active rather than responsive (and just what are all those scientists developing at the research centre in The Time Warrior?) haunts this surprisingly grim tale.
A part of me really wants the Pertwee era to end with the Brigadier's complete disillusionment with the British establishment and his resignation from UNIT, perhaps to form his own splinter group. In Wales. With Nancy and her nut roast. Watching Troughton and Pertwee in sequence made me particularly curious about the Brigadier as a character, from the way he accepts the Doctor at face value to his conversation with the sceptical Liz Shaw, plus everything we read between the lines.
This is quite a good story for the Brigadier, insofar as it doesn't reduce him to a Nigel Bruce Dr Watson, but any real insights into his mentality are forever deferred. The big omission is Lethbridge-Stewart's closing chat with Yates. But then the show has set up and then skipped these sorts of conversations, ever since The Silurians.
The Doctor arrives a week later than he intends to, and we all come close to being rolled back and nixed. (We would be in even more trouble if Sarah Jane a Smith hadn't stowed away the week before.) What would UNIT do if the Doctor finally made up his mind and returned once more to wandering time and space. And what exactly do they do with Professor Whitaker's time machine after he's gone? Hello, UNIT dating controversy.
Our hero is ready to go. He finishes the story with an almost exact re-tread of his invitation to Jo to Metebelis III. Only this time, instead of being oblivious, his friend can't stop herself listening to him. (She presumably hasn't heard how little the last paradise planet turned out to resemble the brochure.) And the series has shifted already, so that when they come back to the modern day, it feels alien and unfamiliar. As if we're seeing through Sarah's eyes now that she's stepped outside the everyday.
Can you believe this is the first time we've seen the Third Doctor in modern London? The first and only time, I believe. No stalking down Whitehall with Liz Shaw, or sipping espressos in Soho with Jo Grant. It makes him seem even more out of time, waiting at a bus stop with his frills out and his magnifying glass swinging on its pendant, yet somehow even more of that era - a glam Doctor, a combination of John Steed, Gambit and Purdey, a man who could be scientific adviser of UNIT forever if he didn't feel the need to tempt Sarah Jane to sample the higher dimensions.
There's a fair bit of padding in the last couple of episodes, including a superfluous chase in the woods. But I don't think I'll ever feel too harshly toward a story with lots of location filming. There are some gorgeous shots of the Doctor framed by woodland foliage that take us right back to Spearhead from Space. This is a Doctor who has come to feel and look strangely at home on Earth.
Not for long. The Police Box is beckoning. It's time for Sarah to meet the Daleks...