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Doctor Who: Meglos

BBC Worldwide // Unrated // January 11, 2011
List Price: $24.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by John Sinnott | posted January 4, 2011 | E-mail the Author
The Show:
A story taken from Tom Baker's final season playing The Doctor, Meglos is solid four-part story that stands the test of time fairly well.  Revisiting some common themes (religion vs. science as well as a villain impersonating The Doctor) the show manages to avoid feeling stale through the use of some nice (if a bit crude) special effects and creature makeup that actually looks very good.  While it does have some flaws that keep it from the top tier of Who stories, the adventure is well worth watching.

While giving K-9 a tune up, The Doctor and Romana receive a call from his old friend Zastor, the leader of the planet Tigella.  He's like The Doctor to come and settle a dispute between the two dominant factions of his world, Deons (a group of religious fanaticals) and the Savants (the scientists of the planet who are UFO-styled wigs to prove they're intelligent).  The Deons worship the Dodecahedron, a multi-sided object that they feel is a gift from their god, while the Savants believe it's a technological device and have actually harnessed its energy to power their civilization.  When the power being used from the device starts to fluctuate and become unstable, the Savants want to study the Dodecahedron further to discover a solution to the problem while the Deons say it's an omen from god.
The Tigellans aren't the only ones interested in the Dodecahedron however.  On another planet in their solar system, Zolfa-Thuran, lives Meglos the last survivor of his race.  Looking like a giant cactus, Meglos has hired a motley band of space mercenaries to take him (in a human body that the pirates provide) to Tigella.  There he takes transforms into an exact replica of The Doctor in order to infiltrate the city and steal the Dodecahedron, which just happens to be a device of nearly infinite power that will allow Meglos to rule the universe. 

In order to ensure that the real Doctor doesn't show up, Meglos traps the two Time Lords in a time-loop, a trap that makes the being inside repeat the same few seconds over and over for eternity.
This is a bit of an odd story in several ways, but it manages to come together nicely and make a story that's definitely better than the sum of its parts.  The first thing that noticeable is that The Doctor and Romana are missing from the main story for the entire first episode.  Trapped in the time-loop, the recite the same lines over and over and don't do much else.  The solution to the time-loop trap was idiotic in the extreme, even for Doctor Who, and the villain is a giant cactus that recited the memorable lines "Well observed, General Grugger. I'm a plant!"  Added to that, the two main mercenaries are used as comic relief for the most part.  Sounds like a receipt for disaster, right?  Surprisingly enough the show manages to pull it off and create a solid show out of these less than desirable parts.
Part of the reason that the story works is because of the good effects.  Special effects started to become cheaper and easier to create in the early 80's and Doctor Who started to take advantage of that fact.  They superimposed actors over miniature sets to create the giant shields of Zolfa-Thuran and even managed some camera movement in those scenes, something that was a bit tricky to pull off back then.  The highlight of the show, effects wise, are the creature effects for the Meglos/Doctor hybrid.  Amazingly simple (they used gloves and a molded mask) the result is very effective and aides the story quite a bit.  With all of the times that I've berated the monster effects in Doctor Who, I'm glad to be able to praise them for a job well done.

The acting is very good across the board too.  Tom Baker is right in the zone on this story, getting a chance to act up a bit as Meglos while reigning in his performance when he's The Doctor.  In the previous season Baker had a tendency to play his role a bit over-the-top, but that's not the case here.
There's also a great guest star that will please long-time Who fans.  Jacqueline Hill, the actress who portrayed Barbara Wright one of The Doctor's very first companions returns to the series as Lexa, the leader of Deons.  She does an excellent job, avoiding vilifying her character (as happens with many of the religious leaders on Doctor Who) but still making her unwavering in her faith and an imposing figure.  Her performance really makes the show, and it would be a lesser adventure without her.
The DVD:

The mono soundtrack has been cleaned up and is very good.  It is nice and clear with no hiss or background noise to take away from the story.  Being a mono track, there's really not much more to say about it.
The full frame video has been cleaned up by the Restoration Team and it looks good.   The colors are solid though out and the level of detail is decent.  The image is very sharp, with more definition than most of the adventures from this ear, so Who fans are sure to be pleased. 
Another great set of extras are included with this show.  First off is a commentary track with actress Lalla Ward, actor Christopher Owen, co-writer John Flanagan, and composers Paddy Kingsland and Peter Howell.  I usually enjoy the commentary tracks on Doctor Who and this one is no exception.  It's lively with some nice anecdotes thrown in.
As far as video extras go, the first one is Meglos Men which brings together the writing team of John Flanagan and Andy McCulloch who reminisce about their contribution to Docotr Who mythology, and (eventually) meet up with script editor Christopher Bidmead.  It's a nice 15+ minute look at the writing process which I found engaging.
Next up is The Scene-Synch Story, a very nice overview of the special effects system used to generate the shields of Zolfa-Thuran, among other things, in this story.  This documentary looks at how the effects were generated as well as giving a history of the system and showcasing some other notable productions where it was used. 
The guest star in this story is celebrated in Jacqueline Hill - A Life in Pictures  a 14 minute look at the late actress.  It's a wonderful tribute to a person that was well loved throughout her life.
If that isn't enough, there's also a five minute lecture on thermodynamics entitled Entropy Explained. 
In addition there is an 'info-text' option for each story.  This is something that the other Who releases have and I'm a big fan of them.  This pop-up text options allows viewers to read about the shooting schedule, changes between various story incarnations and the final version and learn about the history of the supporting actors.  It's well worth watching, though it can be distracting so watch the story without it once.
The extras are wrapped up with an isolated music score, a photo gallery, and the usual Radio Times listings.
Final Thoughts:
A solid story that has some nice touches, not the least of which is the return of Jacqueline Hill to the series, if only for this one adventure.  With some above average SFX and make effects (for Doctor Who) and a story that plays out better than it sounds, this is a good outing. Recommend.
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