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Category:    Home > Reviews > Science Fiction > Action > Adventure > Time Travel > British TV > Doctor Who - The E-Space Trilogy (BBC DVD)

Doctor Who - The E-Space Trilogy (BBC DVD)

Picture: C+     Sound: C+


Episodes/Extras: Full Circle: B-/B+;State of Decay: B-/C;Warrior's Gate: B+/B

The new box set of The E-Space Trilogy is a welcome addition to the Doctor Who mythos, as set of adventures was a return to form after a noticeable downturn in quality.   Originally broadcast from October 1980 through January 1981, there are the traditional 12 episodes making up the three distinct, yet related story lines: "Full Circle," "State of Decay", and "Warrior's Gate."

The first disc, "Full Circle," begins with The Doctor and Romella being unexpectedly recalled to their home planet, Gallifrey.  Suddenly they are caught in a rent in space (CVE or a Charged Vacumm Emboitment) and find themselves lost in Exo-Space or E-Space, a smaller parallel universe.   On the planet Alzarius, they discover a culture of colonists, Terradonians, who crashed in their ship, the Starliner, which they are attempting to repair so they may leave. There is also a young group, the Outlers, who have rebelled from the rule of the three Deciders and live outside the space ship.  The Doctor and Romella arrive just in time for the reappearance of the Marshmen, who during the period of Mistfall (every 50 years), reappear and threaten both the inhabitants of the ship and the Outlers.

This is classic Who in every way, starting of course with the ebulliant Tom Baker in the title role and one of his best companions, the brilliant, if biting, Romella.  There is lots of action over the 4 episodes as the Doctor slowly unravels the threads of truth behind the real story of the evolved culture of Alzarius.  I won't give away the key but suffice it to say that it involves an interesting take on evolution, spiders, The Creature from the Black Lagoon-like Marshmen, and the Terradonians themselves.   Notable in this adventure is the performance of veteren BBC and TV actor, George Baker, who puts in a fine turn as one of the three Deciders and the introduction of Adric, played by the young Matthew Waterhouse, who would become one of the Doctor's future companions. 

The second in the E-Space Trilogy, "State of Decay," is decidedly strange and, though uneven, interesting for its introduction of a "traditional" vampire storyline into Doctor Who.  Adric, one of the Outlers from "Full Circle," has stowed away on the TARDIS and has, de facto, joined Romella as a second companion to the Doctor.  Many of the elements of a traditional horror story are present in "State of Decay."  The inhabitants live in fear of the Three Who Rule, who summon villagers to the tower from which they never return.  The Doctor and Romella discover that the three are actually vampires, serving the Great Vampire who is the last of the race of vampires exterminated in the Great Vampire War with the Time Lords.  They also discover that the tower is actually their spaceship and that the Great Vampire is also trapped in E-Space as is the Doctor.  The Doctor hatches a plan and is able to dispatch the Great Vampire, and as a result his three lackeys, with an ingenious turn just at the "Time of Arising."

The story which has plenty of excitement and chills for Doctor Who, rather unfortunately mirrors some of the plot elements of "Full Circle" (colonists from another planet living in their spaceship, a culture oblivious to its true nature, one set of inhabitants preying on another, similarly titled phenomenons "Mistfall" and "The Wasting, as well as "The Time of Arising," and planets ruled by a triad of leaders), although written by Terrence Dicks, while "Full Circle" was scripted by 19 year old newcomer, Andrew Smith.  Ever incongruous, the medieval setting inside the space ship actually works and the production values seem better than usual.  The three vampire helpers pull off their assigned roles well, with Emrys Jones classical turn as Aukon nicely walking the fine line between quality and camp.  A number of the special effects, alas, do not rise to this level, particularly the cheesely realized "Arising" of the Great Vampire at the conclusion.  However, as the legion of stalwart Who apologists would attest, this actually adds to rather than detracts from the fun.

The final adventure in the E-Space Trilogy is "Warriors' Gate" and it starts out in a bit of muddle, but its complexity ends up being its strong point.   While still lost in E-Space, the Doctor, Romana, and Adric are hijacked in the TARDIS by a member of a time sensitive race known as the Tharil.   They find themselves in a great white space (keeping those production costs down, mate) where the only things beside the TARDIS are a slave transport ship and a mysterious ancient gateway, once again reminiscent of the Middle Ages.   In the convoluted telling, it is revealed that the Tharil, now enslaved to humans led by Rorvik, captain of the slave ship, once enslaved humans themselves.  Their domain, an ancient banquet hall, resides inside the gateway, which in turn is the gate between E and N-Space (Normal Space, the universe).    This is the key to how the Doctor escapes back to N-Space as ultimately the Thrail are freed when the slave ship is destroyed.

Much of the difficulty with this story lies in its inception and execution, as both the script and the directorial responsibilities passed through many hands.  Paul Joyce, predominately a feature director, pushed the show in directions, literally and stylistically, not previously attempted and, though some things don't work here, the overall contribution to the Who mythos is a positive one.   The episode concludes with the departure of both Romella and K-9, who remain in E-Space to help free the remainder of Tharils, who are still, well, in thrall.  Fittingly, Romana's departure is particularly moving and, overall, this is an episode that is near and dear to Doctor Who fanatics everywhere.

The extras, always of primary importance in a Doctor Who box, do not disappoint.  Besides the raft of usual commentaries, there is a making of "Full Circle" feature, a very brief (4 minute) but interesting "K-9 in E-Space" (very nice to actually see John Leeson, the voice of K-9), an endearing segment from the show "Swap Shop" with Matthew Waterhouse, and the standard production notes, stills gallery.  The feature "E-Space - Fact or Fiction?" gives the viewer the theoretical science of alternate, parallel, or multiverses, with various experts such as authors Stephen Baxter, Mat Irvine, and Paul Parsons.  The theoretical hooey occasionally dovetails with the Doctor Who (w)hooey, making for a nice short exercise in what-if and a brush up on your quantum mechanics and general relativity background.  The extras on "The State of Decay" disc include the usual but, aside from the Making of "The Vampire Lovers" seem both a bit thin and beside the point.  "Leaves of Blood" is a 17 minute history of vampires in literary fiction which really has little to do with the episode.  Two others, "The Blood Show" and "The Frayling Reader," bear virtually no relation at all, one being a cultural history and the other a pseudo socio-political interpretation of the vampire myth in less than 5 minutes (even throwing Marx into the mix; unfortunately Karl and not Groucho)!   The extras for "Warrior's Gate" will be the one fans will flock to and they are worth it.   The making of feature, entitled "The Dreaming," gets the confused on track and the initiated deeper into the mystery.  Matthew Waterhouse fans will enjoy "The Boy With the Golden Star" which chronicles his look back years later on his time on Doctor Who.  By the title, "Lala's Wardrobe" sounds like a clunker yet it is anything but, providing an interesting glimpse on the input into character designers have when attempting to "fashion" an actress or actor.  The disc is rounded out with 4 minutes of extended/deleted scenes from episode two.

All in all, The E-Space Trilogy box has lots to recommend it, documenting as it does the run up to the final arc of stories for the 4th and perhaps most popular Doctor of all, Tom Baker.

  Don Wentworth


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