Rolling the Boulder
It’s JN-T Day! In honour of the late and much-maligned Mr Nathan-Turner – who rescued Who from the stylistic doldrums, produced a slew of stone classics and stuck around longer than he wanted to because he knew his departure would mean the end of the show – here is my Timelash II stuff on the stories usually called the ‘Black Guardian Trilogy’. Much undervalued, all three of them.
For John Nathan-Turner.
Once you get past the Billy Bunter bibble of the opening (and even that is pleasingly unexpected) this develops into a highly satisfactory bit of concept-driven sci-fi, cleverly using time travel (never a major concern of the old-style show) as part of a complex but admirably clear plot, aware of itself as myth-reiteration (immortality as curse, the Flying Dutchman, etc.) and with a submerged political sense in its depiction of crime, power, unscrupulousness and luxury.
It engages with the Who mythos without being enslaved to it, using concepts from the show’s backstory to create a genuinely dramatic conflict situation in the characters’ here and now.
You can see everyone’s point of view here, even if you don’t like the way they’re behaving. There are no clear goodies or baddies except for the jarringly satanic Black Guardian, but even he works as a figure on the sidelines trying to manipulate and influence events through his conflicted avatar Turlough, who constitutes a bravura bit of experimentation: the companion who is unsure whether he’s bad or not!
The production design is superlative… with the mutants’ ship, the obelisk, the transmat capsule, the crystal, the stolen gallifreyan machine, the hall of portraits, etc., all impressing and lingering in the memory.
The acting is very good, with David Collings giving it the full RSC and Nick Courtney very carefully and skillfully delineating the differences between the alternate versions of the Brig. Davison is never better than when called upon to play the Doctor as thinking through events and figuring out his situation… and this story plays to that strength… also allowing him to bring an almost suave air of intelligence, particularly when he tosses the crystal back to Turlough with a look of sardonic calculation.
And you have to admire the sheer off-the-wall combinations. A public school comedy that develops into a story about time travelling mutants on a luxury cruise liner, featuring an alien teenager (though obviously played by a grown man) and one of his teachers being split into two personas… well, we’ve come a long way from stomping monsters invading Southern England every week.
It may not be as spectacular as some of the other stories from this era, but if this is the 80s show chugging along as normal then they’re obviously doing something very right.
I make no apologies; I love ‘Terminus’.
It’s almost relentlessly cold, austere, alienating, unsympathetic, brutal and nihilistic, set in an explicitly godless universe which is depicted as teeming with sickness, decay, cowardice, failure, pettiness, selfishness and great crashing waves of existential boredom.…