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Is the Doctor a cactus…or the cactus a Doctor?
‘Meglos’ is the second TV story of the John Nathan-Turner era of ‘Doctor Who’. It is a fascinating four-part adventure by John Flanagan and Andrew McCulloch and directed by Terrence Dudley. This story has a different style of pace and atmosphere compared to ‘The Leisure Hive’ made before this.
I enjoyed ‘Meglos’ very much. Although like ‘The Leisure Hive’ before this, I wouldn’t say it excited me as many other ‘Doctor Who’ stories have done. This is a doppelgänger story with Tom Baker’s Doctor about a Dodecahedron. It also has some space pirates and this evil shape-shifting cactus in it.
The Doctor has been summoned to the jungle world of Tigella, whilst he and Romana are repairing K-9 in the TARDIS. But the Doctor, Romana and K-9 get caught in a time loop, one that they can’t seem to escape from. This is all the work of the megalomaniac Meglos, an evil shapeshifting cactus.
Meglos has hired a group of space pirates, led by General Grugger, and takes the form of the Doctor to steal the powerful crystal-like Dodecahedron from the Tigellans. Can the Doctor, Romana and K-9 stop Meglos in time? It’ll be tricky when the Doctor and Meglos look exactly the same as each other.
This story has the feel of belonging to the Douglas Adams era of ‘Doctor Who’ from Season 17, even though script editor Christopher H. Bidmead commissioned the story from the two writers John Flanagan and Andrew McCulloch. I enjoyed the concepts the two writers came up with in their story.
Certainly from watching what was discussed between John Flanagan and Andrew McCulloch in the DVD special feature ‘Meglos Men’, it was very fascinating. You can tell they were comedy writers while they worked on the show. This aspect is clearly shown in the ‘Doctor Who’ story they tell here.
The concept of an evil cactus wanting to take over the universe is something that’s never been done before in ‘Doctor Who’, but I’m not sure if it’s original. It was also enjoyable and fascinating that Meglos as the cactus can shape-shift into any person it wants to be and this also includes the Doctor.
I liked the time loop aspect of the story where the Doctor and Romana keep repeating things they say, the Doctor trips over and K-9 wags his ears to say, “Thank you mistress! Repairs are complete!” If ‘TV Burp’ was still on ITV1 today, Harry Hill would jump in and sort the Doctor and Romana out! 😀
This was also the first time that Terence Dudley contributes to the series as a director of this story. I know Terence Dudley for writing my favourite ‘Doctor Who’ story, ‘Black Orchid’, as well as writing ‘Four To Doomsday’ and ‘The King’s Demons’. I like how Terrance Dudley directed this ‘Doctor Who’ story.
I enjoyed Tom Baker’s performance in this story. Not only does he get to play the Doctor, but also as Meglos in the Doctor’s form. I was shocked when Meglos turned into the Doctor at the end of ‘Part One’. Also when the Doctor looks like a cactus in certain moments of the story is pretty frightening.
Tom looks amazing in that Meglos make-up of his. I’m not sure how comfortable Tom was with wearing that cactus-like make-up on his face and hands. But I’m sure Tom enjoyed playing the doppelgänger elements in the story, especially as he was on his way out as the Doctor by this point.
Lalla Ward as Romana is equally good in this. I enjoyed how Romana shared scenes with the Doctor in the TARDIS, especially when they repair K-9; get trapped in a time loop and try to get out of it. Romana has an adventure of her own when she becomes lost within the Tigella jungles on her own.
Romana soon bumps into the space pirates and they force her to escort them to where the TARDIS is. I don’t think that this is the best story for Lalla Ward’s Romana in ‘Doctor Who’, but it’s a fairly good outing for her all the same. She also gets to enjoy wearing another glamorous costume in this.
It was great to hear John Leeson’s voice as K-9 in this adventure as he was missed in ‘The Leisure Hive’. I laughed when K-9 answered to one of the Doctor’s post-repair questions, “Affirmative Mistress.” I thought it was mean when Bill Frazer’s General Grugger wanted to kick K-9 at one point.
K-9 wasn’t treated well in this season by the producer John Nathan-Turner and script-editor Christopher H. Bidmead. Many attempts were made on K-9’s life in order to write him out of the series. But K-9 has good moments during this story, even as his power levels and batteries get low.
This story features the return of Jacqueline Hill, who played Barbara, a companion to William Hartnell’s First Doctor during the early 1960s of ‘Doctor Who’. I was delighted to see Jacqueline return in this story and to have her play a different character compared to when she played Barbara.
Here Jacqueline plays Lexa, a spiritual ruler on the planet Tigella. Lexa believes the Dodecahedron to be sacred and becomes distressed when it gets stolen. She becomes determined to have the Doctor killed for sacrifice, since she believed he was the one who stole it whereas it was Meglos who did it.
The story also features Bill Fraser as General Grugger and Frederick Treves as Lieutenant Brotadac. They are space pirates called the Gaztaks. These are two comedic characters in the same style of double acts from the Robert Holmes stories. You can tell they’re to provide comic relief in the story.
The cast also includes Edward Underdown as Zastor; Crawford Logan as Deedrix and Colette Gleeson as Caris. There’s also Christopher Owen as George Morris who gets kidnapped and taken over by Meglos. I refer to ‘the Earthling’ as George Morris, since he’s called that in the novelization by Terrance Dicks.
The music for this story is interestingly composed by two composers, Paddy Kingsland and Peter Howell. As I gather, the music workload was shared between two composers because one of the composers wasn’t able to complete the score and the other had to step into the breach to finish it.
The DVD special features are as follows. There’s ‘Meglos Men’, featuring writers John Flanagan and Andrew McCulloch reuniting and looking back over ‘Meglos’ with script editor Christopher H. Bidmead. There’s also ‘The Scene Synch Story’, a behind-the-scenes documentary on the Scene Synch technology used in ‘Meglos’.
There’s also ‘Jacqueline Hill – A Life In Pictures’, which looks into the actress who played Barbara Wright in the series. There’s also ‘Entropy Explained’, a short featurette that looks into the theme of entropy which is featured throughout Season 18, particularly for the season finale called ‘Logopolis’.
There are audio options including a commentary with Lalla Ward, Christopher Owen, co-writer John Flanagan and composers Paddy Kingsland and Peter Howell. There’s also an isolated score option by Paddy Kingsland and Peter Howell and an info-text commentary option to enjoy.
There’s a ‘Radio Times Listings’ PDF of the story and a photo gallery of the story. There’s also a ‘coming soon’ trailer for ‘The Mutants’ with Jon Pertwee and Katy Manning.
‘Meglos’ is an interesting and fascinating story to watch in ‘Doctor Who’. It’s not the most exciting story I’ve seen, but I’ve enjoyed how John Flanagan and Andrew McCulloch wrote their first and sadly only contribution to the series. Tom Baker is brilliant as the Doctor and Meglos in this TV story.
‘Meglos’ rating – 7/10
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