Please feel free to comment on my review.
The Meglos Man Cometh
And no! I won’t be making any cactus puns like the ice puns Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Mr. Freeze did in ‘Batman & Robin’. But the question still remains! Is the Doctor the cactus…or is Meglos the cactus? That’s something I’m sure John Flanagan and Andrew McCulloch will be happy to answer. 😀
‘Meglos’ was the second TV story to be transmitted in the John Nathan-Turner era of ‘Doctor Who’. It’s a fascinating four-part adventure in Season 18 by John Flanagan and Andrew McCulloch. This is sadly the duo’s only contribution to the TV series. It’s a shame as they seem to be intriguing writers.
Incidentally, ‘Meglos’ was not the second ‘Doctor Who’ story to be made after ‘The Leisure Hive’. In production order, ‘The Leisure Hive’ was made first. Then it was ‘State of Decay’. Then it was ‘Meglos’. It’s intriguing that ‘Meglos’ was made third in production order during Season 18’s making.
This story was also directed by Terence Dudley. This is the first time that Terence Dudley has contributed to the TV series as a director on this story. Terence Dudley came from working on the BBC TV drama series ‘All Creatures Great and Small’. He was a director and a writer to the TV series.
In fact, many people who worked on ‘All Creatures Great and Small’ would go on to work on ‘Doctor Who’ itself during the 1980s. As well as Terence Dudley, John Nathan-Turner was the production unit manager of many of the episodes of ‘All Creatures’ before he became a ‘Doctor Who’ producer.
There were also other people like director Peter Moffatt; production assistant Peter Grimwade and writers Johnny Byrne and Anthony Steven who would go on to work from ‘All Creatures’ to doing ‘Doctor Who’ itself. There’s also a certain star in ‘All Creatures’ who’d become one of the Doctors. 😀
After directing ‘Meglos’, Terence Dudley would go on to write my favourite ‘Doctor Who’ story ‘Black Orchid’ as well as writing ‘Four To Doomsday’ and ‘The King’s Demons’ in the Peter Davison era. I did enjoy how Dudley directed this ‘Doctor Who’ adventure, though not to the writers’ delight.
John Flanagan and Andrew McCulloch wrote this ‘Doctor Who’ adventure as a comedy. In fact 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 had commissioned the tale himself from the two writers.
Yet Dudley decided to not to direct it as a comedy. He took on the approach of directing it as a straight, serious adventure to keep in tone with the serious sombreness of Season 18. There are moments of humour to be found in ‘Meglos’, but those comedy moments are pretty rare to be found.
‘Meglos’ has a different style of pace and atmosphere compared to how ‘The Leisure Hive’ was made before it. In fact, you could say that the story takes on a relaxed attitude in terms of the direction made by Terence Dudley compared to how Lovett Bickford directed ‘The Leisure Hive’ with boldness.
I enjoyed ‘Meglos’ very much. Though like ‘The Leisure Hive’ before it, I wouldn’t say that this excited me as other ‘Doctor Who’ adventures have done. Season 18 would get better later on, especially with the introduction of some brand new companions to be featured for the next season.
I enjoyed the concepts that the two writers John Flanagan and Andrew McCulloch came up with in their story. Certainly from watching what was discussed between the two writers in DVD/Blu-ray special feature ‘Meglos Men’, it was pretty fascinating to hear their thoughts on the writing process.
You can tell that John Flanagan and Andrew McCulloch were comedy writers as well as actors while they worked on the story of ‘Meglos’. This aspect is shown in how they created the guest cast e.g. the characters of General Grugger and Lieutenant Brotadac and how they came up with their names.
This is a doppelgänger story with Tom Baker’s Doctor. It also has a mysterious artefact which is a twelve-sided regular polyhedron called a Dodecahedron. It has space pirates and an evil shape-shifting cactus. Talking ‘serious’ hey, JNT and Chris Bidmead? There’s an evil shape-shifting cactus in this! 😀
In the story, the Doctor has been summoned to the jungle world of Tigella. This is while he and Romana are repairing K-9 in the TARDIS. It’s interesting how the Doctor happens to have been to Tigella before but we’ve not seen that adventure documented on TV. It’s not in book or audio either.
But before the Doctor can get to Tigella, he; Romana and K-9 get caught in some kind of time loop called a chronic hysteresis. And it’s one that they can’t seem to escape from. Sounds scary! Interesting that John Flanagan and Andrew McCulloch came up with the idea when writing this tale.
Yet it was Chris Bidmead who came up with the name ‘chronic hysteresis’ for the time loop. That would be just so Chris Bidmead to come up with that name. The time loop of course is all the work of the megalomaniac Meglos, an evil shape-shifting cactus. Yes! Meglos is this shape-shifting cactus!
It’s interesting to find an enemy in the form of a shape-shifting cactus in this ‘Doctor Who’ story. All from the genius of John Flanagan and Andrew McCulloch, no doubt! 😀 Actually that is a rather neat idea on their part. Meglos happens to be the last survivor of the Zolfa-Thurans according to this tale.
It was quite disturbing; scary and thrilling to see the cactus form of Meglos take over the human George Morris. Yeah I know he’s credited as ‘the Earthling’, but that’s not what Terrance Dicks called him in the ‘Meglos’ novelization. His name is George Morris and that’s what I am calling him here. 😀
Anyway, Meglos has hired these space pirates called Gaztaks led by General Grugger. After taking over George Morris’ human form, he takes on the form of the Doctor once he has trapped him and Romana in the time loop whilst inside the TARDIS with K-9. Meglos isn’t taking any chances, is he? 😀
Meglos intends to steal the powerful crystal-like Dodecahedron from the Tigellans and restore for his own uses on his own planet of Zolfa-Thura. Can the Doctor, Romana and K-9 stop Meglos in time before it’s all too late? It’ll be hard since the Doctor and Meglos look exactly the same as each other.
The concept of an evil cactus wanting to take over the universe is something that’s never been done before in ‘Doctor Who’. I’m not sure if it’s original though. It was enjoyable and fascinating to see Meglos as the cactus can shape-shift into any person it wants to be and this also includes the Doctor.
I did like the time loop aspect of the story where the Doctor and Romana keep repeating things they said. In the loop, the Doctor also keeps tripping over and K-9 wags his ears to say, “Thank you mistress! Repairs are complete!” It was amusing and scary to watch at the same time on the Blu-ray.
If Harry Hill’s ‘TV Burp’ was still on ITV1 today, Harry Hill would jump in and sort the Doctor and Romana out, wouldn’t he? 😀 It was funny when the Doctor and Romana finally escaped and he said to her, “You know, for one awful moment I thought you’d forgotten your lines.” Romana gave a look. 😀
I enjoyed Tom Baker’s performance in this story. Not only does he get to play the Doctor but also Meglos in the Doctor’s form. I was shocked when Meglos became the Doctor at the end of ‘Part One’. The Doctor also looking like a cactus in certain moments of the TV story was 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 of the tale, especially since he was on his way out as the Doctor at 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’re repairing K-9; get trapped in a time loop and trying to get out of it. Romana has an adventure of her own when she gets 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 is a fairly good outing for her all the same. Lalla 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. I missed him in ‘The Leisure Hive’. 😀 I laughed when K-9 answered to one of the Doctor’s post-repair questions saying, “Affirmative Mistress.” I did find it pretty mean of Bill Frazer’s General Grugger to want to kick K-9 at some 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 TV tale, even as his power levels and batteries got low.
This story features the return of Jacqueline Hill. She played Barbara Wright, a companion to William Hartnell’s First Doctor during the early 1960s of ‘Doctor Who’. I was delighted to see Jacqueline return to this tale and to have her play a different character compared to when she playing Barbara.
It is unusual for an actor/actress who played a former ‘Doctor Who’ companion to return to play a completely different character in a ‘Doctor Who’ story. Mind you, William Russell; Maureen O’Brien; Anneke Wills and Deborah Watling have returned to play different characters in the Big Finish tales.
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 gets determined to have the Doctor killed for sacrifice, since she believes he was the one that had stolen it whereas it was Meglos who stole it.
Let’s be honest though, Jacqueline Hill wanted the Doctor sacrificed since he wasn’t William Hartnell anymore. He’s now Tom Baker. Who could blame her? 😀 Joking aside, I’m sure it must have been an unusual experience doing ‘Doctor Who’ in 1980 compared to doing it in the early 1960s for Jacqueline.
The story also features Bill Fraser as General Grugger and Frederick Treves as Lieutenant Brotadac, who are the space pirates called the Gaztaks. They are two comedic characters in the same style of double acts from the Robert Holmes stories. You can tell they are to provide comic relief in the story.
It was amusing to discover that ‘Brotadac’ was an anagram for ‘bad actor’. Frederick Treves was delighted to hear that from writers John Flanagan and Andrew McCulloch, but John Nathan-Turner wasn’t amused. Spoil sport! Brotadac seemed to like the Doctor’s/Meglos’ burgundy coat very much.
The cast also includes Edward Underdown as Zastor; Crawford Logan as Deedrix and Colette Gleeson as Caris. There’s an interesting division of science and religion between the inhabitants of Tigella. Zastor is the referee between the two groups and he happens to be an old friend of the Doctor here.
Christopher Owen guest stars as George Morris, the human who gets kidnapped and taken over by Meglos. I’m not sure how George Morris was captured by the Gaztaks; what time he came from on Earth and why he was chosen for Meglos. I know his wife was waiting for him before he came home.
The planet of Tigella is interesting, especially with the cannibalistic plant-life that’s there. Romana spends a lot of time out there in those jungles and get caught by plants as well as being terrorised by the Gaztak space pirates. She uses the hostile plant-life to her advantage to get rid of them Gaztaks.
It was also interesting to see how the Scene Synch technology was used to create the planet of Zolfa-Thura with the Gaztaks arriving in their spaceship and the screens on the planet surface. Technology like the Quantel Paintbox and Scene Synch was used to create the effects with actors on blue screen.
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 original DVD special features were as follows. There was ‘Meglos Men’ which featured writers John Flanagan and Andrew McCulloch reuniting and looking back over ‘Meglos’ with script editor Christopher H. Bidmead. There was also ‘The Scene Sync Story’, which is a behind-the-scenes look into how the Scene Synch technology was used during the making of ‘Meglos’ itself. There was the ‘Jacqueline Hill – A Life In Pictures’ tribute, looking at the actress who played Barbara Wright in the TV series. There was also ‘Entropy Explained’, a science featurette looking into the theme of entropy that is featured throughout Season 18, particularly in the season finale called ‘Logopolis’. There was a photo gallery of the story. There were also audio options including a stereo sound audio mix option for the story; a DVD audio commentary with Lalla Ward, Christopher Owen, co-writer John Flanagan and composers Paddy Kingsland and Peter Howell. There was also an isolated music option composed by Paddy Kingsland and Peter Howell to enjoy. There was also an info-text commentary option to enjoy and PDF materials including a ‘Radio Times Listings’ of the story. There was also a ‘coming soon’ DVD trailer for ‘The Mutants’ with Jon Pertwee and Katy Manning. There was also an Easter Egg to look out for on the DVD, which was the clean opening and closing titles for Season 18 of ‘Doctor Who’ (which has now been updated and included on ‘The Leisure Hive’ Blu-ray disc).
On Disc 2 of the ‘Doctor Who – The Collection – Season 18’ Blu-ray, the ‘Meglos Men’ feature; ‘The Scene-Sync Story’; the ‘Jacqueline Hill – A Life In Pictures’ tribute; the stereo sound audio mix option for the story; the DVD audio commentary; the isolated music option and the ‘Radio Times Listings’ PDF can be found on there. The ‘Entropy Explained’ science featurette isn’t included on the ‘Meglos’ Blu-ray disc and is instead included on the ‘Logopolis’ Blu-ray disc. The info-text commentary option and the photo gallery for ‘Meglos’ have been updated for 2019 on the Blu-ray.
The new special features on Blu-ray include the ‘Behind The Sofa’ feature on ‘Meglos’ with Tom Baker (the Fourth Doctor); costume designer June Hudson and John Leeson (K-9) as well as Wendy Padbury (Zoe); Janet Fielding (Tegan) and Sarah Sutton (Nyssa). There’s also a BBC News Report announcing Tom Baker’s departure from ‘Doctor Who’ (taken from the ‘Logopolis’ DVD). There are also the updated BBC continuity announcements for ‘Meglos’. There’s also the ‘coming soon’ DVD trailer for ‘The E-Space Trilogy’ (‘Full Circle’, ‘State of Decay’ and ‘Warriors’ Gate’) with Tom Baker, Lalla Ward and K-9 (taken from the ‘Battlefield’ DVD).
On the PDF front, as well as the ‘Radio Times Listings’ of the story, there are also production documents and scripts for the story. You need a special Blu-ray computer drive for that.
‘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 TV series. Tom Baker is brilliant as the Doctor and Meglos in this story.
John Flanagan and Andrew McCulloch were meant to contribute another ‘Doctor Who’ story which would have been the first of the Peter Davison era. That story would’ve been ‘Project: Zeta-Sigma’. Sadly it never came to be. It’s such a shame. I would love Big Finish to adapt that story into an audio.
‘Meglos’ rating – 7/10
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