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‘Warrior’s Gate’ is magnificent. Visually stunning, superbly acted, and blessed with a sparkling and intelligent script, it stands out amongst even Season Eighteen’s finest stories as an almost flawless example of Doctor Who at its best. 

One criticism is routinely made of ‘Warrior’s Gate’; it is accused of not making sense. There is, it must be said, a difference between a story that doesn’t make sense and a story that certain members of the audience don’t understand. In truth, I fail to see what aspects of ‘Warrior’s Gate’ are considered nonsensical; there are two basic, intertwined plot strands, and these are the plight of enslaved Tharils, and the attempts by both the TARDIS crew and Rorvik’s crew to escape from the mysterious white void between N-Space and E-Space and be on their way. That is, essentially, the point of ‘Warrior’s Gate’. Thanks to the script however, it is far, far more than that. I will discuss Rorvik and his crew in more detail below, but the plight of the Tharils is complicated by a detailed back-story, which reveals that this is not a clear-cut story of good versus evil. Slave trading, I hope most people will agree, is an abomination, but the Tharils are not innocent victims; effectively hoist by their own petard, they too are former slavers, once powerful rulers of a mighty empire that enslaved humanity until the Gundan robots were built to overthrow them. The use of slaves by neither Tharils nor humans is excused; the Doctor condemns both, responding with equal contempt to Rorvik’s callous attitude to his “cargo” and Biroc’s casual assertion that the Tharils’ slaves were “only people”. Ultimately the Doctor and Romana side with the Tharils because they have repented their past sins, having suffered in turn and realized the error of their ways, whereas Rorvik is untroubled by any such qualms. This adds considerable depth to what is on the surface a relatively simple tale of two ships trapped in a void. 

Rorvik and his crew are, in my opinion, one of the most finely characterised groups of characters in any Doctor Who stories. They are not straightforward villains; they are people, a group of down-to-earth traders who eat pickles, gamble, wind each other up and sulk. Their status as slave traders alone makes them villains, and this is to be applauded as it is a reminder that in real life evil is not wrought by ranting wide-eyed nuttters bent on world domination (or at least, not very often), but by people who are depressingly ordinary, motivated by such grand designs as basic greed (there is much talk of bonuses if all of the Tharils survive the trip). Individually, they are all distinct; Kenneth Cope’s Packard is a superb character, resigned to following Rorvik, but doing so with little enthusiasm and arguing with his foul-tempered Captain when necessary. David Kincaid’s much put-upon Lane works very well alongside Packard; both of them are willing to follow orders, but whilst Packard gives the impression that he’s resigned to doing so out of contractual obligation, Lane just doesn’t seem smart enough to even consider doing anything else. Lane is frequently baffled, whether puzzling over the strange readings he’s getting from his portable mass detector, or unexpectedly meeting Tharils and Time Lords in and around Rorvik’s ship. Then there is Vincent Pickering’s Sagan, arguably the most sadistic of the group; whereas even Rorvik is motivated by profit, Sagan seems to enjoy inflicting the painful process of revival upon the Tharils. It is also interesting to note that he clearly doesn’t view them as anything other than animals, since when Lazlo eventual kills him, his last words are “hang on a minute”, a cry brimming with a mixture of indignation and disbelief that mere cargo could threaten him. And of course there are Freddie Earlle’s Aldo and Harry Waters’ Royce, the comic relief members of the crew, who sit on the sidelines bemoaning their jobs and trying to do as little work as possible. The scene in which they stay at the ship, Royce claiming that the string in his leg has gone and Aldo pointing out that he’ll need looking after is very amusing, made even more so by Rorvik’s withering reply, “tragic” making it quite clear that he thinks he can very easily manage without the pair. But it is also worth noting that for all that Aldo and Royce are amusing characters, it is they who are responsible for nearly electrocuting Lazlo, their gleeful justification for attempting to revive him being that their contracts are not dependent upon the safe delivery of the cargo. And this is how they, like the rest of the crew, see the Tharils; worse still, after the revival goes wrong, they act like guilty school boys, more concerned with getting into trouble than that they have nearly killed somebody. This, perhaps more than anything else, is a splendid example of the utter banality, and thus the disturbingly realistic, nature of the repulsive occupation of Rorvik’s crew. 

Standing out even next to his memorable crew, is Rorvik himself, brilliantly played by Clifford Rose. Rorvik is a great character because he’s so human, frustrated by the plight of his ship and what he views as the incompetence of his crew, bad-tempered, and stubborn. Throughout ‘Warrior’s Gate’, Rorvik spends most of his time failing to understand what is happening; whereas Lane is not intelligent enough to be troubled by his own lack of understanding, Rorvik becomes increasingly exasperated, progressing from short-tempered retorts and cutting remarks in the first two episodes, until by Episodes Three and Four he is routinely shouting and eventually feels compelled to action simply so that he can feel like he is achieving something. By this point, he refuses to take time to seriously think out the increasingly reckless courses of action he is taking, working instead on the principle that everything has its breaking point. He doesn’t understand the Gateway, and doesn’t want to listen when the Doctor tries to talk to him; all he knows is that the Gateway is his means of escaping from the void, and therefore if he breaks the mirrors he’ll be doing something useful. Ultimately, this stubborn adherence to an assumption that is in fact wrong is his undoing; during his final scene, in which rants that he’s “finally getting something done!”, he’s almost euphoric for that very reason; he feels that he has taken control of his fate at last. He is of course quite right; his insistence on using a back blast to try and smash the mirrors destroys himself, his ship, and his crew. 

The regulars are also served well by the splendid script; Tom Baker continues to impress in his final season, and displays both fascination as he learns about the Gateway, and quiet anger at the slave trading of the Tharils in the past and Rorvik in the present. Incredibly, Matthew Waterhouse is quite good here, leading credence to the theory that Adric always worked better with the Fourth Doctor. The two continue to demonstrate a teacher and pupil relationship, Adric taking delight in every new discovery and looking forward to the prospect of exploring N-Space. He also gets one or two nice lines, which Waterhouse delivers well, such as when K9 gives a report on his operational status and Adric gentle asks, “You mean you’re worse than useless?” All of the regulars get some great lines, especially of course, Romana, but none are more memorable than those uttered by the Doctor during Romana’s leaving scene. And what a leaving scene it is; throughout ‘Warrior’s Gate’, Romana spends most of her time separated from the Doctor and forced to manage without him. She does it beautifully, and her condemnation of Rorvik’s crew, her championing of the Tharils, and her final line to Adric in which she literally mimics the Doctor, all create the impression that Romana is ready to strike out on her own. She has, ultimately, learned enough from the Doctor to follow in his footsteps in E-Space, and even makes the decision to, in a sense, go on the run from her own people by staying where they’ll never be able to find her. Wisely, this particularly close Doctor/companion pairing is not given a protracted farewell; forced to make a quick decision, she flees with K9 and Biroc to the Gateway, as the Doctor joyfully cries after her “You were the noblest Romana of them all!” It’s a brief but somehow fitting farewell, nicely followed up by the very last line of the story as Adric asks if she’ll be all right and the Doctor replies, “All right? She’ll be superb!” And least we forget K9 too makes his departure, which even more than Romana’s leaving somehow heralds, for me, the approaching end of the Tom Baker era, possibly because whilst K9 only debuted during the Williams era, he is such an easily recognizable icon from the series. For his final story, he is once more subjected to considerable damage, which is used to explain the need for him to stay with Romana, but he also, fittingly, gets plenty to do as he trundles pathetically around the void offering what help he can to the Doctor and Adric. 

With such good acting (I haven’t mentioned him above, but David Weston is very good as the noble Biroc) and such a good script, ‘Warrior’s Gate’ is doing well, but as if this wasn’t enough the production is superb. The direction is first class, as are the model work, the special effects, the set designs, and Peter Howell’s incidental score. The make-up used for the Tharils is excellent, as are the costumes for the crew, the Gundan robots and the Tharils. It is for all of these reasons that ‘Warrior’s Gate’ is by far my favourite story of Season Eighteen.

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