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“Warrior’s Gate” OR “Farewell E-Space, We Hardly Knew Ye”

September 10, 2015

warrior's gate

Warrior’s Gate, the antepenultimate Tom Baker outing is, surely, the Doctor Who adventure with the most parsimonious attitude to telling people what in this and other universes is exactly going on.  No adventure before and none after it, has been content to leave the viewers in a such state of bemused puzzlement for quite so long.   Let’s review the structure of the classic four part adventure.

Ep. 1.   There may be strange thingies.

Ep. 2.   There ARE strange thingies and they’re doing stuff.

Ep. 3.   This is what the strange thingies are trying to do.

Ep. 4.   Here’s our plan to stop the strange thingies.

Warrior’s Gate (1981) eschews this time-honoured structure.  Actually it dances all over it.  It’s set at a meeting point between “E-space” and “N-space” – where you and I live.  There are slave traders who use hairy people who used to rule much of E-Space as navigators before evil axe wielding robots facilitated their removal from power.  Now the hairy folk are slaves – defrosted and wired up in order to navigate on behalf of horrible humanoids.  And there is a ruined ecclesiastical building that seems to be the physical expression of liminality, a place where Biroc and his hairy kind can pass through time and space unchecked.  But if you want an adventure where, by the beginning of episode three, you have a fair idea of what’s going on and what’s at stake – then Warrior’s Gate is not for you.

This is the only entry in the E-Space Trilogy that is really about the strangeness of E-Space.  In Full Circle, we inhabit a planet much like our own.  State of Decay could have been set anywhere in N-Space.  But just as we leave this pocket universe, we inhabit a contracting environment of whitened instability that genuinely unsettles us.  In terms of dystopian whiteness, Warriors’s Gate deserves to be watched alongside George Lucas’ masterpiece – THX 1138.  (You may or may not remember that George Lucas was an imaginative young director in the early 70s with a very distinctive vision which evaporated when his creative career took a nosedive later in the decade.)

There is much to admire in Warrior’s Gate but little to love.  I respect the ambition, appreciate the vision, but there’s something rather cold about adventures from this era.  Much of this comes from Christopher Bidmead’s determination to edit scripts with sandpaper-  stripping away superfluities and self indulgence to be sure – but also damaging the colour and expressiveness of language itself.   Warrior’s Gate is scary in its own way.  But it would be scarier still if we cared more about the characters involved.  Warrior’s Gate is a filmed narrative for formalists.

That said, I do like the offensively short goodbye offered Romana and K9.  The least companionable of Doctors, the Fourth Doctor was in the habit of dumping his pals with barely a goodbye.  It wasn’t that he didn’t love them – rather that he had no respect whatsoever for the ceremonies and conventions of love – no concept of a proper form of words that might govern our comings in and goings out.

It would have taken David Tennant or Matt Smith about half an hour to say goodbye to Romana.

I cherish a secret hope that when Peter Capaldi’s Doctor says goodbye to Clara, it will be a cursory exercise in the Tom Baker vein.  This hope is far fetched and desperate.

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