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Meglos

Reviewed by Paul Scoones

It would be fair to say that many fans regard Meglos as the low point of Season 18, and they would be justified in doing so, but appearances can be deceptive. Compare the story with those of Season 17 or even those of Seasons 25 and 24. Meglos is easily better than most if not all of them. The simple fact of the matter seems to be that we are looking at an adequate story in a season of exceptional stories.

I have to admit I was expecting the worst from this story, but it pleasantly surprised me - it wasn't really that bad. Meglos seems to be JNT's tribute to the Graham Williams production era, just as State of Decay is undoubtedly 'Hinchcliffian'. Why this is puzzles me, as JNT was given firm directives to steer the show away from the Williams/Douglas Adams style. All of Season 18 achieves this - with the exception of Meglos.

One must remember, however, that JNT was William's 'right-hand man', so to speak, throughout his entire producership, in the role of Production Unit Manager. It seems likely therefore that Meglos is JNT's parting gesture to a friend and workmate. It was all there - the undercurrent of comedy, the two-dimensional token 'alien' culture, the weird and wacky alien creature (in the form of a talking cactus, no less), the expendable pawns of the main villain (the Gaztaks), and the megalomaniac villain him/itself (Meglos).

The plot was fairly hollow, I think. At three or even two parts, it would have been a better production. Two parts were probably all that was needed to tell the story of Meglos' successful theft of the Dodecahedron from the Tigellans, and his inversely unsuccessful attempt to use it for his own purposes. The much-vaulted severe episode editing of this particular serial could have benefited from a lot more. Too much time was spent wandering around that so painfully obviously small jungle set on Tigella, which instantly reminded one of like-sets in The Creature from the Pit, Planet of Evil, Nightmare of Eden and Planet of the Daleks amongst others. Certainly it was a bad mistake when up against the real live location forest in the following tale, Full Circle. Likewise, less time spent wandering around those screens on Zolpha-Thura might have prevented the viewer from realising that the CSO/Scene Sync really wasn't that great either. If this is CSO at it's best, then Doctor Who is better off without it, something JNT himself seemed to have heeded.

Writers Flanagan and McCulloch wrote a competent script for their Doctor Who debut, but their second contribution wasn't used, (Incident on Zeta Minor was replaced by Castrovalva). The idea of the Earthling struggling to release himself was a fascinating concept, as was the whole doppleganger plot and the complications it caused for the real Doctor. The Deons were suitably mystical, and Jacqueline Hill was as she was as Barbara Wright back in the sixties. Zastor was rather dull though, and the rest of the Tigellans were little more than wallpaper. The manner of Lexa's death, however, was absolutely inexcusable, and totally unnecessary as nothing was made of it. The Gaztaks were unbelievably thick, and reminded me of Gavrok's Bannermen - even down to a remarkably similar ship! I did not like the half-hearted way Bill Fraser played General Grugger, and the character of Brotodac was there only as the butt of vague 'fool' jokes.

Director Terence Dudley may have been new to Doctor Who, but he is a veteran of many British series, including Doomwatch and Survivors. Not only is he a director, but a producer and writer as well. Talented as he is, his one spell of direction on Doctor Who was not particularly inspiring, but this is more than likely down to the standard and pace of the material he had to work with. Who'd envy any director working with a cactus! And yet, I still enjoyed Meglos, partly because I missed Part Four the first time round. How many, I wonder, picked up on the different end credits theme arrangement for that episode?

This item appeared in TSV 8 (August 1988).

Index nodes: Meglos