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Riders on the Time Winds

Understanding Warriors' Gate

By Paul Scoones

It is fair to say that the average Doctor Who story can be understood without undue afterthought or recourse to repeat viewing. There are however exceptions - all too infrequent in my opinion - which challenge the viewers' intelligence and imagination. An obvious example is 1989's cryptic Ghost Light, but perhaps even more incomprehensible is the 1981 Fourth Doctor story, Warriors' Gate.

Wedged within a season comprised of (for the most part) particularly intelligently written and imaginatively directed tales, Warriors' Gate is a tour-de-force of subtle scripting and visual imagery. The basics of the plot can be discerned on a first time viewing, but a detailed study of key scenes is essential to attain a true appreciation and greater understanding of the hidden depths of these four, often over-looked episodes.

Have Tharil, Will Travel

Integral to a full comprehension of the plot is the understanding that relatively little is down to chance. Many Doctor Who plots are driven along by a number of fortuitous coincidences. Not so in the case of Warriors' Gate.

The theme of chance determining events runs through the early part of this story, but this only serves to confuse things more than is necessary. In Part One the Doctor suggests random action as a possible means of escaping the time-rift in which the TARDIS has become caught. He mentions the ancient Chinese philosophical text I'Ching, and tries to produce a non-determinate action, all to Romana's disgust, who considers this to be akin to superstition. Adric, acting on I'Ching philosophy and patterns of chance from K9, enters a string of coordinates (presumably in binary) determined entirely by tossing a coin. The TARDIS appears to stabilize as a result of Adric's intervention, but moments later the doors open. Biroc has arrived.

Biroc, a time-sensitive Tharil, is the story's pivotal character. Normally the Doctor occupies this role, but here he is rather unusually out of his depth most of the time. Biroc manipulates events to achieve a foreseen, desired result. His time sensitive talents allow him to perceive possible futures, and acting on this foresight the Tharil is responsible for almost everything that happens throughout the story.

Perhaps the only true coincidence of note is that the TARDIS and the freighter of which Biroc is the navigator come to be trapped in a time-rift in E-Space. The time-travelling freighter, under the command of Rorvik, has been stuck in limbo - 'no space, no time ... for months and months'. Tharils navigate the time lines by visualising a space/time location for the craft to lock on to.

Unknown to the crew, Biroc brings the ship into land at a precise location. Biroc's goal is not simply to free those of his race that are held unconscious in the ship's hold: he has foreseen the sequence of events necessary to bring about a future in which his race will be freed from slavery, events that involve the Doctor and Romana. At the earliest opportunity, Biroc breaks out of captivity, and escapes into the white void of nothingness beyond the ship. Riding the time lines, he is able to locate aid gain entry to the TARDIS, which he earlier visualised tumbling through the void.

Shadows of Past and Future

When the TARDIS doors open under Biroc's influence, the craft is still in motion, exposing the interior to the ravaging effects of the time winds of the vortex. K9 takes the full brunt of the time winds and is aged immeasurably. One of the Doctor's hands is also blasted momentarily, causing him great pain, as if badly burnt. Biroc is out of phase with his surroundings, and is therefore unaffected.

Once inside the TARDIS, Biroc operates the controls, materialising the ship in the void - not too far from the freighter. He then walks over to Romana and then away again, ignoring the others. Biroc knows that, in future terms, Romana is the most important member of this group. When she asks him, 'What are you?' Biroc answers, 'A shadow of my past and of your future.' Romana takes this to mean all of them when she restates his words as 'of our future', but Biroc is almost certainly only referring to her, for reasons which become clear at the end of the story. The 'shadow of my past' part of Biroc's enigmatic explanation also has great significance, as it is also later revealed that Biroc and his people are greatly diminished in power and status from what they once were.

Biroc gives them a warning: 'Others follow - believe nothing they say. They are not Biroc's kind'; which is further evidence that he can indeed perceive what is yet to occur, as Rorvik and crew turn up at the TARDIS in the following episode.

When Biroc has left, the Doctor and Romana discover that the coordinates are locked at zero, or very close to it. As N-Space (their universe) is positive and E-Space (the universe in which they have become trapped) is negative, they are therefore close to the intersection between the two. The Doctor leaves to find this intersection, in the hope of discovering the way back into N-Space.

Biroc arrives at a third location within the void - the ruins of an ancient stone building that takes the form of solid wooden doors, set in a high archway. He enters a banquet hail, the table laden with plates, goblets, candlesticks and other pieces; all shrouded in cobweb and dust. Biroc hesitates by one particular chair at the table, then walks over to a full-length mirror on the opposite wall - and passes straight through it.

The Doctor arrives at the arch, having apparently followed Biroc to this location. In the banquet hail he pauses before a different chair to set upright an overturned goblet covered in cobweb. This small action is worth noting for what happens later (the scene opens on a close up shot of the goblet, drawing attention to the object).

The Doctor then encounters the Gundan robots. His accidental revival of two of these relentless killers provides a short diversion arid a convenient cliffhanger, but ultimately the main purpose of the Gundan within the confines of the plot is to disseminate information.

'All the Gateways are One'

The Doctor spends most of Part Two interrogating a Gundan to find the way out into N-Space. The information imparted in these scenes is worthy of close inspection. As the Gundan tells of an ancient empire built on a master-slave hierarchy, the identity of the slave masters is not immediately apparent to the Doctor (or the first-time viewer).

Gundan: There were always slaves from the beginning of time. The Masters descended out of the air, riding the winds and took men as their prize, growing powerful on their stolen labour and looted skills. The Masters created an empire, draining the life of the ordinary world.

The Gundan explains that there are three physical gateways: the whole of the domain, the ancient arch, and the mirrors, but adds that all three are the same gateway. The gateway is where the masters came from and where they fled to for safety when their slaves rose against them. The slaves learnt the secret of the gateway, but could not approach it themselves, so built the time wind-resistant Gundan and sent them to the gateway to kill their masters. Although the Gundan indicates that there are several mirrors, only one is seen in the course of the story.

The Other Side of the Mirror

Rorvik and his crew explore the void in search of Biroc and the TARDIS, the latter of which they picked up on their scanners when it came into land. Although it is not apparent on screen, it is evident that the environment of the void is somewhat like a mist, in that people wandering in the void cannot see objects - namely the freighter, the TARDIS and the archway - until they are quite close to them. For this reason, Rorvik's men use a mass detector to locate the TARDIS. Later, when Adric is lost in the void, he attempts to find his way around with the aid of K9's sensors.

On the assumption that Romana must be a time sensitive herself - since she doesn't use a Tharil to navigate across the time lines - Rorvik links her up to the navigation unit, but all she visualises is the archway - a geographical picture and not a time image.

Investigating the archway, Rorvik and his men encounter the Doctor, who backs away from their weapons - and passes through the mirror.

From the other side, the Doctor can see and hear everything going on in the room he just left, but the mirror crackles and resists his touch as he attempts to pass back through. Biroc has been standing by the mirror, apparently waiting for him. The Doctor asks how he was able to pass through. Biroc replies 'The time winds touched your hand. It will be healing now.' Sure enough, the Doctor's hand has healed completely - the implication is that time wind damage is a prerequisite for passage through the mirror, but it is not certain that Biroc's statement as actually an answer to the Doctor's question. When the Doctor passes through, his damaged hand is quite clearly not the first part of his body to touch the mirror, and furthermore, the time wind damaged K9 cannot follow. It would appear that Biroc allowed the Doctor to use the mirror, rather than anything to do with the time winds.

The Doctor asks about K9, and Biroc confirms that he will be able to pass through the mirror 'when the time is right'. The mirror will repair the damage. Biroc demonstrates this by getting the Doctor to inspect a memory wafer taken from a Gundan robot (which also suggests the Gundan are not entirely resistant to the time winds); the memory wafer has been restored, and K9 will be restored in the same way. The drawback is that although organic matter remains healed. K9 will only be whole on this side of the mirror.

Biroc states with certainty that K9 will pass through the mirror - it is probable that he is also able to perceive that K9 forms part of the future that Biroc is working to bring about.

The Doctor asks Biroc where they are, and the Tharil replies, 'You are where you were.' The Doctor protests that the gateway is nowhere, but Biroc says that, 'For the Tharils and those with us it opens on to a whole universe' With hindsight, it is particularly telling that Biroc adds 'and those with us'. The Doctor takes the 'whole universe' to mean E-Space, but Biroc neither confirms nor denies this.

A second Tharil, Lazlo, whose face has been badly burnt down one side by the revival process, rescues Romana. She meets up with Adric, who asks about the whereabouts of the Doctor, and she recalls having seen him in connection with the archway she visualised while connected to the navigation unit.

The Doctor follows Biroc through an expansive garden. The garden is all in black and white, but the Doctor ard Biroc are seen in colour. The Doctor slips out of phase momentarily, and comments that he must be crossing the time-lines. He hesitates at the entrance to a stone building until a female Tharil comes out and takes the Doctor's hand, leading him inside and down a grand corridor. At the same time Lazlo takes Romana's hand, and leads her away through the void - both Time Lords are being led by Tharils to what will ultimately prove to be the same destination.

Crossing the Time-Lines

The Doctor finds himself in a gallery looking down on the banquet hall. Everything is now in colour and a feast is in progress, attended by seven Tharils. At this point, a number of quick jumps occur. A close-up shot of a roast on a platter suddenly jumps to one of the same platter, now dusty and enshrouded in cobwebs. Romana and Lazlo are looking down from the gallery on the 'present-day' banquet hall, from the same point as the Doctor in another time-line. Another jump and an axe thuds into the food-laden banquet table. Then a third jump and we are once again back in the present, observing Rorvik and his men making themselves at home at the cobwebbed table. In this time-line, Lazlo and Romana descend from the gallery and, joining hands once more, they pass through the mirror with Lazlo in the lead. They walk through the same black and white garden, and Romana notices that Lazlo's scarred face has now healed.

Back at the banquet, the Doctor and Biroc are seated at the table with the other Tharils. The two occupy the same chairs they each paused by in Part One. The Doctor is impressed by the array of food on the table, and observes that the Tharils live like kings. Biroc replies that they are kings and that what the Doctor now sees is what it was like at the height of their empire, 'Before the Tharils became the slaves of men.' Ironically, Rorvik later comments that each Tharil is 'worth a king's ransom.'

Biroc: For those who travel on the time winds, the vastness of space is no obstacle. Everything is ours.

The Tharils' ruthless, all-powerful attitude is emphasised when a human slave girl fills a goblet with red wine, and gets struck away by a Tharil male. The Doctor goes to the girl's aid. 'Including her?' he asks, and Biroc replies, 'They're only people.' The Doctor now realises the truth.

The Doctor: So you're the masters the Gundan spoke of, the enslavers?
Biroc: The weak enslave themselves, Doctor. You and I know that.
The Doctor: This is no way to run an empire.

The Doctor is clearly unimpressed. As a gesture of protest, he fills the goblet to overflowing then knocks it over. This is the exact same cup he set upright earlier - or later, depending on your perspective! A Tharil responds by threatening him with a knife.

By now, Lazlo and Romana have arrived in the gallery above the hall. Romana suddenly says, 'Danger - the Doctor's in danger!' It is not clear whether she is actually in the same time at this point. It possible that her contact with Lazlo allows her to see across the time lines.

At the banquet, the doors at the end of the hall burst open and the axe-wielding Gundan march in. The Tharils scatter, but the Doctor stays seated. Romana runs to his side. The axe thuds through the table as before and suddenly everything jumps back to the present - the Doctor and Romana are still exactly as before, but the banquet table and the embedded axe are once again enshrouded in dust and cobweb. Rorvik and his crew stare at them in surprise; from their perspective the pair have suddenly materialised at the table.

The Doctor: There's nothing beyond those mirrors for people like us except the reflection of what's here. Only the Tharils can enter your universe that way.

The situation reaches crisis-point with the revelation that the void's dimensions are contracting. Rorvik's crew has observed that the distance between the archway and their ship is getting shorter, and K9 has been giving unheeded warnings of a 'mass stability anomaly'. The dimensions of the void are contracting exponentially - the collapse is slow at first but might accelerate at any moment. The catalyst is a huge mass, distorting the micro-universe's space and time. The mass is the freighter's hull, which is made of dwarf star alloy - an extremely heavy metal formed under enormous gravitational force and the only substance that will hold time sensitives like the Tharils.

'The Right Sort of Nothing'

The Doctor receives further advice from Biroc when he looks into the mirror. Rorvik threatens the Doctor at gunpoint, saying, 'Time's run out for you, Doctor.' Beyond the mirror, Biroc stands facing away from the Doctor. Somehow the Doctor alone can hear and see the Tharil.

Biroc: Doctor, you've seen our past. You've seen our present. You were right; we abused our power, but judge whether we've not suffered enough.
The Doctor: As you said, the weak enslave themselves.
Biroc: The time of our enslavement is over. We will be free.
The Doctor: I wish you luck, but what about us? Have you got any ideas on that count?
Biroc: Do nothing.
The Doctor: What?
Biroc: It is done.

Biroc has shown the Doctor the Tharils' past to gain the Time Lord's support, but at the same time the Doctor is not required to do anything to bring about a resolution to the crisis. Biroc has everything under control, as has been the case from the beginning.

Everyone else in the hall appears to have been unaware of this exchange - Rorvik repeats his last line; 'Time's run out for you. Doctor' - it is as if time has somehow wound back.

With Adric's help, the Time Lords escape from Rorvik's crew and return to the TARDIS. Rorvik is planning to use his ship's engines to blast through the mirror, but this will destroy his ship - and the void. 'We can't just dematerialise and leave them,' says Romana. 'There are slaves on that ship!' It is evident at this point that she has developed an affinity for the Tharils' plight. The Doctor and Romana attempt to shut down the freighter's warp motors to save the Tharils. This is not part of Biroc's plan, so he intercedes to stop them from interfering in the chain of events that are about to reach their conclusion. Evidently the Doctor and Romana's intervention will somehow alter the future that Biroc wants to bring about.

The Doctor: Biroc! What are you doing here?
Biroc: Nothing.
The Doctor: It's all right for you.
Biroc: And for you too. Do nothing.
The Doctor: Do nothing?
Romana: Of course. Doctor, don't you see?
The Doctor: Yes that's right. Do nothing - if it's the right sort of nothing.

Lazlo revives the Tharils in the freighter's hold while Biroc returns the Time Lords to the TARDIS, where Romana announces that she is staying with the Tharils. Biroc probably foresaw her decision as integral to the Tharils' success from the beginning and reveals now that they need a Time Lord to help them. It would appear that this need to recruit a Time Lord was why Biroc and Lazlo demonstrated to the Doctor and Romana how their race had once lived.

Biroc had also stated earlier that K9 would pass through the mirror 'when the time is right', and sure enough the Doctor gives the robot to Romana so that he can be restored. Shortly afterwards, Romana, K9 and Biroc pass through the mirror.

The TARDIS dematerialises and the freighter is destroyed in the back-blast. The Tharils are unaffected as once Lazlo has revived them, they slip out of phase and pass through the archway. The TARDIS rematerialises on the other side of the mirror, hovering in the black and white garden, and then vanishes again, watched by Biroc, Romana and K9. The now-restored K9 reveals that he has preserved 'all necessary schedules for duplication of the TARDIS.'

Romana: Biroc will help us use the gateway to travel anywhere in E-Space and we can give him time technology.
Biroc: You shall be our Time Lord and we will travel far. Our people are enslaved on many planets.
Romana: And you and I, K9, are going to help Biroc free them.

Thus Biroc has set in place the means and expertise to free his race from slavery; an outcome he had foreseen from the story's outset. One point left unresolved is that it is never made clear how a Time Lord and TARDIS technology could benefit the Tharils, since Biroc stated earlier that they could travel anywhere in the universe. Biroc could be referring to Romana's need of a TARDIS since she and K9 have no other independent means of riding the time winds. Since Romana clearly states her intention to give the Tharils time technology, they would appear to have some need of it for their own use - perhaps to penetrate areas shielded by dwarf star alloy.

The Doctor has also achieved a desired end. Although it is never stated, it would appear that the contraction of the micro-universe forced the TARDIS back out into N-Space, which is at least in line with Biroc's advice to do nothing. Nor is it certain whether the universe they arrive in is N-Space (although this is confirmed in the following story). When Adric raises this doubt, the Doctor brings up the subject of chance once more, allowing the story to end on the same note as that mentioned by the Time Lord at the outset...

The Doctor: One good solid hope's worth a cartload of certainties.
Adric: Will Romana be all right?
The Doctor: All right? She'll be superb.

This item appeared in TSV 37 (January 1994).

Index nodes: Warriors' Gate