The weak enslave themselves. Doctor Who – Warriors’ Gate

doc gundan

If the previous story, State of Decay, could be said to depict Doctor Who at its most traditional, then Warriors’ Gate is certainly a trip into the unknown.

The inexperience of key members of the creative team is definitely a reason for this – as they didn’t necessarily know the rules then they didn’t realise when they broke them. For some, particularly director Paul Joyce, it was a bruising experience as he came up against inflexible BBC bureaucracy.

Script editor Christopher H. Bidmead was keen to get new writers onto the show and Steve Gallagher seemed to fit the bill. Gallagher had plenty of ideas but had no experience in television script-writing, but he had previously written radio plays and also had just seen his first novel published.

Bidmead was later to comment that Gallagher’s draft scripts did read like a novel, as they included many unnecessary descriptive passages. Bidmead, with some input from Joyce, set about the task of distilling Gallagher’s scripts into something workable. Along the way he included some ideas and concepts of his own, such as the I Ching.

Whilst Steve Gallagher was initially aghast at the treatment of his scripts he was later to appreciate the reasons for Bidmead’s ruthless rewrites and he would be better prepared when he came to write Terminus a few years later.

Like Gallagher, Paul Joyce was also very inexperienced in television terms, with only a single Play for Today on his cv. Joyce had hoped to direct this story in a filmic style but the reality was that this simply wasn’t achievable at this point in Doctor Who’s history.

Joyce’s preferred way of working was to shoot scenes a couple of times and then assemble everything in post-production.  But as the recording time for each story was strictly limited this caused numerous delays and was very unpopular with the BBC technical staff.

Each Doctor Who story was allocated a number of studio sessions and all the material for the story had to be completed within that timescale.  At the end of the recording day the sets would be removed as the next day another production or programme would need the space.

Overruns were extremely costly – at 10pm the lights went out whether everything had been completed or not – and even worse was the prospect of a remount, where another studio would have to be booked and the sets reassembled.

The Doctor ventures beyond the gateway
The Doctor ventures beyond the gateway

After day one, the production was behind schedule and it began to slip further behind as each day progressed.  Joyce was sacked briefly and then re-instated and whilst everything was eventually completed there’s no doubt that tensions ran high throughout all the studio days.  It’s worth reproducing this excerpt from the BBC Technical Manager’s report for the studio session which ran from the 24th – 26th of September 1980 –

The director lacks a working understanding of the methods used to make programmes in BBC television studios.  His shooting ratio must be near the 10:1 level of a feature film production.  He expects a 360 degree panorama to be continually available to the ‘hand held’ camera and the lighting and sound problems are endless.

If the BBC is really interested in quality and economy, no Technical Operations crew should be subjected to such self-indulgent incompetence.

It’s therefore no surprise to learn that Paul Joyce was never asked to direct another Doctor Who and it could be that this experience was one of the reasons why producer John Nathan-Turner tended to favour the likes of Peter Moffatt and Ron Jones in the future.  They could best be described as “journeymen” directors and he could guarantee that they’d get the show made on time and on budget.  Indeed, there wouldn’t be another Doctor Who story directed with such flair as this one until Graeme Harper helmed The Caves of Androzani in 1984.

But for all the production problems we are left with a story that is visually very arresting and although Joyce still bemoans that the final product is comprised, enough remains to mark this out as something very different.

The opening tracking shot, which takes us through the spaceship and up to the bridge, is a clear statement of intent. The hand-held camera work gives the shots a fluidity of movement which would have been impossible with the traditional rostrum cameras.

Whilst not all of Steve Gallagher’s concept and story made it to the screen he was very clear that Cocteau’s Orphee and Testament d’Orphee would be key texts that needed to be understood in order to visualise the story.  Joyce certainly took this on board and the production design reflects these influences, for example in the stylised black and white deception of the world on the other side of the Gateway.

Joyce was able to recruit some quality actors, including Clifford Rose as Rorvik (best known at this time for Secret Army) and Kenneth Cope as Packard (a familiar face from Randall & Hopkirk).  Rose likened Rorvik to Captain Mainwaring in Dad’s Army since he was the leader of a group of men who are less than competent and are never quite able to follow his orders out.  By the end of the story, Rorvik has lost his grip on reality completely as seen in his final moments as he prepares to blast the Gateway, killing himself and all his crew in the process.

Clifford Rose as Rorvik
Clifford Rose as Rorvik

Given the denseness of the original script, it’s possibly not surprising that it doesn’t all make sense.  Some sections are particularly inexplicable – the cliff-hanger ending to episode three looks wonderful as a horde of Gundan Robots attack the Doctor and the Tharils in the banqueting hall, but how only the Doctor manages to move in time from the past to the present isn’t clear at all.

Elsewhere, the answers are there, just buried deep in the text as this excerpt from episode two demonstrates –

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 labours and their looted skills.
DOCTOR: Yes, well, look, look, I’m sure this is frightfully interesting. Could you get back on to the bit about the gateway, please?
GUNDAN: The masters created an empire, drained the life of the ordinary world.
DOCTOR: Your ordinary world. I’m from N-space.
GUNDAN: They came from the gateway.
DOCTOR: Ah ha.
GUNDAN: There are three physical gateways and the three are one.
DOCTOR: Well
GUNDAN: The whole of this domain, the ancient arch, the mirrors.
DOCTOR: The thing is, it’s not actually a physical gateway that I’m looking for.
GUNDAN: All the gateways are one.
DOCTOR: Ah. So it is here. The way out.

It later becomes clear that the Tharils were the enslavers that the Gundans spoke of and now ironically they find themselves enslaved by the likes of Rorvik.  With the help of a Time Lord then can travel through E-Space releasing the Tharils held captive on other planets.

Although as it’s often been assumed that Rorvik and his crew came from N-Space and only ended up at the Gateway (the dividing line between N-Space and E-Space) by accident, who are holding the Tharils in captivity in the rest of E-Space?

The noblest Romana of them all
The noblest Romana of them all

Although sidelined a little, Tom Baker does have some nice moments, particularly when he faces off against Rorvik.  This story is, of course, notable for featuring the departures of Romana and K9 Mk 2.  It’s quite a hurried farewell (not quite as bad as Leela maybe, but close) but had Baker or Ward wanted to add anything they probably could have, so they must have been happy with it at the time.

Rorvik’s suicidal attempt to break free has destroyed his ship (and inexplicably freed the imprisoned Tharils and also sent the Doctor and Adric back into N-Space).  But back in the old home universe, this Doctors days are looking distinctly numbered ….

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