So here it is, the most incorrectly apostrophized story on websites of them all (yes, there is more than one warrior!). It’s also one of the biggest missed opportunities of them all, because it chickens out on an idea that could have been breathtaking, but still does something fascinating albeit half-baked.
This is our final E-Space story. In Full Circle the TARDIS passed through the CVE into another universe and now has to pass back through it so the Doctor can escape back to the “normal” universe. CVE stands for “Charged Vacuum Emboitment”. To take the last of those three words first, we have an Anglicisation of emboîtement, an outdated scientific concept that all living things come from germs which encase the germs of all future things, enclosed inside each other. The word is derived from emboiter, to “fit in a box”. It is tempting to see this as a parallel for the TARDIS, with the whole universe functioning like the Doctor’s ship: step through the doors of the TARDIS and you pass through a CVE. However, this is ignoring those other two words, the “charged vacuum”. And that’s a clear reference to cathode ray tube televisions. Most of those are in landfill now, but televisions at the time (and I suppose I need to explain this for future readers!) worked by controlling the direction of a cathode ray travelling down a vacuum tube and reflected on a screen. The cathode ray is actually a stream of electrons accelerated by an electric field. So we have a charged vacuum in a box, or emboîtement. The CVE is a television. Another little clue is the naming of Biroc (I assume) after one of the most influential cinematographers of all time, a man who filmed inside Dachau during the war, pioneered the first feature-length 3D colour film, and shortly before this was going on in Doctor Who was making Airplane! Now there’s an interesting career.
The CVE representing a screen is possibly the single bravest idea Doctor Who has offered, with the gateway between universes defined as passing through our televisions (represented by the mirror). But what we are shown is a cop-out because it should have been The Mind Robber turned up to eleven and bursting out through the fourth wall, but instead it’s The Mind Robber turned down to a half.
I mentioned above that it does something interesting instead, and that is to focus on the barrier between the realms of fiction and reality by investigating the clash between science and fantasy, something the entire series has been doing to varying extents. It is tempting to look upon earlier examples as an accident caused by a clash between a script editor who wanted things grounded in science and some writers and directors who didn’t, but accident or not it has all been leading up to this point.
When I wrote about Full Circle, I compared the CVE to a rabbit hole, but with the problem being that there is the same thing on either side of the hole. We don’t get Wonderland on the other side. Warriors’ Gate is set within the rabbit hole, and this is an opportunity to veer towards the surreal. It is even referenced when the Doctor compares Biroc to the Cheshire Cat. The story is packed full of fantasy ideas made sci-fi: travelling through a mirror; super-powered Biroc able to enter the TARDIS while it is in flight, travelling on the “winds of time”; cobwebbed suits of armour coming to life, and then turning out to be robots; leonine Tharils who were once kings, or even godlike beings such as Aslan. The dwarf star alloy ship that can trap a Tharil is a fantasy concept: super chains to hold super beings.
In amongst all this we also get a Nietzschean moral argument, “He who fights monsters should see to it that he himself does not become a monster.” The Tharils used to be slavers, but were overthrown and enslaved themselves. Their victims became as bad as they were and took their revenge too far.
You may have noticed that the picture I have used to illustrate this story is not from the story itself. If you are not familiar with the work of Caspar David Friedrich, I urge you to take a look at some of his art. The Stages of Life is a good place to start, a beautiful painting that shows five ships sailing away, representing five people on the shore at different stages in their life. The ship furthest from the shore represents the artist himself. The picture above is not actually one of his paintings, but a photograph of it, Monastery Graveyard in the Snow, and was the inspiration for the gateway in Warrior’s Gate. It is one of the most hauntingly beautiful pieces of artwork ever created: look at it closely and you will see that there are monks processing into the ruined abbey, although they look like gravestones from a distance. I will copy in a larger version of it below. The original does not exist, destroyed in the Second World War, so all we can see is a black and white photograph of the painting, which actually adds to its atmospheric nature. Looking at the world through a lens: how very Doctor Who. How very Warriors’ Gate. RP
The view from across the pond:
The E-Space trilogy, which really had very little to do with E-Space, comes to an end with Warriors’ Gate. My strongest memory of this story is of Rorvik, the main villain (played by Clifford Rose). Some villains are just great because they make you hate them so easily. Think of Jason Isaacs as Col. William Tavington in The Patriot. What an evil man; how loathsome! Here’s a great actor playing a villain for all its worth and doing a great job with it. Rorvik is such a villain (although I’m just not sure Rose was such an actor). I had to go back and see for certain and it was precisely as I remembered it: “Run Doctor…. Run black to your blue box…” and then the most mirthless laugh ever. The man was a madman. But he inadvertently made a great bad guy because he was utterly detestable! Even his blunder doesn’t seem funny; it seems like a madman ranting and done right, that’s scary!
Now getting Rorvik out of the way, Warriors’ Gate might be one of the most interesting stories of the classic era. Following in the vein of The Mind Robber, the Doctor finds himself in a nowhere place; a strange intersection between two universes. This is actually the only episode of the E-Space trilogy that really deals with that other universe. And like I’ve said before, it’s a brilliant concept! Steve Gallagher introduces some great ideas in this one: time wind, a form of radiation that exists within the time vortex whose destructive powers were utterly devastating to all matter; Tharils, lion-like humanoids capable of riding those time winds, their screams utterly bone chilling; the gateway, a building filled with mirrors that are doorways into E-space: outstanding ideas! Well thought-out too! Imagine a vast, empty, white void, potentially infinite. The best way to find something: a mass detector – a device that can locate anything with mass. And the only thing more frightening than a vast void… is a vast void that is rapidly shrinking due to something of excessive mass causing the very space to collapse in on itself. Wow… just brilliant!
Then there’s the whole idea how the slavers become the enslaved and how the cycle goes round and round. The Doctor, never one to abide slavery, is willing to stand his ground even in the face of imminent danger… only to find himself jumping between times and the very event he was witnessing becomes old news. I must have watched part three a dozen times as a kid, because I found that time jump absolutely enthralling. To be present when the event happens, only to flash forward to a moment in the distant future when everything is so coated in webs as to be millennia old. To quote a good friend, mind-candy!
And Warriors’ Gate makes an amazing case study for Doctor Who and the art of telling a story through the visual medium. The opening credits fade after the title and byline and we are treated to a series of images: a respirator and a room full of bearded bodies, hallways full of computers and a countdown, graffiti scrawl on walls, overhead walkways… before finally settling on two guys sitting together, talking. All the wonder of what is coming starts here and this story delivers a wild ride. Since it is a heavy story, those two guys offer a bit of light comedy throughout the episode too; a much-needed respite when addressing the problem of slavery and torture.
On the other hand, there is a problem with this story. Tom Baker was ill at the time and it shows; he seems out of sorts, often looking weary and unable to make decisions. It is unpleasantly noticeable. If not for an otherwise strong story, the entire thing could have crumbled and coming off such an amazing prior story, that would have been a tragedy. Whether it was always a part of the story or a concession created for Baker, the line “Do nothing… if it’s the right sort of nothing” actually works for the story, even if it ends up appearing that it was all Tom could do at that point anyway! It’s a strange balance between two universes both in the script and the acting, but, luckily, it worked.
And then the unthinkable happens. Romana leaves and stays in another universe with K-9. She was one of the strongest female companions to date, even rivalling the Doctor in intelligence, and her departure was a major loss for the show. And with her, Tom’s era was truly ending. Two more stories and it was over. The moment had been prepared for it the moment she left.
But like the Tharil’s, we can jump back and forth through time to relive this magnificent period when the Doctor wandered E-Space with his fellow Gallifreyan, a tin dog, and a math genius… (who just happened to have spider DNA). ML
Read next in the Junkyard… The Keeper of Traken