I never liked caveman stories. Even Doctor Who couldn’t make them more palatable. Nor could Ringo Starr! These stories just get annoying. You either get Cavemen who speak English and understand full sentences or you get the grunting ooh-ooh-aah-aah’s that do not make for compelling viewing. It’s not that much different with The Full Circle, except there is a really interesting mystery and an element of fear that manage to raise this well above the standard caveman tropes. When one of the Eagles, along with 7 crew members, go missing on the latest planet the moon is drifting past, Koenig orders Paul to remote control the ship back to Moon Base Alpha. Upon arriving, they find one dead caveman on board. Koenig sends out a search party while an autopsy is performed on the dead passenger. The rescue team find a planet where cavemen dwell. But as the crew start vanishing, we realize something very strange is going on here.
I have to say this is done extremely well and may have been the best caveman story I’ve ever seen. That’s not to say I don’t have some issues with it! I think the biggest problem was that the writer turned Sandra into a screaming damsel in distress which has not been her character in any capacity. I admit, this may be totally justified as she’s rarely on missions and even if she had been on more of them, these are unusual circumstances where members of the crew seem to get picked off, one by one. She goes down to the planet with a number of people and in not time at all finds herself isolated, hunted, stripped, tied up, and prepped for a sacrifice. I mean, fair dues: I’d be surprised if I fared any better!
Another real problem here is the title. Titles are a bugbear of mine; done well, they can be tools for helping the audience remember a good story. Poorly done, and you spoil what could have been a great punchline. The moment the caveman was found dead on the Eagle, I knew what to expect. When you couple that with an autopsy that was taking forever, it was a pretty quick realization that the Alphans were regressing. That didn’t stop the shock value when Sandra sees John and Helena in cave-person form. In fact, even though I had been expecting it, I didn’t realize it right away and the surprise made my mouth flop open like a fish. The cave-person makeup was so convincing, that I didn’t recognize them quickly enough until the director showed the fade from normal back to caveperson. Then Sandra bludgeoned John with a rock, rather viciously, which made me wonder how they’d all survive this story! Of course, the obvious fact from all this is that, with a caveman being found dead on the Eagle, means yet another Alphan is no longer with us. That brings us down to 295 crewmen. Humanity is in a bad way at this point!
Among the noteworthy elements of this story is that it actually takes place largely outdoors making it a refreshing episode, off the standard sets. The production team did a great job creating a landscape, complete with rolling mist, dinosaur footprints and the sense of being lost in the wild to really enhance the fear factor. When Sandra is brought to the cave, we really don’t know what to expect. On top of that, the music was particularly effective, evoking a prehistoric drumbeat.
Considering how closely I look at continuity of a series, I was pleased to see further hints of a relationship between Paul and Sandra. We’d seen the merest hint of it an episode or two back, but nothing much comes of it until now and it’s somewhat refreshing to think the crew are professional enough to keep such a thing from interfering with their work. Unfortunately, there are a few other nits to pick; it’s not all roses. Sandra uses the communicator to try to reach Allen but one of the cavemen answer. She doesn’t seem to notice this and talks to him anyway, but the issue is that these communicators have TV screens on them. My attempt to write that off is that the screen has to be turned on, much like video conference equipment of today (Zoom, Teams). It’s the best I could do to convince myself not to be bothered by it. The other nit to pick apart is the resolution…
The trick to saving the Alphans is to have them go back through a mist that floods a narrow pass. When they come out, they are back to being themselves… fully attired and no longer in caveman garb. That’s some mist! Still, it’s a really strong episode despite these things, even if the grunting wore on my nerves. That actually should speak well of the episode since, with barely any talking to speak of, and loads of grunting, I was still totally immersed. The episode ends with a bit of speculation, questioning how far we’ve come in 40,000 years and how far we will go in another 40,000. It’s something to ponder. I’m not always sure we’ve come that far at all, but I like the degree of hope the series offers. ML