Sunday, 4 May 2014

The God Machine

Our next story begins with Nyssa and Tegan investigating a stepped pyramid on an alien planet. They get disappeared by something only hazily described, which sets up a mystery without revealing too much in the first paragraph - a promising start.

The next paragraph is about the Doctor, back at the Tardis, when he gets concerned about how long Nyssa and Tegan have been away. The Doctor of this story lacks self-awareness:
When Nyssa and Tegan returned from their curiosity-aroused exploration, a potentially dangerous habit he would have to steer them away from, the Doctor reminded himself, they could resume travelling.

The Doctor goes to the nearby city to look for them and explores "seven avenues".
There was no sign of life anywhere, and nothing to shed light on his companions' in-explicable disappearance! The Doctor knew that he could not search the entire city alone-and he did not intend to try-but, before he returned to the Tardis to rethink the situation, there was one more place he wanted to investigate: the giant, central pyramid that dominated the city.
Why did he not go there first? Silly Doctor.

It turns out there are alien natives on the planet. Given how simplistic these stories often are, there is a relatively sophisticated technique used to show (as opposed to 'tell') us what happens to the Doctor when he meets them.
Curious eyes turned on the Doctor. Silence and stillness hung in the air, then the leader, an old man, walked over to the Doctor. "You are a stranger," he said , smiling. "I am Sorl, of the North tribe."
The first thing that the Doctor thought when he regained consciousness was, so much for the Tardis's records. Harmless natives! He could still feel the lump from the single blow from a club that had knocked him to the ground!

The Doctor has been captured and, as we are now half way through the story, he meets a girl to give him the exposition about what is going on. Their ancient god Vi'Al has returned and demanded sacrifices, and they don't want the Doctor to interfere because they fear Vi'Al's wrath. But there are some natives that don't really believe that Vi'Al is a god, and they help the Doctor escape and get to the temple to see the sacrifices being made.

The natives even help him get a disguise.
Indicating his need to the natives, he watched as they scanned the rear of the crowd and moved off towards a man who stood alone. The natives surrounded the man and, when no one was watching, knocked him unconscious then dragged him into a nearby dwelling. The Doctor followed and had soon slipped the loose-fitting garment over his own clothes.

The Doctor sees Sorl and his followers sacrifice gem-stones to Vi'Al on the sacrificial stone of the pyramid.
The false god Vi'Al was going to be a very rich man!
This avoids the most obvious old cliched plot device of having Nyssa or Tegan be the sacrificial victim.

Sorl triggers the same stone that Nyssa and Tegan stepped on back in the first paragraph and, because he has worked out what is going on, the Doctor and three friendly natives run to where the gems are.
A stark and brilliant blue light enveloped the temple!
The Doctor felt his nerve-endings tingle with the after-effect of a teleport beam.

They are inside the pyramid, and when they go around looking for their friends who have been kidnapped by Vi'Al, discover that the pyramid has traps waiting to be triggered. Avoiding them, they find captors and captives:
Peering in, they saw five men sitting around a table, laughing and joking. Each man wore the odd and colourful garb of intergalactic pirates, and each man carried a laser blaster strung around his waist. These men were the false god Vi'Al!
Sadly there are no pictures of the pirates in their "odd and colourful garb", but since all the pictures for this story are just in blue then they may not have lived up to my imagination anyway. The Doctor rescues the captives while the natives decide to have a fight with the pirates.
As he climbed a set of steps to the surface with Nyssa and Tegan, the Doctor heard the crashing of falling stone deep below him.
"What was that?" gasped Nyssa.
"Booby traps," answered the Doctor. The sound of crashing stone was followed by the victory cry of the natives, and he knew that they had taken their revenge. The pirates had been entombed with their treasure, forever!

That is the end of the story, with the Doctor being oddly accepting of the natives' violent revenge-taking. There isn't much of the Doctor's character on display here, and Nyssa and Tegan only get three sentences of dialogue between them (and one of those is "Doctor!") so, on the whole, this is a generic story which makes only a token effort to avoid being a complete cliche and does not feel like a Doctor Who story at all.

The art - blueness aside - is the best thing about it, with Davo and both companions being recognisable still a rare, verging on unique, occurrence in the Doctor Who Books Project.

It would only have taken a small change for this story to become a crossover with Blakes 7. The five colourful pirates could have been the crew of Scorpio! using their teleport capability in a con to try and get wealthy. Obviously Avon wouldn't have been entombed forever; he'd have just teleported back to Scorpio! and they would have flown back to Xenon base to try another zany scheme next week. That sounds like a much better story to me, I shall have to write it...

1 comment:

  1. Reminds me a little of the throwaway Jack Vance planet orbiting one of the stars in Lupus, where the natives spend their lives crafting intricate tapestries which they float out to sea as a sacrifice. 'The Lupus Salvage Company maintains a barge just over the horizon from the settlement...'